Hills. So. Many. Hills.
My brilliant plan to drop out of the LA Marathon if the going got tough, and replace it with the SLO full was still brilliant. But, unfortunately, as I realized on-course, the hills were definitely this plan's downfall. I hadn't trained for hills at all, really. Oops.
Even so, the totality of the race weekend was more than I could have asked for. The lame finish time was more than worth it.
Pre-race dinner with the aunts and uncle who live in town? Awesome. We told stories, caught up, and reminisced while looking at pictures of my dad at age 19, my uncle at college graduation and with the red ford truck (every-wash-it-fades) my dad had given him in high school because "I've got to go to college and I can't make it work." Aunt B and Uncle H's house is on the course around mile 17 or so, and they informed me, "Oh, we always end up waiting much longer than people estimate to meet up with them -- it's a slow course."
Okay. I thought. I can deal with that. I'd dropped the PR goals in LA, so I'll just adjust. Plus, I'd just learned that my mom and dad's first house was on the course! Cool!
Then, they informed me that the race included what they'd deemed the "Wheeeeee Road" in
their childhood. Take a look at the elevation profile between mile 15 and mile 16. Alright, I thought, I'll be prepared.
I had a great pre-race meal (opting out of the BBQ'd steaks and veggies and opting for take-out posole without eating any of the pork, plus 3 bottles of water). After dinner, at the hotel, several cups of tea, and I was finally in bed.
I managed to finagle an early AM ride to the start with H (who's finally healed and ran the half! Yay, for a return to workouts together!) as she'd conned J into driving not just her, but me too! Score.
I found T at the start, behind the 5 hour pace group. She informed me that she was emotional all weekend as the purpose for her and many of her friends was to celebrate and honor their friend G, a Cal Poly grad and local teacher who'd recently died of a blood cancer. It was great to see her, and we started together in the dark, but after about 1/3 mile she dropped back and urged me on. (In hindsight, I should have stuck with her).
I headed out at what I thought was a very conservative pace, and while being a bit surprised at how steep the early hills were (both up and down), I executed a PR 1:11 porta-poop stop in mile 4 (every PR Counts!), and met up with Auntie I at 4.2 miles near my gran's house. She had gatorade, a kiss, and a huge sign encouraging me to run by my initials. Priceless. (In other news, apparently, my initials are quite common, and she received many thank yous from other folks who have my initials and enjoyed her sign.)
From there, I did my best to keep my original target pace, but around mile 6 or so it became apparent that the hills were going to get the best of me. I saw KP running towards me on the out and back section trailing the 4 h pace group and she looked *very* strong. I was excited for her. I tried to keep it even, refused to walk, and promised myself that I'd run hard 'til I reached Aunt B & E around mile 17ish, and then, well, then, I'd just finish.
Why? You ask?
Well, in case I missed the point from my family, the hills were crazy. The wind was not remotely as bad as I'd feared, but that meant the tailwind wasn't very helpful whereas the headwind back in was lame and the hills were more than I'd bargained for. On mile 15, there were actually cyclists
cresting the hill just as I did, who screamed "Wheeee..." as they headed
down -- the Whee Hill, indeed. In my pace area, the majority of the folks I was keeping pace with were run-walking as early as mile 12. Walking up the steep hills and then running down. It's quite efficient, apparently, as most of them would get passed by me as I climbed and then pass me on the downhill.
Unfortunately for me, after climbing the entirety of the Whee Hill, I had to stop to tighten my laces on the descent, as my toes
were slamming into the front of my shoes with each quad-burning step.
Also, my quads were beat up from the previous hills, so once my shoes were fixed, even though downhills are usually my strength, I was unable to fly with as much fun and vigor as I'd like.
Essentially, when I saw E & Auntie B, I was thrilled with relief. Powerbar, gatorade, companionship. I stopped and smiled and stretched. If I was honest, in my mind, I was done with the pushing. I walked and ate my power bar and talked with E as he pushed his bike along. The 4:45 pace group passed us. At some point in this process, I hit stop instead of lap, so I screwed up my Garmin. By the time I figured it out, I'd lost 6 minutes (according to the chip time) and who knows how much distance. Finally, I saw some ladies I'd been trading run-walk spots with and fell in with them for their run segment. E pedaled on.
E met me again at mile 18, and took a picture of me at the mile marker, with the ancestral family ranch in the background. (I'd post it, but E's phone died and the photo was lost! My Aunts and Uncles claim that I obviously have to run it again!)
While we were trying to get the photo, T ran by. T!!!! She was well ahead of the 5 hour group and trying to catch the 4:45 pace group. I dropped in with her and tried to keep up but after a mile or so, I admitted that I just didn't have the drive. I wished her well and let her go.
I ran the rest of the race the best I could. Into the nasty headwind that kept increasing with each minute. Short walk breaks when I had to on the severe uphills. Enjoying the last sighting of Auntie I and E at mile 23+ and then, running slowly, but without break, even on the pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks, passing run-walkers to the finish.
I crossed at chip time 4:52:22 and gun time 4:53:06. In other words, despite what felt like a much harder effort, I was *much* slower than last year's monsoon dial-it in CIM performance.
Many lessons learned. Starting with "Hills Matter -- Train For Them". And ending with, "Go Out Slow!" I hit mile 13 at around 2:14, says the Garmin. So, even though I truly did my best to go out at a reasonable pace for my fitness, and I included a bathroom break in the first half total, I still underestimated the course and lost another 22 minutes on the back 13.2 (and most of it after mile 17, when I decided to just enjoy myself). If only I'd stuck with T, who took it slow-and-steady-tortoise-wise and ended up finishing almost 5 minutes before me. Hindsight...
So, there you have it. The end to the coach experiment resulted in a DNF on the target race and a great family weekend with a slow finish on the replacement race. And lest you think I blame the coaches, I actually don't think I would have been able to finish this race without the training plan. I don't think I would have been disciplined enough to have put in the mileage and would have likely just done the half.
Take home? I think I need to do some serious soul searching about the structure of my life and whether I *actually* have time to dedicate to what is necessary to run a pleasant marathon. Thankfully, the next two races on the calendar are halfs. And I feel like today's effort is a great strength building and endurance building workout that will pay dividends for those efforts.
(Oh, and post-race lunch at the pub with E, both Aunts, and Uncle H was more than worth the bummer of a finishing time. Family & NACHOS!!!!)