After looking at my watch and seeing that I needed to complete mile 25 and 26 in less than 30 mins. to reach my goal, a glimmer of hope crept into my mind. I pushed it out of my head and realized that rolling hills and the past 7 miles of running through cramps meant anything could still happen.
8 hours earlier, I was boarding a bus at 3:45 a.m. at a middle school in Carmel getting ready to travel to the starting line where over 4,000 people would attempt to run "the western edge of the world."
Strategy: Start with the Cliff Bar 4:30 Pace group and stay as close as possible while keeping with my 9:1 run:walk intervals. Keep in your mind that 4:45 is more realistic, but would be thrilled with a sub 5 hr. finish.
With excellent coaching and training friends, I felt ready for the course. Knowing that the course is labeled as "moderately difficult" due to rolling hills and weather conditions, I had the mind set that the whole course was uphill as to not feel defeated when I turned a bend and saw another incline.
To start, the first 5 miles are downhill. A sure way to begin quickly and set your quads up for punishment later on by going out fast downhill. I knew this was part of the course, so keeping that in mind, I slowed and enjoyed the huge redwood trees we were running through. During this period the pace team got in front of me and rather than speed up to catch them, I stuck to my plan and continued at my 10 min. per mile pace.
I caught up to the pace group around mile 7 and stayed on pace until mile 10. With previous IT band issues, I was going to take the downhills with ease. At the base of Hurricane Point (mile 10), Taiko drums set the tone as we began our assent up the 520 ft. incline. Seeing the drummers pound away at the base of a monstrous hill was an amazing visual experience. Hands down the best mid-race moment of my running career. For some strange masochistic way (masochism: A willingness or tendency to subject oneself to unpleasant or trying experiences.), I have begun to enjoy conquering large hills. Maybe it's the feeling of accomplishment afterwards or the search for inner-determination during, but I was ready for Hurricane Point. I loved it. At the peak I turned back and looked at what had been accomplished; at where I had been and what could not defeat me. (below is an image after coming down from Hurricane Point and Bixby Bridge at mile 13)
The decline was going to be tricky. Obviously the 10 min per mile pace takes a hit climbing 520 feet over 2 miles. (Note: It's not an incline, then flat, then more incline... it is back-to-back uphill miles.) But you must resist the urge to not speed down the decline to make up time, a common mistake that I was well aware of: forewarned is forearmed. At the halfway point, I was on pace for a 4:30-4:40 finish and right on schedule.
Up to mile 16-17, I was running the perfect race. I was about 5 mins. of pace for a 4:30 finish, but with Hurricane Point, that was expected. I was well hydrated, eating GU on schedule and feeling great. Although my legs were feeling tight, I just continued to push through one mile at a time. Around mile 18, I felt my right calf cramp and it wouldn't let go. I tried to stretch it out and attempt to walk it off, but it wouldn't give. I could see my sub 5 finish slip away with every second that passed (along with every runner). After a couple minutes of stretching and massaging, I was able to get it to a point where I could continue to move forward and take it a step at a time. For the next mile or two I couldn't stop looking at my watch and obsessing over how fast I needed to be going to reach my goal. I finally got to the point where enough was enough. I covered my watch with my sleeve and just kept moving forward. A run, a shuffle, a speed walk, whatever would get me to the next mile. I started making small goals. Run to the top of that hill and you can walk. OK. I get to walk to that cone, then I have to run again. I did this mostly for miles 20-24.
Around mile 24 I realized that I had about 30 mins. to reach the finish line in order to get a sub-5 hour finish. It was in reach. At this point I was logging 11-12 min miles, but had been running through cramps in my right calf and and in both my quads for the last 6 miles. I put it out of my mind and just kept thinking about how I would feel at the end. When I saw the finish line and the official time's first number a 4, that was enough for me.
4:52:56 — a PR by 26 mins. On a hilly course, with 20 mph winds... the feeling of accomplishment was amazing. It rejuvenated the feeling of why I choose to run marathons. It ignited a spark that hadn't been in me since my first 26.2 mile race. Marathons 2 and 3 were tough due to injury and improper training, but this time I was posed for success thanks to wonderful coaching and friends that helped out along the way. Also, it was fantastic to see all the support from fellow facebook-ers. Your cheers of encouragement, support and congratulations were very much appreciated. It crossed my mind several times that there were people out there sending good vibes. Thank you.
I tried not to make this post too long, but I feel like I have left so much out. Here is an outlook for later in the week:
Weds: The Beauty of Big Sur
Friday: Bart Yasso