Race Recap: Revel Canyon City Marathon – BQ! BQ! BQ!

This is a super long post. Because BQ.

Qualifying for the Boston Marathon has been a secret goal of mine since 2012 when I took my marathon time down from a painful 5:08 in 2010 to a 4:30 over two marathons. Before my 4:30 marathon, I had never thought of Boston as a feasible goal, but when I looked up the qualifying time for my age group and saw it was 3:55, the seed was planted. I told one person – my FMC – and kept that sh-t to myself, because it seemed like a crazy out-of-reach goal. I have been a solid mid-packer my entire running career, and Boston, well, Boston is for those fast runners. Still…that 30 minute PR got me thinking that maybe?

My logic was that if I could take 38 minutes off my marathon time in two marathons, well, then it should only take two – possibly three more – to qualify for Boston, right? Ha. Well, friends, four years later, five marathons completed, and several injuries suffered, it finally happened at the Revel Canyon City Marathon on November 12.

To those of you still chasing that unicorn, the obvious question is “How did you do it?” I’ve read about people who BQ in their first marathon, and I am most definitely not that person. I was not gifted with a distance runner’s body or any natural speed and endurance. Even my friends are shocked by my accomplishment. If you’ve followed this blog, then you know that I have managed to only take five minutes off that 4:30 PR in over three years. In fact, much of that time has been spent injured. My last marathon before Revel Canyon City was the Ventura Marathon, and the only significant results were a new injury (piriformis), and an emotional low. After three years of trying to BQ, or at least come within striking distance of BQing, Boston seemed just as far away as ever, especially with my aging body deterioriating quickly.

At this point, my blog posts became sporadic if not non-existent, and it’s because I finally stepped up my training commitment and surrendered to a professional. Yup, I got a trainer. When I started with Trainer, all I wanted was to stop getting injured; instead I was completely transformed as a runner from the inside-out. Here is the cliff notes version:

  • Switched from a heel strike to a midfoot strike;
  • Ran less mileage than I had in four years;
  • Did track and hill work;
  • Lost 10-15 pounds;
  • Focused on prehab; and
  • Changed my mindset.

But here. Let the photos tell you the story:

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Ventura Marathon 2015 vs. Ventura Half Marathon 2016
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Heel Strike vs. Midfoot Strike
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Prehab: lots of single-leg work

The entire time I trained for Revel, I set my sights on a 4:10 (9:33 pace) marathon, which is 11 minutes short of qualifying for Boston, but still a 15-minute PR, which seemed  sizeable, considering I had only been able to take five minutes off in four years. While my training times showed I should be able to go sub-4:00, I have mad respect for the marathon distance and knew that anything, I mean ANYTHING, can happen over miles 18-26. I also had no idea how my training, especially my limited mileage, would translate to a marathon. But about seven weeks before the marathon, Trainer brought up the startling idea that I could BQ at Revel Canyon City. It had never entered my mind. Based on prior experience, I figured it would take three whacks at a BQ in a best case scenario. However, I started to entertain the idea and figured that if the rest of my training went well, and my two 20-milers looked strong, then I would go for it.

So my Achilles had other ideas, and I ended up not being able to run for two weeks. In an unexpected plot twist, I found myself having to do one of my 20-milers in the pool. Ugh. Yes, 3 hours and 20 minutes running in the pool. Damn if I didn’t feel mentally tough after that!

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I thought sub-4:00 was now off the table, but Trainer still wouldn’t let up. This guy! About three weeks before the marathon, I had an extremely difficult hill workout. I hated it; it felt awful; I was sure it sucked. To my surprise, Trainer said something that indicated I’d done well. He doesn’t usually do that, and for some reason it clicked that maybe I really could pull this BQ thing off. It’s been my experience that sometimes other people can see things in you before you do. Anyway, shortly after that I decided to go for it. Or, in my typical words of courage: Fuck It.

My goals for the race were now the following:
A-BQ (sub 3:59)
B-4:10 (a 15 minute PR)
C-sub-4:25 (a PR)

I didn’t feel my best the week prior to the marathon. I ended up straining my back and had a difficult time completing a 4-mile run just eight days prior to the race. I freakishly tweaked my hip the day before. Yet, ever since that hill workout, I had had the mindset that nothing was going to stop me from believing that I could BQ. No excuses. And on race eve and race morning I found myself strangely peaceful. To be perfectly honest, I just kind of felt like it was going to happen.

There was supposed to be a 3:55 pacer, but the pace groups were sparse and disorganized. I ended up with a 4:00 pacer, and this guy not only had never run this course or paced a race group, he also wasn’t wearing a watch! He was going to go by “feel”. WTF.

The Revel Canyon City course can be broken up into three segments: miles 1-13 are blazing fast and downhill; 14-22 are intermittent hills; and 23-26 are flat. So the pacer, one other guy, and I stayed together for about seven miles, but then our pacer kept getting hassled to slow down. At that point, I had a choice to make: stick with him at a slower pace than my body wanted to go, or bail and go for it. Even though I was going at a ridiculous pace, running miles at 7:42, 7:54, and 7:59, I felt like I wasn’t pushing it at all, so I chose the latter and took off.

I wanted to stay in touch with how my body was feeling, because I knew that miles 14-22 were going to be challenging coming off the downhill. My experience from Mountains2Beach 2014 had been that when I pressed on that significant downhill, my quads had exploded upon hitting flatland, and it had felt like running through sand the rest of the way. So I did something unheard of for me and ran without music for the first half of the marathon, so I could be fully present. Luckily, the scenery is spectacular, and the first thirteen miles went by quickly. (I may have actually PRd my half marathon time.)

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Flying down the mountain!

At around the 14-mile mark, I turned on my music. The lightning fast downhill portion had ended, and the course became flat-tish, which cruelly demanded that my body switch entire muscle groups. Argh. I ran into the only other person from that ragtag pace group, and he, along with several runners, was having a hard go of it. We looked at each other, and I muttered “Shit just got real.” After a little bit, I went on ahead to tackle the rolling hills of the next 5-6 miles.

Looking ahead, I saw runners starting to walk. I had braced myself for this, and from race reports I had concluded that this was no place to be a hero. I ran 90% of the handful of hills, but there were a few steps walked when necessary; however, I just kept it pushing, and never stopped. Since they were rolling hills, I was able to pick the pace back up each time I hit a significant downhill portion. I expected much worse, but the hills never lasted too long, and the downhills were so sweet that it felt quite manageable.

I entered the flat final six miles of the race still not knowing my official time. I know, right? I had a new Garmin, and the fields only told me distance and pace, but I knew I was in solid shape. Unfortunately, it was at this point that my seemingly inevitable calf cramping appeared. Yet and still, I figured that if I just kept close to my pace and managed the cramps by checking my stride length and turnover for the next six miles that I’d have my BQ. No problem, right?

Well, friends, the marathon is no joke. She is a cold mistress and will do with you what she will. Anything – ANYTHING – can happen during 26 miles. Feeling great at mile 18 means nothing. Hashtag respect the marathon. Sure enough shortly before mile 24, my entire body from the waist down seized up, and I basically slowed down to a death shuffle. I finally came to a full stop and stopped my watch (Who does that during a marathon??) to finally check my actual race time. It read 3:23! What? I had two miles to go and 36 minutes to do it in. I basically had to just Not. Stop.

Off I went. It was painful! It blew! It didn’t matter! Around Mile 25, I saw a man cheering on runners…he was wearing his Boston Marathon shirt. It was perfect. Like a sign, right? Seeing that unicorn picked up my spirits, and I smiled at him and said “That’s where I’m going!” He probably pitied this poor delusional woman whose lurching gait indicated that the only thing she’d be qualifying for was the medic tent. Everything went in slow motion, but I just kept telling myself that if I didn’t let up, I would NEVER have to go through this again (except Boston, of course).

There were a few gasps. My body was really over it. But as I cleared the last little uphill and made the turn, I knew the finish was close. The emotions started coming (shoot, they’re coming now as I type this), and even though I didn’t know my exact time, I felt like I had BQd. I had visualized this moment so many times over four years. Those training runs that sucked, those miles when my lungs were burning, those nightmare hill workouts – it had all been for this Moment. I think this photo near the finish captures all the feels.

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Giving credit where credit is due.

After stumbling across the finish line, I needed to confirm I had BQd. I went to the table where they were printing out certificates of each runner’s finishing times, and this is what came out of the printer.

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“This is official, right?” Confirmation. It was only then that I allowed myself to let the fact that I had qualified for the Boston Marathon sink in. I promptly took my photo.

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BQ by 7+ minutes; PR by 33+ minutes

And then, after two failed attempts at making it back to my car and doubling over in cramps, I limped to the medic tent. Ha! My first time ever. But evidence that I had truly left it all out there on that course. The rest of the day was a blur, but I vaguely remember vegan cinnamon rolls and pizza. It was magical.

So now what? Well, stay tuned. Big goals for 2017, including keeping up with the blog!

Finishing Time: 3:52:27
Pace: 8:52/mile
Age Group (45-49): 13/79
Women: 130/492
Overall 393

 

RACE RECAP: Ventura Half Marathon – Shoulda Woulda Coulda

OK, so what’s the time limit on posting race recaps? ‘Cuz I’m just at three months and one day after I ran this race, and while I realize it’s slightly obnoxious, hopefully it’s a forgivable offense. The plan is to post two race recaps this week AND get back to a regular blogging schedule now that I’m in my offseason. So if you’re still hanging in there with this MIA blog, here goes.

The plan was to the run the Ventura FULL marathon. That was the plan anyway.

After my triumphant Mountains2Beach Half Marathon, where I landed a brand new PR at a time that I never dreamed of, I took my usual vacation week to recover. As soon as I returned, I dusted off last year’s training plan for the Ventura Marathon and got busy. I knew I’d only have 12 weeks to build up my mileage to marathon standards, and that I would be cutting it close, but I felt in good enough half marathon shape that the plan would be doable.

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First run after M2B — along the East River in NYC.

Training was going well. I was curious to see how my body would hold up to the added mileage on top of my increased speed and strength training and, as had been the case since starting with Trainer, I was unsure if the speed and strength work would translate into a fast marathon. The first 4½ weeks of training went as planned as I increased my mileage slowly and busted out an 18-mile long run for the first time in nearly a year. Then it happened: I strained my right Achilles. Gah! I had a weekend trip to Vegas planned, so even though I was not thrilled about missing a long run, I figured the timing was right to sit out a few days, get healed up, and still have enough time to get in three 20-mile runs.

My Achilles had other plans. I ended up having to take a little over two weeks off, plus a week to test it out and taper up, which left me only five weeks before the marathon. I am a fan of symmetry and had been looking forward to running the full distance at Ventura as it was exactly this race and one year since my last full marathon, but I decided to downgrade to the half marathon and use it as a training run for the Revel Canyon City Marathon in November instead.

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Bib pick-up. This is a super fun race expo on the beach.

With this decision, I approached Ventura with the mindset of running it at 80% effort. I had to take time off after the Surf City Half Marathon, and if I hadn’t already planned a vacation after the M2B Half Marathon, I probably would have had to take a week off then too. My body just needs to recover after race effort. Since I could not afford to take a week off in the middle of marathon training again, this race was not going to be a full-out effort.

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Kicked it on the beach for a bit.

My goals were as follows:
A-sub-1:50. Why not? That’s what “A” goals are for, right? Shoot for the moon.
B-PR (run sub-1:52:18).
C-sub-1:55 and not get injured.

I also had an unconventional A-minus *goal*, and that was to not stop at so many water stations! My number of water stops has been an ongoing battle — I mean, discussion — between Trainer and I. I have always stopped at EVERY water station during a race, no matter if there were one (like in a 5K) or twenty-six. I stop/walk and drink whether I’m thirsty or not. This, despite the fact that I never drink water at every mile when training and could easily run eight miles during a weekday run without water. Part of it is physiological, the body is expending more energy during a race, but I also knew part of it was a mental crutch. Yikes! The mere thought of skipping water stations terrified me. I felt dehydrated just thinking about it!

I lined up hoping to run with the 1:50 pace group, but there was no pacer for that, and I ended up – gulp – starting out with the 1:45 group. 1:45?!? Just like Mountains2Beach, I planned to hang as long as I could, hopefully until the 4-5 mile mark, and then hold on. I glanced down at my watch a few times during the first few miles and saw some 7:30-7:45 min. mile paces, which seemed about right because the pace felt just out of my reach. I dropped out of the pace group around mile 4 but felt good about cruising into a sub-1:55 finish time.

I found two women who were just slightly ahead of me and running 8:10-8:25 min. miles, which felt fairly comfortable, so I hung with them for the next five miles. This is an extremely flat and boring out-and-back course, so there’s not much to report here other than Ventura is flat AF. Anyway, I bravely and courageously passed by water stations. Oh, yes, friends. I was determined to reach at least one goal at this race, even if I collapsed from dehydration. (Part of me hoped that this would happen just so I could tell Trainer “I told you so”, but no such luck.)

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Nothing but flat highway for miles.

I started fatiguing and cramping as per usual around mile 9-10, only now not only was my body starting to break down, but my Garmin was dying too! It had been going in and out since mile 6, and I had no idea what my actual time was. At this point, I reminded myself of my overall goal for this race, which was to run it at 80%, use it as a training run, and stay injury-free. Thus, I backed off, and did just that.

And here’s where the I Shoulda Woulda Coulda comes in. My finishing time was 1:51:18! Yes, of course I was happy about a new PR by 1 min. 10 sec., but I was also left disappointed – I was thisclose to going under 1:50. If I had known how close I was (why, trusty Garmin, why?!?), I would have kept the pressure on. To top things off, I ended up having to take five days off after the race to recover from a minor bottom-of-foot inflammation anyway, so I just shoulda kept the pace up; I woulda felt better about my race effort; and I coulda gone sub-1:50…argh!

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Hey Finish Line, I see you!

Moral of the story: There are no training races. I don’t race enough to have some “fun” races, and I am competitive enough that if I line up, I want to go hard. So lesson learned…leave the 80% effort for training.

Here are the final race stats. Not bad considering I turned 49 a month before!

Finishing Time: 1:51:18
Pace: 8:29/mile
Age Group (45-49): 9/131  — finally cracked the top 10!
Women: 73/938
Overall 203/1490
Water Stops: 4

So this makes three half marathons and three PRs in 2016. It is astonishing to think that for seven years, I hovered in the 2:14-2:04 range, breaking through only twice to hit sub-2:00 finishes, and now I had run three races in one year at 1:55:59, 1:52:28, and 1:51:18. I mean…

But would these half marathon times translate to the full mary? That question still remained and hung over most of my marathon training cycle. The next recap is scheduled for later this week and will document my first full marathon in over a year. Here is the teaser in hopes you will tune in: It involves the word “Boston.”

Hope you have a great running week!

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I love this medal — so Ventura!