I think I have a new favorite marathon: Surf City Marathon in Huntington Beach, California. Sure, it may be my new favorite because I barely beat my previous PR there today. But there are a few other things about this marathon that makes it my new favorite.
From reading the Runners World forums, I found out that it’s advised to show up to the event by 5:00am for the 6:50am start time. Yikes! Nearly two hours early? Well, if the veterans recommend it, it must be good advice. So I wake up at 3:45, hit the snooze button a few times, rolls out of bed by 4:00, and hit the road from my parents house by 4:15. I get to the marathon start a bit before 5:00 and yeah, they weren’t kidding. There were already a bunch of people there and a steady stream of cars coming into the parking areas. I kill about 20 minutes looking for a honey bucket, don’t find one with toilet paper (yes, I needed it), but discovered the public restrooms along the beach were open. Good thing too. After that, I take a nap in the car for 45 minutes.
After I wake up, I get all my gear together, load up the gel packs, put the race belt on, lace up the shoes, and head on down to the starting line. There I meet Philo. He’s wearing a Silicon Valley Marathon shirt and I ask him about it because I’m planning on running it this year the day after my cousins wedding (hey, if I’m going to travel to San Jose and there just happens to be a marathon I’m going to run it). We chat about Silicon Valley, Big Sur, and Avenue of the Giants. And I find out Philo is 70 years old. Holy crap! Not only is a 70 year-old running this marathon, but I seriously didn’t think he was older than 60. At the start line I also meet Sherrie, another Marathon Maniac who also just happens to be from Portland. Weird. Her master plan is to do 7 continents. Even weirder!
Even though the number of marathoners today was roughly double what was expected due to the LA Marathon fiasco, the field didn’t feel too crowded. I didn’t feel like I had to weave around runners, wasting energy on side-to-side movement. Good thing too. I planned to PR here and things looked especially good for that. Weather was supposed to be almost perfect running conditions. I also had good training runs the week before. I also packed 6 gel packs in the pockets of my Race Ready shorts so I wasn’t going to run out of fuel.
The first 11 miles went well. If anything I went out a bit fast, but I was feeling good. The 2 hills, neither of which were much, came and went with ease early on. Then we turned onto Pacific Coast Highway for an out-and-back section and hit a headwind. Okay, this will slow me down some, I thought, but no big deal, I’ll make up the time at the turnaround. I felt okay at the turnaround; didn’t feel like I lost a whole lot. But the expected boost from what should have been a tailwind now didn’t seem to materialize, or at least, didn’t feel like it did. I just didn’t feel faster. That was a bit of a psychological downer. I managed to get in some birding though as we ran by Bolsa Chica wetlands, so that was a plus. The other nice part about the course is at this part, you see the other marathoners on the out-and-back. Shouted out and got shouted at by some other Maniacs (Stevie Ray and Guillermo and a few others whose names I forgot or don’t know).
Then at about mile 17 we got into a section of the route that is probably my only complaint about Surf City. There’s a large section of the course that is run on a paved trail along the beach. Nice, eh? The problem: it’s not closed to the public. And in some places the path is pretty narrow. So marathoners have to navigate the bikers, pedestrians, and recreational runners who aren’t running the marathon. On a couple of occasions surfers carrying surfboards crossed the path in front of me and I wondered if they’d get across before I came by. Altogether though, people were respectful. On only one occasion did I have to yell “on your left” to a pair of walkers walking side-by-side.
Despite feeling good for the first half, okay for the next 5, and iffy the the next 2, things started to fall apart for the last 6. Nothing big. Just fatigue. I had to pick up a different brand of gels (Accelerade) than I prefer (Hammerhead) and I don’t think I stomach them all that well so I decided to forgo my 6th gel to prevent upset stomach and cramping and run on guts rather than calories. That didn’t work so great and I ended up doing a bit of walking. A couple of times during the last 1.5 miles two different marathoners caught me and told me things like “tough it out” and “you got it” — you know, stuff runners say to each other for motivation. It sort of worked. I knew I had 3:30 in the bag, but I really wanted a PR today since I don’t exactly have any other fast races planned this year (I’m still iffy on Eugene and even more iffy on Newport). So I gutted it out for the last 3/4 mile, tried to sprint the last 1/4 and couldn’t. But I still PR’ed by 44 seconds for a finish time of 3:28:51 Nice! Sort of. I really thought I was going to smash my previous PR, but hey, I’ll take today’s result. Another plus: I finished 20 out of 132 in the mens 35-39 age group (15th percentile). I never finished that well.
Next up: Pier Park 6-hour run on Saturday.