Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Running in the Californian sun....or not!!!

I was asked to run the 50k World Champs at rather short notice, and so had to decline as I had already booked a holiday for that period, but when I spotted a marathon (the California International Marathon or CIM) right in the middle of my fortnight away, I couldn't resist jumping in and giving it a go.

With hindsight, it may not have been one of my better ideas. I'm not trying to make excuses for myself, as sometimes a no-pressure event yields unexpected results, but I think that a combination of a lack of sleep (from jetlag, unfamiliar surroundings and several different room-mates), a complete departure from my normal pre-race diet (not that I'm complaining about that as I've loved everything that I've eaten), lots of travel (ie 10 hours in a car the couple of days beforehand) and a lack of long runs (I've done one long run since the 100k in September......and that was the York marathon) probably wasn't going to lead to a stellar performance.

Still, I usually end up running alone (both in training and in marathons) and it was a great opportunity to run with a huge number of speedy women (the CIM is considered to be one of the best - and last - opportunities to qualify for the US Olympic Trials, so many women were aiming to try to run sub 2:43). I also thought it might be a good opportunity to try out different "in-race" nutrition, as I don't really like gels that much and hence tend not to use them in training.

I hadn't really been "feeling it" for a couple of days pre-race, and those who know me well, will realise how unlike me it was, that it just wanted to go to bed at 7:30pm the night before the race as I felt so off. Still, it could have been a good thing as breakfast was from 3am. I felt rather nauseated as I forced some granola and yoghurt down, so decided to try some of the cakes available (as they always go down well). A couple of mouthfuls of blueberry muffin weren't sitting well, so I switched to better. Oh dear!

The race didn't start until 7am, so after we had been bussed to the start nice and early (!), I tried again with a jam bagel sandwich. As a last resort, I went for a can of, liquid and caffeine...magic (that certainly scored me some kudos later!).

No hiding en route then!
Unfortunately, the warm Californian weather I had expected was not in evidence, and I wondered how everyone else was managing to stay warm as they stood with hand on heart in the cold rainy dark morning listening to the Star-Spangled Banner, as I felt really cold whilst trying to keep still out of respect (though I do have to say that the singer had a great voice!!).

The start was nothing like I had feared, even with an elite field that covered 6 pages.....really relaxed with no trampling issues. It was only then, when up and running  that I realised the nausea hadn't subsided at all. I briefly contemplated dropping out, but how embarrassing would it be to be the first person to pull out of a race? I thought about it again in the second mile, but figured that it really wouldn't be fair to do that to my friend Clancy who'd been a super-chauffeur and would be waiting for me at the finish line.

Instead, I decided to see if I could stick with the 2:43 pace group up to the halfway mark (thinking "please don't be sick until then") and then make a decision. If I could get to there, then I could afford to run the second half almost 7 minutes slower and still break 2:50 (that might sound like a really strange goal, but I've never finished a marathon in the 2:50s).

I started to chat to a lady in the group and we realised that we had friends in common, as she lives and trains in Boulder, where several Scottish marathoners I know, go for their altitude training. You could see how serious some runners were about sticking with the 2:43 pacer, as they would chop their stride if they got slightly ahead. And I ended up moving just ahead of the pack, as I was getting knocked and nudged around and I like to be able to run freely, especially  up and down inclines.

It was certainly cold when you stopped running!
I still wasn't feeling much better, so I mentally worked out how much slower I could run for each mile in the second half to make my target. As we passed through the halfway point, the clock showed 1:21:15 (I was impressed as the pacer had been due to go through at 1:21:20 and he was just a stride behind me). I stuck with them for another few miles (giving me more of a fade-buffer) and then dropped off the pace.

I make it sound like it was a measured decision, but I just couldn't keep going at that pace. However, on looking at my garmin afterwards, I appear to have run a pretty consistent pace from there on home, albeit 20-25s/mile slower than the first 17. It certainly didn't feel that way at the time. There were a few ladies struggling around me, who would put an effort in and move ahead, and then I'd catch them up again, only for the cycle to be repeated. 

I tried to ignore them, and just focus on not letting my pace drop too much......though I confess to working out how slow it would have to drop to before I was into the 2:50s (just quietly, I was kind of wishing that my pace had dropped that far, as then I could let myself slow even further to finish over 3 about being weak-minded, I'm not very proud of that!). 

So glad to have crossed that line!
I overheard a lady (one of the ones who had been pushing and dropping back) almost crying to a friend of hers on a bike, as she had such back pain in her Achilles. I knew how she felt as I'd been going through phases of left quad pain alternating with right calf pain. I decided to "nobly" suggest to her that we run-walk it in together, but luckily (!) for me, when I turned round, I couldn't spot her any more.

The last few miles were rather lonely ones but looking at my watch, I knew that as long as I could keep going, then I would make it. I actually passed quite a people in those final miles, so I felt that I just be running more strongly than I thought (despite someone shouting "get those shoulders down and relax darlin' " from the side of the road). I was tempted to reply "you do it then" in response to a cry of "it's just a walk in the park from here", but as I had my name displayed across my chest, I didn't think that would make me any friends.

A worthy medal ;-)
The final turn took forever to arrive, and just before I got there, I heard my name pronounced perfectly for the first time that day. Turning, I spotted Martín Montoro, a family friend who had come up from LA to see me run, so I tried to smile and wave. Rounding the final corner I spotted the finish gantry and managed to sprint past another couple of ladies, crossing the line with 2:46 on the clock. The best thing was that Clancy was right there at the line to hug me (a VIP pass really does let you go anywhere) and lead me over to see Martín and his wife Cathie. 

Not my finest race (and although I couldn't even face the free post-race buffet, my stomach had held up) and the nausea had prevented me from trying out the planned nutrition, but I hadn't disgraced myself, I'd run with some great ladies (I think 15 qualified for the Trials.....although no men did!!) and I'd had some lovely support from some great friends! Who can complain at that? 

Now...more pancakes and brownies anyone????

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