Finally, the weekend was here. I hadn’t been this nervous about a race for years. For one thing, this was the first half marathon in years for which I actually trained seriously. All the long runs, all the speed work, all with the goal of running a two hour half marathon. In addition to that, I had picked a challenging race in which to do it. The La Jolla Half Marathon is one of the hilliest and toughest races in Southern California. But frankly, the thing that really made me nervous though, was you.
Yes, that is true. You made me nervous. I had set a standard for myself, told you all about it. I felt like you had hopes and expectations for my race. Could I live up to all that? So yes, I was a little
Backing up a bit. Alan and I drove in to San Diego on Saturday. This year the expo was moved to Roadrunner Sports, which was perfect. I had even told Alan that I wanted to stop there (big race=new outfit!), before I knew about the expo.
Off-topic for a moment but this just sprang into my mind. As you know, I have been asking for help deciding on an outfit for the Costume Party Run, my next event, for which I am an Ambassador. A couple people suggested a Dalmatian, which I though would be perfect and a great salute to my amazing 12-year old running partner Penny. White shorts/skirt, and top, add some spots, a tail, ears, and a collar. Easy (important for me), appropriate for running a July race (even more important), and cute (
the most important). While at Roadrunner I happened to see a photo of the Shoe Dog and a little light went on in my head. Check out the similarities:
Anyway, while at Roadrunner Sports I did pick up an outfit (with an extra 10% discount on top of my VIP discount-woot!) and my race packet. While roaming the (2) aisles of the expo, I met Laura Mildon at the Island Boost booth.
Island Boost is a premium, all natural endurance energizer, which comes in a liquid form as opposed to a gel. It is formulated with glucose, a fast and easily absorbed energy source, and coconut water for electrolytes. This makes it perfect for quick assimilation during the run, but it also makes it very sweet. The passion fruit flavor was delicious, but I had a little doubt about the sweetness of it during the run. Laura offered to let me try a sample, suggesting I take a packet right before the hill (she didn’t have to say what hill, if you have ever run the La Jolla Half Marathon you know she is talking about the Torrey Pines Hill, which is at mile 5.5 in the race), and at mile 10.
You may have noticed that I was on the verge of breaking one of the cardinal rules of racing: Nothing new on race day. There I was, the day before the race, planning to test a new energy replacement and buying a new outfit.
I had to get up early on race morning. We were staying in La Jolla, which meant that I needed to catch the shuttle bus up to the Del Mar Racetrack for the start of the race. We were told that the buses ran between 5:00 and 6:00, but we needed to be in line by 5:30. Pretty easy, really, since our hotel was right across from where they would pick us up. But Alan, who was announcing the 5k, also need to get to the start line of the 5k. The first bus there would be too late for him, he needs to be there before the runners arrive.
In the past, he was given a ride on a motorcycle, which would then transport him back to the finish line after the start of the race, so that he could announce the finishers as they came in. This year, the ride back was assured, but the right to the start was not available. That meant that we had to leave about 4:45 so that I could bring him to his start line. I then drove back, with plenty of time to spare, until I was almost back to the hotel. I expected to have to explain myself, because the road around the hotel was closed for the race. What I didn’t expect that I would be blocked by a bus loading runners for about five minutes. That was okay, still time to spare.
I finally got back to the hotel, parked my car, and went up to the room. I was ready to go, I just needed to drop off my keys and wallet, picket up my race gear, and head down to get in line. But then, my key didn’t work. So I marched back down to the lobby, had to wait several minutes because the desk was being manned by the security guard until the desk man got back. Still time to spare, though it was getting shorter.
The key machine didn’t work. After multiple tries, I was finally sent back to my room with the security guard, who let me in with his master key. I just had time to use the restroom one last time, grab my stuff, and head out the door. Good thing the line started right in front of my door!
When I arrived at the Del Mar Racetrack, I wondered what my hurry was. It was 6:10. The race didn’t start until 7:30. It was pretty cold, around 59 (yeah, I know, I’m from the desert give me a break), so I wanted to keep my warmups on as long as possible. I did go pick up my gear bag so that I’d have it when I was ready. Time moved quickly though, and soon enough, it was time to head to the start line.
Can you see the start line? In all my years of racing, this is the farthest I’ve ever been from the start line. That is the result of time, injury, and my own words from last year’s race report
Actually, the race directors took every suggestion I made last year, and the result was a better race. I wonder if they read my post? The start was better, there were a lot of water stations, something La Jolla has never had, the exit after the race was much more open so that you weren’t standing waiting to get out of the finish area on tired legs. Part of this, I know was because the race was taken over this year and managed by InMotion Events after being run for years by the Kiwanis Club. But, a small part of me hopes that they read my post, took my suggestions, which created a better race. A girl can hope, right?
I was in wave number three (of six). When the race started, wave #1 took off, then there were three minutes between each wave. It went fast, and was organized, and when my time came, we were off. I was wearing my Garmin, mostly to give me an idea of my pace, to keep me from running too fast, and to let me know that I needed to pick it up if I slowed down. The challenge with a hilly race is that there is no set pace at which to run. Yes, I can say that my goal pace for a two hour half marathon is 9:09, but add a little elevation and none of that counts. And there was plenty of elevation.
We finally were off. And, even though I was surrounded by a bunch of potential two hour half marathoners, when I checked my Garmin about a half mile into the race, we were running eight minute miles. Um, better slow down.
Overall, the first three and a half miles were great. The course takes you out of the racetrack, through a pretty good uphill along Ville de la Valle, then a left turn onto the Coast Highway. Part of what makes this such an amazingly beautiful race is that much of it is run along this highway, which hugs the west coast of California, offering amazing views of the ocean and the shore. For me, though, mile 3.7 ish, wasn’t so beautiful, because that was my first “asthma incident.” I have dealt with my exercise induced asthma as long as I’ve been running, so this was nothing new, but it still slows me to a walk, puffing on my inhaler until the medication sets in. I probably walked about three minutes, right at the point the road headed back up to the Coast Highway, right before mile four.
When I felt recovered, I started running again, hitting mile four and this view.
Here comes the hill. (That picture was from a couple years ago. I did not take any pictures during the race.)
Actually, I ran strong up that hill. Not fast, but steady, and I did not walk. As Laura instructed, I took my first Island Boost at the base of the hill, right before the water station. It was a little, um, strong. When I first tore open the pack, I must have squeezed too hard, because some of it splashed out on my face. As I swallowed, my gag response wanted to kick in. Not because it tasted bad. It was just so strong and so sweet. I grabbed a cup of water and tried to flush it down, but I had a really hard time. I probably finished about three quarters. I did feel good after taking in the Island Boost, though. I felt the fuel kick in and it felt good. I had no stomach problems at all during the race. I just was worried about my next dose, at mile 10.
One of the things they don’t tell you about “the hill,” is that in addition to that .75 miles of about 15% grade, there is another mile of slight uphill as you run through the park. It doesn’t level off until you leave Torrey Pines park and get back on the main road.
I was running along fine at this point. In fact, miles 4 through 9 were about as good as I could hope for. My pace was good, even though the fear of the asthma makes me want to hold back a bit, and I felt strong. I was close to the mile 10 marker when the asthma kicked in again. Maybe I should describe it. It doesn’t feel like my airway is closing, at least not at first. I start to feel a little lightheaded, like I’m not getting enough oxygen. My extremities start to feel the same way, and my pace will slow down. At this point, if I try to push through, it will become a full-fledged asthma attack. If I stop, walk, and use my inhaler, I can usually recover completely.
When I started running again, I was approaching a water station and it was time for my second Island Boost. I was more careful this time, so I didn’t splash myself, but I still found the strength and sweetness overwhelming. I grabbed a cup of water and dumped the majority of the Island Boost into it. Ah, much better. I drank most of the liquid, it tasted very good diluted. And I really felt a surge of energy shortly afterward.
Of course, that was also partly because mile 10 is downhill. A long, glorious, relatively steep downhill all the way until you hit the mile 11 marker, dropping you down into La Jolla Shores, where you run briefly right along the boardwalk between the parking lot and the beach, causing surfers to make mad dashes between the runners. After that you enter a little neighborhood, where right before my favorite house ever (because it’s purple), I had to stop yet again and use my inhaler.
I took that picture a couple years ago, when, I was having similar problems with the asthma (but was not in nearly as good of shape). That year I did a lot more walking and picture taking.
Shortly after I passed the purple house, I turned a corner and saw the 12 mile marker. I also knew that one more turn would bring me to the final hill in the race, one that doesn’t get talked about much, but is just as deadly because it is unexpected, steep, and much longer than you expect. It actually takes you from the 12 mile marker to only about a quarter mile from the finish. I heard a lot of groans (maybe one from myself too) as we turned the corner.
The last part of the race is downhill all the way to the finish. It’s kind of steep, and partly on a brick-paved road, so you have to be careful. I could feel the asthma starting again, but I wasn’t going to stop so close to the finish. I pushed through and finally heard the voice of my husband announcing as I approached the finish line, “Here comes my favorite person in the whole world.” We’d been asked to cross our arms across our hearts as we crossed the finish line, in remembrance of the Boston Marathon, and as I did so, my emotions welled up and suddenly my airway started to close. Fortunately, I was done, so I stopped, grabbed my inhaler, waved off the man who was approaching me with concern, and gradually recovered.
Post Race Recovery and Reflections
After I managed my asthma, I grabbed some water, coconut water, and a little fruit and headed out to find Alan. Actually, he found me because I was still a little hazy. It’s nice to be right across the street from your hotel in these situations, so I headed back to the room, and after a quick photo-op trip to the roof, showered, ate a little and we got on the road. Because we had someone important to see.
So, all that walking…how did I do with my goal? Well, you can probably guess I didn’t make my goal time of two hours. But, I am happy that in spite of the asthma issues that I managed to finish at all, and that I did in 2:05:41. I’ll take it. That was good for 21st in my division.
I didn’t mention this before, but I was running this race for two people. One was my mother, who would have been celebrating her 85th birthday that day.
The other was my friend Jeff. If you recall, Jeff was diagnosed with stage four glioblastoma back in November. He had emergency surgery, where they found the huge tumor had actually pushed his brain stem aside. His fiancee, Amy, was given very little hope of his ever waking up. But Jeff is still with us, still fighting, still being amazing. He has been through radiation and is currently undergoing yet another round of chemo. After a recent hospitalization and another procedure for deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, Jeff was not able to get around much, so Amy asked all his friends to dedicate their weekend athletic endeavors to Jeff, who is an Ironman triathlete.
Thoughts of Jeff kept me going. Because, seriously, compared to what Jeff has gone through, what is a little asthma?
I know a lot of you were racing and at other events this past weekend. How did they go?