Friday, February 7, 2014

Surf City Marathon, 2014

The marathon is a grueling event.  I know, this is not exactly ground-breaking news here, but 26.2 miles is a long way to go on foot, even if you've trained perfectly for it.  And if we're going to be honest about it, my training for the 2014 Surf City Marathon was far from perfect.  Don't misunderstand, it's not like I'd been sitting around on my couch eating donuts and watching reruns of Happy Days for six months.  But conventional wisdom says that when you're going to run a marathon, that needs to be the sole focus of your training -- building up mileage, doing a long run every week, mixing in speed training -- and instead of that, I've been running half-marathon events every few weeks starting last October.  Therefore, in the months leading up to Surf City, my longest "long" run was 17 miles, and that was about five weeks before the event.

Hal Higdon would be shaking his head in disdain.

Suffice it to say that I was not in peak form on race day, but I was determined to give it my best shot.

The Surf City Marathon in Huntington Beach, California is a very popular event because not only do
you get to run along the Pacific Ocean in gorgeous (usually) weather, you also get rewarded with one of the coolest medals in the running world.  The Surf City bling is a gold medallion mounted on a wooden surfboard.  VERY nice.  This race would also be my brother Bobby's first marathon, his fiance Amy's first half marathon, and several of our Cottonwood Elementary School teammates were also entered in the half.  And, as if all that isn't enough, Bobby and I would be earning the coveted Beach Cities Challenge medal for running the OC Marathon/Half, Long Beach Half, and Surf City Marathon consecutively.

We went to the expo on Saturday to pick up our race packets (bib number, shirt, and other goodies) and we also bought some race memorabilia.  It was quite crowded (almost 20,000 runners were entered in the weekend events), so we didn't hang around too long, opting instead to go to the Spaghetti Factory to continue the carbo-loading process.  Theresa and I spent the night at my parents' house, about 30 miles from Huntington Beach.

Sunday morning, I woke up at about 3:30, had my usual breakfast of a bagel, CLIF Bar, and Powerade, and then Bobby and Amy picked me up around 4:15.  We got to Huntington around 5:00, and waited in the race expo tent where it was reasonably warm.  Race time was 6:30 for the full, so we milled around a bit, posed for pre-race pictures, and headed to the starting line about fifteen minutes before the gun.  Because my training was spotty, I really didn't have specific expectations or goals for this race.  I certainly wanted to come in under 4:45:00, but I wasn't expecting to PR (4:27:34, OC Marathon 2013).

The race started at sunrise, and as the sun came up, it got to be pretty sunny and comfortable.  The first two miles were straight up the Pacific Coast Highway, and then we made a right turn into a residential area.  There were a few moderate hills, but nothing drastic.  At about mile six we entered Huntington Beach Central Park, and the road became a fairly narrow footpath which made passing other runners practically impossible.  I was trying to maintain a 9:30/mile pace for as long as I could, knowing that I would drop off considerably once mile 20 reared its ugly head.  I made it through the park on schedule, and then we headed back up PCH.  At mile 11 there was a turnaround, so now it was south on PCH and I got to see all the other runners (marathoners and half-marathoners, who started about an hour and a half after the marathon) on the other side of the highway.  I saw Bobby before long, looking reasonably fresh and enthusiastic.  So far, so good . . . for both of us.

Then came a huge mental hurdle.

At mile 16, there was another turnaround, where the marathoners headed north on a
Bobby and me, with our Surfboard Medals

footpath/boardwalk right along the beach.  The half-marathoners, however, were at mile 12 of their course, and got to keep going south on PCH.  So we could see and hear the finish line and the gathering crowd right there in front of us . . . and then we had to swing around and run another ten miles.

Miles 17-21 were northbound on the beach footpath, the ocean on one side, and for one stretch, Super Bowl tailgate parties in RVs on the other.  Lots of the tailgaters were happily providing snacks and refreshments to the runners, my particular favorite being the "Bacon and Beer" table.  By this time, the cloud cover had rolled in, so it was cool and overcast.  Perfect weather.  What I didn't realize at this point was that there was a fairly healthy wind at my back, which became all too evident when I made the turnaround at mile 21 and . . .

Smack.  Right into a stiff headwind.

The last five miles of a marathon are extremely difficult under the best of circumstances.  But now, having hit the wall at mile 19 and feeling like my legs were made of Jello pudding, the added wind resistance booted any hope of a PR right into the cresting waves of the Pacific.  Up until mile 17 or so, I was right with the 4:25 pace group, and since that group started in the wave ahead of me, I was pretty sure I was on pace for a 4:22 or so marathon.  But now, at blustery mile 22, I was content to give it my best effort with the realization that my time was going to be in the 4:30's.  Which, to be honest, I was perfectly happy with.

Mile 23 seemed like it was four miles long, during which time Bobby and I passed each other again.  He was looking pretty wiped, just as I was, but his spirits were up and I knew he'd be fine.  Mile 24 was only a little bit better, and then for the last two point two, I took out my earbuds and just enjoyed the sound of the ocean, the crowd, the gasping and wheezing of my fellow runners.

I crossed the line with a time of 4:35:50, got my surfboard medal, posed for the official photos, and waited for Bobby, who finished about fifteen minutes later.  More pictures, and then we headed to the expo tent to pick up our Beach Cities Challenge medals and meet up with the rest of our team, who had already completed the half marathon.  Everyone did a great job, so we posed for yet another photo session, and then headed home to watch the Seattle Seahawks run 26.2 miles all over the backs of the Denver Broncos.

Team Cottonwood
I have to say, the feeling that comes with finishing a marathon is simply awesome.  Never mind the soreness, it's all worth the effort.

A few comparisons between this race and my first marathon, the OC back in May.  This time around, I suffered no blistering whatsoever.  After the OC, I could barely walk for a week, my feet were so destroyed.  But this time, nothing.  Sure, my muscles were sore, but two days later I felt like I was ready to go again.  During both races the last six miles were brutal, but this time it didn't seem quite so torturous.  Granted, I was eight minutes slower this time, but I didn't feel like I was about to implode.  An encouraging sign for sure.

My next full marathon is the San Francisco Marathon, slated for July 27th.  The course is supposed to be tough, but it includes a run across the Golden Gate Bridge, which is going to be amazing.  This time, I plan to focus more on specific marathon training in the hopes of a new PR.  This is not to say there won't be other events between now and then -- Rock 'n' Roll San Diego and the OC Half Marathon just to name a couple -- but the eight weeks prior to the SF Marathon will be devoted entirely to training.  And what could be more fun than marathon training in the desert in July?

Yippee-ky-yay, other runners.


  1. Congrats on another great race! I enjoy your race reports. I'm glad you didn't have any blisters. I agree that the marathon is grueling and I can't get my head around those that do ultra events as much as I have struggled with having a good marathon. I think the taper is very important and from what you said, you didn't really have much of one. What a great time, though. I hope to be around that time if/when I do another marathon.

    Oh, and I hate turning around into a noticeable when headed back, even in a half marathon. It sucks the life right outta me! ;)

  2. You didn't focus on marathon training but you still had a solid race! And felt better afterwards than the last time - it's amazing what our bodies can get used to :) Congrats on the marathon!!

  3. Big congrats on the Surf City Marathon and BCC! I am not a big fan of this race with all those out and backs but the medal is the BEST. I'll be at the San Francisco Half Marathon this year too. Maybe I'll see you!

  4. Shoot. I dread walking up hills in my neighborhood these days and you're out running 26 miles. Maybe I should give that dieting thing a try...