I ran the Rock&Roll San Diego Marathon last weekend. My goals were:
- Run a marathon without walking (I needed to walk in my previous two marathons)
- Qualify for the Boston Marathon (3:10:00 or better).
- Run under 3 hours.
- Win an age group award.
I trained for 17 weeks leading up to this race. During that time I struggled with an achilles issue, but was able to earn a new half-marathon PR after recovering from that. My overall mileage was not what I had hoped for, but I felt that all 4 goals were reasonable (though progressively harder).
Erica and I flew out to San Diego Saturday morning. Her sister Audrey lives in San Diego with her husband Curtis. Audrey picked us up from the airport and we took off to the expo. Erica and I were pretty much in-and-out in less than 30 minutes. After the expo, Audrey drove us along most of the course — mostly so that I could see “the hill” at mile 20. As we drove the course, Audrey provided commentary about where we were that helped me to have some context during the race. The one thing that stuck out was the the entire course was much hillier than I expected. There is a 250ft net drop, but the sections that looked flat on the elevation chart didn’t look flat in real life.
After driving the course we had a good lunch (fish and chips for me) and spent some time hanging out on their porch in Little Italy looking out on the bay. It was very relaxing. For dinner we went to La Villa in Little Italy where I had a great potato gnocchi dish with chicken and mushrooms. Every place in Little Italy was packed, but luckily Curtis and Audrey knew this restaurant pretty well and were able to score us a perfect pair of couches on the patio.
After dinner I pretty much went straight to bed and was able to get a good night of rest, until 3:30am.
Erica was kind enough to wake up and drive me to the starting line at 5am. I drank some water and some nuun and had a half of a clif bar. I took my headphones with me and listened to music while I did some light active stretching (mostly hips) and pumped myself up for the task at hand. 17 weeks of training was going to come down to the next few hours.
I took a gu and a final sip of water and headed to the starting line at 6:00am. I was in coral 1, but didn’t want to line up too far forward for fear of starting too fast. I lined up in about the 5th or 6th row with a bunch of guys wearing Mexico team trainer kits.
Normally at races, the national anthem is horrible. The woman who sang before the start of the marathon KILLED IT. I was really impressed. Shortly after the singing of the national anthem we were off and running.
The First 10k:
For the first 10k of the race I was just trying to make sure everything felt easy. I ran the first mile just about right on schedule, but was a little fast after that. I tried to slow it down a little bit, but it is really hard to let people run away from me in a race. This 10k was mostly downhill, so it was ok to be a little fast.
I crossed the 10k mark in 41:50. Right at that point some guy in jeans came running out from the spectators and started talking to a couple of guys running next to me. He was going to be bringing them a bottle with half gatorade and half water around the 10 mile mark. Those guys then took off ahead.
miles 1-6: 6:44, 6:34, 6:36, 6:21, 6:40, 6:13 (Gu at mile 5)
The Second 10k:
Just after the 10k mark we entered Little Italy. This is where I would first see Erica, Audrey, and Curtis. They would be cheering from Audrey and Curtis’ house which happened to be on the course. As soon as they came into view I could see Erica going crazy cheering for East Nasty. My immediate thought was “holy shit! Is there someone in an East Nasty shirt here? I wonder if I know them?!?!”
Erica confirmed the EN shirt spotting and I sped up to catch them. It turned out it was the two guys who were talking about the gatorade/water bottle. One of them was Brian Gilson who is in fact an Easy Nasty who lives in Nashville. Brian was running with a friend from college. He also happens to be one of the people who beat me at the Country Music Half-Marathon (see the 12th South section in that recap). After a quick chat it sounded like we were all three looking for about the same goal (sub-3 hours) so I tagged along with them for a while. What are the odds that another East Nasty just happened to be running the same race at the same pace on the opposite side of the country?
After the excitement of that died down, we came upon the absolute coolest music stage on the course. DJ Carmin Wong was setup at the entrance to a tunnel. She had lights lining the tunnel and was piping dance music into the tunnel. Running through the tunnel was almost overwhelming at first, but after a few seconds I started to really dig it. I could run an entire race like that! (Wonder if they would shut down the Lincoln Tunnel for a race one morning?)
Shortly after we exited the tunnel we entered Old Town. This area had lots of hills, but decent crowds. I was starting to worry about running too fast, but also knew that I would see Erica, Audrey & Curtis at mile 10 where they would give me a bottle of water.
During the water bottle hand off, they started channeling Alexi Pappas by delivering cheers like “You have new legs, baby girl” and “You are a mermaid!” I had to stop laughing before I could drink any of the water.
miles 7-12: 6:15, 6:45, 6:38, 6:30, 6:44, 6:40 (Gu at mile 10)
Just before mile 12 the course entered a bike path along a small recreational bay. The scenery was pretty great and it was flat. The only problem was that it was starting to feel a little warm (in hindsight, we were running downwind which reduces the cooling effect). We talked about easing the pace a little bit, but then we got passed by a couple of guys in Vibrams – that is an ego killer. Maybe it is just me, but I would prefer to get chicked than to get vibramed.
By mile 15 we had left the bike path and were running directly into a considerable headwind. After Rocket City Marathon last December I vowed to run smart when racing with a group in the wind. I suggested that we go single-file and take turns leading. Brian and I took turns sharing the pace-setting through mile 17. At some point we lost Andrew.
miles 13-17: 6:56, 7:00, 6:56, 6:53, 6:53 (Gu at mile 14)
The Race to Mile 20:
After mile 17 we turned onto a long hill (that didn’t look like a hill on the elevation map, but sure as hell felt like a hill). I knew Erica would be waiting for me at mile 20, but I also know there was a HUGE hill at mile 21 and I wanted to be ready for it. Fortunately/unfortunately Brian was holding us on pace. I couldn’t let him get to Erica before me, so I had to hold the pace. I have a sneaking suspicion we were actually taking turns pushing the pace up the hill. I do know that we were passing people pretty much the whole time.
At mile 19 I started looking for Erica and my next water bottle. I couldn’t find her, but I had been taking water from the water stops, so I was probably fine. I started to get bummed as we were about to enter the highway, but then I heard screaming as we ran over the overpass and I looked down to see Erica, Audrey & Curtis on the highway. It was a serious morale boost (see video below).
miles 18-20: 6:55, 6:41, 6:33 (Gu at 18)
Just after entering the highway we were going to be heading up “The Hill.” I told Brian that I was going to slow down for this part and let him go. As I was running under an overpass at the base of the hill I noticed that I needed to pee. Since there was no one around I decided to just step to the side of the highway and pee right there (no need to a port potty). I was surprised by how badly I needed to go and was also a little surprised when a woman ran up on me (oops!)
I started running up The Hill and tried to stick to my plan (hold the pace up the hill, hold that effort once I got to the top). The Hill was BRUTAL. I could tell that my pace was slower and my effort was harder. Luckily I was still picking people off up the hill, so I couldn’t be in that bad of shape. Audrey had told me to just watch for the bridge – once I went under the bridge The Hill was over. Well, there were two bridges so I had a little false hope, but managed to get to the top without dying. We then had to go up an exit ramp to get off the highway which would also signified that it would be (mostly) downhill from there.
miles 20-22: 7:48 (pee break and hill), 7:25 (hill) (Gu at 22)
The Final Stretch:
Once I crested The Hill it was time for the final stretch. It sounds much easier than it was. There were rolling hills through mile 24 or so. We merged with the half-marathoners a couple of times, but luckily they were cordoned off into their own lanes. Since the half-marathon started 30 minutes behind us, I was passing everyone running 2:30 and slower which seemed like at least half of the field. It was cool to see so many people out on the course, but I was hurting badly.
I kept trying to do math, but my brain wasn’t working very well. I knew that I could run the rest of the way without walking and was pretty positive that I was going to meet the BQ goal (sub 3:10). I didn’t think I could get under 3 hours and hated the prospect of crossing the line at 3:00:xx. I tried to keep pushing on, but everything hurt and I was getting hot. At mile 24 I felt my chest get tight and felt a little light-headed. I got scared for a second and focused on my breathing and my body to make sure I wasn’t having a serious problem like a heart attack. Next thing I knew I crested a little hill and immediately started to feel better.
That is when it hit me, I might be able to pull this off!
miles 23-25: 7:04, 7:07, 6:49
The Final Stretch:
Just before mile 25 I started looking at my watch and trying to calculate how much time I had. I knew I needed to run hard, but still wasn’t sure I could get under 3 hours. My watch was off on the total distance by .2-.4 miles and I didn’t want to trust the lap pace. There were more and more spectators and the crowd noise was getting loud. I thought I saw the finish line, but it was just some kind of Rock&Roll banner on the road. Then I heard it.
“One mile to go!”
I quickly hit the lap button and looked down at my watch to see 2:53:43.
I could do that math! I had 6 minutes and 15 seconds to get across the line. I could do this! I was going to do this! I just had to BUST. MY. ASS. for 6 minutes. I heard Alexi Pappas screaming in my head “six minutes, you can do anything for six minutes baby girl!”
Luckily this section was downhill too. I picked up the pace and started passing people. I probably had a few seconds of chip time to spare, but I wanted to see a 2 on that clock when I crossed the line. I heard my wife screaming for me just as some guy tried to pass me. That was not going to happen — I was not getting passed in front of my wife!
I finally saw the clock at 2:59 and started sprinting. As I dropped the guy who was trying to pass me I quickly wondered “where the hell was this speed 20 minutes ago?!?”
I crossed the line at 2:59:39 and stopped my watch.
Holy. Shit. I. Did. It.
final mile: 6:14
I was completely out of it. Someone was putting a medal around my neck and someone was handing me a water. People were taking pictures and there were elated half-marathoners everywhere. I could barely walk and wasn’t thinking clearly. I looked down and realized I was holding a bottle of water, a bottle of gatorade, and a carton of chocolate milk. I downed the chocolate milk first, poured the water over my head and started working on the gatorade.
The bag check was one way and the family reunion area was another. I stopped for a minute and struggled to know which way to go. I decided to go meet my family and ask them to go get my bag for me. I saw Erica first and that is the first time I relaxed.
What can I say, I hit 3 out of 4 goals. I improved my marathon PR by over 22 minutes. I qualified for Boston by over 10 minutes and broke the 3 hour barrier. I thought I could run closer to 2:55, but I also thought it wouldn’t be as hilly as it was. I didn’t get an age group award, but I was 5th in my division (4th in age group since one guy got 2nd).
I also feel incredibly grateful for all of the support I had. Erica, Audrey & Curtis were awesome. They got way into it and were the best support crew I could ask for. We even had a short walk to the car in the midst of 25,000 people trying to arrange short walks to cars. I also feel very grateful for all of the people I get to run & train with — the experienced runners who show up to run early rain or shine, listen to my obsessive planning and wondering, and share their experience from successful marathons in the past. I am also grateful for East Nasty which is the roots of my running life and apparently those roots have spread across the country.
I now feel like I have had a successful marathon. I can do better and am already looking for the next opportunity, but there was a monkey on my back that has now been taken care of.
I will see you in Boston!