Ventura Marathon Race Report

Me and my crew.

Me and my crew.

Having great training runs is nice and all, but come race day, you’ve got to deliver. In that respect, despite achieving an impressive-sounding, nearly 15-minute PR, the day was a bit of a mixed bag for me if I’m honest. Why? Well, it wasn’t the slam dunk, magical, racing-strong to the last, sub-2:50 boo-yah effort that I know I’m capable of. Right. Now.

I can do better. I will do better.

Do not be concerned. I’m not exactly sitting around feeling bad about it. Quite the opposite. I’m ecstatic at the progress in my running these last months and see Ventura as a solid stepping stone towards my goals. I’m simply excited to get out there again and absolutely crush it, whether on the road or on the trails. Given that I immediately went home and signed up for a new trail race, I guess that means trail! (In fairness, I also signed up for the Chevron Houston Marathon in January).

There are always a number of factors that go into whether a day is a shining, defining moment, or something somewhat less. Here’s my very personal list of what went right, and what didn’t, in the weeks, days and hours leading up to the race:

Weight, Weight, Don’t Tell Me. Seven weeks before marathon: goal racing weight achieved! (down from 131 to 125 lbs, in consultation with a nutritionist well-known to the endurance community). I’m running better than ever. BUT THEN… One week before marathon: realize to my horror that I have managed to pack back on almost three of the six pounds I lost. This despite 85-100 mile weeks, cross training and eating super clean and healthy – and I haven’t even started carbo-loading yet. Seriously, WTF!

Pain in the Butt. Six weeks before marathon: high hamstring strain. BUT THEN… Four weeks before marathon: after using Alter G treadmill for rehab find I’m able to run groundbreaking speedwork and tempo paces. Nice!

Catching My Breath. Two and a half weeks before marathon: have awesome tempo session on the road: 2 x 5 miles at avg 6:19 pace, BUT THEN… worry because it felt HARD.

Speed Demon. About two weeks to race day: last workout. Yasso 800’s. Which I bomb. Sucked so bad I decide to pull the plug on the workout. Leave feeling totally deflated. Day after failed Yassos: realize, during an easy run, that I now have another niggle. Get diagnosed with medial glute strain, can only run on flat surfaces. BUT THEN… Dust off foam roller, actually use it, do stretches on the hour all over Temecula, San Diego and wherever else I was that week, get ultrasound on that butt a few times and hey presto, feeling pretty good.

That’s Sick. Four days before marathon: begin getting symptoms of cold virus passed along from the back-to-school petri dish. Take vitamin C, zinc, kale, green tea, blueberries, strawberries, apples, garlic, lemon tea. Get extra sleep. BUT THEN … Two days before marathon: realize the germ-zapping efforts have actually worked. Phew!

Just Another Saturday. Day before race: first time taking family to an away-race experiment goes horribly wrong. Spend all morning packing up kids and family while kids run around the house throwing things, screaming and trashing everything in sight. Get stuck in endless LA traffic with two overtired small maniacs who simply Won’t. Go. To. Sleep. Husband turns into grumpy bear and I feel about ready to cry. Have to take Tylenol to dull the resulting stress headache. BUT THEN… Night before race: actually manage to get a halfway decent night’s sleep (thank you melatonin!) and wake up feeling ready to roll. Bring it!

But I Didn’t Come For The Pina Coladas. Race Morning: optimistically walk outside with gloves and a fleece on for my warmup only to find that, even at 5am, it’s surprisingly balmy outside. Tell myself that it won’t feel hot so long as there is cloud cover. A few minutes into the race and up comes the beating sun. Race into the rising sun for the next ten miles. BUT THEN… 2:51:49 and second place female. Plus, I beat all but six of the men 🙂

Oh, You Wanted A Race Report.

It warrants a mention that Ventura is a lovely little beach-front town packed with vibrant restaurants and shops, located just across from the race’s host hotel. If you book early enough you can get a discounted room at the Crowne Plaza, located right on the beach and just ¼ mile from the race start. That’s where we stayed and it’s a nice, clean, well-managed and staffed property. (Don’t stay in neighboring Oxnard. It’s scary.)

As I mentioned earlier, the day would have benefitted from lower temps, less humidity and some cloud cover. It wasn’t scorching hot, but at the same time, cool, cloudy mornings make for the fastest marathon times. I certainly felt overheated by the time I was finished. Even so, the first 18 or so miles were a breeze (no pun intended), feeling super comfortable and sustainable, almost easy. Accordingly, it was a surprise when I began struggling between miles 18-20. I felt my fueling and hydration were 100%. The issue was simply fatigue. Bummer.

I poured my heart, soul and guts into the last seven miles. I was mentally prepared for it to get hard and my mental strength was certainly tested. It took all the focus, dedication and positive self-talk I could muster to get through that seemingly endless patch. Sure, my pace fell off. After hitting the half in 1:24:07, I finished in 2:51:49, a significant positive split. At the same time, I’m proud of the way I cajoled my body into producing a still-solid effort right until that finish line, overriding its many objections and uncooperative tendencies.

The Ventura  Marathon is a well organized race, despite 2014 being only the event’s second year. Perks include an almost totally flat course, a prompt start, nice beach/coastal views along the way, easy to spot pace group leaders (for those who use them) and quality free race photos. RD Josh Spiker is working hard to make this race stand out and is doing a fine job. It’s still a relatively small race and there aren’t exactly massive crowds out supporting the runners, but the volunteers were awesome and plentiful.

One quibble I do have is course congestion towards the end of the race. The half marathoners and marathoners converge around mile 18/19 of the course. For me, this meant that I was hitting throngs of half-marathon runners going at a pace almost two and a half minutes per mile slower than me just as I was starting to tire. Many of these runners were wearing headphones and had no idea I was behind them. I tried calling out “heads up please!” a number of times, but it was a lost effort as most didn’t hear me or do anything about it anyway if they did (huge thank you to those that did let me pass). I dodged around people as best I could but it was inefficient, frustrating, and distracting. In the end, I don’t think it cost me a ton of time, but it definitely wasn’t ideal.

While I’m somewhat disappointed not to have run sub-2:50, it’s the days like these that drive me the most. I came close to my goals, but ultimately fell a little short. Next time though, it won’t be my aim to meet that missed goal. I’ve already left it behind. Instead,what motivates me is to take my running to another level entirely.

As for now, I’m breaking out my hydration pack, gazing at the mountains and gearing up for a little dust between my toes.

Ventura Marathon finish line