I went to California on Friday morning for my last race there of the year. I can never fully express how fortunate I feel to get to go to my favorite places to race. I know not everyone can do this, so I am so thankful each time I can.
Work has been very busy, thankfully, and so I didn't give the race the attention it deserved until Thursday. People would ask, "what's the weather going to be?" "are you packed?" My response was, "I have my food and know what I'll race in, so no need to think about it until Thursday." With that level of detail I packed on auto-pilot, and was on my way.
I arrived in Cali to cooler temps and a wind storm. I really didn't know what my plan for the race would be since I had only done the marathon last year, and it had been incredibly muddy. I had asked Steve a while back and he said that he went 9:33 last year and I could definitely go faster than that. OK.
Saturday morning came very early after an odd night of sleep, maybe 3 hours? I headed to the race start and 44 degrees. It sure felt colder than that with the wind. I saw friends from C2M, Florencia and Leslie. Florencia and I peeled off our layers with 5 minutes pre-start. Some people seemed VERY overdressed. Right before the start we saw Kelly. She is just in incredible shape and it is always great to see her. People ask how I know her and I tell them that I follow her race schedule :) In the dark, Carl, the RD, yelled "go." I REALLY need to get myself to the eye doctor because my night vision is getting worse. I was having all kinds of trouble seeing around me. I know I am night blind and normally I can muttle through, but this was a challenge. Poor Leslie is probably bruised from me running into her. Florencia, Leslie, and I ran together for about the first 2 miles catching up and chatting away. On the first climb I pulled away.
It was a beautiful crisp morning, and there were wonderful people running the race. I chatted with a guy who is training for the same Ironman Paul is doing. I met a guy who does Ultraman races with our friend, Mark. On and on we went. Before I knew it, we were approaching the 7.9 mile aid station Bort Meadows. I only took note of this station because my friend, Stan, was working it! So I came in and saw him and hollered, "#32 Texas is here!" Then I turn my head and see Sara, our friends from Auburn. I was thrilled! Her husband, Lee, came over and gave me a big hug and off I went. What a super treat!
Off I went down the trail and soon enough Florencia caught up to me. We had met at C2M, and I enjoyed catching up with her. It is always incredible to me how people not only manage life, work, and training, but also good balance with their kids. She is one of those people, and I had a nice time running with her. As we were running along, we briefly discussed what finish time was possible. She said that she was hoping just to maintain her pace as she had not been training much and this was her kick-off to HURT training. I didn't have a clue, but said it would be a dream to break 9 hours. And I just let the thought flow...
She got ahead of me on a downhill and I wouldn't see her again until she was heading back from the turnaround. I continued happily on my way...eating, drinking, feeling good. Soon enough I got to the descent to the turnaround (26 miles). I thought about this section from last year. It was the first few miles of the race, a 1400 ft. climb. It was a mud pit, and it put my head in a bad place from the beginning. As I ran down, I thought about how much more I would enjoy the climb on the way back out. The ground was hard, but VERY dry!! On this descent I saw the leaders climbing back up. First came the men, then...1,2,3,4 women. I was sitting in 5th. The lead women all seemed about 2+ miles ahead of me, and the ones I knew (Kelly especially) are strong on the back end. I was more than pleased to hold my 5th place.
I got to the turnaround and headed back up. It was there I saw the 6th place woman coming down, and not too far behind me. I knew I needed to move. This was the first time that I had a close race behind me. Normally the leaders are far in front, but I am comfortably in my little spot with some breathing room...not Saturday. It was a good thing because I hussled. But, as I was leaving the mile 30 aid station she was coming in. I started running scared. I charged the downhill and kept running the uphill. It was awesome because my legs were letting me run scared. By the time I got to the next aid station, I thought I had pulled away but still continued to push on....I couldn't get caught in the last miles.
In those last miles, it was about 35-44, I could only think it was a dream. I was running along as though I had only run 10 miles. I felt good, almost too good. I drew strength from the power of all the blessings I have, and for my health. I thought about people who needed prayers and in the depth of the ferns and the wonderful California forest smells, I prayed. I almost started to feel guilty because the more I thought about all of these people, the better and better I felt...it was so surreal.
I hit the 2nd to last aid station, and knew I had almost 6 miles to go. Of course in dreamland, these 6 miles would have been all downhill...but never the case. The MP3 had died and the wheels were getting tired. The man training for the Ironman had been near and around me all day and was right in front of me. I knew he had done the race before, and so I threw the question out, "do you think I have a chance to go sub-9?" He said, "it will take you almost an hour to cover these two sections, so if you move you can do it." Off we went. I tried to hang on to him, but to no avail. I would just be fighting it out on my own.
And fight I did, 8:58:22!! I am very pleased :) I also truly enjoyed the post-race picnic we had on the grass at the finishline. I got to meet and celebrate with so many folks...although I did save my burger eating for In and Out!!
Of course no race is perfect, so upon reflection things learned and to do differently next time:
- wear road shoes when there has been a drought. My trails shoes are HARD on the hard surfaces. My feet didn't take a beating, but more cushioning would have been appreciated on my legs.
- Florencia had some wonderful feedback for me on consistancy of my pace. I will take her advice to heart! It was a very accurate observation, and much appreciated.
Paul had a conversation with someone over the weekend who was concerned that noone saw how much training she was doing, or something like that. To which I responded with, "the hard work shows up in the results." Noone cares how much or what other people are doing. You have to do what you know works for you. And if you can go in with a happy healthy mind and body, everything else will take care of itself.
I love to run. I love the time I get to spend with my closest friends when I run. I love the time I get to spend with myself when I run (which is not something I would have said a few years ago) on my own. I think this all came together in it's own way in a race I was just heading out to do for fun...