Race Report: 2014 Surf City Marathon

I had a plan to raise $10,000 for some awesome organizations between Sept. 22, 2012, and Sept. 22, 2013 – the day I raced in the inaugural Ironman Lake Tahoe. Thanks to you, we reached both of those goals. I am now officially an Ironman, and we raised $11,052!

The next adventure is less focused, but with one simple target: BE HAPPY!

Race Report: 2014 Surf City Marathon

Last year I made the mistake of tackling a marathon with very limited training… and it didn’t turn out so well. In my last post I recounted my training approach this time around – limited by move preparations and work obligations – with a focus primarily on sporadic, stress-induced speedwork. How would I fare this time?

Before I get too far ahead of myself, let me give the brief back story.

The last time I qualified for the Boston Marathon was at the Surf City Marathon (Huntington Beach) in 2008. I trained for that race like a demon possessed, and knocked out a 14th place overall, 3:07 finish in a torrential downpour with ridiculously heavy winds. Unfortunately, I was unable to run in Boston thanks to a torn Achilles tendon injury that kept me out for about 9 months…

I’ve been running quite fast this past 6 months or so, setting PRs on many runs I’ve been doing for years, thanks mostly to my fitness earned in Ironman Lake Tahoe preparations… and figured I may as well leverage this fitness to get in my BQ (runners’ lingo for ‘Boston qualifier’) early for 2015. So I signed back up for the race I’ve proven I could qualify at… thinking that with a little dedicated run training I’d be ready, and could use this marathon base as a springboard into 70.3 season (St George is in early May, after all).

Well, I’ve already mentioned that training was extremely subpar for this race… but the little training I did get in was at blazing fast speeds. Was there enough fitness remaining from Tahoe to allow me to gut out a marathon? I wasn’t sure… so I had decided to not run Surf City, after all. There are plenty of opportunities to run marathons – I’ll get one in later in the year.

Until the day before the race when I had some free time and decided, “Why not just drive down and pick up my packet and race shirt?” And when I did that, I fell in love with the race shirt… and wanted to wear it… and we all know the unbreakable rule: you NEVER wear the race shirt unless you did the race.

So. I had to run.

And I had no clue how I was going to do. But I wanted to wear that damn shirt!

I showed up early on race morning, bundled from head to toe. On my way to the starting line I bumped into my buddy Craig – he was getting in a pre-race warmup run along the Strand (he’s crazy like that) – and we took some time to catch up on things. We hadn’t seen each other since Ragnar Vail Lake… which I never did a race report on… hmmm… I should remedy that as it was a truly magical experience and a race win… but, oh, back to to THIS story first.

It was a brisk morning. Craig and I are happy to have a chance to catch up pre-race!

It was a brisk morning. Craig and I are happy to have a chance to catch up pre-race!

I jumped into the starting corral – it was quite chilly so I was sporting calf & arm sleeves along with a pair of gloves – and waited patiently for the starting horn… and then we were off! My target race pace in my early training sessions was 6:45/mile, which would bring me in at 2:57. My primary goal when I signed up for the race was to beat my 3:15 Boston qualifying time, but I wanted room to spare… and breaking the 3-hour marathon is one of those badges of honor I really wanted to conquer.

But, I wasn’t anywhere near as prepared for this race as I felt I should be… do I go out at that 6:45 pace and see how long I could hold it? Or do I start slow and pick it up later if I felt good? Silly boy… you all know the answer to this. I went out at 6:45.

The course takes you down the Pacific Coast Highway for a stretch just as the sun is about to rise. The ocean to the left, the beach front shops and homes to the right. With a turn inland and several miles through neighborhoods and large parks… this part of the race is fun as it is rarely straight for long and the miles start to tick off quickly.

For the first 4 miles I stuck right on that pace. It felt great.

Mile Time Grade Adjusted Pace Average heart rate
  1  6:50  6:43 /mi 130 bpm
  2  6:44  6:45 /mi 136 bpm
  3  6:29  6:36 /mi 145 bpm
  4  6:44  6:31 /mi 147 bpm

But while in the park I started to pick up my pace and gain some ground on a pack in front of me. As best I could tell, the third and fourth place women runners were just in front of me, running at about my pace, so I decided to hang out with their entourage for a bit. And that is when we all kicked up the pace a bit. The next 4 miles through the parks and neighborhoods were dialed in right near 6:30 pace.

Mile Time Grade Adjusted Pace Average heart rate
  5  6:17  6:41 /mi 146 bpm
  6  6:29  6:28 /mi 147 bpm
  7  6:31  6:33 /mi 147 bpm
  8  6:30  6:31 /mi 147 bpm

Mile 9 has the only real hill on the course as you head back toward the beach. And it isn’t much of a hill at all. By now we’d settled into a nice group that varied in size – there were a core group of 4 of us – that would sometimes swell up to a dozen or so as we would catch runners; some would stick for a while, eventually falling off the back… the miles ticked away like this… mile after mile dialed in to a solid 6:30 to 6:40 pace with shifting morning winds. We’d take turns drafting and taking the wind. The occasional chat with our makeshift running group. All focused on one goal: breaking 3 hours.

At the 13.1 mile point we all glanced at our Garmins… we’d all set personal bests at that distance of 1:26 that morning. High fives for everybody! And we just kept on plugging away.

Mile Time Grade Adjusted Pace Average heart rate
  9  6:40  6:25 /mi 147 bpm
 10  6:26  6:37 /mi 146 bpm
 11  6:31  6:39 /mi 145 bpm
 12  6:35  6:38 /mi 146 bpm
 13  6:35  6:42 /mi 147 bpm
 14  6:38  6:41 /mi 147 bpm
 15  6:48  6:40 /mi 148 bpm
 16  6:31  6:41 /mi 149 bpm
 17  6:33  6:36 /mi 150 bpm

At mile 17 the course turned back around away from the city and a return trip north along the Strand. And this is where the core group splintered. I’m horrible with names, but the guy wearing the skull cap (I’ll call him SC for the rest of this post) and I were feeling strong… and we just kind of drifted forward off the front for a while. We kicked the pace back to the 6:30 range – we were WAY ahead of 3-hour pace and were feeling strong. The expected bonk at mile 20 that ALWAYS happens… well… it didn’t happen. I just kept on running at 6:30-ish pace. It was weird. Spooky.

Mile Time Grade Adjusted Pace Average heart rate
 18  6:24  6:28 /mi 151 bpm
 19  6:22  6:32 /mi 151 bpm
 20  6:32  6:33 /mi 152 bpm
 21  6:32  6:35 /mi 152 bpm

That’s when I realized why the pace picked up so naturally. Right before mile marker 21 the course turns around and runs back up the Strand toward the pier… and that was where I discovered that the winds had shifted and we’d been using a tailwind to generate those speeds! And we had to fight that headwind for the final 5 miles! ARG!

SC and I took turns breaking the wind for each other to draft in… the pace settling in around 6:45 as we battled the headwind. We’d chat for a bit, each expressing shock that we were able to hold that pace… way ahead of 3-hour pace… and that we didn’t bonk at mile 20 like we were expecting. We were working wonderfully together, knocking out the miles, the excitement building of the promise of a goal not only reached, but unexpectedly surpassed…

Mile Time Grade Adjusted Pace Average heart rate
 22  6:38  6:45 /mi 153 bpm
 23  6:44  6:48 /mi 152 bpm
 24  6:43  6:41 /mi 155 bpm

When I heard it. Skull Cap groaned – a soft whimper of a groan – and he fell off the pace. SC bonked at mile 24. I, however, was still feeling great and kept soldiering on. I picked up the pace again back to 6:30 and started picking off runners. In mile 25 I passed the second place lady and she tucked in behind me for a while to break the headwind… until she couldn’t hang any longer.

As I finished off mile 25, the elation set in. I was going to get the 3:15. I was going to get the 3:00. I was going to crush both! Without bonking!

Oh… wait… maybe I shouldn’t have thought that… had I jinxed myself? The last 3/4 of a mile the legs started to cramp up a wee bit, but I forced myself through it, kicked up the pace for the last 0.2 miles to a solid 6:15-ish, and crossed the line in style.

Mile Time Grade Adjusted Pace Average heart rate
 25  6:36  6:41 /mi 157 bpm
 26  6:28  6:34 /mi 159 bpm
26.2  1:17  6:16 /mi 161 bpm

New PR: 2:54:10. 11th place overall. 10th place male. 4th place in the M40-44 age group.

An unexpected result. In near perfect running conditions. And with a great group of fellow runners. And with poor training. Do I have a sub 2:40 in me in the future? Maybe… just maybe…

AND! The very best part of all: BOSTON 2015! Oh, yeah!!!!!

While I wait for the downloads from MarathonFoto, here is a montage of proof snippets. Clockwise from upper left: 1. Prerace smiles. 2. Sunrise along the beach. 3. The group I settled in with (the woman is Dolores, and she got third place for the women... and is turning 50 soon!). 4. Me and the former women course record holder (she later dropped out as she was using this race as a training session)

While I wait for the downloads from MarathonFoto, here is a montage of proof snippets. Clockwise from upper left: 1. Prerace smiles. 2. Sunrise along the beach. 3. The group I settled in with (the woman is Dolores, and she got third place for the women… and is turning 50 soon!). 4. Me and the former women course record holder (she later dropped out as she was using this race as a training session)

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