Monday, May 2, 2011

Avenue of the Giants Marathon

Coming in to the finish line of the race.
Running the Avenue of the Giants Marathon was the brain child of my friend Alice. She wanted another shot at qualifying for Boston and she thought it would be awesome to run through the Redwoods. It just so happened that her friend Ingrid lives in Trinidad which is only about 70 miles from the start of the race. This allowed us to have one night of free lodging, and for us all to get to spend time in beautiful Trinidad and with Ingrid and Sweet Pea (Ingrid's adorable pup).

Lee, Alice and I all signed up for the race in late December to get in on the early registration fee. Celeste, Lee's girlfriend, wasn't going to run but wanted to join us on the trip. We planned to take two cars, Lee & Celeste would drive one and Alice, Charlotte (Alice's 14-year old daughter), Rudy (Alice's 12 year old pup) and I would head down in the other. Alice made us a hotel reservation in Eureka for the night before the race.

We left town around 11:30 a.m. on Friday April 29. To get to Trinidad involves driving a couple of hundred miles south on I-5 to Grant's Pass at which point you turn off on 199 which leads you to the coastal highway, 101. There are truly beautiful sections to this drive. We hit lots of heavy rain on the way down, but overall made pretty good time, arriving in Trinidad at 6:30. Ingrid's place is adorable with a great view of the ocean from the front window. She was a goddess being willing to put up 5 people in a dog in a two bedroom house. She made us a great dinner and we all got to enjoy hanging out for the night.

The next day I was up at 6:30. Lee, Alice, Celeste and I went for a pre-race short run along Scenic Drive which gives you an amazing view of the beach below Trinidad. Ingrid's friend Amy was also running the race - this would be her first marathon - so she offered to pick up our race packets. The remainder of our day involved a trip into Arcata for a native plant sale that Ingrid was keen on going to, a visit to the Arcata farmer's market, a hike up and around Trinidad head, and a pasta dinner in Arcata.

We got ourselves tucked into bed by 10 pm and the hotel was thankfully quiet enough that I didn't need to sleep with headphones on. I slept soundly for the majority of the night and woke 2 minutes before my alarm on Sunday morning. I was in the shower by 5 am getting my muscles warmed up with the warm water. Many other racers were staying at the hotel and we saw lots of different running attire as we started packing up the car at 6 am. We all packed in to one car for the drive to the race. The start was just about 40 miles from Eureka and the race website warned racers to get there by 7 am to avoid a traffic jam. We were turning off into the race site at 6:55. We still hit a bit of traffic, but the parking monitors were doing a great job and it only took us about 10 minutes to get us parked.

Once parked, we scrambled a bit to figure out what exactly we needed to bring with us up to the start. It was a very cold morning, made that much colder by being surrounded by huge trees and close to water, but we knew it was supposed to warm up to 70 at some point during the day. Celeste was willing to take a bag for us back down to the car so we got to wear our warm layers up to the start and shed them just before the gun. Celeste had decided to sign up for the 10k that morning. It didn't start until 9 am (the marathon start was 8 am) so it gave her time to get ready for her own race once seeing us off.

So began the usual wait for the porta-potties and then hanging around and freezing until the gun went off. Against my better judgment I decided to keep on my long sleeve top. My teeth were chattering so violently at the start that I couldn't imagine taking it off. We said goodbye to Celeste and got ourselves lined up. Soon enough the gun went off and we were on our way.

This is the smallest marathon I have done. There were 566 participants. Unlike the bigger races where it can take a long time to cross the starting line, in this race we were across 11 seconds post-gun. This is a double out and back race. You run out 6.5 miles to a turnaround and come back hitting the start again right at the halfway mark, then you turn down a different road and do another out and back. The goal for the race was to pace Alice to her BQ time. Originally she wanted me to pace her right to the 4 hour mark. Then she decided she wanted a bit of cushion so we were going for a 3:55. Then she altered that down to 3:50 and by race day the goal was a 3:45. That meant running right around 8:35's.

The road on the first out and back is twisty. Lots of turns as well as the road surface was pretty poor. I found that I had to keep a pretty close eye on my feet for this stretch or else I would most likely go head over heels. I talked to Alice about trying to run the tangents as much as possible. On a course this twisty I figured you could probably save quite a bit of energy by hitting the tangents instead of following the road. I was hot less than a mile in and stripped off my long sleeve shirt and tied it around my waist.

Alice went out a little fast and I kept working to reign her in. By the midpoint I stopped trying and just let her run her pace. I knew it meant it was going to be a rough second half, but after repeated attempts to slow her down I figured we would just see how this strategy worked for her. We were doing a pretty good job of walking the aid stations to conserve a bit of energy and get fluids down. Alice's big problem tends to be not eating or drinking enough electrolytes during a race causing her to bonk. Today she was working hard to stay on top of it. The biggest problem with the pace in my opinion was that it was erratic. We would drop to a 7:50 pace and then go up to a 9:30. We were staying right on target with our splits, but I felt there was going to be some burnout from doing bursts of speed and then slowing down as opposed to trying to hit a steady pace.

We lost Lee around mile 9. He needed to stop to stretch out his knee a bit. He had been struggling with a knee issue for a couple of months and it had caused him to drop out of Vernonia a the half-way point three weeks earlier. We hit the half way point pretty much right on target at 1:52.We saw Ingrid, Charlotte and the puppies and they were doing a great job of cheering us and everyone else on. I handed of my long sleeve shirt and arm warmers to Charlotte but decided to keep my gloves as it was still kind of chilly.

This was a great section of the course b/c there were so many spectators. Since we were back at the start it was easy for folks to get here and they were lining the road and the bridge that we crossed. Now we started on the second out and back section. The second out and back was the part of the course that was used for both the 10k and half-marathon so all of a sudden we started seeing a lot of people. Team in Training had a huge presence at this event and they all had great energy and were heartily cheering each other on.

Right around mile 14 we went down a steep incline that we knew we would have to come up at mile 25.5 on the return. This section of the course was interesting. We kept feeling like we were going downhill. It was gradual, but if felt and looked to be downhill. Alice was getting herself into a bit of a negative spiral here. She was tired, not feeling so good, and stressing about having to go uphill the whole way back. I did my best to motivate, encourage, cajole, and basically keep her moving. I knew the stretch from 13 - 20 would be where she needed me to keep on pace. I always find this to be the no-man's land of marathon running. You are done with the first half, but not yet in the final stretch. You kind of just try to keep yourself moving through these miles.

The scenery helped to keep us going as did the energy of the other participants. I think this course would be very challenging if you were one of the front runners as the return side of the course was filled with the slower half-marathoners. The lead marathon runners had to work to fight their way through the crowd. A couple of the top runners just ran right back through the out section of the course b/c there was less traffic on that side than the return side.

We kept ourselves moving. Our pace was slowing a bit, down into the 9's and I tried to keep up the string of positive energy. I'm starting to feel like I am not such a good motivator b/c I think I was just annoying Alice at this point :)  I kept her on track of eating and drinking and I think that helped a bit. We hit the turnaround at 19.6 and I thought this might perk Alice up - knowing that we were now just heading for home. The next couple of miles were rough. I continued being positive and upbeat but this wasn't working. So tried tough love. That also failed. Then I tried quiet.We saw Lee at this point on the out-and back. He wasn't too far behind and was looking strong.

We got to 22 and Alice told me she wanted to slow down and she wanted me to go ahead because she didn't want to hold me back. We had talked about this ahead of time - how to know if I the other one was serious about wanting to be left alone or if we should ignore their request and stick with them. We had done San Francisco together two years earlier and I had started cramping at mile 12. She wanted to stick with me but I had told her to go, telling her that it was going to be mentally easier for me to suffer on my own than with her. So I told her that my goal for this race was to help her get her BQ and I didn't care about my own time, but if she really wanted me to go I would. She told me that this was like San Francisco for her and she would be best on her own.

It was hard to go b/c I  was feeling like I had let her down. That if I was a better motivator, coach, friend that she would have wanted me to stick with her. But, I tried to push that out of my mind and just run for the last 4 miles. My legs were feeling good, I had gotten a surge of adrenaline at 20 and I just wanted to run all out. So I got to let my legs loose and go. The hills we had gone "down" on the way out never seemed to materialize as uphills. I am not sure how it is possible but the second out-and-back felt like it was downhill both ways. Impossible I know and yet that is how it felt.

I passed a bunch of people on this final stretch and got lots of "good jobs" and "keep it up" from the the other racers. This is what I like about small races is that you tend to be close to the same people for the majority of the race. This was the first marathon that I had not worn my headphones and I really like the experience. Even though the last two marathons I ran I had worn the headphones but had never turned on the music, I had still isolated myself from the other runners b/c they thought I was listening to music - thus we didn't interact. For this race the organizers had actually stated no headphones and the majority of the racers had complied.

When I hit mile 25 I turned on the speed. I was realizing that the cramps might actually not materialize this race and I might truly be able to sprint the finish. I kept picking it up through that final mile and was truly running on adrenaline at this point. I passed over the bridge and heard Celeste yell good job, and then heard Ingrid and Charlotte cheering. I had a singular focus of the finish line and just brought it in as fast as I could.

I looked down at my watch - 3:43:45 - 2 seconds off my PR! I have since looked at the official race results and they put my finish time at 3:43:43 (I wasn't sure which mat was the starting one at the beginning and I think I started my watch 2 seconds early). So I officially TIED my PR and got my second BQ time. I am not sure what the odds are of getting the exact same finish time on two marathons in a row is but my guess is it isn't high.

I was feeling good at the finish. I grabbed a water and my medal and walked over to where Charlotte and Ingrid were. I knew that Alice had the ability to finish strong and I wasn't surprised to see her coming through the finishing chute a few short minutes later. Finish time was 3:49:42! A PR by 11 minutes and she was smiling when she came through! I walked over to the finish and gave her a big hug. Her grin was ear-to-ear as she realized she had made it with plenty of time to spare. She grabbed some water and her medal and then we rejoined Ingrid and Charlotte and waited for Lee. He wasn't too far behind - coming through in 3:56:10 and looking happy as well. This was a PR for him by 6 minutes and he did it on a bum knee - no small feat.

We hung out for awhile longer - enjoying the bright sunshine and warm weather and waiting to see Ingrid & Alice's friend Amy finish her first marathon. Once she came through we packed it in and headed for the cars. It was a bit of gridlock trying to get out but soon enough we were back on the road. We stopped at the hotel in Eureka to drop of Lee and Celeste at their car. Celeste had gotten an extension on the room checkout so she and Lee could shower post-race. Alice and I then headed for Ingrid's so we could also get in a shower.

We quickly got cleaned up and went for a quick lunch at the Beachcomber in Trinidad before hitting the road. Left Trinidad at 3:30 and pulled up in front of my house at 10:15. It was a long day. Knowing what I know now I would have scheduled an extra day. It would have been lovely to spend the rest of Sunday hanging out on the beach in Trinidad and just relaxing.

Overall it was just a great weekend with great friends. Happy to have done it.

Stats: 
Overall - 101/566
Gender - 24/253
Division - 4/41

1 comment:

  1. Sarah that is awesome! Tell Alice congratulations! We're so excited for her :) Pretty cool to get the same exact time on two marathons in a row - wow. Tell Lee congrats too - great job working through a bad knee. That's awesome.

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