Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Race Recap: Rock n Roll San Diego Marathon - June 5, 2016

Marathon number 3, in the books! This was probably one of the hardest races I’ve done so far, for a number of reasons, and I’m so proud to say I finished!

Training

Between law school and a baby, there wasn’t a lot of time for training. The bigges portion of my training was a few long runs (two Disney half marathons, plus one that was about 15 miles on my own) with shorter, faster runs during the week. I tried to run four days a week, even if one was just a quick two or three miles, and I think I succeeded most weeks. I also made sure to include a good amount of core, as well as strength and short HIIT workouts once or twice a week, especially on days that I was really busy.

Was it the most ideal training that I imagined I could do? No, not at all, but I think I kept a pretty good balance between getting enough rest, prioritizing school, and fitting in workouts without taking too much time away from my family. Would I change anything about it? I wish I had more time for long runs, because that’s what killed me at the end of the race, and that I went to bed a little bit earlier on those nights I drank too much caffeine before my 6:30 class. All lessons learned (again).

Expo

K, Lilly, and I flew into San Diego early Friday morning, and after loading up our bags and dropping my MIL off at her office, we headed downtown for the expo. I thought it would be less hectic in the middle of a Friday, rather than wait until Saturday. With 30,000 runners expected, I knew the convention center would turn into a madhouse.

Bib pickup was very smooth, and we breezed through the line with our bibs, got t shirts, and tried on the sample marathon finishers jackets that would be at the finish line. The line in the Brooks store was HUUGE, so we skipped that and headed straight for the expo floor.

Since this is the flagship RnR race, one would expect it to the most organized run they have, and it probably is. The expo usually has a TON of vendors, but with all the space they have available, I still think they make the aisles too small. Even with how little crowded it was, it still felt cramped, and people were running into each other. I can’t even imagine Saturday. We wandered around, K showing off Lilly to everyone who would look at her, and picked up tons of free samples of stuff. Some other highlights included the Nuun booth, where I did get a few tubes with a free water bottle, and we also arrived just in time to see Amy Cragg and Shalane Flanagan do an interview after they picked up their bibs for the half.

I also loved the Suja booth right inside the main entrance. Suja juice is the name sponsor for the race, and I do love their juices and smoothies. I did think that their booth was a little bit too women-focused, which I didn’t mind, but K felt a little left out of the fun. They had a little hair braiding studio, and I got a gorgeous, tight French braid crown that lasted through the entire weekend. I also got a few full bottles of juice to try out. They had a pretty cute little wall that I’m sure was featured in many an Insta photo.

After wrapping up, we headed out to try to beat the traffic, and rest up after a long flight. On Saturday, I woke up early with Lilly and got in a few hours of studying before meeting friends for brunch and an afternoon at Balboa Park. The weather was, as expected, absolutely beautiful, so I was a little surprised to get a heat advisory email from the race director. They were strongly encouraging everyone to take it easy due to expected high temperatures (predicted high of 85 I think) and were adding a few more cooling stations to the course. Since the weather has been 90+ in Baltimore for the past two weeks, I wasn’t too worried, but did make sure I was hydrating enough the day before.

Race Day

Race Day came bright and early. The first corral went off at 6:15, and we were both in corral 20. Our plan was to drive and park at Qualcomm stadium, about 20 minutes from home, then take the trolley in. I ate a cupcake for breakfast, since that seemed like better than eating nothing, and we were at the trolley station by about 5:30. There was only a special train running that morning, from Qualcomm to 5th Ave, the nearest station to the start line, and about a mile from the back of the corrals in Balboa Park. I checked my bag, with shoes, my phone, and a few odds and ends, then hopped into Corral 20 as it was slowly moving forward.

Since this race is so big, I don’t think they have ever been able to get quite enough volunteers for it, so they’ve had to strategically place them for maximum efficiency, or just in places that absolutely must have people, like bag check. In the corral area, there were no volunteers checking bib numbers or enforcing corrals, so it effectively was just a free for all, with people assigned to corral 25 jumping corral 5, and even people running into the corral just as it was released at the start line, pushing everyone else back. Corrals were released about 2 minutes apart, so I started just over 40 minutes after the first corral, around 7am.

What I wore

I’ve never worn shorts for a marathon, but since it’s been so hot in Baltimore lately, I’ve been wearing shorts outside for runs a lot more often, and now that I’m not fat and pregnant, I have less of an issue with severe chub rub. I ended up deciding to wear my SOAS run shorts and matching razor tank in their new Aquarius design, as well as a blue SOAS sports bra with a really nice cleavage pocket. I stuck a gel and my ipod in the shorts pocket, and managed to keep my id, credit card, a $5 bill, a tiny tube of body glide, and two more gels in the bra pocket. After a full marathon, I can honestly say that these are still the most comfortable shorts I have ever worn: they were never in the way, kept me nice and dry, didn’t chafe anywhere, and, the sign of the perfect race outfit, I pretty forgot I was wearing anything. As usual, five stars for SOAS gear!

Course

The course winds through a lot of neighborhoods throughout San Diego, from Balboa Park, Normal Heights, North Park, Mission Valley, and finishes in downtown. I planned on the first six miles or so being fairly easy, no major hills, and no major sites. There were plenty of spectators out, even at 7am, and kept the less scenic areas motivating. I really enjoy looking at the cute little houses or shops as I run by. Also, at Mile 5, Run Blue to Remember had their remembrance mile up. 
The course split just after Mile 8, and that's the point of no return. Going into Mile 8, I was feeling great, averaging maybe a 10:00 pace, and even did two 9:30 miles in the first half, to keep myself amused. Even going into the 13 mile marker, the weather was gorgeous (overcast but humid), and nothing was bothering me. By mile 14.5, though, I hit my first WALL. All of a sudden my legs felt like lead, my back started cramping, which I know is my first sign of dehydration, and I started to worry about doing another 12 miles. At the next water station, I grabbed a salt packet and two cups of water, and perked up a little bit, but never really picked up more speed. 
The next 6 miles were a yoyo between feeling fine and chugging along, and wanting to just be done. Around Mile 16, the course hit Mission ay Park, which is a lovely stretch along the bay. The breeze off the bay was chilly when I stopped to walk, and we were running along a narrower sidewalk, past beaches, playgrounds, and piers. I think this was my favorite part of the course, even though I felt pretty crappy going through. If I didn't have that motivation, I can't imagine how slow I would've been.

My goal was to hit Mile 20 before 4:00, and I did, crossing Mile 20 at 3:57. And it was all downhill from there, but not literally. Around Mile 21.5, the course looped down onto 163, a freeway that cuts through the suburbs, but does have a slight incline up then down. Just as I was coming onto the freeway, trying to find the innter strength to finish the last 5 miles in an hour, the sun came out, the asphalt heated up, and I wanted to be done. No more. I slowed to a crawl, my feet hurt, my calves and back were cramping, and my music was so annoying. I tried to run 200 steps (about a quarter mile for me) every time someone on the other side of the freeway honked, but that didn't last long after my legs started cramping up. I was looking for the next water station, but apparently the next station, around mile 23, was REPLACED with a cooling bus. I should have stopped, but I thought there would be water ahead, so I chugged past the icy cool bus....and didn't find water until mile 24.5. Talk about miserable. On top of that, my sunblock had all worn off, and I ended up with a nasty sunburn. 
Also, I missed the Mile 25 marker, resulting in what I thought was the slowest, most miserable, longest mile of my life before I realized I was heading downhill into the city. My watch died shortly after Mile 24, so the last two miles were just the worst. 
By the time I hit the exit ramp, though, and started cruising into the last half mile, I knew it was just a right and then a left turn into the finish line, and managed to trot at a pretty good pace, focusing on form more than speed. Once I caught sight of the finish line, there was no stopping me, and I was elated! I ended up finishing in !!5:50!!, which I think is just as bad as my first marathon, and I still can't beleive that last 10K took me almost two hours. Ugh. 

Music/entertainment

Because the race starts very early, RnR usually reminds runners to not be too obnoxious as they run through residential areas at 7am on a Sunday. Since I’m usually zoned out with earbuds in, I feel like I’m not bothering anyone and try to practice good racer etiquette. However, in SD, you could be the most obnoxious runner in the world, and it still would pale next to some of these residents. There were people in their driveways with loudspeakers, spectators with bullhorns and bells and drums, front yard bloody mary bars, and on couple even set up a makeshift misting station. It’s really amazing how much the locals support this race, and it makes it all the better!

There are bands every couple of miles along the course, and they can be pretty hit or miss. I’d still recommend bringing headphones because they just aren’t close enough to keep one entertained. The packs of cheerleaders at random points is kind of weird and funny, though, I guess this year’s trend is the tulle tutu skirt, originally of runDisney fame, because pretty much every squad was wearing some sort of handmade tutu in neon colors, plus way too much makeup for a 13 year old, especially on a Sunday morning. Sorry, just a little mom judgement.

Course support

I believe there was something like 17 water stations spread out across the courses, and they were dictated more by ease of access over strategic placing for a runner. Some were about a mile apart, while later, in the last six miles, there was one stretch on 163 from miles 21-24, with no water. Two stations had Glukos “gels” and chews, but the volunteers handing them out were slacking a bit, and I ran back and grabbed some off a table when I realized I was at the appropriate water station. There was also Gatorade at every other water stop.

In addition, because of the predicted heat, I think they did try to add more heat mitigation stations. At two points, miles 17 and 22 I think, there were large buses with the AC blasting, so you could stop and cool down if you needed. Also at 17 was a misting station. Somewhere later, maybe 19, there were wet sponges, but it looked like they had been sitting out all morning and the water was lukewarm by the time I got there. 

Finish line celebration

As I cruised into the last mile, which felt like it was a breezy downhill despite a few last turns, I was exhausted, hot, and felt like I could conquer anything. Then I got to the finish line. As I passed over the last timing mat and got my medal, I knew I still had a ways to go. There was no more ice left at the water station, and the gataorades had gone quickly, so the fluids weren’t that refreshing, plus I could barely keep a grip on the two bottles I grabbed because I was so weaty and exhausted. I did grab a powerade bar and shoved it in my bra, threw a pack of airplane peanuts in my shorts, and grabbed the coldest, most delicious chocolate milk ever. More, please...except they were being stingy. I stopped at the medical tent to wrap ice around my legs and dunk my arms in their ice bucket, and then hobbled another three blocks towards the finish line celebration and checked bags, where my delightful flip flops were waiting. I finally made it about anther ten minutes later, threw everything I could into my cinch bag, and then realized the line for the finisher’s jackets was wrapping around the entire celebration. On top of that, by the time I made it down there, Suja was closing up their tent, so no finish line yoga or juice for me, and even the beer tent said they weren’t serving any more (btw, I finished a good 90 minutes before the course cutoff). I just stood in the sun some more, for a jacket, and then sat down in a little patch of shade to wait for K, who finished about 40 minutes behind me.

Some notes to RnR: keep the party going until everyone makes it! I know it’s a long day, but if it took me 7+ hours to finish a marathon in 85 heat, I would probably want a cold beer, or juice. If you have a headline sponsor packing up an hour before the final finisher, it’s just a bad look.

The After

On the way, we stopped for some carne asada fries and aloe after sun lotion. My shoulders were already turning a deep pink, and the tan lines were impressive. I did a little stretching, drank a lot of water, pulled on my recovery socks, and then packed up and drove to Disneyland!! 

Overall, I'm so very glad that I did the full. Even though it was slow, it wasn't the worst race ever, and I really enjoyed the course. I run races to push myself beyond my comfort zone, and this race did exactly that. 



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