“Don’t Freak Out.”

Tish Hamilton.

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Well, well. It’s come and gone as all things do. I’ve a sense of post-marathon runner’s blues — but although an iconic, strongly run race has passed me, a season of possibilities lingers on the horizon.

Here’s how it went down.

Saturday April 26 — Marathon Eve — 10:53 am

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John and Darwin headed out for a walk around Monterey while I settled in for some runnerdness at the Expo. After retrieving the essentials I proceeded to shell out some dough, beelining to “The Stick” (love it), and hitting the Sports Basement booth for Yurbuds since I’d forgotten to bring headphones (I rarely listen to music in training, and never have during a race, but I’d prepared an “emergency” 90’s grunge mix in case shit hit the fan). I also purchased a tube of Watermelon Nuun, which I had not previously tried and is now by far my favorite flavor.

I was stoked to hit the 11am clinic featuring a panel of Runner’s World editors. Bart Yasso was every bit as charismatic as they describe, but it was the ladies that inspired me most. At Bart’s urging, Tish Hamilton relayed mantras for 3 key portions of the race:

On the early downhill through mile 6: “Pass nobody”

Ascending Hurricane Hill: “Don’t freak out.”

Over the rollers from 13 – 26.2: “Keep it together”

Solid advice if you ask me.

But my favorite moment of the seminar came from Jen Van Allen and her thoughts on facing the mental low points of the Marathon, when negative self-talk rings loudly in the mind and threatens to prevail. When pain, or boredom, or doubts seem like more than we can handle. In those moments Jen suggests regrouping and coming back to your motivation. What’s hers? In a word, gratitude. Here’s a day where you don’t have to go to meetings, or do your taxes, or scrub the toilet, or take your kid to a birthday party, or balance your checkbook, or take the dog to the vet…..it’s a day free of obligations that pervade everyday life. It’s a day when you get to celebrate and do what you love — run. It gives me chills thinking about it even now!

John and I drove the course in the afternoon. I’d studied well, and as we made our way along Highway 1 from Big Sur Station to the intersection of Rio Road, we counted off the miles on the odometer, reviewed the terrain, and pointed out some of the more famous features along the way (Strawberry Hill, Piano Man, Taiko drummers, the infamous mile 25 incline…)

The takeaway wasn’t surprising. Hills, hills, and more hills.

With Mr. Darwin in tow, we headed to our B&B in the Carmel-by-the-Sea, arguably the most dog-friendly town in America. We took a much needed nap, and it was mostly uneventful for the rest of afternoon except for when John dropped his iPhone in the toilet (oops). After an artichoke, pasta, and glass of red wine at the Hog’s Breath Inn, I was ready to rest and rest I did before the early, early wake-up.

Big Sur Early Wake UP

Sunday April 27 — The Big Sur Day — 3:45am

Holy shit. What a disaster. I’d brought along TJ’s steel cut oatmeal and a measuring cup, but discovered upon waking that I was minus a bowl. With oatmeal exploding out of a mug, I proceeded to freak out and make a big mess of the microwave. I needed carbs! Stat!

With my breakfast finally cooked through I booked it to the bus pickup with the inn’s “Bad Hair Day” coffee cup in hand.

4:00 am

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Once I had my butt on the seat of the school bus my anxiety began to subside. Hopefully, this oatmeal snafu would be the worst part of the day. The weather forecast was looking good, my meal was beginning to digest, and I had a hour-long ride to catch up on a little more rest. I practiced some visualization exercises and tried to quiet my mind.

5:36am

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It was funny to be dropped off in the middle of the woods with a bunch of buzzing runners, all eager to race. I didn’t have any coffee, but I was happy it was there. The porto line was super long and slow-moving, of course. It was the first time I’d ever checked a bag, and it was way more straightforward than I imagined. Finally, I know you’re worried so I’ll say right now that the mug made it to the finished line unharmed.

I thought with some effort I might be able to PR this race, but had decided over a long and squirrely taper to stick with the “finish strong and happy” goal. So there I was lined up in Corral B with the 4:30 pacer.

Miles 1-10 — 6:50am

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I felt sort of sleepy in those first several miles, and the pacer was a little speedier than expected. After all of the caution about taking the 5 mile downhill too fast, I wasn’t prepared to bank any time. Turns out the guy’s strategy was to go out slightly faster than goal pace and then pull way back on Hurricane Hill. At times he got quite a bit ahead of me but I told myself that I wouldn’t worry as long he stayed in sight.

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This was an historic race for me because it marks my first in-race bathroom break! It’s a true right of passage, I know. I spotted a row of portos with a short line and got in and out as fast as I could. Somewhere in these miles, a lone brown cow by the side of the road bellowed loudly. The ocean and the breeze moved gently. I sped up in an effort to reach the pacer, who I caught just before Hurricane Hill.

Miles 11-14 — 8:29am

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I don’t mean to brag, but I felt unbelievably good on the climb up Hurricane Hill, and it was perhaps my favorite part of the race. It was certainly tough and took concentration, but oh my god it was a million times more comfortable than the hill I’d run on Potrero a week prior (that gave me my first full-blown asthma attack I’ve had in years, not a big confidence boost going into Big Sur, let me tell you). The fact that I was managing this hill with relative ease got me really excited, and the adrenaline surged. But as they say at Big Sur, what goes up must come down…

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Mile 15-Finish — Time unknown

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After bombing down the other side of the hill, along came the rollers. Suddenly, I felt my legs. Oh. My. God. Owwww. “This is going to be a long 2nd half,” I thought. I felt a rush of panic but tried to channel Jen and Tish… “Keep it together…” “Would you rather be cleaning the bathroom right now? No!”

After the initial panic and fatigue, I got serious about how to deal. First, I fueled. My hip felt on the verge of cramping, so I dug a Margarita Shot Blok out of my FlipBelt and it did the trick. During mile 19 I stopped to stretch at an old beat-up pickup parked alongside of an aid station. I felt a bit better as I headed back on course. I decided then that I’d do my best to stay on-pace, while walking through the remaining aid stations. Still, this was a meditation in pain management to the glorious end. Mercifully, I never bonked and stayed fairly positive on my way to the finish line.

I’d kept my watch to read mileage and clock time, and tried to avoid obsessively checking my average pace. So it was only at some point towards the end that I realized I might come in under 4:20. I stayed strong and just squeaked by.

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Official time: 4:19:53

Just 40 seconds behind my Portland time on a much harder course. I was pleased. My legs were throbbing, but after getting that radical medal, pretzels, a cookie, and finally emerging from the chute to be immediately greeted by John and Darwin, I was in very good spirits. I’d done it!

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Here’s a race that I’d considered dropping out of 4 months ago. I didn’t want to put in the time — I was feeling burnt out from my first marathon. I’m so grateful to have found the will to pull through. I can say honestly that this time around I feel different somehow, and I don’t think I’d be the same person had I not done it. Going through this training has taught me so much, but what’s inspired me most is the age-old runner phenomenon of realizing that you’re stronger than you think. The last four months have me dreaming crazy dreams. The celebration at Big Sur was truly the cherry on top. After months of learning, wondering, worrying, hoping, and running my heart out, it really did feel like the victory lap.

Now, I’m regrouping and deciding summer races, a new plan for speedwork, and some short and long-term goals. It’s time!

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4 thoughts on ““Don’t Freak Out.”

  1. Congrats (again) on an excellent race! I lined up near the 4:30 pacer too, but I lost him within 30 seconds due to a shoelace malfunction. Also, I’m so impressed by your ability to text while running!

    So… what’s next??

  2. ah! i can’t believe i missed you again! next up: bay to breakers this sunday, then a handful of small summer races before the Santa Rosa Marathon in late August (half). I’m considering CIM as well. Did you pull the trigger yet?

    • I’ll probably wait until the price increase (June 1) to pull the trigger on CIM. I’m also waiting to see if a friend of mine decides to register, which would push me over the edge. The last factor is some lingering hip achiness that’s been plaguing me for the last week or so… I’m hoping it’s nothing serious, but for now it’s hard to commit to training hard for another full when it’s painful to run 3.5 miles at SLOW speeds around the neighborhood. :/

      As for Santa Rosa — I might be there to spectate some friends running the full. Maybe I’ll see you there?!

  3. Pingback: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” | well and warm together

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