For me, there was both promise and doubt heading into race weekend. The Long Beach Half Marathon was upon me and while I felt confident about testing myself at that distance, I was also worried that I hadn't done enough during my training to get the time I wanted.
Nevertheless, I was set to tackle the half-marathon challenge. I'd met up with Katie of One Run At A Time on Saturday night for a carbo-load dinner (her mom and uncle were with us as well) and that was a very enjoyable way to prepare for the race. The game I had to cover afterward was not, and thus I did not get to bed until close to 1 a.m. I'd set my alarm for 5:07 but I woke up often.
I got up, felt energized, felt ready to challenge myself. I pulled into the parking lot at about 6:15 a.m., plenty of time before the 7 a.m. start. However, I was unable to find either Katie or Tina before the start. With some 20,000 half and full marathoners, it was always going to be challenging.
At about 6:45 I gave up and decided to try and snare a spot close to the Wave 2 start. I was worried also that the course was too snug at times, and that it was going to be difficult to find room to move. Since we were herded like cattle at the start, being amidst the masses did little to quell my fears.
Wave 1 left, then I found myself walking to the start. Excitement had given way to focus as I had to ensure that I run a smart race at the start in order to give myself the chance of a PR. As soon as we crossed the start, I felt relieved about the crowd. There was plenty of room. Sure, it was crowded and I had to dart in and out of packs, speed past some runners, move out of the way of others, but overall it was not the crowd I expected.
Before I knew it, I was at Mile 1. I looked down at The Garmin and saw that I'd run it in about 8:20. It was a little fast but I figured better to have that extra time to play with. I did however try to slow down some in the second mile and I was a bit upset that I had slowed down too much. Mile 2 was 9:20.
I tried to run a stronger more consistent pace for the third mile and was anxious to see what my split was. I glanced at The Garmin and it read 2.90. I approached the Mile 3 sign, looked down at The Garmin and saw it was at 2.86. Figuring I read it wrong the first time, I looked ahead. A little bit later I glanced at it again and saw it was at 2.89. There was no way. I had been running a lot farther than that.
I hadn't given up yet on The Garmin but I was sure glad I had The Polar with me, my Polar F4 heart rate monitor. I'd started it just before the start line and once The Garmin started acting up, I switched from the heart rate to stopwatch display.
At about Mile 3 and change, I took my first GU. I had four packets with me but wasn't sure if I would take all of them. I was about 25 minutes in and I did feel a little strange taking one but figured I'd best stick with my plan, so GU I took.
I'm not sure what brought them upon but the mental demons were out in full force.
"You shot too high. No way you're gonna do it." "Just run at a comfortable pace from here on and forget about the PR - that way you won't be disappointed."
I did my best to fight them off, those mental demons. I tried to keep focused on whatever was in front of me, be it a runner or group of runners, the street or the people on the sidewalks.
Also, it was nice having some scenery to keep me distracted from what was going on in my head. I remember reading how the course for the half marathon was 100 percent along the shoreline but that doesn't necessarily mean a 13.1 mile beach path. Off to my right at around 3-4 miles are what looked like oil rigs. It said "along the shoreline" not "along the beach."
We got to an area where there were some restaurants on one side and a lot of boats on the other side, and I inhaled the unmistakable aroma of fish.
All along, I felt strong, though, felt good, regardless of what the mental monsters were trying to convince me. I got to Mile 6 at about 52 minutes, which was right around the time I wanted to be at. At Mile 7 I was just under an hour and that's when I was thinking that my PR was possible. I figured, if I ran the next six miles in about the same time as I'd run my first six miles, I'd be fine.
The course took us to some familiar territory. In 2009, I ran along the a paved path on the beach with my brothers on two occasions so that brought back some good memories of those runs.
Once I got close to Mile 9, I decided I'd take another GU. I'd taken GUs at Mile 3 and 6 or so, and even though I wasn't exactly craving one, I wanted to stick to the game plan of taking GUs every 25-30 minutes or so. I walked a little, caught my breath and took off once more. I had given up on The Garmin's help. As Katie later said, the Garmin Gremlins got the best of the device.
We ended up spilling off the beach path and onto the street. I saw the Mile 10 marker up ahead. I reached it at just under 1:27, which still had me on track to PR. I figured even if I couldn't hit the high gear, if I just ran a little better than a sub-10 minute pace the rest of the way, I'd PR.
I felt empty, though. I felt like I was moving as fast as syrup running down the side of a bottle. I tried to pick up the pace, but there wasn't much there and what was there was tough to maintain. More runners passed me by than I was passing. But my watch told me that I was doing fine. Mile 9 took me roughly 8:30 or so, as did Mile 10 and 11. I had to do quick calculations in my head so it may have been more or less.
At the Mile 11 sign, I stopped, walked for a bit and took my final GU. I really didn't feel like taking it but I wanted to stick with the plan. I didn't want to not PR and then use that as an excuse. When it came time to run once more, I wanted to run hard, fast and strong the rest of the way.
I wasn't quite feeling it, didn't have the afterburners going then but I pushed myself. I figured the pace that seemed slow to me was stronger than I thought so as long as I would get in some bursts of speed here and there I'd be good. I also reminded myself that I was here, I was in the throes of a race and that I had the PR in front of me. All I had to do was get it.
I got to Mile 12 at around 1:47 and figured that even a 10-minute mile-plus would get me my PR.
There was a gift waiting for us close to the finish. The course suddenly went downhill. Not sure what was going on with that but I didn't care. All I saw was the street slope downward and knew that a PR was mine. I raced down, picked up the speed and felt my legs respond. Up ahead, I saw the Mile 13 sign, and then just past that the finish line.
I sprinted. My legs didn't have much left but I didn't want to leave anything in them. I churned and churned. The time read 1:59:xx but since I started in the second wave, I knew that I was going to set a PR. I crossed the finish line, raised my hands, smiled and made sure to not look at my watch until I was well past the finish line.
Shortly afterward I talked to Mrs. LB who congratulated me on the time. She forward me the text-message alert that read my official time of 1:55:03. I was ecstatic with the time. Hobbling around after the race, I knew that I had earned my time.
Eventually I got my California Dreamin' medal and found Katie and her mom. Katie had also run the half marathon (she came in at 1:44:56!) and we swapped our stories and just relaxed for a while.
All in all, quite an enjoyable time in the LBC.