Before my first and second marathons, I was barely able to sleep. I got about four or five hours of sleep each time, but on Saturday, the eve of Marathon No. 3, I was good to go. It was 9 p.m. and I was tired. About 20 minutes later, I drifted off to sleep along with the rest of the LB clan in our Huntington Beach hotel room.
I'd secured a spot on a 5:30 a.m. shuttle so I was a little at ease with the pre-race logistics. While I woke up twice feeling wide awake, I was able to go back to sleep and when I finally got out of bed around 4:40 I felt rested. I'd set all my things out in the bathroom the night before, slowly and methodically got ready and headed down around 5:20, not realizing I'd forgotten something major.
Once down at the start area, I went to the bathroom, walked down to the start, snapped some pictures with my phone, realized I kind of felt the twinges of another bathroom trip and went back to the Honey Buckets (aka portapotties). I happened to glance down at the people in line in front of me and suddenly got a sinking feeling in my stomach.
Where's your timing chip?
I remembered ripping off the timing chip, jamming it into the side of my bag and there it still was. It was about 15 minutes before the race was supposed to start and there was no way Mrs. LB could have made it down in time.
See, this is too much for you to handle. See, you shouldn't even be here. You don't belong.
From out of nowhere, doubt crept in. The morning had been going incredibly smooth but now this was threatening to ruin my entire race experience. I tried to quash those thoughts and walked inside the Expo tent. Underneath a sign that said Solutions, there were people who I hoped had a solution to my problem.
I explained my situation to someone and she was quite helpful. She told me she needed my bib back, changed some things around on her computer and handed me a new bib. She said it would be five dollars but I didn't have any cash and told her Mrs. LB would be down later so she said we could come down later and pay, and I fully intended on doing that.
I headed back to the start line but now it was crowded. I'd originally been in the second wave but now was back in a crowd in the third wave. I didn't care at that point. I was happy I realized my chip was gone before I was about to cross the start line.
After that ordeal, I quickly refocused on the 26.2 miles before me. But I wasn't going to try and swallow the whole thing at once. I thought about getting to the first mile marker and trying to get my body warmed up. Almost instantly my legs felt good. I was out on PCH for a brisk morning run and my body cooperated.
Just don't run too fast.
My first mile was in around 9:30 and the second mile was a bit faster than that. I'd wanted to run ever mile in under 10 minutes but while this was under that, part of me worried it was too far under. But I kept my pace right around there and the miles came quickly. Since this had been my first marathon, memories of last year flooded into my head at almost every stop.
I remember our group heading into the park... there's the bathroom a few of them stopped at... Oh yeah, the fire station where Art greeted the firefighters...
This time, however, I was alone. I wore my pink Loper shirt but didn't see very many other Loper shirts out there. That's fine, though, I was prepared for running the race by myself.
I got out of the park and started heading towards PCH. At Mile 10, I was done with my first "third." Much like I did in San Francisco, I divided Surf City up into "thirds" - Miles 1-10, Miles 11-20 and Miles 21-26.2. I was done with my first third and was focusing on small steps.
Alright man, gotta GU at Mile 12. Let's get to Mile 12.
I'd taken GU at Mile 4, 8 and now 12 but decided to go until Mile 17 for the next GU. At Mile 13, I was doing well as I'd been running at nice, steady pace. I finished the first half at about 2 hours 3 minutes. I knew I wouldn't finish in 4:06 but thoughts of a speedy marathon were alive.
And then came Mile 15. And Mile 16. And Mile 17. My legs felt each mile more than they had the first 14 miles. My Mile 17 time was a little over 10 minutes. I wasn't too bummed out but I knew that I was going to have a rough final stretch.
Almost done with the second third.
After the Mile 16 marker, we finally got off PCH and headed on the beach trail. We weren't right on the sand but quite close to the water. I tried to look over at the water and tried to enjoy some of the scenery. I looked and saw waves crashing on the sand, and perhaps on another day would have felt like walking over, throwing a towel on the ground and relaxing near the waves, but this morning's task was much different and kept me from thinking about anything but what was in front of me.
When I finally crossed Mile 20 and finished with my second "third" I felt happy. I got a small boost of energy but I was stuck in third gear. I'd gotten a bounce in my step here and there but mostly I was just moving along, not quite running briskly as I had earlier.
As in my other marathons, Mrs. LB had called me during the race. However, my phone (which doubles as my music player) was not cooperating. At Mile 11, she called me for the first time, couldn't hear me and called me back. We chatted briefly. She tried me again just as I was getting to Mile 20 but couldn't hear me. She tried again a few minutes later and nothing. I thought that maybe taking the battery out of the phone and resetting the thing would help but didn't want to go to the trouble.
However, she gave me a mental blow later, one that I could hear in her voice she was quite sorry about.
"I hope you can hear me. We are having problems finding parking. We're probably not going to see you finish."
The thought of seeing them, seeing Mrs. LB and my lovely girls near the finish line was certainly a landmark I'd envisioned. They'd definitely give me a boost before seeing them and then another one as I charged past them. Now, that was gone.
You're really alone now.
As if it was some consolation, the song A-Punk by Vampire Weekend came on and it gave me a boost. The girls love that song and of course my thoughts went to them when I heard the first few notes.
I was at Mile 22 but the thought of having only four miles to go was not comforting. I tried instead to focus on getting to Mile 23.
You've only run these many miles twice before.
After Mile 23, I knew I wasn't going down any well-traveled roads. I'd only run that many times twice, in my previous two marathons. Mentally I think I was in better shape this time around. The course had been mostly flat and I felt it. Sure, I was feeling the effects of having run 23 miles but it wasn't the same as hobbling along San Francisco's 23rd mile after the brutal hills there.
Still, I felt my goal time slipping away. I wanted to run in under 4:20:00 but knew that was going to be a struggle. When I saw the 4:20 pace far ahead of me and getting smaller by the second, I felt my goal time flying away as well. But I focused on finishing, focused on trying to set a new PR and wanted to be done with the race.
Mile 24 came. My wall. I stopped and walked. More than a few steps. I didn't want to go again. 24 miles is a good run.
But it's not a marathon.
I get back to running. I found a spring in my step and was going at a pretty good clip. Mile 25 came and went and now I was almost back on PCH for the stretch run. I could see some landmarks and far off in the distance was the finish line. I was going pretty good, finishing strong and paying the price.
GASP GASP GASP
I'd been breathing audibly at this point. I can't figure out if it was breathing laced with grunts or grunts laced with breathing, but whatever it was, it was loud.
GAS- GAS- GAS-
Oh no. That don't feel right.
GA- GA- GA-
I felt like I was breathing through a straw. I had visions of falling down so I stopped. I was almost to Mile 26 and I had to stop. I shook my head in frustration and grabbed my left side. All those supporters there cheering us on and here I am, stopped. I unsuccessfully tried to take a deep breath but the rest helped. It was brief, maybe 10 seconds, but when I got going I knew I could push through it.
Still feeling the shooting pain in my side, I got to the finish line. I made sure nobody was behind me...
I don't want anyone to ruin this finish line shot
... and I did a one-armed fist pump as blog buddy Kim had suggested. I liked the suggestion and as I crossed the finish I raised one arm in the air, smiled and wrapped up the Surf City Marathon. I'd crossed the finish line at 4:23:38, and while I didn't get under 4:20, I did set a new PR by about 15 minutes.
After some stumbling around and inhaling some water and bananas, I finally met up with the LB clan and I gave them all sweaty stinky hugs. And while they hadn't seen me before I crossed the finish line, they did celebrate with a three-time marathoner afterward.