In marathon running and other aspects of life, sometimes the most important thing is setting realistic expectations. Somehow I managed to set my mental expectations at today's Ventura Marathon in perfect alignment with my level of training. Worked like a charm.
Having done zero long runs on the roads the entire year, my expectations were set at "have fun and enjoy the race." You may ask, don't you usually enjoy your races? Well, to be honest, when I'm pushing my body to its limit in an "all out" race, I'm generally not enjoying it until after the race.
The race started at 7 a.m. at planned. Actually, I didn't even look at my watch, so it may not have been exactly 7 a.m., but there were no delays. Big plus! The weather was pretty much perfect! Overcast the entire race for me and temps around 65 to 70 degrees. There was just a very slight wind, which was perfect. And the course was extremely flat, without a lot of turns. The race was very well organized, there was police coverage at every major intersection, and the water stops were reasonably staffed on this out and back course. KUDOS to race organizer Josh Spiker! I think it was very well done!
Having a sore hamstring for months, my training has consisted of running, 35 to 45 miles per week, nothing speedy, nothing long, other than a 5K on July 20th and the Bulldog 25K on August 24th. No long runs the entire year and very little mileage on the roads. I cruised through today's marathon in 3 hours, 8 minutes, good for 2nd in my age group. If I hadn't taken a 1 minute porta-john stop
I went out fairly easy but still a bit too fast, with a 6:38 opening mile. There were both marathoners and half marathoners at the start, so it was hard to tell who you were running with. But my goal was to run at "keep a smile on your face" speed the entire race, so I ignored what people were doing around me. I was passed by dozens of runners over the first half of the race...faces that I got to see again later in the race.
My watch showed 34:02 at mile 5. I wasn't looking at my mile splits but a solid look female runner scooted by me and asked me. That's a about a 6:48 pace. Too fast. Then at mile 9 I realized I needed to make a pit stop. That's when I screwed up my watch timer but I think I had maintained that pace. But pit stops always seem to take a bit of wind out of my sails for a bit so I must have slowed, not to mention I lost about a minute of time. But I kept the smile on my face.
The turnaround was near the Hueneme Pier, where we ran in a large circular turnabout, then headed back to Ventura. This gave the runners the chance to see who was behind you, as well as ahead of you. My legs didn't feel particularly strong after the turnaround, but I slogged along, attempting to maintain a consistent pace.
Something clicked around mile 15 or so and I felt a sudden burst of smoothness in my stride. I believe it may have been some of the GU packets kicking in. I was just plodding along at a consistent pace, and so many familiar faces from the first 9 miles of the race appeared again. At the 20 mile mark there was no "Wall" this race. In fact, I was able to look at the 20 mile mark as the start of a 10K.
It worked. The stride was maintained without the soreness and death march feeling I anticipated, having run nowhere near this mileage on pavement all year. But I didn't start sprinting; I maintained and just gradually kicked it up a small notch. It wasn't until mile 23 that I felt comfortable kicking it up a few more notches, as targets appeared left and right.
The final half mile stretch of the race was along the Ventura beach path, which got a little crowded with pedestrians, but I managed to push myself through the final mile after passing my last duo of younger runners. The quads did begin freezing up this last stretch but I was close enough to the finish to push myself through the pain.
And...I finished. 3 hours, 8 minutes, 29 seconds. Exceeding my lowered expectations. And with a smile on my face.