Monday, February 2, 2015

Race Recap: 2015 Surf City Half Marathon

I have waited so long to be able to write a half marathon recap where I had a fantastic race that felt (relatively) good and resulted in a PR that I worked hard to earn. Finally, I can write that recap! YESSSS!

The Surf City Half Marathon was a fantastic race. The course support was stellar, the expo was actually enjoyable to walk through, and the weather ended up being perfect -- sunny but not too hot with no real wind resistance (my biggest concern given that the course is mostly right along the ocean).
We love each other despite our team allegiances.

About that PR? I beat my previous half marathon time by more than six minutes! I ran a 1:52:34, down from 2014's 1:58:46, and considering I didn't run much from April to September of last year, I am extremely pleased with that progress. It was a good day.

Strike that, given the outcome of the Super Bowl, it was a good morning. The evening was... disappointing. Some might say deflating, but I would never take a cheap shot at Sourabh's beloved team. (I was actually classy to the extreme and took the dog for a walk once the Pats clinched the win so that Sourabh could enjoy his team's win without me glowering from my corner of the sofa.) And that's all I'm saying about the Super Bowl, k? Yes, I'm kind of a sore loser, sorry.

Last Week

Let's start with last week's training. I didn't mention in last week's training log, because at the time it didn't even register as significant, but during my final "long" run of 6 miles, I sort of twisted/strained my ankle. An illustration is probably necessary here:

The artistic ability on display is why I'm a lawyer.
It didn't hurt at all during the run or the rest of the day so I didn't think anything of it, but it became noticeable on Monday. I foam rolled the whole right side of my calf, but that actually made the area feel worse on Tuesday. So all running was put on hiatus until the area felt fine. This did not help my confidence at all. Since I'd had to rest a lot of the previous week, I was concerned that my cardio fitness would be affected by my lack of exercise. Thankfully that appears not to have been the case.

Just one more shout out to rest and recovery, guys. This training cycle has really shown me how important they are.

Expo / Saturday

Sourabh and I hit up the "Southern California Lifestyle Expo" (AKA the Surf City Expo) on Saturday morning, arriving around 9:30 a.m. We thought it'd be relatively empty at that hour, but surprisingly the expo was crowded. However, it was well-managed, and we had my bib and t-shirt within five minutes of entering the tent. We browsed a bit then headed home since we had to drive north by noon to meet friends in LA.

We actually hadn't made it up to LA since moving to Orange County, and we both thought we'd make the drive and think, "oh that's easy, why don't we do that more often?" Only we hit random Saturday afternoon traffic and what should have been a 40 minute drive took an hour. Then, after lunch with friends, it took us nearly an hour to get a few miles and find parking.

We were both reppin' our teams on Saturday. I'm actually telling him to act angry for a photo opp here, and he did not oblige. But the picture turned out anyway! Hah.

Sourabh and I both agreed we need to get up to LA more often, but man, that traffic was obnoxious. On the plus side, it was great to see friends and we caught a gorgeous sunset at Perch, which has a great rooftop bar (note: no alcohol for me because it was the day-before-race-day). Also, plenty of rest for my legs!

Race Plan

Given the previous two weeks, I had absolutely no idea what to expect from myself. I thought I could probably hit a 1:55, but wasn't totally sure. The whole week I kept waffling on what my goal was for the race. I had a fueling plan (take a Gu before the race and one during miles 4 and 8) but no pacing plan, just because I wasn't sure what I'd be capable of.

I had a really hard time getting to sleep Saturday because I was so nervous and pumped up (probably a bad idea to put the finishing touches on my playlist before going to bed). I tried to sleep around 10:00 p.m., with a 5:50 a.m. alarm set, but I don't think I fell asleep until after 11:00 p.m. Then I woke up at 4:00 a.m. feeling wide awake. This sounds like a scene from a movie, I know, but I swear I woke up thinking: "1:52. What paces do I need for that?" I grabbed my phone and opened up my pace calculator app. I'd need roughly an 8:30 average pace. "Okay, so I'll try for 8:40's in the first four miles, 8:30's in the second four miles, 8:20's in the third four miles, then I'll drop the hammer for the last mile."

Somehow having that :40's, :30's, :20's, hammer plan in mind made me feel calm and much more confident. Unfortunately it didn't help me sleep and I didn't do more than doze until my alarm went off. Thankfully I had a good night's sleep on Friday so I didn't feel that tired.


I had a glass of Nuun for extra electrolytes and a Picky Bar at about 6:15 a.m. Sourabh and I headed out fifteen minutes later, found parking and then waited in the extremely long shuttle bus line. I think more parking was necessary, but I can't fault the race organizers for the shuttle bus organization -- they had plenty of buses and they came pretty regularly. I ate a Gu right before I got off the bus. I got a box of the Salted Caramel Gu's for Christmas (thanks, Mom and Dad!) and they've come in handy during this race cycle. I could never stomach the taste of gels on longer runs previously, but I really like the salted caramel flavor.

Once I got to my corral, I had about 10 minutes to sip the random plastic water bottle I'd grabbed from our car and do my dynamic stretches to warm up. It was probably cutting it a bit close and I'd recommend getting to race parking more than an hour before your corral start time for anyone thinking of running this race in the future. I'd give yourself closer to an hour and a half to be safe, especially since it's not cold outside! I think it was in the 50's when we started and heated up to the high 60's by the end of the race.

The Race

Miles 1-4

(1) 8:27
(2) 8:33
(3) 8:36
(4) 8:46 <-- uphill

The course starts in front of the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort and goes north along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) for about three miles before turning east and running into Huntington Beach. It's a residential area, but one side of the street has views toward the San Gabriel Mountains, so I spent most of those miles feeling lucky to be living in California with mountain views. I know, I know. I'm a mountain loving sap.

I felt really strong on these miles, even on the unexpected uphill throughout mile 4. I thought I might be going a bit fast, but I also thought it wasn't so fast as to burn me out, so I stuck with what was working. The first 30 minutes of my playlist had me feeling super pumped and I was lip syncing along as I ran. I took a Gu during mile 4 as we climbed the hill, so it kept me somewhat distracted. I had carried the small water bottle with me, thinking I'd throw it away whenever it felt heavy, but somehow the weight never bothered me so I kept it for most of the race.

The only negative was a slight stitch in my right side that I felt developing. It stayed with me almost the whole race, but I was able to use the tip I got from Carrie to minimize it by exhaling as my left foot hit the ground.

Science behind this: "When you exhale, you use the muscles of your diaphragm. When this happens in unison with your foot striking the ground, the impact forces travel up the body and through your core (your side too) and exacerbate (piss off) the muscles in spasm creating that stitch. When you change the side of the landing forces to the opposite side, the tension causing the stitch releases." (Runner's World)

Miles 5-8

(5) 8:14 <-- downhill
(6) 8:34
(7) 8:37
(8) 8:40

Sometime during mile 5 I passed the 1:55 pacers and never saw them again. That was a nice feeling! Especially in the harder middle miles, knowing I was ahead of the 1:55 pace group kept me moving forward. We also joined with the marathoners around mile 5, but there was never too much congestion.

Around mile 6 we turned back onto the PCH and headed north again, with the beach on one side and the Bolsa Chica Ecological Preserve on the other. It was around mile 7 that running started feeling like work instead of a fun frolic along the beach. This stretch is also pretty rough because you keep running away from the finish line. I wasn't sure exactly when the turnaround point was (yet another strike against me -- I'd read the course map but hadn't committed it to heart and really wish I had) so every time there was a slight incline I'd think "perhaps it's on the other side of this?" and then I'd get over it and be on the decline and see that, nope, it was just another stretch of road.

It was around mile 7 that I was starting to get pretty hot, so I took off my shirt and ran the rest of the race in my sports bra. I'd thought this might happen so I pinned my bib to my shorts so that I could strip down if necessary. I took my last Gu during mile 8, which is also when I started dumping water from the water stations down my back. This was amazing and I highly recommend it.

Miles 9-13.1

(9) 8:30
(10) 8:28
(11) 8:30
(12) 8:40
(13) 8:34
(.19) 7:46 <-- only overran by .09!

These were the miles where my 4:30 a.m. race plan started breaking down. I kept willing my legs to move faster, but somehow all that did was keep me running at the same pace instead of slowing down. There's a hill that lasts about a third of a mile during mile 11 or 12 that felt like a soul crusher.

By miles 12 and 13, when I was going to "drop the hammer", my body was laughing at my plan. Instead, it kept telling me it was a really good idea to walk. This was where my mental game had to kick in, and I kept telling myself I had "only a mile left, you've got this, you're strong, keep going."

That last mile sucked some serious ass. I wanted to be done SO BADLY and yet the course DID NOT END. For some reason they really stick with that whole "13.1" distance...

Funny story about this stretch: for some reason I did the mental math totally wrong around mile eight or nine and thought I was way off from 1:52 (we'll call that "second half of a half marathon brain error"). So I wasn't even looking at my watch until about a quarter mile out from the finish line, when I realized I was going to hit 1:52. I crossed the finish line shocked, elated, and extremely dizzy.

There was a medical tent right at the finish line, and they kindly let me sit down until the dizziness subsided. Something to think about fueling-wise for next time -- perhaps I should have had some kind of sports drink around mile 8? After about five minutes I felt better, so I got up and teetered to receive a medal (they're gorgeous and definitely my new favorite in my collection) and chugged some water.

I love this medal.
Sourabh found me and then we met up with our friend Allie, who also PR'd and ran a 1:51! Allie's watch was telling her she was running 9:xx miles, so she kept trying to run faster. This was either evil or masterful coaching by her watch.

We headed out soon after, so I didn't check out the post-race festivities, but they seemed fun...?

Post-Race Thoughts

I am so happy to have finally run a half marathon where I felt good for most of the race. This race got me so excited to see what I can do in the rest of 2015 with continued solid work and a focus on rest and recovery. My goal is a sub-1:50 half marathon this year, and there's no longer any doubt in my mind that I can make that happen.

For now, I'm focusing on resting my body for the rest of this week. Monday and Tuesday will be entirely rest days. I might do some light activity on Wednesday and some strength on Thursday, but I won't be running until next week.

I do have two hours of indoor cycling to do on Sunday, but it's for an incredibly important cause that I am more than willing to burn out my legs for -- look out for a post on that tomorrow!


  1. This is the happiest post ever! you worked so hard for this - and I am so happy that the race went well, congrats again! And you totally have sub 1:50 coming at you.

    1. Thank you!! I foresee some awesome races in your future, too, now that you've found some great doctors you can partner with :)

  2. Congrats on the HUGE PR!! I had a feeling after reading all your training blogs that you would nail it :) YAY!!

    1. Thanks, Emily! Can't wait to see you rock the Cleveland Half Marathon this spring :)

  3. WOOHOO, SO PROUD OF YOU!! The fact you felt great for most of the race speaks volumes--in terms of your training, pacing, and mental game. I cannot wait to see the big things you continue to do in 2015! Watch out sub-1:50 half--Jen is coming for you!!

    1. :) THANKS!!! Ah it felt so great to write this post and I'm so excited for 2015. As always, your training logs will help inspire me when I just want to stay in bed!

  4. This is SUCH an awesome recap - huge congratulations!!! I loved reading all your thoughts along the way.

    1. Aw thanks, Laura! Can't wait to read your marathon recap this week!

  5. Congrats!! It is such a great feeling, huh? :)

    Also, how many times in races have I been like, "Time to drop the hammer!!!" & my body's just like, LOLOLOLOL.

    1. "LOLOLOLOL" was, verbatim, my body's response to my "ok body, time to drop the hammer, wooo!" Basically, this:

  6. HARD WORK PAYS OFF! You are awesome, congrats on your race!!!!