I turned 40 in November. I am really hoping to qualify for Boston this year as a cool way to celebrate that milestone in my life. When I heard that several of my friends were signed up for the Redding Marathon in California, I was instantly intrigued! It’s been an exceptionally cold winter in Boise, Idaho and zipping off to some California sunshine to run a race sounded like a lot of fun!
Though I wasn’t officially training for any particular race, my overall training has been going exceptionally well this year. I was starting to see my weekday runs on both roads and trails get faster and I was really starting to think that my body was gearing up for a great year! So, with 4 weeks until the race, I signed up too and joined in on the fun – a road trip to Cali to run a marathon as fast and hard as I possibly could!
My PR was at the Famous Potato Marathon in May of 2012 when I was 10th female, 1st in my AG and ran a 3:48:41. I had no expectations when I showed up at the starting line and was shocked that I shaved 32 min off my previous best time! I did miss qualifying for Boston by 3 min and 41 seconds but the fact that I was in the ballpark really boosted my confidence! So, I hoped that with some really solid training under my belt this year, that I would be able to close that gap and finally get my BQ at Redding.
I have to say that arriving in Redding was such a visual treat! There were a row of palm trees outside my hotel room, the temperatures were in the 60s and it was oh-so-gloriously SUNNY!! We stayed at the Oxford Inn and Suites and from the moment we arrived, we felt well taken care of by the friendly, attentive staff. The hotel was clean, attractively decorated and we loved seeing the swimming pool open and ready for business in January! We liked our room, the hotel was quiet and we loved the free hot breakfast with foods like hash-browns, scrambled eggs and sausage each morning! Mmm mmmm!
In total there were 8 of us from the Boise, Idaho area (plus my sweet husband who had come along to cheer me on at the race and be my amazing support system! Thanks, honey!) I highly recommend bringing along other runner friends when you travel to out of state races. And Redding was a wonderful place for sight-seeing, eating out and taking pretty scenic pictures to boot! Our group spent the day before the race picking up our race packets at Fleet Feet, getting a yummy lunch at Luigi’s, checking out the race start at Shasta Dam and carbo loading at Olive Garden before turning in early for a good night’s sleep and we had a lot of fun!
I had studied the course and the elevation chart at www.findmymarathon.com and knew that it was hilly and that I’d have to a pace myself wisely. I felt confident that if I could relax and run a smart race, I’d probably do well and I felt I had a good shot at my goal.
My husband drove me and my friends Billie and Julie to the start about half an hour before the race began. We spotted five deer nibbling on the green grasses just outside the visitor’s center at Lake Shasta Dam. I took it as a good sign that it was going to be a great day! We arrived early enough that I was able to walk right up to the row of porta potties and use one! The temperature in the parking lot was probably close to 35 with 15 mph winds! I was freezing but knew I’d warm up once I started running and I also knew the high was predicted to be mid 70’s for the day. I was wearing a tank top, shorts, my calf sleeves and a light running jacket and thin gloves and they were just about perfect for the start.
I had a funny conversation with a man in line ahead of me at the bathroom (when I lined up for round 2 a few minutes later) that made me laugh. He said his wife had gotten sick, so he’d made her sleep in the guest room, while he bargained with God to let him show up at the race healthy and that he’d trade being sick the day AFTER the race instead! Smart plan! I also met a young guy wearing sandals and socks. He was getting lots of questions from curious runners asking if he was going to run the “whole way” in those things! He said, “Yeah” – and he really did! We would turn out to be a pretty similar pace and I would refer to him as “sandals” every time I saw him out there, as in, “Looking strong, there, Sandals!” Oh yeah, we bonded! 🙂
When it was time for the start, I lined up about halfway back in the pack, knowing I didn’t want to go out too fast. I knew the event was not chip-timed but hoped it wouldn’t hurt me later for making that decision. Someone said “GO!’ and we were off! I relaxed, settled into my warm up pace and was happy to be running! In the first mile, we ran across the Shasta Dam which was a pretty awesome way to begin the journey! The views were spectacular of the mountains covered in thick trees, the bright blue sky and Lake Shasta! Wow!
I soaked in the beauty in mile 1 and soon after the course started to go downhill – literally! I love downhill running and this race had a few really enjoyable sections of it with mile 2 being the fastest of all! I passed my buddy Sam here and our friend Bill who was pacing him. Knowing they are both really solid runners, I expected them to pass me back as soon as the swift downhill section gave way to the flatter parts of the course, but that didn’t happen. I had decided early on to feel out the pace – to NOT obsess over what the Garmin was telling me about my pace and instead to just tune into my body and run exactly the way it wanted to run that day. I hoped by doing so, I’d ration my energy appropriately and be able to turn it up a notch at the end if I needed to to chase my time goal.
From the start, I felt really good. I was well trained, had tapered and rested and felt amazing! I can honestly say this turned out to be the smartest race I’ve ever ran as well. I walked through every single one of the 14 aid stations, switching between cups of water and Gatorade at each one. I ate a GU every 45 min – an hour and I took an S cap each hour to help maintain my salt balance. It seemed to work really well, too. I felt fueled, my energy stayed consistent and I had a smile on my face throughout the race! I also made it a point to thank each and every volunteer I encountered, letting them know how much I appreciated their help! I chose to do the race without carrying any water at all. I think that was a wise decision for me too. There was plenty of water on the course, so there was no need to slow my time down by carrying any (although it could be argued that by walking the 10-15 steps through each aid station so that I could get every drop of water inside my mouth instead of up my nose may have balanced things out.)
I had promised myself to only check the Garmin at a few points during the race: the half point, 20 miles and then each mile in the final 6 to try to push harder if I could to reach my 3:45:00 goal. I had printed out the approximate paces at www.findmymarathon.com, which takes into account elevation gain and loss for each mile and knew I needed to be at the half point by about 1:50 or so. I hit that point at 1:49 and felt really pleased with how things were progressing! I had hit a 1:47 half at the Pocatello Marathon in September and then tanked in the second half and was hoping I was playing my cards a little smarter this time by holding back. At the 13 mile aid station, one of the volunteers said, “You’re looking strong!’ I said “I feel wonderful!’ She told me to keep it up and let me know I was 6th place female! That really cheered me up and I kept my focus as I headed out.
I knew I needed to hit the 20 mile point at around 2:52 or so and hit that at 2:50! I was elated! I knew I had a little cushion, but not much to reach my goal. I ran into the aid station and started pumping my fists in the air and smiling! A lady said to me, “You look great! How do you feel?” I replied, “TOTALLY AWESOME!” She said, ‘Good luck, AWESOME!”
The course was really beautiful! We ran through an old train tunnel at mile 4, which was insanely cool (and yes, I did hoot and hollar as I ran through it), and we also crossed 3 bridges during the race, which were also neat highlights! The views were spectacular! The asphalt running path runs alongside the Sacramento River, which was a pretty distraction. There were lots of mountains and trees and lots of greenery alongside the trail to keep things enjoyable. The most noteworthy thing about the course is the hilliness, though! I felt that all my training in the Boise Foothills on trails really paid off here since there were lots and lots of ups and downs throughout the entire course. There were also lots of twists and turns and curves in the path, which means it’s more important than ever to focus on cutting the tangents if you want your Garmin to come anywhere close to 26.2 in the end. Though I’ve helped certify three courses myself and knew this, I found it easier after awhile to just relax and run the curves normally (which meant I did add some distance onto the race, which probably hurt me in the end.) My Garmin showed 26.5 at the finish line.
Though there wasn’t much of an opportunity for my husband to see me in the race, he was able to see me at the start, at about mile 9, 13.5 and about 19, which was still pretty awesome! I always feel happy to see him cheering me for at my races and it always boosts my mood! So, though the crowd support was minimal in this event, the volunteers along the course were second to none! They were helpful, friendly and very clearly called out, “Gatorade” or “water” as they held their cups up, which I appreciated! My favorite aid station was the one where every single volunteer (including the three men) wore pink tutus and neon pink wigs! That definitely brought a smile to my face!
The fatigue and the warmth of the day started to tug on my pace in the final miles. The undulating hills, which I had loved earlier became a mental challenge, but I pressed on. When I finally saw the famous Sundial Bridge (the only bridge in the world that is a functional sun dial) I had mixed emotions! My Garmin showed I had already gone 26.3 miles, that I was on pace for a BQ, but once I actually saw the bridge and realized I had to do a little more path just to get to it – I knew there was no way in the world I’d be able to get my 3:45:00 time I’d hoped to earn. But, I quickly dismissed any negative thoughts from my head and told myself, “That is NO excuse to not run each and every last step as hard as you can!!” and I started pumping my arms and legs as furiously as I could to final kick it home!!!! The bridge, I have to tell you, is so freaking cool! Looking down, I was running on glass and could see the water beneath me. Crowds lined the bridge and cheered as I ran and I felt revived! I pushed and pushed right until the finish line which I crossed in 3:47:22 – missing my BQ by 2 minutes and 22 seconds. My Garmin showed I’d ran an average pace of 8:34 for 26.5 miles and I knew I’d needed an 8:35 or better to BQ, so I had to at least give myself a pat on the back for sticking to my goal pace — even if I didn’t quite make it in time.
A volunteer placed a really beautiful, brag-worthy medal around my neck. I was thrilled! I’d run a smart race, I PR’d by over a minute on a much tougher course than the Potato Marathon (which has only 130 feet of elevation gain vs the 600 or so in this race) and I was really proud of myself! There were 201 marathon finishers that day. I came in 51st place, 6th female overall and 1st in my age group of 40-44. Even though I didn’t get Boston, I feel like I WON! I had a big smile and no regrets as my husband congratulated me and I flopped to the ground to catch my breath – a sure sign I’d given my all to the course and had ran the best race I had in me on that day!
My friends and I enjoyed pie at the finish party (PIE!!) Mmmmmm and I received a really cool silver plaque for winning my age group along with a cool mug that had the cutest marathon tagline I’ve ever seen: twenty-six two with a view! Perfect! I will definitely be proud to drink my morning cappuccino in that!