This past Sunday I raced in the Jet Blue Long Beach 1/2 Marathon. It’s a race I had been preparing for for a couple of months, and one where I expected to do well after having put in the work. What no one was expecting was the oppressive heat waves that have been hitting us here in SoCal the past few weeks. Although overall I am happy with how my race turned out, it did not go as planned right from the start.
During the week leading up to the race, the organizers sent out an e-mail that mentioned how they would handle the heat advisory expected for the weekend. The half marathoners would be allowed to start at the earlier marathon start time (6:00 a.m.) instead of the official time of 7:30 a.m. Some people went for the early start (I did!) and others did not. My friends who did not, or could not (some were official pacers) suffered even more than those of us who thought the 6 a.m. start was hot enough. Looking back, I’m not even sure I would have finished in under 2 hours if I had started with them. It was that hot.
I headed down to Long Beach on Sunday morning with three other ladies from my running club. Two were running the race with me and one, Catherine, was there to drive us each way and to cheer us on. She was awesome, cheering for us at different points along the course (much needed!) and she even created a small sign for us with our club mascot, the snail. 🙂
We lined up with the marathoners just before 6:00 a.m. and tried to make our way to the 3:40 marathon pacers, since our pacers had to run at the official start time. We weren’t able to get up to where we wanted, so I knew going out that I would have to make up some time somewhere. The gun went off and we headed out a few minutes later in our wave. I could tell we were going very slowly compared to the pace I needed to run to achieve my PR. Weaving through people at the start of a race is always the most stressful time for me, because it takes so much more energy to do this and to find a path through the crowd. But we did, and the three of us stayed together for a couple of miles.
I started to pick up the pace around mile 2, because I knew I needed to make up for lost time at the start. I continued weaving in and out of the crowd until about mile 5, something I hadn’t expected to do and probably wouldn’t have done as much if I had started with the half marathoners. But, I made the decision to start early so that the weather would be on my side, and I knew what I had to do. I put in a couple of miles at a 7:50-8:00 mile pace to see if I could get closer to the splits. It was working, and I felt good.
We passed the Queen Mary and ran around the harbor area through miles 3-5 and I could tell I was gaining speed and inching closer to the times I needed to hit. I checked my watch around mile 5 and saw that I was right on track to get my PR. I made sure to grab some water at every water stop, something I normally never do in a race, and prayed I wouldn’t get a cramp from drinking too much. It was so hot that I don’t think there was any danger of that happening! The only real incline was around the Queensway Bridge, but compared to the hills we typically run on the trails on the weekends, it was just a slight incline. Right after a stretch of restaurants on the start of the boardwalk, we turned a corner and I could see the sun coming up. It was a gorgeous sunrise, but there was no breeze coming off the water at. all. I wasn’t sure how long we’d be on the boardwalk, but I had a feeling it would not be easy if we had to face the sun for too long of a stretch.
We continued on the boardwalk for several more miles after all, and around mile 7 I passed several friends who were there to cheer us on from our running club. Several were pacing the 7:30 a.m. half marathon official start time, so it was nice that I got to see them all along the way. Catherine was also there with her awesome sign, and it was nice to see a familiar face. They told me later that I looked really strong at that point in the race. I remember that moment well, because I did feel really good still.
I continued to take in water at every station along the way, except for one mile when I accidentally got a coconut water. Yuck!!! I am convinced that taking in a little water all along the way is the only way I didn’t overheat toward the end. Around mile 9, I started to feel a bit tired, and my mind started to play games. “I have 4 miles left… ugh, really?!” and “Oh, come on… you’ve already run more than 8!” and it was back and forth like this for the next two miles.
Once we turned off the boardwalk, I was so happy to know that the rest of the way, we would no longer be facing the sun. That said, here’s where the going got tough. My legs never got tired, but my mind was busy playing a tennis match, especially as I got tired and started to slow. I knew my PR goal was slipping away slowly. This didn’t help the mind games. My pace slowed to 9:30 at one point and I knew that if I didn’t pick up my pace (by a lot!), I would not get a PR and I might even end up with a slower time than my last race, which I ran after having been sick with the flu the week before. I continued to power on for a while, getting a bit bored around mile 11 and just wanting it all to be over soon. I knew the last two miles were vital, though. So, I did my best to stop listening to my head and continue turning my legs over, one foot in front of the other, go, go, go.
Finally, the end was near. With about a mile and a half left, I knew I needed to keep my pace and not slow down anymore. It was going to be very tight at the end. The last few tenths of a mile were on a slight decline, which I couldn’t have been more thankful for. I tried my best to throw in a fast finish and hoped it would way off. I crossed the line at 1:50:38, earning a 1-minute PR. It’s not what I came for, but I’ll take it.
I wobbled the rest of the way back to our club’s tent to wait for my friends, get some water and record my time. I was having some trouble walking straight, but my head and stomach felt fine. I knew it was just a matter of keeping my legs moving and not letting my muscles get cold. My two other friends who started with me finished up shortly after. All three of us finished with PRs. It was a great day in the end, even though many people did suffer out there more than we did in the heat. Our friends who started at 7:30 a.m. told us how awful the heat was for them, especially around mile 10. They told me about seeing multiple people falling to the ground and ambulances coming to take people off the course, one after the other. One of our strongest runners, also pacing the race, even had to drop out toward the end because of dehydration.
A nice perk at the end of my race was meeting Jessica from Sugar Runs. I spotted her after I crossed the finish line and went over to say hello. I follow her blog and congratulated her on her race. This girl ran Big Sur as her first marathon. That alone should tell you how awesome she is. I’m hoping to head back to Long Beach soon to run with her club and check out more of the area. Meeting her and enjoying the morning running with friends was another reminder of how much I love the running community in this area.
I learned a lot from this race and already know what I’ll do differently in the next one. I am also thankful for the earlier start time, the volunteers with water and my friends who cheered us all on. It was a strong race, even if it wasn’t what I was aiming for. I know that I could have had a bigger PR if the conditions had been better, but it is what it is. I’m happy with my race and grateful that I was able to finish, especially knowing that many people could not. Marathon training starts next week, so I’ll be taking this one pretty easy. Have a good rest of the week, friends! xo