Some adventures in road and trail running.
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Monday, February 2, 2009

Surf City Marathon 2009: Sub 3 hour!

In April 2005 I ran the Boston Marathon and removed 7 minutes off of my PR and posted a 3:02:33. Shortly after finishing this race I set the goal of running a sub 3 hour marathon.

On Sunday February 1, 2009 I achieved this goal.
This was after running 6 other marathon between 2005 and 2009 where I failed to achieve my goal. Sunday was my fourteenth marathon and was my best time, my strongest showing and the race I enjoyed the most and had the most fun running.

On Dec 7th, 2008 I ran the California International marathon in 3:13. I had GI issues and really disliked running the race from pretty much mile 11 in. This really bugged me. Racing was supposed to be really hard but fun.

So I dug in and worked to train harder and with focus to ensure a great race day. I wrote most of this up in my previous post on bootcamp.

For the marathon we stayed with my brother and sister-in-law who live about 45 minutes from the start line of the race. Lets just state the obvious that it was amazing weather and really nice to visit in January.

Trisha and I got up at 4:15 (OUCH) on race day and were on the road by 5am.
I had my pre-race breakfast of 1/2 cup of rolled oats, 3 oz of blueberries, a teaspoon of peanut button, multivitamin and then a protein powder drink. Max strength Tums to top things off.
We got to where we planned to park at 5:50 to find the lot "full" and closed. ERG!! The marathon has ~2000 runners but apparently lots of the 1/2 marathoners (12000 total) decided to come early and take many parking spots.
Now I get grumpy and more nervous. With the traffic jam we finally park at 6:15ish. The race starts at 6:50. Out of the car and I head out for a 2 mile warmup. This race is really well set up with restrooms. Lots of porta-potties and beach restrooms. I was able to get in 3 pit stops before the start of the race. Some Margarita Clif Bloks, some berry Sharkies and Immodium with about 4 oz of water to top off the tank.

I easily moved right up to the start line with ~2000 runners. Nice wide road to start on and really made the race feel like a nice small event.
I think starting the race in 2 waves spaced by 2 minutes, 4hrs and under and 4hrs and over, really went a long way to easing any congestion. Trisha found me in my final thoughts near the start and we got in a final kiss.

The national anthem was sung and we were off. It is usually a good sign fr me if things feel off for the first 3-4 miles. This race I immediately had a tight right calf...OK gonna have to watch that.

Of course I ran the first mile too fast: 6:43. But not terrible.
Backed off for mile 2 to post 6:59. These first miles you are running on a small gradually downhill on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Nice stretch to find your initial groove and pace.
You then turn off the PCH into some side road and then trails within parks. There was even a really short "off road" section that made me smile. In these sections was the first time we hit mile markers that were grossly misplaced. One mile 6:17 the next 6:55 with all of us in our group agreeing we had ran the same pace. This type of problem would only get worse through the race.

At around mile 8 you are back out on the roads and then heading down a nice hill back towards the beach. This is when I remember saying a prayer of thanks and starting to smile like a fool: today was going to be the day I would break 3 hours!
This was also the time I started running with Dane Rauschenberg. This is the man who ran 52 marathons in 52 weeks in 2006. More importantly he was fun to run with, set a great pace and appears to be a genuinely nice guy.

We headed out north again on the PCH into a headwind. Noticeable but not terrible. We reached the turnaround on the out and back and turned for the tail wind...NICE. As well, as we turned the morning fog was just start to break.
Looking back on the PCH with around 15000 running through the thinning fog back lit by the rising sun...simply magical and inspiring.
Dane and I chatted and held a nice pace and went past the women running in first place (turns out she was a local and did end up winning the race).
Continued on the PCH feeling strong. You then turn back north off the PCH and on the beach bike path. The sun had broken through by this time and the temp started to rise.
I really had mentally prepped to stay hydrated this race and keep my carb/water ratio close to 7% (per Ronda and Sean). I was planning 5 gels so this meant at least 60 oz of water (each gel is 1 oz). The first 20 was from my hand held and in by mile 8. The rest came via a cup of water at most aid stations.

The aid stations were very frequent and well stocked with water and Vitalyte (sorry this stuff just does NOT work for me or Dane) but they really need to work on fuel. ClifBars are nice pre and post race, but I am not sure who can choke one of these down while racing. Gels or bloks people!!

In the section of bike trails the mile markers got to be a joke and just could not be counted on. I can only hope this was malicious mischief and not incompetence. Lots of outhouses along the way but I only briefly considered a pit stop. With some focused breathing and relaxation, the stomach and GI stopped grumbling just plain worked. I was pretty worried here as for the 3 days previous to the race I was having the same symptoms I had before CIM for a month and which shot down CIM. I think this was just nerves causing me grief as I had made no change in diet.
During the race, I was alternating GU Plain with ClifShot Double Espresso.
My right calf started to indicate it could cramp so I took 2 hammer caps at mile 18ish.

At mile 20 my brother and sister-in-law were waiting with Cole and Leah. Awesome!. And then Dave jumped in and ran with me for about 3 miles. This really helped me to focus and pick up the pace. Dane had dropped me after he had taken a short bathroom break. Running with Dave I worked to make him work. It also helped get me through completely missing or misplaced mile markers.
Mile 20 to mile 25 we are back running with the wind and heading to the Huntington beach pier. We could see this 5 mile off and was my queue to pick it up. I am not sure I really got any faster but I did not get slower and started to pass people again.

I was on my own again once Dave dropped off, fired up the tunes (FireFlight: Unbreakable "No one can touch me. Nothing can stop me") and worked to try to reel in Dane. Passed 2 more guys (after the race I see this moved me from 5th to 3rd in my age group...note to self never stop trying to latch on and suck in that next person).

Now the last 1.5 miles is evil. You go down a hill and right past the turn to the last 1/3 of mile of the race. I tried to push down the hill and NOT do the math on how slow I could run the last mile
and still make sub-3. I switched to running to catch people.
I think I passed one or two more people at this time and was gaining on Dane. Mile 26 and I could see the finish line. Pushed it through and crossed the line.

Crossing the finish line I think I was almost holding my breath: 14th marathon in PR time: 2:58:35 (6:48 per mile average). 3rd 35-39 male. 20 out of 1953 racers.
Full results are available here.

I stopped, closed my eyes, goofy grin on my face and said a prayer of thanks. I am sure the finish chute volunteers must have thought I was going to pass out. Standing there, eyes closed, grinning from ear to ear. Awesome feeling! I also fished out my Aleve to immediately fight the inflammation in my legs and feet. My right big toe again took a nasty beating (I think the racing flats are on their last legs) but had no impact on the actually running of the race.

Met up with Dane (he finished right in front of me) and shared a "man" hug. I have not read his book, but plan to buy it and help him towards his next goal of RUNNING ACROSS AMERICA in 60 days...woof!! Check it out and consider buying the book.

Now my focus switched to waiting, hoping and praying for Trisha. I had seen her several times out on the course. Up to the half she looked strong and happy. Not so much in the second half. Trisha had been lured into the siren song of the marathon: bankable time.
The plan had been to run with the 4 hour group and then pick it up if she was feeling strong at mile 16. For the first half, she ran at least 30 seconds per mile faster than 4 hour pace. A note to ALL the runners out there: there is absolutely no mechanism to bank time when running a marathon.

I am fully convinced that negative spilt (second half faster than first half) or equal split is the best and only way to run a fun and fast marathon. Dragging yourself through the last 6 miles watching your dream/goal time slip away is something I have done at least 10 times.
This race my first half time: 1:29:20. This is my second half: 1:29:15. This is why I was able to really enjoy the race.

Trisha dug in, pushed hard and ran an amazing 4:11:16. I even got to run about a mile with her around the evil mile 25. Next time I would love to run the whole thing with her and take her to a nice 3:58ish time. 4:11:16 is ~26 minutes faster than her previous best!! She still has such huge potential and we believe a possible shot at a Boston time (3:45 or 3:50 at age 40).

Surf City is a well organized race but does have some issues that need to be addressed: missing or misplaced mile markers, poor availability of fuel at aid stations. Having shirts in the right sizes and a shirt that actually will fit a toned female athlete should be looked at as well.

The organizers/volunteers did a great job of keeping the half marathoners from impacting the marathon race at all.
Post race food was good, drop bag pickup was efficient and volunteers where cheery and helpful. Maybe it is just me but a loud band playing right in the expo areas just makes it hard for people to talk and find each other and enjoy chatting during the post race glow.
The finish medal is a cool surfboard as is the age group award though I was a little underwhelmed at the size of the age group award :-(.
The web page and course descriptions are really good. Lots of restrooms before and during the race. Lots of aid stations.
We would arrive at the race for parking no later than 5:30am next time.
I would do this race again and feel I can run it faster...I now have to find the new "red" line and try to ride it. 2:55 is up next.

I am looking forward to running a bunch of shorter races and setting PRs in fun, short, hard, oxygen debt runs :-)
I am signed up for Hagg Lake in 2 weeks but I am undecided whether I will race the 25k or the 50k. Legs feel good but will have to see how the foot heals.

I am also enjoying planning and looking forward to hosting our own races, Reason to Run: Spring Rush 10k and Burst 5k.
Trisha and I are using all we have learned in the events we have raced to make our events memorable for all the right reasons. Make sure you come join us.


Ryan said...

Awesome recap Darin. I felt like I was running the race with you :-)


Ronda said...

Congrats again Darin and Trisha. You both certainly earned it. When are you going to come over the darker side of ultras...when I am I going to hear about that 100M your going to race. At least I know my pacer will have good practice at oxygen debt. ;)

Darin Swanson said...

So many races, so little time :-)

And even when I move to racing 100s you will still have a pacer. Pacing is just too much fun!

Dane said...

Very proud of you, Darin. I have some great race shots of us. drop me an email and i will send them to you.

Ryan Altman said...

Great description of the race itself and how it treated you and Trisha. Great job on the sub 3 and keep up the hard work, it all pays off! :)

Kim Moir said...

Congratulations! What a great accomplishment!

Kristine said...


Amazing! PR at Boston, then turn around and do it again! Inspiring. Congratulations. Sounds like you and Trisha have both been working hard. Glad to hear you are getting such great results!! :) Kris

Pete said...

Great report -- even better race. Congrats!

Mike Rosling said...

Great race, Darin...glad to hear you're already setting your sights on 2:55!

Jason K said...

Darin, 2009 Surf City was my first marathon and reading your fantastic recap of the race brings back so many memories. Can it really only be 10 days ago? The mile markers on the beach path really were a joke and screwed with pacing and the mind at a really bad time in the race. And that last little turnaround was just cruel. All that being said, it was a great race for me, and as time passes the pain and frustration subsides and the pride remains.

I only wish I had your advice on bankable time before the race, as that was my plan going in; however, I fought strong till the end and finished in 3:30:53, just short of my goal. Thanks again for your great recap and congrats on your sub 3.

saschasdad said...

Fantastic report and incredible race, Darin! I could feel your proud sense of accomplishment. Congratulations my earned it!

Darin Swanson said...

Thanks for all the encouragement.

Jason...congrats on your first race!!

Darcy said...

Just googled this up searching for reports on SurfCity. It's a great blog ~ thanks for the detail. I'm running the SurfCity Marathon 2/7/10 ~ it's my first and I can't wait.