This past Memorial Day weekend Mindy and I took part in the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon in Ojai, California. This race has been on our radar since last year when we happened to see it on an online race calendar. The race was sold out last year by the time we happened to learn about it, and we were determined not to miss out this year! We were watching online registration for a few weeks, and while working the logistics of the weekend, the race sold out on us. We were beyond disappointed of course, but after a few emails with the race director about charity slots, we were given some information that made our day- the race would be opening an additional 500 slots in a matter of weeks. We immediately put our names on the marathon waiting list, and a few short weeks later we got our emails letting us know we had each been allotted a slot. Just like that, we were back in business!
While getting into the race was fantastic, there was some bad news leading up to the race. While trail running at South Mountain two weeks before Mountains 2 Beach, I sprained my ankle fairly seriously. It was bad enough to put me in a walking boot for several days. Needless to say, this put a severe damper on my expectations for the race. Luckily I had two things going for me- first, I started taking Hammer Nutrition’s Tissue Rejuvinator. In a nutshell, it’s a magic elixir that helped heal me up and fight inflammation in my ankle. It contains all sorts of helpful things like Glucosamine sulfate, Chondroitin sulfate, Methylsulfonylmethane and more. Read more about it on Hammer’s website.
I also scheduled several visits to AZ Active to meet with Dr. Nick Porterfield. Dr. Nick splits his time between his office in Chandler, AZ and the World Athletics Center in Phoenix. If he’s talented enough to help Olympic and professional athletes get in the best shape to perform, he’s good enough for me! After giving my ankle the once over, he set up a treatment plan that would help me hit my goal- in this case, it was to run a marathon 13 days later- and we got started. Dr. Nick uses a number of techniques, soft tissue manipulation and Active Release Therapy among others, and five visits later we were both confident I’d be able to run- how well I could run was still up in the air.
Fast forward to May 23rd, which also happened to be the last day of the school year for Mindy, and we were headed to SoCal. We even had the pleasure of driving through a little rain- a rarity around here! Originally we were planning to drive straight through to Ventura, the location of packet pick-up and the race finish, but we were tired of dealing with Memorial Day weekend traffic on the I-10. Instead we opted to bail off the highway and spend the night in Palm Springs. It was a good choice for two reasons- first we were able to unwind and get a good night of sleep, and we were able to walk over to Sherman’s Deli and grab some of their amazing desserts!
The next morning we hopped in the car and made our way towards Ventura. We managed to avoid most of the LA traffic and after a quick stop to check-in to our hotel in Thousand Oaks, we rolled into Ventura in the early afternoon. Packet pick-up was at the Ventura High School, and while the expo was small, it had everything you could ask for- friendly volunteers handing out bibs and t-shirts, short lines, a few sponsor booths and posters with the important information for race day. Inside Track, a running shop in Ventura, was on site with various items for those needing to make any last minute purchases. They were also offering 10% off for runners at their retail shop, located just over a mile from the expo.
After a quick stop at Inside Track to help a friend grab a Garmin for the race, we headed back to Thousand Oaks just in time to meet Julie (of Tribe Multisport fame) for dinner. We decided on Pieology since we always end up having pizza the night before races. We had never heard of the place, but it was really good, and can best be described as the Chipotle version of pizza. You go down the line picking out sauce and toppings, they bake it in their brick oven, and few minutes later your pizza is brought out to your table. Neat little place, hopefully they start popping up in the Phoenix area soon!
After dinner, it was back to the hotel to finalize gear for race day and then off to sleep… which didn’t last long thanks to a 2:30 wake up call. The race started at 6 am, but since it’s a one-way course, we had to be on the shuttle at 4, which meant leaving the hotel no later than 3:15. We had a friend joining us for the race who lives in Calabasas, a few miles east of Thousand Oaks. He decided to stop off at our hotel and our two car caravan headed over together- misery loves company at that hour of the morning. We arrived in downtown Ventura a few minutes before 4 and easily found parking. The race director, Ben DeWitt, did a great job with posting parking maps on the race website, as well as sending out reminder emails. There are several free parking lots near the shuttles, so that aspect of race morning went off without a hitch. After taking a few early morning pictures, we parted ways with the lone half marathon runner of our foursome, and Julie, Mindy and I hopped on our shuttle to the start. The ride to the start took a few (15?) minutes and the climb in elevation was noticeable. If there was any doubt this would be a downhill course, it was erased on that drive. Once we pulled into downtown Ojai, the friendly shuttle driver let us know it was a one-way trip and sent us into the city streets. The start line was on East Ojai Avenue, right in front of the Post Office. There were several port-a-potties set up just south of the Post Office, but don’t wait until the last minute to use them- the lines were crazy long right before the start.
There was a bag check available at the start area, and the bags were provided on race morning. They were the size of a grocery store plastic bag, so you couldn’t bring a week worth of supplies as some often do, but it was more than enough to hold a sweatshirt and the necessities for race day. With nothing to do but wait, most folks just sat down the curb, or in our case, sat in the doorway to one of the many shops on Ojai Avenue. (Not surprisingly, we somehow ended up sitting in front of an ice cream shop.) Time passed pretty quickly, and before we knew it the race staff was giving us the 15 minute warning before the start.
The bibs for the race were supposed to be color-coded to your starting group- red, yellow and blue- but race staff said there was an error with a batch of the bibs, and if you were issued the wrong color you could self-seed yourself in the corrals. By corrals, there was just one large corral behind the start line with three flags corresponding to the three bib colors. Given the size of the race, around 2000 runners, this actually worked out fine and it appeared most people were responsible in selecting a starting position. There were also Clif Pace Teams for various times from 3:00 to over 4:30, and having the pacers hold their signs helped folks seed in the corral. After the playing of the national anthem and a few pre-race pictures, it was time to start the race!
The race started out with an out and back section right off the bat. The course took us less than a mile straight down Ojai Avenue before doing a 180 and having us head right back towards the starting line. Given the size of the field this worked out just fine and it was nice to see Mindy wave as we passed each other headed in opposite directions. Then the first round of downhill began. It was downhill until mile five, which presented the only legitimate climb on the course. A decent climb from mile five to mile seven made sure I wasn’t getting any ideas this would be a cake walk. It was just enough to slow the pace a few seconds, but compared to the Lost Dutchman Marathon it wasn’t too daunting of a hill. Once we hit mile seven the course leveled off for a bit, then we started headed towards sea level.
It was nice knowing I had just crested the highest point on the course, and that in theory it was all smooth sailing down to the ocean for the finish. However, until mile 20 where the course flattened out for good, I had to contend with a fairly sharp decline- not the best on a questionable ankle. Miles 7 – 8.5 were flat, and then a short drop off got me to mile 11. At that point I could have rolled down to the beach. The elevation drops close to 500 feet over the next 9 miles, and it does take a toll on the legs. This portion is run on a lovely paved bike trail, and it’s mostly surround by trees with views of the hillside and you wind your way down. (A portion of the course is run along the Ventura River Trail– I’m not sure exactly how much, but I did notice some signs as I was trying to stay upright near the end of the course.) The scenery is a big change from the desert landscape we run in during training, and when added together with the cool temps, it was a great change of pace.
Around mile 21 I was starting to feel the effects of not having run much over the past few weeks. I was still on pace for a 3 hour marathon, but there was no room for error. I was trying to dig deep to find some adrenaline, or anything else for that matter, that would propel me to the finish, but my body was fighting back. Aside from two short jogs to test my ankle (I had to know if I could even run the race) I had done no cardio over the past two weeks. A few days of weightlifting were great and all, but they wouldn’t be of much help during the race. At this point, it was a matter of trying to hang on to 3 hours, and at the very least, keeping my time under 3:05. I made through mile 21 just a few seconds off my pace, but I was still content figuring the crowd at the finish area would give me a boost to regain those ticks on the clock. Mile 22 was where my legs decided they had enough. I gave up 20 seconds that mile, and repeated the trend the next mile. Mile 23 was also a bit slow, and this was also the worst mile on the course from a mental perspective. The course is set up so runners pass right near the finish area, but continue on for a 5k loop before they’re allowed to cross the line. It could have a boost knowing you’re so close, but it didn’t work that way for me (or Mindy). Had my legs not been on fire, I might have been more excited to know I only had a 5k left.
Miles 24-26 were also off pace, including mile 25 which was my worst mile of the day at 8:00 on the nose. My legs were getting wobbly that mile, and I was starting to feel the early twitches of muscle cramps- the kind where your legs just give out. I knew if that happened I’d be forced to power walk the last two miles, guaranteeing I would pass the 3:05 barrier, possibly even the 3:10. (I’ve had those cramps before, and there is literally nothing you can do to offset them. Your legs simply refuse to work.) Relegated to slowing the pace down, I checked my Garmin (first race for my new 220 and I love it!) and saw I would finish in the 3:03 range. I knew this would still be a marathon PR, and a PR by over five minutes, so I tried to find the silver lining.
Although my last mile wasn’t a victory lap of any kind, it was a beautiful mile. The last mile is run along the beach in downtown Ventura, the path is right next to the sand and a few yards from the ocean. It was the perfect spot to finish a race, no doubt about it.
Approaching the finish line I knew I’d be finishing before Mindy and Julie, but I wasn’t expecting our pal Sean to be hanging along the railing taking a video of my finish. It’s usually just Mindy and I cheering for one another at our out of state races, so this was a nice surprise. (And the video itself has a je ne sais quoi to it…)
I ended up crossing the line in 3:03:25, just over a six-minute marathon PR. The elusive sub-3 will have to wait, but given where I was physically two weeks prior, I can’t complain. I think for my next “A” race, Chicago Marathon, I’ll make sure to stay off the trails for at least a month prior just to be safe…
Post-race, I downed a couple bottles of water and a Hammer Nutrition Chocolate Peanut Vegan Recovery Bar. I met up with Sean in the athlete-only area, and after hobbling over to a good lookout spot; we waited for Mindy and Julie to finish up a short time later. Having a spot along the finishing chute, with a view overlooking the ocean was not a bad way to spend the rest of the morning.
After the ladies finished up, it was time to part ways with Sean and Julie (who drove back to Phoenix that afternoon!). With no witnesses to embarrass ourselves in front of, Mindy and I headed off to Smashburger to eat way too much- plus, we couldn’t go Memorial Day weekend without a burger! After our late lunch, we ended up spending the night in Anaheim, wandering aimlessly around Downtown Disney to stretch our legs, before driving home Monday night. A great race with friends was a perfect way to spend the extended holiday weekend.
For those wondering about my race day nutrition- I took a HammerGel (Peanut Butter and Chocolate for this race) every 5 miles or so, and every 7 miles I took one of each of the following; Endurolytes, Endurance Amino and Anti-Fatigue capsules. I also used Race Day Boost in the days leading up to the race. It’s always given me an extra boost (no pun intended) during my events, and I’m confident it helped me score another BQ (and PR) at Mountains 2 Beach!