bulix.org / life snippets

2014 Kaiser Permanente Half-Marathon

After my first, 40-mile 6-hour ultra-marathon on New Year's Eve, my training at the beginning of January was tough and spotty. Winter, darkness and tired legs don't make for very good workouts and I felt worn-out, mentally. Thankfully my legs (and motivation) came back towards the end of January and training ramped up to catch up on my training plan. The Kaiser Permanente Half-Marathon, now one of my tradition races every year in February, was just around the corner. With my mind set on the Napa Valley Marathon the month after, it would serve as a benchmark of my fitness.

I woke up the morning of the race and it was raining. I don't mind the rain that much when racing, but after an entire week of training in the rain I was getting a bit tired of it. I made my way to the city nonetheless and parked in the DeYoung museum garage as I always do. The temperature was also a lot colder in the city; the small jog to the start and wait before the start was really cold.

After a little warm-up, I lined up in front of the start arch to stretch. The rain had calmed down to only a drizzle as they sang the national anthem. Soon after we were off! The beginning of the KP half is always a bit chaotic, regardless of how far up front you place yourself at the start. Too many people don't understand the basic rule of the start corral (faster in the front, slower at the back). It took almost half a mile to dodge other runners and finally be around people of my own pace.

I had an aggressive goal for this race. My PR was 1:26'20" at the San Jose Rock'n'Roll half-marathon. A very flat and fast course but a bad day for me, so I know I underperformed. I was feeling great the morning of KP and my training for Napa was ramping up so I wanted to see what's what. I shot for a 6'30"/mi pace, the magic number for a 1:25 finish. Holding that pace would be difficult; I had to be strategic in my pacing and energy expenditure, finding people to run with and even down to taking the tangents correctly!

The first 5k of the race go straight out of the Golden Gate Park towards the city, looping around the Oak/Fell park. This is tricky because it goes downhill for the beginning of the race so controlling the pace is crucial. And then it goes back up to the park, meaning you spend more energy than you normally would. Most of the first half of the race is actually like this, rolling through the Golden Gate Park. The pace felt hard at first, but after warming up I got into the rhythm I was looking for.

By the time I got to the other side of the park to turn on the PCH, the rain had also got into its own rhythm and started coming down again; so did the wind. My pace, so far holding a very satisfying 6'29"/mi, took a 10"/mi hit because of the head wind! It became imperative for me to work strategically now. I quickly found a few people around me and we formed a group, stronger together against the elements. With the pace back on track, we picked up a few people that slowed down just like I had.

At this point, for no apparent reason, my watch lost GPS satellite reception. This usually happens in a dense forest or going through a tunnel and the watch quickly recovers from it. But here I was out in the open, next to the ocean and reception never came back. This meant I no longer had any information about my pace; only my time! Thankfully the people around me where also going for a 6'30"/mi pace so all I had to do was lock myself into the group and keep the groove on.

As always, the turnaround was further away than I remembered. Once through, all I had to do was come all the way back (a solid 3 miles), turn right and charge up the hill to the finish, every step now finally getting us closer to the end. The kicker is that going back North, the PCH is ever so slightly slanted uphill. Thankfully it also meant that the winds were also pushing us, which helped offset the slope -- at least in how much energy we felt we were spending to keep moving at target pace.

Through mile 10, the legs started to feel a bit heavier; not surprising, after 10 miles at such a pace! But the energy levels were still really good. This might just work. I just had to keep the pace, stay with the group and bring it all the way to the finish line. I still had no real-time pace information. The group was holding a consistent pace and we passed mile markers 11 and 12 almost right on time. But I knew I would have to pick it up at the end; races are never exactly the right distance plus the last bit is a quarter mile uphill battle.

We passed mile 12 at 1:18'20". With a little bit more than a mile to go, I needed to pick up the pace. Shortly after the marker, I left the group behind and went for it. I'd be damned if I put all this effort, my best half-marathon ever, just to let it go and miss my goal on the last mile! It was getting tough, but the legs were still there and delivered on a pace close to 6'/mi. Making the right turn back into the park and up the hill. I was passing runners and tried to cheer them up, told them not to let go. The finish line was in sight, I could do it! I screamed and roared as I sprinted through the finish chute, and passed the line in 1:24'36".

A new record by almost two whole minutes! I didn't have such a step improvement in my half-marathon time since the Santa Cruz half the year before! I don't think there is anything I should have done differently in this race. Strategy and pacing were great, and energy levels were good. The wind and rain were a factor, but I think it helped me stay honest with the pace between miles 6 and 10, where it's critical to cruise and conserve energy for the last 3 miles of the race. The tailwind definitely helped on the way back too. And then there's my watch, which left me in the dark for the last third of the race... I hope I won't have to get a new one just because of this. When I go into a race with an aggressive goal like this, I need confidence that my gear isn't going to let me down.

With this test done and aced, my confidence in my fitness and my training for the Napa Valley Marathon is through the roof, and my sub-3 target there more reachable than ever!

Looking back on 2013, and ahead to 2014

After getting injured at the end of 2012, I entered 2013 without being able to run more than a mile. Thankfully I quickly recovered and by February I was back in action by running a solid 1:29:22 at the Kaiser Half. Since then, my posts on this blog followed my recovery and my races through the year. I have no absolutely no idea how small or large my audience is here but I found writing race reports to be an interesting exercise. Looking ahead at 2014, I will try to continue doing so, regardless of audience, as I find it helps being more analytical about what happened during a race and why. The obvious consequence is that issues, if they do arise, become much easier to fix for the next race. Of course how much of that comes from the write-up and how much comes from experience I will never really know.

Combined with more structured training (at least when I'm preparing for an important race), my results this past year have been constantly improving and I'm really happy of my accomplishments in 2013. I didn't get the Boston qualification I was hoping for in Sydney. I even came really close to it (as in, within a minute) almost by accident in Seattle this past December. But qualifying for Boston as never been my primary target or reason for running.

I had a post draft about this a little while ago but decided against posting it. I guess this often happens when you write something a little bit more personal and feeling-infused, and come back to it for proof-reading before publication and you end up not feeling comfortable sharing it anymore. The bottom line is that I run for many very different reasons and all of them are still valid for the year to come. So I see no reason for stopping doing what I love, (almost) every day!

After coming back from my injury last year, I put together some goals for the year and I'm very happy to see that I have met pretty much all of them. 2013 was very successful, with some overall race wins, some great improvements to both my half-marathon and full marathon times, good pacing experiences and my first ultra-marathon (race report is still in draft, but it's coming). I would like to make 2014 as successful, although maybe this year with less specific time goals.

I do want to break 3 hours in the marathon, which is no longer as far reached as I first thought. I'd like to run sub-4 on the trail marathon more consistently, which should come more naturally as I get faster overall. Finally, I want to do a more ultras (AR50 is coming up in April) to gain more experience with longer races, and spend more time on trails. That's pretty much it. The rest, the races, the pacing experiences, they'll get in there by feel - or boredom :)

That being said, I already have a few things lined up that I might as well outline here, for reference:

  • the Kaiser Permanente Half-Marathon on February 2nd, 2014 (done by the time this gets published, keep an eye out for the race report);
  • pacing 1:30 at the Brazen Bay Breeze half-marathon on February 15th, 2014;
  • Napa Valley Marathon on March 2nd, 2014 (which also happens to be put out by Kaiser Permanente). This will probably be my first attempt at a sub-3 marathon, or at the very least a qualification for Boston 2015;
  • pacing 1:30 at the innaugural Livermore Half-Marathon on March 29th, 2014;
  • the American River 50 mile ultra near Sacramento and Folsom on April 5th, 2014.
  • pacing 3:20 at the San Francisco Marathon on July 27th, 2014. My first full marathon pacing!

These are for the ones I'm registered for already. Then I'll most likely end up doing, like every year, the CTR San Lorenzo River trail marathon in June, the CTR Cinderella trail marathon in August, and the Morgan Hill Marathon in October. Maybe CIM to cap-off the year? Unless I set my eyes on a destination race to check off another continent? Let me know if you have suggestions!

2013 Seattle Marathon race report

Photo credit Amica Seattle Marathon 2013.

The Seattle Marathon was my first US race outside of California, and as such the first stop in a series of many more that I hope will take me, through the years, to each one of the fifty American states.

For some strange reason, the fact that this more of a geographical quest and exploration adventure means that I am not necessarily looking for racing achievements through these races. That's why the Seattle Marathon looked interesting, placed in December towards the end of the main training season; it would be a great way to finish 2013 after the Sydney and Morgan Hill marathons.

After a fun Thanksgiving, I went home to pack on Friday night for my three-day trip to Seattle. Getting everything to fit in carry-on was a bit of a challenge but it turned out well. Packed smart and light, I went to bed for a very short night before making it to my 7AM flight. The weather in Seattle was supposed to be rainy all week-end, but luckily it wasn't raining when we landed. I enjoyed a good first day in Seattle, getting used to the cold and walking around town.

I visited a few landmarks, explored the city and went to pick up my bib at the Westin. The expo wasn't as big as I expected, but it was reasonable for a race this size (about 10,000 runners total across all distances). They had a nice video preview of the course that I watched a couple of times to get myself familiar with how the hills looked like. After the expo, I decided to walk to the start/finish in the Seattle Center (under the Space Needle) and walk the first mile of the course to get myself familiar with the area. As it turned out, one of the Seattle bus lines was riding straight between the start/finish area and Alex and Adam's place, the two friends that were hosting me for the weekend (thanks again to them!).

In the evening, after a traditional pre-race beer, I joined Alex and Adam who were just coming back from London and we went out for an early dinner to complete the carbo-loading. Once back at their place, I got everything ready for the next morning and went to bed. I was a bit restless, as usual before a marathon, but quickly fell asleep after the short night and long day of travels, exploration and walking around. When I woke up, Alex was already up because of jet-lag. I went through my morning pre-race routine: bathroom, glass of water, weather check. Still no rain; I knocked on wood wishing it'd stay that way for the rest of the morning.

After dressing up in what has now become my "race outfit", I put on a garbage bag around my chest to stay dry and warm and headed out to the bus stop. I met a half-marathoner at the bus stop and we talked for a little while until the bus arrived. Stop after stop, the bus filled up with more runners and soon enough we all walked out of the bus, shuffling in the cold like half-asleep zombies towards the start line. I had about 45 minutes until the start at 8:15am; I kept hydrating and made a first stop to the bathroom. The wind had really picked up and I was turning into a plastic-wrapped Popsicle. I did my best to stay warm, dancing around to the sound of the music playing.

8am ticked off: time to go warm-up! I headed out for a slow jog to get the legs moving, which triggered another (more useful) bathroom break. I continued running for a few minutes, did some strides and a few stretches. I no longer felt cold and the legs were feeling good: I was ready. I made my way to the start line to find a pace group. Up until this point I didn't really have a strategy for the race. A sub-3:10 would get me top-100, which I thought would be nice. But I ran a 3:11 on the much hillier Morgan Hill course, so maybe I could do better today, on fresher legs?

I decided to go out with the 3:05 group and play it by feel. I didn't have strong goals today: whatever happened I knew I'd be proud of my race. Other than the wind and with the rain still nowhere in sight, the weather was perfect for running. This could be a good day. For some strange reason, we ended up being lined-up right at the start line. Where were the elites? To our right maybe? Regardless, it felt strange to be front-and-center at a marathon this size. I got an awesome picture out of it though (see header picture)!

The arm-cyclist went off, and a minute afterwards it was our turn. The pack started fast but our pacer did a relatively good job keeping the pace honest at the beginning. The first couple of miles were uphill on 5th Avenue; not the easiest way to start a race, but a good way to keep the pace in check. A good downhill followed and there again we made sure to not let our legs go ahead of themselves too much: we'll be needing these quads later on!

After coming up on the I-90 on-ramp with a good climb, the first 5k went by, wrapped up in a quick in 21 minutes flat. It felt as if the race hadn't even started yet. Soon after, we went through the long tunnel and hit the I-90 floating bridge on our way across Lake Washington to Mercer Island. The tail wind was majestic and propelled us into sub-7' miles without effort. On the other side of the bridge, a small uphill into the Mercer Island tunnel turnaround was waiting for us. I decided to take it easy on the uphill, still using as much tail wind as I could.

We were now heading back the other way, coming back down to the bridge with a fairly strong headwind. I pushed the pace a little bit and made the effort to rejoin the pack. I wasn't the only one to have this idea as the pack formed tighter in a diagonal against the wind. We lost a few seconds from the headwind, but at this point we already had a good buffer. On the other side of the bridge, we made a sharp left down onto 36th Avenue to join Lake Washington Boulevard.

For the first time in 8 miles we were finally on real, soft asphalt and the trees were protecting us from the wind. The miles were barely registering on the legs. This was indeed a good day. We hammered the next two splits really well, putting more time in the bank. Miles 11 to 13 took us around Seward Park, during which the pacer actually slowed down to make his half-marathon split time. A few runners stayed on pace but most of the group slowed down and followed the pacer, including me. I'm still not sure if this was a wise decision, but who knows? Giving back our so easily earned buffer mid-race? Maybe staying on pace would have made the end of the race even harder? It sure fell nice to take it easy for a couple of miles, enjoy the aid stations and the views of Lake Washington.

At the halfway point, our pacer stopped and passed the stick to the second half pacer. The pace immediately picked up to go back to 7'03"/mi. The "restart" was a bit brutal and clearly I wasn't the only one who felt it: a few runners from the group dropped off. Between those that stayed on the faster pace earlier and those that dropped off, the group had slimmed down quite a bit now. Still, we trucked along, making our way back up Lake Washington Boulevard. Still no rain and very little wind on this portion of the course. I've never felt so good at mile 15 of a marathon. I guess I would have, at Morgan Hill, but at mile 15 I was busy negotiating the main hill.

I realized my heart-rate monitor was completely off, showing only 65 bpm because my strap had slipped. I fiddle with it for a little bit and finally got it back to a stable read-out. I wasn't too pleased with the result. Even though I was feeling great and the legs were moving good, my heart-rate was already up to 170 bpm before the 20-mile mark. Obviously maintaining this kind of pace for so long was taking its toll. With the hills coming up soon it was time to stop chatting around and focus on my breathing. I managed to bring my heart-rate down a little, and more importantly to keep it in check around 170 during the first few gentle hills.

We passed mile 20 in a conveniently round 2 hours and 20 minutes, a perfect 7'/mi pace so far. Of course we still had to negotiate the hills ahead of us, but we were doing good. Although by "we", I mean the pacer, myself and two other runners, as this was all that was left of our brave 3h05 pace group at this point.

Mile 20 of a marathon is a very convenient benchmark point. With exactly 10k to go (the "20-mile warm-up to a 10k race"), it's a good opportunity to do the easiest math of the day. 45 minutes left, for 10k. Doable? Yes, no? The hills... It was a tough call and I started to feel like this would be really, really close.

The first hill hit, with a dead 100ft climb. Wasn't expecting that! Little steps, engaging the glutes, staying tall. The two other runners dropped back during the climb. On top of the climb, more uphill; lower incline but much longer on East Madison Street until the park entrance. I trailed behind the pacer a little bit, but stayed focus and made it through without loosing too much time. The first section of the park was downhill; a good, well-deserved and much needed breather! The pace came back down from 7'38"/mi to 7'15"/mi. Still not "fast enough", but the heart-rate went back down as well, which was good. At the bottom of the hill one of the two other runners had rejoined and the other one wasn't far behind.

As the hills hit us again, I realized I forgot to eat a GU around mile 20 as we were busy navigating the course and the hills! I had so far been pretty diligent, taking a salted caramel GU at mile 10 and mile 15. With less than 4 miles to go I took out the GU Roctane I was keeping for the last push. I would need all the help I could get now. That second hill section, with lots of turns, felt even harder than the first. I was loosing ground to the pacer and it wasn't helping my morale. I tried to remember that he only ran 8 miles so far and was on much fresher legs than me!

Yet, I was loosing precious time. When I passed the final 5k mark, my watch ticked 2 hours and 45 minutes. I wasn't sure how I could come up with a 20-minute 5k at the end of my fastest marathon... After one last gruelling uphill to go over the freeway, the course finally turned downhill and the Seattle Space Needle, the landmark of the finish, was now in sight. At this point I started being increasingly frustrated at the fact that my Garmin 610 wasn't showing the seconds on the total activity time. I had fifteen minutes to cover 2.2 miles. Or was it fourteen?!

This was close, but it started to look like it was going to be close on the wrong side of 3:05. With two miles to go I didn't want to have any regrets and started picking it up. This wasn't the time to quit. I didn't go this far, ran this long this fast to let it go. I saw the pacer at the end of the street and he had a significant lead on me. I wonder what his mile splits were; I'm pretty sure he realized he had to make up for lost time because I was now hauling at 6'35"/mi and barely catching up!

These last two miles brought up a lot of different feelings. Whatever happened, whether or not I made this 3:05 finish I had pretty much guaranteed myself a new PR and an exceptional run here in Seattle. Yet I was hungry for more. Boston could be right there, a mile away, if I managed to cover it fast enough. The downhill helped, and although my quads were hurting it didn't matter now. I saw more than a few amazed faces as I zoomed by other runners, pulling out of nowhere what is probably my best marathon finish ever.

Three hours ticked on my watch and I had three quarters of a mile to go. I tried doing the math, but my brain was too busy processing pain and trying to remember the last few turns of the course. The road started slopping back up through a right turn, followed by a left turn. And that's when it hit me: the underpass! I had forgotten about it. I had maybe a quarter of a mile to go, and I couldn't tell if I had almost two minutes, or just above one minute to do it. As I struggled on my way back up from the underpass, with the stadium now in sight, 3:04 passed on my watch. Less than a minute!

I dug deep and kept charging on. Damn that uphill finish! Left turn towards the stadium tunnel. Why is this so far away? Tic, toc, tic, toc. I passed through the tunnel and entered the stadium lawn, desperately looking for the clock. I didn't even look around to enjoy the stadium finish experience as I thought I would. My eyes were frantically looking ahead to the finish line and the race clock. When I finally saw it, it was already too late and over 3:05. I still made a decent sprint to the finish to bring it home in 3:05:50.

So close. So really, really close. As I collected my medal and a bottle of water, I stood there for a moment, both incredibly sad and happy at the same time. "How could this slip away from me by so little?" "What are you talking about, you weren't even planning on being this fast!". I sure wasn't. I thanked the pacer, congratulated a few runners that I passed on the finish chute, and made my way to the recovery area (uphill! Damn stadium!).

I come home with a new PR by a solid minute and a half from a very well executed race on the slipstream of my main season training. That BQ time doesn't have a chance at Napa in the spring. If winter training goes well, maybe even the 3-hour barrier will not stand. More than anything, this race was a huge confidence builder, giving me a glimpse into my potential in 2014.

Thank you Seattle, I hope I did you proud. 48 states to go!

  • Distance:  mi
  • Duration: 
  • Pace: /mi
  • Avg HR:  bpm
  • Elevation: + ft, - ft (net:  ft)

2013 Fresno Two Cities Half-Marathon

The Two Cities Marathon and Half is held every year in Fresno and Clovis, two cities of the Central Valley of California. Three courses are available: the Fresno Half, the Clovis Half and the Two Cities Marathon, which more or less covers both halves. This year, I was called up by Michael Hess from Destination Adventure Racing to help with pacing on the Fresno half-marathon. They needed a 1:30 pacer. Chad was also on duty for the 1:40 pace group.

I had only paced 1:30 once at the Pleasanton half-marathon earlier this year and it went very well. Even though our pacing guidelines require a PR at least 7 minutes faster than the pacing target, with all my other half-marathon performances being comfortably under 1:30 this year and the Fresno Half course being flat as a pancake, I felt confident I would do a fine pacing job.

A short two weeks after the Morgan Hill Marathon, Chad and I loaded our bags into the car and drove to Fresno on the Saturday morning. After a quick lunch on our way into the city, we made it to the expo to help man the pacer booth for the afternoon. A few people came, asking questions about the available pacers, pacing strategy, sharing their concerns. It was a long afternoon on our feet, but it felt good helping runners already!

After a fun evening with Michael, joined by Linh and Amy, we closed our hours for a short (and very cold!) few hours until it was time to get ready and get ourselves to the start line, well in advance of the runners so we'll have the time for the pacer group picture and the warm-up run. The Central Valley sure gets cold at night. Temperatures were barely staying above the freezing point as we emerged from the house and drove the couple of miles to the start/finish area at Woodward Park.

We struggled to stay warm while the sun came up, trying to keep our legs relaxed and loose with some stretches and light jogging. Time finally came to do a proper warm-up and soon enough the marathoners and the Clovis half-marathoners were off. The Fresno half start was 15 minutes later. When time came to line-up at the start line, I was finally no longer cold and the sun was up.

I knew the 1:30 group would be sparse. Looking at last year's results on the Fresno half-marathon, a sub-1:30 gets your top 10. I felt a bit lonely at the front and the few fast-looking people around me seemed to be doing the relay. As the realization that I now had to run thirteen mile at a perfect 6'52"/mi pace downed on me, the gun went off and we were on our way.

The legs felt surprisingly good at the beginning and I controlled my pace aggressively to stay on target. A few hundred feet after the start the course turns right on Shepperd Ave for a short out-and-back. While the other races continued on Shepperd, we turned around about a mile in to make our way back to Friant Rd. Up until then, a couple of people were running with me and seemed to be holding up and open to the idea of running a 1:30 half. As we turned right on Friant and passed the first aid station, things changed though. All but one of the runners in the group slowed down way too much at the aid station, which you can't really afford when going for this kind of time. The result was that these few runners were now a few hundred yards back and seemed to be falling behind even more.

I wasn't sure if I should have waited for them or not. As it turns out, they ended up being several minutes behind at the half-way point so they probably would have fallen off pace anyway. The other runner that stuck with me was much faster though, and a couple of miles later he went off on his own to a 1:26 finish. But this meant it was now mile 4 of the race, and I was alone. Everybody ahead was clearly faster and would most likely not fall behind for me to catch up, and there was a growing gap of already more than a quarter of a mile with the rest of the runners behind.

I was feeling exceptionally well though. It was a beautiful day and the temperature had come back up in the low 50s -- perfect for running. With a flat, open road ahead of me and the beautiful Sierras backdrop, I was really enjoying myself. After running hard at Sydney, San Jose RnR and Morgan Hill, pacing offered a very welcomed relaxed environment for no-pressure running. That morning, the 6'52" pace needed for a 1:30 had nothing on me.

The crowd, albeit sparse, was surprisingly cheery. So where the volunteers at the aid stations. Everyone laughed as I passed by, the abandoned pacer. I got several compliments on my beard (which I must say on that day was particularly epic). After a downhill section, the turn-around came about around mile 8 and it was time to make our way back towards the finish line. The downhill provided a good buffer to use while negotiated the corresponding uphill on the way back, and I was soon back on the flat.

As the other runners and pace groups passed by, the hilarity of my situation continued. I was cheering everybody running the other way, high-fiving volunteers and dancing through the aid stations. As I came closer to the finish, Michael appeared on his bike next to me. He was roaming the course, making sure everything was going well with the volunteers and the pacers. I was obviously having the best of days, right on pace and even struggling to stay "slow enough"!

At Shepherd Ave the Clovis half rejoins the course and I finally had runners around me. I was passing them though, as these were half-marathoners on a 1:45 pace in the Clovis half. Michael biked alongside me until the left turn on Audubon Dr and off I went towards the finish. After almost missing the half-marathoners finish chute, I eased off the last 10th of a mile to round up my time as close to 1:30 as possible with - still - no one from the Fresno half in sight ahead or behind me.

I crossed the finish line in 1:29'52". Not surprisingly, this got me 10th place overall and 2nd place in my age group. This also meant I came home with some extra bling! I was sad the race was already over. I tried to kill some extra energy by running back and forth between the finish line and the recovery area until Chad came through, but to no avail. I felt like I could have kept running forever.

After hanging out in the recovery and finish area for a little while, take on our victory beer for a pacing job well done, Chad and I grabbed and loaded our gear back into the car and had a nice drive back to the Bay Area. I was happy to arrive home and finally relax after a very full and exhausting week-end; as easy as the race felt, it still takes a lot of energy out of you. It was now time to relax a little bit and build myself up for the Seattle Marathon in a few weeks time!

  • Distance:  mi
  • Duration: 
  • Pace: /mi
  • Avg HR:  bpm
  • Elevation: + ft, - ft (net:  ft)

2013 Morgan Hill Marathon

Two years ago I ran my first marathon in Morgan Hill. I wrote about my adventures in a small essay, One year and 26.2 miles of running memories. Since then, I've been coming back every year to Morgan Hill to race the marathon, retrace my steps and take a measure of my progress.

The Morgan Hill marathon course is one of the most beautifully challenging I had the chance to run on. Tucked on the hillside of Morgan Hill in the South Valley, the course takes the runners next to vineyards, through rollers and hills around the Uvas reservoir and the Chesbro reservoir before culminating at the Willow Heights Mansion and pluging back down into the valley for ten more miles of pure endurance on flat, exposed streets, finally coming back around to the start/finish area after one final bump.

Last year, with the help of Nick and Mike, the two awesome 3:15 pacers, I crushed my marathon PR by nearly 15 minutes. This year, Nick and Mike were back pacing for 3:10. After my 3:07 PR in Sydney the month before, my training wasn't really aligned for a new performance in Morgan Hill but I was still coasting off some pretty significant training. I decided to go with them and try to stick to the pace for as long as I could given the hilly course and lack of specific training for the race.

A lot of members of the RunningAddicts pace at Morgan Hill on both the half-marathon and full marathon distances. After meeting up with them before the race, Joseph and I went on for a good warm-up run. After a quick stop at the bathroom, I lined up next to the pacers on the start line. Ben, an East coast transplant that I met running on the Los Gatos Creek Trail, was there too. Having seen him run before, there was no doubt he would do great here.

7:30am, gun goes off and there we are, on our way for 26.2 miles. I realized that until this point it hadn't really made it to my little brain that I was in for some serious miles that morning. Oh well, I was in good company and it was a beautiful morning; time to lock into pace and enjoy the ride! The first few miles went on nicely and a group of runners quickly formed itself around us, a nice change from last year when Nick, Mike and myself pretty much ran alone the whole time!

The first few miles up to the Uvas reservoir went by nicely as we all settled into our target 7:14 pace. By mile 10 we had done a significant amount of climbing already, and even though our pace had been a bit more erratic (both faster and slower), our average remained right on. Learning from my lessons in Sydney, I took out the first GU gel right on mile 10 instead of mile 11 and change, in an effort to get the benefits of this first gel a bit ahead of hitting the wall.

Going around the second reservoir at Morgan Hill has always been a drag because of the road camber. We just had to push through, stay on pace and focus on the intersection up ahead where the half-marathon course rejoined the full marathon course before starting the plat the resistance of the day: the big hill. I led the group up the hill, keeping us on pace and only giving out a few seconds on the last, most hilly section before passing the mansion. The summit is conveniently located right after mile 15, which meant it was time for a drink and another GU gel while we all used the downhill to breeze and bring our heart rates back down.

We came down the hill wisely, just on pace, to make sure we wouldn't burn out our quads. We would need them for the long sloppy-flat section that followed. Heading on to the flat part of the race, I was still feeling good at our pace. I had been keeping up with both nutrition and hydration and our pack was still going strong. Everybody was of course starting to feel a bit tired, especially the first time marathoners, but we were trucking along nicely.

After the left turn on Main Avenue around mile 19 though, things started taking a turn for the worse. By then, the pack had somehow almost entirely disbanded. One of the runners went ahead towards a strong(er) finish; another runner and myself were falling behind the pacers, leapfrogging each other every other half-mile or so. The first time going over the overpass on top of 101 took a lot more out of me than I wanted. As small as that little hill can be, it hits at mile 21 when you could really do without it. My heart rate started hitting my preset alert of 175 bpm -- not my max HR, mind you, but a useful reminder that things aren't going well.

It was time to go into focus mode. Accept the pain and keep moving. My pace was off, but still very acceptable considering the target and the fact that I was just coasting off of my Sydney race fitness. I went through the timing mat at the turn-around point and started heading back. Every step was now, at last, taking me into the right direction and closer (geographically speaking) to the finish line. The 22nd mile marker was missing but the spray paint mark was there on the ground. With a little more than 4 miles to go, I wasn't going to make my 3:10 target but I'd still pull off a very decent finish if I could keep the pace.

The way back on Main Avenue was painful. Negotiating the overpass was, once more, a struggle. My legs were getting heavy, my heart rate was all over the place and the sun, now up in the sky, was beating me down. I ended up walking through both aid stations. I was, strangely, incapable of maintaining my pace, but not slowing down. It was either on, or off, but not slower. Every time I got going again, my pace was right back there, but I couldn't hold it for very long. I guess after 23+ miles, the rhythm was implanted into my legs and I became incapable of changing my running pace other than by taking walk breaks. My overall pace for that split ended up suffering of course, and this is where pretty much all of my time back from my 3:10 target ended up coming from.

I was still leapfrogging with this other runner but somehow at the top of the hill at the end of Main Avenue I got a second wind and got going again in my last effort towards the finish. After turning left at the top of Main, I negotiated the few rollers in the residential area leading up to the left turn on Spring Avenue at mile 25. The course was now downhill to the finish, a mile down the road and a short quarter mile after a right turn towards the Centennial Center.

Using all the momentum the downhill could give me, I progressively increased my pace in a last effort to make up some of the time lost in the few miles before. In the distance, one of the pacers was clearly struggling and falling off pace -- his stomach issues seemed to have caught up with him. After the last turn, I gave it all, passed the late pacer and a few runners and finally crossed the finish line in a strong sprint, clocking in at 3:11'20".

I was both ecstatic and disappointed. A mere month after my PR in Sydney and with no extra training I was able to get a very decent time (only 4 minutes slower) on a much tougher course. Disappointed, because I felt like I had this 3:10 in me the whole race and to this day I still can't really put my finger on why I fell apart between miles 20 and 23. My nutrition and hydration had been good before and during the race but I still ran out. Maybe I just ran out of legs?

This year's field was more competitive than last year. Even though I finished 2 minutes faster, I came in 11th overall instead of 9th and 3rd place in my age group instead of 1st (with top three taken out, otherwise I'm 5th in my AG). No cool award plate, but two beers that turned out to be very tasty!

Regardless of my result, this 2013 Morgan Hill will remain in my memories like the two before it: as a day of friendship and community, doing what we love most, together. Most of the RunningAddicts were there and every single one of us had a tremendous day, from the cold and early race start to the warm and fun post-race activities. A big thanks to them for making this day special yet again.

  • Distance:  mi
  • Duration: 
  • Pace: /mi
  • Avg HR:  bpm
  • Elevation: + ft, - ft (net:  ft)