Ventura Marathon: My Third Marathon Experience and My Third Date With Sam
We were three days out from the Ventura Marathon and California was getting torrential rainfall and a historical winter storm advisory. It had been raining so much in the days and weeks prior that highways were being flooded and some towns north of LA were closed due to mudslides.
In light of this, Sam and I had just received emails from the race organizers that gave us the option to defer. It was the logical choice but we decided to wait it out. When I first signed up for Ventura marathon it was back in November while I was still in Canada. It was sort of a celebratory run that I registered for on the day that I received US Visa status, so being able to participate had a special meaning for me.
Sam, on the other hand, had just agreed to the race a week before, and we had only met each other a week before that. Our first date was two days before Valentines day on a hike at Eaton Canyon in Pasadena, and he had been away on a work trip ever since.
Over the phone he expressed to me a few times that while he was excited to run this with me, he would have been super open to postponing it. But if I was still going to run it, through the water and in the cold, then he would do it, too (though those were not his ideal conditions).
When Sam came back the day before the race, I picked him up from the airport."Welcome back to rainy LA," I said. "Are you ready to run this race?"
"Mediumly" is how he would have described his enthusiasm, with half reluctance while at the same time being a great sport. We went to his house so he could change bags and then we got on the Pacific Coast Highway to Ventura.
It was already night by the time we left LA, and a girl named Emilie from the Ventura Marathon Facebook group (which I had been a part of to stalk the course weather updates), kindly offered to pick up our packets for us from the Race Expo.
In usual circumstances, I would have loved going to the Race Expo/ Bib Pickup the day before a race because the energy there is fantastic. Everyone's in their peak physical condition, and their peak level of excitement right before the marathon. It's a wonderful room to be in.
It rained again on our one hour drive to Ventura from LA, but cleared up by the time we arrived. When we got to the hotel, it was time for us to sleep. I was to wake up at 4am for the full marathon start, and he would be waking up shortly after me at 430 to run the half marathon.
We got all of our running gear ready for the morning and laid it out on the bed. It was going to be extremely cold at the start so we packed throwaway sweatshirts, headbands, and gloves (that the race would later donate). The starting point was meant to be 7 degrees Celsius, which was no warmer than my morning runs in Canada in November before I moved. I knew that it would be chilly, but as long as there was no rain I would do it. I was determined to run this race!
I was so, so happy that we decided to keep our spots, and with Sam for going along with the plan when it seemed like we were being advised by nature and by the hosts of the event not to run it this year. But for having stuck it out, we were rewarded with optimal marathon conditions. While the pre-dawn start was cold, the sun came out just in time for the race, giving us giving us a spectacular view of the mountains.
In the end I'm not sure how many runners actually opted out. Honestly, I am not sure that many people, after training for a marathon, would be willing to let it go so easily.
I spent the pre-race at the start line with my new friend Emilie that picked up our bibs for us. It was Emilie's second marathon and my third and we learned on the bus ride to the beginning that we had very similar goal times. We both wanted to finish the marathon in about 3:45. My lofty goal was 3:30 - the Boston Marathon qualifying time, but I finished my first marathon at 3:55, so 3:45 would be a good and realistic progression. Similarly, Emilie would need 3:40 to qualify for Boston, but since it was only her second marathon she too told herself that she would be satisfied either way.
The bus took us from the finish line in Ventura all the way up to Ojai where the start was. Considering that were going to run all the way back, it felt like a really long bus ride. When it dropped us off at the top we had a little walk yet to the start under the stars. We all spent an hour up there before the sun came up at 630 and the race began.
At the start of a race you'll usually find runners making numerous trips to the bathroom (because you don't want to risk having to go on the course, where although restrooms are available it would have a negative impact on your performance), having snacks and fuel, and some of the runners will be running laps. I cannot understand that behaviour, but I'm not a coach.
Luckily for me, Emilie brought two mylar blankets and she shared one with me. This is something that I think would be a great idea for anyone else that might be starting a race in frigidly, Canadian-esque conditions. You don't want your muscles to be too cold before the run, and you don't want to spend so much of your energy freezing. We had our pre-run fuel, mine was my go-to huma energy gel (I had had a bagel in the morning for breakfast - which is my favourite for race day) and Emilie had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. One thing that I really love about running is the snacks. Along with the pizza and pasta culture.At 6:15 it was time to drop off our bags and get into our places. With the sun up we could now see the snowy mountain tops at the start. That sounds insane but I do have photo evidence. We made our way to the 3:55 pacers so that we could start slow, which was Emilie's idea. Emilie, I had known, had been working with a trainer to devise a plan for the marathon, and I had not, so I decided to stick with her.
During my first marathon I went against the advice I was given which was not to expend all of my energy in the first half. My lesson; Remember that you're in it for the long run (I loved saying that). Emilie's strategy was to start the first four miles slow, and then keep a steady pace throughout. And after the national anthem, we began!
The race started beautifully and it finished even better. I was expecting it to be hell. Before my first marathon, I was excited. I thought that it would be like any other long run where I could just tune out and get caught in the rhythm, and unfortunately that was not my experience. Marathons are difficult and I think that's the whole fun in it. You do it just to prove to yourself that you can. But I wasn't prepared mentally for just how tough it would be.
In this case, it was the opposite, because after my first marathon, I ran an even harder marathon. I ran Toronto Waterfront Marathon two weeks after my first in New York while I was still recovering. If the second half of my first marathon was hard, so were the entire 26.2 miles of my second marathon.
My adjusted expectations - and Emilie to run with, led me to run a blissful marathon in Ventura. We ran through the beautiful and quaint town of Ojai that made me feel like I was running through the medieval towns of Skyrim, past the stables and the horses and the sound of roosters. We started it slow, and picked up a steady pace from mile four, just like her plan. Her and I ran together nearly until mile 18. Then it was to each woman her own suffering. Actually, Emilie ran ahead of me. But I finished strong, maintaining an even faster pace on my last 5 miles.
At many points I closed my eyes, and got by on the feeling of euphoria. It felt so good to be feeling so much better nearing the end of a marathon after my past experiences. I was stronger this time. Emilie finished her race at 3:40:40, which was 40 seconds short of her Boston-qualifying time. I ran it in 3:43, no where near my BQ (yet) but it was a considerable 13 minutes faster than my first marathon, and 25 minutes faster than my second marathon.
Sam was there at the finish line. We ate waffles together and took home our finisher medals. We went for burgers in Santa Monica, and signed up for a couple more races.
Emilie and I have since raced together, too, and we've been running regularly at Venice Run Club.
If you can dream it, you can do it.