Over the past 12 months I have learned, questioned, hurt, and laughed a lot. I beat myself down at times, pumped myself up at others, was inspired by many, encouraged a few, sealed some lasting friendships, and was honored to witness the victories of many I'll never see again. I have also launched some new dreams, some of them my own. Overall the challenge was about pacing, places...and people. More on all that later. THIS post is my Santa Barbara International Marathon report.
I drove the course early Saturday morning, and was thrilled to confirm, I thought, the pre-race publicity celebrating its many flat bits, downhills, and the relatively few climbs. My mind began racing with thoughts of breaking 5:00 hours as I wrapped up the 12/12...just as I'd started it back in Sacramento, at CIM, in December 2008.
Race day morning began at 3:45. There was a quick wake-up shower to take, and a bus to the starting line in Goleta, to catch. I needed to pick up my friend, John, on the way. I was also banking on the original Sambos (yes, there is still ONE!) to be open so I could secure a much-needed cup of coffee. I got John. Didn't get the joe.
The race was supposed to start at 6:30. We got to the starting area, a local elementary school, a touch after 5. It was crazy cold, but a few of the rooms were opened up, among them the library with cute little books and cute little chairs. I got one of the chairs before John did.
Those rooms were only slightly warmer than the outside, but the shelter was welcomed. Shortly after 6 the word came down that the start would be delayed, due to an accident on the nearby freeway. We finally blasted across the start line at 7, and headed out for the initial 12 mile loop, lined with vineyards, lemon groves and houses. I was pleased to have brought my cheapo gloves. I don't mind my legs begin cold...but hands are another story.
Most of the loop WAS downhill or flat. That's good. What I didn't like was seeing sights at the start of the loop that I knew I'd be seeing again in 8 miles or so. Mentally, a bit of a challenge. It's for that reason that I am not a big fan of out-and-back courses. I'm pretty much a point-to-point guy, even though that often requires an early morning bus to the start.
I hit the 13.1 mile point, just after finishing the loop, at 2:29. Felt okay about that, as I was under the misconception that most of the rest of the course was downhill. I believed the worst bits were behind me, and was now entertaining thoughts of negative splits.
Just before mile 17 we finally turned off Cathedral Oaks Road (which we'd been on for a total of 10 miles by this time) and headed down Turnpike Road toward the ocean. However, despite it being Santa Barbara, we would not see the Pacific from this course until the last two miles. I was enjoying a nice downhill bit when the 17 marker appeared. Normally I stop here and unwrap my secret (not so secret anymore, I'll admit) weapon...the English Mars bar. I delayed that though for nearly a mile this time, to take advantage of the gravitional pull. The payoff was worth the wait.
Just after mile 18 we turned south, off the street and onto a two mile section of bike path. According to my Garmin I was holding steady with a pace that did not exclude the possibility of sub 5:00. As I waited for the Mars bar boost to kick in, I was beginning to believe I had this thing in the bag. I did have one worry though. For the past couple of weeks I have been experiencing some intermittent pain in my left heel and arch. I was frightened about the possible onset of plantar fasciitis. I had not felt that pain this morning until here. It was mild at this point so I pressed on, hoping this little annoyance would not derail the day.
After the bike path we hit Modoc Road. When I drove the course I marked this spot in my head as the beginning of the end, so I was thrilled to see the Modoc street sign. The next big turn was onto Las Positas, and its very welcome descent. What's not so welcome is the biggest hill of the course, that begins at the bottom of Los Positas and Cliff Drive, and climbs up to mile 24. My Garmin indicated that I still had sub 5, or very close to it, in sight, if I could just maintain my pace. My left heel and arch were conspiring against me, though. They'd obviously decided they'd had enough and wanted to go home. I was afraid that if I didn't concede on a few of my demands they'd filibuster, ending all negotiations. Apparently, they are Blue Dog Democrats.
The top of the hill offered a Pacific vista that seemed to put the last few hours of hard work, strategizing, pain and pleasure into perspective. The next two miles, along Shoreline Drive, were the last two miles of the 12 in 12. I was very happy to tumble down them, although I am sure the expression on my face would not have given that away...until I crossed the finish line.
My friend, John, was there at the end, cheering me in. He'd finished in 4:40. He'd hoped for faster, especially since I'd told him that I thought the course would be "almost easy". Okay, I was wrong. But he kicked butt. Shortly after getting my medal, my friend Bob found us. He'd come over from Tokyo with visions of a 3:04 finish in his head. Sadly (HA!), he was only able to manage a 3:09. He won his 60-64 age group!
More in these guys later. Suffice it to say...they are stars.
My official course time was 5:19...but my Garmin says 5:13. I'm going with Garmin.
The post-race celebrations included a jacuzzi at John's motel, pizza, fish tacos, beers and martinis at the Santa Barbara Brewing Company, before heading back to my motel where I was asleep by 7pm.
Oh, by the way. I finally got my first cup of coffee for the day...at 2:30 in the afternoon! Damn, that was good.