Monday, April 8, 2013

Santa Barbara Marathon 2012 - A Homecoming Marred

My first real college experience was UC Santa Barbara so running the marathon here was set to be special treat. It wasn’t for several reasons. First and foremost, it’s taken me a long while to return to this running blog because 2012 was a year I messed with my mental state about running. Second, Santa Barbara mapped the race around its best features – gotta fix that. Third, a revised nutrition plan failed.

I’m someone who thrives best when I have a goal and, as many of you know, a marathon alone isn’t good enough a goal anymore. So at the end of 2011, I set out to make 2012 the year of the personal record. And not just besting my Arizona Rock & Roll time of 3:17 but to break an elusive mark –3 hours. I asked a friend and former New Balance Running Team member to coach me. He set out a realistic plan mixed with long runs, speed work at the track and lots of hill work. It was a reasonable plan and one that helped me with speed for sure. If you’ve read my blogs from the earlier runs in 2012, I struggled all year to see the benefits of that training come earlier than planned and messed up my race plans a couple times. The goal event for that race plan was this one – Santa Barbara.

All my training runs since the ET Midnight Marathon had been good – sort of. Work travel had picked up in the latter half of the year and that had some effect on how much I was training. I was also forced to resign as a TNT coach due to work travel – I simply wasn’t able to be there often enough for the participants. Having been a coach since 2007 and a member of this incredible charity organization since 2003, this was a very hard decision for me. I feared I would lose touch with many of my friends – and sadly, I did.

Shortly after leaving the program, however, I was still staying in touch with a few TNT coaches, mentors and captains. One of the coaches told me about a new book he had read on endurance sports nutrition that drew the conclusion, backed by significant research, that endurance drinks and gels provided no greater endurance or energy effects during sustained activities (including marathons). It suggested that athletes using water and natural foods, like raisins and such would achieve greater performance than those succumbing to the marketing from Gatorade and its brethren. So I read the book (or at least the first several chapters) and decided to heed its advice in prep for this race and during it. I tested this new plan first at a half marathon inSanta Cruz, California where it seemed to work perfectly. Thanks to the extra speed work I was able to finish this race in 1:21, sustaining a strong sub-7 pace the whole way and achieving a negative split. This was a huge accomplishment for me as I rarely accomplished a negative split in a race of this length and the pace I held gave me great confidence I could hold this pace for longer – maybe even the full marathon, which would get me my 3 hour finish. My time at this race was good enough for third in my age group but sadly the race was just under a mile short of 13.1 so no PR. But the new nutrition plan had worked. I had good energy the whole way with just water and raisins.

With my success in the half I felt ready for Santa Barbara but noticed something else about my training that I really didn’t like. I wasn’t enjoying it. For me, running is a passion, stress reliever and motivation. I hate the days I don’t get a run in most of the time. Lately, however, I was hating getting up to go run. I knew the training would help me achieve my goal if I just did the work but I was finding that I wasn’t meeting the speed goals in my training runs and it was demotivating. As the race got closer, the pace needed in speed work and the pace needed to be sustained in long runs got lower. On the track I was meeting my goals but on the long runs I wasn’t. I don’t think this was physical – I simply wasn’t enjoying running any more. It had become work, rather than passion; rote instead of joy. It had become so much so that outside of my 20-mile run in Marin County, which is impossible not to enjoy, I just didn’t feel like being out there. On top of that I was finishing these runs far more tired than I felt I should be. Was it the pace? Was it the new nutrition plan? Was it the business travel? I think it was all of the above.

By the week before the marathon, I simply wanted it all to be over.

It was early morning the Friday before the marathon and I woke up in a strange bed. My friend and work colleague John Rymer and his son, Zach, the lead baseball writer for BleacherReport were carpooling  down to Santa Barbara to do the marathon with me and I had taken BART over to John’s home the night before. After waking in his guest bedroom, it was time to wash up quickly and quietly so we could get on the road early that morning for the 5 hour drive. We decided to head down Friday so we could spend some time with a company client and cloud computing leader, Rightscale at their headquarters. John hadn’t met them before and I was overdue for a refresher on the leading cloud-first DevOps management vendor.

We arrived in Santa Barbara to cool overcast skies, a good omen for the race. My wife and friends from the SMS running club came down later that day and we met up that night at a fantastic restaurant for the pre-meal well-wishing and hopes-sharing for race day. The following day we spent downtown walking State Street, visiting the beach and just relaxing and enjoying this great city. It had been 27 years since I had walked State Street yet it was still the heart of Santa Barbara. The street is filled with fashion shops, head shops, surf shops and the odd sandwich shop. We passed by the movie theater where I first saw Back to the Future, a fond early college memory. We didn’t make it over to the campus of UC Santa Barbara or over to Isla Vista or Goleta beach which were popular college hang outs. I figured I would see them all during the marathon. I was wrong.

I tend not to look at a marathon race course before race day. I prefer to be surprised by the scenery. I look over the elevation profile, however. Not an issue in Santa Barbara. On race day I wondered whether the marathon should be renamed the Santa Barbara suburbs marathon instead. We saw several outlying neighborhoods of Santa Barbara, skirted the university, passed through the town of Goleta but missed the campus, IV, State Street and everything else that makes Santa Barbara what it is. The finish was along the ocean, which was perhaps the main saving grace.  Or maybe it was just my mood.

Sadly, for me, Santa Barbara was supposed to be the fulfillment event of all my year-long training to break three hours. I wasn’t even close. After feeling strong through the first half, my new nutrition plan of water, raisins and a Cliff Bar at the start were failing me. My long run experiences of not being able to handle the pace, proved true as I slowed substantially in the second half. I had resigned to myself that 3 hours was likely out of reach even before I started the race but had said I would go out at the pace that felt good and listen to my body. My mind told my body, about 18 miles in, that today wasn’t the day and that if Santa Barbara would go as anything it would be the end of a year of training that, frankly, I just didn’t enjoy. At the end of the day I didn’t even try to break 3 hours. I instead, simple wanted to get it over with. It didn’t help that my hopes of visiting the campus, running down the bar-filled streets of IV and triumphantly flying down a downtown street would be squashed by an anticlimactic course.

To me, that was just icing on the cake. I was more relieved than happy when I crossed the finish line. It was a tough finish. I was much in need of nutrition. The new plan had slowly depleted me of what I needed and made the final five miles agony – a far contrast from the half just a month earlier.

It’s disappointing because a marathon should finish with an incredible sense of accomplishment. All my marathons prior to 2012 had been exactly that. My conclusion about 2012 was that pursuing an unrealistic goal (I know that now) took the love of running from me, instead turning it into a job. Sadly it was a job I really didn’t like.

That day was tough for everyone. It was hotter than expected and the lack of scenery seemed to sap John, Zach and others as well. We took our solace in a warm shower, great Mexican food on State Street and Guinness. If anything, the ending was perfect.

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