Monday, June 10, 2013

Race Report: Rock 'N' Roll San Diego Marathon - Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

Sorry for the delay in writing this blog post. The race was just over a week ago, but the memory of it is just as sweet and present in the forefront of my mind. We just returned from California late Saturday night, so I've not had the opportunity until now to properly sit down and write. I did, however, mention in my previous post that I don't have my photos that were taken on my camera available yet. I plan on posting again, a "photo blog" of sorts, once I'm reunited with my USB cord (left at home accidentally when we had to move out to allow for repairs after a flood). I'll then be able to share the images captured on my camera. In the meantime, it makes little sense to wait yet another week for me to get the photos organized before I write.

Like I mentioned before, this race was so much more than just about it being a race. While I trained harder and smarter for this marathon than my previous one, and was very much focused on my athletic goals, I had other objectives in mind. After raising over $5000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada, this race was about having my first Team In Training experience, and running a race with and in honour of my cousin Saeed, a lymphoma survivor. After over 25 years, we finally reconnected in person and it was so special being able to spend quality time with him, his wife and kids, his brother and wife, and their parents. The whole family made it to San Diego to share the race with us, to cheer us on from the sidelines, and I couldn't have imagined a better reunion. We both ran a strong race and have lots to be proud of. All my photos of the family are on my camera, except for this one here I posted previously (thank you, Megan), taken at the Team In Training dinner the night before the race. 

What an incredible experience that dinner was, inspiring us all to run a great race the following day, and learning of what our team of 1500 athletes at this race accomplished collectively across North America leading up to the race, raising approximately $4.5 million dollars to fund blood cancer research and patient services. I'm so proud to have been part of this! Here I am with Chrystal and Megan (thanks Chrystal for the photo).

I felt well rested leading up to the race, making sure to be conservative with time spent at the race expo, and time wandering the city on foot. We took in a bus tour on Saturday to save our legs, although we did get off the bus a little to stretch a bit and see the beautiful sights. It was great to preview the city and get a sense of its geography the day before, knowing the race would take me to many of the same places on foot. Both the tour and the race took me to places well-known and beautiful in San Diego including Balboa Park, Old Town and Little Italy. Here's a photo taken on Coronado Island, borrowed from my teammate Chrystal, of us enjoying the beautiful beach briefly.

After getting in early on Friday, I slept a good 11 hours that night, thinking it would be hard to sleep Saturday night. But somehow between a good dinner, a restful day, and a quiet confidence about the race, I slept well Saturday night. Waking up at 3am to start my race morning prep did not phase me at all. I felt refreshed and ready, with limited jitters to note. I had my usual coffee, coconut water, banana, and peanut butter on bagel and met my team down in the hotel lobby at 4:30am to catch our shuttle to the start line. Soon after arriving at the start, despite it being pitch black outside, we found our friend and TNT mentor, Humphrey. I still feel I owe him many thank yous as he decided to come join us in San Diego and run the marathon "for fun", running the entire race by my side even though he could very well finish it much faster than I can. I really do have wonderful friends and this trip away was a reminder of how wonderful a circle I am part of. Here we are, with the sun finally rising behind us, all ready to start our race. The photo might be a bit blurry, but we sure still look awesome and ready (photo credit again, Chrystal!)

And so the race began. Humphrey and I were up first, with the marathon starting at 6:15am, and the half marathon Chrystal and Megan were running was to start at 6:45am. Saeed was also running the half marathon but we weren't able to connect on race day until after the race itself. This was only my second time running a race with someone with me the entire way, and it was so incredibly fun. Humphrey is an absolutely fantastic running partner, agreeing in advance to go with me my pace (he is a wee bit faster!), and then doing everything he could to keep me encouraged and strong when the race got tough. His enthusiasm, positivity, and downright hilariousness kept me smiling and laughing the entire way, and I never doubted our ability to finish the race strong. I don't think I saw a moment of weakness hit him even once during the race, and he kept my spirits high, when my legs tried to give up on me, reminding me of what an accomplishment it was for me running two previous marathons and what it will be to complete my third that day. I went in knowing I was going to finish another marathon, with a confidence I didn't have in either of the previous races. With experience under my belt, training in the bank, and good health to rely on (ie., I ran the Victoria Marathon last year with a very bad cold/fever) I had reason to be confident. Regardless of this, feeling discouraged was only human when my legs gave in, but having someone there by my side when the going got tough helped me to stay tough, strong, and relaxed.

We had so much fun on this course, a race with a great community vibe and party atmosphere with music and enthusiastic cheering everywhere. It was the biggest marathon I've ever been in (30,000 runners between the full and half), and my first ever Rock N Roll event. For the first half of the race, it didn't feel like we were running at all, but that we were attending a party! Highlights included all the community members out on their front lawns, cheerleading squads whose noise and enthusiasm was simply contagious, and of course, the excellent array of live bands pumping music along the way to keep us going. There was even a tunnel we ran through on the course that would have been pitch black had it not been lit with disco lights and a disco soundtrack to match! So much fun!

At about the 23km mark, I started to hit a bit of a wall. It was earlier than I normally reach a low, which was somewhat alarming. I realized at that point that while the pace we were keeping was manageable and even easy I'd say, I needed to take it down a notch for the short-term until I could move past that point. While the sun wasn't out, the air was muggy and warmer than I gave it credit for. I was working up a very good sweat, but hadn't been taking measures to keep myself cool in the way I would if it were more obviously hot with the sun on my skin. I explained to Humphrey what was going on the moment I felt my left quad do it's little wiggle, warning me that cramps were on their way. And yes, it happened again. And no, I don't know why it has happened on all 3 of my marathons while it never happens ever in training. The only thing I can think of is that all 3 marathon days, I ran in very hot conditions. While I got discouraged and whined about it, I also knew that I would get past the cramps eventually, and I'd be running across the finish line, earning another medal, and yet another reason to feel proud. 

Humphrey was incredibly supportive and helped me stay focused and positive. He went over and above what I would ever expect of a running partner and among the encouraging remarks, he even refilled my water and dumped water on my head to help me stay cool. He threatened me any time I would try to apologize for slowing him down, so I soon learned to replace the word "sorry" for "thank you", trying to express my gratitude for his gesture of friendship. We walked way more of the race than I would have liked, but I think I walked less this race than I was forced to in the previous races. The most important thing was that we ran the last several kilometres strong, and ran in the finish hard and fast. While I was well above my goal finish time (i.e, much slower) yet again, it was my fastest and least painful marathon yet, and I know it will get easier and easier each time. Finishing in 5:01:05, I'm incredibly proud of how I ran this. And the thought of doing it all again is exciting and not at all daunting. I know I'm capable of so much faster, if my legs would only cooperate and not let my quads seize on me. I have the strength, the fitness, and the mental grit. Here's hoping we get cool weather this October for the Victoria Marathon and the stars align for an improved finish time.

Crossing the finish line was incredibly emotional, as it always is. I've now officially cried after all 3 of my marathons. All the months of training, sacrifice, then the hours of running through pain, struggle, and hard work on race day, plus the intense joy, feeling of accomplishment, and pride of being one of the few out there able to complete the 26.2 mile/42.2km distance, all culminate in this moment. It is hard not to be taken away by it. After some celebrating and photos we continued onto the Team In Training tent where I was able to reunite with Chrystal and Megan, followed by my family, and then shortly thereafter by Cam (who was looking for me desperately at the finish line). 

There were gazillions of photos taken, lots of sweaty hugs exchanged, and many emotional tears in amongst the cheers of joy. Photos with family are all on my camera, but here is a photo of us friends, after we'd cooled down and had a chance to change into dry clothes. 

Notice that us girls (sorry Humphrey) received 2 medals for this race, the second for our fundraising efforts leading up to the race. The Competitor Group who organize the Rock N Roll series has a 16 year history at this race benefiting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society as its partner charity. Being the original race of the Rock N Roll race series, they chose this race to launch the new medals, and we were the lucky first recipients.

After some relaxation at the hotel, we met up for a yummy meal at an Irish pub in the historic Gaslamp neighbourhood before heading off to watch the San Diego Padres take on the Toronto Blue Jays at Petco Park - the perfect way to celebrate our race.

Congratulations team! We might be a little crazy for doing it, but we did it!

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