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After all of my crazy runner doubts, I somehow whipped a PR out of my back pocket last Sunday at the Surf City Marathon in Huntington Beach, CA. But it was not without lessons learned, as always.

Lesson #1: It takes a lot longer than an hour to get down to Huntington Beach from Ventura County on a Saturday afternoon. Good hydration is key to successful marathoning, but it can ruin a relationship between the marathoner and her driver if said marathoner’s bladder is the size of a pea and the traffic is off the chains. Luckily, my chauffeur was easily swayed by the prospect of driving down the 405 with a fresh Starbucks in hand, so our partnership didn’t suffer any. I should have used the Lisa Nowak guide to road tripping. 

Next time.

I ditched my ride somewhere along PCH and ran into the expo to retrieve my bib number with about 30 minutes to spare. The huz found easy, free parking in the lot, and I found this coupon code for the Santa Barbara Marathon in November that I might use:

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I also sipped some Nuun grape drank at the Nuun station because I wasn’t sure if the two tumblers of strawberry lemonade and watermelon Nuun I drank en route to the expo were enough to prep for the race the next day. I love grape. I mean, I really, really love grape.

Then we left the tent and marched into the wild, windy outdoors where I had to hold onto my hat to avoid losing it.

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This amazing girl had tweeted me that a good place to eat a carby dinner was Mac Grill in Huntington Beach, but because the husband and I arrived a lot later than we wanted to, and the traffic in town was pretty intense, we decided to check into our Pricelined hotel first.

Lesson #2: $55 a night/hotel room on Priceline is a good deal only if you are 100% fine staying in a slightly seedy residential motel in a pretty safe area that doubles as both a U-Haul and car rental agency. We checked into our hotel at the northern end of Newport Beach where, randomly, another marathoner was staying, this according to the dude at the front desk (I think we passed each other as we were going in).

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Disclaimer: as lame as the motel was, I will say that having the kitchenette was super rad in the morning.

Starving and unfamiliar with where we were in relation to restaurants or anywhere at all, I asked the husband to ask Siri where the nearest Mac Grill was while I did my nails and charged my life/phone/Garmin. Painting my nails is one of my pre-race rituals, and since I was already down on missing out on my mom’s salmon and kissing my girls goodnight, I went for Rolling in the Deep on the bottom and Across the Universe on the top.

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Lesson #3: Figure out definite dinner plans before a race because otherwise you’ll end up eating at Panera. HB was jam-packed with marathoners, and Costa Mesa was jam-packed with symphony attendees, so any and all restaurants were booked for hours. After discovering that the Mac Grill Siri led us to had turned into a TGI Fridays and finding out that the Maggiano’s had a 1.5 hour wait (no joke), the hanger was beginning to overpower both the huz and me, so we popped across the street to Panera, where I learned that the food is prepackaged. Don’t ask me how I found this out. It was a disappointing fact to discover. I ordered the caprese panini:

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I ended up eating only half of it, plus two baguettes and a side of judgy comments from the cashier. Yeah, I know that’s a lot of bread. That’s how I roll pre-marathon. And in life. Note to future Panera eaters: f nothing sounds good on the menu, count on the bread to blow your mind. PS: it’s not a very veg-friendly eatery.

After our more than underwhelming dinner, we spotted a Vons and redeemed the night with some treats and a toothbrush.

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Carbs and good dental hygiene are your friends, people.

We capped off the night with a couple of brews kept cold in the fridge of our seedy motel room.

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I spent a good amount of time foam rolling my IT band and noshing on Swedish Fish and Sour Patch kids before turning in around 10. 

Whether it was nerves, all the sugar I ate, or the dude upstairs who insisted on Riverdancing from 1am until our alarm went off, I didn’t sleep a wink. This isn’t even a little exaggeration. No sleep was had for me, but the husband slept wonderfully. Something about working a killer 24-hour shift the day before will knock the strongest of men unconscious at the sight of a pillow.

Fortunately, I have learned that good sleep before the race is important, but if you can rest well leading up to the race, having a crappy night’s rest the night before won’t affect your race at all.

As soon as the iphone gave me the go ahead to officially wake up, I made my almond milk cappuccino (hallelujah for coffee being back in my life!), drank a small bottle of Powerade, ate a little bit of oatmeal with almond butter, chia seeds, and brown sugar, and took care of my morning business before suiting up, packing up, and booking it down to HB.

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Parking in the lots looked time consuming if you didn’t get there early, but I had my husband ready to drop me off and find free parking closer to where he wanted to surf while I ran, so drop off was no issue.

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I made a last minute decision to leave my phone with the husband instead of carrying it so I could have music, which was fine because I do all of my runs without music for safety reasons. That also means that I have no pictures to show you of the pristine rows of Andy Gumps with no lines!!! (At least for the marathoners).

As soon as I arrived at the start, I ran into a super speedy Ventura County runner who ended up finishing in the top 10 women, then ran through my series of dynamic stretches before hopping into the first wave of runners. In the corral, I met a ridiculously cool fast chick from Colorado named Kimberly. We lamented the crappiness of our winter training and how we missed our moms who are always there for marathons and how much we are looking forward to Boston. We also called goal times and thanked our lucky stars that the weather was perfect. The gun went off pretty close to 6:30, and my new friend ran ahead while I held back with the 3:30 pace group.

The sunrise start was spectacular.

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Sorry, polar vortex victims. 

My paparazzi was gracious enough to capture a shot of me before heading out to surf for a couple hours.

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I have never run with a pace group before, so I’m not sure what other pacers are like, but the dude who ran the 3:30 (I think his name was Bob?), was unbelievable. For the first 7ish miles that I stayed with him, he chatted away about his strategy, what was ahead, what to look out for (uneven trails, colder air and cramping, staying hydrated and on top of our nutrition, banking time for future hills, mentally preparing for passing right by the finish line, etc).

Around the 10K mark, I felt like running 7:55s was a comfortable pace to hold, and the pacer had dropped back to running even 8:00s. I decided to continue running in the high 7s as we looped around a super gorgeous park, easing my pace at the climb at mile 8, and speeding back up to the 7:55 range on the descent. As the miles ticked by, I kept wondering how long I could hold the pace that seemed so easy. With the cold of all colds wrecking my breathing.

The marathon course doubles back to the finish area, but for some reason, I wasn’t bothered by it. I can’t tell you anything really exciting about the race from miles 9-20. With no music, I lost myself in my thoughts, running through potential lesson plans, thinking about how the dudes playing music along the course look so stoked to be out there at such an ungodly hour, wondering if the girl who started with the 3:30 pace group who wanted so badly to BQ would make it, looking for Ryan Gosling/my Oiselle teammate who was there to cheer and my other Oiselle teammate who was running the half, and overall thanking God that I hadn’t hit the wall, pooped my pants, or chaffed one little bit.

At the turnaround a little past mile 20, I realized that the wind had picked up a lot. My pace dropped into the mid to low 8s, and all I repeated in my head was to run relaxed and to keep my steps quick and light. With about 5K to go, I heard Bob and his 3:30 signage behind me, so I dropped back and begged him to get me to the finish, and he super kindly offered to let me run behind him. When I realized that I might be irritating the group of dudes who had kept with him the whole time, I decided to drop back behind the pack of guys and consciously put one foot in front of the other. I slowly fell behind for the next mile, but by some sort of strange running miracle, I was overcome by a burst of Salted Caramel Gu energy and sped my pace back up to around 8:05 and then 7:45 for the remaining 1.2 miles!

As I approached the finish line, Pacer Bob of the 3:30 pack was right there to high-five everyone in! I crossed the line of my third marathon in 3:29:46, a new PR and an improved time to move up a corral in Boston! 

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I found the huz and insisted he take multiple pictures of me before we split so that he could go get the truck and I could check my official time.

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Super cool, right?!?!

I was seriously taken aback by this race. Maybe it is just an awesome course! I didn’t walk at all, I didn’t stop to pee even though I had to from the beginning, and I didn’t curse! All I did was run and love the run that I was in!

On my solo walk inland to meet back up with the husband on an open street, I called my mom to tell her that I did pretty well, and my kids told me that they were really good for Nana, and all I could do was smile and take shameless marathon-finisher selfies.

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Back at the car, the husband/chauffeur/paparazzi/multi-tasker ate my leftover oatmeal because he was so hungry from surfing and spectating:

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And I refueled with a PickyBar and some more Nuun:

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The poor husband had to work after we got home, but he was super sweet and picked up a bag of ice before he left. I took an ice bath, showered, and ate a little plain Greek yogurt with blueberries and Special K with honey and oats. My favorite.

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Then, while the rest of the nation was watching the Super Blowout, I hung out for the rest of the day with these two hooligans:

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My nutrition for this race was spot on. Aside from the breakfast mentioned earlier, on the ride to the start, I ate a banana and drank a bottle of cherry limeade Nuun, which I finished about 30-minutes before the gun time. I carried my own water just in case I NEEDED it (which I did), sipped a swallow or two from every hydration station while practicing my cup-pinching technique, and then switched to the electrolyte drink in the last 10K. For fuel, I took caffeine-free Gus (PB and peppermint stick) at miles 6, 12, and 17, and the salted caramel Gu at 22.

Overall, the Surf City Marathon was very professionally organized, the course support was great, and the weather? I will definitely run this marathon again.

Do you run with or without music?

Do you carry your own water or use the water on course?

What is your next race?

I’m running the Great Race of Agoura Cheseboro Half in March. WITH MY BFF V!!!!!

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