Marathon Moments

3:25I helped out at the pacer desk yesterday before the marathon. That was fun. I got to answer questions about the course, and I know the course really well. But there was one conversation that was different. A woman came up to me and asked if I was one of the organizers. I said no, that I was a volunteer. This did not seem to disturb her and she started her complaint. Last year there were only two port-a-potties at mile 2 of the HM course, and the lines were terrible. Also one of the water stations was out of water right at the start. Therefore this was the worst organized race she’d ever been to (so why, I wondered, had she returned) and she represented 800 runners. She’d already sent hate mail (her words) to the organizers but she wanted to say it in person. — I was rather floored by this. I have never even used a port-a-potty during a race (though in a long trail race I will use the side of the trail as there are usually no port-a-potties there), and the thought that you’d need one at mile 2 just seemed laughable. Lacking water can be more series, I admit. But in a half-marathon? Where there are water stands every mile or two? That’s a short enough race that I can run it without water at all; if one station were out of water especially one near the start, I’d just drink at the next. Clearly I was the wrong person for her to talk to. But having vented her complaint she was content to walk off. Whew. I could not tell her that these things had been fixed since I had no idea they had happened (if they did) nor what had been done about them. —And I didn’t think anything needed to be done about the first one.

I took the shuttle bus from UCSB to the race start. At the round-about on Los Carneros the bus driver announced that she was lost. Luckily I was in the seat directly behind her and could give her directions. Still it was a weird feeling.

I sat around in the High School gym near the start with my sign on display. People slowly started coagulating around me. I had about 4 runners (and one runner’s friend) by the time we were kicked out. One runner was Steve who had run with me last year (the only person who ran with me the whole way). I warned him that I was going a little faster this year (3:25 rather than 3:30) and he warned me that he wasn’t in as good shape, but he was going to try anyway. I think we call this willing suspension of disbelief.

I took them outside to warm up, and bumped into a couple of my friends who were also warming up, and then one more… A very short warmup.

We got back to the start, divested ourselves of warm clothing and went over closer to the line. More and more people introduced themselves to me as part of my group. It seemed a very large group, more people than I had had last year — though I wasn’t entirely sure how many were running with me, and how many just happened to be nearby…

It was also a very chatty group and once we were off one guy explained that he’d read Craig’s blurb about me on the website and was expecting a plant identification talk. The problem is that in SB in November there just aren’t many plants to identify. They are all awaiting the winter rains (which haven’t come yet). Oops there’s telegraph weed.

I kept having to tell people to slow down (or to be more accurate, I kept running a bit too fast and they kept up with me, I was the one at fault most of the time). Still, by the time we got to the next mile mark almost all of my splits were between 7:43 and 7:48 and I was happy with that. (Shooting for 7:45 pace)

Big Pace Group, probably about mile 10. Photo by Elda Rudd

Big Pace Group, probably about mile 10.
Photo by Elda Rudd

At the halfway mark my watch read 1:41:18 which was about a minute faster than half of 3:25 and right where I wanted to be to bank some time for the hill.

But once we got to mile 16 or 17 I noticed people started to fade back. I never looked behind me (too much chance of falling) so I never knew how big the group was to start with, but there seemed fewer people around to chat with. By about mile 20~21 there was only Martin (A guy I used to hike with every Wednesday, but he got married and we drifted apart; I hadn’t seen him for years).

On the hill I slowed down to about 10 minute miles (I’d actually planned to do 9:30s but… I was getting tired too), and Martin slowed down even more. Now I was running all alone. And then the little bouncy small hills on top of the big hill — and then oh blessed relief — the long downhill stretch to the finish line.

Alone on the hill

Alone on the hill
Photo by Simon Ibsen

I was running alone. But I was supposed to be helping people. I reminded myself that my job was to run the pace. I can’t control what others can do, I can’t force anyone to run with me. It would be nice if they did, but that’s out of my control. I told them my race plan beforehand and I stuck to it pretty closely; that was all I could do. I can’t blame myself if I’m alone. It was a hot dry day, and there was a nasty headwind; it’s understandable that someone who could run 3:25 in optimal conditions can’t quite do it today. Of course, I don’t know who is behind me. I’m visible. (the race has thinned out now and there aren’t many other people around) I may be inspiring people 100 feet back that I don’t know about. My job was to keep going though, not to wait for them.

I was feeling fairly bad. Worse than I had last year, at this point. OK, last year I was running 5 minutes slower and was a year younger, but I don’t think that was the problem. I think it was hot and dry in Goleta and I just dehydrated, the way I always do, though I thought I’d be OK at this pace. Last year I picked up the pace here because the one guy who was with me then wanted to. This year I was trying to talk myself into slowing down since no one was running with me.

Then I passed someone who did start running with me. Damn it. OK, I can’t take it easy.

As we came up to the 25 mile mark I did some quick figuring and decided that if I were near 3:15 there, then I’d be on pace for 3:25 (3:15 would mean I could run an ~8min pace to finish on time, and I was going every so slightly faster). I was about four seconds faster than 3:15 so I should finish very close to the right time.

On the final downhill stretch Martin came running up behind me (Hey! he caught up!) and then he and the someone sprinted off to the finish.

All alone for the last half mile. Photo by Kathleen Formidoni

All alone for the last half mile.
Photo by Kathleen Formidoni

I didn’t want to sprint, and I had the excuse that I really wanted to finish on pace this year (rather than 3 minutes too fast as I did last) so I let them go and continued.

I finished 26 seconds ahead of 3:25 (by my watch). So I was off by one second per mile . That seemed pretty good to me.



And suddenly I felt terrible. I bent down to take my chip out of my shoe and when I stood up my vision went too bright and sort of constricted. Dehydration again, I guess. Depressing that it’s happening on what should be an easy run. People kept asking if I were all right. And all I wanted was a place to sit. Oh and a bottle of water. I got that, and tottered off. I found a parking lot tombstone to sit on, and felt better. But when I stood up again to get more water I was just as bad; so I got my water and sat back down. After another bit I stood up again and felt better. So I went over to get my bag — and vomited on the parking lot. Luckily all that came up was water. If you are going to vomit, I recommend vomiting water. It also makes less of a mess. Now I felt better.

Very many years ago, when I was about as old as some of you are now, I went mountain climbing in Scotland with a very dear friend of mine. There was this mountain, you see, and we decided to climb it. And so, very early one morning, we arose and began to climb. All day we climbed. Up and up and up, higher and higher and higher. Until the valley lay very small below us, and the mists of the evening began to come down, and the sun to set. And when we reached the summit we sat back to watch this magnificent sight of the sun going down behind the mountain. And as he watched, my friend, very suddenly and very violently vomited.

Some of us think life is a bit like that.

— Alan Bennett, Beyond the Fringe


3 Responses to “Marathon Moments”

  1. Adger Says:

    Perfect quote for the end. Well done. Nice pacing.

  2. Martin Says:

    This was the most evenly paced marathon I have ever run so I am glad I joined your group. I had to ease off up that hill as my muscles were cramping (what happens if you average 18miles/week in the 3 months before) and my last mile was fast but all my other splits were very close. I was wondering where you had gone after the finish. Looked around but didn’t see you. Your account answers things!

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