Santa Barbara International Fennel

I happened to be looking up fennel the other day, and Wikipedia had the interesting comment that the Greek word for fennel is μάραθο (pronounced “maratho”). The plains of Marathon are so called because fennel grew there in the old days. So the race is named after the plant.

I thought about wearing a fennel sprig in my cap during the race and pretending I was Fluellen, and beating people over the pate with it, but other things became more important. Maybe next year.

Marathon is coming, the days are staying hot
Please to grant some coolness on this old man’s trot.
If you haven’t got some coolness, and thunderstorm will do
If you haven’t got a thunderstorm then I will rue.

Saint Ann is the patron saint of mothers and miners (and perhaps other things that begin with m?), but in southern California she is known for the hot winds that bear her name. These blew into town about 4 days before the marathon and although the winds petered out the first day, the heat remained. Three days before the race the high for the day was 92°F near me. Now mile 22 of the race is very close to me, and I’d be going past there about 10:20. I started looking to see what the temps were at that time. It seemed to be about 84°F.

I dehydrate in marathons. I simply can’t drink enough from the cups they give out at aid stations even on a marathon with normal temperatures, even when I’m pacing 15~20 minutes slower than I would race. And I react badly to heat, having dropped out of one race already this year because of dehydration. And I’m not allowed to slow down when I’m pacing. I have to keep moving at my 7:45 pace. I could drop out of the race, but I mayn’t run slowly.

This frightened me. I really thought I might have to drop out (dropping out at mile 22 would be convenient:-).

Then I thought of something I could try. I can’t drink enough out of cups. Well then I’ll place bottles of water on the course. Much easier to drink from a bottle, and more water is available. The drawback is that someone might find my bottles and a) clean them up as trash, b) remove them because they might be bombs, c) drink them because there would be 100 odd thirsty runners ahead of me. I considered hiding them, but I can’t very well root around in the bushes while my pacegroup trots by. So the night before the race I went out in the dark and placed 2 bottles near mile 18 and 2 more near 22 (in case one bottle got taken). The next morning, before the start, I placed another bottle near mile 9 (which is close to mile 0 because the course makes a big loop there).

So I’d done something. I could only hope it would be effective.

Remember, remember!
The eighth of November
With runners all over the street.
I see no reason
Why runners so legion
Should ever be forgeet.

Pacing a 3:25 marathon

Pacing a 3:25 marathon

I got up at 3 in order to have breakfast and digest it before I drove to the shuttle buses at 5. I took a salt tablet for breakfast too, and packed a bunch of them to share out to anyone in my pace group who might want one (no one did, but I’m glad I was prepared).

Then I bundled all my stuff into the car.

And the handle of my pacer sign snapped! A moment of terror. Then back into the house. Yes, I have a spare dowel. Remove old staples, add new staples. Back into the car being careful this time.

I hope no one else snapped their signs. I make ’em so I might be expected to have spares. No one else would.

Got to the parking area about 5:15. Trundled over to the marathon pickup. No buses yet, but I don’t wait very long before one rolls up and stops in front of us. We all attempt to board, but the driver tells us he is going to the Page center (which is the start of the half, not the full). So he shouldn’t be here. He certainly shouldn’t stay parked in front of us so that no marathon bus can come by. But that’s what he does. For about 15 minutes. Then he drives off, as does the bus behind him (which also is a half marathon bus, it seems). The next bus doesn’t move for about 10 minutes. Then it pulls out into the middle of the street and stops there. It is also a half marathon bus. Finally, about 30 minutes late, a marathon (or fennel) bus stops in front of us. I think he went to the half-marathon line and they had to find him. We all climb on. Except for a few who get sent to the next bus.

And we wait.

After about 5 minutes in which nothing happens, the driver suddenly closes his doors and drives off. At least this year he knows where he’s going (last year I had to give directions to the driver).

I trot off to hide my remaining water bottle, and then return to high school gym to wait for the start. I meet Jill C. the 3:15 pacer and we sit together. Last year people came up to me to talk about my pace group, but this year no one does. Except for a woman who wants to know where the 3:50 pace group is, and a man with the same question about 3:05 (neither is in the gym. They should be). A few people talk to Jill, but nothing like past years.

When we get kicked out of the gym I realize that because it is so warm out, most people didn’t go into the gym this year, and they are all hanging out in the parking lot. I consider doing a tiny warmup, but they are announcing that they want all the pacers to line up in front of the start. Which we do, in order.

Now I seem to have a group of people around me. Good. It would be sad to run for nobody.

Flyby, National Anthem, count-down, start.

Almost immediately my watch crashes. It does this if I’m careless and inadvertently press two buttons at once. I have to turn it off and turn it back on, and somehow I press the lap key when I didn’t mean to, and I’ve probably lost 10~20 seconds, but I don’t know how much. In other words I’m all flustered. I don’t know how fast we are going, I don’t know whether to tell my group to slow down. Somehow I miss the first mile marker. Someone else says it was in the wrong place.

They changed the course slightly, and none of the mile markers is where I expect it to be. This also flusters me.

The gist of all this is that we run about 50 seconds too fast for the first two miles. A fairly egregious sin for which I should be chastised. But no, they are pretty decent about it, and someone kindly mentions at mile 2 that we are going too fast, and I come out of my daze and see the marker, and slow us down. Whew. After that I run close enough to the right pace (often a second or two too fast, but close enough). But I never recovered those 50 seconds and do the whole race too fast because of it.

But my group is cheerful.

Photo by Jana McKee

Photo by Jana McKee

As we go past a small patch of fennel growing by the side of the road I point it out and explain that its real name is “marathon” too.

I’m still thrown off by the mile markers not being where I expect them. The new markers for the new course only got painted this week (sometime) and I haven’t had a chance to learn them. If it hadn’t been so hot I might have biked the course to fix them in memory but it was hot and I didn’t. We pass the old 4 mile mark. We pass a new mark, but it doesn’t have a stand up marker on it, and I assume it is wrong. But there is no other mark for 4… I don’t see the mile 5 mark either. At mile 6 I ask everyone to help me look and we see a painted mark, but no marker again. This time however I click my watch 22:13 for those three miles which is pretty close to 22:15 that I’m aiming for. I relax a bit.

One year the wind blew the markers higgledy-piggledy but there is very little wind today. Another year people stole the markers…

Anyway I now know what to look for. Mark or marker.

It’s starting to get hot now. I ask if anyone would object if I remove my shirt. The general consensus is that we’ll all remove shirts today and no one objects. The pacer shirts are (to my mind) too hot. But they do have our times on them. But then so does my sign (and I asked someone to write 3:25 to the back of each calf this morning).

And we loop back to the start. My water bottle is still there! Yay! One down. And I can snag it without much trouble to me or the group. And it is easier to drink from.

It takes me about 3 miles to finish the bottle, which I then toss to the next aid station before I grab a cup of water.

At the half-marathon mark I’m about 1:40. Now technically I should be 1:42:30, but I’m trying to run a little fast because I know we’ll slow down on THE HILL I was hoping to be about 1:41:30 but because of those first two miles we’re fast. Sigh.

Oh. And because however long I spent fiddling with my watch after it crashed makes me look fast when I’m not. (My watch’s idea of elapsed time isn’t accurate).

My group has been joined by a chatty character, Sean, who was running with the 3:30 group but decided they were too slow. So he zoomed ahead to catch us up. He’s a friend of one other guy in my group, Walter, and they talk about their slow running group. It takes me a while to work out they mean SLO. The new guy just did a 100k race last weekend.

OK. I’m impressed. I couldn’t run a marathon a week after racing a 100k. And I certainly couldn’t do it at this pace. Which chatty guy does. He even pulls ahead of me on THE HILL and goes even faster.

I looked at the course map at registration, and I looked at the online route map, and both show us going down Vala and then cutting on a tiny trail across to Turnpike. But when we get to Vala no one is turning there and volunteers are shooing us on to Turnpike directly. It’s kind of a relief as I thought the side trail would probably be steeply up and down and narrow… but I’d also told people that we’d be going down Vala — so I hope they weren’t confused when they got here…

Photo by Jeff Devine

Sean, Walter, Me, Michael
Photo by Jeff Devine

And now we plunge down Turnpike. We’re going too fast (again). Slow down. This is a new route this year, so I don’t know what to tell my group to expect. When I get to Calle Real I turn sharply right to run down the right hand side of the street (as I always have before here) and almost bump into one of my group who was actually paying attention to the little orange cones and noticed that we are supposed to go down the left hand lane.

And then finally we get back to the bike path and onto the old course, only now the new mile markers are about a third of a mile before the old, rather then a tenth of a mile after as they were for the first 14 miles. I’m flustered again.

One of my group says that this is about where he hit the wall last year. He’s pleased. Things are going much better this year. He says he’s feeling great! I wish I were, I’m getting tired. I offer to let him pace 🙂

Then we turn right onto the main bikepath and begin the slow grind up to mile 20.5. All uphill, essentially no dips, not very steep but it just goes on for ever. I am feeling tired. As we progress I allow the pace to slip to 7:50. Not really much of a slip, the pace for 3:25 is 7:49, so what it really means is that we aren’t building our buffer for THE HILL, but we aren’t dropping back (and the buffer is too big anyway).

Michael, Walter, Me, Sean Photo by: Fritz Olenberge

Michael, Walter, Me, Sean
Photo by: Fritz Olenberge

We come to the bouncy bridge over Atascadero Creek, and the other side of it is where I hid my first two bottles of water last night. The first one is there! I grab it. I had intended to offer the other bottle to anyone in the group who might want it, but by the time I get mine, and check the other is there I’m passed it. I guess I’ll have to come back for it later. Anyway both bottles were there. Yay!

The water is quite cool too. I guess it has been in the shade.

I drink about half of the water. My next bottle is only 4 miles off (not even that), and water stops are more frequent now, and it is hot. I pour some over me. It’s actually chilly on my overheated body and I make the huffing noises I always make when cold water hits me. The guy beside me turns to look thinking I’m having a heart-attack.

We come to the last relay exchange point. There’s no one here. The others have been empty too. Were there no relay runners this year? How odd.

At what used to be mile 19, but is now mile 19.3 we come to a chip mat with the words “Last 10K” written on it. Er. Now a marathon is 26.21875 miles and a 10K is 6.21371 miles so the last 10K should start at 26.21875-6.21371=20.00504 miles or about 9 yards after mile 20. It should not be 2/3 of a mile before mile 20. We have some discussion of this. None of us has the exact figures but we know it should be a lot closer to 20 than they’ve placed it. I briefly wonder if it’s 10K to the half marathon finish? But, of course, they finish at the same place so that makes no sense.

When we get to mile 20 I say 10K should be about here. “Ah,” says one guy (Michael?), “thanks.” And he speeds up and slowly recedes from view. Neat.

Later, when looking at the Half Marathon results I see the mat was mislabeled. It was placed at the 10K mark for the half marathon and there would be 6.9 miles to go (not another 10K).

We go past Nancy’s performance. Liz is dancing and Nancy is lying in state. Recovering from her knee operation. Wow. I didn’t think Nancy ever took downtime, even when needed.

Some more little rolling hills, and then the long downhill stretch on Los Positas.

Later, looking at the temperature graph for the day it was roughly 82°F here, and I’d been running reasonably fast for 22 miles. At the time I wasn’t worrying about heat, so I must have felt OK. I’m rather amazed by that.

We go through an aid station, but I don’t take a cup. My next bottle stash is 50 feet down the road. Only when I get there the bottle is gone. Too close to the aid station, someone probably cleaned it up. Well, my reserve bottle is about half a mile further down. And it is there. Drink. Pour water on head. Make huffing noises.

At this point I am only running with one other runner, chatty guy, and we talk about ultras. I didn’t notice when the others dropped back. There were a fair number at mile 20, but there’s only one at 22. Chatty guy and I are running a little fast, but Los Positas is nicely downhill, and there’s no one else in the group — so who cares?

This morning I scribbled on my wrist the times I should be at each of the last few miles if I were running the exact pace. When we get to mile 23 I’m about 3½ minutes ahead. I had hoped to be 2 minutes ahead. I expect to lose two minutes going up THE HILL. Those damn fast miles at the start account for much of the rest (and, though I have forgotten it this point, the time my watch crashed is partly to blame too). Sigh.

Oh well. I slow down to go up the hill. I don’t want to be even faster. Chatty guy doesn’t slow down as much and he slowly disappears.

I’m alone.

Worse, I’m alone and I’m ahead. I don’t have the excuse that I was running with someone else.

At the top, at mile 24, I’m about a minute and a half ahead. Well, I estimated the time to run up THE HILL correctly. I guess that’s sort of good.

Last year, I noticed that there was only one guy ahead of 3:25:00 in the 55-59 age-group (but he ran sub-3, so he was way ahead). I wonder if I’ll place this year? I wonder if pacers are allowed to place?

I play leap-frog for a while with a guy who is clearly struggling, but not giving up. He tells me last year he ran 3:07, but this year he’s much slower. It’s the heat.

When we get to the downhill, about 24.5 I try not to speed-up. But at mile 25 I see I’m still a minute and a half fast. And then I hear footsteps behind me. Someone is catching me up! I can run with him and maybe help him.

Only “him” turns out to be a “her”. I think I recognize her, I think she was the only person with a French passport to whom I gave a registration packet at the expo last night (and therefore was memorable).

So I ask “Etes vous français?” She says “What?”. Sigh. Looking back I realize my French is slipping badly. The adjective did not agree with the subject. Probably my accent is atrocious as well. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’ve been running for 25 miles I’m not thinking as clearly as I’d like. So I repeat the question in English. “Yes.” Normally I try to describe the course ahead to the people I’m running with, but I can’t think of the French for “Downhill” (did I ever know? I certainly don’t now.) All I can think of is the word for hill, but that might imply uphill. I’d better shut up.

We get to mile 26 at the bottom of the hill. One nice thing about the new course is how close the finish line is to the bottom. There isn’t that (seemingly) long flat section where you feel you are moving through molasses because you aren’t going down hill any more.

We turn a corner and she speeds up, faster and faster. I let her go. And she crosses the line 10 seconds ahead of me or so.

3:23:48 from the timers. (And I was the first person in my age-group).

It’s kind of amazing. I don’t feel like vomiting. I don’t feel like lying on the ground. I’m tired, but I’m not sick. I think hiding bottles of water is a great idea. I’ll have to do that next year too 🙂

And about four people came up to me and thanked me for pacing them. So I guess I did some good in spite of my bad start.

Epilogue: Several hours later I get on my bike to go retrieve my one abandoned bottle of water. At first glance it isn’t there, but then I notice that it has been moved about 10 feet, opened and surrounded with about 5 other open bottles of water. What happened here? Did some group have a little water picnic with 8 miles of race to go? Very peculiar. Well, I’m glad it got consumed. I pick up all the bottles and take them home for recycling.

And, of course, the next morning dawns foggy and cool. Much better day for a race.


2 Responses to “Santa Barbara International Fennel”

  1. Adger Says:

    Wow. If you can do that on a stinky hot day, it must be a very good move indeed.

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