I’ll be the first to admit, this year hasn’t exactly fallen into place like I was hoping it would. In fact, it has been pretty subpar by my standards. It started off with a period of slothness around the holidays at the end of last year. Then it turned to a nasty bout with a cold that led to more downtime. Those two instances didn’t exactly leave me feeling in very good shape for the Houston Half Marathon, where I ran my worst half marathon time in years. That was sort of a wake up call for Boston. I managed to pull it together rather quickly and put in six 100+ mile weeks before my tune up half in March. I had high hopes of running a PR there, and was well on pace through 7 miles, but suffered through some major stomach cramps, in turn dashing any PR hopes. I ran a decent time there, but nowhere near what I knew I was capable of. And that is where it all seemed to end. I lost motivation and drive, and then came the shin splints. I tried to run through them for a week or so, but it just got to the point where it was unbearable. I headed out one morning and made it two blocks before turning around. That was the last I would run for 19 days. In fact, I didn’t do any physical activity for 19 days, unless of course you consider drinking beer physical.
I did manage to bounce back just in time for the inferno that was known as Boston. Looking back I should have just sat that one out to begin with. I ended up getting in two pain free runs on the Saturday and Sunday before the race, so I decided to give it a go. That was a very dumb idea. I thought I managed to scale back the pace to something doable, but I just wilted away in the heat. I was fat and not prepared for that at all. I dropped at mile 18 and decided to save myself for another day. The only problem, which didn’t dawn on me till about an hour after I dropped, was that I didn’t have a qualifying time for 2013 Boston. I guess I had to find another race before the deadline in September.
A friend recommended the Ojai 2 Ocean Marathon and it looked like the perfect race. It was unlikely to see the crazy weather that the rest of the country’s marathons have been experiencing, it was a short drive from home, and of course the 700 foot net downhill course was very enticing. I was instantly sold. The main goal was to get a BQ and potentially compete for the victory, but of course I wasn’t just going to go out there and dial it in. I had 7 weeks from Boston till race day to work with. The idea was to focus all workouts towards what I had hoped to be my goal marathon pace, or at least +/- 10 seconds within that range, as well as not overdue it on the mileage. The most I ran in one week was 82.6 miles. And for the first time in a while I felt that drive. I was crushing tempo workouts right and left, but most importantly, I was looking forward to crushing them. I hadn’t experienced this in my running since last year. I had gotten to the point where 5:45 pace felt easy on my training runs. I even dropped the beer for two weeks, which also probably helped to dropping 12 pounds in 5 weeks. I knew I had done all I could do given the short amount of time I had to work with. It was time to put the training to the test.
It was an uneventful race morning, although the 3am alarm to catch the 4am bus to the start sort of sucked. But I really did like the idea of being done with a marathon before 9am. The course runs exactly as the name suggests, from the mountains in Ojai down to the ocean in Ventura. It starts with a 10k road loop (with one gradual two mile climb starting at mile 3), followed by 13 or so miles of gentle downhill on a bike path, and finishing up with 5 or so flat, oceanfront miles. The plan was to run 5:50’ish miles on the first loop, ease into 5:45 pace on the downhill, and hopefully have enough left in the tank to hammer it home in the final 5-6 miles. After a 10 or so minute delay we were ready to go.
5:44, 5:50, 5:46, 5:51, 5:51, 5:42, 5:40
I managed to pretty much stick to my plan after a fast first mile. I ended up going out with two guys from the start, but it turned into just two of us through the first mile marker. That guy took off after the first mile marker and I wouldn’t see much of him for the rest of the morning. I ended up bringing my iPod with me and turned it on around mile 3. One thing that bothered me was that my breathing didn’t feel great through the first few miles. It wasn’t till mile 4 or 5 where I sort of fell into a good rhythm. The uphill section wasn’t bad and once I got back to flat ground I knew it was time to get to work. I managed to see the guy in first on a straightaway and he already had a 50-60 second lead on me. He was flying, but I was sticking to my game plan. I felt really good heading into the downhill section.
Downhill Bike Path…..
5:44, 5:44, 5:43, 5:41, 5:46, 5:42, 5:42, 5:43, 5:41, 5:41, 5:42, 5:37, 5:41
Not a whole lot of excitement on this section. It was pretty lonely out there minus the aid station volunteers, a few random spectators here and there, and the occasional biker passing by. My main goal was to just stay focused and rattle off the miles one by one. This certainly worked, but there were a couple moments where I wondered if I was pushing it too hard. The music was also helping me keep my head in the game. Unfortunately I don’t wear my iPod on many runs, so my newbie dumbass wasn’t thinking very well when I was dumping water over my head. Needless to say it died right before mile 15. And this is where things got a little more interesting. I messed around with the iPod a bit before finally giving up. Shortly after that I took a GU as I was heading into a water station. I pointed at the kid I was going to take it from and right when I was about to grab it he pulled his hand away. So in a last minute act of desperation I tried to grab a cup from the next and final kid. And guess what he does…yep, he pulls the cup back as well. I apologize now for expressing my anger to those young kids, but between the iPod and that I wasn’t a happy camper. It was at this time I began wondering if my race was going to unravel from here. My head was rattled a bit, but the pace was still coming fairly easy. I still really needed some water though, as it isn’t exactly the most pleasant thing to swallow down a GU with no chaser. And it was just my luck to come across a pretty full squeeze bottle of water sitting on a fence post. I assumed a half marathoner had probably left it there, so I grabbed it on the go and started drinking. Perfect timing! A couple miles down the path I ran into my friend John and he rode his bike with me for a half-mile or so. We chatted for a bit, he told me I was about 90 seconds back, and I told him I was feeling pretty good, but was sort of bummed because one of my goals was the overall victory. He told me to not give up, that the guy in first could easily fade. After a quick swig of Gatorade from him I was on my way, it was time to go into assassin mode.
5:42, 5:46, 5:46, 5:42, 5:40, 5:38, and 1:17 for the final 0.2 miles
The course begins to flatten out here while it heads down to the oceanfront in Ventura. I am now beginning to pass all the back of the packer half marathoners, which is giving me a slight boost. Things are beginning to hurt, and I feel a slight fade coming on, but I’m doing everything I can to fight it off. It was right around mile 21.5 where I was told I am only 60 seconds back. Holy shit, I just took off 30 seconds in the last few miles! The last 4 miles of the course are an out and back so I finally have sight of the first place runner. I keep telling myself, “don’t let up, Jay, don’t let up now.” That mantra repeats constantly through my head over the final 4 miles. I’m reeling and reeling and reeling. He’s coming back to me quick and has no idea I am even there. He made the turnaround and probably had about 20-25 seconds on me at this point. I was hoping he wasn’t going to see me because of the palm trees, but that didn’t work out, and he got his first glimpse of competition all day. At this point I knew I was going to catch him, but kept wondering if he had enough to kick it in the final stretch. The half marathoners were providing a ton of support at this point, as I was about to make my move. I was working extremely hard, but knew I had a big kick in me. The adrenaline was pumping hard. I came up on his left side around mile 25.5 and threw down a surge that I knew he wouldn’t be able to counter. I wanted to look back, but told myself to keep the pedal to the floor. I finally gave it a quick glance over the shoulder about a quarter mile later and realized I had it in the bag. I did it. I fucking did it.
Official Results: 2:30:16, 5:44 pace, and 1st overall
Wow! What a feeling. I’ve won my fair share of races (although never a marathon), but can honestly say I’ve never done so in this fashion. It was exactly what I needed after what has been a pretty dismal year of running so far. And while it wasn’t a PR, it is arguably the most satisfying race I have ever run. To bounce back from what happened in Boston in this short of time makes it all that much sweeter. For the first time in a while I feel healthy, but more importantly, also have that drive and determination that have been missing for most of this year. I’m excited at what lies ahead in 2012. And for the first time ever I will now turn my training focus to something shorter than the marathon distance, as I hope to finally get that sub-70 minute (and then some) half marathon monkey off my back. After that I will be making my return to the Chicago Marathon in hopes of another big PR at that distance. I can already tell it is going to be a good summer.
Thanks for reading!