Avenue of the Giants Marathon
May 7, 2006
The race is held in Humboldt Redwoods State Park in beautiful Northern California and is in its 35th year. It is a very small event with only 362 marathon finishers, plus about 1000 half marathoners and 350 doing the 10k race. It was a really low-key, but well organized race. The course is a double out-and-back on Bull Creek Road and the Avenue of the Giants, which are gently rolling and mostly shaded.
I ran my first marathon last October in San Francisco after running for just over a year and finished in 3:55. I had pretty light training which peaked just over 40 miles per week and averaging 33 mpw the 12 weeks prior (excluding the last two weeks pre-race). To prepare for that race, I ran 1 20 miler and 1 18 miler in my training. Based on a July half marathon of 1:49 I made my goal of 3:55 and nailed it.
This time, my training averaged 38 mpw and peaked at 46. I ran 20 miles once, 21 miles once, and ran 16-18 miles most of the other weeks. My training pace was quite a bit faster (9:00-9:30 for long or easy runs) and I did several tempo runs (7:45-7:55 pace) and long goal pace runs (8:20-8:30). My legs felt great and I remained uninjured, and I only felt really tired like the last week of my training before taper. But by the time race day came, I was well rested and energized.
Since the course is a double out-and-back it was pretty obvious to mentally divide it into four sections. I planned on running a pretty even pace with perhaps the first couple miles a little slow. My “A” goal was 3:40, for the BQ. I knew I would be able to come pretty close based on my training and my previous race times- the first marathon, and a half-marathon in February which I ran in 1:44:56. So I thought it was a bit weak to make my goal time “3:42” or something. So I went for it. I couldn’t let go of someone’s running quote “if you don’t take a chance, you don’t stand a chance.” My “B” goal was Big PR: 3:45 or better. My “C” goal was PR: 3:55 or better. My dream goal was 3:38 or something (hey, you never know). The BQ pace is about 8:24, so I hoped to be just below that at the half and hold it through the last half.
I organized all my things Friday night (I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say organizing is a hobby of mine) and we headed out Saturday morning. We ate bagels in the car, and then ate a lunch that we packed a few hours up the road. The drive was beautiful- the wine country, then rugged Mendocino County, then the forests- eventually Redwoods- up on the North Coast. We stopped at the race staging area (it can hardly be called an expo) which is a river access parking lot off a highway exit near Weott (population: 14). I picked up my beautiful t-shirt, they do a different design each year featuring a native critter of some variety (foxes, crane, butterfly, etc) and this year is the racing turtle. They even have women’s fit shirts. I also picked up my timing chip – a nice touch for such a small race. Then we headed up to Eureka where we were staying- about 40 miles north.
We checked into the Best Western and I unloaded and re-organized all the stuff for the morning. We headed to Eureka’s downtown and “Old Town” which is really cute. Lots of cool little shops and places to eat. It’s chilly here (you’re right on the coast), but there are lots of people out. There were several street performers including a Native American singer and a kid playing Skid Row on the accordion. Lots of interesting people here. We had a really good dinner at Mazzoti’s downtown- I had your standard spaghetti (can’t go wrong) and Zach had a delicious cannelloni. Then we headed back to the hotel where we watched a movie (Fun with Dick and Jane) and I took a bath and read.
Went to sleep about 11:30 and woke up pretty much every hour. But I fell right back asleep and felt rested when the alarm went off.
I got ready pretty quick, ate my English muffin and banana, and we loaded up the car. It only took us about 45 minutes or less to get there, so arrived about 7:30. Early enough to get parking right on the road (most everyone else ended up down on the wide river bank). I ate a Luna bar and used the restroom a few times. Zach got a latte from the coffee bus. We took some pictures, wandered down to the river, and watched the people- we saw the guy who had run every year- this was the 35th year! The early bird start was at 8:00 which turned out to be a lot of the people. Eventually it was time to line up, so I gave Zach a kiss and my sweatshirt and herded up. Before the start I chatted with a couple from the Toronto area and a Londoner who was running his 60 marathon or something. I hope their races went well!
First leg: The first mile was crowded, but moving all right. The problem was that the road is in terrible condition (potholes, cracks, etc) and it was hard to see very far in front of you. But it thinned out and I felt more comfortable, though I did spend a good portion of the first half of the race watching my step. There were a lot of people, since the half marathoners run this first out-and-back then ditch us at the staging area. Lots of company and gorgeous natural scenery. The forest was so cool and quiet but you could see the blue sky and sun above. The road was totally shaded at this point and the temperature was probably just over 50. I felt strong and hardly noticed the hills. I took a couple sips of water while running.
Second leg: At the turnaround I ate my Clif Blocks and had some water. I notice I’m running mostly downhill but I’m getting a little tired. I worry about the second half, thinking I won’t be able to maintain this pace. I briefly wish I was running the half. But, I just focus on getting to that halfway point and seeing Zach, and start working on that second half. I haven’t walked yet.
7 8:15 (average)
8 8:15 (average)
Third leg: Back near the staging area the half marathoners go on to finish, but we take a sharp right. And by “we” I mean me and like 3 other people. Well, that’s how it felt. I see Zach and smile, he runs with me and refills my water bottle. I tell him that I’m glad I am half done and I’ll see him in a bit. I’m reenergized. I focus on getting to the 16 mile marker, because then I can start counting down single digits. This second half of the course is a little different, plus it’s sunnier and warmer now – just over 60 and rising. The road is in much better condition and is not as hilly. It’s still rolling though. It is mostly shaded but the sunny stretches are a little hot. I’m mentally strong on this leg, seeing other runners including the leaders and my Canadian friends, and cheering them all on. There’s only a couple runners in sight most of the way. It’s very quiet and very personal. I think the people wearing headphones missed out on that. At first I focus on that 16 mile marker, then I focus on 19 which means the turn around is close. I ate my Clif blocks just past the halfway point. I start to drink more water and refill at the aid stations, which I walk through.
Fourth leg: I’ve realized the BQ is definitely not happening, and I’m seriously ok with it. I know I would have to run the second half as fast as the first, and I could see I was already slowing a bit. I didn’t see myself tearing up the last 10k either. But I know I’m going to finish strong, and I get excited to get that B goal. I tell myself to keep running and I keep focusing on the next mile marker. I eat Clif blocks randomly. About mile 22 I start to get really tired. I take little tiny walking breaks – maybe one per mile, plus I walk through the last couple water stops. In fact, the volunteers fill up my bottle with the pitcher and I eat some orange slices. It’s pretty warm and I’m tired. I’ve got a bit of a stomach cramp.
24 9:13 (average)
25 9:13 (average)
(side note: you see that average? I actually missed the 24 mile mark and didn’t realize it. Which lead to the happiest moment in marathon history: I was running along, looking for that little “24” cone, using all my mental strength to keep going, and what do I see but the 25 mile mark. My first thought “oh, that’s just mean.” -thinking it was wrong! Then I realize it is right, and my load gets a hell of a lot lighter.)
I see Zach just before the finish line and smile. I’m extremely happy. The finish line crowd is not huge, but I’m the only runner coming through at that moment and they all cheer for me! I hear the announcer call my name too. They chip my clip off, then I get my finisher’s medal and patch, grab a cup of water and start crying. I do this weird smile-cry thing and wander in a little circle until Zach finds me and I hug him and cry some more. After a minute I get my wits back and just feel so happy and proud.
Finish Time: 3:45:14, 8:35 average pace
17th female of 172
69th overall of 362
3rd in age group (25-29) of 17
Which means I get a shiny medal and everything! (shut up I’m excited!)
Post race: I walk around for a few minutes and eat some orange slices. I’m not really thirsty or hungry, but I need some shade. I stand under the info tent for a couple minutes until I cool down. Now I just want to sit. So I find a patch of dirt and spread out Zach’s coat and lay down. I chat with some other runners, eat a pbj and some chips, and just hang out a while. My legs hurt a little but nothing specific, and I generally feel all right. They announce winners of the half marathon, but the marathon awards will have to wait due to wonky data. I saw my 3rd place finish on the print out and was pleased to see it didn’t change. They said they’ll be sending the medal.
We finally get in the car and head back down highway 101 toward home. I talk about the race and read my splits. We stop at this little roadside market and I eat the best hot dog in the world. We enjoy the scenery again and I make up little songs (Baby Blue Bus) then take a nap. I did stretch my legs a couple times when we stopped for gas and stuff, but really wanted to get home. The hockey game was on at 5:00 so we tried to get it on the radio but it hardly came in. Luckily we got home in time to see the last few minutes- the Sharks won 2-1.
This was such a great experience. It was 10 times better than my first marathon. I trained better and ran a much smarter race. Last time I really suffered through the last 6-7 miles, this time I only struggled a bit for the last 3-4. Last time I ignored my fuel and hydration plan and literally collapsed at the finish line, this time I walked away on my own and wasn’t really even thirsty or hungry. Last time I wanted to die, this time not so much. Last time I laid down at the end more exhausted then ever before, this time I just kinda sat there. It wasn’t as painful, it wasn’t as dramatic. I feel pretty good today (Monday). Stairs aren’t easy, but I’ve done it several times already and I also ran some errands. Last time I could hardly move and had some acute pain in my foot and some other places.
Last time I couldn’t believe I finished, this time I could.