2017 Long Beach Half Marathon Race Recap - A New Course PR
There is something special about your first half marathon, especially when it’s also your hometown race. I’ve lived in Long Beach for 14 years (almost half my life!), and the Long Beach Half Marathon was the first race I ever signed up for. The convenience factor was one draw to this race, but the race course is where I did my daily running, so familiarity was another.
I first ran Long Beach in 2009, following a simple training plan I found online and using Map My Run to figure out how far I was going. I didn’t even have a GPS watch until the end of 2014. I finished that first race in a solid 1:45 having no idea that was a decent time for my first. Every LB Half I raced after that (I’ve raced this 7 times now), was in the same time range. Since my last Long Beach Half in 2015, I’d learned that I was anemic, figured out how to appropriately race and train, and adjusted so much more about my lifestyle to become a better runner.
I had a serious goal for this past Sunday’s race and I wanted to make it happen at this race specifically. I've constantly struggled with racing during marathon training. I overdid it when I first started running marathons, and then I just avoided racing for a while because I wasn't seeing much improvement. Now, racing during marathon training is fun for me. It takes a lot of pressure off of the races I choose to run during training because I see them as purely a training run for my bigger goal race (my marathon). While I had a lofty goal for the LB Half, I really had nothing to lose in going after it but would've still been ok with just making that a long run for the day.
The expo was so much fun because I got to meet a lot of my athletes who have been training with me virtually for over 3 months now. I also got to see so many familiar faces from the local running community (another reason Long Beach is one of my favorite races). The highlight of the expo was meeting BRENDA MARTINEZ!!!! New Balance had a big booth at the expo and she came to hand out autographs and take pics. OMG I was dying. So awesome!
I focused a lot on my nutrition and race day plan leading up to Sunday. I wanted to practice what I'm planning on doing for NYC, so my goal was to really carb-load and try hard to get the recommended 500g of carbs/day based on my weight in the 3 days leading up to race day. This was so hard, but I definitely did better than I have in the past and hit just over 400g the day before and about 300-350g the 2 days prior.
Race day weather looked good, surprisingly. The day before the race was 85° and sunny and the day after was supposed to be the same, but race day high was 71° and cloudy. It was perfect. Obviously cooler temps would've been nice, but the cloud cover kept a lot of the heat away. This race starts a bit late (7:30 am for the half; 6:00 am for the full), so the sun is already out when the half marathoners start. You spend a lot of the later miles in the race (6-10) running directly into the sun, so the cloud cover made a huge difference.
We got to the downtown area and our parking lot around 6:15 am. I like making a pit stop at the Starbucks in the hotel downtown on our way to the start line to get one last go at a real toilet. After our stop, we made our way down to the start line. I did a 10 min jog to get my legs warm, and then waited in line for the porto-potties. By this time, it was just after 7 am. I did the rest of my warm-up (glute activation exercises and strides), and then made my way to the start line.
My race plan was to stay with the 1:30 pacer until mile 10 and then break off if I felt good to make a final attempt at a sub 1:30. This would save me the trouble of pacing, and pacers are a surefire way to prevent me from going out too fast and dying hard. When I got to the start, I saw the 1:45 pacers, but couldn't find the 1:30 sign. I made my way close to the front and asked a few guys if they saw the 1:30 pacers, but they were also looking for them. Yikes. Fear set in that I wasn't going to have my pacer to guide me through and I was going to have to pace myself. With the way my pacing has gone in training, I was worried of going too fast and then dying hard. Literally, 2 minutes before the gun was about to go off, the two pacers showed up and got right in front. I made my way to them and we were off!
I looked at my watch and was steadily doing a 6:50 pace and this felt easy. Good, this was good. There's a hill early on just before mile 3 that I thought might pull me down, but I handled it and stuck next to the pacers. There were a lot of folks with the pace group, so I decided to keep them in my line of vision rather than stay in the pack. There's another hill just after mile 4, and I didn't want to lose momentum, so I kept my pace as steady as I could and felt strong going over it. On the downhill, I broke a bit from the pacers and ended up in front of the group. I could still hear them talking to the group so I knew they were in range. I decided to just keep them there. Trying to slow down to get back with them might have caused me to lose some momentum. At this point we were heading around the lighthouse - my favorite part of the course, and the first time I got to see Ricky. I was SO HAPPY to see him!
We make our way around the lighthouse in a circle, and Ricky was able to make it to the other side to cheer me on again. It was the little push I needed to keep my pace up. After this part you make your way through Shoreline Village and onto the beach path, and the straightaway. It's sometimes hard to focus on straightaways, but this was my turf and where all of my runs happen, so I stuck with it. I also started to get a bit of a cramp in my belly around mile 7. I talked myself out of it. Nope. No cramping. I made sure to take Nuun at each station they offered it, so I just convinced myself that was not going to bring me down. It never went away, but it never fully developed either. Mental win? Or biological? Not sure. Everyone who cheered would cheer slightly for me and then cheer loudly when the pace group would come up behind me, so I knew they were right on my tail. I kept saying, "Stay in front of them. Don't let them catch you." Toward the end of the beach path, just before mile 10, they caught me and now I was in the group again.
At this point, it got really HARD. I could tell my glycogen stores were going down and I had to talk to myself this entire way. There's another slight hill leading up to mile 11 and the final straightaway of the race. I told myself to stay strong here. This was the last difficult part and then I could take it home. The pace group stayed right on my tail. An older man was running in front of me and then around me and then behind me. He had a friend on his bicycle riding the course next to us and he was talking the man through the race. I HAVE NO IDEA WHO THIS MAN WAS, BUT THANK YOU! I listened to everything you said to your friend and this helped so much. The man running was pulling me through. I told myself to stay with him. Don't let him drop you.
We finally made it to the end of Ocean Blvd. and there's a left onto Shoreline Dr. and its all downhill into the finish. This was the final time I got to see Ricky. He was waiting on the corner. He took some photos and then he yelled, "Pick it up J" or maybe it was, "Keep going J" or, "Push harder J." I can't remember, but he saw the 1:30 pacers behind me and he knew I had to push to break that time. I could hear his voice echoing behind me the entire way down the hill. When I saw the finish line clock, it was at 1:29:33. I kicked as hard as I could and this was the point the old man I'd been pacing with a few yards back kicked past me. I made it and shut my watch off at 1:29:50. I usually die at the finish, but I was so excited. I embraced the old man and then just stared at my watch (Ricky said I stared at my watch for a long time, hence the photos... haha!).
Official time was 1:29:48. I could not be happier to have this success in the middle of marathon training, at my hometown race. I fought hard for every second out there and my last mile was the fastest at 6:45. The final boost of confidence I needed heading into my marathon. The mental strength that kept me going and that I practiced during this race is going to help so much in NYC. I can't freaking wait.