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2017 Santa Rosa Marathon Race Report – Pacing 3:33 (Santa Rosa, CA)

2017 Santa Rosa Marathon Race Report – Pacing 3:33 (Santa Rosa, CA)

This picture — the disbelief, the digging, the holding back puke or tears (or both), the enormity of the weight being lifted off your chest as you realize that HOLY SHIT I JUST DID IT — this is what it’s all about. You can’t not smile. You can’t not love it.

Denver. (real name Megan)

In late August, I took advantage of an opportunity to return to the Santa Rosa Marathon in (surprise) Santa Rosa, CA, for a second year, to pace. The last time I did it, in 2014, I co-paced the 3:35 group; this time around, I would be pacing the 3:33 group solo. I didn’t pace in ‘15 because I was a couple weeks postpartum, and last year, I had to bail because of that whole colitis nonsense. Just like in 2014, this year, many runners from all over, and in particular, CA, flocked to the SRM because its flat course is quite conducive to nice and shiny PRs and BQs, and logistically, it’s one of the last marathons in the US before Boston registration opens in mid-September. In other words, if you’re itching for a fast time, SRM is a (relatively) safe gamble. The race has had a trying history the past few years (course issues last year, timing issues another, and an earthquake the year I last ran it), but it seems to be a race that, I guess like a good wine, improves with time. Naturally, oenophiles also like the wine-heavy presence in the race, too, what with it being in the thick of northern CA’s wine country and all; the marathon is known, among other things, for taking runners literally through and alongside wineries, and at one point in the race, you actually run through a barrel house at mile 10 at DeLoach (and have an opportunity to hit a Chardonnay aid station). It’s a really enjoyable course and race experience.

c/o: SRM

Among many other friends, my pals Meg and Connie had targeted this race for some great goals, and while being totally fired up about your own race is awesome, I’d argue that being excited for someone else’s race and training is about as good as it gets. I knew the work that they both had put into their training — while juggling career, family, and life obligations — and I was so excited to see how they’d tear it up on course. I also felt weirdly nostalgic and fairly introspective going into the race as well — the introspection apparently balancing the rahrahrah for my friends — because I had realized a few weeks earlier that SRM was going to be my 30th marathon in the decade that I’ve been doing this stuff. What’s more is that the universe conspired (and logistics worked out) so that my 30th marathon would become essentially a way for me to give back to the running community — at a highly anticipated race and at a pace that is a highly sought-after goal for many people (since 3:35 is the BQ for women ages 18-34). The 3:33/8:07 minute per mile pace that I’d be leading was a pace that for years, I never would have thought I could have (comfortably) handled; hell, my PR was minutes slower than that for years. Suffice it to say that pacing at SRM was a bit of a mental something or other. I can’t quite put my finger on it without sounding completely granola and wanting to hold your hand while singing kumbahyah or something, but it was cool as hell. I was so glad to be there, so excited for my friends racing, and just so ecstatic to help people run strong races.

Saturday: expo, hot as balls, Japanese

Connie, Meg, and I ventured up to SR for the expo in the mid-afternoon, when the temperatures capped out around 105 or so. But it’s a dry heat! Right, sure, but when you open your oven after you’ve been baking cookies, it still feels really effing hot and you feel like you’re looking death in the eyes, right? Same thing. It was toasty, what I call “mouth of Satan hot” (hat tip to fellow Dante lovers out there). DeLoach is one of the major sponsors of the marathon, so as in 2014, the expo was on the winery grounds. Meg, Connie, and I were in and out relatively quickly and still managed to see some of our other friends (Anil, Gene, Vicky) who’d be racing or pacing Sunday morning. We chatted with Beth, the pace group coordinator, and learned about contingency plans for race day, since it was slated to be another triple-digit day. Rumors were circulating that the marathon start time would get moved from 6:30 to 6 or even 5:30, but they were unfounded. We’d later learn that the course would provide additional aid stations and would throw in misting stations and kiddie pools filled with water, ice, and sponges on the course. If nothing else, Connie, Meg, and I kept reminding ourselves that with our 6:30 start and our respective time goals, we should more-than-comfortably finish the race before things got blazing, 100+ degree hot. It might be in the 70s or so — and my experience has shown me that 70s and 80s in California feel significantly hotter than the same temperatures in the Midwest — but it wouldn’t feel that horrible, and realistically, we three shouldn’t be in it for that long.

hello from mile 10 of the marathon at DeLoach


3 East Bayers and one Southern; I’m the weirdo who insists on wearing pants when it’s hot as hell

The women (and Gene) and I opted for a most excellent dinner at Haku Sushi in downtown Santa Rosa, and even with the hot as balls temps outside, piping hot tofu and veg udon, washed down with some Easy Lover sushi, was great for a marathon eve meal. The ladies and I soon retired to our hotel in Rohnert Park; Connie braided Meg’s hair and my hair (why not); and I think I was asleep — though not sleeping well — by about 9:30. (Pro tip: if you’re going to race SRM, book your accommodations really early because things tend to fill up. Expect to pay a lot of money for pretty standard rooms; that’s typical Sonoma County/wine country).

Sunday: race! Pace!

An early race start meant an earlier wakeup (about 3:30), but sharing that nonsense with friends always makes it seem less strange than it really is. I mean, honestly, when else in your life are you going to set an alarm for (essentially) the middle of the night so you can wake up, eat oatmeal, drink black tea, and hopefully will yourself to have a bowel movement and if you’re lucky, go back to bed? If you’re shaking your head, you know; it’s totally bizarre. We left the hotel shortly after 5 and comfortably arrived to downtown SR around 5:30, before much of the pre- and post-race stuff was set-up in the new start/finish location (Old Courthouse Square, instead of Julliard Park; the Square is a better and more spacious staging option, IMHO). Meg, Connie, and I each did that pre-marathon dance all morning long where you basically oscillate between needing to pee (nerves), thinking you have to poop more (nerves), forgetting stuff in the car that you were going to use pre-race (a Gatorade bottle full of water), and trying to find that weird, elusive balance between not thinking about this Great Big Thing that you’re going to do with your body for the next 3 hours and change, plus or minus, and not not thinking about this Great Big Thing that you’re going to do with your body for the next 3 hours and change, plus or minus. Care, but not a lot; don’t care, but give yourself permission to give a damn. Lean in; dissociate. Over. And over. And over.

palpable nerves


pretend you’re not nervous!

Right around 5:50, as we were getting ready to go run a 5 minute easy warm-up, I learned from Beth that I had a co-pacer for the day, Simon. Surely, somewhere in the cosmos the angels were trumpeting on high! I was simply elated. Though I knew I was physically capable of running an evenly-paced 3:33 marathon, a marathon is a long way to go by yourself — and especially when people are relying on you in some capacity. Sometimes people forget that pacers are humans, too, and that we — like anyone else — can have a bad day or a rough race. Though by race morning I wasn’t hugely nervous about pacing, I was still slightly anxious that something would pop up and make my race go awry — stomach issues, long portapotty lines, fueling mishaps, the world ending, anything. Learning literally moments before I was about to go warm-up that I had a partner in crime was such an enormous relief. Moments after Simon and I met, he joined in our warm-up, and immediately, our bantering put my nerves at ease. Our kids were about the same age; we had stuff in common; he had also done this before (and had more experience than me, both in racing and in pacing); so I quickly gleaned in our approximate 6 minute warm-up that we’d have a good time for 3 hours and 33 minutes.

Without much fanfare, aside from some mild confusion about the starting corrals, we began the race. Since 2016’s snafu with runners going off-course early on, SR rightfully made some great changes to the earliest parts of the race. In addition to moving the start time from dark 6 o’clock to lighter 6:30, the first 5k of the course was completely different from how I remembered it in ‘14. Back then, it seemed like we spent a ton of time in SR’s quaint little downtown area, making a thousand turns; in 2017, we spent hardly any time at all downtown, and every intersection was marked to hell with cones, barricades, and a vocal volunteer (or three) who let us all know that we were heading in the correct direction.

somewhere in the first 5k, likely very early on. Simon wanted to hold the sign the entire race; bless his soul.

We picked up the Santa Rosa River Trail (SRRT) by about mile 3 and just like in 2014, stayed on it for a long time before getting over to DeLoach and the Sonoma County back roads. The SRRT is pretty similar to SJ’s GRT, though smaller and narrower, and it’s the same path that IM SR used for its marathon just a month earlier. The first 10 miles of SRM were pretty flat, if not a little net downhill, and our group comfortably cruised right along, with me silently reveling in gratitude for all the shade that we had for the first part of the race.

pretty early on, between miles 3-8 on the SRRT


airborne together

Before we hit DeLoach and the county roads, we had to do a quick out and back on a crushed limestone-esque trail that went perpendicular to the SR trail — presumably to make up for the mileage that was cut off from the new downtown portion of the course earlier — and it allowed me to quickly see my buddy Sarbajeet on the other side of the trail, ahead of me and pretty close to the 3:08 pacer. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see where Anil, Connie, or Meg were.

thinning out a bit somewhere between miles 3-8; you can see Simon about 10 steps behind me. this pic corroborates my husband’s claim that I have a tendency to wave to people by placing my waving hand strangely low. in addition, my smile makes me look like I’m in pain. also: vineyards!

We exited the SRRT around mile 8 before picking up back county roads from 8-20. Simon and I were hitting the paces pretty well, and we noticed that we had about a .04-.1 discrepancy between our GPS watches and the mile markers pretty early on. Between the two of us, we were wearing four watches (2 GPS, 2 stopwatches) and a pace bracelet, so our contingency plans had contingency plans. Because the SRRT was pretty narrow, we rarely ran right next to each other — usually, I was a couple paces ahead of him — but between our matching shirts, him holding the 3:33 sign, and our group of runners behind me, but in front of him, we seemed to have a pretty good-sized group parading between us for a long time. I’d periodically look back to ensure that I wasn’t getting too far ahead of him (and our sign), but I was never more than about 30-50 seconds under our pacing goals at each mile marker (and usually, about .5-.1 longer in distance). When I thought our gap between us was too wide, I ran the roads as they appeared, taking things easy on any inclines and then allowing my stride to open on any declines. I could always hear him, and anytime I turned my head, I could always see him, so I wasn’t sweating it too much that we weren’t in lock-step together for the entire 26.2. Understandably, some people prefer to pace by themselves, and while I initially felt a bit guilty or like a shitty pacer for not being exactly next to him for a lot of the race, we were doing what we were supposed to be doing. (In retrospect, in 2014, I ended up being “the caboose” of our 2 person pacing team, and it’s mentally really taxing to be there. This time around, I guess I just didn’t want to put myself — or my runners — in that position). 

Even if you’re not a oenophile, it is still pretty neat to run through DeLoach and through the barrel room. The signs are always fun, and hell, you can hit a Chardonnay station right after you get out of the barrel room if you want! I must have eluded photographers this time around because I don’t have any pictures from that part, unfortunately.

While the course is very flat overall, there were some pretty good rolling hills on the county roads between miles 11-18, some which I didn’t remember from ‘14. We fortunately still had a bunch of shade over us at that point, and we came through the half in about a 1:46:x, right where we wanted and needed to be.

right around halfway, coming up one of the rollers. notice the Peanuts gang on our pacer shirts? Charles Schulz lived in SR (and there’s a museum in his name there, too).

By halfway, or halfway and change, our group was still running really strong, people were in good moods, and honestly, it was just nice to be out for a long (long) Sunday run. I often thought of my friends racing and hoped that they were having good and enjoyable runs, too. I felt gutted when I saw Anil at the mile 14 or 15 AS, but he was all smiles, so I figured things were okay, relatively speaking. He had had fantastic training and racing in the lead-up to SR and had come prepared to fight for a new PR and a solid BQ, but it wasn’t his day. I’ve been there before and can relate, and man, it sucks. The marathon can be such a heartbreaker.

Somewhere in the 18 or so mark, we exited the rolling county roads and made our way back to the SRRT by way of some flat and seemingly arterial roads. Along the way, I caught up with a woman who had been hanging in our group since the very beginning, “Denver,” who had run with Simon in ‘15, PRed, and was really hoping to PR again this year. I really enjoyed chatting with her and laughed when she apologized profusely for hanging on my hip, since we had so much open road that she could have been running on instead. Girl, that’s why pacers are there! Simon was still about 20 or so seconds back from me, and I told Denver to just keep cruising along, and that by mile 20, we’d pick up the river trail and be on that all the way in to the finish line. Despite her smiley demeanor, I knew she was all business and was determined to finish the final 8 as strong and as well as she had run her first 18, and she went on ahead of me by 19 or so. Soon after, I ran into my Wolfpack teammate Barrie, and we hypothesized about how our other teammate, Sarah, was doing in the full (spoiler: she won!). We all just kept cruising, and fortunately the temperatures remained pretty comfortable for those no-man’s-land miles between 18-20.  

At the 20 mile/10k to go mark, we hopped back onto the SRRT, and we also began to run into the crowds of half marathoners who had started their race at 7:30, an hour after we did. I remember this being problematic in ‘14, but this time around, it didn’t seem to be that big a deal. Runners and walkers were all being courteous to each other, and a simple “good morning” or “on your left” or “runners coming through” from me, on behalf of everyone around me, seemed to pretty easily warn slower-moving runners and walkers to yield for the upcoming foot traffic. As you return to downtown on the SRRT, the very slight downhills you ran on going out can feel completely monstrous coming back, and I warned my racers of that early in our run together. Realistically, when you’re racing a marathon, anything inconsequential can feel earth-shattering in that final 10k, so I tried to do what I could for my racers around me by opening up the trail a bit to accommodate for passing traffic. I figured that while I couldn’t run the race for them, the least I could do was run my mouth. (Fun story: one guy was incredulous that I could have so much energy to so frequently and so vociferously shout at all the other participants to get them to yield. Again: that’s what pacers are for!).  

about 10k to go and back on the SRRT. the guy turning around was one of the guys who was seemingly astounded that I could run my mouth so much so late in the race, ha!

I didn’t start to really feel the heat of the sun until about mile 24 or 25, but I imagine if I were racing, I’d feel the effects much earlier on, like Anil or so many others did. Throughout the entire course, the aid stations really orchestrated their efforts well, with tons of adults and children giving out water, Gatorade, gels, bananas, and oranges. I didn’t recall seeing any kiddie pools or misting stations anywhere, but I could have missed them. By the very end of the race, my GPS was off by about .11, but even with the discrepancy, I knew that I/others around me would definitely finish in 3:33, if not a low 3:32. I began to hold up a bit, waiting for Simon to close the gap between us, and somewhere around mile 25 or so, I came up on Meg, who was in a great mood despite not hitting her A goal for the day.

right before exiting the SRRT, around mile almost-26

Meg, Simon, and I exited the SRRT together right at mile 26, and with a couple left turns back into downtown and Old Courthouse Square, and after some holding up on our part so Simon and I wouldn’t finish too egregiously under 3:33, Simon and I both noticed Denver still ahead of us, obviously busting her ass to get in under 3:33 and to beat what she had posted in ‘15. With about .05 to go, Simon and I both yelled at her with our everything — go! Go! You’re so close! Finish the thing! You can do it! — any embarrassing or empowering bit of encouragement you have ever heard parents scream at their young children — replete with fist pumping, flailing arms, the whole bit. It was awesome. You’d think we were yelling for our own progeny.

worth repeating because it’s just that awesome. girl, you killed it. she destroyed her ’15 time. (see us?)

Moments later, Simon and I finished the race together in 3:32:26 — a little fast for our prescribed 3:33, sure, but just like The Price is Right, under is better than over.  Seconds after us, Meg finished as well, netting herself a solid race, her B goal, her first marathon postpartum, and a pretty and shiny BQ.   


Right around 26.1 (PC: Connie)


Meg right after us (PC: Connie)


everybody hands go up …. and they stay there


team 3:33 (his 54th marathon, NBD)

As I got through the finisher’s chute area, Denver — Megan — found me and in near tears, thanked me endlessly. I was so happy for her and so proud of her! She said something along the lines of her performance being wholly attributable to me, and I quickly threw social norms to the wayside to furiously interrupt her and remind her that nope, actually, her legs did the work; she was the one who did the heavy lifting; she was the badass. I was and am so thrilled for her though and for the many other people who notched great performances in conditions that became pretty challenging. A PR and a BQ — hell, even trying — on a warm August day is something to be really, really proud of. #kudos

After chatting with Megan, I inhaled a couple freezing cold pieces of watermelon, chugged water like it was my last opportunity on earth to do so, and eventually reconnected with Meg and Connie. On course, I was taken aback around mile 26.1 because I saw Connie and her husband and son all on the sidelines cheering, and while I wasn’t totally surprised to see Connie there — figuring she would have been finished for a while by the time we brought in our pace group — seeing her family was a big surprise. It wasn’t until Connie and her family, Meg, and Gene and I connected that I learned the amazing news that not only did Connie net a gigantic PR (14 minutes), she finished second woman overall to my teammate, Sarah, and SHE BROKE 3 HOURS (and her family was there to see her do it). Talk about inspiration.

the shit-eating grin in front of the shit-collecting receptacles. SO PROUD of this group! so happy! D is having a blast, too! (PC: Connie’s husband)

2017’s iteration of SRM was excellent. The new/modified course went off without a hitch, and while the weather was certainly not picture perfect, it’s also literally the only thing you can’t control on race day. (See also: an August marathon in inland California. It’s a gamble). The aid stations were plentiful, about every two miles, and the congestion that I remember from running into the slower half marathon runners and walkers at mile 20 wasn’t as intense this time around like it was in 2014. The race kept many of its premiums: gigantic medals, a nice zip-up (this year, made out of wicking material with Peanuts characters adorning the backside), and a bottle of Runner’s Red wine for every marathoner. Even the pace groups were modified in the past few years to better align with Boston standards and the likelihood of securing a Boston spot; in ‘14, this spot was 3:35, and the race had since dropped it down to 3:33. Starting and finishing in the square instead of at the park seemed to make things flow really easily, too, and at least for my group of friends, we didn’t have any problems getting to the downtown area an hour ahead of the start time and securing really convenient (and free) parking. This was the 9th year of the SRM, and I honestly think that it’ll just keep improving.

I couldn’t be happier for my friends, for strangers I helped pace to personal victories, and to the countless other participants who decided to give themselves a chance to chase down big goals. I would have never imagined that I’d run 30 marathons in ten years of doing this stuff, and being able to pace for this milestone, and at a pace that a) I never thought I’d be able to do comfortably ten years ago and b) one that means so much to so many people (particularly women my age), was like the best icing ever on the best cake ever. If I wanted marathon #30 to be memorable, I nailed it. 

Sincerest and heartfelt congrats to all of Sunday’s racers. You all are rockstars in my book.

July 2017 training recap

July 2017 training recap

And like that, there went July.

July was full of a lot of action: being in Ohio for the first almost two weeks, visiting family, and then returning to SJ, getting ready to race at SF, and then finally racing the thing. Like I said in my June recap, it was awesome to be able to see my family for nearly three weeks in June-July and to be able to train in some of the more beautiful parts of Akron, hills and humidity and all.

girl pile on my mom


post-LR in downtown Akron, my last LR in Ohio. I ran into a bunch of runners in their final leg of an inaugural 100 miler that morning. Props to those folks for a) not only running a hundo but b) running one in Ohio in the humid summer. Cannot fathom it.

While I was in Ohio, I jumped in a local 4th of July 5 mile race in North Canton and basically got slaughtered by young XC whippersnappers — I was the token 30 something in the top ten women — which was actually a lot of fun, even on the heels of a 20 mile workout about 48 hours prior. It made for a pretty good boost of confidence, a hefty 5 mi PR (easy to do since I had only raced this distance once before), and a great way to start the day.

July also marked the one-year anniversary of my cousin’s death, and while I have struggled to find a way to write about it and still have some degree of order and cohesion to my very scattered and likely conflicting and contradictory thoughts, I finally gave up and just verbally vomited it all out in this post here. Thank you to everyone who has read it and publicly or privately reached out to me since then; I am so quickly learning that the depth and reach of addiction overshadows anything I had ever conceptualized about the disease before. Its span is huge and without discrimination. Since I wrote that post, my sis informed me that carfentanil has returned to Akron but masked as OxyContin pills, so now folks who abuse OxyContin run the risk of ODing on a large animal sedative disguised as an opioid. What a fucking tragedy.

By the end of the month, I had the joy of racing the San Francisco Marathon for the third time and doing all the fun race weekend activities entailed with TSFM. In just 24 hours’ time, I saw tons of friends, both at the expo and on race day, and even got to run with some buddies mid-race, which was a treat. While I am, admittedly, slightly annoyed that I didn’t race faster, I am nonetheless thoroughly happy with my experience and how strong I felt from start to finish. This may be the only time in my life that I run mirror-perfect splits in a marathon, from the front half to the back half, so I’m reveling in the fact that I did that on such a hard course (and in some unforgiving weather for the first 11 miles). The marathon is a great teacher, and I’ve walked away from my 29th marathon still learning something new about how to approach this beast. For that, I am grateful (and can’t wait to race it again).

PC: Dynamo


what a fun weekend.

And finally, just six days later, I got to chase my own racing experience with going up to spectate at Ironman Santa Rosa in, you guessed it, Santa Rosa. My predominant Sunday morning LR partners, Saurabh and Chaitanya, were both racing there, in their 4th go at the IM distance, and I was absolutely thrilled that I could make the 2.5 hour/100 mile drive north and be able to catch them, plus a friend from Boston in town to race, Ann, about 6 times on the three-loop marathon run course. I have zero interest in ever doing a tri, much less an IM, but as a long distance runner, I know how awesome it is to see a friendly face on the course, particularly if things go south. Standing around cheering, cowbelling, and spectating was super inspiring. Just like with running, I saw so many different people, and so many different body shapes and sizes and speeds, but the common denominator amongst everyone was their passion. That shit’s palpable, man. I had a blast cheering for my friends and basically laughing at the president of BASE salt, whose company was handing out salt very near where I was standing, for about 4 ½ hours. (Seriously, his dance moves to what had to have been the best Pandora station ever for an aid station were so impressive. He was full throttle for just about the entire time I was there. Homeboy was dripping in sweat comparable to the triathletes). Hefty PRs for Saurabh and Chai, too, in addition to many of their teammates, which just sweetened the already very awesome day even more.

so proud! with Chaitanya and Saurabh post-IM.

So here we are, 203+ miles later and August-bound. Wild. I’ll be taking a little bit of downtime before starting CIM training, and I may jump into some XC PA action this fall, too. We’ll see. I’ve been feeling well post-TSFM, albeit probably a little more tired than usual, but my complaints are minimal. I’m planning to pace the 3:33 group at Santa Rosa at the end of the month, so I imagine that I’ll be focusing most of my August running on being able to lock in that pace in my sleep. We only have a little bit of time left before my eldest starts school — back to the bike-stroller commutes! — and then, I imagine things will really start to fly around here. That’s how things seem to roll, anyway.

Reading: I finished Homesick for Another World when I was in Ohio, and it might have been my one and only fiction book this year. It was great — I love short stories — and weird as hell in parts. Some of the characters were oddly endearing. I’d recommend it. I started Ariel Levy’s memoir but had to return it (boo; waiting for it to come back to me), and I had to re-start The Gene after also having to return it before I was finished with it. The same thing goes with David Sedaris’ Theft by Finding. I’m not really keen on this Sedaris book, but what keeps me going is that so much of it takes place right where we used to live in Chicago, in Uptown. It’s interesting to read what has changed and what has remained the same. Make Your Bed, something that G literally took off a library shelf and gave to me to bring home, was about what I expected, though still pretty inspiring and interesting. Ronda Rousey’s bio, My Fight/Your Fight, was also weird as hell in parts but fairly inspiring, too.

Listening: to not much, in the way of podcasts. Still not feeling it much. I enjoyed Tina Muir’s talk with Magda Boulet, but I think it’s because I just really like Magda. She’s cool as hell and super humble. We met at my first race postpartum after G, and she ran alongside A, as well as her son, so we’re all basically best friends now.

throwback to the Let’s Go 510k in October ’15; also known as the 10k I ran about 8-10 weeks postpartum and about 24-48 hours post-runaway IUD retrieval surgery and bonus emergency appendectomy. Magda was seriously cool as hell though! Owen, too.

Watching: again, not much. Aside from maybe a few more episodes of Master of None, honestly I can’t recall the last time I went out of my way to sit down and watch tv. I think I spent most of whatever free time I could string together in July reading, writing, or sleeping. In advance of a marathon, that sounds about right, anyway.