The Santa Rosa Marathon is smaller than most – they only got the course certified this year – and is run in attractive surroundings along the banks of Santa Rosa Creek, with around 500 runners each for the full and half marathons. I wanted to try a smaller marathon, and also see what results my current self-designed training program was producing. This mostly consists of high mileage, some track work, and short marathon-pace runs up to 10 miles. My peak week was 90 miles.
We stayed in the Marriott, which is a few minutes walk from the start area. This was a good move since I had no need to join the long potty lines in the park.
I met up with Carrie, an online running friend who lives in the area who had first suggested this race to me. She had recently lost her Garmin and was missing it, so we agreed to run together for the first part of the race.
The organizers were attempting to line up the faster runners (with the women ahead of the men for some reason), but were hampered by the sound system which kept cutting out. In the confusion Carrie ended up two rows in front of me, then we were off. I went out fairly fast in order to catch her up, and could see her looking around for me. “I asked a guy what pace we were going, and he said 6:50, so I thought I’d better slow down a bit.” she explained.
A word on paces. Carrie’s everything-goes-perfectly goal of sub-3:10 would be 7:15 minutes:seconds per mile pace, mine of sub-3:15 would be around 7:26. I was not particularly wedded to that goal though, as the real goal marathon is CIM in December. I really wanted to get some feedback on my training in a full-length race. I had set the Garmin to auto-split at 1.01 miles to compensate for running imperfect tangents, and that came out about right. Those are the mile times I use here, which are somewhat slower than the paces displayed at the time.
After a few hundred yards on the streets we turned onto the trail alongside Santa Rosa Creek. This is a multi-use path, concrete for the early part, which dips under each of the bridges that cross the creek. That first mile came out about right: 7:21 including a little bit of acceleration at the start.Then we got faster: 7:18, 7:06, 7:11, with little surges when we were passing other runners. The Garmin was actually displaying a sub-7 number for a minute or two during this, of which we were both skeptical. Carrie: “It must be the trees. I’m still talking and I don’t think I would be at that pace.” I was having a good time at this speed, However it was guaranteed that I would be in difficulties if I stayed at this pace much longer. Carrie was looking strong, though, running with impeccable form.
Soon we crossed over the creek for the first time – under the bridge, 180% turn, up the ramp, 90% turn, over the bridge, 90% turn, down the ramp onto the first unpaved section. “Here you go Jim!” Carrie knew I had been apprehensive of the unpaved parts. This softer going did indeed increase the effort level a bit and after a few minutes I decided it was time to dial it back and gradually dropped behind. Carrie seemed to have found her pacing groove now. I let a small cluster of about five runners pass me and then followed them. This was a little lazy of me as they turned out to be poor pacers. They were slowing down already at mile 6, and I fell into a slower groove: 7:20, 7:36, 7:42. They were probably half-marathoners who had gone out too fast. That was stupid of me. I tried to speed up again, picking off the stragglers from the group which was now coming apart. But what with the bridge crossings and gravel, I stayed in the 7:40s all the way to the halfway point. Apart from a few at the aid stations, there had been no spectators out on the trail, so it was nice to be among people again in the start-finish area. A volunteer pointed to a prominent bump in the trail, calling out “Be careful!” Carrie told me later that she had fallen at this spot on her way through. Aha!
People shake their heads about double-loop marathon courses on the grounds that it’s soul-destroying to head back out onto the same course again. In fact it was just fine, I was now running a familiar course! It was a thinly populated one now that the half-marathoners had gone. I got into a pattern: See a runner up ahead (sometimes two), reel them in, pass them, look for the next victim. I ran the second half slower than the first, but it felt fast because of all the passing I was doing. There is a proportion of marathoners who start to slow down soon after halfway, providing a plentiful supply of people to pass. Since you do not get to see the runners ahead who are maintaining pace, this creates the illusion that you are speeding up and passing everyone on your way to a glorious come-from-behind win. The Garmin exposed the lie by revealing how slow I was in fact going, still in the 7:30s and 40s, with a couple of 7:5x miles where bridge crossings and aid stations were involved. My legs confirmed that they were quite liking this speed thank you very much. They should have been hurting just a little by this point! I rationalized my lassitude by telling myself that I needed to recover quickly after this race to start training for CIM. My age-group position (whatever it was) seemed secure at this point. I had been studying the other runners at the turnarounds. There was one balding guy who looked about the right age, so I asked him how old he was when I caught him. 50-54 age group, it turned out. My bright response to this information: “I’m 56, so you don’t need to worry about me.” was supposed to be good news, but on reflection was probably a cruel blow. Balding Guy, sorry about that if you are out there reading this. Talking to runners as you pass them is something of a minefield. Even an encouraging remark can seem like irony. Oh well.
Coming up to the turnaround at 19 miles, I was surprised to see a young woman who had passed me very strongly in the first half. She heard me coming and put up a fight, surging for a minute or so. I held pace and simply oozed on by when she faltered.
And that was about as dramatic as it got. The only time I was passed in the entire second half was by a pair of young guys at mile 23 who were going pretty fast. I surmised they must have started late and were pacing for 3:10 or thereabouts. I could not find any late-starters ahead of me in the results though, so they must simply have been running a strong negative split.
Mile 25: “Oh, we’re nearly there”
Mile 26: “Dammit, I could do with another half mile to catch that next guy!” (But I beat him on chip time)
So, chip time 3:21:53. Half splits were 1:38:53 and 1:42:59, which is quite a big positive split, even though I moved up 18 places in the second half. I can blame some of that on the zippy first four miles, but it was fun having a Carrie’s-eye view of the race for a little while. But mostly there was no incentive to beat myself up in the second half. About 5 minutes off a PR, but encouraging nonetheless. I took home a bottle of wine for winning my age group. Carrie also won her AG, and was 4th female with a 3:12.