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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

California International Marathon

Only 8 short weeks after Twin Cities Marathon, I found myself again toeing the line for yet another attempt for an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying time. In those 8 weeks, I had been coached by Bob Latham from Bend, and the workouts he prescribed and I mostly succeeded at, were another degree of intensity for me. I felt mildly confident, but a little reticent at the same time, given I had not had a good marathon (in my opinion) for about 4 years.

I had warmed up quite a bit earlier that morning, so at the start I only did a couple of short strides. I was surprisingly nervous, and my legs felt very good. It was chilly, so I wore a beanie, gloves, Under Armour, and knee length compression shorts. I chatted briefly with Johanna, a temporary Corvallisian, 2-time trials qualifier, who was training through today, and then heard my name being yelled, and was pleased to see Craig, Laurie, and Jeff there to offer their support. They said they would do there best to be out on the course. Brian was already on his way to mile 5. There was a pack of 10 or so women exchanging 'are you trying to qualify? Let's work together!' The national anthem sung by two very small children (like I needed to cry just then!) and then the wheelers were off. A 30 second countdown ensued, and finally we started.

The first mile was mostly downhill. I just relaxed and floated down. The running crowd was fairly thick for quite awhile. At nearly one mile, we made a sharp turn, and immediately headed uphill. I eased up, and went through in 6:08. I was pleased with this, because it felt that fast. One female runner said to another 'you have NO business going that fast! you need to slow down!'. I was amid a group of the women from the start, and we all hung together pretty well for the next 2 miles, which I went through at 6:11 pace. This pace felt fine, good, and manageable. I started to leave the pack behind, with one gal in black and white coming with me. Our next mile was 6:04, so I tried to relax a bit - run a little more reasonably. Off the side of this more rural section, a pony was prancing about, excited by all the activity. I was inspired by its grace. Mile 5 came (6:21), and I grabbed my first bottle. I took a few drinks, but decided to hold onto the bottle until the next hill, so I could drink more easily. Just as the course turned again, Brian was on the side line, running and cheering for me. Black and white was still with me as we turned into the wind. We ran side by side to mile 6 (6:16), and as we gained on a runner ahead, I invited her to run behind me for awhile. We hit mile 7 (6:22) and had more of a group to run with.

The course was relentless in it's up-and-down-ness. I loved those downhills, and I kept in control on the uphills. Mile 8 came in 6:19, and 9 in 6:24. Black and white was no longer with me. At some point I heard that I was 3rd female, but it didn't seem true, nor did I care. This was strictly a time trial for me. 1st or 100th would be the same, as long as I ran better than 2:47. At mile 10 (6:11), I knew I was close to seeing Brian again, and getting another bottle. I saw the bottles, grabbed mine, and Brian was right there, encouraging me all the way. I crested to the sound of a pep band, then floated down to the cheers of Craig, Jeff and Laurie. I waved to them and eased up the next climb. I was sipping from my bottle when I caught up to another runner who asked for a drink. I shared it with him, we ran together for awhile. Mile 11 (6:17) was mostly a very long, gentle downhill. I was feeling the effects of the effort, but felt I could maintain what I was doing. Miles 12 and 13 reinforced my thoughts, 6:18, 6:14. I went through the first half in a hair under 1:22. At this point, the group of women behind became the group of women just in front of me. I didn't take time to doubt my race, I was still on pace and not discouraged. They pulled away, and as I turned into the wind again, I was working on my own. I picked it up slightly to catch the one man I could reach. I sat on his shoulder, a little protected. He said "let's move off the camber" and went to the middle of the road. We made another turn, still into the wind, and he surged to catch the group. I didn't go with him right away, but waved to a couple of gals behind me to follow me as I surged to close the gap. Mile 14 (6:15) thus took a little out of me, and I lost contact with that group. The next 2 miles were tough and the times (6:28, 6:29). I had picked up a bottle at 15, waved at Brian again, and drank about half before I tossed it. Finally, we turned out of the wind, and I regrouped with a 6:16 for mile 17.

Mile 18 was on a long straightaway. I kept going back and forth with 2 gals, braids, and ponytail. I felt like I was working harder than them, wheezing and grunting, but would still end up ahead of them at times. The next split was 6:24, but there was downhill ahead, and I ran 6:16 for mile 19. Finally, I reached mile 20 (6:25), in 2:05:58. All I needed was a 40 minute 10k to put this to rest. On the next small climb, I caught up to a runner and heard 'good job, Meghan' - it was ultrarunning great Graham Cooper, starting to fade. I said 'hey Graham - do you feel like you're in the wrong race?' He smiled and said yeah. The next downhill hill began and I was able to once more fly away. I saw Brian one more time, and then was on my own. Mile 21 was encouraging (6:18), but mile 22 included a climb over a freeway that nearly killed me. I had no one in sight, braids and pony tail had faded, and I felt like I was the only one in the race, but the aid station at the bottom welcomed me down, and I grabbed my last bottle. My time had me a little concerned (6:30), but at least the climbing was done. I drank only a little, figuring I could get to the end now. Mile 23 was 6:25. A gal caught up to me, and we ran together for a few minutes, encouraging each other. Then she surged, and I surged, but hers lasted, and mine faded while I gasped and wailed with each breath. I hit mile 24 (6:22) in 2:31. I only needed to run the last 2.2 miles in 14 minutes. I pushed and faded, pushed and faded. One more turn into the wind, and I passed my first real victim bent over grabbing his calves. So close to the finish! Again we turned, and now had a tailwind. Mile 25 (6:24) showed me that I couldn't really let up. I could see the final turn very far away. The crowd was great, and just before mile 26 (6:23) I saw Brian one more time, telling me I was going to make it. I rounded the turn, and Craig, Laurie, and Jeff were right there. I high-fived one of them, and gunned for the finish, pumping my arms, grinning like a Cheshire cat. 2:45:43! I'm in!

I found out shortly afterwards, I was 10th female, and 1st master. Icing on the cake.

See you all in Boston!