By Erin Cockrill
Sometimes you have to go back to the very beginning. For me that meant going back to my first race, the very one where I learned the rush of the finishing chute and the novelty of earning my very first medal. Long Beach International City Bank Marathon and Half-Marathon is where it all began for me.
The pre-race information has been great on all levels starting with confirmation of my entry to training opportunities to right up to race week with final instructions. We always opt to stay in Long Beach the night before the race, partly for tradition, partly for convenience. There are a plethora of hotel options near the race start, but we booked at least 6 months in advance, and even then the race weekend discounted rates had been sold out. Luckily my awesome husband has plenty of points so we avoided that cost. We got down to Long Beach around 4pm the afternoon before the race- the expo starts on Friday and runs all day Saturday through 6pm. Part of the pre-race information from the organizers, RUN Racing, included emails with our bib numbers so we didn’t have to stand at that table searching endlessly for our bib numbers in order to go to the correct table. We grabbed our bibs, complete with our D-tag timing chips and headed over to T-Shirt pick up. The shirts this year are probably one of the best tech shirts I have ever received. V-neck for the women, crewneck for the men, it actually fits well and is a good material that wicks well. Plus number 1. Next stop was to pick up our swag bag. Reusable, drawstring. Plus number 2. Oh, and this whole process was completely well organized with friendly staff.
Now, of course you can’t get out of there without walking through the entire expo, which in comparison to Maui, was completely geared towards runners and athletes. Upcoming races, charity training programs and of course plenty of Gu to be had at almost every booth. We grabbed some Gu’s and were on our way- we didn’t need anything else so it was time to grab a beer and some food and relax. I allow myself to have at least one glass of wine or a beer, because I find it relaxes me.
Originally, I had started on a training plan to set a new PR, but as it tends to go, I was sick for a few key weeks of training and so I had to put those goals aside. So this was a race where I was going to give it my best and just see what happened. Maybe it would give me the desired result, maybe not, but either way, this is a fun race. Race morning we woke up at the very decent time of 5:45am. This race has a wave start, and our wave was scheduled for 7am, however I knew from prior experience that I needed to be walking to the starting line by 6:30- it takes a while to walk there, even staying across the street. The walk over was definitely not lonely as there were masses of runners in all sorts of gear walking along side of us. We made it with 10 minutes to go and made our way as close as we could to our wave starting group.
The gun went off and we were on our way. It took us 4 minutes to get to the first mat. Not surprising at all given the field size. This is an out and back course with both Marathoners and Half- Marathoners starting at the same place at the same time. We didn’t have time for a quick bathroom break before the race started as the lines were typically long at the starting ling, so we made the decision to run until the first station, which happened to be at mile 2. That is the one downside of being well hydrated I suppose. I have found that as a long distance athlete it takes me a while to get up to full speed, which I think in this case, hurt me in the end. But, moving on we finally got up to a pretty good pace and were holding steady through the majority of the race. The miles flew by and then we were running on the beach path, one of my favorite parts of the race. My husband didn’t like that part of the race because he felt that there were too many people trying to occupy a small area, but really if you are good about picking your line, much like skiing moguls, you can get to where you need to go. Personally at that point in the race, I don’t mind the close proximity of people- it makes it less lonely.
All along the course water stations were well stocked with PowerAde (made correctly this time), water and all along the course were oranges and bananas. Still no pretzels. Not sure when that became passe and luckily I didn’t need it as the weather was cloudy and cool- perfect for running, but still it has been a staple at most races in my short athletic career to this point. Gel was located at the mile 10 station.
Mile 10 and the dreaded Wall. This is where I started having some problems. My left hip cramped up and I immediately cursed the fact that I had missed some key long runs to push through that pain and ready my body for the effort. I kept pushing even though it hurt. Normally at this point in the race I might not have taken a walk break, but I needed it this time. One last Gu with caffeine and I got a short burst, but the last miles of this one were tough. Not because the course was tough, but because I was hurting. Mile 11 or so and the Marathoners split from the Half Marathoners- one guy almost missed his turn off- I had to laugh because there were race officials everywhere yelling out directions and he was so zoned out he wasn’t paying attention at all.
The chute was beckoning and the crowds were getting thicker. Usually, the adrenaline starts to kick in and my heart starts racing. That didn’t happen this time. Just put one foot in front of the other and you will make it- you are almost there. I passed a woman who was collapsed about 3/4 of a mile from the finish- she was in pain and there were people yelling at her to get up and finish- I didn’t look back to see what happened, but I hope she got up. Finally, I was across the line with a leap of joy. We have good days and bad days in racing- clearly this wasn’t a good day. But in the end, I still finished with a time that clearly wasn’t my best, but also wasn’t my worst, so I guess I should be happy about that.
At the finishing line I was greeted with my hardware, but no mylar blanket. I saw them on others, so I knew they existed, but we hadn’t gotten far enough down the line I guess yet. Because of the cloud cover, it was chilly, so when we finally got our blankets, it was a good thing. We stopped to get a quick picture- they had two photographers and the line was moving quickly. It was a good place to get a photo and it kept the athletes moving through the finishers chute. Then we wrapped around and got a bag with a banana, an apple, trail mix and a bar. The next set of tables had recovery- in the form of ice cold chocolate milk. It was pure heaven. Good touch LBC. After that, we made a beeline to the beer tent. Naturally. Sponsored by Michelob Ultra, every racer received a free beer. I do love my post- race beer. Additional giveaways included a box of food from Bubba Gump. We did not partake because we were going to enjoy waffles and fried chicken from Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles- but that is a totally different review. Also in the expo area were a smattering of merchandise booths, the requisite massage tent and some charity tents, which we passed by because really once you have been through one, you have been through them all unless you are looking for something specific.
Getting back to the hotel was a little bit of a challenge that could be remedied by some signage, but we eventually found our way and got back to our hotel. One of very few issues with this race, so really I will let them off the hook for this one. All in all, this is a well oiled machine and they treat the athletes well. This is a great race, whether you are going for a PR, to qualify for Boston, or just finish a Full or Half Marathon.
Stay tuned for a review of Surf City Half Marathon in February and hopefully a better day at the races for this athlete. Training begins for Desert Tri and subsequently Wildflower Long Course- reviews and training reports will be forthcoming.