Below is Aaron Fox’s (AF as we call him) excellent race report from the 2017 Mountains 2 Beach Marathon. AF is coached by the great David Roche and is just starting to glimpse his potential as a runner. We hope to feature more of AF on our site in the future. Follow him on Strava here. -zw
Well, they say the best place to start a story is at the beginning, so let’s do that.
Mile 15, outside of Duluth, MN. Grandma’s marathon June 2016. Shooting for 3:10, had just completed a really solid training block using Pfitz 18/70, and had high hopes for this race. It was probably the first race I had run where I thought I had a legitimate shot to BQ.
Instead, I found myself on the side of the road, hugging my son and my wife, telling them it wasn’t my day, and spending another agonizing 2 hours out in the 80+ degree heat as I limped home in 3:4x. My second full in a row with a huge positive split and the only positive to draw from that race was that I avoided a DNF.
My next full was two months later, pacing a friend to BQ at Santa Rosa. That ended being a great thing, because it showed me that it was possible to run a full marathon in a smart way – holding back up front pays huge dividends later in the race, and of course the trick is to minimize the holding back, which maximizing the dividends. EUREKA!
At the same time, the 3:26 we ran was not close to the BQ I needed (3:15), and I knew my fitness would have to improve. Of course, a smart training plan is part of that, but I also think it’s just a case of getting miles into your legs. Fast, slow, long, short – of course you want to set the mix based on your goals – but for me, coming into running so late in life, volume is a critical part of it, no matter what the specific workout is.
In the months since Grandma’s, I’ve logged about 2500 miles + PRed at every distance, and I attribute that primarily to the consistency of workouts I’ve been fortunate enough to attain, and avoiding injury along the way. Some of that is dedication, some is luck, and some is smart coaching/motivation from people I’ve been fortunate enough to associate with.
All that said, here we are nearly 350 words in, and I haven’t even started the race summary…but at least I think the background is covered.
Coming into M2B, I talked with different people about what my goal should be:
Coach: “Sub 3. I think you could probably go way under 3”
Wife: “What’s your PR?” (3:26) “ok, then 3:25”.
And a number of opinions in between. I thought a lot about wife’s suggestion; while she said it in a semi-joking manner, it came from a serious place – let’s not repeat the mistakes of prior races – let’s learn from them, even if it means you hold back a little bit.
In the end, after completing a 16m MP run @ 6:51 (3h pace), and 3 10m MP runs (1 with stroller), I decided to go for sub 3 as an A) goal. B) goal would be to beat my buddy’s 2016 Twin Cites time (3:05:19). C) BQ – would need 3:12ish to feel good about this one.
Of course, the trick is to know the optimum time to downshift in goals – if you pursue A relentlessly, you may quickly find B and C unattainable. So I was acutely aware of that.
Flew down to Burbank and drove to Ventura on Saturday afternoon – this was uneventful. Walking through the airport, I was already thinking to myself – I’ll be seeing all of this tomorrow, and I wonder how I’ll feel. I saw a bar right by the gate and thought I WANT TO BE HAVING A CELEBRATORY BEER AT THAT BAR TOMORROW! And then I’d also think, well crap, if I fail – that bar is going to be mocking me. When it’s such a quick turnaround, you realize pretty quickly the two divergent paths the trip can take.
Went to bed about 8:30, woke up at 11 to what sounded like someone repeatedly lifting and dropping their bed on the floor right above me but luckily that ended.
Sleep pretty poorly, got up at 3:30. Drank about 6 oz coffee, filled up my handheld with Gatorade, ate 2 clif blox. Sipped a little more Gatorade and that was it pre-race. I got a tiny sensation of cramps a couple times, so I think this is pretty good. Packed four gels in my handheld.
Parking was fine, bus ride up to Ojai was uneventful. If it’s cold, go hang in the post office!! So warm and nice in there. Race went off right at 6.
Coach had said to run with the 3:02 group for 8 miles, then gradually take off from them if I felt good. I did exactly this. A couple times I felt myself pulling ahead of them, and I’d dial it back down. It was a good group – some talking but mostly just running and enjoying the scenery.
The course starts up with a VERY gradual uphill that’s basically nothing and that goes until about mile 3. Then you make a u-turn and it’s mostly downhill from there until maybe mile 9 or so. Great stretch of running. At mile 8 I did pull ahead of them, ate a gel, and was feeling great. Splits to this point:
The 3:02 pacer was pretty freaking consistent as you can see. At one point a couple miles in, somebody said it was too fast, and another guy said ‘yeah, but this is the uphill part, so…’. Which makes no sense, but I let that go.
Mile 9 or so there’s a maybe 1/6 mile uphill which wasn’t too bad, and then we picked up a bike path. Evidently the course used to be almost exclusively on this path, but last year they changed it to the road to accommodate more people. The bike path was, in a word, MAGNIFICENT. It’s smooth, gradual downhill, wide, and just awesome. These were some of my favorite miles of the race.
We came back onto the road around mile 12 or so, and there’s a decent downhill prior the half, which I hit in low 1:29. At this point, I was trying to be VERY cognizant of how I felt, realizing that I had run a great half, but that’s all I had done, and there was still plenty of time to blow it. I had another gel at this point and pushed on.
Mile 15 has another decent uphill in it, so it was a little slower but otherwise, I kept plugging along. The first 15-16 miles of this course are almost perfect from a running standpoint – it’s early in the AM, net downhill, small enough race where there’s room to run, and just feels great.
At this point, you are pretty much tapped out on the downhill, it’s getting hot, and the marathon blues start to set in. Mile 20 is a huge number for me, I think of it as the halfway mark – but it really didn’t feel like much consolation when I hit it for this race. I ate about half of a gel with caffeine here and that helped a little. I think I’ll switch to all caffeinated gels moving forward, but that’s a minor adjustment.
In any case – without looking at my watch, I knew I was starting to slow because people were passing me. Not a lot, but a few here and there – and at that point I thought to myself, look idiot, the next 6 miles are going to determine how you feel for the next 6 months. I did NOT want to go through another blowup, another Boston training cycle, another chance to fuck it up again – I just had to do this today.
My math skills weren’t great at this point, but I realized around mile 21-22 that sub three wasn’t in the cards. I was right on pace for it, but would have needed to finish up all 6:51 pace, and that wasn’t happening. So, I smiled to myself, took a deep breath, and switched to my B) goal.
Not good times. To set the stage – you’re back on the bike path, but instead of a nice flowing downhill in the mountains, it’s flat through industrial Mad Max wasteland on the outskirts of Ventura, the temperature has risen 25 degrees and the sun is beating down, your handheld is almost empty, people are passing you, and it seems like the longest 4 miles that 4 miles could ever be. I tried thinking about 4 miles runs around my neighborhood I’ve done hundreds of times, and they still seemed really long.
I knew that shortly after mile 23 we came into downtown Ventura, so I just tried to gut it out, and hoped that the change in scenery would do me good. I was also doing the math in my head of ‘can I walk some and still BQ?’. After I hit mile 23, the answer was probably yes, but that’s no way to go out. Plus, I really wanted that B) goal. So I just kept going, knowing that, boy, this is gonna hurt when I stop.
My handheld finally kicked the bucket around mile 24, and I don’t remember any more drink stations. By this point I was looking at my GPS way too often, just willing the display to tick tick TICK YOU LITTLE PIECE OF SHIT. I tried running a faster for a bit, and that helped some, but I never felt like YEAH I’M GONNA DO THIS until I was about 10 yards from the finish line.
24 7:46 (some uphill on this one)
3:03:02 98th OA, 6th AG
I crossed the line, came to a crashing halt, and had to ward off a strong bodily desire to pass out. The volunteer handing out water eyed me suspiciously, but I gave her a thumbs up (lie) and staggered off to get my medal and sit in the shade. I had learned how key shade was after Grandma’s, so that was my one and only goal.
I was sitting there drinking my water and I must have looked really pathetic because a half marathoner offered to get me fruit/drinks. Runners are so awesome. She brought me bananas and a Sprite and said ‘don’t worry, you’ll feel better’.
I couldn’t bend my legs because they would immediately cramp – in retrospect, I really should have tried to walk a little longer to cool down – but I just couldn’t. I talked to a few other people (girl who finished in 3:00:04, ouch) and a first time marathoner 3:06 (fuck him).
After a while I asked someone to help me up, and I went to get water, some more fruit, and was able to get it together to ring the BQ gong, which I was DYING to do. Seriously, I had been thinking about that moment for a long time. It was great to accomplish, and I won’t forget that noise for a while.
Sat in the BQ only Clif Bar area for a while (oh yeah, that’s right) and then walked to the car and headed out. I hadn’t taken my phone with me, so it was great to get all the congrats from people who had been tracking. It got a little dusty in the car for sure.
In the car on the way back to Burbank I did a little screaming, a little crying, and mostly just was happy for myself and all the people that have been so awesome and supported me along the way. Boston and NYC in 2018, who would have thought it….
In general, some takeaways are:
- Pretty happy with race strategy. The 3:02 pacer ended up passing me mile 24, and finishing in 3:01:3x, nice job by him. In retrospect, I should have just stayed with that group! But I felt great, and probably didn’t anticipate the impact of the sun and heat on my late in the race. All of my aforementioned MP runs here were in cooler weather, so it’s definitely a factor to keep in mind.
- I really would like to try to do races with friends/family. Going to this race by myself, running it by myself – obviously I’m thrilled with the result, but I definitely missed the comradery of the other fulls I’ve done – all of which have been with other people.
- Race was impeccably run. Great job by M2B.
- I had a celebratory beer (2) at that bar. BOO-YAH!