MOUNTAINS2BEACH MARATHON, VENTURA, USA, 260519


My mate Gavin who is Canadian but has been to Los Angeles a lot for his film business, tells me 'Everybody drives everywhere in California and Ventura is a long way from LAX (LA Airport) – you're going to have to hire a car'.


I know I'm not going to hire a car. I do some research and there's a train from LA Central Station to Ventura. I'm a bit guilty about the environmental impact of a transatlantic flight for a race but I justify it pathetically but telling myself I've only flown across the Atlantic three times in my life.


The flight is great. I watch all the American Football pitches pass by as we descend over LA, from the stadiums to the multitude of college and high school ones. I need to get the airport bus to Central Station and immediately the USA corporate helpfulness kicks into gear. There is an airport official at the exit and she tells me exactly where to go to catch the bus. At the station this is repeated, the guy at the ticket counter knows exactly which train to get, what track it goes from (it's a huge station) and the best return ticket to buy. It's all delivered in a super sunny tone, I know it's all instilled and probably insisted upon by the train company but I love it.


The train arrives in the centre of Ventura. I've got a couple of miles to walk to my hotel on the outskirts but it's a nice traffic free route along the seafront. I'm staying at the Ventura Beach Marriott.
The next day is a short shake out run and registration. We have to get up very early to meet the bus to the start so I book a taxi to the pickup point and go to bed super early. Really I just stay in UK time so it's not hard to do.


The morning of the race we are picked up by a succession of bright yellow school buses. The start is up in the mountains at Ojah, the first twenty miles is largely downhill and the final six are going to be flat and undulating through Ventura to, well, the beach.


I'm sitting on the floor of the Ojah Post Office, it's not open for postal business this early but they've unlocked the doors to help the runners out. I probably haven't eaten enough either yesterday or this morning but I am so scared after Seville. We are called to the start and in true USA style the national anthem is sung live by a young woman with a decent voice. Everyone is super pumped by it with their hands on their hearts, I can't help but become an American patriot for a while.


I've found the 3.30 pace group and we are off. Downhill profile – the first three miles are uphill to the turnaround and we run them at 7.50 pace – this seems unwise but I am fit and concentrated. After the turnaround it is the three miles back down to Ojah and despite the easier profile we pull back to 8.28 pace. It's going to be mainly downhill for a long time with the occasional upward undulation. The pacers are fun and I tell them I've come over from London. I tell them I'm running away from Brexit which makes everybody laugh.


We switch from a road to the Ventura River bike path. I's easy running and halfway arrives in 1.46.42 which is just where I want to be. We are now on Santa Ana boulevard. I's a beautiful route through the mountains and alongside the river. I'm slowing a bit now but nineteen miles comes in 2.37.57 which is still well on pace. I overhear a conversation with a runner who did the event the previous year. She says the last 10K are unbelievably tough with all the little uphill sections amplifying themselves at the sharp end of the race. Sure I prove her right by starting to fall apart. Maybe those first three fast uphill miles were a really bad idea after all. I struggle on as best as I can, at twenty three and a half miles I'm at 3.20.54 so I've only got to run just over two and a half miles in 29 minutes to get under the Boston qualifying time. It sounds easy but in my current state it's not. I'm worried because I know 3.50 isn't likely to be enough, I'm going to have to dip well under to be confident of getting in. Anyway it doesn't matter, my legs have gone, my motivation is deserting me and I'm so destroyed I'm just run/walking it in. Twenty five miles – 3.37.39. All I've got to do is run along the seafront path. I can't. Another runner passes me near the end – 'come on nearly there, run' she says. I can't. American patriotism kicks in we pass under the long wooden pier and there are flags lining both sides of the course all the way in. Even completely exhausted and knowing I've blown it I can still raise a decent finish but it's way too late. 3.52.19. It's hugely disappointing but I've learnt over many years of mixed success and failure to take what I get on the day.


I already have a last minute backup race provisionally booked – The Revel Big Cottonwood in Utah, right up at the end the Boston registration period. The next morning I change it to the August 17th Revel Chilliwack in Canada. It's not such a steep downhill as Big Cottonwood and it doesn't have the extreme altitude I've been worrying about. I walk back from the hotel to the centre of town again. The beach is packed – I'm surprised as I assumed all Americans work very hard and take few days off. I find an early evening restaurant, it is big but also nearly packed. 'Is it always this busy on a Monday?' I ask him – 'well it is Memorial Day'. Of course – the Boston Marathon is today but I'm not really in the mood to have followed it having just failed to qualify for next year. I quickly research Memorial Day on my phone before he comes back so we can have a quick conversation about it. It's a federal holiday for honoring and mourning the military personnel who have died while serving in their armed forces. A lot of people will have visited cemeteries and placed flags on the graves.


Anyway it's a wonderful meal and the day after I head back to LA. It's an iconic silver double decker train, just like what I associate with the romantic side of American travel.