MOUNTAINS2BEACH MARATHON, VENTURA, USA,
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
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.