Our first destination marathon as a team.
It‘s 3:45 am when Valeria and I head out to the bus stop and follow a line of sleepy runners into a school bus. My first thought is “did I really need this jacket?”. When the bus leaves, I realize the 1-hour ride will be cold. We sit in silence, as the bus rides in the dark along Highway 1, trying to figure out where we are, the gut churned by a mix of anxiety and fear of the rolling ride.
We have planned well and still feel intimidated by the course.
We prepared a course strategy on the flight from New York while studying a mile-by-mile description: slow down uphill, put some miles in your pocket downhill, beware of the camber, and better run in the middle. "Camber, this must be another word for gravel" - I think.
We drove the route two days before, stopping to feel the air (the air is different we have been told) and look at the hills. The Hurricane point uphill looked worse than expected, from the car and we are fearing it.
We went to the course strategy panel on Saturday morning at the expo and the recommendations are similar: “do not be bothered by runners who sprint at the beginning you will see them walking in the last mile”, and “mile 22 is the toughest” (isn’t this always the case?), ”it might be windy, but the forecast is great” ("this is California" I think "we are used to tougher weather in New York"), “downhill slopes can be worse than uphill ones for your knees and quadriceps” (this is my biggest worry); “beware of the camber, run on the side”- "What is camber?" - asks Valeria. "I don’t know maybe it’s the gravel"- I answer.
Back to the race morning, some fellow runners chat loudly about other races, we barely speak and are not sure what to expect. "The worst that can happen is that we are picked by the bus" - I tell Valeria (the race has a time limit of 6 hours, and runners who do not make it are picked up by a bus). Off the bus, we land on a flat area in the forest where everyone is waiting for the corrals to open. It’s chilly! Our hearts cheer when we hear “Vale, Ami!”. It’s Xu, Irina, Arianna, and Lorenzo. We gather and keep warm with hot coffee and a space blanket. We have breakfast and hit the toilets, time goes by very fast, it’s time to wish luck and head for the corrals. I am on my own now, what will it be?
It's light now and the race starts in the forest. I am in corral C and the first mile is crowded! There’s no risk to run too fast! The air is crisp and smells of pine trees and eucalyptus, I forgot to download my podcasts (there is no phone reception) and all I can do is concentrate on the course. I feel well, my pace is in line with the one recommended on the pacing bracelet I got at the expo and decided not to wear, the other runners seem very relaxed, maybe my fears are exaggerated. Almost immediately I realize there is something wrong: the toughest thing is not the hills: the road is askew! How is it possible that among 100 warnings and advice nobody told us this? I think it may be temporary, but obviously, it’s not, and then I understand. This is the camber! It did not mean gravel, it means we have to cope with this for 26 more miles! Throughout the course I will try both strategies, running in the middle and running on the side and I cannot tell there is one better than the other.
What effect will this have on my knees, my ankles, will I cramp? Will it make my effort harder? Soon I stop worrying about the camber, I stop worrying that I have no podcast to keep me company, I stop worrying that downhill running can be tough, and I forget about all my fears. The scenery is wonderful, the landscape continuously changing, and the runners are so happy, all sharing this amazing tough race.
This race is full of surprises, the funny mile markers, the piano player at the Bixby Bridge, the DJs on the course, the drums players, the strawberries at mile 24, the amazing medal, and the post-race party!
When I regroup with Valeria, and the rest of the team later, everyone's happy. "It was not at all that hard" - Valeria says - "the landscape was so beautiful and no mile was the same, I had fun and forgot all worries". A meter apart Xu is already talking about the next destination marathon...