Surf City Half Marathon Race Weekend ReportPreface: Before I get started on my weekend/race recap, I had the pleasure of meeting someone in person that is one of the most encouraging, and inspiring people I have ever met. We had been twitter “friends” for quite some time, but finally we had the chance to meet in person on Saturday evening at the Operation Jack dinner. He writes the MOST hilarious race recaps, and after reading the first paragraph from his Surf City recap, I decided I was going to need to include it in mine-there is no way I could capture exactly what he said so simply and eloquently in my own words. Straight off of Ron’s blog….
“Before we get to what may, or may not be, the funny part of this post, I want to say that although running a marathon is a solo effort, these events have become more than just the run itself. I am extremely fortunate to have so many runners let me into their lives and to see them at these events just reaffirms my joy of running and my commitment to the sport (that’s me with some awesome runners above). I challenge anyone to find a more positive group of people on the planet. Actually if you do find a more positive group of people, let me know because I will drop this running crap in a heartbeat (sorry, that’s my legs talking).”
Well said Ron, well said. I could not agree more. I love to do half races for the challenge, the atmosphere and the amazing people you meet. I could run 13 miles at home on any given day…but the entire environment around a race is what I love, and why I do it.
I should have known from the start things were not going my way for the weekend before I ever left Atlanta. I arrived at the airport well over an hour ahead of my flight time, with only a carry on. Considering the Superbowl was this weekend, I am still baffled that out of 20 lines at Security, only 2 were open-both being the “special assistance lines”. So every stroller, wheelchair, or person needing help of any kind was ahead of us…and for some reason, they kept letting people cut to the front. After A FULL hour of waiting in line at the conveyor belt, I told the TSA person I went from having an hour and 15 minutes to less than 20 to get to my gate. I took it from the blank stare I got in reply that they weren’t going to do anything about it. So, finally its my turn to unload on the belt, get through security, and get dressed again on the other side. I know have 10 minutes to get to terminal B, which is 2 train stops away….I knew my chances were slim to none this was going to happen. I ran to my gate, only to see the boarding door shut. There were about 8-10 other people at the desk, telling the gate agent that we were all held up in the security line, so she directed us to where we had to go to get scheduled on another flight. The agent working the rescheduling spent a good 30 minutes flirting with the guy in front of me...we are talking straight up off a reality show. The two were asking for each others’ phone number, complimenting each others’ hair style, etc. It was so bad, and I was so mad at missing my flight that it was almost perfectly comical for the moment. The line of people all were getting restless, as we couldn’t help but think we were missing a different flight while we watched our own version of The Bachelor unfold in front of us. When I finally got to the front, she said they usually charge $50 for missed flights, but security did call and say there were extremely long lines and all fees needed be waived. She seemed confused when I only offered a curt “thanks”, as if she expected I buy her dinner (or have the guy in front of me that she was hitting on buy it) as a token of my appreciation. Um, I would have been appreciative if they had seen the ridiculous line at security, opened another line, and I made my flight. Yes, I was happy I didn’t have to pay another $50, but I would have rather not have had to wait another 2 and a half hours for the next flight to LAX. I knew there was no race day packet pick up, so I went into panic mode about how I was going to get my race bib and packet. The race expo closed at 5, and I didn’t arrive until 4, with an hour shuttle ride out to Huntington Beach. The race website said you needed picture ID and a handwritten note in order to have someone pick up your packet. So, I used my blackberry to take a picture of my ID, attached to an email stating what had happened, and sent it out to my two friends that were there, along with a bunch of people I knew were running the race. I figured someone would see it in time, and if they explained the situation at the pick up, the race directors would be willing to give them my packed. Penny (southbaygirl) was so sweet to offer to get it for me, but luckily Christine, a.k.a CB, (solorunner) was able to get it. Thank god for technology! Moving on…
The flight out was uneventful, as I worked on my laptop the entire time. I did have my usual arm rest stealer next to me, and he not only hogged the entire thing, but he was halfway in my lap. Eww.
I arrived at LAX and got in the super shuttle to head to my friend CB’s hotel. Jennifer (JT) and I were staying down in Santa Ana, and CB’s hotel was literally at the starting line, directly across from the expo. By the time I got to the hotel, the expo was closed. I know many people *hate* expo’s, but I happen to love them. So there we have disappointment #2 - no Surf City expo for me. We had already committed to go to our friend Sam’s fundraising dinner (operationjack) for his foundation, Operation Jack, which started at 5, which we were clearly going to be arriving 'fashionably late' for. I arrived at the hotel at 5:15, and used CB’s room to leave my stuff, change, and freshen up a bit. Sam is running 60 marathons in 2010 (and had already finished one that day, and would be doing another one the next day at Surf City) to raise awareness for Autism in honor of his son. He was hosting a pasta dinner Saturday night for people to come out and meet each other, gain new insight on his foundation, etc. We walked in about an hour late, but immediately found JT (who was meeting us there), and Ron (punkrockrunner). Me, Christine (CB), and her friend Erin (swimbiketrivegn) stood in the back until Sam and his wife were done speaking, and then went around and introduced ourselves to everyone. I was so happy to finally meet Ron and Glenn (gwjones00). Its so strange to develop friendships with other runners on twitter, to the point you know just about every detail of their daily ups and downs, yet you’ve never met them in person. SO finally, it was so nice to put a face with a (twitter) name for all these people!
After the dinner, JT took me back to get my stuff from the hotel and we left Christine and Erin to go find our Doubletree, which was an “official” race hotel. I am not sure where they read the rules on what makes a race hotel an “official” race hotel, but usually its because its close to the start or finish. This hotel was a SOLID 20 minute drive from the race start. We got there, and there was not a parking spot to be had. I called the hotel from the car to ask where we were supposed to park….only to find out it was about 4 blocks away. I found this very odd, so just to clarify, I asked, “So we park down the street and carry our luggage to your hotel?” His reply, (as if that’s standard) “yup”. Um, ok.
As soon as I made the reservations back in November, a lady from the hotel called and asked if we wanted to reserve the free shuttle to the race. I signed us up for 2 spots, but there were no times offered. She only asked if we were running the half or the full race, and I told her the half. When we checked in, the guy said "here are your two vouchers for a free breakfast, its strictly continental until 5:30, at which time we will then begin our hot breakfast. Oh, and you two are in luck-we have had 2 cancellations, so you are on the 5:30 shuttle.” JT and I looked at each other and said “why are we are on the 5:30 shuttle for a 8am race? And why are you giving us free vouchers for breakfast if we are supposed to be leaving on a shuttle at the same time?” The guy had no clue, and when it was clear that trying to use logic with him was getting us no where, we just took our key and got on the elevator. After realizing our room was on the main floor, and no elevator needed-by the way, nice for you to let us know where our room was, front desk guy…instead of watching us get on the elevator with everyone else, and then looking like total idiots when the others on the elevator ask what floor and then we finally figured out we were already on the floor we needed, so we turned around and sheepishly got off, you COULD have mentioned where our room was...just a thought. We got to our room and opened the window to the parking lot. We weren’t there for the “view”, but this hotel just kept getting better. It’s about 11pm now and JT and I are both realizing how unprepared we are. My Garmin isn’t set up, we haven’t really decided what either of us are wearing, and things are a bit up in the air. We were cracking each other up at the ridiculousness of it all, and having our own fun making fun of each other over twitter, when we were two feet from each other. Perhaps one of my favorite (among many) quotes of the night was when I see a full bottle of Wrinkle releaser and somehow it also ended up in a tweet…and our friend John (hellasound) replies “Um, is it really necessary to have wrinkle releaser for a race outfit?” To which JT replies, “Race outfits deserve to be wrinkle free, too!” Perhaps we were punchy at that point and everything was funny, but I think we laughed for a solid two hours before finally going to bed around midnight.
Our 4 am wakeup call came VERY early (even with the time change), and we got dressed and headed down to the continental breakfast. We both grabbed our food and were the last two on the shuttle bus. It worked out well because the shuttle dropped us off at CB’s hotel, so we were there by 6, and headed up to her room. We saw the sun come up over the ocean/race course, and just took pictures while CB and her roommates got ready.
We saw all the marathoners take off, and then decided to head down around 7:45. We met up with Brad (neuman) in the lobby, and then all headed out. Oh my…there were more people than I ever imagine (and what’s scary is the marathoners had already started).
The estimate was that there was about 20,000 people there, but I would have guessed many more. There was supposed to be wave starts depending on your time, but the start was one giant cluster. There was no separation between waves, no signage to let us know what wave time was where, it was just a sea of people. As soon as we walked up to the crowd, we ran into Penny (southbaygirl), who was easily recognizable in her blue tutu supporting the Colts. I was especially happy to see her to thank her in her efforts to get my bib for me the day before. Me, JT, CB, Erin, and Brad hopped the fence and just made our way through the crowd, trying to inch our way up to the start.
We had all talked before the race, and no one was going after any sort of PR here, we were all there just to have fun. I went for about a 2 mile “jog” (and I use that term loosely, as I was with my 4 lb dog that doesn’t exactly jog that fast) the Wednesday prior, but other than that had not put on my running shoes since the Chicago half on August 2. I figured I’d just have a good time, walk when I needed to, run when I wanted to, and just enjoy the experience.
The first wave started around 7:45. There was no rhyme or reason to the waves, as they would just blow a horn and about 500 people would go at a time. Then the cattle, I mean runners, would move up, 500 more, and so on. Around 8:10, we were finally at the front. We started off on our run, and after days of rain, it appeared it was going to be a beautiful day. JT was running a contest for her company who could tweet the best photos from the race. I have never carried my blackberry with me before, but since we were just doing this for fun, I brought it so I could take pictures. It was actually a lot of fun to take pics during the race, reply to facebook posts, etc. I JUST had a conversation with my sister about running with my ipod, and how I HAVE to run with music, because it allows me to concentrate on something else, and takes my focus off of being tired, and I don’t have to listen to myself panting when I get out of breath. I turned my ipod on as soon as we crossed the start, and music was only was coming out of one ear bud, and the music that was playing was cutting in an out, at best. It proceeded to get worse, and by the beginning of the second mile, I had to turn it off because it was driving me nuts. Put another point in the “things not going my way” category for the day. What was interesting was I didn’t want the headphones around my neck, so I kept them in my ears-so the people around me obviously thought I was listening to music and couldn’t hear them. Everyone I passed made a comment about my shoes. “Why is that girl running in ballerina slippers?”,one lady asked her friend…imagine her surprise when I turned around and said “they aren’t ballerina slippers, they are barefoot running shoes”. Then the usual “What does she have on her feet?” and “look at the girls shoes???” pretty much the entire way. Some comments made me laugh (especially thinking to myself, ‘If they only knew I could hear them’, others just made me roll my eyes…). So I continued on, with no music, which I have never done before and wasn’t too happy about. It ended up being a good thing, because when running in Vibrams, form is critical. Without my music on, I put all my concentration in each step, and focused on each landing and foot strike, to make sure I wasn’t heel striking. It had been so long since I ran in them I was worried I’d get sloppy in my form, but putting all my concentration into my stride helped in so many ways-it gave me something to focus on, and allowed me to make sure I was running in them correctly.
About 2 miles in we saw Lori (LJ3000) who was so sweet to drive down with her 4 year old and hold the signs she had made for all of us. We pulled off the course and talked to her for a bit, and each had our picture taken with her and her signs. That’s where we ran into Candice (cowhateration), who also stopped to say hi to Lisa with us. Shortly after that Glenn (gwjones00) ran up next to us, which was fun.
Then we started up again, and around mile 4 CB had to stop at the port-o-potty. The lines were super long, so JT and I said we would keep going, but do a slow jog/fast walk so CB could catch back up to us. We were going super slow and JT goes “race photographer, up ahead, on right” so we picked it back up and ran like our lives depended on it (what we wont do for a good race photo, huh?), then we slowed back down so that CB could catch up. She called me when she got through the lines and was back on the course and I told her I would run on the right side of the course, along the white line on the asphalt. In a pink running skirt, and vibram shoes, I thought I’d be easy to spot. Through phone calls and texts, we tried for several miles to link back up but never seemed to find each other again. I was still with JT, and we found Brad for awhile, but eventually lost track of him as well. In most races I have run in the past, the crowd thins out after a couple of miles…not this one. It was thick for the entire race, which made it especially hard to see and find people.
**Interesting note. Since I told CB I would stay on the right side, I only drank water up to this point, because most of the hydration stations had water on the right and Vitalyte on the left-and I didn’t want to go to the left side of the course if CB was trying to look for me. So I drank water each stop, and then kept going. I felt surprisingly good, considering the lack of training, and felt like I was in a really good pace. With the exceptions of stopping to try and find each other, or tweet pictures out, I never felt like I needed to stop and walk, or was out of breath at all. I was just in a consistent pace, and felt like I was going the same speed as every other race, where I have finished just under the 2 hour mark. JT looked like she was feeling great, and I remember saying “JT, this is the pace I run to sub a 2 hour race. You can totally go under 2 hours if you keep this up. Do you think you are going to run out of steam at the end or something?” (I asked because I knew her goal was to run a sub 2 hour half in 2010, and she was doing awesome…so I wasn’t sure how her goal time had been elusive to her up until this point). It was as if something clicked in her after I said that and she knew she could finish under 2 hours, too. She had a look like she instantly believed in herself and her ability to hit her goal time. From that point in the race on, it was a much different JT I was running with. Unfortunately though, we were approaching mile 5 and had already stopped and chatted to people, taken pictures, and messed around enough that this race wasn’t going to be the one she did it in-but it was clear to me she could do it.
Around mile 6, we got separated, and I just ran on my own. CB and I had talked on the phone several times and finally we both decided just to give up looking for each other and just see each other at the finish. I had been holding back a bit, hoping we all could catch up to each other again, but after we decided to just meet at the finish I just wanted to get off the right side and out of the crowd. I ducked and weaved through the mass of people, and started to end up more and more on the left side. At the next hydration station I ended up on the side with Vitalyte, the electrolyte drink on the course. I drank 2 cups, and went on my way. This course had the most hydration stations I have ever seen, almost one at every mile. As I ran to avoid the crowd, I almost always ended up on the Vitalyte side from that point on. I was running on my own, but felt great. I knew the first half was a bust time-wise (but the most fun first half of a half marathon EVER!), so I reset my Garmin around mile 7 to see what my back half 10K would be, just out of curiosity. I still felt great, had not had to stop and walk yet, and was just in a groove. Around mile 10, things started to change. My eyes started to water profusely and feel very heavy. I could feel my left eye swelling up to the point the skin felt like it was wrapping around the nose of my sunglasses. Then I looked down and saw my skin swelling up and over my Garmin on my left arm and my Road ID on my right arm. My fingers were so swollen I couldn’t bend them at all, and my throat starting to feel very sore. I have always had bad allergies, so I just figured it was a perfect storm of a salty dinner the night before causing the swelling, my eyes swelling and watering from the California allergies (I had been out to Palm Springs and Napa a couple months ago and on both trips my eyes hurt the entire time), my throat hurting because I had been sick a couple weeks ago and it was coming back due to lack of sleep, I was losing feeling in my hands due to holding my blackberry (not sure the rationale, but it made sense at the time), and in my feet because the roads were wet and I was in Vibrams-so I figured my feet must just have been cold (makes no sense now, but again, did at the time). My throat was rapidly getting worse. Just after mile 11, I knew things were getting bad, fast, when I was starting to not be able to breathe, and I knew it was crucial I needed to finish quickly. I had not changed my pace at all, so it didn’t make sense to me why my breathing would change so rapidly when I hadn’t changed my speed at all. I stopped for the first time and continued to walk, with my hands over my head-a technique I had learned growing up playing sports in order to get air to your lungs the quickest way possible. It didn’t help at all, and I began to feel like I was hyperventilating. I have NEVER walked at all the last 3 miles of a race, so I started back up and tried to run in. Within minutes, I felt like I wasn’t getting any air at all again, so again, I stopped and put my arms over my head. I kept telling myself I was almost done, and I just needed to get to the finish, so I started running once more. I think in the last 3 miles I stopped at least 10 separate times trying to get some air. I saw Lori and her daughter up in the distance, and tried to get a cute picture of them both putting their hands out for high fives as I went by, but I knew I couldn’t stop. I felt terrible when I missed Lori’s daughters’ hand, and I could hear her get upset that she didn’t get to give me a high five. I struggled with going back to give her a high five since she was so sweet to come watch for several hours with her mom, but I knew I had to get to the med tent, so I kept going (not cool after all Lori’s effort to be there and cheer us on, I know).
As soon as I crossed the finish line I started chugging water. When I finished one bottle, I heard a girl say to me, “you are only allowed one bottle of water”. I gave her a look that I was going to drink a second bottle, and I’d like to see her try and stop me…and she just walked away, quietly. Shortly after I found JT, we found Glenn (who PR’d-WAY TO GO GLENN!), and we chatted for a minute, while recapping the race.
I wasn’t participating much in the conversation, as I found myself looking at all the welts that covered my body, and trying to keep the horrible itching under control. I texted CB and told her to meet us at the beer tent, and that I was having an allergic reaction, but we'd be there soon. I told JT that I needed to go to the medical tent and get some benedryl, but I’d meet her back at the beer garden after I was done. Almost instantly (about 5-10 minutes have now passed since the finish) I couldn’t swallow.
I told JT I had to go NOW, and at the exact same time, I lost my vision. I could make out the outline of people, but no details in their face, or clothes, etc. JT grabbed my hand and we ran to the med tent, and I remember walking into the tent and hearing someone yell “respiratory”. I remember getting led to a chair to sit in, and being surrounded by doctors, nurses, and staff. The Dr ripped open an epi pen and jabbed it OVER HANDED into my hip…I screamed and in a not-so-friendly tone said, “did you HAVE to do it that way? That just hurt worse than anything!” His reply, “we need to get this medicine in you as soon as possible, as your air way is closing fast, and this is life threatening.” At that point I know I didn’t say much for the rest of the time I was in there. I couldn’t say much even if I wanted to, because my throat had closed up to the point that it was painful to try and talk. I just kept thinking “how did this happen?” and “Am I about to die?” The nurse forced 3 Benedryl pills down my throat, and then they started IV’s, and they put on an oxygen mask. My oxygen was very low, as was my blood pressure and heart beat. The doctor kept listening to my lungs and telling me to take a deep breath, which I thought I was doing. After several tries, he finally said “she isn’t getting any air into her lungs. Call 911.” **** As an aside, I am sure most of us have gotten the email about including a contact in your phone under the “ICE” name (In Case of Emergency). When I got the email, I put an ICE contact into my phone, with my mom and dads phone numbers in it. I never thought I’d need it, but figured it wouldn’t do any harm to add them. When I was still in the med tent, one nurse said to the other nurse “we need her parents phone numbers-someone needs to call her mom and dad”. I couldn’t speak at all, and couldn’t see to point at my Road ID, so she second nurse replied “look in her phone and see if she has an ICE contact and write those numbers down.” I am still surprised I added that to my phone, as I usually delete most forwards, but for whatever reason, I read it, and added the numbers to my blackberry-and on Sunday, I needed them.
I am not sure how much time had passed, but when the EMT’s arrive with the stretcher for the ambulance, I got loaded up and headed out of the medical tent. I heard the announcer say over the loud speaker “We have a racer that needs to get to the hospital ASAP. Please make room for the paramedics to get to the ambulance.” The way the layout was set up, the medical tent was about 15 to 25 yards past the finish line on the right side of the gates. The ambulance had pulled up on the left side of the gates, closest to the street. So, I had to go across the sea of people finishing, cheering, and all the spectators, with a very swollen face and an oxygen mask. I remember so many people staring at me and being so embarrassed about the announcement over the PA, that I put my sunglasses on OVER the oxygen mask, as if that was going to make me invisible. So ridiculous.
A few of the nurses from the medical tent came with me in the ambulance, and the EMT’s were super nice. One guy was on the phone with the ER doctor at hospital and he kept reading off my vital signs and what IV’s he had started, and the Dr kept replying “double it. Her vitals are too low.” I think it was that point when I really began to wonder how all this could happen. It was all so surreal, and confusing to me. I was fine not too long ago, and now I am in the back of an ambulance, with the sirens on, IV"s in my arm, not knowing if I am going to be another statistic about "a perfectly healthy runner who died at a race." that we have all seen at one time or another. I left my phone back at the medical tent, so I had no way of contacting anyone. I wish I had taken a picture (or had someone take a picture) of what I looked like in the med tent or the ambulance, because CB and Erin said they walked in, looked around and walked out, thinking I wasn’t in there. In fact, I was in there, but my face had swollen up so much they didn’t recognize me. When I got to the ER, the medical assistant wanted to cut off my clothes. I was confused and out of it, but not so much so I said “absolutely not. These running clothes aren’t cheap!” The nurse told him they could get to where they needed to get to with my tank top on, so they allowed me to not have to change into a gown. The Dr started more IV’s and gave me a warm blanket because I was shivering, and then they just left me alone. I always have had a weak stomach and about 10 minutes after the IV’s I knew I was going to be sick. I couldn’t yell to get anyones attention, so I hit the metal on my bed a couple times, and after no response I had no choice but to fold the blanket they gave me into a make-shift bowl, and get sick into it. When the nurse came back (about a half hour later) she gave me a look like “What the?” and I gave her a look back like “I tried to let you know, but…sorry”. The girl behind the curtain next to me was also running the race, and had collapsed at mile 12. She didn’t remember anything, and was freaking out because she thought she had died and being at the hospital was a dream. I had to listen to her call her parents and her husband, which was really tough because she was crying so hard and felt so bad for putting them through such a terrible scare. Several of her friends arrived and I heard her tell them she obviously didn’t finish the race and doesn’t remember anything past running and seeing mile marker 11. She didn't know how she got to the medical tent, in the ambulance, or anything. She just woke up in the ER.
I have no idea how much time passed, but all of a sudden I saw JT and CB standing at the foot of my bed. They had met a nice runner and asked if he could drop them off at the hospital on his way home. As we were sitting there talking (and the girl is still behind the curtain next to me), I told them about how embarrassing it was to go across the sea of people with an oxygen mask on a stretcher, with everyone staring at me. JT says “Dude, its not like you didn’t finish the race! Now THAT would have been embarrassing.” I motioned for her to be quiet and then told her the story of the girl next to me (that easily could hear us) who DNF’d (Did not finish) because she collapsed on mile 11. Ha, at least there was a little humor involved..
The Dr allowed me to be discharged after I had completely regained my vision, could breathe on my own, and according to him, “my face had gone back down to normal”. I had JT and CB take a picture so that I could send it to my parents, assuming that I looked “normal” again. I don’t think I really looked at the picture, and it was hard to see the details on my tiny blackberry screen. But once I got it up on a computer, the image was ANYTHING but “normal”. If that’s what they thought I looked like all the time…not good. JT and Christine called a cab from the hospital, and when it got there I still hadn’t received my discharge papers. So she cabbed it back to our high class hotel, packed up all our things (I had stuff everywhere, and the girl got every last bit of it), and came back to the hospital to get me and Christine. She dropped us off at Christines hotel, and where we hung out for most of the rest of the day and just rested. We ended up going out to eat that night at our hotel, and then I got in the shuttle to head to LAX. Random aside…just to add to the complete randomness of the weekend, we met about 5-6 gentleman at the hotel restaurant. When we got up to leave, one of the men walked to the elevator with us, and asked us all (me, CB, and Erin) for our numbers or email "for future races". I think it was Christine that suggested he give us his instead, and he did, and she politely wrote it down. He asked all of our names one more time, and we all shook hands and said goodbye. I did not give him my phone number or my email address, or even spell my last name for him…and today I got an email from him, telling me about his new job, his trip home, and asking who I knew in Des Moines, (where he was from), when I had already told him their names that night. Bizarre.
Around midnight, I got on the red eye, and finally headed home. I was gone less than 48 hours, and it was easily one of the longest weekends of my life. Yet, with the huge exception of the missed flight, missed expo, and the anaphylaxic shock, it was also one of the most fun race weekends ever. It just goes to show, the people you surround yourself with can make all the difference in the world.
A few lessons learned this weekend:
- Always have an ICE contact in your phone
- A race is the last place I thought I would need my ROAD ID. It came in handy more than once.
- It’s amazing how close you can be to people you’ve never met in person before (even when you text or chat almost every day). I could never thank Christine or Jennifer enough for everything they did for me this weekend.
- The running community is unlike any other – the support and concern I got after word got out on twitter what had happened was overwhelming…all from people that only know me as “burbsonthego”, and never met me in person. To them, and everyone else I had the pleasure of meeting this weekend, I cannot thank you enough!