Monday, February 4, 2008

A week ago I checked out the extended forecast to see what kind of weather we'd be having for the 2008 Surf City Marathon. The graphic was a line of ten little suns with a rain cloud square in the middle: yesterday. I dismissed it. Since when are the weathermen right about a single day of rain, six days off? Since they heard I was planning on running a marathon, evidently.

It rained. Rain and rain. And wind. And it wasn't one of those pleasant tropical downpours like we had at the Honolulu marathon two months ago. Oh no. Those rains you can stand in your shirts and shorts, ambient temps at around 75, and laugh about it. This cruel rain, after dragging across the northern Pacific for thousands of miles, was a cold, windblown joust between the shoulder blades in the dead of winter. Temps were in the high 40s, which is stated with an optimistic tone -not taking into account the seashore windchill and the fact that you are soaked to the bone.

I spent a good portion of the race leaning sideways into the wind under a trashbag, and then, upon turning around, took the body-blow to the other side. Then, again. There was a lot of Rinse and Repeat in this one, but then there seems to be a lot of that lately. Unfortunately, dial settings were for COLD.

My back and shoulders have never had such a good workout from a run. I ran with my elbows jammed into my ribs, tensing up with every chilly windblast. It rained for most of it, let up around mile 18, and then poured down again upon finishing, but it was the wind that was the real mood-killer. It's hard to run in the wind. It throws off your gait, causing you to lean this way or that, messing with your muscles after a few hours of running. I saw more than one person fall, and if you did you were doomed to save yourself, as everyone alongside was suffering too much to help you stand. At one point, I looked up to see a pigeon about ten feet in the air, flapping wildly into the wind. It was just hovering there, aimed perpendicular to me, and I ran right under it. I will not soon forget that, the image of which defined the event and acts as a pointed metaphor. (Stupid pigeons!)

It was the 1st Annual Surf City Marathon, though they've been holding it for 11 years or so under the name "Pacific Shoreline Marathon". We can thank the Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce marketing department for that, I suppose. The web site evokes all the luxuries of a SoCal paradise, with its picturesque beaches, Baywatch lifeguards and bikinis, and endless summer sunsets, but -surprise- we have winter here, too, folks. (You'll notice they didn't rush to get the photos posted on the web page.)

Overall, it was a well-run event with a great Expo, a couple of surf guitar bands, and an all-you-can-drink beer garden ("please limit yourself to two beverages" as we stood there in the rain, huddled under an umbrella.) The shirts are nicely designed and lack the ugly sponsor logos that typically graffiti the standard race-day garb, but it's really about the Half-Marathon, which attracts something like 10,000 runners. The 1700 full-marathoners are shuffled off to the side, with an out-and-back, out-and-back, out-and-back course that drives you to tears and encourages cheating. I had a surprisingly good time for me (4:05:15) which is a PR for rain-drenched marathons -my third (and a new category, as far as I'm concerned.) Am I glad I did it? Yes. Will I run this one again? No. I'm not a fan of the course. Though it goes along the beach and through a nice park, the sideways wind blowing off the ocean in winter is fairly common and never fun. I know because I lived (and ran) in Huntington Beach in 2002/03. I did the Pacific Shoreline Half in '02. It was windy and miserable that year as well. The doctor running alongside me had bloody nipples.

But hey, yesterday's race makes ten marathons in ten years! I'm very proud of myself. Here's to the next ten, and the ten after that, and the ten after that. I will live to be a hundred. And still running.

P.S. Even though she's been staving off further injury, Mrs. Ditchman ran the Half Marathon just for fits and giggles. What a woman.