What real speed feels like: The 2012 Santa Monica Christmas Run

Yes I know this race happened in December 2012. I’m really slow at this whole blogging thing. I blame engineering school. Totally not my fault.

Disclaimer: So there are actually no pictures of me participating in this race, because I went to the race alone and am apparently really good at dodging race photographers. I promise I did actually run it though! Believe me! Please? Would a picture of me sporting the race shirt help?

All better!

All better!

Yet again, I completed what is turning into my pre-10k tradition of staying up way too late the night before a race. This tradition began the night before my first dress-up 10k that I ran dressed as a penguin. Apparently I run much better when my brain is too exhausted to actually care what my legs are up to. Plus I’m always really excited the night before a race so there’s that. Finally after indulging on quite a bit of Trader Joe’s mint chip ice cream I was off to bed.

Let’s be real here. You can never have enough Trader Joe’s mint chip ice cream. Don’t even get me started on Graeter’s. No shame.

That morning I finally arrived in the grey misty parking lot at Ocean View Park. I guess I should have gotten the memo from the name of the race that participants were encouraged to wear Christmas-related attire, since everyone was all dressed up for Christmas and I was not. Of course, the one time a penguin costume would have actually been appropriate and I show up in shorts and a t-shirt. Maybe next time. There were a whole bunch of booths off to the side of the starting line with food, shakes and smoothies. I figured I’d indulge after the race and headed over towards the starting line.

After several announcements and some unusually good singing by tiny adorable children, everyone began lining up for the 10k. I made small talk with those around me to figure out who was expecting what pace and figured my place to start was about 1/3 of the way behind the leaders since I was expecting a 7:30ish pace. I stretched out a bit, checked to be sure my Nike+ app was ready to go, and looked around waiting for the race to start. I always find the starting lines of races to be funny because that’s when you see the wide variety there is in the running community. There I was, a 20 year-old female expecting the same pace as this 40 year-old guy on my right and these two 16 year-old girls in tu-tus on my left. And nobody questions it. Or the tu-tus. I love running.

3…

2…

1…

And we were off!

I ran with my headphones in but music turned down low so I could hear those around me but have something else to concentrate on. I felt like I started out a bit slow but everyone was gradually picking up the pace after the first mile so I decided to just stick with the group.

The race course was pretty flat being along the beach, so I figured it would be a fast race. We started just north of Ocean View Park, ran south into Venice, had two out-and-backs through south Venice, and returned along the beach past “muscle beach” (aptly named because there is a free-weight gym ON THE BEACH. I almost expected to see Aaaahnuld the Govn-a there).

Enjoy my sophisticated mapping skills. And Arnold's muscles.

Enjoy my sophisticated mapping skills. And Arnold’s muscles.

Considering the extreme amount of pain my abs were in I thought I was keeping a pretty awesome pace. Then upon entering the first out-and-back I saw the guy in first place finish the second out-and-back. Because, you know, actual professional runners run fast. (I later found he had an average pace of 4:49 which in my mind is unreal.)

Through both out-and-backs I kept up with the group I had been sticking with, but I started feeling nauseous after the second one. I was not quite sure how fast I was going because I had been unconsciously following the guy in front of me and not paying attention. I took a sip of water, half expecting it to come back up, and continued on.

Finally we ran back down Venice Blvd, and entered the home stretch. We ran along the beach which was so relaxing. There’s nothing quite like running by the ocean in the crisp early-morning breeze. I looked down the Venice boardwalk and could just make out the grouping of people and balloons that made up the finish line off in the distance. I felt sick and was in pain but did my best to ignore that and pushed on.

Within the last 200 meters there was quite a crowd which was fun to run into. I looked up and could make out the race clock, but couldn’t believe what I saw. Could it really say 44-something? The fastest 10k I had ever run was also at Venice beach, but was two minutes slower at 46:01. I forgot all the pain and misery I was in.

I got excited.

I looked at 40 year-old dude next to me, and we both smiled.

We both suddenly all-out sprinted, racing for the finish.

Well, sprinting was a bad choice, buuuuut you get the idea.

I stopped immediately after the finish and doubled over. This was the first (and so far only) time in a race where I actually thought I was going to barf at the finish. A race volunteer saw me and helped me over to a curb and then cut the timing chip off my shoe. A few minutes later I felt good enough for some Gatorade and a post-race banana. I saw tu-tu girls cross the finish (we must have lost them) and 40-year old dude came over to congratulate me on a good race. I ended up beating him by a hair. We thought we had both just made new 10k PRs. I had no idea how fast I went, but in those last 200 meters I felt like I had been flying.

As it turns out, I got 3rd in my division with a time of 45:07 which is a 7:16 mile pace – my fastest 10k ever!! Also considering the speed of many of the competitors, getting 3rd in my division (and missing 2nd by 3 seconds) felt like a great accomplishment. With that under my belt I was ready to give up racing for a few months and train for my first marathon.

Of course, here is my Nike + tracking of the run. Since in my nauseous state I forgot to turn off my iPod at the finish, there are two entries: one at 7:30 AM with the correct time and pace, and another at 7:31 AM with the actual run data. Enjoy!

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