Pacer for Ventura Surfer’s Point Marathon

 

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Ventura, California

We arrived at the coastline just before sunrise. We were in Ventura, California, right in between the Ventura Pier and Surfer’s Point Park. The town itself reminds me of a quieter version of Huntington Beach. The Downtown Area where we had ate/drank the night before looked like Main Street but without the partying.

We all made our way to the starting line and corral. It was a gorgeous sunrise. The Sky was all kinds of cool colors and the waves were sparkling. The Surfers and Paddle boarders were out living the beach life.

From a surfer’s perspective, they’re in front of a sunrise. From the shore, they’re a cool part of it.

Expectations

Today, I’m a volunteer on the Pacing Team. In a marathon, a Pacer is a runner who carries a projected finish time on a banner. The purpose is to provide runners with a sense of time as they go. For example, let’s say that you needed to run a 3 hour finish to qualify for the Boston Marathon. You could run with the Pacer who is carrying the 3 hour flag. If he passes you, you’ll know that you are going too slow.

I’m like a moving clock with a very specific trajectory.

The expectation that was given to me was that I have a 60 second margin for error. I can be 60 seconds early, but not one second late.

To help me, I have garmin and pace band with all the half mile times written on it.

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4:55 pacer
4:55 pacer

Surfer’s Point Marathon

As soon as I pass the starting line, I activate both my Garmin and my stopwatch.
We’re right on the beach trail as we head North up the coast and turn inland at the first half mile. At this point, it’s impossible for me to know our pace. I have nothing to measure it against yet.
Once my Garmin reads .5 miles, I compare it to my pace band and see that I am reasonably within pace.

Keep it up.

I let my group know that we are right on pace. When we crossed the first mile, I update them again. Example: “We’re on pace by within 10 seconds. We crossed 1 mile into the race at 11:05, the requirement for a 4:55 finish time is 11:15. The next update is 1.5 mile at approximately 17:02 minutes.”

I updated us at Mile 2 and was finding it easy to keep the pace. I explained my trajectory, my expectations, and my confidence in my abilities. Then, I introduced myself.

There were three of us in the group. Myself, a man named Camillo, and a woman we’ll call Alice.

Camillo was a Puerto Rican born native of Calabasas. His wife was the runner of the two, but she was only running the half. For a reason I probably forgot, she had made Camillo sign up for the full marathon. THIS WAS HIS FIRST EVER. In fact, he had only ever gone on two twenty mile runs. He signed up anyway thinking that another 6.2 miles couldn’t hurt too bad. I  agree and respected that.

Now Alice, she was just one extraordinary tough cookie. Currently in her 70’s, she has run 160 marathons since 1989. She’s completed a marathon on all 7 continents including Antartica. Her favorite was Paris, France. Due to health issues, this was her first run in a while. Her goal was to finish under 4:55 and qualify for her 3rd Boston Marathon. The more we learned about her, the more we were blown away.

I always kept my mind on our pace, and I updated them every half mile. We were generally always within 20 seconds or less of our trajectory time.

The course was straight forward, with the beach to the left, we ran 4.5 miles up the trail and then a highway. We hit a turnaround and turn back. Eventually we’ll pass the starting line and do an out and back loop which will take us to the half marathon finish line. Full Marathoners will complete a 2nd lap.

Put simply, run a big 8 twice.

We would stop at every aid station, and I would wait for them to be ready before we all took off. I also gave them options to walk the uphills as long as we made up for it.

For me, its really tricky business staring at my watch for what will be five hours when I m done. Also, because I m updating them every half mile, there’s a bit more pressure to be as accurate as possible.  I’m definitely glad that I wrote in the half mile times on my pace band. This let’s me adjust our pace before we get too off track.

On our way back to town, Alice informed us that she would be dropping from our group in a few miles. In fact, she would be dropping from the race. It was a bummer, but I knew she knew what she was doing.

Camillo and I passed the starting line area at about mile 8 and headed into the out and back loop. The loop was all uphill on one side. It beat him up a bit, but he stayed on our trajectory. I slowed us down so he could recover. We picked it back up on the downhill and got back on pace.

The guy was still in a good mood. He was having a great time joking and everything. He insisted that he wanted to finish the marathon with me and that we were runnning buddies from start to finish. There was a problem though. He had to go to the bathroom but he wasn’t sure if he could catch back up. He was going to run ahead and find a porta-potty. He asked that whenever I pass one, to yell his name so he could know to catch up. If he didn’t hear me yell, he would wait for me. I agreed.

I don’t think he runs as fast as he thinks he does though because I never lost sight of him. We passed the half marathon point and began our second loop. I was right on schedule.

Mile 13.1 to 26.2

It was hot now and I was tired of looking at my stupid watch. All this garmin stuff is not how I travel. uh oh, I gotta use the restroom too. I spotted Camillo at a porta-potty, I handed him the flag and said I’d catch up. When we met up again, I updated him on our trajectory.
He was starting to burn out. I could hear it in his breathing. On our way to the turnaround, I kept slowing us down so that he could recover. Then I would pick it back up and bring us up to pace.

On our way back to the town, he shouted and asked if I had seen Man On Fire with Denzel Washington!?!?!?
“Yea, which part?
“YOU’RE EITHER PREPARED OR NOT PREPARED, US, WE’RE PREPARED!!!!”
I didn’t know what scene he was talking about. But no one rains on my moments, so I won’t rain on his. Mile 18 was the invisible line he had crossed when his first marathon changed from something obscure to a realistic possibility.

He had wanted us to finish together, but a mile later, he could no longer keep up. Still, having already won the battle in his head, he would continue at his own pace.

I had slowed down nearly a minute and needed to get back on trajectory. I passed a few people, including a woman who would soon climb Mt Kilamanjaro.

Somewhere around mile 20, someone started yelling at me from behind.
“No! You’re not supposed to be in front of me, you’ll ruin my hopes of finishing under 5 hours.”
“Run with me then! You’ll finish on time!” I replied
So we ran together and I encouraged her as much as I could. There was something about her that was immediately familiar so I treated her like a friend. I kept her as close to my trajectory as possible as we got to know each other.

She was an Air Force Veteran from Oregon. She was running her first marathon in support of the Wounded Warrior Project.
As we passed the town and headed into the out and back loop, she told me that she had been planning on quitting before I came along. Not cutting her any slack, I said, “Geez… Get it together!” I think she appreciated my attitude.

We made it all the way to mile 23 together, but it was all uphill for another mile and I couldn’t slow down anymore. She asked that before we split up, I help her do the math for how fast she has to run the remainder of the race to be under 5 hours.

Now it was just me. I was behind schedule, it was an uphill mile, and my ribs hurt. Still, I knew I’d be fine. Mile 24 would be all downhill and I tried to get back on pace. I came across Alice. She was still in the race, exciting and asking how far Camillo was. I wasn’t sure.
At the coast, I passed a man with a metal prothestic leg.

I was nearing the end of the race and I needed to make my trajectory exact. I decided that I would finish 30 seconds ahead of schedule. This would buy me 30 seconds of leeway in either direction in case my chip time was off.

As I mentioned before, my expectation as a pacer is that I can finish only 60 seconds early and not one second late. For me, this means 4:54:00 to 4:55:00.

It was a bit harder than I thought it would be.

Shortly before the Finish Line, a few old ladies yelled out, “how far back is the soldier???”
“Uh what soldier?” (I had seen lots of Wounded Warrior Shirts)
“The one with the new metal leg!”

Finish Line

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The race was actually 26.3 instead of the traditional 26.2. According to my garmin, I crossed the Finish at 4:54:50. I was within 10 seconds of my target. The official chip times show me at 4:55:06, six seconds late. I’m unsure of why there could be a 16 second discrepancy.

I hung out for a bit and had 2 beers and 4 tacos. The Air Force girl finished slightly later than her goal. She was still teasing me for leaving her.

The crowd went nuts behind me, and I turned to see the Wounded Warrior with a metal leg crossing the finish line. The cheers went on for a good while. I suspect that I had caught a glimpse of a much bigger story.

People are awesome.

It was time for me to go. As I left the corral, I saw Camillo cross the finish line. He was a marathoner now.

Going Home

My girlfriend was waiting for me at the same spot on the beach where we stood earlier. I couldn’t help but laugh at all the limping runners. We looked like bambi on ice.

I fell asleep and woke up in Malibu at the Duck N’ Dive for a burger, more beers and then home.

Pacing Opportunities

I was added to the pacing team by Ultra-Athlete Vanessa Kline. I had run a few miles with her at the Kodiak 100 where she finished 2nd Place Women’s Overall.

You can follow her on Facebook.

https://www.facebook.com/vanessaklinelikeabeast

She’s always offering promo codes, discounts, and opportunities for pacers.

See you at the starting line.

 

 

A Small Glimpse Into North Orange County Bike Culture

We met up at the Honda Center at 6:45am. There were maybe 30 riders all ranging in different ages from teen to adult.

This casual ride was known as “That Morning OJ Ride,” it was hosted by Luis Suarez of OCBrakeless. OCBrakeless is North Orange County’s first and only community organizer for Fixed Gear cyclists. “Fixed Gear” refers to a bike with no gears and no brakes.

Hence, OCBrakeless.

Even at speeds sometimes reaching 30 mph+ on downhills, the pedals never stop moving on a fixed gear bike . Due to the lack of brakes, in order to stop, a rider must perform controlled skids. If not executed properly, the cyclist gets a ticket to a world of pain.

Now, of course we’re not all on fixed gears. I’m borrowing a bike that enjoys all the amenities of modern technology. I’ve got brakes, gears, and pedals that can idle. In other words, I’m on a regular bike.

Jarret from Fixed Gear Beer Crew greeted Alex and Mario Parra and I as we arrived. We made our way towards the group of riders and we all settled in.

In a friendly welcoming manner, Luis Suarez briefed us a bit on the ride and reminded everyone that the goal for today was to build community, ride together, and enjoy. If anyone wanted to impress him with their speed, they could sign up for one of his races and challenge him there.

And we’re off!

I’ve never ridden in a big group before; it’s an awesome feeling. I’m not sure of the streets we were on. I just know that we were doing a huge loop heading eastbound on Katella ave. As we were still on the first straightaway, I saw the front of the pack get farther and farther as I settled in comfortably near the back.

Too comfortable apparently. Those of us in the back hit a red light and were dropped from the group. By the time the light changed, the pack was gone. Our smaller group consisting of 5 or 6 riders headed Northbound and then Eastbound.

At this point, I identified myself as the weakest cyclist of the slowest group. Something had to be wrong. I realized that my seat was too low which was restricting my legs from extending properly. This was costing me lost energy and efficiency. A rookie mistake, but it was a borrowed bike. I didn’t have the allen wrench needed to adjust it either. I would have to tough it out.

As I got slower, Alex Parra let me catch up to him.

“Everthing ok? You alright?”

“I’m always alright,” I replied.

He laughed and shook his head, “I already know what they’re gonna say. How did you run 100 miles if you can’t even ride a bike?”

What a dickface, that Alex. But it brings up a point that I’ll add here.

Success in one area does not necessarily translate into automatic success elsewhere. It’s arrogant to assume that I would start out near the top. What does translate, however, is the confidence in my ability to progress.

I decided I would drop from the ride and return better prepared. Before I did, another rider gave me the allen wrench I needed.
Once I adjusted my seat, I felt great! We headed Southbound in search of the bigger group and came across a couple of cyclists who had also been left behind.

Together we headed westbound and then southbound. We all rode together fast and I stayed near two of the cyclists from the earlier group. They sped up a bit and another cyclist in a green jersey started shouting at them. “Pedal! Pedal! PEDAL!!!! LETS GO!!!!” And they started pedaling faster.

That’s nice of him, I thought. Then he turned, shot me an angry look, and yelled, “YOU TOO!!!!”

OH CRAP. Pedaling faster now. We rode fast and for some reason I was the only person struggling. Even though I wasn’t comfortable, I knew I had the stamina to deal with it.

The ride ended and we all hung out a bit. My group rode 12 miles in 45 minutes. An average pace of 16 mph.

Mental Note: The bike portion of an Ironman is 112 miles. 112/16 = 7 hours. +1 hour to make it more enjoyable = 8. These guys can average speeds over 20 mph. I think they could all do Ironmans. They just need to survive the swim and bike fast enough to have a good headstart for the run.

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Our Smaller Group BS’ing
Alex and Jarrett

We’re off to breakfast!

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Located at the Orange Circle

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Over dessert and coffee at Blue Frog, I asked Jarrett why he prefers to ride Fixed Gear. Months ago, he had told me that he considered it to be the purest form of the sport.

Today, he told me that he liked how much focus a rider must have. Moving through the streets at high speeds with no brakes, you have to remain alert to every detail….

there’s a car making a turn towards you….

there’s a pothole that will wipe you out….

you’re going 27 to 30 miles per hour on a downhill…

you have to make a controlled skid in order to stop.

I could be wrong in this assumption, but I know what he means. For some athletes, their sport is the closest thing that demands their full attention. It’s a feeling we all crave, a feeling of being completely in the moment.

Next Stop, a meet up with the Brewluminathletes.

The Brewluminathletes, founded by Alex Parra, is the athletic subgroup of the Brewluminati, a homebrew and craft beer club.

A fellow Brewlu, Bearded Chad, had offered to set up a basic bike maintenance clinic in North OC if someone else was willing to host. As he worked on everyone’s bikes and answered maintenance questions, I drank mystery homebrewed beer provided to me by our host, Jeff.

Mystery Homebrew Beer in a reusable bottle
Mystery Homebrew Beer in a reusable bottle

Then we were off for a little cruise. First stop, Bootleggers Tasting Room.

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Next, more beers and an incredible Brunch Burger at Hopscotch. It was a delicious end to a morning of Bike Riding.

Brunch Burger
Brunch Burger

I know I didn’t do a particularly impressive amount of biking today, but I feel like I got a pretty cool glimpse into the bike culture happening in my hometown. It’s a scene that I plan on returning to more in the future. I’ll keep you posted.

All three of these groups have links.

OCBrakeless is an open group, community, and race series. The ride that I attended is known as That Morning OJ ride. They’ll be hosting Saturday Morning weekly rides. All are encouraged to attend.

http://ocbrakeless.wordpress.com/

https://www.facebook.com/ocb714

The Fixed Gear Beer Crew, sponsored by Haven Gastropub, is on Facebook and Instagram. You can visit their website at www.fixedgearbeercrew.com .

Or, if you want to live a little, they host two pints tuesday every week. They’ll meet up at a starting point and ride to breweries, tasting rooms, and eateries.

The goal of the Fixed Gear Beer Crew is to provide community for cyclists who support local establishments. Ride Fixed. Drink Craft.

https://www.facebook.com/fgbcFixedGearCraftBeer

And of course, the Brewluminathletes. (Pronounced Brewluminathletes)

Join us on Facebook. As I mentioned, we’re the spinoff group of a hombrew club. We hike, we bike, we earn that beer.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/640018832726310/

Ride Safe,

Justin Flores