Avenue of the Giants Marathon – BQ (finally)!

I am still in total disbelief. After a few years of trying, and many failures along the way, I finally did it. I just qualified for Boston! And I think I did it with enough time to spare that I’ll actually get in the race. I ran a 3:18:48 and the qualification standard is 3:25:00.

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Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt Redwoods State Park

At long last, race weekend came and it was time to pack up the car to make the drive north to Humboldt Redwoods State Park, about 5 hours north of Pleasanton. This park is home to one of the largest groves of redwood trees in the world, and its beauty just can’t be summarized in a blog post.

pre-trip-Mosely
Mosely wants to go, too

After a brief stop at packet pickup, we made our way to Eureka, where we’d be staying for the night. My wife and boys came with me to this race, and I can’t even describe how much calmer I am when I have them nearby. Once we got settled at the hotel, I put my feet up to relax, while they went out to explore Eureka and the Humboldt Bay, right on the Pacific.

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Sam and Matthew with the Pacific crashing into the rocks
night-before-dinner
Yes, my wife makes my pre-race meals for me!

Soon enough, Sunday morning came and it was time to head to the race. The race is relatively small, but it also includes a half marathon and a 10K, so the total number of runners is decent (about 2400 total, 519 marathoners).

race-morning
The traditional pre-race photo with my boys

At first, I was worried about having the mix of runners all starting at once, but it ended up being a non-issue because of the course setup. Imagine a big V. At the gun, the marathoners ran off and went up the right side of the V, while the 10K and half marathoners went up the left side. No crowding at all!

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Cheesiness in the corral, because … rock and roll

Once the gun went off, I tried to settle into a nice pace and just enjoy the surroundings. Running amongst the tallest trees on earth was just amazing. In fact, I had to remind myself to focus a bit and not let my mind wander and find myself running 10:00 splits! And, the trees provided shade for nearly the entire race which made the temperature just about perfect.

Here’s the big “however.” Something I didn’t count on was how the enormous trees also blocked GPS signals for my watch. I admit it, I am pretty dependent on technology to help me keep on pace, and I had certainly used it throughout my entire training cycle. About 3 miles into the race I knew I couldn’t count on my watch, other than the elapsed time. GPS signal would come and go and would report wildly erratic paces. After a bit of panic, I just decided I’d have no choice but to trust my training and run by feel. All of those long tempo runs in the Hansons’ plans were about to prove themselves. As I’d pass certain mile markers, I’d do the time math in my head to see how I was doing, so that helped a bit.

About 12 miles in, for some reason, I hit a real low spot both mentally and physically. I felt like I was working too hard, and I began to doubt myself. As I was having a little pity party, I started to hear some crowd noises marking the half-way point (the point of the V) and I knew I’d see my family there. Sure enough, I saw Matthew first as he handed me a restock of Gu, and then saw Michelle and Sam too. Perfect timing. Matthew even yelled that I was right on pace which was a huge lift. More Gu, high fives, family cheers and that low point just slipped into my rearview mirror and I started feeling strong again!

halfway-point
Getting a re-charge from Matthew at the halfway point

When we entered the left side of the V for the second half of the race, we rejoined the half-marathoners and 10K runners, and that helped me a ton. While I love crowd support as much as the next guy, there’s something even more uplifting about hearing “looking strong” from another runner out there with you. And I have to say, I’ve never been a race with more supportive athletes than this one. Lots of high fives and “Go marathoner” from others on the course. At the last turnaround (~mile 20), I took stock, checked my watch and knew I had more left in me, so I ticked up the pace just a bit. Three things helped keep strong through that final stretch.

  1. A group of three or four of us, running the same pace, seemed to find one another. We encouraged each other through the rough spots that inevitably accompany the final 10K of a marathon. I specifically remember places where I started to lag off pace but was able to climb back on the train because of them.
  2. Runners still on the “out” part of the out and back were cheering for us. Since marathoners had different colored bibs, it was easy to spot which race a person was running. The group of us running together must have heard “looking great marathoners” about 10 times in those last 6 miles.
  3. As I crested the final bridge (and little hill) of the race, I saw my family again and simply rode that energy to the end. I have no idea if I was actually moving any quicker, but I felt like they launched me through the last 800m or so.
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Final bridge

When I finally saw the clock above the finish line and it read something like 3:19 (gun time), I knew I had done it. I had finally put together a great race and qualified for Boston. My boys had gone running after me when I passed, so I got to see them soon after I had crossed the line, gave them a big embrace and just cried.

post-race
Post race, in total disbelief

Final stats:

Official chip time: 3:18:48
21st out of 519 runners
4th in my age group

As we drove home from the race, I reserved hotel rooms for Boston next April. Here’s hoping I actually get into the race.

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