California is a long way from Florida, so for my second round of the states I wanted to find a race that would be scenic, challenging, and fun. I had lived in southern California about 30 years ago but had never visited Long Beach. With a welcoming climate and several tourist attractions, it seemed like a great choice. For the most part, my visit was indeed a good one, and quite enjoyable, although the challenging part was rather unexpected and largely due to the poor sportsmanship of some of the other participants.
Because of the vagaries of air travel today, my husband and I had to leave a day earlier than we had originally planned. We drove to JAX airport on Friday and flew to LB via Atlanta and Salt Lake City, arriving at 11 pm Pacific time (and 2 am eastern time – we were really tired!). A shuttle brought us to one of the host hotels, the Hyatt, and we checked in and immediately went to sleep. The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel and went to the Expo as soon as it opened. Since the Expo was at the LB Convention Center, it was a short walk from the hotel. Packet pickup went smoothly and I received my bag of goodies and short sleeved v-neck tech tee, white with an attractive green design, and we strolled around for a bit looking at the displays. The timing chip was a D-tag, which I much prefer to a chip. We made our way back to the hotel, deposited our stuff, and headed out to play tourist.
First stop was the Queen Mary. It was about a 2 mile walk from the hotel, a good way to stretch our legs after the previous day’s air flights. Admission was pricey (about $30 a person for the tours we chose, and those were the senior citizen prices) but turned out to be worthwhile. We had an excellent tour guide, an older gentleman dressed as a sea captain, who explained the history of the ship from its maiden voyage in 1936 to its use as a troopship (nicknamed the “Gray Ghost”) during World War II. It was a fascinating way to spend the afternoon. For a late lunch, we chose the Rock Bottom Brewery. Remember, my husband was on this trip and he really knows how to pick good places to eat! We tried some local micro-brews and enjoyed some great food, including huge soft pretzels with a yummy dip. Sated and satisfied, we returned to our hotel room so I could take care of my usual pre-race preparations.
This race offered an early start for marathon walkers. I was told by a volunteer at the Expo (and it was reinforced by the race guide) that walkers taking the early start would NOT get an official time. However, after checking the stats for last year, it seemed that walkers who finished within the 7.5 hour time frame of the race would indeed get an official time. I decided to go ahead and take my chances.
On Sunday morning I walked with my husband and friend Deb, who was also taking the early start, to the start line just a few steps from the hotel. It was still dark, with temps in the upper 50’s, as the 5000 or so bicyclists who were riding 26.2 miles on their bikes (all kinds, fancy, plain, old, new, even 2 unicycles) took off on their marathon journey. The early start walkers were next. My watch said 6:20 am as I crossed the starting line. The first 6 miles or so we followed a circuitous course around the harbor; I ended up closely following a group of racewalkers who were locals and had completed the race before. It was a good way to be sure I would not get lost in the early miles. The elite runners took off at 7 am and soon caught up and passed me, followed by successive waves of other runners. Half marathoners were the last to leave at 7:30.
Now unfortunately I must explain about the not-so-great challenging part of this marathon. This race had, hands down, the absolutely RUDEST runners anywhere. I was jostled, bumped, tripped, and run into a dozen times or more. Obviously these runners were completelyignorant of racing etiquette. Because there were at least 50 people in the early start, and because this race included a large number of half marathoners, the beginning dozen miles were way too crowded. Even so, there is simply no need to run into people. Three people apologized for hitting me, but the rest simply sped by, no doubt pushing aside others who got in their way. I must admit I was practically in tears at this point. I am usually smiling and happy on a race, but this was humiliating and depressing.
By looking at my splits, it is easy to see how my times were affected by this barrage of very pushy runners. The first 6 miles, I was walking at a fast 12:57 pace, while for miles 7 through 12, my pace slowed to 14 minutes. After the half marathoners split at mile 11, I kept an even steady 13 minute pace for the rest of the race. I have taken early starts at many races, large and small, in Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Arkansas and never had such a negative experience before. It might be a good idea for LB to hold the half marathon on a separate day or on a different course or, at the very least, let them start first and get them moving and out of the way!
The beginning of the course was beautiful, with views of the Queen Mary and the harbor but because I was defensively watching every step, I could only glimpse brief snatches of coastline and scenery. That was a shame. It was not until after the halfway point that I could look around and enjoy the course, but by that time we were deep into California State University at LB and more interior views. Some big hills but nothing overwhelming, enthusiastic spectators, and plentiful water stops (with Powerade, gels, and occasionally fruit and pretzels) made the second half of the course much more enjoyable than the first.
Although the temps were pleasant very early in the race, the heat and humidity quickly rose to the 80’s. Many people appeared to be stuggling with leg cramps, especially in the later stages of the race. I had started taking S-caps very early on and continued with 1 every couple of hours; I think that helped explain why cramps were not a problem for me. No problem with blisters either. Although I was still nursing the bad blister from Lakefront, I had covered it with a bandaid and that seemed to help.
The only other disappointing thing about this race was the appalling lack of post-race food. After crossing the finish line and getting my medal, someone handed me a bottle of water (good) and a tired very beat up banana (not so good). Nothing else. Not even a stale bagel or two. Or some chips or chocolate milk. Nothing. I was finishing about mid-pack (due to the early start) and there were at least 200 people behind me. Guess they would be lucky to get a banana!
Now there was defiinitely some good stuff about this race and about LB in general. The medal is terrific – heavy and large, with a picture of the Queen Mary on it, and the lanyard is colorful and attractive. I finished in 5:53, so I managed to keep under my 6 hour personal time goal. In the photo above, I am wearing my white Marathon Maniacs hat (not my usual blue Gator cap) and I am happily heading towards the finish line. There are several neat things to see and do in the city and a number of good restaurants. Because our return flight did not leave until Monday evening, we toured the nearby Aquarium of the Pacific (runners got in free by showing their bib) and we had a filling breakfast at the Long Beach Diner. I was glad I had a chance to finally visit Long Beach and I was certainly glad to check off California for my second go-around of the states. Would I do this particular marathon again? Not a chance.