At the conclusion of each school year, I reflect by noting The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. While I won’t disclose The Bad and The Ugly in a post about a race, The Good can certainly be applied to this year’s Wharf to Wharf held on July 23rd, 2017. During an intense IEP meeting this past year a parent asked the general education teacher how her child compared to the other children in the class. Most often, general education teachers dance around this question as many of our children with special needs do have strengths and weaknesses that vary from their non-disabled peers. During the meeting, however, Mr. Lucas responded with, “I won’t compare students to one another in my classroom. If we always compared ourselves to others, we would never know how good we could be on our own.” This little gem stuck with me and ended up being a running theme this year.
The Wharf to Wharf is known as “The Best Little Road Race in California.” To those that grew up in Santa Cruz, the fourth Sunday of July is a holiday. For the past 45 years, this race has been steeped in tradition. The course is a challenging 6 miles from the wharf in Santa Cruz to the wharf in Capitola. Along the course there are hills (plenty of them), bands, loads of cheering fans and 17,000 runners gunning for the coveted Top 100 jacket, celebrating with generations of family members, laughing with pals, seeking PRs and for some, seeking mimosas along the way. Since I moved to Santa Cruz in 2010, I’ve done the race each year with the exception of 2015 when I was getting back on my feet after a series of setbacks. While many live for this race each year, it’s (gasp) not my favorite. To begin, I run the course several days a week. It’s gorgeous and I love to run here, but when it comes to racing on this course, I’m not overjoyed. Add to that, for many years, I have felt pressure to do well as if my race performance spoke for my entire running ability. I’ve realized that it’s absurd to put this pressure on myself, which is another reason why Mr. Lucas’ words were so powerful. Running and racing against myself is a focus for 2017, and I’m getting there. That is the good news. The bad news is that I’ve yet to find the place where I am comfortable being uncomfortable, and this is where I let comparison and settling creep in. There is this protective shield that keeps me from putting it all out there as I’m afraid I could blow up and the uncertainty of what would happen then keeps me in the “This is enough.” category. With that being said, you might predict where my recap is going…
This year, I found myself in better shape than I’ve been in for a while. My times on the track and my tempo runs were spot on, long runs of 10-12 miles were comfortable, and all the easy days felt just that, easy. Knowing this, when my coach gave me a pace range that she deemed, “aggressive, but doable.” I wanted to die. With her predictions, I should have had a large PR, but then cue the negative thoughts. That comparison started to sneak back in.
- “Those are the times that my really fast friends run.”
- “There is no way that you can do that pace the whole way.”
- “Oh… you better go out slower than that and then try to negative split… if you can.”
You get the picture. I was talking myself out of this attempt before the race even started. Teammates posted their race mantras, there were plenty of pep talks and race strategies, but I missed the message even though my tempo runs along the course prior suggested that all of the above thoughts were truly bullsh*t.
Race morning, my friend Kathy and I headed to Sarah’s house to warm up with some other Arete teammates. We talked race strategies along the way, and many of us found that we had similar goals. That was a good thing as we could work together. Once we got to the starting line, we joined other teammates for a bit more of a warm up, bathroom breaks, pictures and then drills and strides. Then it was time to get into the corrals. The Wharf to Wharf has many corrals with the Elite corral being the one to be in if you want a chance of getting into the Top 100 (the first 100 males and females across the line by gun time get a special jacket to note this awesome achievement). Usually, this corral is limited to 1000 racers, but there were some folks this year that selected a time that they may not have been capable of running. As a result, 2000 people were deemed “elite” this year. This made me nervous (recall I have a fear of falling) as the start of the race is like the running of the bulls (not that I would know what this is really like, but I get the idea from Youtube). With runners that were running over a 7 minute mile mixed into the elites, it made for a very congested start. While the goal was to hang onto some teammates, that was impossible from the start. I was on my own.
- Mile 1 – My goal here was to stay towards the high end of my pace range as there’s a huge hill right after the first mile. If you go out too fast, the rest of your race is compromised. I did exactly that… 6:23. Proud of self.
- Mile 2 – There are two hills in the second mile that add up. My strategy was to take it easy on the uphills and then get some time back on the flats and downhills. Things were going well… 6:31. Out of the range, but okay with that as I was feeling strong.
- Mile 3 – The detour… literally. Due to some construction on the traditional course, there was a slight detour that was slated to add an extra .02 to the race. I ran the detour during tempo runs to prepare, but I must not have had my head in the game at 6:30 AM as I didn’t recall that the detour added another hill to the mix (only to be followed by another .25 mile hill shortly thereafter). My body was okay with this, but my mind started to say that there was a long way to go… save some energy. I’m falling behind my goal… 6:42. Note to self… get head back in the game.
- Mile 4 – I like mile 4 as there are some flat stretches and several people gather to cheer in this area. My mind also said, “This is okay. You’ll get a Top 100 if you just keep running at this pace. Enjoy the moment.” At this point, my friend Monique came up beside me. Since we had similar goals, figured that I should hang out with her for a bit, but then again, I could catch her later too… 6:39.
- Mile 5 – I can’t tell you much about this mile as I honestly didn’t remember running parts of it. Adam and I went to the beach later that afternoon and as we crossed the street I really didn’t recall running on this stretch. The only bit that I remember about this mile was that when I got to 36th Avenue, Zeuf’s street, that the crowd was quiet. This made me sad… didn’t those people know that this is the street where the magic happens??? There used to be so much cheering and positive energy at this corner that flying though the last mile wasn’t a choice. The people just stood there… 6:47. Ugh.
- Mile 6 – To my surprise, I saw my friend Elise here and nearly stopped to have a conversation and get a hug… she lives in DC so this was unexpected. Shortly thereafter, I saw my coach along the course (also rare since she lives in Seattle). These folks perked me up for a bit and I felt like a found a second gear, but then the dreaded Opal Cliffs comes in to play. This is a long stretch of canted road, home to beautiful homes, but not a single ocean view. It’s dreadful, but I knew the end was near. Monique was still just steps ahead of me and I kept saying I should catch up to her, but that other voice said otherwise. After seeing my friends, the race was pretty mundane until right towards the race end, another teammate came along my side. The biggest smile came to my face knowing that Kelsey just ran out of her shoes for a Top 100 and a time that she never had expected. So awesome!!! Just like the downhill finish… 6:39.
Once I’d crossed the finish line, I received my popsicle stick to let me know where I’d placed in the Top 100. Lower 70s. I’ll take it. After this, all joy returned and there were hugs and high-5s all around to celebrate everyone’s success. The ladies that I run with are honestly the best. Never have I been on a team that has zero drama and lifts one another up more than these Arete ladies do. Together we collected our Top 100 jackets and carried on to celebrations and relaxation.
If I had to note The Good, The Bad and The Ugly it would shake out like this:
- The Good: Top 100 each of the 6 years I’ve participated. So many teammates had PRs. Sarah’s husband, Bernardo, made Teff and Pumpkin pancakes with the Vanilla Coffee Nut Butter as a post-race brunch (and there were mimosas)…Out of this world delicious!
- The Bad: I let my mind get the best of me. Note to self… jump into more race experiences and practice getting uncomfortable as hell… and then running through that.
- The Ugly: That detour… I don’t like it. The fear of getting trampled in the elite corral. Here’s to hoping that people have to prove their time to be in that corral from now on.
Overall: B+ – The logistics of this race are well-ironed. Bibs are mailed, restrooms are plentiful, and there’s something special for every type of runner.
T-shirt/Swag: A – The shirts are gender specific and have a cute design. At the race’s end you can grab a reusable bag with your shirt, full size bars and trail mix, water/juice and a few discounts. The Top 100 jackets were from Rabbit and of all that I’ve earned, this was the best.
Aid Stations: A – There was plenty of water on course and volunteers that had good handoffs. There were also oranges on course. For a 6 mile race, I’d never take one, but some people make a morning of this event so I’m sure they appreciated them.
Course Scenery: A – Ocean views most of the way, except for that stretch of Opal Cliffs… Ugh!
Expo Quality: N/A – No expo prior to the event, but there are plenty of sponsors at the end to answer questions or sell race merchandise.
Elevation/Difficulty: Hard – There are a set of hills that can accumulate over the course. While there is a downhill finish, by then you are simply begging your body to not fall down… at least I am.
Parking/Access : A – This is a point-to-point course, but there is parking available close to the start. There are shuttles to bring runners back towards the start, albeit they will have to walk a bit after to get to their cars.
Race Management: A+ – This race is HUGE, but the organization and communication from the team is top notch. If a problem was found in this area, then the runner did not read emails or social media updates.