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Fitness 4 All's Valentine's Day 10K: February 14, 2015

So after the high of Star Wars, and after deciding that my next race would be the Cedar Point Half Marathon in June of 2015 I decided that I still wanted to run races (short races) and, most importantly, earn medals. With my budget, I figured I could afford one race a month. So for my February race, I thought it would be a good idea to do a Valentine’s Day race; since I couldn’t revel in the love of a significant other, I figured I would revel in self love and start the day off feeling good with a race and some earned bling.

I found a Valentine’s Day race in Long Beach, the only one in the area that didn’t market itself as a “couple’s race.” It was limited to 100 participants, and I liked the idea of a small group. I signed up. A day before the race, we were informed that the bike path we were supposed to be running on was under construction and because of this we should be prepared to run on the sand. I freaked out. If you’ve ever walked on the beach you know that sand is VERY difficult to navigate through. And I was expected to run 6 miles in it now. I hoped that this construction meant we would only have to be in the sand for short stretches…they couldn’t expect us to run the whole way in sand, could they?!?!

I was also nervous because for the past week I had been very sore. I had started a strength training workout program that was kicking my butt and the runs I had done during the week weren’t my easiest runs. I was very much looking forward to being at the end of this race.

The morning came and I made the drive down to Long Beach. I had never experienced downtown Long Beach before and it took me by surprise. It’s a beautiful city and I was grateful for the chance to drive through it and experience it. And they have a wonderful beach front. VERY visitor friendly. And FREE PARKING. I gotta say, I was loving Long Beach from what I was seeing.

The runners gathered around a tiny Fit car with the “Fitness 4 All” banner draped over it and a Valentine’s Day balloon attached to it and checked in with the founder of Fitness 4 All. He gave us a pink “Fitness 4 All” bracelet and then we runners took so time to stretch before the race. Before starting, the owner explained a little bit about his company and about the run. Fitness 4 All is a 9 year old non-profit company that provides fitness programs to the less fortunate: women’s shelters, mental health institutions, etc. By running the race, we were helping to fund these programs (which are free for participants). Then the owner talked about the course. He told us that there was no bike path to run on and that the whole race would be run on the shoreline, down in the packed sand. Ok, this sounded reasonable. Packed sand was easy to walk on so I figured it would be easy to run on too. The 5K runners were to turn around at a large apartment building that stood alone on the road and the 10Kers were to turn around when we hit the rock wall. Basically, we turned around when we hit the end of the beach. It was time to run so we were sent off!

A tiny distance on what was left of the bike path brought us to a path that led down to the ocean. We had to cross about two feet of soft sand to get to the shoreline and then we followed the shoreline the whole way. It was pretty incredible. I had never run that close to the water before and it was an absolute thrill. I could tell I was excited because I started the race off FAST, too fast for my liking. But the adrenaline from being that close to the ocean was just pumping through my veins. I mean, we had to dodge the waves coming up upon the sand. I love the ocean and this was just too amazing for me to handle. We were running over and past shells, crabs, dogs on the dog beach, cute little ocean birds all the while treated by the views of the oil rig boats and islands, downtown Long Beach, and the Queen Mary in the distance.

Despite this, it was a challenging race for me.

As I mentioned, I started off way too fast so I was hurting way too early. I thought the small group of runners would be nice, but in reality once everyone spaced out it was kind of lonely. And most of the runners at my speed turned around at the 5K mark. I was left chasing the footsteps of the runners in front of me and wishing that I was fast enough to be with them. In addition, the beach was always at a slight incline, so one foot was always a little above the other, which resulted in my toes rubbing together and blistering. And my legs getting sore quicker since that was something they were not used to. The last challenge was the most difficult for me: you could clearly see the rock wall turn around in the distance, which did not help my mentality. I kept thinking “oh, this will be easy, because I can see it, so that must mean it’s close!” But as I ran and ran and felt like I wasn’t getting any closer my spirits suffered. I tried to keep my head down and watch the sand underneath me so I wouldn’t psyche myself out. The sand was actually wonderful to look at. There was one point where it looked zebra striped which was pretty cool.

I finally got to the turn around and felt elated when I touched the rock that signified my halfway point. It was all downhill from here.

Except now I could see the finish and I had the exact same problem as before. Because I could see it, the finish seemed way closer than it actually was. And it was starting to get hot. I knew I had to adjust if I was going to shake the misery that sometimes creeps up while running. So I focused on the sand in front of me again and focused on breathing, relaxing, and taking it easy. In fact, around mile 4 I started repeating in my head “breathe, relax, breathe, easy,” in time with the breaths I was taking. I started trying to enjoy where I was; the sand was sparkling in the sunlight,

the ocean was constantly trying to catch me, and the beach was alive with action. My pace slowed, which helped a lot, and I got through the second half with more ease than the first. To beat the heat I would sometimes stick my hand into the ocean water and slick back my hair with the cold water. It was a nice cool down.

I had been seeing the most beautiful shells during the race and near the end I picked one up to take home as a souvenir. When it was time to get off the beach for the tiny stretch of concrete at the end my legs gained a power that I didn’t have a minute earlier. They knew they were almost finished. It felt SO GOOD to be on concrete again as opposed to sand. Although the packed sand was MUCH preferable to the soft sand, it was still a little too squishy for my taste. I like the rebound you get from running on roads; it feels like I have to make more of an effort to bring my foot up when I run in sand or grass.

I got got to the finish, collected my medal, chatted for a bit with the founder of Fitness 4 All, took a couple pictures, and was on my way. I felt AMAZING. It was definitely a great way to start off a holiday that I probably otherwise would have felt kind of bummed out about. I treated myself to some Chik Fil A for breakfast since I was starving (and the sandwiches were shaped like hearts! So cute!) and had a great rest of the day relaxing. The race was a little bit of a struggle, but it was a great experience :)

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