Not long after I moved to Santa Cruz for a PhD program in History, I learned about the 6 mile race from the Santa Cruz Wharf to the Capitola Wharf, the aptly named Wharf to Wharf. I didn’t get to run the race that year but I made sure to sign up the following year. And I have run it every year since except when I missed it in 2014 (conflicted with the San Francisco Marathon, when I got my first BQ) and 2016 (when I gave birth to my daughter 6 days later).
I’ve had some great races and some disappointing races at this event, but that’s life. The one thing that has remained a constant is that this race is always filled with my some of my favorite people running/cheering. Since moving away from Santa Cruz, I look forward to it even more than I did when I lived there. To me it’s the ultimate homecoming. And this year I think I saw more friendly faces than any other year I’ve run it.
This year I had put Wharf to Wharf on my top races of the year. In fact, at the end of 2017 I wrote down three race goals: to run a 19:59 (or better) in the 5k, 39:59 (or better) at Wharf to Wharf, and a marathon goal (which I will keep to myself for now). I reached the first goal in February (and again in July). And spoiler, I reached my second goal as well at W2W!
I rarely have a hard time goal in a race, usually a PR is what I’m looking to achieve. But this year, I really wanted to break 40 at W2W and my coach agreed that it was possible. I had a pretty good base, so I didn’t start training hard until eight weeks out from the race. And it was a tough training cycle. I caught a cold that seemed to be going around and it lingered for what seemed like forever – at least half of the training cycle. I also finished up my quarter teaching at the university and started my summer school teaching at a local community college: one in person and two online for six weeks. It was exhausting. And about two weeks from race day, I was just so burned out. I remember going on a six mile run and having to tell myself “Only 5.75 miles left… only 5.5 miles…” You know it’s gonna be long run when you have to break it down by the quarter mile. All of this just made me tired going into race day. I wanted it to just be done. I was worried this might negatively affect my race. And at the last minute, I decided to drive down the morning of the race rather than stay in Santa Cruz but sleeping in my own bed was definitely the right call!
Race morning, Connie and I drove down to my friend Kim’s house, she lives a mile from the start. We met up with several Arete Oakland teammates, played with Kim’s sweet pup, and enjoyed an easy jog to the start. Once there, we met up with Arete teammates from several other chapters for a group photo. I joined up with Elise and we finished our warm up and strides together. This whole time we kept running into friends, including my running coach. I had felt sluggish the day before but I felt light and comfortable during my strides – that, along with a quick chat with said coach, really boosted my spirits. Before I knew it, we were 10 minutes out from the race start so we headed over to the corral.
My least favorite part of W2W is the start. The race awards an exclusive Top 100 jacket to the first 100 men and first 100 women who cross the finish line – and it’s gun time, not chip time. So the elite corral is crowded and packed as everyone tries to eek their way closer. Because of this I usually go back a few people, I’d rather not fall (this year a friend did, reminding how crazy it really is!). A few more hellos in the corral and, as usual, the gun popped with little warning.
My coach had told me to try to be conservative in the first mile (it’s hard to keep it under control as everyone darts out so quickly). The plan was 6:30 for the first mile, miles 2, 4, and 5 to be in the 6:35-6:45 range, mile 3 10-20 seconds slower because it has a long big(ish) hill, and then go all out in the last mile. I did as I was told. My first mile was 6:30 on the dot! After the first mile, there is a climb following by a downhill and an uphill. Nothing crazy, but also not flat. Somehow I really kept my pace here, clocking another 6:30. Then down the harbor and up the big(ish) hill. This is where I got my moment to run alongside Erin for a second. The mile ends right where I used to live from 2011 to 2013, so that’s always a fun spot. I clocked 6:55… slow but right where I expected to be in this part of the race.
The next mile includes some rollers, nothing crazy but still not flat. Thankfully it also has some good beach views, and like the rest of the course, tons of crowd support. I got back in range, ending mile 4 at 6:43. A little on the slow end of my range, but totally fine. Then I was in mile 5. Blegh. Mile 5 is awesome because it’s far flatter than anything since mile 1 and it goes through Pleasure Point where I think the spectators are the best. But I was on the struggle bus. I was tired and felt sore and gross. I didn’t want to do the race anymore and I slowed way down. At about 4.5 miles teammate Katie caught up to me and said a quick hi. I told her I needed her. I did – not to pull me or anything. I just needed to know she was there – it gave me the motivation to not give up, to push through the uncomfortable, to know I wasn’t alone. I eeked through and finished the mile at 6:55. I didn’t love that on my watch but I couldn’t go back and fix it. I told myself as we entered the Opal Cliffs neighborhood I had to put it all out on the line. There was nothing to lose and really it’s only hard for a half mile because after that it is literally all down hill. I pushed through the uncomfortableness. I told myself how much I wanted that 39:XX. I told myself I wanted top 100 (I’ll come back to that). I didn’t give up. I kept pushing. I crossed the finish line with a final mile time of 6:12! My watch said 39:48, official time 39:53. Yes! I got the pink slip that signified I made into the top 100 (#84… official list put me at 78)! I waited for Katie who was right behind me and we made our way to get our jackets. Before I knew it Connie was there too. She was number 100! She’s 6 months pregnant and snagged that final spot!! Two minutes earlier I was so tired I wanted to vomit, now I was jumping for joy that she had earned a jacket too!
The Arete women gathered up (17 (!) of us made it into the top 100), congratulated each other, and headed out to get our goodie bags (cute bag, cute shirt, Martinelli’s apple juice, and some other treats). I checked in with friends and congratulated them on hard run races. And I reveled in my happiness of meeting my goal. Last year was my first W2W after baby. My goal had been to break into the top 100 and I was 103. I was so bummed. I knew I ran the race smart and the best of my ability but I wanted more. With Boston just not being what I hoped and trained for this year and to come back to the top 100 (I also was there in 2015) just felt like redemption. And it was sweet.
I finished out the morning with a brunch hosted by our chapter leader Teresa, complete with a delicious spread for brunch and mimosas. While I would have loved to have spent the whole day in Santa Cruz, I headed home around noon – ready to celebrate with my family. This race was a lesson in pushing hard for what I want. Even though I’ve been running for over 10 years and really racing for the past 6 years, I still feel new to the sport. And I’ve always been ok just running hard but not uncomfortable. I’m still learning to be ok with being uncomfortable and while I let go of that for a mile, this race reminded me how important that is. So my new motto: be comfortable with uncomfortable!