Last year I was a spectator at the SLO Marathon and immediately put it on my list of marathons I wanted to run. Not only is it in San Luis Obispo – where I went to college and very close to where I grew up – but it was a very well organized, small town race that I just wanted to experience.
I have no idea what month it was, but somehow Jojo committed to being the 4:15 pacer for the marathon, which I then got talked into. I had always wanted to pace a marathon and figured this was a great way and with the perfect person. We then tag teamed Jessica and convinced her to pace the half as her last long run before Boston. Pretty soon, a road trip to my parent’s house was happening!
We made the 4 hour drive down from the Bay Area early Saturday morning with Kylie and Emma in tow. We dropped them off at my parents, hooked up with my other friend Jess, then drove back up to SLO to get a short run in in Poly Canyon before hitting up the expo.
At the expo, we had a pacer meeting where we met the other pacers, picked up our shirts and signs, and went over logistics of the next morning. I was happy to have Jojo as my fellow pacer, because I have to admit, I was a little nervous about this one! I hadn’t run a road marathon in over a year, and just was nervous about it all. I had faith though that my legs would carry me through.
We headed back south to Santa Maria, ate some amazing flatbread pizza for dinner, and set our alarms for a very early morning. The race started at 6am, so when you add to that a 30 minute drive and a 4:45am bus ride, it makes for a very early day.
We made it to the buses very smoothly and made our way over to San Luis Obispo High School for the start. There was a lot of energy for so early in the morning and we found our way around easily. Before we knew it, it was time to head to the start corrals.
I had looked up how long Garmins typically clocked the full marathon and taken that into account when we were figuring our average goal pace. I also printed off a 4:15 pace band so we could check our total time against the mile markers as we went. Since the course ran around 26.4 on most Garmins, we went with that distance which was a 9:39 average.
As we lined up getting ready to go, I got really excited. Excited for all the first time marathoners out there, excited for what the day might bring and excited to be part of a race in this new way. The national anthem was sung and we were off!
It was still dark when the race started so it was hard to see our Garmins. We were checking in with them constantly these first couple miles to make sure we were on pace. It was hard to find what this pace felt like at first. I knew this course was full of rolling hills, but we planned to just keep it pretty steady most of the way.
We eventually found our rhythm as the sun was coming up. We had a good group of people around us and I talked to a couple here and there. A lot of the group would speed up on the downhills, and we would catch some on the uphills, but we stuck to our pace pretty well.
Once we left downtown, we headed out to the beautiful wine country. It was such a perfect day, sunny but not too hot and just a little wind. I was having so much fun running with Jojo. I was telling her stories about the places we passed (my cat Bailey is named after Baileyana winery, and Chris and my first apartment!), and we were having fun chatting with some runners around us. A lot of our group ended up going ahead of us and we were alone for a quite a while, but still had a couple runners we would connect with here and there.
In the middle miles, we made a friend named Pat, who is a 60 year old man and he was running his 3rd marathon! We loved getting to know him and hear his story. He ran with us for a number of miles, and carried our pacer sign for a few miles too.
We continued to check in with our pace band every mile and we were always just about a minute or less ahead. We kept ticking off the miles and our average hovered right around 9:39 where we wanted to be.
A highlight for me was my mom was out on the course around mile 22. She had been to pretty much all my marathons when I was trying to BQ and always saw me either in a lot of pain, very disappointed, or both. I was excited for her to see a different Aron running, the much happier, joyful runner I feel like I am today. Sure enough, she saw me and we waved and yelled hi and she couldn’t believe the difference from the last time she saw me at mile 22 of a marathon.
The last few miles were my favorite. I have been in so many races where even though my A goal was gone, I would set a new goal over those last few miles because a pacer ran by me. This happened a couple times in this race for us. We picked up a couple guys in these last miles who were hurting, but they hung on right next to us for the last couple, really fought for it, and ended up finishing ahead of us.
We weren’t sure what the clock time was going to be, but as we made the long final descent into the finish line, we knew our chip time would be close. As we crossed the finish line I looked over to see 4:14:58 on the clock which made us so happy.
Chip time: 4:14:43
We were greeted by one of the guys that we ran with the last couple miles who thanked us for pushing him those last miles, which made the day even better. It was such an amazing day and I had so much fun being out there, running with Jojo and running as a pacer. I would definitely do it again in a heartbeat.
I loved this race. I loved the rolling hills, the beautiful course, the organization, the support and the small town vibe. I will definitely be back.