Carl’s Glorious Hair

A Surf City Marathon Tale

by Mark Jimenez

What does it take to run a successful marathon? You’d think I’d know the answer to that by now. The wall in my classroom is a testament to all the marathons, half marathons, and triathlons I’ve done. My marathon training in and of itself has gone through a few iterations. For my first marathon, I made it up as I went along. For my second marathon I fell into the “Well, I’ve done this before plus this race is downhill” trap and I had a very bad race. Something happened with my third marathon and things started to improve. I’ve been doing this distance since 2010. The 2021 Surf City Marathon was the 12th time in a row I’ve done that race. 

The Medal Wall in Mark’s classroom is a testament to all the races he has done

Like I said, you’d think I’d have it figured out by now.

So what does it take to run a successful marathon? I’d say there are a few key ingredients. This is the Mark Jimenez list, it isn’t gospel. 

  1. A strong support group
  2. Physical Preparation
  3. Mental strength
  4. Proper Nutrition
  5. Luck

Support Group

So let’s talk about this strong support group. Back in February of 2020, right before Covid changed the world as we knew it, I ran a personal best at the Surf City marathon, a 3:08:36. That was a Boston Qualifying time for me. I felt on top of the world. In fact, my marathon efforts have been getting better with age. In February of 2019 I ran what was then a personal best of 3:19, and at St. George in October of 2019 I did a 3:20. I was disappointed with my time in St. George, but it was still my 2nd fastest time up until that point.

After I ran that 3:08:36 I immediately signed up for the 2021 race, which is usually held in February. Covid pushed it back to September. In any case, I started bugging my friends about signing up. I got 3 of them to sign up with me, Drew, Andrew, and Carl.

First on the list: Drew. If our little support group has a leader, that leader is Drew. Red Rock Running Company was the 2nd group Drew tried out when he first moved to Las Vegas, but I’m glad he’s a part of our family. Our Saturday long run was his idea, and he leads that group every Saturday. He coaches, he listens, and he’s a great friend. I have shared many long runs with Drew, and I know that my slower pace probably annoys him sometimes. So I appreciate it even more when he sticks it out with me and we go to the church of the long run together. 

Drew gets excited before a marathon

The first marathon I did with Drew was the St. George Marathon. I’ll just say this… Drew turns into a different person on Marathon Morning. The day of the race he’s just a little too excited. He loves his Whitney Houston, though, I’ll give him that. It’s fun to line up with Drew at the start of a race, although that’s usually the only time I see him. He’s just too fast for me!

Drew posing with his first place age group medal after the 2021 Surf City Marathon

I’ve known Andrew the longest. We did a Ragnar together many years ago. The captain knew us both and invited us to join the team. At that time, Andrew was faster than me, but the gap between us was pretty close. Since then Andrew has exploded. The guy is an amazing runner, knocking out ultramarathons and marathons alike. One of the things I like most about Andrew is that he always seems genuinely happy to see me. I enjoy being around him, I enjoy listening to his stories, and I like spending time with him. He’s one of those people who I don’t see quite enough of, but when I do I’m always very happy I did.

First time I met Andrew he was handing off to me at Ragnar Del Sol

Carl started coming to our Saturday long runs a while ago. Like me, Carl is a teacher. He’s a pretty amazing guy. Up until this race, he had never done a marathon before. Having run with Carl for a while I knew that he was very capable of doing them. He is a strong runner, mentally and physically. The guy is just a machine. He also has amazing hair, and I’m just a little jealous of that.

Mark & Carl after a morning run

Rounding out our little group was my wife, KJ. She was on the course during the run and doubled as the sherpa for four people, having phones and bags waiting for everybody at the finish line. I couldn’t ask for a better partner or friend to be on the course.

The support group was strong! 

The four of us enjoying the cool water on our legs after 26.2

Physical Preparation

I should have known better. I really should have. I wasn’t that far removed from the 2019 St. George marathon where I had to train through the summer. I’m too old for that crap! Training went well for the first couple months of summer, and then it just turned into a grind. There’s only so much you can do when you wake up at 3:30am and it’s still 90 degrees outside. It makes those long runs very difficult, and mentally it started to break me down. My long run workouts did not go well. I backed off of them too easily when we were supposed to push. I stopped and started too much. I just didn’t have it. And as summer got going and school started again in early August, I was out of energy. From May – September I think the latest I have woken up is 5:00am. The average would be 4:00am, and 3:15am is the earliest. It was just too much.

Oddly enough my track / speed workouts went ok. I felt like I was nailing those, but I couldn’t transform that success into the long run days. Also, on one of the workouts I hurt my foot. I can probably tell you exactly what workout it was if I go back and look at it. Since that day my right foot has bothered me. Oddly enough, it usually didn’t bug me while I ran, but during the day it would ache and throb. 

I also wasn’t getting much sleep. I was probably averaging about 4 1/2 hours of sleep a night. It is hard balancing a marathon training program with coaching cross country with teaching high school with owning a small business. There’s just too much on my plate, and I couldn’t possibly do it all. 

I knew going into the race that I wasn’t in PR shape. But I knew I could finish the race. I probably over-estimated what I was capable of.

Mental Strength

Here’s a fact: every marathon I’ve ever done hurts. The mental strength comes from overcoming that hurt and pushing through. Mental strength is the area where I’ve always been the weakest. Even with all the marathons I’ve done, there’s only been a handful where I really feel like I was mentally strong. This race was one of my weakest.

Every marathon hurts

In fact, about a week before the race happened I started to flirt with the idea of not even going. I even sent a text to my friends who I had bullied into signing up saying that I didn’t want to go. I was exhausted. Waking up, running, teaching, coaching, running a business. It was too much. I’d lay down at night to go to sleep and I’d start having these little anxiety panic attacks just thinking about everything I had to do the next day. Of course, those panic attacks would make it harder to fall asleep.

Text sent a week before the race

But here’s the thing: It was Carl’s first marathon. I really wanted to be a part of that. In fact, my plan was to run with Carl the whole time. Carl is a good man and a good friend, and I wanted to be a part of his first marathon. And did I mention he has amazing hair?

So in the end I came down with everybody else. But I’ll tell you something else. I’m not the kind of person who gets nervous before an event. I don’t get nervous before a race at all. But for this race I was very nervous. It was an odd feeling.

Proper Nutrition

This is an area I tend to fail at. I love to eat. I used to be 240 pounds and I have the stretch marks to prove it. I love eating and I love eating a lot. The day before the race KJ cooked us all spaghetti with garlic bread. And let me tell you, I ate a lot of it. Probably 2 1/2 heaping plates. 

Which wasn’t the smartest thing to do. 

If you run enough then you’ll know that people who run marathons take their bowel movements very seriously. Especially on race day. Going four times before the race, and once during the race, tells me that I most likely ate way too much the day before. There’s no excuse for my gluttony.

But I really like spaghetti.

And did I mention Carl has amazing hair?

There’s other things involved. Nutrition is more than just what you eat the day before. My hydration wasn’t on point either. And let’s say that with as busy as I’ve been it has been hard to cook proper meals. 

Luck

There’s an element of luck in every marathon. What kind of weather will you have? For the four of us running who trained in Las Vegas, we thought it was a glorious day. I did hear lots of comments from the locals, though, complaining about the heat. And there were quite a few people who passed out during the course. In any case, there’s always luck involved. In some cases your training makes up for luck, but we can’t control the weather. The weather was just fine for us Las Vegas people. It was very humid (60% humidity) which is why I ran with no shirt (chafing sucks) but we topped out around 82 degrees. Not bad.

The Race

Everything started out well. The plan was to hang with the 3:15 pace group (a 7:24 average pace I think) as long as we could and then just enjoy the race. Carl and I ran together and talked a bit. It was a fun few miles together. The first part of the race brings you through a park and the only true hills in the course. I always find that part of the race peaceful, I’m not sure why. But as we ran I had a growing sense that I had to pee. And by mile 9 I couldn’t wait anymore. At mile 10 I said, “I have to pee, I’ll catch up to you if I can.” And that was it!

As I used the portable toilet, I realized I had to do more than just pee. So bowel movement #5 happened. TMI? Sorry. Did I mention Carl has amazing hair?

Still, I was out of there in 120 seconds and on my way. I was conservative. I knew if I ran 15 seconds faster per mile I’d catch up with the pace group in a bit. And for 3 miles I did very good. I saw Drew and Andrew, both looking strong after the first turnaround. I missed Carl but only because there was a big truck parked at the aid station and we probably crossed at the same time, blocking our view. 

Around mile 11 the blister on my left foot made itself known. No problem, I thought, the same thing happened last year and I ran a 3:08

Around mile 13 my right foot started to hurt. A lot. To the point that I started to think something was broken. I still think something might be broken. I’ve been to a doc twice since. It’s starting to feel a little better, but I haven’t been pushing it. In any case, I started to change my stride to try to find something where my foot didn’t hurt. All that did was make my right hip hurt. And then my right shoulder.

This is where mental strength comes in. And this is where I failed. I mean, I failed fast. It took me all of about half a mile to decide that I was going to quit. Just get to the next turnaround, I told myself. KJ will be there and I’ll sit down and put my clothes on and then I won’t be in pain anymore.

My pace slowed and I decided that I was going to quite when I got to the turnaround, at mile 16. 

Here’s the funny thing. Take a look at this picture. See the guy behind me over my right shoulder going the other way? The guy with his shirt off and amazing hair? That’s Carl. I wasn’t that far behind him. 

Right before the turnaround

This picture was taken pretty close to the turnaround, but I had already decided to quit. If I had just a little mental strength I could have kept on pushing and had a great race. Instead, I let all of life’s problems get to me. I was tired. I was overworked. I didn’t want to be there. I should have stayed home. I could have gotten so much more done if I stayed home. What a waste of time and money to come do this stupid race. What was I thinking? I knew this was going to happen, I should have stayed home. I’m such an idiot.

And so the thoughts went until I found my wife and told her I was quitting. 

We walked off the course and found a bench to sit down. 

I took my bib off. I put my shorts and shirt that she was carrying for me on.

And I let the negative thoughts come in.

Kudos to KJ. I’m inconsolable when I get like this. Nothing anybody says will comfort me, and 90% of what anybody says will just make me more mad. She didn’t say much except when I was talking negatively to myself out loud. “Please be nice to my husband,” she would tell me when I said aloud how stupid I am.

So mostly I just said the mean things to myself in my head. 

I sat there for 14 minutes, based on my strava time for when one activity ended and the next began.

Lots of thoughts went through my head for those 14 minutes. A lot of them negative. About how much I suck. But then some things started happening. First, KJ had my phone. As I sat with her my watch reconnected to my phone and I started getting text messages from one of the guys I coach XC with, Flynn. The kids had a big meet that day, and Flynn was texting me the results. The guys team did very well. The girls team took 2nd, losing only to a team from California. What’s more, the ladies had done exactly what I told them to. I was so excited for them. Flynn kept texting me. The boys frosh/soph team took first. There were lots of PRs set by the kids, and the team had done very well over all.

I felt like a fraud. How could I ask the kids that I coach to not quit and push hard when I was sitting on a bench having quit? Granted, a 5k is a little different from a marathon, but still… What kind of a person would I be if I told them to do something but I didn’t do the same? And they had lived up to their end of the bargain. They had pushed hard. They hadn’t quit. They had established themselves as one of the top teams in NV. 

And I was sitting on a bench feeling sorry for myself.

So I decided to get back up. “It’s only 10 miles,” I told myself. “Just get back up and finish. Besides, this way those guys have to wait for you rather than you wait for them.”

So I told KJ I was getting back out there. She grabbed my bib and pinned it back on me. I took the long shorts off and my shirt off and walked back to the point of the course I had walked off at and started again. 

My foot still hurt.

My hip still hurt.

My shoulder still hurt.

And there was a lot of walking in that last 10 miles.

But I got it done. 

As I got to the finish line I heard Ray Rodriguez, who was there with friends, telling me to sprint. I told him, “I am sprinting.” 

I heard my wife hoot at me.

I heard Drew, Andrew, and Carl call out to me.

I crossed the finish line.

Crossing the finish line

Here is what I remember. I was still feeling sorry for myself. I felt like I didn’t belong. Drew (3:04) Andrew (3:10) and Carl (3:18 in his first marathon) all had amazing days. I was a quitter. I didn’t deserve to be happy. But Andrew walked up to me and tried to high five me. I gave a half-assed effort to high five him back. He was on one side of a fence and I was on the other because he had finished an hour before me. 

But then I had a change of heart. Andrew had gone out of his way to come see me. So after about 5 steps I called him back and said “let’s try that again” and gave him a better high five. Probably one of the best of my life. Andrew, if you’re reading this, thank you. That moment shook me out of my funk.

I posted about this experience on social media afterwards and lots of people told me it was inspirational, and how great it was that I kept going, and all that stuff. To be honest, I don’t feel like it was inspirational. I feel like I probably shouldn’t have started the race in the first place. I have learned that I am not super-human, that I can’t do all the things that I want to do. I need a break. I need more sleep. I need less stress. I need to NEVER TRAIN FOR A MARATHON THROUGH THE SUMMER EVER AGAIN (please, if I ever say I’m doing a fall marathon, just hit me on the head with a frying pan). 

I don’t feel like what I did was great, or even good. It’s not about the time I ran, it’s about the preparation I had. It’s hard seeing everybody you are with having an amazing day and then you are the anchor weighing everybody down. They all had to wait an hour for me. That’s no fun. And I was the guy making them wait. Sigh.

I guess I can keep feeling sorry for myself. But that never got anybody anywhere. I’m already signed up for Surf City 2022. It’s in February again, and I’ll start training for it in a month or so. Hopefully my foot will be healed by then and I’ll be back on this pony ready to rock. 

So sign up for the Surf City Marathon. It’s super bowl Sunday. Come run with me. Come look at Carl’s amazing hair (he’s signed up too). I don’t know if I’ll have a good race or not, but it’s tradition for me to be there, so that’s where I’ll be.

One last thought. Running is magical. In the build up to this race I forgot the reasons why I run. Every run is a good run. I run because I enjoy it. Because it is my escape. I run every day because it helps me with anxiety and depression. For about 40 days before the race I forgot about that. 

Only 4 months until Surf City 2022. Come run with me. You can sign up at runsurfcity.com.

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One final thought: I love running with friends. It has been my experience that running has brought me the best friends in my life. There is something about sharing mile after mile with others that turns them into life long friends. One of my favorite quotes about running comes from John L. Parker’s book, Once a Runner. “You don’t become a runner by winning a morning workout. The only true way is to marshal the ferocity of your ambition over the course of many days, weeks, months, and (if you could finally come to accept it) years. The trial of miles; miles of trials.” When you share these miles of trials with people, those people become your friends. 

Drew is great. I have shared many a run with him, and he does an amazing job of listening to me as I vent about all of life’s problems. I hope I do the same for him. He is a great coach, and an even better friend. I highly encourage you to come to one of our Saturday runs and meet him. Drew, congratulations on your 3:04 and first place age group finish in the marathon! That’s no small accomplishment!

Andrew, I don’t know I can say anything else about you. You’re quickly becoming a legend in the running community here in Vegas. Everybody knows you and everybody enjoys your company. You’re list of running accomplishments keeps growing. I’ll also never forget the way you exclaimed with true joy, “I got an email from Red Rock Running Company!” It’s going to live on forever in my mind. Congrats on your 3:10, a truly amazing time for your “Boston marathon training run.”

Carl, I’m sorry I couldn’t be there the whole run for you, but I’m so impressed with your run. Your first marathon and you ran a 3:18. Holy crap. I’ve been doing these for years and I’ve only bested that time once. It speaks a lot to your dedication and mental strength. I’m very impressed by those traits, your glorious hair, and your amazing marathon result. Beyond all that, you’re a great dad. I’m very glad I got to know you these last several months. I’m looking forward to sharing miles with you as we train for Surf City 2022.

Start of 2021 Surf City Marathon