RNR San Diego Recap – Conquering Hillzilla

Hello blog world!  Let’s get this party started.

Yesterday I ran the Rock n’ Roll San Diego Marathon.  It was marathon #5 for me, and my first full marathon after my BQ in Huntington Beach in February.  My goal for the race was to shave a couple more minutes off of my time.  I barely squeaked in to BQ with a 3:39:47 in HB, and based on this article I read, it appears as though I should improve this by a couple minutes in order to have a better chance at getting in.  Now I know there are WAY better courses out there to PR, I knew going in that the course was going to be challenging, but timing, location and logistics-wise, this one was the most economical choice.  And sometimes ya gotta just roll with the punches.  But onto the expo and race…

The husby and I drove down from Huntington Beach mid-day Saturday and drove right to the San Diego Convention Center for the expo.  Ugggghhhh….expos.  $20 to park to you know…like…get a bib and t-shirt…and leave.   Not the hugest fan of the expos – pretty much the same brands and products they have at every other race expo at 30% more than what you pay on Amazon, but I do get to eat my weight in Power Bar samples, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.  After that we walked around the Gas Lamp district for a bit and then headed to our friends’ house to settle in, cook dinner and watch some hockey.  And Instagram a pic of my race gear. Obviously.  Because that’s what running bloggers do, right?


I know there’s a lot of info out there on the pre-race dinner, advocating an ideal mix of carbs, proteins and fats, blah blah blah.  I’m more of a carb-loading traditionalist.  Spaghetti (not whole wheat, not gluten-free, just good ol’ fashioned noodles), Trader Joe’s marinara sauce, meatballs and approximately 14 Oreo Cookies.  If I really wanna get crazy I’ll throw in some bread.

Morning wake up call came at approximately the ass crack of dawn.  Shower, coffee, the usual pre-race breakfast (banana, Peanut Butter and Co. Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Peanut Butter and Nutella on a sandwich thin) and we took off for the start line.  The marathon race is a point-to-point course that starts in Balboa Park and ends in Petco Park.  Danon and I parked about a quarter mile away from the start pretty easily and he walked me to the starting village and hung out for a bit.

The starting village was actually one of the nicer ones I have seen, so props to RNR for that – I mean after I provided them  with my first born for the race entry fee, I guess it’s the least they could do. Tons of porta potties (always a huge plus in my book), free food and water, lots of space to post up and sleep/stretch/peruse the interwebs/ponder why you are paying to torture yourself for 26.2 miles/whatever.

Danon left about 45 minutes before the start, and before I knew it, I was lining up at the start line for my fifth marathon ever.  Of course I had time to snap a pre-race selfie and post to Instagram.  Naturally.  I mean, helllooo I have priorities here.  About 15 minutes before the gun went off, I downed a Gatorade Prime Sports Fuel Drink and made friends with a few of my corral mates.  Side note that the corral organization was on point.


Can we discuss the calf muscles that dude behind me is sporting? Daaaaamnnnnnn…

The gun went off and now here is where things got interesting.  My plan was to stick with the 3:40 pacer till about Mile 13, check in with my body and see how things were going, and then adjust from there depending on the feels.  But the pacer TOOK OFF.  Like waaaaaaay too fast.  She was out in 7:30ish miles and was basically going to pace all of us to DNF’s.  Not cool pacer, not cool.  I don’t wear a Garmin when I race (I prefer to run based on the feels not on the clock), but a few of us hung back to chat.  The consensus was that maybe her strategy was to bank a shitload of time for the hill at Mile 20.5, but in our opinion her pace was a bit to aggressive so early in a race and we didn’t want to burn out.

Once the executive decision was made by our mini group to form our own 3:40 pace group, the next 7 miles were really pleasant.  We chatted, kept eachother company and kept about an 8:00/mile pace.  Still a little fast, but we were going to have to bank some time for the infamous freeway hill.  We wound through Balboa Park, at one point ran through PetCo Park (super cool to make that part of the course), the Gaslamp District and Little Italy.  There were some gentle rolling hills and a overall 250 ft. drop in elevation, so these miles were relatively easy and scenic.  I took a Salted Caramel Gu at Mile 6, drank water and Gatorade at the aid stations and did my thang.


I was going in for the mid-race smooch and Danon was all like “What are you doing?  Keep running woman!”

In miles 8-12, I was still keeping a comfortable pace somewhere in the low 8’s, and all felt well in the world.  We ran through Old Town and spent a little time next to the 5 freeway (not the most scenic landscape in SD but whatever), and ran over a couple decently-sized hills, but nothing too crazy.  Another Gu (Mile 12) and a Salt Packet (Mile 8) along with some more water and Gatorade went down the hatch.  Right before Mile 12 we entered Mission Bay Park and exited the park at Mile 15.  This was easily the most beautiful and scenic part of the course. I saw Danon a couple times and he snapped this pic of me.

beach Rachel_s

I was in a great mood at that point!  I was keeping a fast (for me) yet weirdly comfortable pace, we were running by Fiesta Island, and I love seeing the husby on the course.  I crossed the halfway point at about 1:47 (8:10/min pace).  Life was good!  I took another salt packet at about Mile 14ish I think and listened to some tunes.  The course was pretty flat at this point with one small hill around Mile 14.

Miles 15-20 were a little tough for me mentally.  I still felt good, but the legs were getting a touch tired.  Nothing horrible, just “you’ve run 15+ miles at a quick-ish pace” tired.  And I’m weird like that – this part of the marathon is where I tend to hit my wall, and generally, these are the toughest miles for me, not the last 6.  I can pick up the pace and push really hard through the pain and fatigue during the last 6.  But 15-20 is where the self-doubt kicks in and I have to dig deep to stay focused.  And looming in my not-so-distant future was the dreaded freeway hill (or “Hillzilla” as I named her) at Mile 20.5.  I took another Gu at Mile 18, took another salt packet at 19, was uplifted my the amazing cheering section at Mile 18ish (this woman was spraying us all with a super soaker, and this was quite possibly the best part of the course), and pushed through.  I also stopped and used the porta potty at Mile 19 for a couple minutes with the logic of “I should go now so I don’t crap my pants on the hill.”  Excellent decision in retrospect.  My pace at Mile 20 came in at 8:18/min miles and I saw Danon again as well.


That’s me in the pink shorts.  Just beyond that overpass is Hillzilla.

And then she came into view.  Hillzilla is a 300 ft incline on the 163 freeway conveniently placed on Mile 21 of a marathon course.  Because you know, your legs are super fresh at that point.  Anyways, I put my head down, cranked up Katy Perry’s Roar and forged upward.  And it was brutal.  Just brutal.  People were stopping and walking, myself included.  One dude threw up.  And since it’s on the freeway there is almost zero crowd support.  The quads were absolutely trashed afterwards.  And the cheering crowds at the peak of the Hillzilla overpass  tell you it’s all downhill after that, but they LIE! The general direction is down, but there are a few more rollers stuck in there.  Miles 21.5 through 24 were spend in recovery/damage control mode.  Everything hurt.  The quads were trashed, the hammies were on fire, and on a particularly steep downhill at one point, my toenails were slamming into the front of my sneakers.  And I couldn’t take in salt fast enough – everything below the hips was cramping.  Danon snapped this pic of me at Mile 23 and he said it looked like I was hating life.  I was.


At Mile 24, I started to recover a bit from the hill.  The crowds were amazing and loud, oxygen was returning to my bloodstream, I could feel the lactic acid start to dissipate and I was able to pick the pace back up a bit.  The low salt level-related cramping was still there, but it was manageable.  I wasn’t going to BQ – that possibility went bye bye on Hillzilla, but I knew I could finish strong.  And at Mile 25 I actually ran into one of the women that was in our makeshift 3:40 pace group!  We hugged, hi-fived and ran it in together.  I crossed the finish line in 3:44:23 (8:32/mile pace).

After crossing the finish line, the leg pain hit.  It was so intense I got tears in my eyes, but I keep 2 emergency Motrin on me during races for times like this, and I wasted no time popping those.  Danon found me at the finish, and I gave him the biggest, sweatiest, saltiest and stinkiest kiss ever.

Some may argue that the greatest part about running a marathon is the feeling you get when you cross the finish line, the product of months of training, hard work and sacrifice, knowing you got up on weekends when it was still dark out to complete your long run before the heat hits, that you chose water when you really wanted a bottle (or 2) of cabernet, that you pushed yourself beyond what you thought you were physically and mentally capable of.  All that stuff is cool, but for me the best part about running a marathon is the diabetic shock I  plunge my body into in the hours after a race.  Say hello to my little friend.  And yea, that was chased with a donut and a cupcake.  Boom.


I’ll close up this overly long and wordy blog post with some more words, some “personal musings”,  if you will, on the race.

I shouldn’t be disappointed with my time.  My initial feeling about my 3:44 finish was not one of happiness.  I was really gunning for a 3:38, so at first, I focused on the number, the discrepancy between where I ended up and where I wanted to be, and got a little down on myself.  But then I looked at my splits again.  I was holding an low 8 min/mile pace and was feeling great up until Hillzilla.  And that was WITH a potty stop.  And again, since I implemented my new fueling/pacing strategy (more on that in another blog post), I have been able to post some really strong finishes in half and full marathons.  Who knows what would have happened if I was on a different (flatter) course?  And oh yea, I finished a marathon.  Nothing to be disappointed in there.  Which brings me to my next pearl of wisdom…

I can BQ with a faster time.  I can do this.  And I will do this.  More on the grand plan in another post.  But you will see me crossing the finish line in Boston in 2016.

Pink shorts were not the wisest choice in marathon attire.  I normally wear 3/4 length black running capris for my races.  But I was concerned that it was going to get toasty that day and my lady bits might overheat.  And in accordance with the rules of running, I had tried these shorts out on an 18 mile long run during training and all was right in the world.  But during the race there were some unflattering sweat stains to contend with.  Like, really unflattering.  And the chafing…ohhhh the chafing.  Due to the thunder thighs, I do not have an will never have a thigh gap.  My Instagram is blissfully free of #hotdogsorlegs pictures.  But since the thighs were nakey I chafed soooo badly during the last few miles.  Lesson learned.  Don’t mess with a good thing.

My husband rules.  Danon came down to San Diego with me, braved the cluster f%$k of the expo, got up at an ungodly hour with me to take me to the start line and hang out for a bit.  And then he navigated through a somewhat unfamiliar city all morning to catch me at various points throughout the race including the finish line so he could cheer me on and encourage and support this crazy little hobby I have.  I believe it was a group of female philosophers by the name of Salt n’ Pepa who, in the year of our Lord 1994, stated the following: “Whatta man, whatta man, whatta man, whatta mighty good man.  Yes he is.”  I am so grateful and lucky to share a life and two amazing fur babies with this guy.

That’s all I have for now my friends.  We’ll chat again soon.


  1. Great first blog Rachel Bukowski!! I think you have almost convinced me to run another…..But the key word is almost. Ha Ha! I’m looking forward to your next blog. Keep up the good work!


    • LOL Montana! Thank you for the support! I still remember what I said to my sister after my first one – she asked if I was going to do another one and I said “I don’t know. I’m going to remember that pain for a long time.” Apparently it wasn’t THAT long! haha!


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