Sunday, October 13, 2019

Long Beach Marathon 2.0

10 years ago, when I first ran the Long Beach Marathon, my goal was to simply prove I could run a marathon on my one terms since injury during my first caused me to fall short of my 4 hour goal.  This time I had a similar goal.  I had not fully completed a marathon since 2015, the first year I finished slower than 4 hours since my first, this time due to illness.  My last sub 4 marathon was Los Angeles in 2013...which is now six years ago.  4 hours was a doubly important target as I had signed up for Los Angeles in 2020 and needed a recent result to earn a starting position in one of their seeded corrals, something I have always done (I didn't start from a corral in 2016 due to my promise to run with my wife).  I went to sleep early on Saturday night, but woke up an hour ahead of my alarm likely because I was nervous.  My training had only provided some assurances that I may be able to achieve this goal.

That said, I am glad to be up early as it cuts down on the stress of simply making it out of the house on time.  I can enjoy my pre-race bagel and coffee...and can make that all important pit stop to alleviate concerns that I may start sweating in traffic or while standing in line at port-a-potties.

As I learned at Los Angeles in 2010, planning for race day needs to go beyond training to include a plan for getting to the race on time.  Having done Long Beach twice (once as a full, once as a half), I knew to plan for road closures and where I may encounter traffic.  Driving to the Health and Fitness Expo, I tried one of the potentially faster routes I hadn't previously taken and learned that bridge construction caused traffic choke points that could really cost valuable time.  At the Expo, I parked at and prepaid for City Place Lot C, one of the city lots that's just a little over a half mile from the course.

My plan pays off.   I leave my house at 4:15am as planned and take the easiest route to Downtown Long Beach.  The drive is issue free and I barely see any other cars on the road all the way to the City Place Lot C.  The garage is nearly empty, so I can park practically anywhere...and I find an ideal space in one corner of the structure's covered second floor.  I head down the nearby steps to the Long Beach Promenade. The half-mile stretch between the lot and the starting line is perfect for a warm up jog.  The pre-dawn air temperature is in the mid-50's, ideal for running.

Before I left the house I was a little concerned I couldn't find a throw-away long-sleeved shirt or sweater, but I am comfortable standing around the starting area because there is no breeze. It probably helps that I have opted to wear compression sleeves...not for warmth, but as a precaution.  The last thing I want to do today is re-aggravate my left calf.  Any worries about smoke triggering an asthma attack had been mostly dissipated by my short run yesterday morning.  Though not close in proximity, my home was still downwind of the Saddleridge Fire, more directly so than Long Beach during the recent Santa Ana wind air pollution  a valid concern.  Thankfully the winds have since shifted back to an on-shore flow.

This will mark the first time I run a marathon in shoes upon which I have logged more than half of my training miles.  Usually I opt to break in a new pair just ahead of a long race, but I have been really happy with my current pair of ASICS Kayano 24s.  Despite approaching 300 miles, these shoes still have quite a bit of spring in them and I have had surprisingly few blisters during this training cycle.  By the end of today's race, this pair will have covered just over 300 miles...still roughly 100 miles from retirement.  Staying in this pair may prove to be the safer bet given that I often get hot spots in new shoes before they pack down, especially during races.

When I reach the starting area, there are very few runners milling about within the corral.  It is early...just a few minutes past 5am.  I am pretty much right on schedule (I like to arrive at the starting area an hour early since it gives me sufficient buffer for a whole range of issues that can arise before a race).  As I forgot to bring a disposable water bottle with me, I swigged quite a bit of water from a metal bottle I had to leave in my car.  I decide I should probably take a bio break while there are still no lines.

Two people I know through my car club are running today, one in the full and another in the half (who anticipates finishing around the same time as me).   I text the one running who is in my race to find out where he is.  Judging from his reply, he is still at home.  The other sends a selfie so I know what he's wearing (I sent my selfie before leaving home).  The 13.1 mile race starts an hour and a half after the 26.2, so he won't be arriving in Long Beach until long after I have started.

The sky is dark, but I can see stars and a nearly full moon setting in the west.  I try to get a selfie with the full moon, but the contrast is too high to capture anything but a bright glowing ball under the start sign.  I am not concerned about the lack of a marine layer...the forecast high is 73, but I should be done long before the temperature rises into the 70's.

Around 5:30am I upload several phone pics I have snapped to Facebook and Instagram.  As runners arrive at an increasing rate, my phone's battery depletes as it competes for bandwidth.  I cannot afford to let this drain continue as I need my phone to last more than the duration of the marathon and not just for tunes and post-race messaging.  I will need my phone to unlock and start my car!

The wheelchair race gets underway 5 minutes before us.  Runners move towards the start line.  There are just two waves...elites and everyone else.  Let's just say I stay far enough behind the elites that I cannot see them.  I start my tunes, stow my phone in my SPIbelt, setup my watch with a custom distance and time target, and wait for the gun.  The horns sounds, I start my watch as soon as I cross the timing mat, and I'm off to the races!

I have picked a good group to start with as I don't feel like there are any runners in my way, nor do I feel like I am slowing anyone down.  I try not to glance at my pace just yet as I want to feel out how everything feels before I worry about making adjustments.  In some races, I have started way too the point I am winded by the mile one marker and have to adjust my breathing.   Not so today.  I am breathing comfortably, my stride is smooth, my muscles feel loose, I have no aches or pains of any kind, the temperature feels ideal.

Shoreline Drive is a brightly lit and wide stretch of road, ideal for supporting a large field of runners at the beginning of a major race.  By the time we turn back toward the start and approach the first water station, the field has stretched out nicely.  I check my watch and notice my pace has been well under 8 (I only need to maintain a 9:09 to hit my target), so when I slow to grab water from the station and turn to climb towards Queen's Way Bridge, I just let my pace naturally slow.

My pace picks up again as we cross the bridge and dive on to Queensway Drive.  After we circle back under the bridge, the lighting isn't nearly as good...and the pavement is a bit rougher.  I am nearly tripped up by a pothole, so I start watching the ground more intently.  I cross the 5K mat with 25:30 on the clock, a time I am pleased to achieve on a downhill stretch of my 6 mile home orbit.  I am still running faster than I should, but...again...I am still feeling very comfortable holding my current pace.  Plus, I know I will give some of it back when the course crosses the bridge again.  I consume my first Cliff Shot before reaching the next water station and grab water to chase it down.

Descending back towards the Aquarium of the Pacific, I really pick up my pace.  I remind myself that it is still really early in the race and that I need to slow down.  We go under the bridge and encounter an annoying out-and-back on Golden Shore.  This just delays a stretch of the course I have been really looking forward to...the bike path that circles Shoreline Aquatic Park.  The marathon's early start means we reach this path at dawn.   The sky has brightened with a warm gradient spanning from orange to purple hues reflected beautifully in the calm water of Queensway Bay...a stunning view of the majestic Queen Mary permanently anchored across the way.  I cannot resist pulling out my phone to take a photograph, but refuse to yield my current 8 minute per mile pace.  I snap a few shots hoping at least one of them will be sharp enough to share before stowing my phone.

Official race photographers have stationed themselves along the bike path, most notably within view of Queen Mary, as we circle the lighthouse, and around Rainbow Harbor...but I have to wonder how great their shots will be at this early hour.  We runners are moving pretty quickly toward them and there isn't a lot of light.  I will be curious to see what they get.

As we pass Shoreline Village and turn on Shoreline Village Drive, I can see the much larger field of half marathoners gathering within and around the starting area.  I start wondering if my car club friend will be trying to spot me as I pass nearby, but decide he's probably focused on entering the starting corral with the appropriate wave.  While cutting through the parking lot that parallels the Shoreline Drive,  I cross the 10K timing mat.  I think to myself, 50 minutes is a pretty decent time...and suddenly realize the half marathon doesn't begin for another 40 minutes!

Shortly thereafter, I start down Shoreline Way bike path, another stretch of the course I have been looking forward to repeating.  The path continues for roughly four miles through Alamitos Beach.  Nothing beats running with a view of the ocean...until a bright red orb starts to poke out from behind the silhouettes of palm trees on the horizon.  My view ahead becomes a quintessential Southern California postcard - rising sun and palm trees slightly to my left, bike path and wide stretch of sand ahead, Pacific Ocean with endless horizon to my right, and a clear blue sky above.  Just as I start thinking I should pull out my camera, leaders from one of the official pace groups catch up with me.

Their sign reads "3:35".  Hmmm...I once ran a marathon in 3:35.  It's my PR. Crap.  I'm still running too fast!  And yet, I decide to hang with runners in their group...drafting behind them.  I stay with them all the way until the end of the bike path...holding their pace for roughly two miles of the course.  I slow a bit as I approach the next water station as I break open and consume a second Cliff Shot.  I laugh when one of the pace leaders breaks off from his pack and backtracks to a tent where someone is offering doughnuts to runners.  Who in their right mind consumes a doughnut while running a marathon?  Who the heck backtracks to get anything during a race?  He easily sprints by me while I am still sipping on water and rejoins his pace group around the mile 10 marker.

A dog suddenly attacks a runner several paces ahead and, despite being a small breed, manages to knock him off his feet.  Thankfully the dog's owner regains control of her animal and the runner is able to rejoin the race before I reach them.  Sheesh.

When I reach the marathon & half marathon split at the intersection of Ocean Avenue and Livingston Drive, I think back to 2014 when I ran the half marathon here.  At that time I was extremely thankful that I had chosen to run the half as it had been well over a year since I had last run a full, partly because I lost motivation to maintain a running routine when my dad passed away.  This time I am honestly glad to be running the full, but the best stretches of this course are now behind me.

The one exception is perhaps the out-and-back along Marine Stadium in Alamitos Bay.  It's definitely nice to run within view of water.  That said, this stretch feels longer than I remember...a reminder of why I generally don't like out-and-backs.  It doesn't help that you run near, but don't cross the half marathon mat on the out...because, even though I am still maintaining a solid pace, it seems to take forever to reach the mat when running back.   My half marathon split is in the 1:47's...faster than I have completed any stretch of 13.1 miles since 2015 and even better than my official result at the Long Beach Half Marathon in 2014.

As the course twists its way through a neighborhood, by a lagoon, and around the Recreation Park Golf Course, I can feel my pace has slowed into the 9's.  I suspect there is a slight increase in elevation here.  As I pass the mile 15 marker, I start wondering how much deeper into the back half I will be able to stay under my original 9:09 per mile pace target.  I'm just over two hours into my race, so I know I can slow my pace target, but I don't dare attempt the calculation in my head given my current mental state.

When I spot the next water station, I realize it is time to open my pack of Shot Bloks.  I usually consume one every 15 minutes, but, since I am not carrying water, spacing of water stations will dictate when I eat them.

Continuing inland across Pacific Coast Highway, the run becomes just as tedious as I remember.  Distances seem to stretch out as the surroundings become significantly less appealing, especially when we reach Cal State University Long Beach.  The 3 miles we spend orbiting campus takes an eternity, likely worsened by this marathon's most significant ascent beginning just past the 17 mile mark.  The rise is quickly noticeable, its effect on my pace dramatic (definitely slowing into the 10 minute per mile range), and, though only a third of the orbit's elevation chart depicts an incline, I spend more than half of my time here struggling.  That said, I do manage to pass a girl whom I had been running a few steps behind for much of the back half.  There's still a half mile of campus when the course turns back on Atherton Street, a stretch of course that from the corner of Palo Verde Avenue seems to continue on forever.

Clark Avenue isn't much better, but it could have been much worse.  The race's early start means that most of this street is still covered by shadow.  I imagine the sun could be hitting the pavement an hour or two later.  The girl I had passed around CSULB regains her lead as we pass the mile 21 marker.  I struggle to hang with her.  I am really starting to feel the distance in my legs.  My concern deepens. As we start to climb again, my left calf has started to tighten in a way that feels like it could pop again if I continue to put this much strain on it.  Just to be safe, I shorten my stride.

The mind games begin.  I recall how this particular injury happened without warning, forcing me to bike instead of run at the peak of this training cycle.  I try to remember how long it has been since I last ran this far...when I last trained for or completed a full...could be three or four years.  Has it really been that long?  Could I be hitting the wall?  My watch's target widget displays 3 hours, 45 minutes as my expected finish time, but I see the seconds are increasing.  I have run for just over 3 hours and have less than 6 miles to go.  Four hours should still be long as I don't get injured!

A runner hands me a small water bottle from a cooler as I turn on to Park Avenue by Recreation Park.  I initially welcome the gesture because I still have two Shot Bloks and can now consume them on my terms.  Of course, I pass a water station shortly thereafter.  The bottle has a bit of a leak, so my shorts are getting wetter every time my arm swings.

I am still carrying the bottle when I turn on Nieto Ave.  There is a bit of hill here...and I am irritated that I still have not found a place to toss the now empty bottle.  As I crest the hill, I see bins in the yards of various residents and briefly considering leaving the course to toss my bottle in one, but decide I probably should not trespass.  As I consider just leaving the bottle on the side of the road, I run through a police blocked intersection.

As I return to Livingston Drive, I see a water station ahead.  I happily ditch the water bottle in one of its trash bins.  I remember this mile-long stretch well from my first marathon  As before, it seems so much longer than it did when I was heading inland.  Even though I am now heading towards the beach, this is also a climb.  I check my watch.  My slowing pace has reduced my 15 minute cushion to 10.   The girl I had been running behind continues to pull away.  I hope I can maintain my pace once the course flattens out.

I am initially happy to see the half marathoners along Ocean Blvd.  We're now on the final 2.2 mile stretch, but I recall a subtle yet evil peak occurring roughly halfway.  I resist the temptation to start my final kick.  Actually, there is no temptation.  I am pretty beat.  I no longer see the girl I had been trying to hang with for much of the back half.   There are dozens more half marathoners than full marathoners along this stretch and we're divided by a row of cones.  My friend could be among them, but only if he's running as far ahead of his expected pace as I am.  Finding him in a field this dense is hopeless as I must keep an eye out for obstacles in my lane--slower half marathoners, spectators.  So annoying!

There's a water station at the peak, but I decide against grabbing water figuring it would only slow me down.  I am still nearly a mile from the corner of Ocean Blvd and Shoreline Drive.  I am really itching to dive towards the finish because I can barely sustain a ten minute per mile pace.

I finally see the recognizable buildings at the intersection and what appears to be a bus parked at the corner.  I start my kick.  I try to get my legs to turnover faster, but do not feel like my pace is least not until the actual descent on Shoreline Drive begins.  This certainly does not feel like one of my stronger finishes.  I see the clock.  It still reads 3:53:3x.  Normally I would be ecstatic to see I had accomplished my goal, pumping a fist or raising my hands as I cross the final timing mat.   Today I am simply relieved.  I can stop running.  It is over.

After collecting my finisher medal and post-race goodies, I text my friends to tell them where they can meet me when they finish.  The one who is running the full is still on the inland section of the course.  I see from an e-mail alert I received that he likely won't finish for another two-and-a-half hours.  My friend running the half should finish in less than 20 minutes.  My legs are spent, but I decide I should not sit down while I wait...chances are I won't be able to get up!  I inhale a banana, chug a can of coconut water, and practically choke on a bag of taro chips (the chewed up mass was accumulating in my throat before I could properly swallow it).

By completing Long Beach in 2009 on my terms, I proved to myself I am a marathoner.  Today's race proved I am still a marathoner...a sub-4 marathoner!

Official Results:
5K Split:        0:25:19 (08:08/mi)
10K Split:      0:50:26 (08:05/mi) 
Half Split:      1:47:14 (08:14/mi)
20 Mile Split: 2:49:34 (09:02/mi)
24 Mile Split: 3:30:04 (10:07/mi)
Total:           3:53:25 (10:31/mi)6th out of 8 marathons

Average race pace: 08:54/mi

322 / 1760 overall finishers
271 / 1197 male finishers
034 / 0149 male finishers age 45-49

GPS Data:

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Marathon Training #9 Complete

How many marathons have I run?   I have official race results from seven, officially did not finish my eighth (I promised my wife I would stay with her during the Valentines Day Los Angeles Marathon in 2016, but she pulled out just past the halfway mark), but have completed the distance eight times thanks to a 27 mile charity run I did awhile back.   Regardless of how many marathons I have completed, though, this is the ninth time I have fully trained for a marathon....and I have largely stuck to the same training schedule for all of them.  And thanks to my love of Garmin watches (of which my current Fenix 5 is by far my favorite), I have valid data from all of these training cycles that I can align and make direct and relevant comparisons.  This data allows me to gauge what pace I should target, not based on anyone else's experience but from my own personal efforts.  Comparing my historical data may give me a better idea of what to expect come race day than how I may feel on any given day or from simply observing recent improvements in my pace.

This is largely because I do not usually focus on improving my pace.  When training for marathons, I hit the track and do intervals infrequently and don't often sign up for other races.  I live on a hill, meaning all of my runs involve a considerable amount of elevation change.  My long runs usually lead me off the hill, meaning I have to climb when I am most fatigued.  The marathons I sign up for tend to be on relatively flat courses.  In other words, my training pace is usually going to be significantly slower than my race pace.  I find I am far less prone to get injured if I let pace come naturally with the miles anyway.

So what do my last four runs tell me?  Without focusing on pace, I still completed each activity significantly faster than I have recorded in many, many years.   Keep in mind these activities include my most frequently run 4, 5, and 6 miles orbits...and a 10 mile route I have run quite a few times as well.  For today's 4 miler, I have to look all the way back until 2013 to find a matched run I completed at a faster pace.  As mentioned in my last blog entry, I had to look back to 2012 for the 5 and 10 miler.  The kicker was that I completed Tuesday's 6 miler faster than I had since 2010...which was just 3 days before I reset my marathon PR in Los Angeles Marathon.

For a more accurate assessment of how I'm doing, I'll need to look at how my pace has improved over the past four weeks...but just four weeks weeks ago, I wasn't even sure how much of the schedule I would be able to complete.  I began that week by cycling in place of my peak distance run as I was still recovering from the calf strain.  In other words, a direct comparison of these four weeks would be slightly tainted by my injury.  That said, the peak activity was the only one within this final training period that I did not run, I compensated by running longer than scheduled on the following Sunday, and I ran of my fastest 5K races during this time...and, as I mentioned above, my final four runs easily are on par with the final four I have run many times before.

If I count all of the cycling I did in place of running as equivalent to the schedule mileage (and if I do the optional short run on Saturday morning), then I actually will have completed 95% of the schedule...probably a higher percentage than in most of the years I have followed it thanks in part to a lack of illnesses, fewer activities skipped due to travels or work, and a relatively cool summer.  I do not to know need to know my relative pace to know I am ready to complete another marathon.  The only reason why I care about this is that I would very much like to think I will be able to complete Long Beach on Sunday in around four hours.

If I go solely by the last four runs, I'm good to go, but extending my average pace out to a month and to a year definitely shows how much slower I am now.  I have been known to run faster during the race than during my final training month (by 45 seconds in 2013), I need to average 9:09/mile (28 seconds per mile faster) if I want to hit 4 hours. 

Final four weeks of this cycle:
09/15-09/21: 23.16 @ 10:11/mi (does not include cycling on 09/15)
09/22-09/28: 53.72 @ 10:04/mi
09/29-10/05: 19.22 @ 09:28/mi (with 5K @ 08:54)
10/06-10/12: 20.28 @ 09:02/mi
Average pace for month: 9:50/mi
Annual average pace for last 12 months: 10:19/mi

Repost of similar data leading up to four of the five sub-4 hour marathons I completed:

Month before the Los Angeles Marathon in 2013:
02/17-02/23: 37.74 @ 9:29/mi
02/24-03/02: 37.17 @ 8:58/mi
03/03-03/09: 30.19 @ 9:17/mi
03/10-03/16: 20.41 @ 8:53/mi
Average training pace for month: 9:11/mi
Average race pace: 8:31/mi
Annual average pace for 2013 YTD: 9:14/mi

Month before the Malibu Marathon in 2012:
10/13-10/20: 46.65 @ 8:46/mi
10/21-10/27: 36.67 @ 8:31/mi
10/28-11/03: 30.15 @ 8:18/mi
11/04-11/10: 20.22 @ 8:13/mi
Average pace for month: 8:31/mi
Average race pace: 8:30/mi
Annual average pace 2012: 9:03/mi

Month before the Surf City Marathon in 2011 (still my PR):
01/09-01/15: 45.49 @ 8:17/mi
01/16-01/22: 36.42 @ 8:27/mi
01/23-01/29: 30.02 @ 8:06/mi
01/30-02/05: 20.26 @ 7:40/mi
Average pace for month: 8:11/mi
Average race pace: 8:13/mi
Annual average pace 2011: 8:45/mi

Month before the Los Angeles Marathon in 2010:
02/21-02/27: 45.41 @ 8:47/mi
02/28-03/06: 36.16 @ 8:23/mi
03/07-03/13: 30.11 @ 8:08/mi
03/14-03/20: 20.17 @ 7:59/mi
Average pace for month: 8:24/mi
Average race pace: 8:22/mi
Annual average pace 2010: 8:29/mi

Thursday, October 3, 2019

10 Days Before Long Beach Marathon 2.0

Very interesting. My pace on this morning's 5 mile orbit seemed quick, so I decided to look back at my history to see when I last ran this particular route at a comparable pace...and didn't find anything after November 1, 2012 (when my average was 8:44/mile).  This is a pretty big deal given that I probably run this particular orbit more than any other route and in recent years my pace was rarely even sub 10.

Given that I still use the same marathon training schedule, that 5 miler was an equivalent activity 10 days before a marathon.  In 2012, I ran Malibu in 3:42:56.  I don't want to read too much into this given that my overall training pace in 2012 was significantly faster, but this is encouraging!

Since I was already looking back at my running history, I looked up the 5 miler I ran before the Long Beach Marathon 10 years ago...and I ran the same orbit in a ridiculously fast 7:31/mile (currently my record). I finished that particular marathon, my second overall, in 3:43:17. This year I'm just hoping to get under 4...

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Alive and Running 2019

This would seem to be an appropriate time to update my blog as this particular headline has multiple meanings.  Yes, I am very much alive.  Yes, I am still running.  And today I am participating in the Didi Hirsch charity 5K run/walk "Alive and Running" for the third time.

Interestingly enough, the gap from when I last competed in this particular race is nearly as long as when I last updated this blog.  I guess you could say I lost motivation for writing about my running experiences as my pace continued to decline.  I entered fewer races, totaled fewer miles per year, stopped running marathons altogether after my wife dropped out halfway through 2016's Los Angeles Marathon (I promised her I would stay with her, so that was my first and only DNF) last personal best was set years ago.

That said, this year I have been running with renewed purpose.  When I first completed LA's inaugural Stadium to the Sea course back in 2010, I convinced myself I would absolutely run it again, at the very least, to celebrate the 10th year of that course, so, even though I have completed it a few times since, I registered for the 2020 event as soon as registrations opened this year.  As I have started every LA race from a starting corral, I signed up to run the 35th Long Beach Marathon hoping I might be able to earn my way into one of LA's sub-4 hour corrals, even though it has been over 5 years since I last completed 26.2 miles in such a time.  Nothing motivates more than registering for a marathon...and I committed to two.

I am finding the road back to running marathons significantly more difficult with age. As I push mileage, I find myself needing far more time to recover.  10+ mile runs knock me out for a good portion of the day. Increasing pace comes with an increased chance of injury, so I usually run what feels comfortable.  If anything, training for marathons now requires a greater time commitment than previously...and it was already quite a commitment.

Speaking about injury and recovery, a few weeks ago I felt (even heard?) my left calf muscle pop as I launched off a curb during a routine 6 miler.  The second I put weight on my left leg, I knew I had to stop.  I feared the worst.  I immediately called for a ride home, grabbed ice packs from my freezer, stopped by Village Runner to get sized for compression sleeves (which I wore 24-7 over the next couple of weeks), and found a way to keep my leg elevated on ice while I worked.  When I woke up the next morning, I woke up thinking I had no idea when I would be able to run again.  I knew for certain I wouldn't be able to run during what is usually the peak distance week of my usual training routine, but would I be able to run by race day?  If I deferred Long Beach or even transferred my registration to its half marathon, I would lose what I considered my best chance of earning a spot in a starting corral (sure there are a few other marathons between Long Beach and LA, but I like knowing that I have done these two races back-to-back 10 years before).  I swapped cycling for running, matching the expected time duration of runs on my marathon training cycle, unclear if it would be enough to maintain my physical condition.  I didn't own a bike as an adult before 2016, rarely used it since, and not once last year.  Two weekends after my calf popped, I did my longest bike ride of my life...a four hour ride covering 48 miles in place of a 22-23 mile run.  Fortunately cycling put no strain on the injured muscles, but I was dying to know how each day off from running would affect my endurance?  My pace?

Injury aside, my pace has still been far from what I used to naturally run in the early 2010s.  As I have mentioned elsewhere in my blog, my average annual pace has steadily declined since I peaked in 2011...a trend which pretty much continued since I last updated this blog.  I was seeing definite progress, but was still surprised by how much slower I ran The Hills Are Alive 10K earlier this year...especially because I felt pretty good and wasn't aware how off pace I was until it was too late into the race to do anything about it.  With the injury, all bets on what my marathon pace might be were off.  Oh yes, and I also signed up for this particular 5K.  Perhaps this would be the year I join the walkers.

Towards the end of my 48 mile ride, I had to hop off my bike and walk it up the steepest portion of the final hill.  My legs were spent.  But my legs were feeling good enough that I decided to see if I could jog a little.  Much to my surprise, my compression sleeve covered calf didn't bother me while I kept my stride short.  It gave me hope that I might be able to run that Tuesday...just shy of two weeks from when my calf popped.  And run I did.  Slowly at first, but run nonetheless.  By the third run, I tested my downhill pace and felt strong.  The only thing left to test was endurance, so I decided to go off schedule and attempt a 20 miler.  I kept the compression sleeve on just in case (first time I ran with sleeves on both legs).  With heightened awareness of every little twinge and pull of my leg muscles,  I cautiously and successfully completed 20.3 pain-free miles.   There's no need to change my racing plans after all.

Due to this morning's 5K, I had to run this morning's scheduled 14 miler yesterday.  I wasn't sure how much I should push things given that I knew I'd likely push a more aggressive pace during this morning's race, but I still managed to hit the 13.1 mark in around best half marathon split of this training cycle.  Not an ideal number for someone targeting a sub 4 hour full marathon, but confidence inspiring for someone recovering from an injury.

As I had run this particular race twice before, so I knew what I needed to focus on during yesterday's run.  Throughout my training cycle, I noticed my downhill pace slow down unexpectedly when I reached flatter stretches of road and dramatically upon inclines.  I ran downhill stretches at whatever pace felt natural and then focused my effort in maintaining that pace as the road flattened and especially over slight inclines.

It's 8am...time to race.   The sun is shining and the sky is clear.  Temperature is in the low 60s...perfect running weather.  This course starts flat, so I must pay close attention to my pace and go by my gut with what feels sustainable.  As with all races, anticipation of the start builds tension that usually causes me to go out faster than I should, so I really need to monitor my GPS watch.  I also don't want to risk injury, so I am not planning on setting any personal records.  But a race IS a race.  I position myself near the start line, but not on the line.  There's a high school's entire cross country team to my right.  Let's do this!

The horn sounds!  I spring to action...quickly establishing a sub 8 minute per mile pace.  I am still being mindful to not fully open my stride for fear of re-aggravating my calf injury.  I have found that sweet spot where I am not really passing anyone, nor is anyone passing me.  I can focus on just running this race for myself.  I keep my breathing calm and of the best ways I can tell I am not over-exerting myself.

There are three slight inclines along the stretch of Westchester Parkway that makes up the majority of this course.  Two involve the bridge over Lincoln Blvd (this course is an out-and-back, so we cross over Lincoln twice) and one stretch that leads up to the u-turn.  I keep my pace well under 8 as I cross the bridge on the way out (and pass some runners in the process), but have to work a bit more to do so before the turn.  I decide to take water from the station just before the u-turn which probably slows my pace more than the hill itself.  In a 5K, I don't really need the mid-race hydration...especially on a day like today.  I just take a couple of sips and toss the cup in one of the trash receptacles along the course.

When I reach the bridge on the back stretch, I definitely find myself pushing harder.  My pace falls back to the mid-8s.  I am now more than 2 miles into this race, but I do want to have something left in the tank by the final half mile.  I start seeing some of my friends who are among the walkers today.  Jane has her camera out as I run by as does my mom.  I pick up my pace.  I start reeling in one of the runners who has been slightly ahead of me for the past half mile and pass him just as the course turns towards the finish line on La Tijera.  The cheering spectators and hearing my name over the loudspeakers definitely encourages one last kick.  I finish strong...always a good feeling.  More importantly, I did not once have any hint of my former injury.

When I stop my watch, it displays 22:30 (I crossed the finish line with 22:31 on the course clock)...a very respectable finish time.  In fact, my official time ties my second (could be third, but I still question the length of the Long Beach Turkey event with no official timing) fastest 5K since I started running as an adult (I had faster cross country times in high school, but slower ones as well).  I also earn a medal for finishing 2nd in my age group.  Not bad for someone who just a couple of weeks ago thought he might find himself among today's walkers.

Official Results:
Time:  0:22:29
Average race pace: 7:14/mi

25 of 1814 overall finishers
23 of 695 male finishers
2 of 43 male finishers age 45-49

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year End Report

Well, I finished 2015 with 1,170 running miles...the most I've run since 2012 (when I just topped 1,400)...and matching my total in 2010 (when I first ran the L.A. Marathon). My average annual pace improved this year over last (not difficult), but otherwise continues a slowing trend that started when I peaked in 2010...hoping, at the very least, to average faster than 10 minutes per mile in 2016.

Friday, March 20, 2015

30th Los Angeles Marathon

10 days before this year's Los Angeles Marathon, I started to worry.  The initial weather forecast suggested we would be running this year under record heat.  As with most of our local forecasts, I took this with a grain of salt.  But as race day neared, the forecast high never dropped.  The event organizers took the unprecedented step of shifting the start time of the entire race earlier by a doubt a shuffle of massive proportions for a sold out event that has grown to expect 26,000 runners crossing through multiple cities before finishing in Santa Monica.  They warned us we should not strive for personal bests, expect to run a thirty minutes to an hour slower than usual. They stated the course would be even better stocked with water, Gatorade, aid, and cooling stations.  Reality began to set in.

When I arrived at the LA Convention Center to pick up my race packet on Saturday morning, my worst fears were all but confirmed.  It was hot.  At 9am.  Even with the early start time under ideal conditions, I figured I would finish by 10:35am at the earliest (which would not have been my PR on this course).  Here is a breakdown I sent to family and close friends so they could anticipate where and when they might be able to find me on the course:
  • Start (Dodger Stadium - Los Angeles): 6:55am (68 degrees)
  • Mile 8 (Los Feliz - Sunset & Myra Ave): 8:01 (73)
  • Halfway (West Hollywood - Sunset...approx. Laugh Factory): 8:43 (68-74)
  • Mile 22 (Brentwood - San Vicente...approx Whole Foods Market): 9:59 (65)
  • Finish (Santa Monica - Ocean and California): 10:35 (80-84)
Even with these forecast temperatures, Sunday was expected to be mostly cloudy.  I couldn't even hope for the marine layer to salvage this race.

Race day arrives.  I wake up at exactly 3:30am as planned, getting roughly 7 hours of sleep.  I chase down a bagel with cream cheese with a latte and gear up quickly since I had set everything aside the night before.  Valerie drives me to the Artesia Transit Center so I can catch the Silver Line bus to Union Station as I did the last time I ran this race, but, despite having done this before, I am a little worried.  I picked 5:30am as my shuttle departure time when I signed up for the race, which long predated the half-an-hour shift in race time.  I also did not realize that the earliest Metro bus arrives at the station after my requested shuttle is scheduled to depart for Dodger Stadium.  I also forgot to grab a bottle of water to bring with me to the start of the race (fortunately Valerie had one in the car).

I reach Union Station at 5:40am.  I try to cut the straightest path through the station to where the shuttles were located in 2013, detouring briefly for a much needed pitstop.  I am making a huge assumption that the shuttles will be where I expect them to be.  There are no signs posted anywhere telling runners where to go.  I follow a bunch of runners headed in the same direction.  We reach the shuttles and no one stops me from boarding the next one to depart.  By 5:53am, we are en route to the stadium.

When the shuttle approaches Dodger Stadium, its gets stuck in traffic before reaching the ramp to the parking lot.  I could have sworn that shuttles previously entered the stadium by an exclusive entrance that completely avoided such traffic.  Now we must wait for officers to direct traffic through the intersection...which includes pausing for a large number of cars leaving the lot.  Once on the ramp, shuttles eventually get their own lane, but getting to that lane took valuable time.

I step off the shuttle at 6:08am and proceed through the parking lot.  The race starts in 47 minutes, but the start corrals close in 22.  I must move quickly.   The lines at the first set of port-a-potties are really long, so I keep walking.  To enter the corrals, I must proceed all the way around the entire starting area, so I might have a better chance with the restrooms inside Dodger Stadium.  Big mistake!  The restrooms are up multiple flights of stairs.  The first two have long lines...I cannot risk proceeding further around the stadium.  I head back down through growing crowds.  I pass by the pre-race food area hoping to grab some water, but there is a long line there too.  I hear an announcement about corrals closing soon, so I continue to my corral.  I remove my hat as someone starts singing "God Bless America" ahead of the wheelchair race start.  I encounter a mob trying to enter my corral.  Ugh.

I step into my corral at 6:30am...they must have extended the cutoff since there are a lot of people still entering.  I should be relieved, but I am still very aware that I might need to go sooner than later (if I hadn't gone at Union Station, I would be in a whole world of hurt right about now).  I also have a slight headache, perhaps due to stress, more likely a side-effect of the unusually early waking hour (only a week after losing one).  My throat is dry...I really wish I had a bottle of water with me (especially to chase down my pre-race Clif Shot).  My stomach bothers me, but butterflies usually hit before a race...and today's anticipated heat has me far more nervous than usual.

About the heat, the morning temperature is really nice.  There is no need for garbage bags or removable sleeves on a morning like this.  The sun rises behind us, there are clouds overhead.  I am surrounded by an estimated 26,000 runners, many of whom merely want to survive this race as much I do.  Once again I remove my hat for The National Anthem.

Last week I made the mistake of not checking that my phone's GPS was enabled prior to starting Runkeeper, so I double check that the app is good to go and my music is playing before securing the phone in my SPIbelt (I rely upon the app's auto-pause feature to start recording the data once the race begins).  Knowing that my Garmin watch battery does not last much longer than 4 hours, I have been using the app as a backup...and wait until well after the elite women start to enable my watch's GPS.

Finally our race gets underway.  As with some of my previous races, I have an issue hitting the start button exactly when I cross the start line, but I am able to get the watch started only a few seconds after.  Unlike my previous L.A. Marathons, I intentionally do not try to work my way through the initial crowd.  Time we spend in the stadium lot is better served as a warm up.  As soon as we make our way past the start line spectators, a number of runners start bolting towards the left side of the course to pee.  I am not that desperate, but I certainly can empathize (in retrospect, it may have been the best time to go).  I do not bother to reach race pace until we start the descent and leave the stadium.

On the descent, I actually hit my half marathon race pace and I carry it on to Sunset Blvd.  My race strategy has always been to pick pace targets based on training results, a pace I try to maintain on flat sections.  I never restrict my pace on downhill portions, so I do not mind going a bit faster than my marathon pace even though I know I should be conserving for later.  More runners leave the course when we come across the first set of port-a-potties, but there is a wait.  I am not that desperate yet, but now realize I will likely need to go before the end of this race.

I am a bit irked that there is no mile 1 water station.  I could have sworn there would be one.  My throat is still dry and I have Clif Shot residue in my mouth.  I must wait until I am in Chinatown, into the second mile, before I can wet my whistle.  I grab a Gatorade, but was hoping for water.  Not the flavor I like, but I will drink anything when I am desperate.  As I toss the cup aside, I see people handing out water.  I wonder if subsequent stations will consistently have Gatorade first, water second.  I do plan to take liquids from every station today, even if I do not feel like I need it.

I see a set of port-a-potties ahead of the third mile marker...and most appear vacant.  Though I have finally settled into my race pace, I stop...and take longer than I expect.  I must have needed to go more than I realized.   Thankfully, it is early enough in the marathon that my legs did not tighten up, and since the course is still downhill trending through this section of downtown, I easily get back on race pace.

Suddenly, I catch a whiff of steamed rice as I pass by the Japanese Village Mall in Little Tokyo.  Oh look, Shin-Sen-Gumi has a location here!  Now all I can think about is sushi and ramen.  And döner kebabs.  I really need to visit when I am not running so I can try the restaurants in this part of town.

At this point, the course begins a longish upward trending stretch.  For some reason, it feels like it is takes longer to get to 1st street...the first real hill.  I look forward to the pounding sound of the Taiko drums because it means I am close to the top of the course's steepest incline...and will soon be leaving downtown.  As usual, I let my pace drop below my target, but not too far below.  The course has many rolling sections and I can make up for some of the lost time on the dips.

There is relatively little drama until after I pass through Echo Park and turn on Sunset Blvd.  The official 3:45 pace group catches up with me as I slow to take on fluids.  I thought I was still well within the pace window of a 3:40 finish, especially since heat has not yet played a factor in the race.  I start falling behind as the course continues to climb towards Hollywood Blvd, but I manage to catch and pass them on a slightly downhill stretch.  They catch me again as I slow to grab water during the next climb, but I pass them again on Hollywood Blvd since much of it is downhill trending.

For some reason, the run through Hollywood feels longer than usual.  It takes ages to reach the Pantages, Hollywood and Highland, the Chinese Theater. Last time I breezed through this stretch.  My legs are losing their spark by the time the course turns down Orange Drive.  The 3:45 pace group passes me one last time.  Even with the descent I cannot keep up with them any more.  I just do not have it in me.

Speaking about oranges, I should mention that, in addition to liquids and my usual Clif Shots, I have been consuming a good number of orange slices offered along the course.  Are marathon oranges a special variety?  They always taste so damned good, but they, along with Gatorade, Shots, and sweat make my hands really why would spectators, complete strangers, want to give high fives to us runners?

My pace slows into the nine minute per mile range on the flat stretch of Sunset Blvd and into the tens as I approach the Strip.  I am not sure why I cannot get my legs to turn over faster.  I am not in any real pain.  That slight headache that has not gone away.  My lower back and abdomen are a bit tight, but not in a way that bothers me or appears to be affecting my running form.  I am still breathing comfortably.  I am not hot.

I cross the halfway mark around 1:52, which, on normal days, would still give me a good shot at a 3:40 - 3:45 finish, but the anticipated heat factor has not yet come into play.  My unexpected loss of pep has diminished my enthusiasm, but seeing my friends Pete and Shannon during the next downhill stretch gives me a boost back into the eight minute per mile range...a  boost which fades as I reach Santa Monica Blvd.

The sun is out as the course starts climbing into Beverly Hills.  For the first Los Angeles Marathon, I start doubting whether I can finish.  Though I still do not feel that the heat is all that bad, I wonder if it explains my complete lack of oomph.  My legs simply do not want to run.  I am not in pain...if anything, my joints haven't felt this free of pain during a marathon in years.  My muscles are not burning.  I am not winded.  As I pass through the water station on Burton Way, I take Gatorade, but I am not sure I can keep it down.  I toss it aside and grab water instead.  Finally someone hands me a bag filled with ice.  Putting the bag against my neck feels really good.  One of the things I appreciated during my Maui Marathon meltdown were towels dipped in ice water...I am surprised there have not been any offered here.  Just then, I see volunteers handing out coconut water.  I grab a bottle.

As the road continues to curve towards Rodeo Drive, I find a shady spot beside a excuse to stop and let the ice work its magic.  Aside from the necessary pit stop I made earlier this morning, the last time I came to a complete stop on the stadium to sea course was at a water station during my final ascent on San Vicente in 2013.  Stopping this early in the race is a really bad sign.  I spot a course photographer and start walking again.

After finishing the bottle of coconut water, I start running again.  Rodeo Drive is a slightly downhill jaunt, so I get back into the nine minute per mile range, but then lose it as soon as I turn on to Wilshire.  Mental games are kicking in as I start feeling the heat.  I try telling myself I am already 17 miles into this race.  But then I remember how much I hate the long slow incline of Santa Monica Blvd that follows...and how the VA Hospital has been my wall.  Less than 10 miles to go.  Can I do this on a day like today when I feel the way I do?

I nearly stop at two of the water stations along Santa Monica Blvd, but somehow manage to complete the shade-free stretch averaging a ten-to-eleven minute per mile pace.  Making my way through the VA Hospital does not seem to be any more of a challenge, but that may be because I have already hit my wall.

My past two LA Marathons have taught me to look forward to reaching Brentwood.  I anticipate the enthusiasm of spectators, the cool sea breeze, the final and familiar descent towards the Santa Monica Pier and finish line.  Today the heat overwhelms, largely because this was one of the few areas that had actually been forecast to be significantly cooler than surrounding areas.  I am mentally and emotionally defeated.  I am feeling so low that I actually do not hope to see Pete, Shannon, Valerie, all who planned to intercept me somewhere along here.  I start fearing how I will react if Christophe meets me on the course and tries to encourage me to pick up my pace.  I just want this thing over.  Why does the ascent on San Vicente seem longer each time I run here?  Why does the descent not feel like a descent?  The 4:15 pace group passes me.  Batman passes me.  When the hell do I turn on to Ocean Blvd?

As I make the final turn on Ocean Blvd, I start pouring every last bit of energy I have into the final stretch.  I want this thing to end.  Now.  Batman is right in front of me.  The 4:15 pace group is still within sights. Can I catch them?  Why cannot I see that damned finish line yet?  Did I start pushing too early?  My legs are burning.  I am burning.  Someone put me out of my misery!

I lost track of Batman.  I pass the 4:15 pace group.  Somehow I am back to my race pace.  The end is in sight.  With a little extra effort, I can cross the finish before the clock strikes 4:15...and I do.  Holy.  I cannot believe this torture test is actually over.  Why is someone holding my arm and walking with me?  Do I look like I am about to pass out or something?  I am a bit woozy when I get my medal, but I do not think I need assistance progressing any further.  I grab my phone and stop the timer.  Valerie is trying to reach me.  She is stuck in traffic trying to park.  She did not see me finish.

I grab post race snacks, but for some reason do not feel compelled to eat them.  I do sip the water.  I eagerly take an ice water dipped towel...only the second towel offered...and place it around my neck.  I pause briefly for my official finisher photo, but keep on my feet.  Valerie contacts me again.  She has parked, but, since I took longer to finish and she has to be somewhere soon, she does not have time to hang out in Santa Monica while I recover.  She wants to meet me closer to where she parked than try to find me in the sea of people surrounding the reunion area.  I can barely keep my eyes I have been awake way too long past my bedtime...but I continue towards the parking lots on 2nd street.

Valerie spots me before I see her.  Supposedly the car is not far, but it seems miles away.  We reach the lot on 4th street, but the elevator is several floors up.  I don't know why, but I agree to follow her up the stairs.  The car is on level 4.  Ugh.  Once I reach the car, I crash on the seat.  I do not want to move again.  Ever.
I should have known something was wrong when we reached our lunch destination and I could barely stomach the thought of eating any food.  I had not even touched my post-race haul.  I order a burger, but pass on any sides.  The burger tastes good, but I eat it far more slowly than I usually would.  I do drink a lot of soda.

Since Valerie is where she needs to be, I take the keys from Valerie and drive myself home.  I am really tired now...a little light headed...but I reach home safely.  I pause for five minutes before I even attempt to get out of the car. My head is throbbing.  It hurts quite a bit more as I lean forward, so I pause again before standing up.   I decide to untie my shoelaces while I am sitting in the car.

As I step out of the car, I am much more aware of how hot it is.  Or how hot I am.  My legs are stiff.  Due to my headache, I decide I should not bend over to take off my shoes with my hands.  I nearly get a cramp trying to use one foot to pull the shoe off the other.

I hit the shower.  The temperature of the water bothers me.  Staying on my feet bothers me.  Keeping my eyes open bothers me.  After drying off, I take my temperature.  102.  Uh oh.

I down a coconut water and hit the bed.  As good as it feels to lie down, I just cannot find a position where my head does not hurt.  I fade in and out of consciousness.  I keep drinking fluids.  Judging by my pee, I do not appear to be dehydrated.  A few hours later, I take my temperature again.  104.

Something is obviously wrong or has been wrong with me since the day began.


Here's how my expectations collided with the unexpected reality of heat plus possible virus:
  • Mile 8 (Los Feliz - Sunset & Myra Ave): estimate 8:01, reality 8:03
  • Halfway (West Hollywood - Sunset...approx. Laugh Factory): estimate 8:43, reality 8:49
  • Mile 22 (Brentwood - San Vicente...approx Whole Foods Market): estimate 9:59, reality 10:14
  • Finish (Santa Monica - Ocean and California): estimate 10:35 (80-84), reality 11:10
If I factor how long it took to cross the start line, I was pretty close to my targeted pace until I hit Hollywood Blvd.  Even then, I was only off my half marathon target by four minutes.  Unofficially, I finished this race with a 4:14:09...still within my expectations given the anticipated heat index.  I am not displeased with my results.  After all, this was a day that saw 36 people hospitalized and many more, including American favorite Ryan Hall, simply dropped out of the race early.  In retrospect, I probably should have stopped in Beverly Hills.  My body was crying out, but my impaired mental state prevented me from knowing the right action to take.  I should feel lucky that I survived my 7th marathon.

I have completed the L.A. Marathon three tenth the number that the event's 178 amazing legacy runners have accomplished.  I passed a number of these individuals during this race, each time wondering how they have managed to run this every single year for thirty straight years without getting sick, suffering injury, or succumbing to the weather.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

30th Long Beach Half Marathon

Five years ago, I chose Long Beach as the destination for my second full marathon hoping its proximity to the ocean and relatively flat course would provide ideal conditions for me to complete a marathon on my terms.  During that run, I couldn't help but notice where the half marathoners split from the 26 mile the straight run back to the finish line seemed a lot more appealing than turning inland.

This year, I opted for the more appealing route.  Why?

I have mentioned before on this blog that I have been struggling to regain my pace since peaking at the full in Surf City in early 2011 and at the half in Palos Verdes in mid-2012, but have you noticed how little I have written since running L.A. in 2013?  A month worth of travel, the sudden decline and eventual passing of my father, the recurrence of kidney and bladder stones in my cat Meeko, and the unexpected diagnosis of cancer in my cat Mushu, did little to help me regain the discipline necessary for improvement.  That said, running in Mexico and between and around famous landmarks in Paris (until I tripped on cobblestone while crossing a street) were definitely blog worthy highlights that I may write about in the near future.

Then 2014 began.  The demands of having to settle my father's estate, an excessively rough crunch at work, and treating my cats, left me with little time and even less energy for running.  Unless I am mistaken, this was the first time since 2007 (when I started getting serious about running again) that I would go an entire week without running for reasons other than recovering from a marathon.  For six months I would rarely run more than once per week, one long run per month at most...nowhere near enough to sustain my endurance.  And my pace suffered, an average dropping into the 12 minutes per mile range for the first time in my life.

Losing Mushu in June was an even bigger blow.  All I could was think about how much time I wasted running and working when I should have stayed home sleeping in, curled up with him in bed...I was devastated I could not enjoy one more lazy Sunday with my boy.  Unfortunately, I was now rarely home on weekends due to the aforementioned crunch.  Dinners provided by employer encouraged us to stay at our desks and work late many nights of the week, but, unfortunately, most were of the fried, fast-food or fast-casual variety.  I probably gained between 10 and 15 pounds due to deteriorating diet, lack of exercise, loss of sleep, and declining emotional state.

By my birthday, I realized I needed to start signing up for races if I had any hope of getting back into a healthy routine.  Nothing motivates like the fear of a race.

I found an aggressive 16 week half marathon training plan on Runkeeper that seemed ideal to get me back on pace within a relatively short window of time.  Starting it by the end of June would have me ready by the Long Beach Half Marathon, so I registered for the race to guarantee I would stick to the schedule.  This would be the first time I trained using a schedule other than . This was the first routine that included runs as long as the event I was training for...and it even exceeded 13.1 miles on a number of days.  It demanded even longer mid-week runs than the marathon training schedule I had been using for all of my races.  While I questioned the approach, I tried my best to stick with the plan because I knew I needed to do way more than I had been doing in the past if I had any hopes of getting back to where I had been in previous years.

The training was not enough to improve my pace, so I signed up for more races including two 5Ks and a 10K.  Though I did not set any personal records, these events helped drop my times quickly.  My average pace was still in the 10 minute per mile range, but the races proved I could once again sustain miles in the low-to-mid 7's.  My confidence was growing that I could crack the two hour mark at Long Beach, but I had no idea by how much.  I anticipated most of my miles would be in the low 9's.

Yesterday did not exactly go as planned.  Among other things, I was invited to watch part of the USC-Arizona football game at a friends' place.  The game started at 7:30pm and we left as planned at halftime, but I was too wrapped up in the game to go to bed when we got home.  What I failed to anticipate was that USC would give Arizona every opportunity to steal the win late in the game.  I did not fall asleep quickly.  I cannot imagine what would have happened had we lost.

This morning, I woke up an hour past my alarms.  They were still buzzing when I regained consciousness...I had simply slept through them.  I had no time to make coffee or eat breakfast.  As I had not planned on driving myself to the event, I had not given myself much of a cushion to deal with traffic or find parking.  I had to throw on my clothes and leave immediately.

Driving towards Long Beach, I discovered I was not wearing my running watch.  The race was only an hour from starting and I was over twenty minutes from home, so I could not turn back.  I have not raced without a timing device around my wrist since high school...and, given my lack of comfort with my pace, I thought this would ruin any chance I had at meeting my goal.

I hit traffic just a few blocks from where I needed to turn left.  No left or u-turn signs were posted on the intersections in between.  Long Beach was filled with one-way streets so I did not want to take too many chances finding a route around the stopped cars.  Started crossing fingers and toes I would make it to the start on time.

I finally turned left on to Broadway, but the parking structure I planned to use was full.  The neighboring ones were much more expensive, charging as much as $25.  The next few I found were pre-pay only.  I started wishing I had further investigated that option yesterday.  I continued east staying parallel to the event because yesterday I had observed that the street immediately to the south was closed due to construction.  I figured any streets closer would be either be heavily congested with traffic or part of the course (the marathon was already underway).  That said, I realized I was now straying far east of the start line, so I made a couple of lefts until I was paralleling the event again, this time heading west.  The first parking lot on my left was pre-pay only...but, a few blocks later, I found a large structure on the right letting cars in.  $10 flat.  I had no choice but to pay.

Much to my surprise, I could see the structure I had originally intended to park at when I emerged from the garage. I was only one block north of it, facing down a nice pedestrian walkway. I knew exactly where I was relative to the start line and suspected I even had enough time to walk there.  Seeing other half marathoners milling about confirmed my estimate.  I did not have to rush. I also did not have to bring a garbage bag or throwaway sweats.  The marine layer was present and temperature not too chilly - perfect running weather.

As I reached the Long Beach Convention Center, I consumed a Clif Shot and chased it with water.  I was hungry.  When I approached the starting area, I started worrying again.  The half marathon was a much bigger event than I had anticipated.  I had to find a way into the corral for the first wave, but fences were in place and I could not see an opening from this side.  When I saw a couple of runners hop the fence, I followed.  Phew.  Ten minutes to spare.  I had no room to stretch, but I did not care.  I launched Runkeeper so I could record the event on my Galaxy S5 (at least I would still have GPS data to review after the race), enabled auto-pause so I would not have to fumble with my phone as the race got underway, then secured the phone in my Spibelt.  I had made it just in time for the singing of our National Anthem.  And then the start was delayed.

Fortunately the delay was short.  The horn sounded only a few minutes late.  I walked to the starting mat and then quickly weaved through slower runners to get up to speed.  Not wearing a timing device meant I had to trust my instincts...which usually are not very good.  I almost always go out too fast.  And I could only assume today was no different.

Though Long Beach's half marathon course is merely a subset of the full, I did not clearly remember the details, especially before the courses split.  Every aspect of what I did remember (going out too fast, the incline when crossing two bridges, running on boards around the marina, crossing the 10K mat) seemed to occur further into the run...which threw me off a bit. The only timing clock on the course was somewhere around the 3 mile mark...and it was reporting just under 8 minutes (I assume this was the pace based on gun time).  As with my first race here, I initially carried a disposable water bottle and skipped the first few water stations...but my water got warmer than I remembered, so I likely ditched it earlier.  The bike path section, which I remembered enjoying on my last race here, seemed significantly longer...perhaps exacerbated by high humidity (kept having to wipe the sweat from my eyes) and a slight but persistent headwind.  It did not help that I had lost sight of the 1:50 pace group during this stretch.  Though I did not think I would be able to crack 1:50 today, most of my half marathon races and splits have been under 1:50.

All I could think about while running along the bike path was that I was extending how much further to the I would have to run in the opposite direction to reach the finish line.  I also started worrying about the marine layer dissipating.  Since I consumed my pre-race Clif Shot a bit earlier than normal, I opted to down another just before the water station at the half-way mark.  I didn't bring a third shot, but figured I could grab one when provided on the course.  I had ditched my water bottle well before the 10K mat, so I was taking water and Powerade at roughly every other station since.  This too was a good sign as I never felt like I needed fluids.

When the course finally turned on to Ocean Blvd, I started thinking about how glad I was that I was only doing the half.  I soon noticed people holding pink boxes containing what looked like glazed donuts.  Who would eat a donut in the middle of a race?  I quickly flashed back on Coach Ruffel's donut runs in high school...reminiscing how many I consumed after those runs.  Then I started thinking about how hungry I was.  Donuts suddenly sounded good.  I looked inside as I passed another person holding one of the boxes.  They were just donut bad could one be?  As I approached a final guy holding a box, he stated, "I saw you looking at those other boxes.  I know you want one."  I replied, "Fine, I'm taking one.  Thanks." And with that I downed the glazed donut hole.  Just then I ran by a series of Clif Shot stations.  I did not bother grabbing one.

The half marathon branched away from the full course around 10.5 miles into the race, and the marathoners rejoin the course shortly thereafter.  I did not feel any regret about my decision this time.  That said, I now had to seriously consider when to start pushing.   I remembered Ocean Blvd as being relatively flat, but with a slight descent over the final mile.  I wanted to save my energy for that stretch, but feel like I have been pushing the entire race.  I was not sure how much I had left in reserve.  Mile 11 felt tough.

As I grabbed water from the mile 12 water station, I decided it was time to start my final push.  The course was now trending downhill, so I was confident that I had picked up the pace.  Adding encouragement, I could see the 1:50 pace leader ahead of me and I was slowly beginning to reel him in.  I started doubting my ability to sustain this pace until I could see the final turn to Shoreline Drive.  I remember how great I felt when I finished the full, so I gave it everything I had left.  Though I could not catch the 1:50 pace leader, I did manage to cross the finish line shortly after the official timer hit 1:50.  Had I actually cracked 1:50?

After proceeding down the finish chute, I grabbed my phone and pulled up RunKeeper.  Even with auto-pause enabled, it still recorded 1:52.  I posted the run on Facebook, commenting that I think I cracked 1:50.  It was not until my wife, who had been tracking my time online, confirmed that I knew for sure.  To say I was pleased was an understatement.  I had trained to go sub-2, was hoping at best to match my first half marathon (1:53).  I had been running much more consistently over the six months leading up to my first and it was upon an even flatter course.

This race confirmed that I am almost back to where I want to be with my running...and that I should be able to resume my marathon-per-year routine in 2015.  To seal the deal, I have already signed up for the Palos Verdes Half (a month from now), will be starting RunKeeper's sub-3:45 marathon training plan at the end of November...and will likely sign up for the next L.A. Marathon before this week is over.

Official Results:
5K Split: 0:24:14 (7:48/mi)
10K Split 0:49:25 (7:57/mi)
10.9 Mile Split 1:32:00 (8:26/mi)
Total: 1:49:35 - 6th fastest half marathon
Average race pace: 8:22/mi

784 of 12976 overall finishers
607 of 5283 male finishers
102 of 787 male finishers age 40-44

GPS Data:
Audio/visual content ©2017 Eric A. Iwasaki - All Rights Reserved