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 half-an-hour...no 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 icky...so 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 building...an 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 open...like 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 times...one 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 course...as 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 holes...how 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:
Strava

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Los Angeles Marathon 2.0

As soon as I crossed the finish line in 2010, I knew Los Angeles would be the site of my first repeat marathon.  Aside from some traffic issues that made the beginning and end of that race memorable for all the wrong reasons, I had very little to complain while actually running upon L.A.'s new Stadium to the Sea Course.  The weather was perfect, spectators were abundant and enthusiastic, live entertainment appropriately demonstrating our metropolis'  diversity.  I set a PR and had a great time in the process.

I knew my second time running from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica would be different...and not just because of welcome course changes that allowed the Downtown segment to stretch into Chinatown and Little Tokyo.  My training pace over the past month strongly implied I would not be able set another PR.  Beating my last time in L.A. looked nearly impossible.  Not seeing steady improvement over my last month of training, I could not even predict if I could top my disappointing result in Malibu.  That said, I still held out hope that my familiarity with this course, today's encouraging weather forecast, and the downhill finish would put me within striking range of a 3:40 finish.

Alas, it was not meant to be.

The positives:
  • I spent the week shifting my hours so that I was able to get a solid 8 hours of sleep.  I even woke up a minute before my 3:30am alarm sounded, so I had plenty of time to enjoy a bagel and a cup of coffee.
  • Valerie dropped me at the Artesia Transit Center before the first Metro Silver Line bus arrived and there were zero issues between there and Union Station, despite some detours due to road closures for the marathon.
  • The departure times of the shuttles were not strictly enforced, so I could climb aboard a shuttle bus from Union Station as soon as I arrived (otherwise I might have had to wait in the cold for another twenty minutes)
  • There was traffic heading into the Dodger Stadium, but shuttle buses had their own lane.  I stepped under the welcome sign near the corrals before my reserved bus was even scheduled to depart from Union Station.
  • Plenty of port-a-potties this year.  Lines for some were long, but not so bad if you took time to look.
  • It was so nice to not have to fiddle with a bib and safety pins before a race (this year, while at the pre-race Expo, I opted to have it printed directly on a shirt)
  • The bottle of sunscreen included in our Expo packet provided the perfect amount of coverage...and the provided Shot Blocks (and knowing there would be a Clif Energy Station on the course) meant I only had to bring one additional packet of Gu to cover the whole race.
  • Hanging out inside the stadium provides some shelter from the morning breeze...and there are plenty of places to sit down.
  • I met up with Leo and his running club in Corral B...and I could have used them as a pace group had I not been overly ambitious as we started our first descent from the stadium
  • I could have tried to stay with Leo as he passed me around mile 14, but I knew I was dropping off the pace and wisely decided not to pursue.
  • Plenty of water with stations at least at every mile.
  • The stretch on Santa Monica Blvd from Century City to Sepulveda did not seem nearly as long as it did in 2010
  • The hill through the Veterans Park did not seem nearly as challenging as it did in 2010
  • The temperature actually dropped as we approached the sea...only 54 degrees as I ran through Brentwood.
  • Christophe, my former boss, started running with me for a block or two around mile 23.  He was not in today's race, just wanted to show his support for coworkers past and present.  He pushed my pace from 9:39/mi back to around 8:03/mi...a pace I nearly held through to the finish line.



Official Results:
10K Split: 0:49:00 (7:53/mi)
20K Split: 1:39:40 (8:09/mi)
30K Split: 2:35:11 (8:56/mi)
40K Split: 3:32:27 (9:13/mi)
Total:        3:43:30 (8:06/mi)5th fastest marathon
Average race pace: 8:31/mi

1,609 / 23,006 overall finishers
1,358 / 11,752 male finishers
209 / 1434 male finishers age 40-44

GPS Data:

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Marathon #6 (or 7) Training Complete

Well, I can't say I feel 100% ready for this year's L.A. Marathon. Fighting off a light case of the flu as I entered my final month of training, I never found my rhythm...the first time I have not recorded a steady pace progression through race day.  Even worse, my average pace over this period (and my annual average pace) has slowed considerably since I set my marathon PR two years ago.

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

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

Starting the week after Malibu, I began my 18 week training schedule unable to do my back-to-back-back midweek runs with consistency for fear of aggravating my ankle injury.  That said, I was able to hit or exceed my distance targets through mid-January until a trip forced me to shift one out of sequence.  Not counting the 27 miler I ran before Christmas, I stopped short of my target distance on my two longest runs, surely a bad sign.

Since I started feeling tenderness in my Achilles tendon, I backed off on the minimalist running.  I have also started to question the endurance of Vibram soles...I wore through a second pair of Merrell Trail Gloves more quickly than the first, and in less than half the distance I typically get out of a pair of Asics Kayanos.  I will no longer use Merrell Trail Gloves in my rotation.

I still hope to beat my time in Malibu, but I am not sure I will be able to beat my previous time on this course.  3:40 is a tough nut to crack...even when the weather conditions are ideal.  Sunday's forecast could reach into the 70's if there is no marine layer or if it burns off before I can finish.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

27 Miles for 27 Sandy Hook Victims

Can it be called a marathon if it is not a race?  If so, then I just ran my second marathon in 2012...unexpectedly meeting my New Year's goal at the just a couple of weeks before the next one.  But if I didn't, it is no big loss...because, one way or another, I did something that felt really good.

Though I had no direct connection to the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, I felt the senseless loss of innocent young lives far more deeply than I expected.  This was already shaping up to be the least happy holiday I have ever experienced...the tragedy having taken place less than a week after my wife's brother unexpectedly passed away and just months after her father suffered a stroke.

When Naughty Dog Co-President Christophe Balestra invited me to join a fund raising run he was organizing, I could not refuse.  He personally planned to contribute $5 for every mile run by anyone who accepted the challenge and, considering I was in the midst of training for another marathon (already had an 18 miler scheduled for this weekend), attempting to join him for the full distance was the least I could do.  We would not be running at race pace so we could run together for as long as possible.  Not everyone participating would be a marathoner, some never having even attempted half this distance, and a few did not even consider themselves runners; the size of our group was expected fluctuate throughout the morning.

Before sunrise, I parked at the lot near the Santa Monica Civic Center and jogged through the chilly streets of Santa Monica towards the famous pier.  The plan was to meet on the bike path, but I did not know exactly where.  Since I did not know which direction we would be starting, I needed to reach the path before the group departed, but, to maximize my sleep, I had timed my arrival almost too perfectly.  There was just enough light from the adjacent parking lot to see runners already on the move to the south. I quickly found my way to the stairs, descended to the bike path, and kicked it into high gear to catch up with them.

I soon caught up with everyone in the dark.  As I advanced my way through the pack, I learned who exactly had showed up...many of whom I had worked with at Naughty Dog, but have not seen much since I departed in 2009.  In other words, this was a mini-reunion for me.  I stayed in touch with many of the Dogs via Facebook, so I knew some, like Christophe, had become runners.  I did not expect to find Evan leading the pack.  That said, Evan only planned to run to Venice...apparently he had an early flight to catch.

For the most part, our course would stick to the bike path, traveling as far south as Venice before turning back on itself.  It would then go a few miles north of the Santa Monica Pier before turning back.  We would repeat this nine mile out-and-back three times...giving non- or less frequent runners numerous stopping opportunities and making it possible for some to join or re-join the group throughout the morning.  Whenever we passed by the Santa Monica Pier parking lot, we could stop to get a drink, snack, take photos.

The sun started to rise during our first stint north of the pier.  The last time I actually could enjoy sunrise during a marathon was my first.  There is something special about running at dawn.  I broke from the pack to make a quick pit-stop...and used the opportunity to take a photo.  Unfortunately, this meant I had to run at full race pace to rejoin the group before they reached northernmost turning point because, with no official markers placed along the course, I needed to see exactly where they turned back if I wanted credit for the full distance.  It took me over a mile (running under an eight minutes per mile) to catch up.  I carried this race pace until I got ahead of everyone...so I could stop and quickly photograph the early participants with the sun rising behind them.

Shortly after turning back towards the pier, I decided to stop at an overlook and capture another shot of the sun rising over the beach...knowing I would spend a mile running at a full race pace to rejoin the group.  The toughest part of stopping was that muscles tighten up quickly in the cold morning air, so resuming at such a strong pace was not smart.

Apparently Christophe's running event was not the only one taking place upon the bike paths of Santa Monica this morning.  As we continued south, we saw many runners wearing bibs (I later learned this was for the Naughty and Nice Marathon).  They must have thought we were the largest group of bandit runners ever!

We stopped briefly at the parking lot adjacent to the pier before continuing south.  As expected, we lost some and gained some during the break.  I took pictures of the revised pack as everyone emerged from under the pier...and decided these shots would be the last of us running (see what I did there?).  Fortunately I did not need to work nearly as hard to catch up as the group's pace had slowed a bit to around ten minutes per mile.

We repeated this out-and-back two more times, barely noticing that we picked up the pace a bit in the middle (which did stretch out the pack a bit).  As we neared the end of the 27 miles, Christophe started thinking he could join a couple of ultra-marathoners in the group who were planning to run 30 miles...even knowing he could not possibly achieve that distance in the time he had left (he had to pick someone up from the airport).

In the end, I think six of us completed the 27 miler (a few went for more).  David and I finished together, but our time and distances vary slightly since I started my watch at the Civic Center parking lot.  My total time was 4 hours and 42 minutes, with an even more impressive 26.2 mile split of 4:33:32.  For reference, I limped to finish my first marathon on Maui in 4:41:59.  Of course, there were no injuries here, but, if I remove the amount of time I stopped for breaks, I would have completed the marathon distance in under 4:08; not bad for someone not running at his race pace.

David decided to cut his distance at exactly 26.2 with a total time of 4:29:16.  This was the first time David had ever run longer than 18 miles, so he definitely should sign up for a marathon.

Christophe finished with 28.1 miles in 4:49:18.  He has ultras in his future.

So, can I officially add this marathon to my running total?  Could I dare say I ran my first ultra?

My Garmin Data

Friday, November 16, 2012

First Recovery Run Aborted

Wednesday was technically the first day I felt like I could run following the Malibu Marathon, but this morning is the first I actually tried to put feet to pavement largely because my right ankle really started bothering me towards the end of Sunday's race...and even more so in the days that followed.

I was really limping around the office on Monday morning.  My ankle pain was definitely more of an issue than it has ever been in the past.  It even caused me grief sleeping the first two nights after the race.

That said, the pain had largely subsided by this morning, so I decided to give it a go.  But shortly after I started running up the first hill by my house, I realized the pain had not completely gone away.  It is just painful enough that I decided to postpone running another day just to be safe.
 
Audio/visual content ©2014 Eric A. Iwasaki - All Rights Reserved