Sunday, October 11, 2009

25th Long Beach Marathon

I wake up at 3:45am. My alarm is set for 4:30, but I am understandably anxious. My second marathon is less than four hours away. Rather than even attempt to go back to sleep and risk being groggy when the alarm eventually goes off, I decide to get out of bed. The extra time will help me enjoy (and pass) coffee and a bagel before I hit the road...anything to avoid the discomfort I felt on the bus to Kahului last year.

Concerned that traffic may be more of an issue than originally feared, I call dad to make sure he received my e-mail about picking me up 15 minutes earlier than planned. He did not, but is still good to go. I can usually count on him to be punctual. He arrives at my place at exactly 5:15. I grab my bag, already packed with everything needed for the race, and we are headed to Long Beach.

Everything except my pre-race water.

Thankfully, dad has a spare bottle. Because he has brought his bike (so he can record video of me at various spots along the course), he made sure to pack plenty of water and Gatorade for himself.

En route, I finish getting ready - put on sunscreen, prep my electronics (Walkman phone and Garmin watch / heart rate monitor), put on my cap. I hold off putting on my bib until arrival, so it does not get scrunched while I sit.

I recommend we take the alternate street route suggested by the marathon guide. As soon as we drive over the Long Beach Freeway, I see we have made the right decision. Cars in southbound lanes are backed up for miles. We do not hit traffic until we are just a couple of blocks from the Long Beach Convention Center. I have my dad drop me in front of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center. Familiarity with the area after spectating at this year's Long Beach Grand Prix is proving valuable. It is an easy walk to the start area.

I reach the pre-race port-a-potties just as the bike tour begins. I have an hour before the race. I can now finish getting ready and relax...or at least try to. I hang out around a rock where I can set things down and stretch my legs. I have brought a garbage bag to use as a throwaway windbreaker, but discard it as it no longer seems necessary. There is no wind and the pre-dawn temperature is pleasant. In fact, today's weather looks perfect for running...overcast with highs forecast in the mid-60's. I wrap the timing chip into my laces (same disposable type I complained about at the Chesebro Half Marathon, but at least now I know how to properly use it).

I meet a guy who is doing this year's half marathon, but has done the full here before (albeit on a slightly different course). He has done a couple of Ironman Triathlons. He strongly recommends I try a normal triathlon or, at the very least, a sprint. I tell him that, though I once was a strong swimmer, it has been many years since I have felt that way and as many years since I last rode a bicycle. He still thinks I should try a sprint. I think triathletes are insane. Of course, I used to think the same of marathoners.

15 minutes before the first wave of the marathon starts, I down my pre-race Gu, take a few swigs from the bottle dad let me have, and work my way into the field of participants on Shoreline Drive. I try to find a spot within Wave 2, which consists of people expecting to finish the marathon between 3:40 and 4:05. I had hoped to find a spot near the front of this wave, but people are already pretty packed in. Someone starts singing the National Anthem. I give up trying to advance.

The gun fires promptly at 7am. My wave starts 5 minutes later, but my nerves are already firing on all cylinders. After the last runners in the first wave cross the start line, the race staff leads us up to the gate. No turning back now!


We are off and not running. As our wave nears the line, we slowly unpack...and only manage a light jog by the time we step on the initial timing mat. I probably spend the first half mile just getting up to speed. I should be glad that I am forced to this restrained pace because the adrenalin is begging me to go faster than I probably should. I pass the first mile marker at 8:20. Obviously my pace has improved enough to offset the slow start. My hope is to average 8:35 per mile as long as I can, so I am quite happy to already be under my target.

Of course, now my legs are up to speed. Unexpectedly, I remain below 8 minutes per mile for the next five. My legs feel great so I see little reason to hold back. Perhaps this is not the smartest decision, but I do not think that clearly when I run races. I cross the 10Km mat at 50:17...a few minutes faster than I told my dad I would. I do not see him. So much for capturing me on video as I pass through here. I finally ditch the water bottle dad gave me. It held more than enough to last me this long. I should have no problem holding out until the next water station.

The course has been interesting up to this point, running along the Gran Prix circuit, crossing a couple of bridges, nearly working its way to the Queen Mary in Ports O'Call and around a boardwalk featuring a marina and seaside restaurants and shops. The running surface has been a bit more concrete than I would like, so I am being very careful not to pound too hard. The boardwalk itself is a mix of wood and brick, but the wood planks seem a bit too loose to stay on for long.

After passing the start and finishing areas, we head on to the bike path that cuts along the beach. More concrete...ugh. Asphalt would be so much easier on the joints. Though I did not grow up far from here, I have never been out on this beach before. I now see where Long Beach gets its name. The area reminds me of South Beach, Miami...a wide, endless stretch of sand with high-rise buildings to the left, water to the right...thankfully nowhere near as hot or humid. I love having a view of the Queen Mary. Though my pace has dipped into the 8's, I am still running well ahead of my target average. I still see no reason to adjust my stride.

When we reach Belmont Plaza, I start looking for my dad again. I told him my expected time to reach here, but, like before, I am way ahead of schedule. He is nowhere to be seen even when I cross back near it between miles 10 and 11. Here the half marathoners split from the full marathoners. I try not to think how much easier it would be to follow them.

I am being extra careful to consume Gu gel and Clif Shots on the same schedule I use when I train. I do not want to do anything that breaks a comforting routine. Of course, water stations do not necessarily correspond with my schedule... and I consume a pack a bit further ahead of a station than I would have liked. Next time I will wait until I actually see a station before downing one.

The course gets a bit less interesting as we head northeast on Livingston Drive. Having clocked so many miles on concrete, I am disappointed that Nieto Ave, the street Livingston becomes is not paved. The scenery picks up again as we turn off of the street to run along Marine Stadium. Valerie and I have run here before during one of the training sessions for 2007's Nike Run Hit Remix, sessions that were directly responsible for getting me running again after a 17 year break. I never would have guessed I would return to this stretch as part of a marathon. This stretch is an out-and-back with a timing mat at the u-turn. Not sure why they have the mat a tenth of a mile before the 13 mile mark (would have far preferred for it to record my half marathon split). Heck, that's not even a 20Km split. It registers my time as 1:43:43. I cannot think clearly enough to figure how that will translates to my half split, but it sounds fast. Perhaps too fast.

I glance at my watch when I do reach the half marathon split and I think it reads 1:46. That would be my third fastest half marathon, second during an actual competition. Perhaps I should ease back average pace is still very close to 8 minutes per mile.

I catch up with someone wearing a t-shirt exclaiming "Fight on"...obviously a 'SC alum or student. I first noticed his shirt when I passed him on the bike path between miles 8 and 9, but passed me back while we ran along Marine Stadium. Noting our similar pace, I ask, "'What is your target time today?" He replies "3:41:00." Awesome. I now have another way of checking my pace (assuming he sticks to his).

The course cuts through a couple of parks and turns north on Park Road. Roughly halfway into mile 14, I see the Mile 22 marker on the oncoming side...and a couple of motorcycle officers escorting a guy I presume to be the overall race leader. He is approaching the end of his race and I still have a long way to go.

There is not much to report about the course as it cuts north and east towards Cal State Long Beach. I am still holding my pace below my target average, but can feel the effort starting to grow as I approach mile 17....a marker which lies within their campus.

Mile 17 is personally significant because it is during this mile that my knee went out during the Maui Marathon. I am seriously crossing fingers and toes that this does not recur. This marathon's 17th mile features a couple of somewhat expected inclines. I can tell my pace is continuing to slow, but am thrilled to not experience pain. My right ankle is tingling, almost as if it is falling asleep, but nothing that terribly concerns me. Our route through and around the campus lasts more than two miles, most of which are uphill, but I am pleased that my pace has only been slightly off my target average. Even better, I pass the mile 18 marker on a downhill stretch which helps me bring my pace closer to 8 for the 19th.

I maintain a pace lower than target through the 20th as well. I am growing ever more confident that I will not only be able to run this whole marathon, but also possibly beat my estimated target. That said, I no longer see the "Fight on" t-shirt. He was pulling ahead as we exited CSULB, so I am guessing he will beat his target as well.

The rest of the course is very much like an out-and-back since we retrace much of the roads we have already ran upon or near. However I was not at all aware that I was running downhill on my way to CSULB...until I start my ascent in the opposite direction. Now I feel the burn. No cramps or joint pains, just the sensation of muscles that have been pushed a bit too hard for perhaps too long. I can tell I do not have much left in reserve. Any notion that I might be able to push harder during the final 5Km fades quickly. Mile 22 is in my first in the 9's. Mile 23 is a little slower. Mile 24 slower than that, but thankfully I am still under 10 minutes per mile. I start wondering if I can still beat or even my goal. I am suddenly thankful I ran so many miles under my target pace. Or perhaps regretting I went out so fast.

Though flat, Mile 25 (on Ocean Blvd) seems especially rough. I cannot seem to get my legs to turn over any faster, but I try with only some success. The balls of my feet are bothering me as is my right ankle. Though this stretch is asphalt, I preferred the view from the bike path. I just want this run to be over.

We approach Downtown Long Beach. The guy I chatted with before the race told me that the final bit is downhill, but I do not see it. I am no longer certain I can take advantage of the descent when I do reach it. The lanes split for the bike riders, half marathoners, and full marathoners. I feel the end is near. One way or another.

I pass the Mile 26 marker and turn on to Shoreline Drive. The final stretch is indeed downhill. Crowds are cheering. Did I mention there are a lot of people attending this event? 35,000 are expected, 18,000+ of which are participants in the various events (bike tour, marathon, half marathon, 5Km). I feel one final rush of adrenalin and manage to bring my pace below 9 for the home stretch. I see the finish chute surrounded by fence. I look for my dad, but suspect he is going to have a hard time video taping me through the fence. I look for my mom, though am uncertain whether or not she decided to come. I see the official time clock. It reads 3:46 something...not at all discouraging because I started 5 minutes later.

I cross the final timing mat and grin when I read the final time on my watch: 3:43:24. I beat my goal by nearly two minutes! I beat my personal record by nearly an hour. Shortly after I come to a stop I see my mom. She is beaming with pride, apparently aware how much this achievement meant to me by reading the wide smile that appeared on my face as soon as I crossed the finish line. At that point, I think I was simply more elated to be done.

That said, this race answers a huge question that bugged me after Maui - can I consider myself a marathoner? After my first, I was yet not certain I could run a full marathon. Now I have completed two...this one on my terms. Though spent, my post-race legs feel far better than after Maui. I have no problem standing after sitting to enjoy my post-race snack. I feel even better after walking from the finish area to my dad's car at Lincoln Park.

Of course, how quickly I recover will be the real test. Mom and dad help with my muscle recovery by treating me to a meal at Seaside Palace. For some reason, lamb, filet and ground beef kabobs make me feel so happy.

I will likely sign up for Los Angeles Marathon 2010 very soon...tomorrow morning if I feel up to getting out of bed!

Official results:

10Km Split: 00:50:17
12.9 Mile Split: 01:43:43
18 Mile Split: 02:28:54
Total: 03:43:17

RunPix Results

1 comment:

Lee said...

Congrats! What an illuminating account of your marathon experience. I generally don't have much interest in running (I use boring gym equipment and a calorie counting app to fight away the fat), but I couldn't tear myself away from the mile-by-mile chronicle of your run. Thanks for sharing it.

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