Sunday, March 21, 2010

25th Los Angeles Marathon

I wake up at 4am. I am really glad I opted to have dad drive me directly to Dodger Stadium rather than to the shuttle buses in Santa Monica...the extra 45 minutes of sleep was well worth it! I enjoy coffee, a bagel, and suit up for the race. Dad arrives at my house, I grab my pre-packed gear, and we depart exactly at 5:30am. Traffic is light to and on northbound Interstate 110 through the I-10 interchange. Everything is proceeding as planned.

Suddenly, a sea of brake lights appear. It is only 6:00am. No need to worry...at least not yet.

Half an hour later, Downtown Los Angeles still fills my door window. Coffee usually takes this long to pass completely through my system. I try hard not to think about it, focusing instead on fastening my bib and applying sunscreen. We are surrounded by cars and buses attempting to ferry runners to the race. The radio frequently mentions how traffic is being affected by this "Stadium to the Sea" marathon route, but not specifically why we are in a stop-and-go situation. Event organizers redesigned the course to give out of town runners a more complete taste of the L.A. experience. Perhaps this gridlock is by design?

Another half hour passes. We now inch along adjacent to the ramp for Highway 101. Traffic trying to merge back on the 110 further aggravates the situation. Dodger Stadium is still two miles away. The race starts in 24 minutes. I seriously have to go. Anxiety is not helping my situation. If we can make it to the next embankment, I will hop out and use whatever bush I can find. I am not sure I will last that long.

Runners jump out of their cars and run past my window. I do not hesitate to join them. They weave in and out of the stop-and-go traffic, but I feel safer running in a straight line using the stripe between the 110 and 10 as a guide. A CalTrans truck passes me on the right and then pulls on to the divider ahead of me. Its driver expresses his concerns about us running on the freeway, but I do not have time for chit-chat. Between the freeways, just beyond the truck, lies a patch of grass on a slight downward slope that seems sufficiently shielded from anyone's view. I run directly for it. RELIEF!!!!!

In my haste to make waste, I have left my pre-race water and Gu in my dad's car. I check the time and realize I cannot wait for him to catch up. I join a growing number of runners who have abandoned their rides, continue north on the freeway, exit Stadium Way, and climb up the steep hill to the Dodger Stadium Parking Lot. Near the top, I notice another semi-private alcove along the hillside already being taken advantage by several runners. RELIEF!!!!!

A horn sounds. Crap! Did I miss the start of the race? Only the wheelchair race appears to have begun. An announcement confirms that the marathon has officially been delayed by twenty minutes. I must wait for all of the wheelchairs to pass before I can cross the course and look for the Sub-4 Hour Corral, but I should have enough time. I could really use some water though.

A packed field of nearly 25,000 participants and fences make it really hard to move about the starting area. From here, I cannot see if there are gates or even breaks in the fences for each corral. I look for a race official, organizer, volunteer for assistance. There is no such person in sight. Another horn sounds. The elite women have started. I now have less than twenty minutes to reach my corral.

Someone starts singing the National Anthem. I briefly pause and remove my cap, but realize this may be my last opportunity to advance through the crowd. I reluctantly enter from the starting area very back and then quietly try to push my way forward. This is not working. With an unprecedented density of people ahead of me, I estimate it will take longer than twenty minutes to reach the start line from here. Temperature could be a huge factor today. Every minute counts.

I drop by the Volunteer Check-in Tent to ask for assistance. No one knows anything about how the corrals are being handled. I dive into the tents left from yesterday's Expo desperately hoping to find someone who can help. There are people stretching, but no uniformed race officials or event organizers. Thankfully, the tents provide a clear path to the start line...so I make a dash for it.

I finally find the gate for the Sub 4-Hour Corral. A mob of runners now stands between me and the entrance. Oddly, no one is wearing the wristband required for admission. I hold my fist in the air to clearly display my blue "Sub-4" credentials and start pushing my way through the crowd...an act that draws some angry looks, but do I care? I stop as soon as I find another wearing the blue band. We are standing just outside of the fence. We cannot proceed any further because the corral is densely packed with runners not sporting the required ID! There is no room to stretch, not even enough to pull out my cellphone for taking pictures. Good thing I am already warmed up!

The horn sounds, the elite men take off. As the rest of the field slowly unpacks, I make my way into the corral. Spacing soon increases, so I quickly pull out my cellphone, snap one picture with the phone's camera, and return it to my armband. I am glad to see that I am not the only marathoner taking photos before crossing the timing mat.

I reach the start line nearly two minutes after the horn, start my GPS watch's timer, and accelerate to a jog. My pace is slower than 10 minutes per mile as I begin my ascent around the ballpark. If I want to achieve my pace goal, I need to advance through the field. The course through the stadium parking lot is narrow. I try to find gaps while weaving from one side to the other.

I complete an orbit of Dodger Stadium and reach the first mile marker in 8:36. I averaged 8:31 per mile in Long Beach, but am not terribly concerned. I figure L.A.'s downhill-trending course will offer many opportunities for reducing my average pace. My mouth and throat are unusually dry...the downside of leaving my pre-race water bottle in dad's car. I eagerly grab water at the aid station. I do not spill a single drop.

The course presents its first downhill stretch while exiting the stadium on Elysian Park Avenue. I let my legs loose...feels good to increase the pace without exerting additional effort. The descent continues on to Sunset Blvd and my pace levels off with the grade. I complete mile 2 in a quick 7:18, mile 3 in 7:11...a bit fast, but good compensation for a slow start. The balls of my feet start to burn...a cause for concern given how little I have run wearing this particular pair of Kayano 15s. It is way too early for blisters. Am I pounding the pavement a bit too hard?

As the course turns on to Main Street, Los Angeles landmarks enter view accompanied by festive mariachi music. I run by City Hall. Disney Concert Hall swings into view as we head down 1st. Wait...there it is again. Recognizable large buildings register quickly, but I forget it takes time to actually reach them. My mind is already playing tricks on me. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion has been looming on the horizon far too long. Is this hill getting steeper? As I near the top, rumbling taiko drums urge me to pick up the pace.

It feels good to turn down Grand. Despite the hill, I have completed this mile sub-8. I grab Powerade at the Mile 4 aid station and, though I did not have my-pre race Gu, resume my gel consumption plan. Sticking to familiar splits (every 45 minutes starting with minute 30) should make it easier for me to remember when to dole out my remaining packs.

The course turns on to Temple, descends over Figueroa and approaches the 110. I cannot help but notice the improved flow of traffic on the freeway before I dive under it. I wonder if my dad bypassed the madness at Dodger Stadium altogether...after I bolted from his car he really had no reason to go there. Wait...here comes another incline. This course has been advertised as downhill trending, but, thus far, drops in elevation have been all too brief...and the inclines more frequent and longer lasting.

We turn up a small street, cross over Highway 101, and turn up again. I have not been paying attention to street signs, so I am not exactly sure where we are, but I suspect we are snaking our way back to Sunset Boulevard. The hill crests around mile 5. I suspect more climbing will be involved before we reach Sunset. Perhaps I should conserve some energy during this next descent.

I see a Echo Lake! I cross Echo Park Avenue and turn right from Bellevue Avenue to Glendale Boulevard. The lake provides a pleasant change of scenery...and a nice stretch of flat terrain. And shortly after the lake disappears from view, I see the sign for Sunset Boulevard.

I soon realize that I am not that familiar with this stretch of Sunset. My familiarity begins in Hollywood and ends at the coast. Will the next few miles be downhill, flat, or rolling? As I come around the first bend, I feel a touch of headwind. The strength increases as hills come into view along the horizon. I complete mile 7 pretty quickly. Gravity has apparently compensated for the increasing air resistance.

I notice I am running alongside the 3:30 pace group (its leader holds a large yellow sign with "3:30" printed...hard to miss). Have I gone out too fast? I am not having any difficulty maintaining my current pace. I decide to hang with the group.

The Hollywood sign comes into view. For some reason, this brings a smile to my face. I suddenly feel like a tourist, eager to see what sites Tinsel Town has to offer.

After the Mile 8 marker, Sunset becomes Hollywood Boulevard and then turns due west.

There is absolutely nothing worth seeing between miles 9 and 10. Thai Town is certainly not Tinsel Town as glamorized in the movies. Hollywood Boulevard does not really start to get interesting until I cross Highway 101. At the Mile 10 aid station, I grab another water. I drink it down and then consume a Clif Shot without breaking my stride.

I cross the famous (albeit bland) intersection of Hollywood and Vine and run past the Pantages Theater. The Capitol Records Tower comes into view. As I cross Hollywood and Highland, more famous sites come into view. I would have loved to trample the Stars on to the Walk of Fame, but the course is bound to the pavement. Asphalt is easier on the joints, so I cannot complain...but there are stretches of concrete around here. Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland is playing at the El Capitan? I am still on the fence whether or not I want to see it. I am briefly tempted to check out the footprints in front of the Chinese Theater, but wisely decide against it. Wait! Where is 3:30 pace group? I guess I fell off the pace while being distracted by the sites.

I turn left down Orange and pass the gated parking lot for the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. I hope their guest lot opens on to other streets because this entrance will likely remain closed for many hours.

The course returns to Sunset Boulevard. I am familiar with this stretch from visits to the Guitar Center...which comes into view after Mile 12. Last time I stepped inside this location was with my nephews and niece a few years ago. Actually, I do not think I have ever bought music gear from this store. Heck, it has been awhile since I have bought any music gear.

As I try to remember where the Virgin Megastore once stood, I hear Erasure being blasted over loudspeakers. I must be in West Hollywood. My Walkman phone just shuffled to different song by Erasure. What a weird coincidence!

I cross Mile 13 and start wondering if I will cross a timing mat to signify the halfway mark. If I rely solely upon my GPS watch, I have already exceeded that distance. My split has to be under 1:45. I am way ahead of my pace...and once again I have gravity assistance. I pass by Carney's. A hamburger sounds so good right now. I settle for Gu. Wait...I consumed my last one 30 minutes ago! Damn! Now I will have to wait an hour before downing my next one if I want to get me back on schedule. I have two remaining packs. They must carry me through to the finish.

Did I just get passed by the 3:30 pace leader? I thought that group passed me ages ago. Wow. If I can keep them in view...

Mile 14. Water or Powerade? The last few stations have not done a great job pointing out which volunteers serve the electrolyte replenishing fluids. Some aid stations use white cups for water, red cups for the ade, but lately I have gotten water in both cups. Should I be concerned?

I turn down San Vicente and then on to a familiar stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard. Is that a drag queen cheerleader? Did a guy just pass me wearing a tutu and phallus on his head? I am definitely still in WeHo. The course turns on to Doheny. I complete Mile 15. I get another cup of water...this is getting ridiculous! If I see someone handing out orange slices, I will grab one. So far, the oranges have been pretty damn good.

Oooh. Naked Juice is handing out boxes of their Coconut Water at Mile 16. Supposedly this is a good substitute for Powerade. Had I not sampled a box at yesterday's Expo, I probably would have avoided it. I suck down quite a bit of the box as Burton Way becomes Santa Monica Boulevard, but I do not need the whole container. It feels really strange tossing litter on the streets of Beverly Hills.

I turn on Rodeo Drive. When I visit this street with my wife, I want to run away (just kidding). Without realizing it, I pass Brian, a former coworker (I knew he ran the race, but did not actually see him until he sent me an e-mail regarding the photo to the left). His goal is a sub-3 hour marathon, but he is having an off day. Tiffany's & Co does not seem the far away.

Next thing I know, I am turning on to Wilshire Boulevard. There are a bunch of people dressed in green in front of Niketown. Not sure what the meaning is...too busy running to care.

The course turns back on Santa Monica Boulevard at one of the busier and more accident prone intersections of this city. Fortunately, it remains closed to traffic to protect us marathoners. I wonder how this closure impacts surrounding streets...can't be good.

As I continue down Santa Monica towards Century City, I notice a slight incline...and suddenly remember that this will likely continue for more than a few miles to come. As my mood starts to darken, I notice the street is lined with cheerleaders from a large number of high schools. They cheer us through the Mile 18 aid station. My pace is dropping, but, as long as I keep it under nine minutes per mile, I should be fine.

I pass the Westfield Shopping Center and continue down the somewhat recently improved section of Santa Monica Boulevard. As I pass the Los Angeles Temple, my cellphone starts ringing. Figuring this is a call from my wife, I decide to answer it. "Hi Eric, this is Betty...Pete's mom". Why is my best friend's mom calling me in the middle of the race?

"Is this a good time?" she asks.

"I am in the middle of a marathon right now," I reply.

Obviously, I will get back to her later. Pete is not in the country right now...and I have not talked to her in a long time. I am a bit concerned why she would call me. But, first things first.

I am starting to feel the distance as Interstate 405 comes into view. This whole stretch has definitely not been easy. I am glad to turn right on Sepulveda Boulevard, even though it is short lived. The course takes an immediate left on Ohio, dives under the 405, and then right on Bonsail towards the West LA Veterans Association Healthcare Center. I have now completed 20 miles of the race, but I do not feel like celebrating. The incline is increasing. The heat is increasing. The sun is breaking through the clouds. There is no shade. My pace is decreasing. Could this be the wall? Judging from the faces on the runners around me, I am not the only one feeling this way.

Much to my chagrin, the incline continues after Mile 21. Fortunately, spectators in Brentwood seem more enthusiastic than anywhere else along the course. Even better, a gentle sea breeze has brought the temperature back to a more pleasant level. A sign on a nearby building says it is only 64 degrees Fahrenheit. The forecast was for 70 by this hour.

I really want to stop at the mile 22 aid station. Cheers prevent me from doing so. I hear someone calling "Keep going, Akira! You're almost there!" (my bib says "Akira3D"). How can I even think about walking? I glance at my watch more frequently. My overall average pace continues to slow. Aren't the final five miles are supposed to be downhill? I can still feel the incline, even as I complete the 23rd mile. My average pace for the whole run has slowed to nearly 8:20/mile. 8:22/mile was my average at Long Beach. Intimate familiarity with the remainder of this course is the only thing keeping me from getting totally discouraged. I repeatedly tell myself I will set a personal record today.

I feel my legs turn over faster and faster. I have begun my final descent! Gravity is definitely helping me pick up the pace. I complete the 24th mile in 8:44. Will my pace will continue to improve? There is a slight headwind, but the breeze feels great. I consume my last Cliff Shot. Hopefully it will provide the fuel for one last push.

Oh how I wish I could run on the patch of grass dividing eastbound and westbound San Vicente! When I worked at Naughty Dog, Justin and I would fly down this median during our workday lunch runs. This marathon course has been pretty tough on my feet, but my left knee and right ankle have not bothered me at all. The former nearly ruined the last ten miles of Maui, the latter became a real nuisance during the final miles of Long Beach.

As I turn on to Ocean Avenue, I decide to skip the last aid station and just push hard for the finish line. Why does the finish line at Santa Monica Boulevard seem so far away? My attitude improves as I cross California. I am definitely in the home stretch now. I quickly glance at my watch. I am still on pace to finish under 3:40:00. I see Marshall, a former coworker. He is totally cheering me on. What a boost!

I start looking for my wife, my parents, anyone I can recognize, but it is hard to know where to focus...there are so many spectators lining the final blocks of the course. I can now read the time on the official race clock at the finish line. I am well ahead of my chip time from Long Beach. I pump my fist as I approach the finish line. I have easily exceeded my goal. I hear my name announced as cross the final timing mat. This is the way to finish a marathon!

I stop my watch. It reads 3:39:32. A quick review of its history shows I completed my last mile in under 8 minutes. Heck, I averaged 8 minutes per mile over the final three. Adding my unanticipated pre-race warm up, I ran at least 28 miles today...the most I have ever run in one day. A 50km now seems well within the realm of possibility. That said, I still have no desire to run an ultra marathon (sorry Justin).

I grab my post-race spoils as I make my way down Ocean Avenue. I will wear the 25th L.A. Marathon finisher medal with pride. Volunteers start handing out the typical post-race drinks and food. I could really use a fork...and a bag to carry everything. I drop my plastic blanket as I grab the last item. I reach the post-race photo area and am relieved each photographer's assistant has a box for us to place our goodies so we do not have to juggle them while posing.

My wife Valerie calls to find out where I am. She is still near the finish line. The whole street has been fenced off as the finisher's area, forcing the spectators to remain on the sidewalk and runners on the street. It will take some time for her to reach me. Event organizers could have easily improved the flow of crowds by narrowing the finisher's chute to the southbound side. Marshall finds me on the west side of Ocean, my parents meet up with me on the east. I have to get off my legs. I finish a banana and start into a bagel. Valerie finally reaches us. Everyone seems so proud of my accomplishment and starts taking pictures. Great...I probably have bits of bagel in my teeth!

Suddenly, bird crap lands on my leg. Just great. I look up and see that I am sitting directly under a street lamp...and there are three pigeons on it. My legs are tired, but I must move.

Results (official):
05km: 00:24:20
10km: 00:49:39
15km: 01:14:01
20km: 01:39:14
25km: 02:05:06
30km: 02:32:31
35km: 03:01:32
40km: 03:28:36
Total: 03:39:31 (new PR)

1189 / 22161 overall finishers
1016 / 13042 male finishers
166 / 1746 male finishers age 35-39

RunPix Results


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