Sunday, November 11, 2012

Malibu Marathon 2012

I wake up at 4:45am, giving me plenty of time to enjoy coffee and leftover pho for breakfast.  Pho is traditionally a breakfast food in Vietnam., so it technically makes more sense to eat it now than last night...but I typically try to avoid altering my pre-race routine. This soup is considerably less heavy than my usual bagel...and a lot more tasty.  Asian noodle soups have already replaced spaghetti as my go to source of carbs (enjoyed bowls of ramen and pho yesterday), so, in a way, this has already become my routine.

Valerie drops me off at the start around 6:15...but then hangs around to give me a warm place to hang out while I figure out how I want to wear my bib number. When I first arrive, the park bathroom is practically empty, so I take advantage of it while I can...but it does not stay unnoticed for long.

I start looking for the starting corrals.  The start line is on the far corner of the parking lot from the park restroom, so I decide it would be wiser to join the queue at the adjacent porta potties.  I do not want to run the first half of this 26.2 mile race needing to go...as was the case during Surf City. Fifteen minutes before the scheduled start, I enable the GPS feature on my Garmin watch.  I do not want a repeat of Palos Verdes where I missed recording my position data for the first couple of miles.  Two minutes before race time, I reach the front of the line.  As anticipated, I do need to go.

When I reach the starting area, I remove my plastic shell and sacrifice an old long sleeved shirt to the running gods.  I do a little warm up routine and find a mid-pack position in the corral, but soon notice there is a strange lack of urgency. The race does not start at 7:00am. Apparently one of the shuttle buses had not yet arrived.  I wish I had not discarded my shell.  The sun is barely hitting the starting area, but I am waiting in the shade.  It is very cold.  For once I am glad there are no clouds in the sky.  I can only imagine how cold this would be in the rain.

The master of ceremonies for the event starts asking how many marathons people have run.  I keep my arm up through when he asks if this will be our fifth and then watch to see how many keep their arms up.  One group of older folk to my left has apparently run many more marathons. I am amazed to learn that at least three of that group have run more than 300, one woman over 400.  Impressive.  Even if I am able to do two marathons per year for the rest of my life, I would be nowhere near their total.

Twenty minutes later we learn that the race will begin at 7:30am.  I start wondering if my Garmin Forerunner 405's watch will last the duration of the race.  I have reason to be concerned because its battery has completely drained during four hour workouts before.  Thankfully I learned to disable the Garmin's touch-sensitive bezel during the Santa Clarita Half Marathon...potential switching and beeping caused by my long-sleeved shirt would practically guarantee the battery would not go the distance.  Thirst sets in, so I look for a nearby water station.  Fortunately, someone is serving cups of water on the truck behind me.  They are also offering Cliff Shots.  I grab a pack even though I have come prepared with two packages of Shot Blocks.

One of the runners takes the stage and starts singing the National Anthem.  I wonder if singing will hurt his race.  I would certainly not want to do anything that might affect my breathing rhythm.

The race finally starts.  As we step into the sunlight, one nearby runner soon comments, "Who would have thought it would be colder than when we were standing still?"  I totally agree.  It is not windy, but the air is crisp and penetrates my clothing nonetheless.  I am really glad I decided to wear gloves and a long sleeved running shirt.  This is only the second race I have ever needed to do so.  We circle buildings adjacent to Camarillo Airport and turn on to Pleasant Valley Road.

My watch records my first mile in 7:32, significantly faster than I expected to go out and defying my expectations given how cold it is.  That said, my legs feel loose now and I have my breathing under control.  I hear a train horn sound and soon spot it paralleling us to the right.  Yesterday I noticed railroad tracks would be crossing the course between PCH and Camarillo, but I assumed the organizers would make sure that runners would not be held up by train.  If we had started at 7:00am as scheduled, I would guess that some of the slower runners would definitely encounter this particular train.  With this morning's delay, I start wondering if the race leaders must now stop.  That would suck.

We turn down Las Posas, a street I am familiar with from a number of drives with my car club.  I have driven upon portions of today's course many times...never before giving any thought of running upon it.  Even though I typically do not take on water over the first three miles of a race, I gladly grab a cup when we reach the first aid station around the mile 2 marker.  Factoring the delay, I am actually overdue for starting into my Shot Blocks...and I usually consume them with water.  This feels like the right call.

I am glad that this area does not smell too strongly of the countryside.  I am surrounded by fields of strawberries, tomatoes, and who knows what else.  During some times of the year, this area can be quite aromatic in both pleasant and unpleasant ways.  The cool air helps keep my breathing under control.  My stride feels steady and comfortable.  My pace continues to be in the 7:30's, far faster than I should allow it to be, but I do not feel like I am exerting any effort to do so.  I am guessing that the course is still downhill trending.  I doubt I will be able to hold on to this pace once the course levels off.

I turn west on Laguna Road, pass rows of covered plants, and then run alongside a huge greenhouse facility for Houwelings Nurseries.  Never heard of them, but, judging from the logos on their parked big rigs, they raise tomatoes.

Shortly after turning south on Wood Road, I start overhearing the conversation from a group of runners catching up to me.  The group is talking about distance relays, so I keep listening to hear if they mention Hana (which I ran in 2008), but they are actually discussing a relay that lasts 24 hours. Sounds like a serious group.  I suspect my pace has started to slow down as the road is definitely flat here.  They soon catch up with me.

The group's discussion turns to how races rarely turn a profit and, with the exception of mud runs and zombie runs, most lose money.  When I overhear someone say they were looking for the 3:30 pace group, I mention I did not see an official pace group targeting anything faster than 3:45.  The group seems to be on track without an official pacer, so they decide to press on....and, since I am targeting 3:40, I decide to join them.  I expect to lose them once we hit the hills, but figure I should stick with them as long as I feel comfortable doing so.

I keep glancing at my watch as I near the 10K split.  47:35.  Though I have not yet run a 10K race in under 48, I have hit this pace during many longer runs, usually with gravity assistance, even when training.

The group continues to collect runners while advancing through the field.  Including myself, it now consists of five men and three women...two who had signed up for the recently cancelled New York Marathon, an American originally from Australia, a South African, a Belgian lady.  One man and one woman are first time marathoners.  One does ultras, trails runs, and triathlons.  The Belgian lady mentions she has run the Paris Marathon before, so I mention that I had thought about running it next year, but decided to do L.A. instead.  She said running in Paris was amazing.  I rarely converse while I train and have never done so during a race, but I am finding I like the diversion.

We approach the bridge over Pacific Coast Highway.  This will be our first climb of the race.  Since it is short, I choose to attack it with the group.  My watch signals mile 8 ahead of the marker.  One guy in the group comments about how inaccurate Garmin watches can be.  Another guy mentions he could really use some water (a sentiment I share).  Just then, on the other side of the bridge, an aid station comes into view.  I am surprised how spaced out the water stations have been thus far.  Has it been three miles since the last one?  I certainly hope they are far more frequent when we hit the hills.

This particular aid station is located in front of Point Mugu Missile Park, so we get to refuel while enjoying a display of retired Naval aircraft (including an F-14 Tomcat, my all-time favorite).  I assume we will soon be turning on to Pacific Coast Highway, but the course continues parallel the highway on Naval Air Road.  Before I can speculate as to why, a few cars fly by on PCH's southbound lanes.

I am quite surprised to see southbound traffic.  I thought this event would completely close Highway 1 through Malibu, but, as we reach it, I see they have only cone off a single lane for us (plus shoulder) on the southbound side.  Traffic continues to flow in both directions.  In some stretches, southbound traffic is diverted to a northbound lane.  If only I could call Valerie...I told her to take the canyon roads when driving to meet me at the finish.

Pacific Coast Highway starts rolling around mile 12...rolling hills that is.  It all begins with the climb towards an instantly recognizable big rock.  This is the first time I feel the need to push to keep up with the group. They start to pull away.  I pass the guy with Australian accent (one of the first time marathoners in the group) when he makes a pitstop, but he quickly catches up with me.  He encourages me to try and pick up the pace as we approach the first true hill (second if you count the bridge) on the course, but, as the hill begins, he starts pulling away.  I decide to let the group go.  I am still on pace to run one of my faster half marathons...which is probably not the best idea given how my training has been going.

I reach the halfway mark in 01:41:46, just 43 seconds slower than my fastest half marathon, 9 seconds off of this split during my fastest full.  In other words, I am still on pace to run one of my faster marathons.  That will not last.  Mile 18 is where the hill is supposed to begin, but I'm already having issues with each incline. I try not to let my drop in pace get me down.  I remind myself I train on hills like these.  I am just not used to finishing a full marathon race on them.

The 14 mile mark lies around the entrance to Point Mugu State Park.  Earlier in the race, I asked the trail runner in the group if he had ever run the Xterra event held there. He actually ran this year's 18K just a few weeks ago.  I ran the 11K back in 2007 with Valerie and a few of our friends.  These hills are far less painful than those, but I really enjoyed that experience. I will try the 18K one of these years.  The trail runner encouraged me to try Malibu Creek, his favorite among Xterra's local races.

As I continue along the highway, my pace drops below eight minutes per mile.  It continues to drop as pass the mile 18 marker.  I thought the really hilly section would start by now, but thankfully it has not.  I reach the first stretch of Malibu's famous oceanfront homes.  Sadly, I do not see any celebrities.  I had hoped some would step outside to cheer us on.  I could use a little encouragement right about now.  I sense there is a bit of elevation change here, but it is not what I remember from the elevation chart.

At mile 19, I finally reach a more significant climb.  My pace drops well below nine minutes per mile, not unanticipated given the incline, but enough to concern me.  How much harder should I, can I push?  I try to not let my pace fall below ten minutes per mile, but each step gets progressively harder. There is some relief after a half mile of climbing, but I do not sense my pace has benefited.  On a positive note, aid stations have been appearing with greater frequency. I alternate between water and Accelerade, though I am not terribly fond of the latter.  One station has oranges, but they are really bitter!

The climb starting 20.5 miles into the race is actually a lot more intimidating. PCH is fairly straight here...and the climb appears to continue well into the the distance.  Sure I can see flat-ish stretches, but there are no visible descents on the horizon.  I keep telling myself to hang in there...that all will get better when I reach mile 24...the promise of a 2 mile-long descent to the finish line is the only thing giving me hope that I may still break 3:40.  My right ankle starts bothering me.  I feel my stride has changed to compensate.  I have long since stopped monitoring my pace.  I allow myself to slow down at each water station, sometimes stopping just long enough to make sure I drink all of the fluid in the cup.  I pass Decker Canyon Road and Encinal Canyon Road thinking how much more fun I would be having if I was driving on those twisty roads than running on this one.  Isn't this the stretch of highway where a Ferrari Enzo split in two?

I climb towards mile 24...then feel like I am continuing to climb through mile 25. Where is my final descent?  3:40 is no longer a possibility.  I am so ready for this race to be over.

The course dives to towards the finish line over the last mile, flattening out just beyond an intersection.  I try to get my pace below eight minutes per mile, but my legs do not cooperate.  I spot Valerie just seconds before I cross the finish line, but I do not see the official clock.  My watch reads 3:42:42...not what I hoped, but pretty much what I expected.

Official Results:
Total: 3:42:55 (3rd fastest marathon)

90 / 791 overall finishers
70 / 429 male finishers
12 / 126 finishers age 40-44
10 / 67 male finishers age 40-44

GPS Data:
Garmin Connect
Strava

Official Photos

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