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 (as is, Strava shows my moving time as 4:17:16 with a distance of 27.1 miles); 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

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