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

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