Sunday, October 13, 2019

Long Beach Marathon 2.0

10 years ago, when I first ran the Long Beach Marathon, my goal was to simply prove I could run a marathon on my one terms since injury during my first caused me to fall short of my 4 hour goal.  This time I had a similar goal.  I had not fully completed a marathon since 2015, the first year I finished slower than 4 hours since my first, this time due to illness.  My last sub 4 marathon was Los Angeles in 2013...which is now six years ago.  4 hours was a doubly important target as I had signed up for Los Angeles in 2020 and needed a recent result to earn a starting position in one of their seeded corrals, something I have always done (I didn't start from a corral in 2016 due to my promise to run with my wife).  I went to sleep early on Saturday night, but woke up an hour ahead of my alarm likely because I was nervous.  My training had only provided some assurances that I may be able to achieve this goal.

That said, I am glad to be up early as it cuts down on the stress of simply making it out of the house on time.  I can enjoy my pre-race bagel and coffee...and can make that all important pit stop to alleviate concerns that I may start sweating in traffic or while standing in line at port-a-potties.

As I learned at Los Angeles in 2010, planning for race day needs to go beyond training to include a plan for getting to the race on time.  Having done Long Beach twice (once as a full, once as a half), I knew to plan for road closures and where I may encounter traffic.  Driving to the Health and Fitness Expo, I tried one of the potentially faster routes I hadn't previously taken and learned that bridge construction caused traffic choke points that could really cost valuable time.  At the Expo, I parked at and prepaid for City Place Lot C, one of the city lots that's just a little over a half mile from the course.

My plan pays off.   I leave my house at 4:15am as planned and take the easiest route to Downtown Long Beach.  The drive is issue free and I barely see any other cars on the road all the way to the City Place Lot C.  The garage is nearly empty, so I can park practically anywhere...and I find an ideal space in one corner of the structure's covered second floor.  I head down the nearby steps to the Long Beach Promenade. The half-mile stretch between the lot and the starting line is perfect for a warm up jog.  The pre-dawn air temperature is in the mid-50's, ideal for running.

Before I left the house I was a little concerned I couldn't find a throw-away long-sleeved shirt or sweater, but I am comfortable standing around the starting area because there is no breeze. It probably helps that I have opted to wear compression sleeves...not for warmth, but as a precaution.  The last thing I want to do today is re-aggravate my left calf.  Any worries about smoke triggering an asthma attack had been mostly dissipated by my short run yesterday morning.  Though not close in proximity, my home was still downwind of the Saddleridge Fire, more directly so than Long Beach during the recent Santa Ana wind conditions...so air pollution  a valid concern.  Thankfully the winds have since shifted back to an on-shore flow.

This will mark the first time I run a marathon in shoes upon which I have logged more than half of my training miles.  Usually I opt to break in a new pair just ahead of a long race, but I have been really happy with my current pair of ASICS Kayano 24s.  Despite approaching 300 miles, these shoes still have quite a bit of spring in them and I have had surprisingly few blisters during this training cycle.  By the end of today's race, this pair will have covered just over 300 miles...still roughly 100 miles from retirement.  Staying in this pair may prove to be the safer bet given that I often get hot spots in new shoes before they pack down, especially during races.

When I reach the starting area, there are very few runners milling about within the corral.  It is early...just a few minutes past 5am.  I am pretty much right on schedule (I like to arrive at the starting area an hour early since it gives me sufficient buffer for a whole range of issues that can arise before a race).  As I forgot to bring a disposable water bottle with me, I swigged quite a bit of water from a metal bottle I had to leave in my car.  I decide I should probably take a bio break while there are still no lines.

Two people I know through my car club are running today, one in the full and another in the half (who anticipates finishing around the same time as me).   I text the one running who is in my race to find out where he is.  Judging from his reply, he is still at home.  The other sends a selfie so I know what he's wearing (I sent my selfie before leaving home).  The 13.1 mile race starts an hour and a half after the 26.2, so he won't be arriving in Long Beach until long after I have started.

The sky is dark, but I can see stars and a nearly full moon setting in the west.  I try to get a selfie with the full moon, but the contrast is too high to capture anything but a bright glowing ball under the start sign.  I am not concerned about the lack of a marine layer...the forecast high is 73, but I should be done long before the temperature rises into the 70's.

Around 5:30am I upload several phone pics I have snapped to Facebook and Instagram.  As runners arrive at an increasing rate, my phone's battery depletes as it competes for bandwidth.  I cannot afford to let this drain continue as I need my phone to last more than the duration of the marathon and not just for tunes and post-race messaging.  I will need my phone to unlock and start my car!

The wheelchair race gets underway 5 minutes before us.  Runners move towards the start line.  There are just two waves...elites and everyone else.  Let's just say I stay far enough behind the elites that I cannot see them.  I start my tunes, stow my phone in my SPIbelt, setup my watch with a custom distance and time target, and wait for the gun.  The horns sounds, I start my watch as soon as I cross the timing mat, and I'm off to the races!

I have picked a good group to start with as I don't feel like there are any runners in my way, nor do I feel like I am slowing anyone down.  I try not to glance at my pace just yet as I want to feel out how everything feels before I worry about making adjustments.  In some races, I have started way too fast...to the point I am winded by the mile one marker and have to adjust my breathing.   Not so today.  I am breathing comfortably, my stride is smooth, my muscles feel loose, I have no aches or pains of any kind, the temperature feels ideal.

Shoreline Drive is a brightly lit and wide stretch of road, ideal for supporting a large field of runners at the beginning of a major race.  By the time we turn back toward the start and approach the first water station, the field has stretched out nicely.  I check my watch and notice my pace has been well under 8 (I only need to maintain a 9:09 to hit my target), so when I slow to grab water from the station and turn to climb towards Queen's Way Bridge, I just let my pace naturally slow.

My pace picks up again as we cross the bridge and dive on to Queensway Drive.  After we circle back under the bridge, the lighting isn't nearly as good...and the pavement is a bit rougher.  I am nearly tripped up by a pothole, so I start watching the ground more intently.  I cross the 5K mat with 25:30 on the clock, a time I am pleased to achieve on a downhill stretch of my 6 mile home orbit.  I am still running faster than I should, but...again...I am still feeling very comfortable holding my current pace.  Plus, I know I will give some of it back when the course crosses the bridge again.  I consume my first Cliff Shot before reaching the next water station and grab water to chase it down.

Descending back towards the Aquarium of the Pacific, I really pick up my pace.  I remind myself that it is still really early in the race and that I need to slow down.  We go under the bridge and encounter an annoying out-and-back on Golden Shore.  This just delays a stretch of the course I have been really looking forward to...the bike path that circles Shoreline Aquatic Park.  The marathon's early start means we reach this path at dawn.   The sky has brightened with a warm gradient spanning from orange to purple hues reflected beautifully in the calm water of Queensway Bay...a stunning view of the majestic Queen Mary permanently anchored across the way.  I cannot resist pulling out my phone to take a photograph, but refuse to yield my current 8 minute per mile pace.  I snap a few shots hoping at least one of them will be sharp enough to share before stowing my phone.

Official race photographers have stationed themselves along the bike path, most notably within view of Queen Mary, as we circle the lighthouse, and around Rainbow Harbor...but I have to wonder how great their shots will be at this early hour.  We runners are moving pretty quickly toward them and there isn't a lot of light.  I will be curious to see what they get.

As we pass Shoreline Village and turn on Shoreline Village Drive, I can see the much larger field of half marathoners gathering within and around the starting area.  I start wondering if my car club friend will be trying to spot me as I pass nearby, but decide he's probably focused on entering the starting corral with the appropriate wave.  While cutting through the parking lot that parallels the Shoreline Drive,  I cross the 10K timing mat.  I think to myself, 50 minutes is a pretty decent time...and suddenly realize the half marathon doesn't begin for another 40 minutes!

Shortly thereafter, I start down Shoreline Way bike path, another stretch of the course I have been looking forward to repeating.  The path continues for roughly four miles through Alamitos Beach.  Nothing beats running with a view of the ocean...until a bright red orb starts to poke out from behind the silhouettes of palm trees on the horizon.  My view ahead becomes a quintessential Southern California postcard - rising sun and palm trees slightly to my left, bike path and wide stretch of sand ahead, Pacific Ocean with endless horizon to my right, and a clear blue sky above.  Just as I start thinking I should pull out my camera, leaders from one of the official pace groups catch up with me.

Their sign reads "3:35".  Hmmm...I once ran a marathon in 3:35.  It's my PR. Crap.  I'm still running too fast!  And yet, I decide to hang with runners in their group...drafting behind them.  I stay with them all the way until the end of the bike path...holding their pace for roughly two miles of the course.  I slow a bit as I approach the next water station as I break open and consume a second Cliff Shot.  I laugh when one of the pace leaders breaks off from his pack and backtracks to a tent where someone is offering doughnuts to runners.  Who in their right mind consumes a doughnut while running a marathon?  Who the heck backtracks to get anything during a race?  He easily sprints by me while I am still sipping on water and rejoins his pace group around the mile 10 marker.

A dog suddenly attacks a runner several paces ahead and, despite being a small breed, manages to knock him off his feet.  Thankfully the dog's owner regains control of her animal and the runner is able to rejoin the race before I reach them.  Sheesh.

When I reach the marathon & half marathon split at the intersection of Ocean Avenue and Livingston Drive, I think back to 2014 when I ran the half marathon here.  At that time I was extremely thankful that I had chosen to run the half as it had been well over a year since I had last run a full, partly because I lost motivation to maintain a running routine when my dad passed away.  This time I am honestly glad to be running the full, but the best stretches of this course are now behind me.

The one exception is perhaps the out-and-back along Marine Stadium in Alamitos Bay.  It's definitely nice to run within view of water.  That said, this stretch feels longer than I remember...a reminder of why I generally don't like out-and-backs.  It doesn't help that you run near, but don't cross the half marathon mat on the out...because, even though I am still maintaining a solid pace, it seems to take forever to reach the mat when running back.   My half marathon split is in the 1:47's...faster than I have completed any stretch of 13.1 miles since 2015 and even better than my official result at the Long Beach Half Marathon in 2014.

As the course twists its way through a neighborhood, by a lagoon, and around the Recreation Park Golf Course, I can feel my pace has slowed into the 9's.  I suspect there is a slight increase in elevation here.  As I pass the mile 15 marker, I start wondering how much deeper into the back half I will be able to stay under my original 9:09 per mile pace target.  I'm just over two hours into my race, so I know I can slow my pace target, but I don't dare attempt the calculation in my head given my current mental state.

When I spot the next water station, I realize it is time to open my pack of Shot Bloks.  I usually consume one every 15 minutes, but, since I am not carrying water, spacing of water stations will dictate when I eat them.

Continuing inland across Pacific Coast Highway, the run becomes just as tedious as I remember.  Distances seem to stretch out as the surroundings become significantly less appealing, especially when we reach Cal State University Long Beach.  The 3 miles we spend orbiting campus takes an eternity, likely worsened by this marathon's most significant ascent beginning just past the 17 mile mark.  The rise is quickly noticeable, its effect on my pace dramatic (definitely slowing into the 10 minute per mile range), and, though only a third of the orbit's elevation chart depicts an incline, I spend more than half of my time here struggling.  That said, I do manage to pass a girl whom I had been running a few steps behind for much of the back half.  There's still a half mile of campus when the course turns back on Atherton Street, a stretch of course that from the corner of Palo Verde Avenue seems to continue on forever.

Clark Avenue isn't much better, but it could have been much worse.  The race's early start means that most of this street is still covered by shadow.  I imagine the sun could be hitting the pavement an hour or two later.  The girl I had passed around CSULB regains her lead as we pass the mile 21 marker.  I struggle to hang with her.  I am really starting to feel the distance in my legs.  My concern deepens. As we start to climb again, my left calf has started to tighten in a way that feels like it could pop again if I continue to put this much strain on it.  Just to be safe, I shorten my stride.

The mind games begin.  I recall how this particular injury happened without warning, forcing me to bike instead of run at the peak of this training cycle.  I try to remember how long it has been since I last ran this far...when I last trained for or completed a full...could be three or four years.  Has it really been that long?  Could I be hitting the wall?  My watch's target widget displays 3 hours, 45 minutes as my expected finish time, but I see the seconds are increasing.  I have run for just over 3 hours and have less than 6 miles to go.  Four hours should still be do-able...as long as I don't get injured!

A runner hands me a small water bottle from a cooler as I turn on to Park Avenue by Recreation Park.  I initially welcome the gesture because I still have two Shot Bloks and can now consume them on my terms.  Of course, I pass a water station shortly thereafter.  The bottle has a bit of a leak, so my shorts are getting wetter every time my arm swings.

I am still carrying the bottle when I turn on Nieto Ave.  There is a bit of hill here...and I am irritated that I still have not found a place to toss the now empty bottle.  As I crest the hill, I see bins in the yards of various residents and briefly considering leaving the course to toss my bottle in one, but decide I probably should not trespass.  As I consider just leaving the bottle on the side of the road, I run through a police blocked intersection.

As I return to Livingston Drive, I see a water station ahead.  I happily ditch the water bottle in one of its trash bins.  I remember this mile-long stretch well from my first marathon  As before, it seems so much longer than it did when I was heading inland.  Even though I am now heading towards the beach, this is also a climb.  I check my watch.  My slowing pace has reduced my 15 minute cushion to 10.   The girl I had been running behind continues to pull away.  I hope I can maintain my pace once the course flattens out.

I am initially happy to see the half marathoners along Ocean Blvd.  We're now on the final 2.2 mile stretch, but I recall a subtle yet evil peak occurring roughly halfway.  I resist the temptation to start my final kick.  Actually, there is no temptation.  I am pretty beat.  I no longer see the girl I had been trying to hang with for much of the back half.   There are dozens more half marathoners than full marathoners along this stretch and we're divided by a row of cones.  My friend could be among them, but only if he's running as far ahead of his expected pace as I am.  Finding him in a field this dense is hopeless as I must keep an eye out for obstacles in my lane--slower half marathoners, spectators.  So annoying!

There's a water station at the peak, but I decide against grabbing water figuring it would only slow me down.  I am still nearly a mile from the corner of Ocean Blvd and Shoreline Drive.  I am really itching to dive towards the finish because I can barely sustain a ten minute per mile pace.

I finally see the recognizable buildings at the intersection and what appears to be a bus parked at the corner.  I start my kick.  I try to get my legs to turnover faster, but do not feel like my pace is improving...at least not until the actual descent on Shoreline Drive begins.  This certainly does not feel like one of my stronger finishes.  I see the clock.  It still reads 3:53:3x.  Normally I would be ecstatic to see I had accomplished my goal, pumping a fist or raising my hands as I cross the final timing mat.   Today I am simply relieved.  I can stop running.  It is over.

After collecting my finisher medal and post-race goodies, I text my friends to tell them where they can meet me when they finish.  The one who is running the full is still on the inland section of the course.  I see from an e-mail alert I received that he likely won't finish for another two-and-a-half hours.  My friend running the half should finish in less than 20 minutes.  My legs are spent, but I decide I should not sit down while I wait...chances are I won't be able to get up!  I inhale a banana, chug a can of coconut water, and practically choke on a bag of taro chips (the chewed up mass was accumulating in my throat before I could properly swallow it).

By completing Long Beach in 2009 on my terms, I proved to myself I am a marathoner.  Today's race proved I am still a marathoner...a sub-4 marathoner!

Official Results:
5K Split:        0:25:19 (08:08/mi)
10K Split:      0:50:26 (08:05/mi) 
Half Split:      1:47:14 (08:14/mi)
20 Mile Split: 2:49:34 (09:02/mi)
24 Mile Split: 3:30:04 (10:07/mi)
Total:           3:53:25 (10:31/mi)6th out of 8 marathons

Average race pace: 08:54/mi

322 / 1760 overall finishers
271 / 1197 male finishers
034 / 0149 male finishers age 45-49

GPS Data:

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Marathon Training #9 Complete

How many marathons have I run?   I have official race results from seven, officially did not finish my eighth (I promised my wife I would stay with her during the Valentines Day Los Angeles Marathon in 2016, but she pulled out just past the halfway mark), but have completed the distance eight times thanks to a 27 mile charity run I did awhile back.   Regardless of how many marathons I have completed, though, this is the ninth time I have fully trained for a marathon....and I have largely stuck to the same training schedule for all of them.  And thanks to my love of Garmin watches (of which my current Fenix 5 is by far my favorite), I have valid data from all of these training cycles that I can align and make direct and relevant comparisons.  This data allows me to gauge what pace I should target, not based on anyone else's experience but from my own personal efforts.  Comparing my historical data may give me a better idea of what to expect come race day than how I may feel on any given day or from simply observing recent improvements in my pace.

This is largely because I do not usually focus on improving my pace.  When training for marathons, I hit the track and do intervals infrequently and don't often sign up for other races.  I live on a hill, meaning all of my runs involve a considerable amount of elevation change.  My long runs usually lead me off the hill, meaning I have to climb when I am most fatigued.  The marathons I sign up for tend to be on relatively flat courses.  In other words, my training pace is usually going to be significantly slower than my race pace.  I find I am far less prone to get injured if I let pace come naturally with the miles anyway.

So what do my last four runs tell me?  Without focusing on pace, I still completed each activity significantly faster than I have recorded in many, many years.   Keep in mind these activities include my most frequently run 4, 5, and 6 miles orbits...and a 10 mile route I have run quite a few times as well.  For today's 4 miler, I have to look all the way back until 2013 to find a matched run I completed at a faster pace.  As mentioned in my last blog entry, I had to look back to 2012 for the 5 and 10 miler.  The kicker was that I completed Tuesday's 6 miler faster than I had since 2010...which was just 3 days before I reset my marathon PR in Los Angeles Marathon.

For a more accurate assessment of how I'm doing, I'll need to look at how my pace has improved over the past four weeks...but just four weeks weeks ago, I wasn't even sure how much of the schedule I would be able to complete.  I began that week by cycling in place of my peak distance run as I was still recovering from the calf strain.  In other words, a direct comparison of these four weeks would be slightly tainted by my injury.  That said, the peak activity was the only one within this final training period that I did not run, I compensated by running longer than scheduled on the following Sunday, and I ran of my fastest 5K races during this time...and, as I mentioned above, my final four runs easily are on par with the final four I have run many times before.

If I count all of the cycling I did in place of running as equivalent to the schedule mileage (and if I do the optional short run on Saturday morning), then I actually will have completed 95% of the schedule...probably a higher percentage than in most of the years I have followed it thanks in part to a lack of illnesses, fewer activities skipped due to travels or work, and a relatively cool summer.  I do not to know need to know my relative pace to know I am ready to complete another marathon.  The only reason why I care about this is that I would very much like to think I will be able to complete Long Beach on Sunday in around four hours.

If I go solely by the last four runs, I'm good to go, but extending my average pace out to a month and to a year definitely shows how much slower I am now.  I have been known to run faster during the race than during my final training month (by 45 seconds in 2013), I need to average 9:09/mile (28 seconds per mile faster) if I want to hit 4 hours. 

Final four weeks of this cycle:
09/15-09/21: 23.16 @ 10:11/mi (does not include cycling on 09/15)
09/22-09/28: 53.72 @ 10:04/mi
09/29-10/05: 19.22 @ 09:28/mi (with 5K @ 08:54)
10/06-10/12: 20.28 @ 09:02/mi
Average pace for month: 9:50/mi
Annual average pace for last 12 months: 10:19/mi

Repost of similar data leading up to four of the five sub-4 hour marathons I completed:

Month before the Los Angeles Marathon in 2013:
02/17-02/23: 37.74 @ 9:29/mi
02/24-03/02: 37.17 @ 8:58/mi
03/03-03/09: 30.19 @ 9:17/mi
03/10-03/16: 20.41 @ 8:53/mi
Average training pace for month: 9:11/mi
Average race pace: 8:31/mi
Annual average pace for 2013 YTD: 9:14/mi

Month before the Malibu Marathon in 2012:
10/13-10/20: 46.65 @ 8:46/mi
10/21-10/27: 36.67 @ 8:31/mi
10/28-11/03: 30.15 @ 8:18/mi
11/04-11/10: 20.22 @ 8:13/mi
Average pace for month: 8:31/mi
Average race pace: 8:30/mi
Annual average pace 2012: 9:03/mi

Month before the Surf City Marathon in 2011 (still my PR):
01/09-01/15: 45.49 @ 8:17/mi
01/16-01/22: 36.42 @ 8:27/mi
01/23-01/29: 30.02 @ 8:06/mi
01/30-02/05: 20.26 @ 7:40/mi
Average pace for month: 8:11/mi
Average race pace: 8:13/mi
Annual average pace 2011: 8:45/mi

Month before the Los Angeles Marathon in 2010:
02/21-02/27: 45.41 @ 8:47/mi
02/28-03/06: 36.16 @ 8:23/mi
03/07-03/13: 30.11 @ 8:08/mi
03/14-03/20: 20.17 @ 7:59/mi
Average pace for month: 8:24/mi
Average race pace: 8:22/mi
Annual average pace 2010: 8:29/mi

Thursday, October 3, 2019

10 Days Before Long Beach Marathon 2.0

Very interesting. My pace on this morning's 5 mile orbit seemed quick, so I decided to look back at my history to see when I last ran this particular route at a comparable pace...and didn't find anything after November 1, 2012 (when my average was 8:44/mile).  This is a pretty big deal given that I probably run this particular orbit more than any other route and in recent years my pace was rarely even sub 10.

Given that I still use the same marathon training schedule, that 5 miler was an equivalent activity 10 days before a marathon.  In 2012, I ran Malibu in 3:42:56.  I don't want to read too much into this given that my overall training pace in 2012 was significantly faster, but this is encouraging!

Since I was already looking back at my running history, I looked up the 5 miler I ran before the Long Beach Marathon 10 years ago...and I ran the same orbit in a ridiculously fast 7:31/mile (currently my record). I finished that particular marathon, my second overall, in 3:43:17. This year I'm just hoping to get under 4...

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Alive and Running 2019

This would seem to be an appropriate time to update my blog as this particular headline has multiple meanings.  Yes, I am very much alive.  Yes, I am still running.  And today I am participating in the Didi Hirsch charity 5K run/walk "Alive and Running" for the third time.

Interestingly enough, the gap from when I last competed in this particular race is nearly as long as when I last updated this blog.  I guess you could say I lost motivation for writing about my running experiences as my pace continued to decline.  I entered fewer races, totaled fewer miles per year, stopped running marathons altogether after my wife dropped out halfway through 2016's Los Angeles Marathon (I promised her I would stay with her, so that was my first and only DNF)...my last personal best was set years ago.

That said, this year I have been running with renewed purpose.  When I first completed LA's inaugural Stadium to the Sea course back in 2010, I convinced myself I would absolutely run it again, at the very least, to celebrate the 10th year of that course, so, even though I have completed it a few times since, I registered for the 2020 event as soon as registrations opened this year.  As I have started every LA race from a starting corral, I signed up to run the 35th Long Beach Marathon hoping I might be able to earn my way into one of LA's sub-4 hour corrals, even though it has been over 5 years since I last completed 26.2 miles in such a time.  Nothing motivates more than registering for a marathon...and I committed to two.

I am finding the road back to running marathons significantly more difficult with age. As I push mileage, I find myself needing far more time to recover.  10+ mile runs knock me out for a good portion of the day. Increasing pace comes with an increased chance of injury, so I usually run what feels comfortable.  If anything, training for marathons now requires a greater time commitment than previously...and it was already quite a commitment.

Speaking about injury and recovery, a few weeks ago I felt (even heard?) my left calf muscle pop as I launched off a curb during a routine 6 miler.  The second I put weight on my left leg, I knew I had to stop.  I feared the worst.  I immediately called for a ride home, grabbed ice packs from my freezer, stopped by Village Runner to get sized for compression sleeves (which I wore 24-7 over the next couple of weeks), and found a way to keep my leg elevated on ice while I worked.  When I woke up the next morning, I woke up thinking I had no idea when I would be able to run again.  I knew for certain I wouldn't be able to run during what is usually the peak distance week of my usual training routine, but would I be able to run by race day?  If I deferred Long Beach or even transferred my registration to its half marathon, I would lose what I considered my best chance of earning a spot in a starting corral (sure there are a few other marathons between Long Beach and LA, but I like knowing that I have done these two races back-to-back 10 years before).  I swapped cycling for running, matching the expected time duration of runs on my marathon training cycle, unclear if it would be enough to maintain my physical condition.  I didn't own a bike as an adult before 2016, rarely used it since, and not once last year.  Two weekends after my calf popped, I did my longest bike ride of my life...a four hour ride covering 48 miles in place of a 22-23 mile run.  Fortunately cycling put no strain on the injured muscles, but I was dying to know how each day off from running would affect my endurance?  My pace?

Injury aside, my pace has still been far from what I used to naturally run in the early 2010s.  As I have mentioned elsewhere in my blog, my average annual pace has steadily declined since I peaked in 2011...a trend which pretty much continued since I last updated this blog.  I was seeing definite progress, but was still surprised by how much slower I ran The Hills Are Alive 10K earlier this year...especially because I felt pretty good and wasn't aware how off pace I was until it was too late into the race to do anything about it.  With the injury, all bets on what my marathon pace might be were off.  Oh yes, and I also signed up for this particular 5K.  Perhaps this would be the year I join the walkers.

Towards the end of my 48 mile ride, I had to hop off my bike and walk it up the steepest portion of the final hill.  My legs were spent.  But my legs were feeling good enough that I decided to see if I could jog a little.  Much to my surprise, my compression sleeve covered calf didn't bother me while I kept my stride short.  It gave me hope that I might be able to run that Tuesday...just shy of two weeks from when my calf popped.  And run I did.  Slowly at first, but run nonetheless.  By the third run, I tested my downhill pace and felt strong.  The only thing left to test was endurance, so I decided to go off schedule and attempt a 20 miler.  I kept the compression sleeve on just in case (first time I ran with sleeves on both legs).  With heightened awareness of every little twinge and pull of my leg muscles,  I cautiously and successfully completed 20.3 pain-free miles.   There's no need to change my racing plans after all.

Due to this morning's 5K, I had to run this morning's scheduled 14 miler yesterday.  I wasn't sure how much I should push things given that I knew I'd likely push a more aggressive pace during this morning's race, but I still managed to hit the 13.1 mark in around 2:03...my best half marathon split of this training cycle.  Not an ideal number for someone targeting a sub 4 hour full marathon, but confidence inspiring for someone recovering from an injury.

As I had run this particular race twice before, so I knew what I needed to focus on during yesterday's run.  Throughout my training cycle, I noticed my downhill pace slow down unexpectedly when I reached flatter stretches of road and dramatically upon inclines.  I ran downhill stretches at whatever pace felt natural and then focused my effort in maintaining that pace as the road flattened and especially over slight inclines.

It's 8am...time to race.   The sun is shining and the sky is clear.  Temperature is in the low 60s...perfect running weather.  This course starts flat, so I must pay close attention to my pace and go by my gut with what feels sustainable.  As with all races, anticipation of the start builds tension that usually causes me to go out faster than I should, so I really need to monitor my GPS watch.  I also don't want to risk injury, so I am not planning on setting any personal records.  But a race IS a race.  I position myself near the start line, but not on the line.  There's a high school's entire cross country team to my right.  Let's do this!

The horn sounds!  I spring to action...quickly establishing a sub 8 minute per mile pace.  I am still being mindful to not fully open my stride for fear of re-aggravating my calf injury.  I have found that sweet spot where I am not really passing anyone, nor is anyone passing me.  I can focus on just running this race for myself.  I keep my breathing calm and controlled...one of the best ways I can tell I am not over-exerting myself.

There are three slight inclines along the stretch of Westchester Parkway that makes up the majority of this course.  Two involve the bridge over Lincoln Blvd (this course is an out-and-back, so we cross over Lincoln twice) and one stretch that leads up to the u-turn.  I keep my pace well under 8 as I cross the bridge on the way out (and pass some runners in the process), but have to work a bit more to do so before the turn.  I decide to take water from the station just before the u-turn which probably slows my pace more than the hill itself.  In a 5K, I don't really need the mid-race hydration...especially on a day like today.  I just take a couple of sips and toss the cup in one of the trash receptacles along the course.

When I reach the bridge on the back stretch, I definitely find myself pushing harder.  My pace falls back to the mid-8s.  I am now more than 2 miles into this race, but I do want to have something left in the tank by the final half mile.  I start seeing some of my friends who are among the walkers today.  Jane has her camera out as I run by as does my mom.  I pick up my pace.  I start reeling in one of the runners who has been slightly ahead of me for the past half mile and pass him just as the course turns towards the finish line on La Tijera.  The cheering spectators and hearing my name over the loudspeakers definitely encourages one last kick.  I finish strong...always a good feeling.  More importantly, I did not once have any hint of my former injury.

When I stop my watch, it displays 22:30 (I crossed the finish line with 22:31 on the course clock)...a very respectable finish time.  In fact, my official time ties my second (could be third, but I still question the length of the Long Beach Turkey Trot...an event with no official timing) fastest 5K since I started running as an adult (I had faster cross country times in high school, but slower ones as well).  I also earn a medal for finishing 2nd in my age group.  Not bad for someone who just a couple of weeks ago thought he might find himself among today's walkers.

Official Results:
Time:  0:22:29
Average race pace: 7:14/mi

25 of 1814 overall finishers
23 of 695 male finishers
2 of 43 male finishers age 45-49



 
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