Friday, December 31, 2021

Year-End Report

I just finished my last run for 2021, ending my year just shy of 1,538 total running miles...a new PR!  If I include walking/hiking mileage, I would nearly reach 1,600! Not too shabby for running an entire year within a pandemic and without any races for motivation.

But my stated goal for 2021 was to run faster, not longer.  Not having regular access to the local high school's track adversely affected my training.  I did not get in nearly as many speed-focused workouts as I needed to see any substantial improvements in my pace.  Though I hate running in circles, intervals on a track are far better than on rolling hills with varying grades.  It's hard to gauge exertion and progress without consistent conditions.

That said, I did manage to improve my average running pace (9:37 per mile vs 9:43 in 2020)...but my fastest month was March.  It should have been November.  I am also very surprised that I ended the year with my slowest month (the only month my pace decreased into the 10's...10:03 per mile to be specific). If I subtract December, my average for the year drops to 9:35 per mile.  Usually I see an uptick when I run a marathon, but I ran mine at the beginning of the most of the month was spent recovering.  And, as I keep pointing out, this marathon was not at a race pace.

An annual average of 6 to 8 seconds faster per mile doesn't seem like a big win, but I suppose it is still a substantial achievement when you consider how many more total miles I ran in 2021 than in any previous year.  I was nine years younger when I last exceeded 1,400 miles!  Of course, that's also when averaging 9:03 per mile was something of a disappointment...because I averaged 8:45 per mile in 2011!

My goal for 2022 will be to bring my average closer to 9 flat.  Is this achievable without racing?  I think so.  If I don't have at least one month where I average 9 flat, I will be terribly disappointed.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

1500 Miles YTD

In 2012, I made sure to run on December 31 so I could push my annual total past 1,400 miles for the very first time.  Since then, I have only exceeded 1,300 miles twice...last year and in early November of this one.  Though I fell short of 2012's total in 2020, I managed to top it before I ran my not-a-race PV Marathon.  I set my new personal best during Thanksgiving week without even noticing.

Just before I finished this morning's run, I surpassed 1,500 miles year to date.  Took me 232 runs and nearly 240.5 hours to accomplish this feat in 2021.  Every step I take in runs between now and New Year's Eve will reset my record.  I have six scheduled runs remaining.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Palos Verdes Marathon
(2008's 26.2 Mile Course In 2021)

A big question leading up to this day was would I be able to start by 7:00am as if this were an actual race.  Last night, I didn't exactly place myself on the right path by setting the alarm for 5:30am.  When I ran the Palos Verdes Half Marathon from Point Fermin in 2008, I woke up at 5:30am...and that race started at 7:30am.  For nearly every marathon I have registered, I aimed to arrive at the event an hour ahead of the race, minimally a half an hour before.  For last year's Los Angeles Marathon, I had to catch a shuttle in Santa Monica ridiculously early on the same morning we lost an hour due to time change.  For LA, I spent an entire week shifting my hours earlier and earlier.  I had no need to do that for this run.  In fact, last night was the first night of the week I went to bed at a reasonable hour.

Sure I wake up as soon as the alarm sounds at 5:30am, but I don't exactly rush to get out the door.  I make a Nespresso latte and enjoy it with a Porto's Refugiado while still lying in bed.  If I want to reach Point Fermin by 6:30am, I really should leave the house by 6:00am.  It's already 6:15am.  Should I wear short sleeves or long?  I check the outside thermometer and the forecast for Rancho Palos Verdes.  I'm definitely wearing calf sleeves, but why am I still on the fence about what shirt to wear?  I decide to wear long, grab a sweat jacket for after I finish, and a towel to cover the car seat.

I finally make it out the door after 6:30am.  I should be able to make it to Point Fermin in time, but I am cutting it close.  Thankfully this is not a race day.  I do not anticipate traffic, I should not be competing for parking spaces at this early hour, and I will be able to park just steps from where I plan to start running.  Damn!  I forgot to grab a water bottle I had planned to sip on while driving over!  There is no need to turn back though...I do have my full running bottle with me and a plan to swap for another mid-run.  I think I can safely sip on this one without fear I'll run out.

I stood closer to the middle of Paseo del Mar in 2008 because the road was closed to traffic

I arrive at Point Fermin Park just five minutes before 7am.  It is even cooler here, but there is no fog and the marine layer only appears dense to the west.  I find my way to roughly where I stood in the starting corral for the 2008 half marathon.  Yes, I'm in the middle of the street.  There are no people (and thankfully no cars) around me...I capture the moment with my smartphone, send the photo to my wife and mom along with the message "7am is a go".  With less than two minutes, there is no time to warm up.  Does a warm up even matter?  This is not a race.  The route I will be doing will actually be longer than a marathon due to a necessary detour.  My warm up will be the first few miles of the run.  I watch the seconds count down and...

...I start my Garmin watch at exactly 7:00:01am.   I'm off to the not-a-races!

This may not be a race, but I have photos of
me 14 miles into the run thanks to my wife
Since today's run was not a race, I won't go into details like I would in my typical race report.  However, I did complete this attempt in a manner that is far closer to a race than any of my long training runs with surprisingly few interruptions caused by red lights at intersections.  I rarely had to slowdown for or detour around traffic...vehicular or pedestrian.  Thanks to my Garmin Fenix 5's ability to navigate an upload course, I strayed only once...and it was an insignificant distance.  The only thing I would not have elected to do during an actual race was wait a few minutes for a park employee to open a public restroom (I think my only mid-race bio break was during Surf City in 2011...still my all-time marathon PR).  Thanks to my wife, I was able to stay sufficiently hydrated, exchanging water bottles 14 miles into the run...a handoff as smooth as any relay baton exchange I have made.  I carried exactly the right amount of Clif Shots and Bloks to maintain my energy level throughout.

Comparing my start with the half marathon I raced on nearly the same course over 14 years ago, I actually maintained a faster pace on each of the first six miles today...though it is somewhat unfair to compare the two runs.  In May of 2008, I had not yet run a full marathon (had only begun to train for my first) and it was unseasonably warm.  Though starting that race slower, I was actually running faster than my target pace, especially on the climb up Western, because I anticipated suffering on the back half...whereas today I was just maintaining what felt comfortable.  Another reason I cannot directly compare the's numbers include a necessary detour (around the stretch of Paseo del Mar that collapsed in 2011).  This came after the first mile.  In other words, subsequent mile splits in my GPS track data do not align.

Today, I reached the 13.1 mile mark in 1:57:27 (at 8:58:49a).  If this had been a race, I would have tried to run the first half faster.  I often have half marathon splits of under two hours on longer runs.  Of course most of those are flat or downhill trending...not constantly rolling like this.  It took me 2:16:23 to complete the 2008 PV Half Marathon!

As expected, the back half of this mostly out-and-back course proved a lot more challenging than the front. What were gradual westward descents became painfully long eastward ascents.  Based on my experience from that 2008 half marathon, I knew the climb from the lowest point in Portuguese Bend to the peak in San Pedro would be a grind.  Heat was thankfully not a factor this time, but I was already feeling the elevation change as I left Lunada Bay.  And I ran into a headwind, first around Terranea Resort and again closer to the finish.

PV Marathon Finisher Selfie at Point Fermin Lighthouse

I completed 26.2 miles in 4:15:28 (at 11:17:59a) and crossed the finish line at Point Fermin Park in 4:19:44 (at 11:22:12a).  Even if I include the bio break, I still managed to do the whole 26.59 mile course in 4:22:11.  All of these numbers are better than my chip time in Maui by a considerable amount.  My marathon split was comparable to Los Angeles in 2015.  Of course, I got injured during Maui (which was also my very first marathon) and didn't realize I was sick during the 2015 race...but those courses lack the punishing rolling hills of this one.  The total amount of elevation change in Palos Verdes' full marathon course is nearly double than that of LA's Stadium to the Sea, more than double of Maui's, over six times more than Surf City's nearly sea level course.  I have not raced upon a course that compares, but now have a fairly good idea of what I might be able to do.

Only once before have I run 26.2 miles or more without the incentives of a race...nine years ago I joined former Naughty Dog coworkers in raising money for the 27 Sandy Hook victims.  On that day I hit my marathon split in 4:33 and completed 27.1 miles in 4 hours and 42 minutes almost exactly the same amount of time as my first marathon, but I ran with a pack for the whole distance and took many breaks along the way.  If I just compare moving time, I actually completed that half mile longer run a few minutes faster than today's...upon a nearly flat sea level course.  That said, today's effort (and the training that preceded it) was 100% self-motivated and the hilly run was significantly more challenging.

So was this a race?  At this point does it even matter?  It was only the 11th time I completed the distance...a PR for the course.  My mom pointed out that this is my first marathon win.  Of course, I also finished in last place...

Garmin Data

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Marathon Training #11 Complete

I aligned this training schedule as if I were going to run the California International Marathon (a race I have yet to run), but with COVID-19 variants still causing surges around the country, I didn't feel comfortable registering for any race, even though I was fully vaxxed before Mother's Day (and boosted in time for Thanksgiving).  But I also didn't want to break my goal of running a marathon per year so soon after I had successfully resumed running them...nor did I want to waste the solid mileage base I managed to maintain through the pandemic.

Without an actual race as an incentive and with my local track not being available for interval training for most of this schedule, my average pace didn't experience the final boost I usually see when I begin to taper...but I did find the motivation to more than complete my distance goals.  I wasn't sure if I could ramp up my mileage without the dangling carrot, but here I am....ready to run another marathon in 2021.

How I'll actually fare tomorrow remains to be seen. I only recently decided that I am going to attempt to run the Palos Verdes Marathon 26.2 mile course from 2008...and I didn't really train to attack a course consisting of constantly rolling hills.  My only experience starting and finishing at Point Fermin was during my final long run of this cycle and during the PV Half Marathon in 2008.  The latter was only my second half marathon...and it didn't go so well.  Will I treat it as a race? Or will it just be another long run?

Final five weeks of this cycle:

10/31-11/06: 24.05 @ 9:32/mi
11/07-11/13: 45.75 @ 10:06/mi
11/14-11/20: 35.90 @ 9:33/mi
11/21-11/27: 31.14 @ 9:50/mi (my long run and Thanksgiving kinda slowed me down)
11/28-12/04: 21.50 @ 9:22/mi

Final five weeks before the Los Angeles Marathon in 2020:

02/01-02/07: 47 @ 09:34/mi
02/08-02/14: 28 @ 09:55/mi (reduced mileage while on Oahu)
02/15-02/21: 38 @ 09:04/mi
02/22-02/28: 31 @ 08:45/mi
02/29-03/06: 25 @ 08:32/mi

Final four weeks before the Long Beach Marathon in 2019:

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Thinking About PV

With "race" day of my current marathon training schedule fast approaching, I have to make a decision as to where I actually want to run 26.2 miles. For some reason, the Palos Verdes Marathon keeps popping into my head.  PV has not hosted a full marathon since 2011. Their course was notorious for its rolling hills, but, when the event was still being held, I was new to running marathons and only considered flat or downhill trending courses.

Before PV dropped their 26.2 mile course, they had the second longest running annual marathon behind only Boston! I actually worked a water station for the PV race when I was in middle school. In those days, I had no idea I would ever consider running even a mile.  Running a marathon didn't even become a bucket list item for me until I completed my first half in 2007. Los Angeles became a bucket list marathon as soon as they announced the "Stadium to the Sea" course. When I completed Long Beach 2009 in well under 4 hours, I added both Boston and PV to my list (only adding the latter because the peninsula is my home). I checked LA off in 2010, but have yet to qualify for Boston. I considered attempting PV in 2012, but PV's organizers changed the course in 2011 (full became two laps of the half marathon course that starts and finishes near Terranea Resort).  Later that same year, a section of the previous course collapsed near Point Fermin, a stretch used both after the start and before the finish...and there were no plans to rebuild.  When the organizers dropped the full altogether in 2012, I figured the box by PV was one I could no longer check.

Since I ran the PV Half Marathon in 2008, I started looking for course maps or GPS data from runners who participated in the full that year. I couldn't find any publicly shared GPS data from runs on that day (other than my half marathon).  For awhile, the only course map I could find online was in an archived local newspaper article about the inaugural PV Marathon in 1967.  That particular point-to-point route would be interesting to try, but would also require permission to cross through the gated community of Rolling Hills.

Today, I finally found it thanks to the Internet Wayback Machine.

My biggest worry about attempting the full PV course as this year's not-a-race marathon is that its considerable elevation change may provide an excuse to just treat this as another long run.  Even during this particular training cycle, I have not had great experiences when longer runs have stayed on the hill.  I favored sticking to the beach for my longest runs to avoid anything that might discourage me from even attempting the goal.

Keep in mind, this will be my first truly solo effort to attempt the distance.  There will be no specators lining the course to cheer me on.  I won't be able to draft behind a competitor or match another's pace or reel in someone who appears to be struggling.  I may have to stop at intersections, yield to traffic both pedestrian and vehicular.  There is no carrot being dangled in front of me to even complete the shirt, no finisher's medal, no post-run snacks.  Hunger will likely remain my biggest motivation...on a non-active day I don't like spacing meals by more than six hours.  I definitely have a five hour threshold for doing outdoor activities without  break.  Thus far, I have run all of my 26+ mile runs in under five...even when injured, sick, or just running for charity.

I won't feel like I have truly checked the PV Marathon off my bucket list unless I actually attempt to run the whole distance and do so within a total time in which I have completed actual races.

So...should I even attempt to run this course?

Thursday, July 22, 2021

One Marathon Per Year?

With anti-vax sentiment / vaccine hesitancy far more widespread than I could have ever imagined and with the worldwide rollout of COVID-19 vaccines slower than expected, I simply cannot foresee when I will feel comfortable participating in an organized race.  Major marathons, like Los Angeles' "Stadium to the Sea" course, traverse through diverse population centers supported by both official and unofficial volunteers and spectated by the general public.  Normally these are reasons why people run them, but now I view them as uncontrollable vectors for spreading disease.   I may be fully vaxxed, but feel a breakthrough infection would negate months of erring on the side of caution.  I have done everything that has been recommended to protect myself and slow the spread.  I refuse to register for any races until this situation genuinely improves.

I do not see this happening through the end of 2021.

That said, I want to stick to my goal of running at least one marathon per year.  I worked hard in 2019 to get myself back into shape, not just for Long Beach, but for a better result in Los Angeles in 2020. After meeting both objectives, I did not allow pandemic lockdowns to break my between marathon routine. I ended last year with a near record distance total and have continued to maintain that solid base through now.   It would be shame to waste this investment in time and physical effort without at least attempting to run 26.2 miles before the end of this year.

This morning, I reworked my usual marathon training schedule as if I was ramping up mileage for the California International Marathon in early December.  It is a marathon that has been on my radar for quite some time (many use as a Boston Qualifier), but not one I have ever run.  I do not plan to do so this year either...but figure I could at least learn what the training conditions when targeting a race held that late on the calendar (I've run marathons in early February and mid-November).

For an early December marathon, I will need to break out of the holding pattern in early August.  Distances will increase as temperatures rise.  This may not be ideal, but the longer runs should force me to vary my routine more with routes I have not explored since the pandemic began.  I won't worry about choosing a 26.2 mile course closer to "race" day.

My training schedule has been on a Google Sheet for a few years now (makes it easier to update and track my actual total against my mileage goals), but my latest update to the spreadsheet now automatically populates the calendar dates based on the "race" date I long as it falls on a Sunday :) 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Running One Year Into A Pandemic

One year ago today, I decided I would continue my between-marathon training schedule despite the emerging threat of COVID-19.  I had only just started working from home that Monday.  The World Health Organization declared we were officially experiencing a pandemic just one week before...which is when my employer decided our team should go remote, erring on the side of caution to remain productive.

Just days before the WHO declaration, I had been thanking the LA Marathon organizers for going ahead with the race I had spent months training for, thanking the people of our city for coming out to support us crazy endurance athletes despite the looming threat of a highly contagious airborne disease.  I did my first recovery run on March 11, the very day it was announced COVID-19 had spread worldwide.

As I said, I resumed my between-marathon training routine with the plan to not ramp up my mileage until a few months before Surf City in 2021.  My second scheduled run was just ahead of Mayor Garcetti's "Safer at Home" order which was the beginning of what would become a nation-wide shutdown of all but essential businesses...the beginning of a two week lockdown.  Fortunately, I had already started working from home, but my wife would soon find herself furloughed.  Now things were starting to feel serious, but I decided to stick to my routine.

One year later, I am still following the same training schedule...and there have been obvious health benefits, both physical and mental.  Routines are important.  Nothing has ever interrupted more routines quite like lockdown, but mine didn't really change all that much.  If anything, I benefited from staying home.  My wife, who found herself forced to abandon her yoga routine, started asking to join me on runs (not to run, but to hike while I run).  Just getting outside on a regular basis does a lot to elevate one's spirit...especially since we now spend most of our days inside our home.  It doesn't hurt that we live on a beautiful peninsula with a spectacular coastline and many trails to explore.

Without any interest in registering for a race (Surf City was postponed) until most including myself can be vaccinated (I likely won't be eligible to receive one for awhile), I have had no reason to focus on speed or increase my mileage.  Doing either have historically increased my chance of injury (as was the case in 2019), so I tend to only push myself harder when I have a compelling reason to do so (like registering for a race).  That said, when I maintain a consistent routine, I naturally get faster.  It just takes a little longer.

As recently as 2019, when I decided to register for the Long Beach Marathon, I needed to significantly ramp up my training since I had just experienced one of my lowest mileage years...among the lowest since I had started running marathons.  I went from being the heaviest I had ever been to the lightest I had been post high school (when I ran cross country and distance track).  I have maintained that low weight throughout the pandemic...which is pretty remarkable considering how well I ate while my wife was furloughed (we definitely began the pandemic with a lot of comfort food and baked goodness).  Heck, I'm probably still eating better than I did when I used to commute...largely because I never go out to eat!

Audio/visual content ©2020 Eric A. Iwasaki - All Rights Reserved