Sunday, December 31, 2023

Year End Report 2023

My last run of 2023 was rain delayed into the afternoon, but not abbreviated, deterred or deferred to 2024.  I wanted to do at least 10 miles and was determined to see what yesterday's high tide and waves did to our local beaches, so there was a decent amount of elevation change.  I was especially glad I dressed for cold weather because the overcast sky kept afternoon temperatures unusually cool, noticeably dropping as I climbed towards my neighborhood.  With this final run, I managed to beat my annual average pace (not hard to do) and return home before the sun (which finally appeared through thinning clouds) dipped below the hill.

I clocked nearly 1,376 miles running in 2023, my third highest annual total behind 2021 (1,538) and 2012 (1,406) and easily beating 2020 (1,320).  If I factor in walking and hiking activities, I match 2012's running total.  Since I resumed running in 2007, I've totaled over 1,000 miles in nearly twice as many years as under 1,000.  That all said, I am somewhat disappointed in my performance this year.  As with last year, my goal was to focus on pace, not distance.  And I continue to get slower...10:33 per mile was my average annual pace.  In terms of total time spent running, this year is second behind 2021...I spent 25 more hours than 2012 to run 30 fewer miles.  I'd very much like to reverse this trend.  Reducing my total mileage and increasing my pace should help me get quite a bit of time back.

The two things that consistently help me improve pace are track intervals and registering for races. I entered my first race since the pandemic (The Hills Are Alive 10K) and finished in just under 51 minutes...not my best time, but certainly not my worst.  I barely did any track intervals in 2023, but did end the year with a 7:01 mile (beating the mile challenge I did in 2022 by a few seconds).  Still, I should be able to run in the 6's...and my annual average should be under 10 minutes per mile.  I will need to register for more 10Ks and maybe even half marathons before I attempt another 26.2.

I was really feeling the distance in 2023, especially as I approached the end of my second marathon training schedule. Though I was not planning to attempt a second 26.2 mile run within the calendar year, I felt I needed the routine to improve my fitness by October since my wife and I had planned a few high altitude hikes during a bucket list trip to Peru.  As our travel date approached, I started feeling like I needed more recovery time between runs. I started waking up with really sore heels and found wearing sandals with arch support helped reduce foot pain whenever I walked on our hardwood floors, especially on cold mornings.  Long runs were again aggravating an old ankle injury.

In mid-August, shortly after the Hills Are Alive run, I had a pretty hard fall during a 14 mile run.  I initially thought the way I tumbled into the fall had reduced the force of impact since I was able to resume running.  It wasn't until I lay in bed afterwards that I realized I had likely bruised or re-injured the rib I broke a year before. This injury didn't affect my routine as much as the previous one, but it did make sleeping uncomfortable until I found a position that didn't aggravate the least a month later.

I didn't run for two weeks due to our trip to Peru and then got sick shortly after we returned...a nasty cough made running impossible until I had completely shaken it.  And I had really been looking forward to getting a performance boost from having spent time approaching 16,000 feet above sea level.  Oh well.

So the trick in 2024 will be to increase pace but not so much that I accelerate injuries.  Increasing my ratio of trail to road runs should help (as will frequenting the track).  Not attempting a marathon training schedule until I'm naturally running faster will likely be the key to success.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Sea To The Sea 2023
(NOT L.A. Marathon 2023)

For only the third time since I started running marathons, I have decided to run 26.2 miles without entering a race.  This is the second time I have trained specifically for this distance without any intention of registering for a timed event.  I had zero incentive to focus on pace...I only needed to ensure my legs would be willing to carry me to the finish line.

On that note, just before I reached my peak training distance in my usual schedule, I realized I had repeatedly fallen short on what should have been 20+ milers.  I made the tough decision to reset my schedule by six weeks...shifting my target marathon date from what originally would have aligned with Surf City's race on Super Bowl Sunday to Los Angeles' this overcast March morning.  That means I actually repeated six weeks of serious mileage buildup right around the time I would normally have begun to taper.  I didn't want to risk pushing pace just when I was already asking a lot from my legs and blistered feet.

Keep in mind I am not doing this for a medal.  There will be no finisher's t-shirt.  I will not be photographed running on this course.  And, for the first time, I will be attempting to go the distance without anyone running with me, cheering me on, and/or providing water along the route.  This whole ordeal is an exercise in self-motivation.

I have chosen today's route in continued protest over LA Marathon's 2021 course alteration.  I first signed up for LA in 2010, when event organizers first announced their now famous and much loved Stadium to the Sea course.  Since I last completed the race three years ago (just days before the initial COVID lockdown), event organizers shifted the finish line to Century City...effectively removing my favorite final stretch to any marathon.  I have experienced some of my strongest kicks while descending from Brentwood into Santa Monica.  As long as Stadium to the Stars remains the official course, I will run my own Sea to the Sea course...or not at all.

I have arrived at my starting location...the parking lot for Torrance Beach, above the ramp to the Marvin Braude Bike Path.  If I just ran the bike path one way, I would make it all the way to Will Rogers State Beach, but I would be over four miles short and need a ride home...but I plan to make this a narrow loop, heading just a hair little inland in the early miles to take advantage of the soft wood-chip covered trail through Hermosa and Manhattan Beach.  And I expect I will turn back somewhere in Marina del Rey (my furthest runs north from here have only made it as far as Playa del Rey Beach).

As with any race day, I have arrived ahead of my start time: 7:00am.  Yes, this matches the L.A. Marathon...only I won't need to start from one of the corrals behind the elite runners.  In this race, I am elite.  I am guaranteed to finish long as I finish!

Temperature-wise, weather is ideal for running an endurance race...the forecast is for the high 50's for pretty much the entire morning with a chance of rain. I am feeling a few drops every now and then, but, despite getting horribly soaked during my last beach run, I am not terribly concerned.  This weather feels different.  The temperature is a refreshing change as we have had an unusually cold, wet, and windy winter.  More often than not, I have needed to cover both legs and arms during my training runs.  Today I'm wearing almost exactly what I wore during 2013's LA Marathon (same t-shirt bearing my official number, same hat, same grey shorts).  The only difference is I'm wearing compression sleeves on my calves...partially to improve blood flow, partially for warmth.

As start time nears, I am actually feeling a bit anxious. I stretch a bit, snap a few pictures to post on social media (with the question "Am I nuts?"), double check my pockets (to make sure I have my two Clif Shots and two packs of Shot Bloks), and make sure my GPS watch is ready to record.

At exactly 7am, I start my watch, put one foot in front of the other, and begin my marathon.

I quickly establish a comfortable pace.  Perhaps too quick.  While I didn't focus on pace during my recent training cycle, I did notice that I only averaged ten minutes per mile over the last month.  I usually use trends during this period to estimate my marathon pace and I was trending towards the low nines.  Right now I'm running faster than eight.  I slightly reduce my effort and focus on finding a smooth, comfortable rhythm.  I'm not at all winded, so, while I may have gone out fast, I didn't go out too fast.

The next few miles are pretty uneventful.  I'm running very familiar territory here as the stretch from Redondo Beach's Esplanade to Hermosa Beach's Green Belt Trail have been key components of many of my training runs for over a decade.  Despite having turned inland, I haven't really had to stop for lights or traffic (maybe 10 seconds total).  I pass the Manhattan Beach sign on Veteran's Parkway having barely felt the need to sip any water...but I have started to feel the need for a bio break.  I soon consume my first Clif Shot (at the 45th minute) and take my first really good swig of water from my bottle.  I soon turn down to the Pier.

The run down Manhattan Beach Blvd is largely pedestrian free at this hour (the gloomy weather is likely helping).  As I reach the pier, I decide I should make a pit stop.  I snap a photo of the Pier before taking my bio break.  I don't stop my watch and strangely it doesn't pause.  Obviously if this was a race, I would have turned off auto-pause, but that's not the case today.  I figure I have lost another 30 seconds...which I think is somewhat comparable to my pit stop during Surf City in 2011.  I managed to set my marathon PR on that day...a time I have not yet bested.  Short stops are not a deterrent.  That said, I am not expecting to reset my PR today!

I resume running along the Manhattan Beach Strand.  I cross my 10K split around the 54 minute mark...which is definitely faster than I have done the distance in a long time, but not a race pace.  I do wonder what my split would have been had I not stopped as all of my mile splits thus far have been between eight and nine minutes per mile except the last.

I am still easily maintaining a sub-nine pace as I pass Chevron's power refinery in El Segundo and the Dockweiler State Beach RV Park. When the bike path forks, I follow the path to the right (as I did when I ran a 23 miler here last month...the course thus far has matched that run).  This brings me to my first real incline since the trail.  I let my pace naturally slow as I climb and, without any effort, I make up some time on the descent.  I still manage to complete this mile in just under nine minutes.

When my watch reads 1 hour and 30 minutes, I debate between opening my first pack of Shot Bloks or consuming my second Clif Shot.  I opt for the latter as I approach the Lifeguard Operations building since I know I can discard the gel pack in one of the trash cans located in its parking lot.  I imbibe a good amount of water.  Due to the ideal conditions, I haven't felt the need to sip as often as I probably should.

I must have lost a step or two dealing with the gel as it took me more than nine minutes to complete the last mile, but now I am approaching unfamiliar territory.  I have run to Playa del Rey Beach before, but haven't gone past it...and I decide to continue straight along the path I am on until it intesects with Marine Avenue.  I follow this briefly and make a left on Trolleyway.  Something about this feels a lot like the Long Beach also has a course that transitions from a bike path on the beach to a road course through residential neighborhoods.

Trolleyway intersects with the western end of Culver Blvd...a street I used to connect with from Vista del Mar while commuting from the South Bay to workplaces to the north of the airport.  I run by Playa Provisions (a place I've only eaten at once with several friends who also happen to be runners) and continue on to Pacific Avenue.  The electronic scoreboard of the neighboring ballpark is illuminated, so I figure there must be a baseball game underway.  I run by the Del Rey Lagoon (I've only been on the eastern side of it before) and continue straight on to the Ballona Creek Bridge.

I haven't been on this stretch of bike path since...1984?  I remember dad and I riding bicycles along Ballona Creek en route to catch a glimpse of the men's marathon at the Summer Olympic Games (we watched the runners pass by on Washington Blvd).  Little did I know then that I would ever run such distances myself.

As I continue along the bike path, I spot a canoe team in the waterway to my left rowing towards a dock ahead.  I spot The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del wife's first workplace.  I'm actually not far from my first workplace.  This marks the first time I have ever run from the South Bay into the marina.  I hit my half marathon split at 1:56:23...directly across from the driveway for Fisherman's Village in Marina del Rey.  It has been awhile since I have hit 13.1 miles in under two hours, but I used to do so regularly.

Knowing my return route south is a bit more direct, I proceed a tenth of a mile deeper into the marina before making a u-turn.  I enter the eastern end of the Fisherman's Village parking lot and cross to the boardwalk along the water, but want to catch a photo of The Ritz-Carlton hotel while I am still close before proceeding west.  There are a bunch of sea lions within the frame, so I decide to record some video...probably not the best idea to stop running this long.  I resume running, but can't resist stopping again...this time for a selfie in the village.  And just when I get back up to speed again, I encounter a fence and must backtrack to Whiskey Red's so I can exit the village and return to the bike path.

As I turn south at Playa del Rey Beach, I encounter a headwind.  I cross fingers that it doesn't get too strong since it's going to make my latter miles a lot more challenging.  This also probably explains why I feel the temperature has dropped a bit since I started.  One of the reasons I like running the Stadium to the Sea course is that the route naturally helped stabilize what otherwise could be a significant rise in temperatures over the hours I am running.  Falling temperatures are a bit unexpected, especially on an already chilly morning, but I will always favor running in cool weather.

I start to feel a bit of rain around mile 17.  It kind of feels nice, but thankfully doesn't last very long.  I had my fill of running in the rain a few weeks ago.

I feel some more raindrops fall on my head as I approach the transition from the Manhattan to Hermosa Beach Strand.  Could rainfall be my wall?  As before, it passes pretty quickly.

I've managed to complete my 12th marathon distance run in a very reasonable watch time of 4:11:20.  Since my watch's auto-pause failed to stop the clock during my bio-break (and was a bit slow to pause on a couple of other occasions), my actual moving time is even lower (4:10:55).  If I had been running this as a race, the clock wouldn't ever true time would have been 4:22:28.  I only stopped for one bio-break and photo before the half marathon split, just a few stops after to record some memories with my smartphone, just once to top up my water bottle.  The longest stop was to capture video of sea lions on a dock with The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey in the background.  I have quite a few good memories of the wife and I lived there for many years, her first job was for that particular hotel, and one of the office buildings that my first employer occupied overlooked Ballona Creek.

What I find fascinating is that my moving times for the 26.2 mile split on my previous not-a-race marathons were in the same ballpark...4:15:28 on the hilly Palos Verdes full marathon course and 4:05:50 on the similarly flat 27 Miles for 27 Sandy Hook Victims run.  Of course, I ran the latter roughly a month after I recorded a chip time of 3:42:56 during the Malibu Marathon...over a decade ago.

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