Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Run. Recover. Repeat.


Distance: 26.2 miles
Chip Time: 3:54:37
Pace: 8:57/mile
10K Split: 54:44
Half Split: 1:53:17
Place: 1344 overall; 184 age division; 1145 men division

Crusty Shirt
The medal and the crusty salt deposits on my shirt.


Another L.A. Marathon completed. My third L.A., fourth overall.

I've been putting off submitting a race report because it will mean closing the book on this marathon experience. I was going to write this up last night, but 24 and very funny episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report followed. I was too tired to concentrate by the time I got behind the keyboards, so I just went to bed. Still, I ought to look back at the race while it's fresh in my mind and the soreness is still in my calves. In a few days it will all seem like I never even took a step forward.

I was a meticulous time keeper during the race and logged every mile on my watch. However, I must have been so exhausted on Sunday night that I deleted the record from my watch without realizing it. As a result I don't have split times for every mile. I do remember the gist of it. so we'll go from there.

My game plan was to run an aggressively smart race in the beginning. Rather than push for a negative split I was going to build up a cushion in the early miles which would offset the later miles when my pace was bound to slow. I wasn't going to run 8 minute miles, though, but somewhere between 8:30 and 8:45.

The start of the new course was uphill and certainly less exhilarating than the confetti-riddled start of the old course. They still played "I Love LA," but it didn't have the same impact. For one thing, there were no throngs cheering you on as you crossed the start line. Muhammad Ali wasn't above a scaffold applauding you. And there weren't the majestic high rises and the breathtaking view of thousands of bobbing heads in front of you as you run down Figueroa towards the Staples Center. It almost felt like the start to a small race.

Ventura Boulevard is also narrower than Figueroa, so the start felt even more crowded. I managed to squeeze myself within view of the start line, but even with that it took me almost nine minutes to get to cross the start line. The narrowness of the street also made it impossible to take off running and I had to do a little bit of weaving. I tried to avoid it as much as I could but it's hard not to weave when you come upon a four-person wide group of walkers. To minimize my weaving, I had others clear the way for me by running behind faster runners who were pushing through the crowds. It worked a little because I was able to run the first mile in around 10:25. My goal pace for the marathon was 9 minutes per mile, so already I was running at a deficit, but with 25.2 miles left I wasn't worried about making it up.

Given the fact that there were 25,000 runners/walkers out there, I managed to clear out and start running a good pace by the second mile. This was probably due to the fact that I didn't start in the back like I did the last two years. The downhill that started at mile 1.5 also encouraged everyone to run a little faster. I was able to get through mile 2 in a little over 9 minutes and was moving with greater ease.

The early miles just flew by. Before long I was running past the Hollywood Bowl heading towards Hollywood. The organizers placed hay at the turn towards Highland to catch those who were unable to make the turn. The turn was sharp, but it wasn't that sharp that someone would lose control. They could have been for the bikers, too.

I was amazed to see Jane and Liza by Hollywood and Highland. It seemed like I had just seen them a few minutes before and there they were standing as if they've been there for a long time. I was still feeling great so I threw them some kisses. We were only on Hollywood Boulevard for a short spell, but I wish it could have been longer. The crowds were thick there and it was a great boost to hear their roar. Too bad this wasn't mile 23 when I really needed the boost. Mile 3 came and went. In fact, miles 4, 5, and 6 were a blur. I remember running through Hancock Park but in no time I found myself in Koreatown. I ran my fastest mile at this point, running mile 3 in under 8 minutes and the other miles between 8 and 8:20. I wondered whether I was going out too fast and resolved to slow down and conserve a little bit of energy.

I performed a system check at around mile 7. I felt fine, breathing was good and my heartrate was consistent, but I could feel some tightness already in my calves. My calves have always been the source of marathon problems, but I usually don't feel anything on them until the mileage reached the mid-teens. Here I was only at mile 7. I thought that it might just be my hypochondriac tendencies, but it really was there. I think the standing around and waiting we did, being up since four AM, the warm weather and the downhill played havoc on my calves. I resolved to try and take some of the load off my calves by using my hamstrings more or picking up my legs rather than shuffling. Even, though, they were tight they weren't giving me problems, but I had to ensure they would last a little longer.

Because of the concerns I had that my calves would cramp up earlier than I would like, the idea of building up a cushion took on greater urgency. I wasn't going to push too hard, but if I could run the next few miles under 8:30 without being out of breath it would relieve some stress in the latter stages.

I began feeling the heat at around mile 8. It was probably in the mid to high 70's at that point, which was perfectly pleasant for those not running. I began dumping water on my head at the water stations and ran through open hydrants as much as I could. I normally hate getting wet, but it was a huge relief to do so during the marathon. My only fear was that my shoes would get soaked and I'd have to deal with the possibility of blisters. Thankfully that didn't happen.

After mile 12 I caught up with Sean. I got separated from the team when I stood in line at the port-a-potties. It looked like he had slowed down a little. I didn't want to slow down since the deadline on my calves was ticking away as little twitches began to make themselves palpable. I tried not using my big toe to push off so much since it was the inside part of my calves that was getting tight, but I couldn't keep that up for too long. I just had to get as much out of the calves while I still had time.

At the mile 13 water station, I took a walk break and poured more water on my head. My plan had been to take walk breaks at the water stations thinking that they would be situated in regular intervals. It turned out that some water stations were closer together than others and they were not always just after a mile marker. I ran without a water bottle, which worked out fine, but it meant that my walk breaks were spent taking in fluids rather than focusing on getting my heart rate down.

It was at the mile 13 aid station that I ran into Carlos. He tossed a cup of water at my back which startled me, but when I started running the cooling it provided was a welcome relief. Carlos asked me if we were on pace for sub four and I said we were. I was hoping he would run with me for a bit but he said he needed to catch his breath.

I've done four marathons now and I have yet to run with someone the whole way through. I've gotten used to running on my own, but it's good to see a familiar face on the course. I doubt I'd be a great running partner during a race anyway since I get focused and quiet. I figure I'm saving energy by not talking. Still, having a partner there would be a good way to maintain a pace. When I run with FJ and others during our training runs, it definitely helps having others there to help get you through the hard miles. What I've done during races has been to pick out someone who was moving at the pace I was and running next to or behind them. I did that with a guy in a Honda marathon shirt who was running a very steady pace and looked strong. Since I was doing walk breaks, though, I'd lose him, so what wound up happening was that I'd pass him and then he'd pass me when I took a walk break. I think I passed him for good at mile 23, but I was so delirious and in a haze by that point that he probably passed me again without me noticing.

I crossed the halfway mark at under 1:54, marking the first time I've run a marathon half under two hours. It also meant that I had built up a cushion of six minutes and all I had to do was run a 2:05 in the second half and I'd be fine. I kept trying to build a cushion, though. A 2:05 second half was still about 9:30 pace. I'd feel a lot more confident with a cushion that allowed me to run a 10:00 pace in the second half and still come in under four hours, so I pressed ahead.

I don't remember much between miles 14 and 17, but I was still running sub nine minute miles, which made me glad. When I got to Exposition Park, though, I began to feel fatigued and felt myself slowing down and needing longer walk breaks. I had taken my second Clif Shot at mile 15, a mile earlier than I had planned but I felt like I really needed it. Two miles later I felt like I needed another one. I trudged on, though, and blamed my exhaustion on the fact that I was in Trojan territory. Trojans are known to suck the life out of you.

I revived a little when I got on Figueroa because I was on familiar territory. The first few miles of the course used to be here and the crowd thickened a lot more. I saw the convention center and knew that Staples Center and the mile 19 banner weren't too far away. Jimmy and Sarah Jane found me at this point and ran with me. Coach Katie and Greg also came by at this point to urge me on. Good thing they didn't run with me for too long or I would have felt silly having a four-person entourage running with me. Still, the support couldn't have come at a better time. I had slowed down, running above 9 minute miles, and my calves were beginning to rebel. Jimmy sprayed me with something--I told him I didn't care--to help with my cramping. It didn't work since a few second later, a new wave of cramping started up. A Salonpas station was at mile 19, so I stopped for a spray. That might have helped or, as Jimmy said, it could just be a placebo effect. Still, my calves calmed down enough for me to focus on my breathing. My legs felt heavy and I wasn't exhaling as well as I would like, but with Jimmy pacing me I ran mile 20 in just under 9 minutes.

With just 10K left, I told Jimmy I'd be fine on my own. All I had to do was run ten minute miles and I'd still reach the finish line under four hours. I didn't take it for a slam dunk because 10 minute miles are tough when your calves won't cooperate, but the signs were good. The calves, though cramping, weren't locking up. I really thought they'd be spasming and locking up by mile 20. Mile 21 was completed at over 9 minutes, around 9:25, but still under 10 minutes.

Mile 22, though, was a tough one. It had the steep climb on the Olympic Boulevard bridge towards Boyle Heights. And the fact that we were running through mostly industrial areas with fewer crowds made it a tough mile. I made it up the bridge strongly, passing many people on it, but I was still exhausted. I had envisioned prior to the race to finishing the last 10K strongly, but I only had enough energy to keep moving. Rather than focusing on the fact that I still/only had 4 miles left, I shifted to focusing on every mile marker. Mile 22 was completed in just under 10:30.

For me, mile 23 was the toughest mile. We were still on a subtle incline, but regardless of how subtle it was I felt it every small degree of it. I kept hoping the mile marker was coming soon, but it was nowhere in sight. As we reached Boyle Heights, the community was cheering us on, but I had tuned much of it out. My thoughts were on the mile marker and how I was sure they had misplaced it. As I turned Whittier Blvd. I finally saw it. I crossed mile 23 with a split of over 10:30, my longest mile. I told myself I'd take no more walk breaks after this. Take a good swig of Gatorade, pour another cup of water over your head, and don't stop running until you reach the finish line.

I lied. I took another walk break at mile 24 and then psyched myself up by tellling myself that I was now underneath the 210 freeway heading back to the Rose Bowl. This will soon be over. The downhill on the 6th Street bridge was a welcome relief. I was looking forward to running on the bridge and enjoying the view of downtown. But I was too tired to appreciate anything. I saw downtown and rather than be swept away by the view I marveled at how far it looked. But having completed mile 24 in just under 9:30, I was delighted to find out that I could run the last 2.2 miles in a pace over 11 minutes and still come in under four hours. Mile 25 was a blur, but I remember passing a lot of people, which was a small victory. I was passing more than being passed. Other times it was the opposite. Exhaustion, though, was taking over and the only thing I could focus on was the desire to stop running. I tried to slow my breathing to no avail. I tried to get a song stuck in my head, but that too failed. I don't remember what time I ran mile 25, but I think I just came in under 10 minutes. The calves were on the verge of locking up, but with only a mile left, I knew I'd make it.

26 Mile

I focused on running the last 1.2 miles. I wasn't going to check my watch until I crossed the finish line. Push, push, push. This will soon be over. You can stop running in ten minutes. These were the thoughts in my head. I knew the mile 26 marker was in front of our hotel, so I fixed my gaze on the banner and watched it get closer and closer. The crowds got thicker and as I got closer I could hear the roar. I saw the crowd in my periphery and heard the applause, but I was still focused on the finish. I crossed the mile 26 banner and made the turn on Flower. More cheers. I was startled by a photographer as I made the turn. When I saw the yellow finish line I was struck at how far it still seemed. The night before it looked so close, but from the middle of Flower it still looked a half mile away.

I kept running. I passed a few more runners. It felt like I was moving at a good pace and my legs felt looser than I can remember since mile 15. There wasn't a crowd of people crossing the finish line at this point and as I approached the finish line I only saw two people ahead of me. I passed one last person, a runner who was being helped across the finish line.

Then it was over. I stopped my watch and saw the time. 3:54. I ran the last 1.2 miles in 10:24.


I tried to play down my goal of running under four hours. I told people it was my goal but I avoided making a big deal out of it. I was worried that if I made a big deal about it that I was only setting myself up for a letdown if I didn't get there. Still, it became a primary focus the last two weeks leading up to the race. Even though I was supposed to be tapering, I felt like I couldn't miss a running day. I tried to control it, but I still found myself increasing the treadmill speed to 7.5 mph. Crossing the finish line was no longer enough. I had to do it under four hours.

As soon as I crossed the finish line, though, I was surprised to find how unenthused I was. Maybe it was because I was deliriously tired, but I thought that if I made my goal of running four hours it would be like completing my first marathon. I sobbed no less than three times after crossing the finish of my first L.A. Marathon. I was sure it was going to be the same rush of emotion.

Now, though, I think the lack of a reaction is the realization that as good an accomplishment, a four hour marathon is not a life-affirming feat. It wasn't going to solve the things in my life that need to be fixed. It is, however, a reminder that I am stronger than I think. I'm kind of disappointed that the marathon no longer serves as a life-affirming symbol for me. Now it's a challenge, hobby, a pasttime, a game, like a hard sudoku puzzle that I will continue to tackle and improve on. I guess there really is nothing like your first time.

So what's next? I'm thinking this might be my last LA for a while, but never say never. I'm hoping to do San Diego in June and something in the fall. I'll put my name in for Chicago and NYC, but Portland and Las Vegas are also possible. I'll try to do more speed training and hopefully PR again.

Two years ago I ran my first marathon. I finished it in 4:54 after thinking I could easily do it under 4:30. On Sunday I beat that time by an hour. To put it in perspective, when I crossed the finish line on Sunday, I was still at mile 21 two years ago. I can't imagine shaving off another hour in two years, but I can give it a try.

For now, though, I'll savor the pleasant soreness in my calves while it lasts. In a couple of days it will go away and I will no longer have the physical sensation of having run 26.2 miles. That is, until the next one.

toenails still in place
Toenails still in place.

1 comment:

John P. McCann said...

Way to go, Raul!