Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Race Report: 03.21.2010 Los Angeles Marathon
My tenth marathon is over and done with. Fittingly, the Los Angeles Marathon--the one that started it all way back in 2005--marked the event. It was my fifth L.A. Marathon, and thanks to a great new course it was the best yet even if it wasn't my fastest. I'm hoping the organizers can keep this course from here on in because it's just about perfect--scenic, diverse, challenging, fun, and never boring. As great as the course was, though, the event had some glaring flaws that hopefully will be corrected next year. I'll get to those in the recap.
I set my alarm for 2:30 a.m. on Sunday so that I could make myself a bacon and egg breakfast. I didn't physically get up, though, until 15 minutes later, but cooking the bacon and eggs didn't take long. I thought twice about eating bacon and eggs (and rice), but I was really craving it. I worried that I've never had a meal like it before a race and I wasn't sure how it would sit in my stomach. My craving, though, prevailed, but I compromised by cooking only two slices of bacon and one egg, a small serving of rice, and a cup of coffee. It was very satisfying. Whenever possible, I may just have bacon and eggs all the time before a marathon. Afterwards I showered, put on my gear, and I was out the door by 3:45 a.m.
I had made up my mind to take the bus to Santa Monica in order to catch the shuttle from there to Dodger Stadium. Sunday morning, though, I had a brief doubts about the plan. What if I get mugged waiting for the line 20 bus? That would have been an ignominious way to start the race. Luckily, I wasn't mugged. In fact, the 20 was pretty crowded at 4 in the morning, and since there was no traffic, the bus zoomed along and I was in Santa Monica in half an hour, way before my scheduled 5:30 a.m. shuttle. That wasn't a problem, though. I just hopped on board the shuttle and I was whisked off to Dodger Stadium. I was at Dodger Stadium by 5:30, two hours before the race was scheduled to start. So I did the only thing I could do: I went to the port-a-potty and took a much-needed piss then found a place to sit and wait out the time while listening to some slow tunes.
Although there was no line at the port-a-potties when I got there, I could tell that the organizers didn't get enough of them to serve the 25,000 runners who have been hydrating all weekend long. This could be a disaster, I thought. I was sort of right. The lines were long, but when people need to piss, they'll find a place. I saw a lot of people clambering up the hillsides around Chavez Ravine for some privacy or simply going behind a dumpster. Some barely found any privacy but just took a piss anyway.
The two hours actually passed quickly, and even though it was a mild morning and forecasts were for a warm day, I got chilly waiting out there. So rather than check in my gear early, I just held on to it until just before the race was supposed to start so I could stow the extra shirts I brought. When I checked in the gear, I sensed another disaster in the making. The volunteer tagged my bag as they ought to, but when it was handed off to someone else to be placed in the truck, it was arbitrarily tossed into the truck--a truck whose number assignment was for runners with numbers 9001-12000 on their bibs, so potentially 3,000 bags will be stowed in that truck. Tossing a bag into a truck is not a system for handling 3,000 bags. Uh oh.
I didn't worry about my bag at the time, though. I had a race to run, so I headed off to the start line and realized that it was basically one big corral. The race was already late in starting. It was scheduled to start at 7:25 a.m. but they made an announcement that the non-elite runners probably won't be starting until 7:45 or so. As the wheelchair competitors started and saw where they were headed, I saw another problem. The first mile is a lap around Dodger Stadium, so the route swirls around the stadium. The organizers, however, had the amazing foresight to place the few port-a-potties they did order just outside of this swirl, which meant that if you were using the port-a-potties, you would have to cut across the course to get to the start line. Anyone who has been involved in at least one marathon would know that runners will use port-a-potties up to the last minute. Some even use it even after the gun has gone off. It's one of the luxuries of chip timing. Now, I don't know why the organizers didn't see the problem in this. Did they think everyone would stop using the port-a-potties before the race started?
Unfortunately, I became one of the victims when I decided that I needed to use the restroom and hoped that I could beat the start of the main group and get back to the start line with no problem. I didn't beat the start. As I walked out to go back to the start, an onslaught of runners was just coming around like a giant stampede. To cross would mean I'd get trampled. I considered just joining them and skipping the start line, but that would mean my time may not count. So, I walked away from the start line and jumped in with the runners who already started and slowly made my way to the left so I could get into the start. I succeeded, but I wondered how the others who were also stranded managed.
Since my watch strap broke a while back, I decided to run watchless for the first time at a race. I'm usually a slave to my watch during a race, dutifully marking each split, calculating my pace, and estimating my finish time. I will adjust my speed based on my splits. Without a watch, though, I'd have to base it on how I was feeling and the time provided at each mile marker. I'm good enough in math that I can probably do a quick calculation without it. To my shock, though, there was no clock at the start line, which meant I had no idea how many minutes after the gun went off I was actually starting. Not only was there no clock at the start, I didn't see one for miles one nor two. When I finally saw one at mile 3, it read around 45 minutes, which either meant I started about fifteen minutes after the gun or I was running really slow, which would not have been surprising because of the crowd at the start which required me to do some weaving and even occasionally stop in my tracks. I assumed, though, that I had started 15 minutes behind and tried to pick up my pace.
I didn't feel great in the beginning. My right shin had been tender for the last week or so, and I could feel it in the early runs. Not running much the last week also made my legs feel heavy and sluggish. I prepared myself for the possibility that I may have to drop out if my shin became a problem. I have yet to drop out of a race and I hoped I wouldn't have to now. But then, as I was climbing the steep hill on 1st leading up to Grand in downtown, my inner thighs began to cramp up. It was only three miles into the race and I was already cramping? This is going to be a lousy race, I thought to myself. Yet I kept going. I would just have to see how far I can go. By then the relatively mild morning was feeling like a warm, humid day. I usually don't take a Gu until mile 8 but I told myself I'll take one around mile 6. Better safe than sorry.
Even though I was having a lousy run so far, I did enjoy running through Echo Park and Silver Lake. However, I was disappointed by the lack of hipster support for the race. I was hoping the area would be teeming. Then again, it was still early on Sunday. I did find a few hanging out at the usual areas, enjoying their coffee at Cafe Tropical and Intelligentsia. The crowd grew thicker, though, as we entered Los Feliz and East Hollywood, which was a convenient spot to cheer because of the Vermont/Sunset Red Line station. I took a Gu at this point, and I think it made a huge difference in how I felt and gave me a nice jolt.
As I entered Thai Town, I was feeling better. I didn't feel my shin any more and felt more upbeat about my prospects. My time calculations also showed that I was speeding up, which helped boost my confidence. I saw Prame from GLU as I ran through Thai Town and said hi. After that, I found more people I knew. Manny and Mary Lou were right in front of the Hollywood/Vine station, but I almost missed them and they me. I knew Jane would be at La Brea and Sunset, and sure enough she was. She took the picture of me above as I ran towards her. I'm probably saying, "JANE!" in the picture. I'm always grateful for friends who come out to cheer. They wait and wait only to see someone they know for a few seconds and soon they're off. Cheering is really a lot of just waiting but it is also fun to cheer on strangers and to take in the scenery. Still, getting up early on a Sunday morning and braving the crowds is a lot of work, and it means a lot to see a friendly face in the crowd, especially when you're feeling not so fresh. I didn't expect to see Katie at mile 21, for example. It took me a second to realize it was her I was so delirious, but she helped pep me up in that difficult part of the race. So did Sonia, who ran with me for a few minutes.
Miles 10-16 from Hollywood through West Hollywood and Beverly Hills were my best miles. I felt great and thought I was running a great race. I was basically running the whole thing without taking walk breaks like I usually do. The only time I would walk was to drink. As soon as I had finished drinking I would run again. Even if this wasn't my fastest marathon, I can mark it as the first marathon I ran (almost) completely through. Running through West Hollywood was great, and I wondered how the Christian runners, the ones with Bible verses written on their jerseys, will react as they run through a gauntlet of men dressed as nuns handing them water and not to mention the go-go dancers.
At Century City, with a gradual hill making things tougher, I began to tire. Not as bad as I would have thought earlier, but the race was starting to become tough. Still, I maintained my pace. The worst section was the mile through the Veterans Administration grounds. My legs just felt heavy and it seemed warmer there than at any point in the race. The sun was breaking through the marine layer and there was no shade to be had in the grounds. I was grateful, though, that they didn't make us run up the difficult hill on Federal to get to Brentwood. Instead we had the more gradual hills through the V.A. but even those were tough.
Having run on San Vicente before, I knew not to expect it to be easy. The first part was a gradual incline and then only after you peak do you get that wonderful downhill portion all the way to Santa Monica. I still had to get through the uphill portion. Somewhere on mile 21, though, I made the mistake of grabbing an oversized pretzel that someone was offering to runners. I had been taking just about everything spectators were offering me, mainly oranges and banana, with the hope that it would keep the cramping at bay. It seemed to work. No cramping, just hints that they were coming. However, that pretzel became a small problem. It's not the spectator's fault. At that point in the race, eating something so thick and starchy probably wasn't a good idea. The pretzel soaked up the saliva in my mouth and I couldn't swallow it. The mushy pretzel just sat in the pockets of my cheeks. I needed water. I couldn't even spit it out! As you would expect, when you want something you can't find it. It seemed like ages before I came across a water station. Thankfully I didn't choke on the pretzel and I was able to spit it out.
Mile 24 through the end was downhill and it felt great. The view of the ocean was a great sight telling me that I was almost done. The cooler temperatures and thicker marine layer also helped as I got a second wind and began picking up my pace a little the last two miles. When I turned on Ocean Ave. I could see the finish line in the distance and throngs of people lining both sides. So beautiful. This was one reason why I love running the L.A. Marathon, seeing the community out there cheering on strangers and just being supportive. The crowds were thick everywhere, even areas where I thought residents would be unsupportive of the new course. The people seemed to embrace it and it's such great motivation to be cheered on as you're struggling for one last push.
I crossed the finish line with the clock reading 4:12. My estimated 15 minute lag time turned out to be right. My chip time was 3:57:01. This was my fourth fastest marathon and the fifth time I finished under four hours. I passed Andy at mile 24, but he wasn't too far behind me at the finish. I waited for him and I ran into David too, who ran his first marathon. He posted a great time for his first and beat me by 43 seconds. I almost caught up to him!
All in all, I enjoyed the race. The course was beautiful. Too bad it was marred by the flaws I already mentioned. However, the worst part was the debacle that was bag claim. As I suspected, it became a big mess. The volunteers couldn't find bags right away and it seemed as if the bags were just thrown into the truck haphazardly. The runners were annoyed and the volunteers were becoming stressed. I had to wait at least half an hour to find my bag. It was aggravating. The worst part was that I had asked Andy and his girlfriend, Lisa, for a ride home, so they had to wait for me as I tried to find my bag. Bag check had never been a problem for me before. Hopefully this will be addressed next year.
If the organizers can keep this course, I don't see why the L.A. Marathon can't be a world class race, one that people everywhere would flock to run. It really serves as a great running tour of Los Angeles. You see all the tourist sights in one day, and you witness the diversity of the city. From downtown to Echo Park to Silver Lake to Hollywood to West Hollywood to Beverly Hills to the Westside to Santa Monica--the course was a great snapshot of the area.
For my post-marathon meal, a conversation about burgers with Andy got me hankering for one. After a nap, I persuaded Jane to join me for burgers and beer at Umami. I capped it off with a shake from Milk.
Then I slept some more.