Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Los Angeles Marathon -- 3:18:59

Well, what can I say... it was an amazing day. The weather was beautiful -- nice and cool with clear skies. A storm had passed through on Saturday so the air seemed especially crisp and clean. There were cheering crowds and well-wishers along the whole route that formed a large flat loop in central Los Angeles.

How did the race go? I put in my best effort, I trained as hard and as well as I could, and I used the best race strategies that I know, so ultimately, I can't help but to be happy with the results even though I had hoped to do better. My goal time was to qualify for the Boston Marathon by running the race faster than 3 hours and 10 minutes. I was on pace up until about the end of mile 19 and fatigue just seemed to creep in and when I tried to run faster I felt the twinges of cramps in my calves and thighs and hips. During mile 20 my left calf suddenly clenched up briefly and I had to stop momentarily and walk a couple steps, but then the cramp settled down quickly and I resumed running. The only other time I stopped was to get my salt capsule out of the plastic bag. There's something I should've practiced more beforehand! With sweaty hands and a tight seal on the small ziplock bag, I tried 3 times to open it while running, but I just couldn't get a grip. So right at the end of mile 20, I stopped briefly and opened it up. George gave me the salt capsules after hearing about my Honolulu Marathon experience. Thank you again for all your help and advice and encouragement.

Around mile 22 I thought I could still beat my previous marathon time by about 5 minutes, but the fatigue kept on getting worse. I felt just like I did in the Pillar Point Half-Marathon last September when I ran the first two miles way too fast and my legs felt "burned out" about half-way through and I was gradually forced to slow down. So mile 23 through to the end was an even slower and more difficult struggle. It was hard seeing the tall buildings of the financial district so far away still, knowing that the finish line was buried inside that cluster of buildings somewhere. I stuck with it, trying a couple of times to speed up, but then immediately feeling the onset of cramps, so I slowed right back down again.

It occurred to me that being forced to slow down sucks not only because of the disappointment of missing one's goals but because the damn race takes that much longer to finish! Mile 24 goes by. I see my parents, my sister, and her fiancé. I gave them a big smile, two thumbs up, mumbled something about slowing down, and trudged onwards. Mile 25 goes by. I see a big sign saying 1 more mile to the finish! People are cheering me on by name. (All the runners got to choose a nickname to be printed on their bibs.) "Go, Ron, Go!" "Pick up the pace, Ron, you're almost there!" "Good job, Ron!" "You can do it, Ron!" It was great and I really appreciated the crowds and how energetic they were. Finally... I turned the corner on to Flower Street and was looking up the final gradual hill towards the dense crowds and the huge banner strung across the street. The finish line! The end is in sight! The roar of the crowds wrapped around me like a blanket. I was on a total natural high. I was going to do it. I was going to finish. My time was still going to be very good in the grand scheme of things and was going to be faster than my last marathon. I crossed the finish line. A terrific challenge overcome!

The volunteers removed my electronic chip from my shoe and placed a medal around my neck and gave me one of those metallic reflective blankets. And animal cookies. And a banana. And water. I was a bit wobbly and someone asked me if I was OK. Pretty soon I was stretching and able to walk more normally. There was a terrific band in the friends & family reunion area and they did a cover song of No Doubt's "I'm Just a Girl" and Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog". I started dancing. Oh, and earlier in the race, about mile 13, a DJ was playing one of my current favorite songs, "Dare" by that animated band from England, Gorillaz.

So, quite a day. I kept an eye out for Juliana but didn't see her. Also, before the race, we were going to try to meet next to the Clif Bar pace groups, but I was packed in like a sardine near the front and I learned afterwards that Juliana was near the rear of the pack. So we didn't get a chance to hook up and so sorry, Julie and Jenny, I have nothing further to report about Juliana's boyfriend. Oh, except his name is Nathan and he did come down to the marathon with her and walked about 15 miles apparently (!?!) with their dog.

What else... I ran with the 3:10:00 Clif Bar pace group up until the fatigue started settling in. I used the lap timer on my watch to record my mile splits although somehow I must not have pressed the button hard enough at the beginning, so I'm not sure how long my first mile took. And later, I must not have pressed it hard enough again or I forgot and I missed a mile split. But anyway, next time I think I should stick with my own pacing because we were somewhat all over the place and I can't help but to wonder if some of the faster miles hurt me later on. My goal pace was 7:15. (That's 7 minutes 15 seconds a mile.) My split times at the following mile markers were:

1. 7:25 (estimated)
2. 6:49
3. 6:56
4. 7:12 left hip and right quads start feeling tight.
5. 6:57
6. 7:43
7. 6:53
8. 7:23
9. 7:03
10. 7:28
11. 7:20
12. 6:57
13. 7:11 left hip and right quads mysteriously feel ok again.
14. 7:07
15. 7:19
16. 7:13 average with mile #17
17. 7:14
18. 7:22
19. 7:25 starting to fall back from the pace group a bit.
20. 8:03 oh oh. trouble settling in. pace group out of sight.
21. 7:47 can't speed up!
22. 7:43 ditto.
23. 9:02 boom... big time fatigue.
24. 9:33 red alert, red alert.
25. 8:54 after all that resting, speeding up?
26. 8:50 approximate. Got combined with next 0.2 miles.
26.2. 2:10 approx. didn't stop stopwatch immediately.

Total: 3:18:59.

I was 384th out of about 25,200 runners. I was 71 out of 1512 in my age group.

This was my second marathon, so I can't help but to compare it to the Honolulu Marathon. Pros and cons? Let's see, here's what's good about the Los Angeles Marathon:
  • nicknames on the bibs!
  • probably more crowds and more energy.
  • slightly better supported with many more water stations and even a few more sports drink stations.
  • had more prominent mile markers with huge banners stretched across the street at every mile marker. You couldn't miss them. In Honolulu, they were much smaller and to the side and more easily missed.
  • Los Angeles is a heck of a lot closer than Honolulu!
  • There is more prize money, about $450,000 total, for Los Angeles. It's also interesting that the elite women got a 20 minute head start over the elite men and some company gave $100,000 to the first person, male or female, to cross the line. This year a woman won, but last year a man won. The 1st place male and female also received about $62k, including the value of a car.

What's better about Honolulu?
  • the 5am start time keeps you out of the glare of the sun for most of the race for most runners.
  • the scenery is better. Los Angeles is a seemingly endless urban sprawl. The route did not go through any parks or even next to any parks as far as I recall unless they were very small.
  • Hawaii in general is a more enticing vacation destination, albeit expensive.
  • The Honolulu Marathon route has a large portion that doubles back on itself so that you can see the front runners and those behind you. It was fun seeing the world's best runners in person while running. The LA Marathon is a loop so the elite runners are quickly separated from everyone else.
  • ice cold sponges at two aid stations!

And I have to give an enormous thanks to my parents for driving me all around Los Angeles on Saturday and Sunday and feeding me lots of good food and getting me to the starting line right on time. And a huge thanks to my sister Molly and her fiancé Jared for taking the time to see the marathon.