Sunday, December 02, 2007

California International Marathon -- 2:59:36

I'm sitting uncomfortably back at home, with ice on my foot but a smile on my face. The weather was perfect except for a little bit of wind, the California International Marathon sold out (6,000 of us crazy folks), the volunteers and the support were good, and with great difficulty, I managed to achieve my goal of running a marathon faster than 3 hours. I shaved at least 5 minutes off of my personal record from this same marathon a year ago. (Results here. 208th place.)

I should start off by saying that my training has been spotty this time around. I've had the flu, a cold or two, and a minor foot injury since running that 50K at the end of August. I haven't even been keeping careful track of my miles, although I use my Garmin GPS watch and it remembers all of my workouts. A year ago, I topped off at 70 miles a week. This time around, I was mostly in the mid-50s with maybe one 65 mile week. I did hit most of my long runs and so I guess I managed to hang on to whatever fitness I had. Anyway... how'd the race go?

I didn't feel well through most of the marathon this morning, feeling like I was going to have "bathroom problems" from about mile 9 through 21. I've got to figure out this food / digestive thing. I'll spare the reader the details. :-) Anyway... I paced myself but happened to mostly stick with the 3:00:00 pace group guy. I felt soreness and even twinges of cramps for most of the race it seemed. I was rather worried and not very confident how the day was going to turn out. I told myself, "Well, just try to stay on pace for as long as you can. Maybe things will blow up and you'll end up walking or injured, but maybe things will work out; Just take a chance." At the half-marathon point, my time was 1:29:15. My miles were mostly pretty consistent. I wasn't feeling great, but was OK. Finally, we got to around mile 21 and I felt pretty good, relatively speaking, like I could pick up the pace and have a strong finish. Big mistake! 3 miles later I was suffering with fatigue and twinges of cramps and I was being forced to slow down. I thought for sure my goal was going to be lost. The 3 hour pace guy caught up with me and that boosted my spirits a bit. I tried to stay focused on the short term, thinking, "just stick with this guy for a little bit longer". I managed to run the rest of the way with him and was nearly in tears, overcome with emotion, as I approached the finish line. Damn, that was tough. 2 hours 59 minutes 36 seconds, according to the official results. Average pace - 6:51 per mile.

My mile splits from my watch:
mile #1 6:54
mile #2 6:55
mile #3 6:41
mile #4 6:37
mile #5 6:54
mile #6 6:49
mile #7 6:49
mile #8 6:57
mile #9 6:50
mile #10 6:42
mile #11 6:48
mile #12 6:51
mile #13 6:43
mile #14 6:47
mile #15 6:53
mile #16 6:49
mile #17 6:44
mile #18 6:49
mile #19 6:46
mile #20 6:57
mile #21 6:50 Was feeling better, so I passed the 3 hour pace guy.
mile #22 6:46
mile #23 6:49
mile #24 7:11 Real problems -- fatigue, cramps. Became very difficult.
mile #25 7:05 Somewhere around here, the 3 hour guy caught up and I got inspired.
mile #26 7:04
mile #26.2 1:27 It took me a few seconds to stop my stopwatch after crossing the finish line.

Other random notes:
  • I met an interesting guy on the bus named "Raytoo" (update: Reto Waeffler) who said he was a Swedish citizen, getting a graduate degree in business in San Francisco, who nearly made it to the Swedish Olympic team for the Olympic triathlon event. (That's 1.5 km swim, 40 km bicycle, and 10 km run.) His goal was to run this marathon, his first marathon, in 2 hours 40 minutes. Amazing! When the results are out, I'll check how he did. (Update: he placed 259th and finished in 3:02:36. His first half was 1:18:43, so he very much fell apart in the 2nd half, poor guy.)
  • I ate a bagel and a banana at around 4:30am. The race started at 7am. I had a big rich slice of chocolate cake last night around 10pm. I wonder if that caused problems today.
  • I'm not sure of my weight this morning, but it's been 162 to 163 lbs this last week.
  • I missed two water stations because once it was too crowded and another time I thought there was a water table, but it was the energy gel table. I wasn't thirsty, so in both cases I decided to keep moving rather than stop or backtrack to get some sports drink.
  • I intended to consume 6 energy gels for the day, but only ate 5. I ate one 15 minutes before the race began, then roughly every 35 minutes or so. I was thinking I could eat my last one around the 2 hour 30 minute mark, but then I couldn't find it in my pockets and I couldn't remember if I ate it already or not. It might sound silly, but when running fast (for me), it's kind of hard to be searching through one of the 5 elastic pouches or pockets in these special shorts. But after I finished, I later found the 6th buried in one of the pouches. Oh, well. Next time I'll try to keep better track and maybe not mix any trash in with the good stuff which made the task harder.

Thank you, family, for watching Claire and meeting together this weekend. Thank you friends, for your well-wishes and support.

I'll try to get some better pictures from relatives' cameras. Here's one of the winner.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Pillar Point Half Marathon, 1:25:19, 2nd place

This morning was the 4th time I've run this charity race, put on by the Coastside Infant Toddler Center. The weather was cool and overcast -- a bit dreary, but perfect for running. There was a good turnout of about 150 people for the half-marathon (13.1 miles), 10K (6.21 miles), and 3K fun run. Astoundingly, Jennifer and I both entered the same race on the same day -- she entered the 10K and I signed up for the half-marathon. She's been running a small amount and I'm real proud of her for signing up for this. One of her sisters and a family friend watched Claire this morning.
I ran this course just a bit faster than I did last year, covering the distance in 1 hour 25 minutes 19 seconds. That works out to just under 6:31 pace, and was good for 2nd place. I was a few minutes behind the overall winner and about 5 minutes ahead of the 3rd place finisher. We were really strung out! I started out in 2nd place and finished in 2nd place. The leader slowly pulled ahead of me during the race. I was getting fatigued and I could feel that I wasn't far from cramps in my calves.

Jennifer ran the 6.21 miles mostly with another woman, Sharon, who recently joined the Coastside Running Club and who is training for a marathon in Florence. They took about an hour, but the results aren't in yet and Jennifer didn't use her stopwatch.
And here's my finish. Thanks, George, for taking the pictures.
There was also a good turn-out from the Coastside Running Club. We mostly wore our new dry-weave black shirts with our own custom logo.

This race is a real benchmark for me since I've run it every year since I started running in June 2004 (after taking about 10 years off). In fact, this was the first race that our running club trained for.
2004 -- 1:36:59 (7:24 pace)
2005 -- 1:29:55 (6:52 pace)
2006 -- 1:25:37 (6:32.1 pace)
2007 -- 1:25:19 (6:30.8 pace)
I've approached the limit of diminishing returns. More and more effort is turning into smaller and smaller improvements.

Other running notes:
I weighed 170.2 lbs this morning, an all-time high for a race. I don't think this was all muscle. Sigh. Well, at least there's some room for improvement in my running times, even if nothing else changes.

I enjoyed my Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS watch and I set it to "auto lap" mode so that it automatically recorded my pace and time for each mile. Here are the results:
mile 1: 6:26
mile 2: 6:32
mile 3: 6:24
mile 4: 6:26
mile 5: 6:28
mile 6: 6:39
mile 7: 6:21
mile 8: 6:21
mile 9: 6:19
mile 10: 6:16
mile 11: 6:32
mile 12: 6:30
mile 13: 6:36
mile 13.1: (13.23 reported by watch) 1:23 (6:09 pace)
The watch indicated 13.23 miles in total, so if the race course was accurately measured by the organizers, each of these miles recorded by my watch was measured as being longer than its true distance, so that means the reported pace was slightly higher than the true pace. That's plenty accurate enough and more accurate than I could ever get my old Polar watch to be during a race.
I ate a bowl of whole-grain cereal and a banana about 2 hours 15 minutes before the race start at 8am.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Redwood Regional Park 50K - 3rd place

So, I ran my first ultramarathon this morning and afternoon, in Oakland's Redwood Regional Park. I've been nervous about this distance -- 30.7 miles (nearly 50 km) since I was going to try to run it fast but instead of being on flat roads like my previous 4 marathons, it was in rugged (and beautiful) hills. Our route for the 50K race had 4500' of elevation gain and descent.

The race course had 2 loops of dirt trails. One loop was about 10K (6.2 miles) and the other was about 20K (12.4 miles). The 10K loop had the toughest terrain and had 1060' of elevation gain. The 20K loop wasn't particularly easy, either, with 1720' of gain. There were 4 races -- the 10K, 20K, 30K, and 50K. The 10K runners ran just the 10K loop. The 20K runners ran just the 20K loop. The 30K runners ran the 20K loop then the 10K loop. And finally the 50K runners ran the 20K loop, then the 10K loop, then the 20K loop again. I had scouted out the area a few weeks prior, so I at least knew what to expect.

The race was sold out, so I'm glad I got there early (about 7:45am) for the 8:30am start time, because the parking lots filled up and many runners didn't make the start time. I looked for some of my friends and found Tamara and Dave, but we had hardly any time to socialize. I trust their races went well.

The weather was on the cool side, which I was grateful for. The forecast from the night before was to have a high of 71. During the race, towards the end, it felt a lot warmer than that at times, when the sun was glaring down on me. Fortunately, there was some shade from the trees at least 80% of the time.

The race
I tried very hard to take it easy early on, but I still found myself pushing hard at times. As best as I could tell, I was first in my race early on. The nice thing I noticed about this race was how easy it was to talk to others during the race. Because I have to feel at ease and my breathing is slow and steady, so that I can be sure to last the distance, it's easy to chat. A woman named Prudence, from Santa Cruz, had about the same pace as me and she told me that she used to be a pack-a-day smoker for 13 years! Then about 4 years ago, she gave it up and took up running, culminating in an attempt to run the Western States 100, a really tough 100 mile event. Inspiring! I think we ran together for about 7 miles before I started to pull ahead. In hindsight, I should have stuck with her for longer.

Around mile 10, this runner practically sprinted past me on the downhill and I saw his racing bib and knew he was in my race. "Crazy," I thought, that he would put in such a burst of speed so early in the race. So I'm now in 2nd place, but I was fairly confident that the runner in front of me was making a big mistake and that I would catch him.

I arrived at the aid station, ending the 20K loop and getting ready for the 10K loop. They set up the aid station after the race had started, so my food bag was not right where it was supposed to be. Going and getting it felt like it took a minute, but it was probably just 10 or 15 seconds. The whole stop took maybe a couple of minutes. At the time, I thought this was no big deal out of a race that lasts 4 or 5 hours, but that wasn't really the case!

So I began the 10K loop and sure enough, I soon caught up to and passed "the sprinter" -- he was struggling. Also, I saw that the next runner in the 50K behind me was only a minute or so behind. I was in 1st place once again. I put in an extra effort on the 10K loop, running as much of the uphill as I could and really stretching my stride on the downhill. I arrived at the aid station after the 10K loop and so now I've run about "30K" although the measured distance was a bit less, maybe 18.4 miles. I felt strong. People congratulated me and cheered me on. I pumped my arm in the air. "I can do this," I thought.

I ran/walked up this huge hill to a trail along a ridge, the West Ridge Trail. Then back down to the valley again. Then after a bit, right back up to the ridge. On that ascent I chatted a bit with an older woman who said she had run a 100 mile race two weeks before. I'm guessing she was 55 years old or so. She asked me my name and told me her name was Carol LaPlant. (Update: I found her results and she's 60 years old!)

After this huge ascent, finally reaching the ridge and level ground again, I felt my first twinge of a cramp in my left thigh which was a bit strange. Usually my calves are the first to go. I slowed down a bit and I also started feeling fatigued and a bit sore for the first time. And I was getting thirsty and I quickly finished my 20 oz bottle. Oh oh. I still had maybe 3 miles to go to the next aid station and I was thirsty and out of water. Finally I got to a drinking fountain and I drank a bit. Eventually I reached the next aid station. They congratulated me on my time, I filled up my water bottle with sports drink, and kept on going. By now my side had started hurting and I was slowing down more. When the trail got steep going downhill, I was getting uncomfortable in my feet and quads due to the braking motion.

Mile 25 -- I had really slowed down. It was hard for me to run fast on level ground because of my side cramp. I walked all uphills. I was slow on the downhills because of my feet and muscle soreness. I heard footsteps behind me. A guy with a French (?) accent said hello and he was in my race. He ran next to me for a bit and asked me how I was doing. He walked every uphill, even the gentle uphills, but he could go faster on the downhills than I could so he wished me luck and slowly pulled away. Not much longer another runner in the my race passed me and the 2nd place guy. So now I was 3rd.

Miles 28 through 30 -- I was thirsty. My water bottle was drained for the 2nd time. I was sore and slow, doing about 9 minutes / mile when the trail was gentle and walking when it got steep going uphill. I had taken off my fanny pack in the hopes of reducing my side ache and a short while after that, the side ache went away and didn't return. Interesting. I was running on what felt like sheer will-power now. Finally, finally, I got to the clear field and I knew the finish line was around the corner. I kept up the pace, rounded the corner, heard a few cheers and felt like coming to tears, I was so grateful to see that big banner saying "Finish". Whew.

The French accent guy handed me a Gatorade and we talked for a bit -- he was 43 and in phenomenal shape and this was his first ultramarathon, too, although he had run a few marathons (3:09 best time). He said he walked every uphill during the entire race! Well, that strategy certainly worked for him although he beat me by only about a minute and a half. I chatted with the winner and with some of those who came in afterwards. I felt good, with a sense of accomplishment.

What went right
  • I successfully completed the race, running the longest time and distance that I ever have -- 30.7 miles in tough hills in 4 hours 53 minutes. Came in 3rd place out of 59 runners who registered for the race. The final results aren't posted yet.
  • Injury free, as best I can tell, although I'm quite sore.
  • No blisters or chafing! I used BodyGlide on my toes and I bandaged both my middle toes prior to the race, as a preventative measure.
  • No falls. The terrain was treacherous at times and others did have some falls or twisted ankles.
  • Didn't get lost. Others certainly did, though.
  • I used my marathon running shoes which are primarily designed for running on hard surfaces, but they did fine in the dirt.

What went wrong
  • I started to run out of energy, getting cramps, getting really sore, and feeling thirsty for about the last 6 miles. Two runners passed me at mile 25. The first symptoms of cramps started around mile 21, first as a small muscle spasm in my left thigh then as a persistent side cramp (also on my left). I eventually tried taking off my fanny pack and holding it in my hand around mile 26 and that side cramp went away maybe a half mile later and didn't return. Hmm...
  • I ran out of sports drink twice in between aid stations, even though I filled up my 20 oz bottle completely after the 30K mark and around the 40K mark.
  • I probably ran the first 20k too fast (1 hr 45 minutes). The 10K loop was very difficult and I probably ran that too hard, too.
  • I lost quite a bit of weight today, which probably indicates that I didn't drink enough during the race. I weighed 168.5 lbs this morning, before breakfast. (That's about 5 lbs heavy for me; don't know what's going on there.) Ate a big bowl of oatmeal, drank 12 ounces of sports drink, and maybe 4 ounces of coffee. Ate 7 energy gels and 70 ounces of sports drink and 4 salt capsules during the race over the period of nearly 5 hours. After the race, I drank about 28 ounces of sports drink or diet soda, ate a small bowl of salty foods, another bowl of chicken noodle soup, drove home, drank an Odwalla, then weighed myself -- 162.5 lbs. Hmm...
  • Stopped once, briefly, on the side of a trail to go pee. I felt the need just before the beginning of the race, but the restroom was too crowded.
  • Took an extra 30 seconds to replenish my food (felt like forever) after the first 20K loop because my food wasn't where the aid station was. (They set up the aid station after the start of the race.)
UPDATE: The results are in. My official time was 4:53:38. Some observations...
  • The first place winner gained almost 13 minutes on me in the last 5.25 miles or so. I don't think he sped up versus his first time on that 20K loop. I see this as the cost of me falling apart at the end. What a difference!
  • The 2nd place finisher said he walked the last 2 miles, so that's why we were pretty close. I may have even been catching up to him since I never stopped running completely.
  • The first place female finished shortly after me. That's really impressive and unusual for the top female finisher to be so close to the top male finishers. She set the coarse record for women for that distance.
  • A 15 year old guy finished just 2.5 minutes behind me! Amazing! That kid's got some running talent! I'll keep an eye out for Michael Kanning.
  • The woman I ran with for a while in the first 20K loop ended up finishing first place, for women, in the 30K. That's more evidence that I was running too fast. If I had stayed with her longer, I probably would've stayed stronger at the end and had an overall faster time.
  • I really should have drank a cup or 2 of sports drink at the aid stations in addition to filling my bottle. I could've eaten more, too. Next time!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Ultramarathon with Fries

So, I've been training for my first ultramarathon, which is defined as any foot race farther than 26.2 miles. The one I've signed up for is in Redwood Regional Park, in Oakland, on August 26. Last Friday night, in preparation for this (and since my wife and child were out of town), I ran 26.72 miles according to my GPS watch. I stopped at a McDonald's at about the half-way point and ordered a soft drink and a medium french fry. It sure felt good to eat.

I stopped the watch when I had to stop and buy food, which I did twice. Otherwise, I ran pretty much continuously, covering the distance in 3 hours 59 minutes. I think I hit the marathon mark in 3 hours 53 minutes. I was slowing down a lot over the last few miles and was really sore. I think I'm going to lose a toenail because I was getting a bit too much friction on my left middle toe. Well, this was good training for the real thing. I need to be super careful that my toenails are trimmed and that everything fits perfectly. But it was a confidence booster in that I wasn't trying to run fast and it mostly felt easy.

It was fun to go exploring and to plan out the distance during the run. I knew I wanted to do 20 miles but then I figured that when I train for a marathon, I get up to about 22 miles on my longest training runs. So, for a 31 mile race in tough hills, maybe running slowly up to 27 miles on flat ground would be appropriate for a training run. I just took off north, trying to stay on trails and roads next to the San Francisco Bay. I started running at 7pm, so it was dark on my way out. I turned around somewhere on East Grand Ave. in South San Francisco and headed back along a slightly shorter route, having to avoid some of the unlit trails. I was very happy and relieved to get back to my car in Foster City. That was the longest run I've ever done.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Pacifica 21 km -- 1st place!

(Picture credit: Pacific Coast Trail Runs)

Whew... I did this 13 mile race nearby in Pacifica, in San Pedro Valley Park this morning on the spur of the moment, deciding only on Wednesday to sign up at the suggestion of a friend. I had done this race one year ago and really fell apart, suffering from heat exhaustion, walking several times, and taking 2 hours and 1 minute to cover the hilly miles and 2930' of elevation gain. (Still, I came in 3rd place of 69 runners last year, so I can't complain too much.)

The course runs up to the top of Montara Mountain. It's as high as you can go around here. Click on this elevation profile chart to see the #s.

This year, the weather was much more comfortable for running -- overcast and cool! I thought it might even rain since I had to run the windshield wipers here in Montara. It was also more crowded this year and I'm not sure how many runners were in my race, but I did much better in most regards. I took more than 12 minutes off of my time and I stayed in the lead the entire time. On the down side, I got a little confused about the course and took the wrong trail twice -- once for about 50' and the other time just 10 or 15'. It was a close call near the end as I was getting fatigued on the last big hill, but I crested just in time and took off on the downhill. I was literally seconds away from pulling to the side of the trail and letting the guy behind me pass when I reached the top. (He wasn't on my heels, but he got to within a few seconds of me.) I seem to be much better at going downhill right now and I finished at least a minute ahead of him. For first-place finishes, they give out a cool running cap. I'm happy! And sore.

I tripped and stumbled once, but I was going up hill, so I supported myself with my hands and my knees didn't hit. I carried about 16oz of sports drink at the start which was probably too much considering the weather. I dumped about 4 or 5 oz on my head while ascending the last hill to help me cool off and reduce weight. Most of the top runners in the 30 km and 20 km races didn't carry anything.

I should note that I was far from being the fastest runner out there that day. The 30 km race was where the really superb runners were at. There were 3 runners who ran the first 21 km of the 30 km race faster than me. Amazing!

I was also rather heavy this morning -- 169.5 lbs which is my highest running weight ever. It's 5 lbs heavier than when I ran this a year ago. I ate a bunch of salty foods yesterday and had about 4 bowls of cereal last night. And I weighed myself before going to the bathroom, but still, I need to work on my weight a bit.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Relay, 2007

Last weekend, I ran in a big relay race called simply The Relay. It consists of teams of 12 running 199 miles continuously from Calistoga, CA to Santa Cruz, CA over a period of 20 to 35 hours. My friend Ben found this team, Yogathlete, on Craig's List and they needed a couple of runners and so we signed on! It went very well and we all worked well as a team and no one got lost (for more than a block or so) and all the hand-offs were met. It took us 29 hours exactly to run the event which gave us 52nd place out of 143 teams. (Results here.) Considering that many of us were relatively novice runners and only 3 of us had run The Relay before, we did quite well as a team.

This race has a staggered start with the goal of teams finishing roughly at the same time on Sunday. Even though we were not particularly fast, we were given a very late start time -- 2pm. Last year, for example, our team Maverick Waves was a bit faster (27 hours versus 29 hours this year) and we were given a start time of 1pm. My best guess is that since not all of the runners were registered by the time we were given our start time, that those who did give their estimated pace (like me) skewed the estimate for the team.

Anyway, the repercussion of being sort of average-speed but with a very late start time was that we soon fell into last place along the race route. This meant that we were mostly alone and that the race literally was closing down behind us. We were told by the volunteers that we were about 2 hours faster than last year's last-place team, so they were actually happy to see us because that meant they could go home earlier than expected.

My Highlight:
Being in last place led to a surreal situation for me as I was running up to the Golden Gate Bridge. It's nearly 5am, dark and cool, and I was escorted by an official in a car to make sure I didn't get lost on the quiet empty streets. When I reached the visitor's center on the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge, there were 3 or 4 volunteers waiting just for me to direct me on the various turns getting on the bridge. I could hear them talking on walkie-talkies, announcing my arrival. Someone who looked to be a Cal Trans employee opened the security gate to the pedestrian walkway on the east side of the Golden Gate Bridge just for me. I tried to thank people as I raced through. So there I was, running as fast as I could sustain (roughly 6 minutes per mile, being tired after some big hills), being the only authorized pedestrian on the whole Golden Gate Bridge! The lights of the city and the still dark water and the clear moonlit sky were amazing. I wasn't able to spend much time sight-seeing as I tried to stay focused on the task at hand. Finally, I was nearing the visitor's center on the San Francisco side of the bridge where more volunteers were waiting for me and greeting me and directing me through the final turns. Then there was Ben! Big Ben! He sprinted away from me when he saw me coming, yelling, giving warning to the next runner up a short steep ramp to the parking lot where van #2 runners were waiting. I took off my rubber bracelet that served as the baton and with my last strides, I handed it off to "twin" Ben. (Or it might've been his twin brother, Brad). Whew! And that was the end of my second leg.

My Summary
I wish I had made a copy of my van's time report. I was runner #6 and I ran my legs as follows, approximately:
leg #6, rated easy 4.5 miles: 5:53 / mile pace. Although it was flat and there was a slight tailwind, this was hard to do and I "busted a lung". I started off too fast, doing mostly 5:12 to 5:20 pace for nearly the first mile and was forced to slow down to 6:20 until I saw the finish line and sprinted. I wasn't sure if I could trust my Polar watch, but it was accurate this time and actually underreported my speed and distance by a bit.
leg #18, rated hard 5.8 miles across the Golden Gate Bridge with some steep ascents getting on to the bridge: 6:33 / mile pace.
leg #30, rated very hard 3.1 miles straight up a huge hill: 8:30 / mile pace or so. Might've been 8:36. I passed one runner on this leg -- the only time I passed or even saw another runner while I was running.

My Team Summary
Things that went well:
1. We all got along, spirits were high, and we successfully completed The Relay.
2. No one got injured, besides the usual soreness.
3. No one got seriously lost. One of our runners in van #1 took a wrong turn as we were watching him, but I ran after him and he only went about a block off course.
4. No hand-offs were missed! This can be tricky as I know from last year. I heard there were a couple of close calls of van #2 coming to meet me, but they were always there for the hand-off.
5. The minivans worked great which I had big doubts about. They were easier to drive and cheaper to refuel. Having runners do the driving wasn't really a big deal -- several of us took turns. Also, due to the way modern minivans are made, they're as effective as the large 15 person Ford Econoline vans in terms of sleeping space. Each bench had reclining seats and the two captain chairs could nearly fully recline. So, 4 runners could sleep pretty well. It was a bit of a squeeze for 2 runners on the middle bench. (Sorry, Amy & Bob.) This contrasts with the 15 person vans where none of the benches reclined and the captain chairs were as bad as economy-class airline seats in terms of sleep comfort. Van #1 kept 4 of our sleeping bags at Justin's house which saved a lot of space in the back.
6. Justin, the team captain, handed out some very useful calculations -- the estimated time per van for finishing. This allowed us to calculate along the way our time difference from the estimate.
7. It was helpful having a few experienced runners from prior races. Because I ran it last year, I knew to bring some items that weren't obvious -- a calculator for calculating time differences, packaging tape for the signs on the van, and safety pins for our bibs. Big Ben in van #2, had a lot of experience with the race course since he had run this 3 (?) times before. Justin, also in van #2, had run it before.
8. I think that van #1 did very well in supporting our runners along the course. We met the runners at every turn that we could and oftentimes every mile or so, we stopped along the way. Only once did we kind of let someone down. There were no porta-potties before Emily's last leg and we used an Albertson's. We also bought a few items of food. We were quick about it, but it all added up to Emily feeling alone for the first 3 miles of leg #28 and uncertain about a couple of intersections. Sorry, Emily!

Things that could be improved upon:
1. We missed some deadlines that The Relay organizers want the teams to follow. We didn't get disqualified, so all's well that ends well, as they say. Still, we probably would've had a more appropriate start time if all the organizing had been done earlier.
2. Justin probably did the best slot assignments that could've been done given what he knew, but some of us wish we had known the slot assignments and estimated runner's paces more in advance, by email.
3. It's a lot more work and maybe very few teams do this, but if a runner's ability is known for some standard race distance, like a 10K, then it would be possible to estimate each leg better which would then give each van a better estimate. Van #1's estimate was pretty good (8:28 actual pace for the first two sets of legs, versus 8:45 predicted). Van #2's was off more (around 8:40 pace versus 7:45 predicted). Still, we did very well considering now many novice runners we had.
4. Like last year, it was hard to get all of the runners together at the end. We really wanted to finish together, but having a late start time combined with falling about an hour and 15 minutes behind schedule made van #1 want to get back home.
5. I forgot to take a picture or otherwise make a copy of our time sheet data. I don't think van #2 kept accurate records at all. For next time, we should sync our watches and keep good records and remember to make a copy. The information is useful to help us learn from year to year about the different legs of the race.
6. This might be just me, but it'd feel better if all the runners were a bit closer in ability. We had a very wide range. In my van, for the flat easy miles, we ranged from 5:53 pace to 10:33 pace!
7. For van #1, I wish we had a couple more sleeping bags with us so that we could've slept on the ground at The Cheese Factory while we waited for van #2.

Whew! It was a great adventure! Thank you, Justin, for organizing this. Thank you, Ben, for telling me about this. Thank you, Emily, for helping me when I misplaced my car key that one time. Most of all, thank you, Jennifer, for watching Claire so that I could participate.

Yogathlete consisted of, in order of our assigned legs: Bob, Amy, Eva, Emily, Willy, Ron, Twin Ben, Big Ben, Eric, Twin Brad, Justin, and Jessica.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Boston Marathon, 3:05:31

Even as it was cold and raining, I was very happy just to reach the starting area yesterday, Monday, April 16, 2007, for the 111th Boston Marathon. Simply being there in Athletes Village, in the town of Hopkinton, walking around in the mud, represented thousands of miles of training, either alone or with friends, with many difficult miles but mostly pleasant.

The race went really well and was an incredible experience. Although there was a light steady wind in our faces most of the time, with occasional gusts, and at least two miles with rain, overall the weather was better than expected and I stayed strong for the whole 26.2 miles, picking up the pace for the second half. The crowds and the scenery and the huge numbers of accomplished dedicated runners around me were just incredible and inspiring. My final time of 3 hours 5 minutes 31 seconds (7 minutes 5 seconds a mile pace) was plenty good enough to qualify me for next year's Boston Marathon. Running is a major part of my life right now and just being able to participate in the Boston Marathon was very gratifying and exciting. It was my 4th marathon and each marathon seems to be slightly easier than the last but each has still been very difficult. Although sore, I am uninjured and feeling great.

Thank you, Jennifer, for making trade-offs and sacrifices that make my running possible. Thank you, Mom and Jess, for taking the time to go to Boston with me. Thank you, friends and family, for your well wishes and encouragement. And thanks to the hundreds or maybe even thousands of volunteers who made the Boston Marathon possible. And thanks to the tens of thousands of bystanders who cheered us on, especially those at Wellesley College!

I spent the last few days in Boston and everywhere I went there were lean fit-looking people with Boston Marathon paraphenilia -- hats, goodie bags, and these cool jackets. It was really fun to be amongst so many dedicated accomplished friendly runners. On a bus to the Oakland Airport, I met a woman who had run 21 consecutive Boston Marathons! She was a high school math teacher, probably in her mid-50s. Inspiring! On the bus to the starting line I chatted with a guy who was 44 named Ron who was about to run his 7th Boston Marathon and he had lots of great advice. Here's a picture of the two of us:

The weather predictions leading up to the race day were quite dire -- high winds were predicted to be blowing into our faces from the northeast, as the course headed in nearly a straight line from the town of Hopkinton to Copley Square in Boston. The temperature was predicted to be a chilly 34 to 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Rain was assured. I knew I could deal with the rain and the cold, but the wind would be exhausting! I made back-up plans with my mom and sister just in case I couldn't finish the race before they had to go to the airport.

Fortunately, shortly before 6am on race day, we saw the weather report indicate mild winds, little rain, and temperatures around 50 degrees. Excellent! I didn't hear my alarm but my mom woke me up at 5:50am yesterday morning. Oops! We were all packed and ready to go from the night before so it wasn't long before we were driving the rental car to Boston Common to get catch the buses to the starting line.

The bus ride there seemed to take forever -- like 45 minutes, traveling from near the finish area to the starting area. I tried not to think of how long 26.2 miles really is. As with most big problems, the first step to solving them is to break them up into manageable pieces. I break the marathon into various pieces -- taking a SUCCEED salt capsule every hour for the last two hours, eating an energy gel every 30 minutes, getting to the halfway point, warming up for the first 5 miles, getting to the one-mile-to-go point, etc. Racing 26.2 miles just seems too daunting unless it's broken up into little manageable pieces!

The rain was moderate in the Athlete's Village at what appeared to be a high school campus in Hopkinton. The ground was turning muddy and I tried to avoid getting mud caked all over my shoes. I searched for shelter in one of the big tents but they were nearly packed with runners.

Finally, it was about 9:20am and time to put my excess clothes in a drop-bag, put on sunscreen, and get ready to run. I decided that it was likely to be warm enough to justify running without any warm clothes at all. For the race, I wore only my standard tank-top and shorts and running shoes. Based on the predicted weather, this turned worked out well. Everyone started shedding clothes after the first four or five miles and I was glad I didn't have to carry the additional weight of tying a jacket around my waist.

The Boston Marathon has the wheelchair athletes and elite women starting first, around 9:30am. Then the elite men and about the first half of the runners start at 10am in what they call Wave 1. Wave 2 started at 10:30am. Each wave was further divided into these big sections, about 100 feet long on the street, that is sorted by pace. These were called the "corrals" and had about 1,000 runners in each one. Our bib # determined our corral and I was in the 3rd corral (bib #3521). There are so many runners around my level that just a few minutes difference in qualifying time can put a person 2 corrals forwards or back. The guy I chatted with on the bus, Ron, qualified with a 3:12:00 time and he was two corrals behind me, with my qualifying time of 3:04:56. So just 7 minutes difference had at least a thousand runners in between us!

The time for starting came and we were off! There are so many runners evenly matched with me that I was surrounded the entire time, and the crowds seemed just as dense for blocks ahead, as far as I could see, and were even denser behind me, as the runners passed over the starting line. Quite a sight!

The rain seemed light now, for the first 1.5 miles or so. It rained again, lightly, for mile 14. The wind was light, but mostly constantly in our faces. Occasionally, there were big gusts or the wind temporarily was much stronger, and I tried to find someone to run behind.

The hills were noticeable and I could tell that my breathing and heart rate were rising, but they still seemed to be easy to handle thanks to all of my hill training.

A big highlight was mile 13, which is a downhill section in front of Wellesley College. I could hear the roar long before I reached the crest of the hill heading down next to the women's college. Many hundreds of the women were lined up along the road, many with their arms stretched out to high-five the runners. A few of the gals held signs like "Kiss Me 4 Luck"! I saw a guy in front of me grab a quick kiss but I stayed mostly focused on my running. They did make this mile very enjoyable and pass quickly by! Thank you, Wellesley College!

The first half of the marathon was soon done and I was feeling a bit fatigued and could start to feel my calves getting fatigued and not being too far from cramps. I took my SUCCEED salt capsule in order to help stave off cramps. The energy gel and the sports drink helped keep me going. I tried to pick up the pace a little bit but it seemed every time I did there would be either a hill or a gust of wind. I wanted to run faster than 7 minutes a mile, but had a hard time doing it while still feeling that I could keep up the effort until the end. It didn't help that my Polar Watch was once again not very accurate in measuring my pace. What's weird was that is was quite accurate for the first mile, reporting 0.99 miles at the 1 mile marker. But then it seemed to get much less accurate and report my pace as 6:40 or so when it was actually around 7:00. For the whole race, it reported 27.5 miles instead of 26.2. Oh, well, not really a big deal. Maybe the inaccuracy even made me conserve energy so that I could finish.

For this marathon, I never quite got to the point that I strongly felt like stopping. Even in Sacramento last December, when I ran the marathon faster in 3:04:56, I started to feel real fatigue after about mile 22 and it took seemingly a lot of determination to keep moving fast.

My sister Jessica and mom were going to try to see me finish, but I had told them that I expected to take about 3 and a half hours and maybe even longer. We even made contingency plans for what to do if I took up to 5 hours to finish and they had to leave for the airport without the rental car. The marathon organizers had a nice email alert system that could send text messages to phones, too, and I signed up my sister's cell phone. Unfortunately, she didn't realize that she had to scroll down to see the remainder of the message which gave the important info like what my predicted finishing time was. Anyway, they both missed the entire race and didn't see me running. They watched parts of the marathon on a television in a hotel lobby. Oh, well, it was still great having company. I would like to run this marathon again and hopefully next time it'll go smoother.

Here are my mile splits:

Mile #1 7:28.7 (I didn't push hard and the runners were crowded together.)
Mile #2 7:07.8
Mile #3 7:00.4
Mile #4 7:03.4 (missed mile marker, average with mile #5)
Mile #5 7:03.3
Mile #6 7:03.6
Mile #7 7:04.3 (missed mile marker, average with mile #8)
Mile #8 7:04.2
Mile #9 7:04.4
Mile #10 7:18.7
Mile #11 7:06.6
Mile #12 7:05.0
Mile #13 7:05.9
Mile #14 7:02.1
Mile #15 7:10.3
Mile #16 6:58.1 (finally broke 7 minutes a mile. sheesh!)
Mile #17 7:17.1
Mile #18 7:03.3
Mile #19 6:58.6
Mile #20 7:15.2
Mile #21 7:20.2
Mile #22 6:56.0 (Missed mile marker, average with mile #23)
Mile #23 6:56.0
Mile #24 6:53.3
Mile #25 6:58.4
Mile #26.2 8:02.2 (6:42 pace)

The results have been posted. My bib # is 3521. The first half took me 1:33:20. The second half took me 1:32:11. The statistics for the race show that 23,869 runners paid their entry fee, 20,640 crossed the starting line, and 20,348 finished. I placed 1377th overall and 956th of 4607 in my division (males, 18-39). I'm happy with that! Although not a personal record, this was my best marathon race considering the conditions and the course.

The Half Moon Bay Review wrote about me which is so funny because of how un-elite I am. I'm grateful for the write-up, but this quote cracks me up: "He finished less than one hour behind overall winner, Robert K. Cheruiyot of Kenya."

Random food notes:
  • Ate a delicious spaghetti dinner at California Pizza Kitchen the night before.
  • Ate a banana, Cliff Bar, and a whole wheat bagel and drank some water about 3 hours before the race started.
  • Ate 5 energy gels, starting 15 minutes before the race and then every 30 to 40 minutes during the race except I lost one energy gel during the race and had to go without until I could pick up 2 at mile 17.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Beautiful 20 Miles

Was a beautiful day, with clear skies and great visibility at Crystal Springs Reservoir in the closed-off watershed area. A small group of us were priviliged to be able to go on a 20 mile guided tour this past Wednesday. Thank you, George!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Kaiser Permanente Half-Marathon, 1:25:22

half-marathon (13.1 miles)
official time: 1 hour 25 minutes 22 seconds
pace: 6 minutes 30 seconds a mile
15th of 461 in my age group
142 of 4732 overall
New personal record for this distance!

The Kaiser Permanente Half-Marathon is a popular half-marathon held in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. I and two friends and about 9,000 other people ran either the half-marathon or the 5K (3.1 miles) yesterday morning. I participated in this race more on a whim and took it less seriously than I do most races. I wasn't even sure I was going to try to run it fast until Friday afternoon because I've had a series of minor injuries lately and had the flu a week ago. I've missed about half of my planned training runs in the last 5 or 6 weeks, so my confidence was not high! But my running friend Vicky convinced me to do this and another friend, Tamara, joined us for the race.

The morning didn't start out very smoothly, but we recovered nicely. I had thought I had set my alarm for 5:30am, but I didn't actually turn it on! Combined with Claire waking up and joining Jennifer and me in bed and then kicking and squirming occasionally, I didn't get a very good night's sleep and probably would've missed the race except Tamara woke me up at 6:13. I'm so grateful that she stayed with us the night before! So, with a mad dash out the door, we were actually on time for the day. Whew!

The sun was rising with the promise of a beautiful day as we met in Pacifica at 6:30 am and set off for Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. After a bit of circling around, we parked on Lincoln Way up around 37th Ave, walked over to the start line and had plenty of time to get our racing bibs and stash our sweats in drop-bags for after the race. It was a cool morning with clear skies and still air -- ideal running weather!

How did it go? It went really well and made me feel that I'm not over the hill yet! I ran this race a year ago and set a personal best at that time of 1:27:10. This year, according to my stopwatch, I ran the 13.1 miles in 1 hour 26 minutes 24 seconds. So, that was a bit of an improvement. What's weird, though, according to the official results my time was about a minute faster, at 1:25:22. That's so strange because the official time should be slower than my own time, because they are supposed to start the clock when the race begins, but it might take me a little bit of time to cross the starting line due to the crowds. (It was announced before the race that there were about 9,000 runners in the two races.) I was up near the front, but it still took me about 15 seconds to reach the start line after the beginning of the race. And I stopped my stopwatch the moment I crossed the finish line. As I neared the finish line, their big race clock showed something like 1:25:11. So, I can't explain what happened. I don't really believe that my own stopwatch was inaccurate, and I'm fairly certain that I didn't start it early or stop it late. So, who knows. I guess I'll accept their time, which is a new personal record for this distance!

Vicky and Tamara both did well, too, and ran strong the entire way. They ran together the entire time and talked and that made the race feel easier. Congratulations, you two! Their times were very respectable at 1:47:50 and 1:47:53, according to the official results.

Thanks as usual to Jennifer for watching Claire while I did this.

My mile splits:
Mile #1 6:56.4 Warming up the first mile and taking it easy. Too easy?
Mile #2 6:31.4
Mile #3 6:42.5
Mile #4 6:41.7
Mile #5 6:26.0
Mile #6 6:18.7
Mile #7 6:24.5
Mile #8 6:17.7
Mile #9 6:23.8
Mile #10 6:27.3
Mile #11 6:20.9 Around this time, I would have really liked to stop running. Was getting exhausted.
Mile #12 6:28.7
Mile #13 7:14.1 There's a long somewhat steep uphill for the last 3/4 miles. I mis-remembered where the end was and put in a burst of speed too soon and burned-out somewhat.
Mile #13.1 1:10.9 This is a pace of 11:49 a mile, which is wrong. I slowed a lot on the last big hill but then I sprinted to the finish when it came in view. Maybe this accounts for the discrepancy with the official results. Even though I attempted to press the button when I crossed the finish line, perhaps I didn't press it hard enough.

Other random notes:
  • I stepped on some gum-like substance around mile 6. I almost stopped to scrape it off, but it eventually smeared into the treads of my shoe. Weird.
  • After finishing, a race official asked me if I was in the "lead pack". I'm not sure what she wanted, but I'm guessing she wanted to know if I was in contention for winning a trophy. (The trophies were at the desk she was at.) I told her "No, I was far back. I finished around 1 hour 25 minutes." I was flattered that she would ask, though!