Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Las Vegas Marathon -- 2:59:04 as Elvis

Yes, that's me on the right, standing with my friend Alex, shortly before the race last Sunday morning. This being my 12th road marathon, I did something very unusual -- I knew that there was a whole Elvis division in the Las Vegas Marathon and I thought it would be fun and exciting and a new kind of challenge to run a marathon as fast as I could in a costume!

I've had this idea bouncing around in my head for maybe a year and a half but it wasn't until a couple of friends from my running club said they were going to run this marathon that I decided to try to make it all come together. I told my siblings and parents and other friends, and suddenly this was turning into a big weekend! At the last moment, my 8 year old daughter decided to come along as well. (My wife mostly dislikes Vegas and opted to stay home.) So, I got to spend a lot of time with my daughter and one of my sisters and my parents, and a little bit of time with my running club friends, and, oh yes, I ran a marathon and did pretty well, all things considered.

Prior to the race, I only did one real test run with the jumpsuit and I only ran for a few minutes in it, but it seemed fine -- lightweight, loose, and nothing felt irritating.

On the race morning, I set my alarm for 4:15am so that I could eat and digest my food in time for the 7am start. I was concerned about chafing so I used Body Glide on the usual spots (e.g., nipples, thighs, toes) and additionally protected my shoulders and collar bone, and parts of my arms where I thought the suit might rub. Alex and I walked from Excalibur to the nearby Mandalay Bay where the race started and finished. I only had my cell phone's camera, but it worked well enough to take the above picture. Then, the woman who took the picture asked if she could get a picture taken, too. I said, "Of course, I can take a picture of you and your friend", but she said "No, I'd like for you to be in it", pointing to me. Fame! Wow, well this was nice -- so poor Alex took a fan photo of me and two not-unattractive women.

A short while later, as we were making our way toward where we could leave our drop-bags (containing warm clothes or anything else we wanted the race organizers to hold for us for the duration of the race), another couple of women asked to have their picture with me. OK! And then again! I was starting to get concerned about the time. And then one more! OK, that was the last fan photo and I walked fast to get positioned for the start of the race.

As the announcements were made and a singer who "needed no introduction" started the national anthem and who at first I thought was Lady Gaga but was actually Cher, the rubber bands holding my sunglasses on came untied. Doh! Just 30 seconds before the race is due to start and my signature gold extra-large fully-UV-protected Elvis-style sunglasses were not going to stay on. I quickly but carefully got my cold fingers to re-tie one rubber band. Whew. Crisis prevented, and I was off!

I took the first mile relatively easy and immediately started acknowledging the spectators. "Elvis!" "Go Elvis!" "It's the first Elvis!" were some of the many many cheers directed my way. I tried to stay in character and act as I imagined Elvis might act based on a few YouTube videos and whatever vague memories I had of his movies and interviews. I would lower my voice and say "Thank you... thank you very much" over and over. I would raise one hand, kind of like the Queen-of-England gesture, and nod my head over and over again. It struck me how much of an icon Elvis still is, and what a positive aura he has, that thousands of people would be so happy and excited about seeing some guy run as him. So, I kept it up. In the first 13 miles, I must have done my little response about 200 times. I'm sure it helped that I was the first Elvis, out of possibly hundreds of Elvi.

The first half of the race went mostly up and down Las Vegas Blvd ("the Strip") and was lined with thousands of people, many of whom were there to see the race and a few others who had probably been up all night. Around mile 11, I heard "Ron!" called out and I saw my sister and daughter! Awesome! I veered over slightly and high-fived my sister. It was a very brief encounter but I really really enjoyed seeing them there. I wish I could've stopped and given my daughter a big hug but I was on a mission!

Click to see a video of me at mile 11

Some of my fellow runners said "hi" or asked me questions about my shoes (Brooke's distinctive Green Silence lightweight racing shoes) or wished me luck with my costume. I think as early as mile 5, I started running with a guy from Vancouver and we chatted about the race and our running histories. We had very similar time goals (sub-3 hour) and we ended up sticking side-by-side until around mile 23!

Near the half-way point, the race course has returned to Mandalay Bay and I'm feeling kind of worn-out and the thought crossed my mind that running a half-marathon wouldn't have been such a bad idea. But I was determined to give this race my best effort. No half measures! Live life to its fullest! So, I followed the signs for the full marathon and veered away from the finish line.

The crowds of spectators quickly disappeared. The red cliffs off in the distance were pretty but basically we're in the dry boring suburban environment. Soulless. This is an out-and-back section and I saw the front-runners returning as well as some of the wheelchair racers. (The fastest racing wheelchairs are much faster than the fastest runners.) There were bands and groups of high school cheerleaders to break up the monotony. The cheerleaders and aid station volunteers were great and really smiled and cheered us on, and I received lots of Elvis-inspired adoration from them. I couldn't respond to everyone, but I high-fived anyone who stuck their hand out and I did the usual "Thank you, thank you very much" line.

I eventually noticed a Santa Claus runner in front of me! Wow, that guy was hard core! I thought his costume was considerably more difficult than mine because he had a red Santa cap and his red coat was closed up to his neck. I was slowly gaining on him. Around mile 20, he pulled over to pee and I passed him. I was now the first-place runner with a costume, as best as I could tell.

Somewhere around mile 18, I think, for no particular reason as far as I could tell (slight wind?), my left bell bottom kept on getting snagged on my right foot. Annoying!

Past mile 20, the course got progressively more mentally difficult. There were many turns and twists and another out-and-back and my calves were getting tired and sore. I felt side cramps. My stomach felt weird -- kind of full. I stopped eating my energy gels every 35 minutes. Finally, around mile 23, I hit a real low point and I was running low on energy and my body was slowing down. I was trying hard to just "keep it all together" and last until the end. I took another energy gel even though I didn't feel like eating it. Maybe it was the slow-down period or maybe it was the energy gel, but I did start feeling stronger again.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the final miles ticked by. I was getting desperate for the race to finish. My watch showed about a half mile left and I decided to make a last big effort and I picked up the pace and started passing people. I turned on to Las Vegas Blvd again, but I still couldn't see the finish. My watch showed 26.2 miles -- where's the !@#* finish line!?! I passed the mile 26 marker. Damn it! My watch was off, which I should have known if I had remembered to check it against earlier mile markers. (There were mile markers about every 2 miles.) I was fading again. I had put in my last big effort too soon. A few runners passed me. Finally, the finish line came into view. Whew. 2 hours 59 minutes and change -- not too shabby!
A reporter of some kind asked to interview me and I gave a quick interview -- not staying in character and I don't think I offered anything particularly interesting or insightful.

My Garmin race data is here. You can see a map of where I ran and my pace.

I'm pleased with the results and this has been a really good running year, too, with my fastest 10K and marathon times. As of this writing, the official results have me at 48th place out of 5166 finishers overall and 10th out of 574 in my 35-39 age division.

I want to thank my sister and my parents for watching my daughter and spending the time to come and see the race. Thank you!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Walnut Creek 10K -- 36:08

I didn't take this Walnut Creek Turkey Trot 10K race very seriously and signed up at the suggestion of my sister-in-law. So my wife and two of her sisters ran or walked it and it was fun that they cheered me in a couple of spots where the course double-backed on itself. The race went surprisingly well and I essentially tied my personal record from October but on a slightly more difficult course.

After about the half-way point, after the 5K runners split off, I ran with this one other guy. (Tim Keenan is his name according to the results.) I stayed close to him and just off of his shoulder. Around mile 4, I felt stronger or he was slowing down slightly, so I passed him. The thought crossed my mind that maybe I should just stick behind him for a while longer since we were already on a fast pace and that I was likely to tie my P.R. But I passed him and then he stuck with me. There was some mud and slippery dirt paths around this point which slowed us down. Near the finish he passed me and I didn't feel like I could respond. Going over a pedestrian overpass, my legs felt weak and I couldn't help slowing down further and he pulled away.

Then, suddenly, within a tenth of a mile of the finish, the 10K finishers merged with the 5K finishers in a bit of a log-jam which added many seconds. I ran on the dirt, weaved in-and-out of the joggers, put my hands on a couple of people's shoulders so that we wouldn't collide, jumped over orange cones in the dirt and sprinted towards the finish. I heard a guy say, "whoah, there goes one of the elites." I had to laugh to myself at that!

Finally I crossed the finish line and chatted with the guy who I had been running with. He turned out to be 10 years older than me! Inspiring!

I came in 4th overall out of 829 finishers. (Update: the results changed since first being posted and I'm now listed as 5th of 833.) I think that's my best placement in a largish race. 1st place in my age group, too, although I was beaten by 5 seconds by a guy who was 10 years older.
My 1st place age group medal

I thought the race was well-organized and provided a good well-marked route with plenty of volunteers. Except for the congestion at the end, it's a good fun fast course, at least for the front runners. The organizers mailed the above medal to me.

Friday, November 12, 2010

New York City Marathon -- 2:55:52, PR

Short Version
My most ambitious goal was to run my fastest marathon, this being my 11th, in 2 hours 55 minutes, which would shave off about 4 minutes from my personal record set at the more difficult Oakland Marathon last March.

I basically succeeded and had a great race, running all 26.2 miles through all five Burroughs of New York City, along with 45,000 other runners, in 2:55:52. That's an average pace of 6:43 per mile.

I did struggle for the last several miles and was slowed by crowds of other runners during the first mile, but overall I'm very pleased with how the race went. Sitting on the plane writing this, the day after the race, I'm happy and uninjured.

Longer Version
My training has gone very well and has been focused on this race for about 3 months. I've run every day with rare exceptions and sometimes twice a day, peaking at around 75 miles a week. In mid-October I ran my fastest 10K race ever, solidly beating my previous best from four years ago, so I knew I was in decent shape for a very good race.

Jennifer, Claire and I flew out on the Tuesday the week before Sunday's race, for a wonderful family vacation. I ran every day in Central Park, taking it easy and tapering off for the big race.

I went on Saturday late morning and the convention center was enormous, but they had run out of most medium-sized shirts, so my goody-bag had a large nicely-designed dry-weave long sleeve running shirt. I wanted to buy a jacket, but they didn't have any in my size, although they're available online, so no big deal.

Race Day
I had to meet the bus at the main New York Public Library at 6am. Since this was more than 3 hours before my 9:40am start, I packed a breakfast to bring with me and eat on the bus. I walked out of the apartment, which was just 1.4 miles from the library, and headed for the subway.

In spite of doing a mental checklist and trying to have everything together, I had forgotten my GPS watch and heart rate monitor! Doh! (Note to self: when you think of something that you forgot late at night while you're lying in bed, get up and take care of it then!) They were sitting on the kitchen counter instead of being in my drop-bag. Fortunately, Jennifer's cell phone was on and she heard it and let me back into the apartment. (We had only one set of keys.) OK, 5 minutes delayed, and I'm out of the apartment again.

Along the way, I came across a couple of guys hailing a cab and they were holding their distinctive marathon drop-bags, so I asked if I could join them in the cab and they said "yes". I met Jeffry and his 83 year old dad, Norman. Wow! Norman said he was intending to finish in "8 or 9 hours, depending on my knee." I looked to see if he actually finished the race, and I don't see him in the results, unfortunately. Jeffry congratulated me for the San Francisco Giants having won the World Series and he paid for the full cab fare. Very nice of him!

I arrived at the bus area shortly before 6am. The last buses left at 6:30am, so I was fine, time-wise. The lines were not long at all and I was soon on a bus.

I happened to sit next to a guy from Stockholm, Sweden, who was running his first marathon. We talked about our plans and he said he was aiming for three and a half hours. I was pleased to look up his results and see that Johan Hult, #4234, finished in 3:31:04. Congratulations, Johan! Next to him was a woman from New Zealand. This marathon attracts a world-wide crowd!

After much congestion of buses and maybe a 90 minute bus ride, we arrived to Staten Island. The starting area is a mini-city with three large separate areas, each with their own starting line! Yes, this race is so big, that it needs three separate starting lines. There are three waves of runners, with each wave having 15,000 runners, separated by 30 minutes.

We were asked to drop off our drop-bags by 8:10am. Our drop-bags contain everything we wanted to keep and have for us at the end of the race. Well, the race doesn't start until 9:40am, so that would mean shivering in the cold without our warm clothes for about 90 minutes. I correctly guessed that 8:10am was on the early side and I held on to my things until around 8:25am at which point I left my drop-bag and walked towards my starting corral wearing only my throw-away clothes -- a couple of old long sleeve cotton running shirts and an aluminum-foil-like space blanket.

Slowly, so slowly, the start time draws near. The corrals closed at 8:55am, at which point no more runners are allowed to enter the corrals. I was positioned near the front. The loudspeakers were repeating messages like warning us not to urinate from the bridges. (I've heard that the spray can hit the runners on the lower bridge -- yuck!) Then I felt the urge to pee one more time. Dang it! The porta-potties were only about 50 or 60 feet behind me, but we were jammed in. It would be a struggle to get there. "Do I really have to go? I just went 15 minutes earlier!", I told myself.

Finally, we are allowed to move forward towards the start line which is about a third of a mile away. And I realized that yes, I really do have to pee. There were a bunch of trees and bushes and I was one of many guys to take advantage of this last opportunity before the race began. Unfortunately, as many as a thousand runners walked and jogged past me in that 30 seconds, so when I rejoined the stream, I was much farther from the front. Doh!

Many announcements were made, Mayor Bloomberg wished us luck, the Chilean miner who was trapped underground for 69 days and who ran in the tunnels every day said he was happy to be there, the national anthem was sung, and then, we were off!

The Race Is On!
I experienced a lot of congestion in that first mile and had to slow down repeatedly and maneuver around runners. I was trying to take it easy, and to keep my heart rate low. As is normal, my heart rate monitor doesn't accurately report my heart rate in the first couple miles. The first mile took me 7:37. Ouch. I know this was the first mile and slowest mile (hopefully) and it was uphill on a bridge, but still, I would've preferred it be about 30 seconds faster because my overall goal pace was around 6:40 per mile.

Here's a cool time-lapse video of the start:

The early miles passed easily. My heart rate was low, below my target of 152 beats per minute (my maximum heart rate is 186), but my pace was faster than my goal pace. I started wondering if I should run slower because I was going to shatter my personal record at this rate, or I was going to crash and burn at the end.

I tried to take in my surroundings and to interact with the crowds, but mostly I was rather concentrated on my running. I felt some discomfort in my left foot around mile 5, like a cramp of sorts, and I tried altering how my left foot was landing. The thought crossed my mind that this is all it would take to knock me out of the race -- some kind of weird random problem. Fortunately, my foot returned to normal. I did promise myself I would get new racing shoes if my body would please just make it through this race!

The half-way point came and I was feeling a bit tired, but had lots of energy left. All systems were go! I tried to gradually increase my effort. Slight hills would slow me down. Aid stations would slow me down a bit. But mostly, I was keeping up a good pace and my heart rate was increasing gradually.

Somewhere around mile 20 I started to feel more tired and my calves were a little sore and I felt some twinges of cramps in my side. I decided to eat an extra energy gel, which I picked up from a volunteer. My original plan was to eat an energy gel every 40 minutes, but then I sensed that I needed more salt and calories and my stomach felt fine.

At the aid stations, I alternated between a cup of sports drink or a cup of water, about every two miles. I never felt thirsty and I never felt full, exactly.
The weather was quite cool and I don't think I was sweating much.
There were occasional gusts of wind and my hat started blowing loose, so I turned it around and wore it backwards.

Around mile 23, as we were running on 5th Ave. next to Central Park, I suddenly started feeling much worse. My legs started feeling heavy, my calves started feeling very tight, and I started slowing down. I tried the technique of focusing on another runner and sticking with him or her, but it just wasn't working. I thought of friends who I knew were likely following my progress and that was motivating; I just used those thoughts to keep pushing as best I could.
It felt like at the time that my pace was plummeting, but looking at the data, it wasn't horrible -- 7:15, 7:07, and 7:08 for those last three miles. Still, I was falling apart, and if I could have run a little slower earlier on, or perhaps kept my heart rate down a bit towards 162 beats per minute, maybe I could've shaved off a couple minutes on those final miles.

I was looking for Jennifer and Claire and our friend Lisa and her daughter Elena, but I didn't see them. There were a lot of onlookers these last few miles.

Finally, finally, I crossed the finish line. Whew! I felt faint. I received my medal and a photographer took my picture. I ambled on down the street, very slowly, towards the truck that contained my drop bag. It was a long walk! The highest-numbered bibs were first, which made sense, since the slowest runners might be most in need of getting their stuff first. My bib #1488 meant that my drop-bag was in the 2nd farthest truck and so I had a very long walk. And then I had a long line to wait in since so many people with low-numbered bibs were also finishing then. Looking at a map, it appears that I walked from 67th Ave. to 77th Ave., before exiting Central Park and then I had to walk from 77th Ave. back down to 67th Ave. next to Central Park before meeting up with Jennifer and Claire. I was sore, tired, and ready to eat!

I was very grateful that my friends and family came out to see me and for all the many friends and family who I knew were likely thinking of my race and wondering how it was going and following me online. Thank you, all! It was very helpful and motivating.

I attempted to press the lap button of my watch each time I crossed a mile marker. This table shows my lap #, lap time, lap distance as measured by my watch, and average pace for that lap. Garmin's site has a map and a playback mode for my race:

Things that went well
  • My training and tapering and preparation all went really well.
  • My race execution went mostly pretty well.
  • No injuries.
  • No blisters or chafing except for my right big toenail which rubbed a bit too much on the top of my shoe. I felt something like a feeling that it had snagged on the top of my shoe during a descent off of one of the bridges, so it's got some redness, but I don't think I'm going to lose it.

Things to improve
  • I probably should have slowed down a bit for some of the earlier miles and limited my effort by both heart rate and by pace. I ran mile 10 in 6:19, for example, and even with some downhills, that was probably too fast even though my heart rate was fine.
  • I ate an energy gel every 40 minutes. 30 to 35 minutes might have been better.
  • I should have taken care of my final bathroom break a little better. If I feel the slightest urge to pee before the marathon starts, I need to trust my body and take care of that sooner rather than later.
  • Go to the expo earlier -- they sometimes run out of items!

Random data
  • Weighed 163.0 before flying to New York City. I had been trying to lose weight and I may have lost a couple pounds. I weighed the same, practically (163.2) two days after the race.