Mar 24, 2011

The Magical LA Marathon Run (Race Report)

I remember when I completed the LA Marathon last year after a virus (mononucleosis) knocked me out for most of January and February.  I was training specifically for the race in the hopes of qualifying for the most prestigious of road marathons: The Boston Marathon. For my age and gender my qualifying time is 3:10 roughly equating to 7:15 per mile average.  My training had been going well but one weekend I started to get headaches that progressed to full-blown fevers greater than 101 F by Sunday night; and it didn't abate until 21 consecutive nights had passed.  That included two emergency room visits, being bed-ridden, missing classes, and leaving the MD's baffled on why I experienced these bizarre and frankly severe symptoms.  With only 4 weeks until the already-paid-for LA Marathon I didn't believe I had a shot of participating in it; that was because my first run five weeks since the first fever included stitches on both sides, the inability to keep an upright posture, and general fatigue. Did I mention it was only 3 miles? How was I able to run 26.2 then? Well, I ran several more times thereafter including a "long" run of 15 miles and decided that I didn't want to waste the $150. So I ran it. It was a struggle but managed a 3:45 (8:36/mile pace) in perfect running conditions and I have to say I was very proud of it, given the circumstances, but was well short of the Boston marker. This year has been the antithesis of what happened last year.
My emphasis and frankly preference (for a multitude of reasons addressed in one of my first posts) is trail running and the major running goal this year is the San Diego 100 mile endurance race in June in the Laguna Mountains.  Everything since last December (post IT Band injury) had been geared to that.  This year has consisted of solid consistent training (~75 miles/week mostly on trails), two 50km (31.5 miles) trail races in personal record time, and no major setbacks (knock on wood). I was deciding on my next run after the Malibu Creek 50km run just 2 weeks ago and I decided to enter LA the last moment, literally. I had no expectations just because road and trail are very different and thinking about the running time was not a priority. It was a run that allowed me to get another long run in and gave me a little break from trails. This was also my 9th marathon or ultramarathon and since it involved zero driving and basically running home I gave it a go.
The race-day forecast called for heavy rains and it didn't disappoint. I arrived at Dodger Stadium (starting point) at 430am and to not waste time I sat in the bleachers and studied my for my orthopedic exam and  practical for the following morning (Yes, I brought my notes). The notes were put away at 7am and after handing off my drop-bag I squeezed and prodded my way to the 11 min/mile spot. Boy, there were a ton of people and due to my late registration I couldn't get in the under-4:00 hour marathon time corral.  As was expected I had to fight through the multitude of walkers, weirdos (a guy running with tray holding a fake wine glass, another with a fake hand glued on his head), slower runners, and bathroom lines that spilled into the streets for the first 3 miles and even though I wasn't necessarily going for the 3:10 time I wanted to see how long I could last. My biggest concern was not my lung capacity but my leg turnover. I was used to long steep climbs on trails where a small stride and high cadence doesn't produce fast minute/mile times.  As mentioned, the first  3 miles consisted of weaving around the hordes, getting stopped cold, and being reduced to a jog. Immediately, this set me back 3 minutes off the 3:10 pace and making up that time was going to be near impossible.  I finally had some breathing room and settled into a solid stride with the cold rain and wind coming down hard.  No amount of clothing was going to keep me dry so I opted for a cotton shirt, short shorts, beanie, and thin gloves.  The next several miles, up until mile 13, saw me chipping away at those 3 minutes and I was able to reduce it to 1 minute 45 seconds.  However, the harder miles were coming up and I doubted if I would be able to sustain that type of pace.  Up until this time I had been feeling great. The rain was wonderful, contrary to many reports, and I absolutely relished in it.  I felt I was in a zone in which I had boundless energy and I even saw a sign on a small theatre in Hollywood reading "Run Nano Run." I'm not sure who it was for but I felt it wasn't just merely a coincidence: This was my race and I had to capitalize on the moment.
The next and final 13.2 miles saw a pace that I honestly didn't think I would be able to produce so well and without taking a deep breath: 6:54 pace.  I was waiting to hit the wall or bonk but it never came and I felt I was getting stronger an stronger during the later miles. I was flying by people (passing 212 in the last 4.5 miles) and I have to say that I don't think one person passed me the entire race (mainly because I was so far back).  During the final 3 miles I witnessed the carnage of what the last 23 miles had done to people. Some guy pulled a hamstring right in front of me, another fell, another looked like he was running drunk, and some were just debilitated from there previous efforts.  I was feeling the best I have ever felt in a run and didn't want to crack a wide grin just yet; not until I was in the final .2 miles.  Who knows what could have happened between where I was and the finish? But for whatever reason I kept running faster.  I finally hit mile 26 and cracked a wide smile knowing that I was going to be well under 3:10 and still feeling great. A came under the banner in 3:07.17 (7:08 mile pace) and started to weep. It felt as if I had won the race and it surprised me on how emotional I was to attain that goal.  A totally unexpected run and the only word that comes to mind is magical.  I had done no track work, no speed work; just trails, albeit challenging, and some road runs at an easy 830-9min/mile pace.  I'm proud of the way my body held up, the course, the training consistency, and the run.  The rain was glorious and my thin soled spikeless cross-country racing shoes are heaven. There is something to be said about having flat, (no difference in heel to forefoot) light shoes.  I didn't experience any foot problems and I truly believe that it changes the action of my stride enough to use the passive elements (elastic energy of arch and achilles) to my advantage. I felt strong. Here are my official results.  The time placed me 227th out of 19,781 participants, averaging 8.4mph, and having negative splits, something I thought I couldn't do. Here are my personal recorded splits:

Mile: 1 8:37, 2/3 7:46 (avg), 4/5/6 7:34 (avg), 7 7:02, 8 7:05, 9 7:07, 10 6:56, 11/12 6:58 (avg), 13 6:57, 14 6:53, 15 6:26, 16 6:26, 17/18 7:24 (avg, but I think there was a mile marker misplacement on the previous miles), 19 6:48, 20 6:59, 21 7:14, 22 7:00, 23 6:55, 24 6:47, 25 6:45, 26 6:48 = 3:07.17

Finish! I started ~13 minutes after the official clock started hence the 3:20.41 time not the 3:07.17.
On a sidenote, I really focused on maintaing the neural activation of my gluteal muscles and abdominals throughout the run and I believe that allowed an injury-free and efficient run. I felt powerful and happy throughout. The runner's high is still with me.
Next up is the Sycamore Canyon 50km race April 23, but first a 130 mile  east to west trek in the vast and wonderful Grand Canyon. Onward to the San Diego 100.

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