Friday, February 7, 2014

Surf City Marathon, 2014

The marathon is a grueling event.  I know, this is not exactly ground-breaking news here, but 26.2 miles is a long way to go on foot, even if you've trained perfectly for it.  And if we're going to be honest about it, my training for the 2014 Surf City Marathon was far from perfect.  Don't misunderstand, it's not like I'd been sitting around on my couch eating donuts and watching reruns of Happy Days for six months.  But conventional wisdom says that when you're going to run a marathon, that needs to be the sole focus of your training -- building up mileage, doing a long run every week, mixing in speed training -- and instead of that, I've been running half-marathon events every few weeks starting last October.  Therefore, in the months leading up to Surf City, my longest "long" run was 17 miles, and that was about five weeks before the event.

Hal Higdon would be shaking his head in disdain.

Suffice it to say that I was not in peak form on race day, but I was determined to give it my best shot.

The Surf City Marathon in Huntington Beach, California is a very popular event because not only do
you get to run along the Pacific Ocean in gorgeous (usually) weather, you also get rewarded with one of the coolest medals in the running world.  The Surf City bling is a gold medallion mounted on a wooden surfboard.  VERY nice.  This race would also be my brother Bobby's first marathon, his fiance Amy's first half marathon, and several of our Cottonwood Elementary School teammates were also entered in the half.  And, as if all that isn't enough, Bobby and I would be earning the coveted Beach Cities Challenge medal for running the OC Marathon/Half, Long Beach Half, and Surf City Marathon consecutively.

We went to the expo on Saturday to pick up our race packets (bib number, shirt, and other goodies) and we also bought some race memorabilia.  It was quite crowded (almost 20,000 runners were entered in the weekend events), so we didn't hang around too long, opting instead to go to the Spaghetti Factory to continue the carbo-loading process.  Theresa and I spent the night at my parents' house, about 30 miles from Huntington Beach.

Sunday morning, I woke up at about 3:30, had my usual breakfast of a bagel, CLIF Bar, and Powerade, and then Bobby and Amy picked me up around 4:15.  We got to Huntington around 5:00, and waited in the race expo tent where it was reasonably warm.  Race time was 6:30 for the full, so we milled around a bit, posed for pre-race pictures, and headed to the starting line about fifteen minutes before the gun.  Because my training was spotty, I really didn't have specific expectations or goals for this race.  I certainly wanted to come in under 4:45:00, but I wasn't expecting to PR (4:27:34, OC Marathon 2013).

The race started at sunrise, and as the sun came up, it got to be pretty sunny and comfortable.  The first two miles were straight up the Pacific Coast Highway, and then we made a right turn into a residential area.  There were a few moderate hills, but nothing drastic.  At about mile six we entered Huntington Beach Central Park, and the road became a fairly narrow footpath which made passing other runners practically impossible.  I was trying to maintain a 9:30/mile pace for as long as I could, knowing that I would drop off considerably once mile 20 reared its ugly head.  I made it through the park on schedule, and then we headed back up PCH.  At mile 11 there was a turnaround, so now it was south on PCH and I got to see all the other runners (marathoners and half-marathoners, who started about an hour and a half after the marathon) on the other side of the highway.  I saw Bobby before long, looking reasonably fresh and enthusiastic.  So far, so good . . . for both of us.

Then came a huge mental hurdle.

At mile 16, there was another turnaround, where the marathoners headed north on a
Bobby and me, with our Surfboard Medals

footpath/boardwalk right along the beach.  The half-marathoners, however, were at mile 12 of their course, and got to keep going south on PCH.  So we could see and hear the finish line and the gathering crowd right there in front of us . . . and then we had to swing around and run another ten miles.

Miles 17-21 were northbound on the beach footpath, the ocean on one side, and for one stretch, Super Bowl tailgate parties in RVs on the other.  Lots of the tailgaters were happily providing snacks and refreshments to the runners, my particular favorite being the "Bacon and Beer" table.  By this time, the cloud cover had rolled in, so it was cool and overcast.  Perfect weather.  What I didn't realize at this point was that there was a fairly healthy wind at my back, which became all too evident when I made the turnaround at mile 21 and . . .

Smack.  Right into a stiff headwind.

The last five miles of a marathon are extremely difficult under the best of circumstances.  But now, having hit the wall at mile 19 and feeling like my legs were made of Jello pudding, the added wind resistance booted any hope of a PR right into the cresting waves of the Pacific.  Up until mile 17 or so, I was right with the 4:25 pace group, and since that group started in the wave ahead of me, I was pretty sure I was on pace for a 4:22 or so marathon.  But now, at blustery mile 22, I was content to give it my best effort with the realization that my time was going to be in the 4:30's.  Which, to be honest, I was perfectly happy with.

Mile 23 seemed like it was four miles long, during which time Bobby and I passed each other again.  He was looking pretty wiped, just as I was, but his spirits were up and I knew he'd be fine.  Mile 24 was only a little bit better, and then for the last two point two, I took out my earbuds and just enjoyed the sound of the ocean, the crowd, the gasping and wheezing of my fellow runners.

I crossed the line with a time of 4:35:50, got my surfboard medal, posed for the official photos, and waited for Bobby, who finished about fifteen minutes later.  More pictures, and then we headed to the expo tent to pick up our Beach Cities Challenge medals and meet up with the rest of our team, who had already completed the half marathon.  Everyone did a great job, so we posed for yet another photo session, and then headed home to watch the Seattle Seahawks run 26.2 miles all over the backs of the Denver Broncos.

Team Cottonwood
I have to say, the feeling that comes with finishing a marathon is simply awesome.  Never mind the soreness, it's all worth the effort.

A few comparisons between this race and my first marathon, the OC back in May.  This time around, I suffered no blistering whatsoever.  After the OC, I could barely walk for a week, my feet were so destroyed.  But this time, nothing.  Sure, my muscles were sore, but two days later I felt like I was ready to go again.  During both races the last six miles were brutal, but this time it didn't seem quite so torturous.  Granted, I was eight minutes slower this time, but I didn't feel like I was about to implode.  An encouraging sign for sure.

My next full marathon is the San Francisco Marathon, slated for July 27th.  The course is supposed to be tough, but it includes a run across the Golden Gate Bridge, which is going to be amazing.  This time, I plan to focus more on specific marathon training in the hopes of a new PR.  This is not to say there won't be other events between now and then -- Rock 'n' Roll San Diego and the OC Half Marathon just to name a couple -- but the eight weeks prior to the SF Marathon will be devoted entirely to training.  And what could be more fun than marathon training in the desert in July?

Yippee-ky-yay, other runners.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Half Marathon, 2014

It's not as though I have a ton of half marathon experience, but last week's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona is definitely the best event I've participated in thus far in my racing "career."  It had everything a runner could ask for: top-notch expo, easy access to the start and finish line, a beautiful course, lots of spectator support, and a really cool medal.  Add to that the fact that my mom and dad joined Theresa and me for a weekend in the Phoenix area and, well, it just doesn't get much better than that.

Phoenix is about a five-hour drive from home, so we left early on Saturday morning and got to the expo at around noon.  We didn't spend a whole lot of time browsing this time . . . just long enough to get our bibs, shirts, a couple Rock 'n' Roll Marathon knicknacks, and for me a pair of Hoka Stinson Tarmacs that I plan to break in and use for next week's Surf City Marathon.  I've been having some foot issues lately and . . . you know, I think I'll save that for a post of its own (along with a Hoka review).  We checked in to the hotel, grabbed lunch at Joe's Crab Shack (carbo-loaded on the lobster pasta -- delicious), and pretty much relaxed for the rest of the day.  Theresa and I took some time to drive the half marathon course, which is something I like to do whenever time allows.  Always good to know what you're up against.  There were a few long straight-aways through Tempe (starting at ASU), and only one significant uphill stretch -- a quick out-and-back about half a mile in distance.  That is, half a mile up, and half a mile back down.  This was at mile nine, and from that point on it would be a mostly-downhill stretch to the finish

We woke up at around 5 AM to get ready for the 7:50 start time.  I had my usual CLIF bar and Powerade Zero for my prerace "meal" and then mom and dad dropped me and Theresa off near the starting line.  I was running the half, of course, and Theresa was running the 5.4 mile "Mini
Marathon."  I've recently discovered that I've become fairly good at anticipating how well (or poorly) I'll do at any given race based on the course profile, my level of training, and other factors.  For instance at my last race, the New Year's Race LA, I was pretty sure that sub-2:00 was unrealistic due to the hilly course and I ended up clocking in at 2:04:41.  For Arizona, I knew it was an easier course and I was feeling really good in training the previous week, so I had a time of 1:57 in my mind as what I could reasonably expect, and I would be more than satisfied with that result.

All in all, the race seemed to go by really quickly, perhaps due to the long stretches on the course along with the bands every few miles and the hundreds of spectators cheering and holding signs of encouragement (my favorite: You Paid $100 for this . . . Only $75 to Go!).  I had no issues along the way.  The runners were pretty well spread out so there wasn't a lot of jockeying for position.  I chose not to use my Amphipod belt, opting instead to carry a couple gels in my pocket and rely on course support for water.  Checking my splits, I hit the 5K mark in just over 26 minutes and the 10K in 53:51.  At about the seven-mile mark the course moved out of the "busy" part of town and turned into a nature reserve and park, which was beautiful.  This is where the hill came into play, right about mile nine.  It wasn't too steep (in fact, it seemed worse when we'd driven in the night before), so I forged ahead to the turn-around where runners were treated to a gorgeous view of the greater Phoenix area.  No time to sight-see, though, as I headed back downhill increasing my pace to make up some time.  I knew that in order to come in under two hours (which is always my primary goal for a half marathon) I'd need to hit the ten-mile mark in about 1:30.  When I got there, I took a peek at my Garmin.  1:28:12, and nothing by 3.1 miles of downhill in front of me.

"Go" time.

I cruised past the Oakland A's spring training complex, crossed a short bridge, and headed toward the final turn to the finish line.  I couldn't find my parents or Theresa in the crowd, but I knew they'd be there somewhere.  I turned on the final kick and crossed the line with at time of 1:56:41.  Not a PR,
but pretty close.  In fact, it's my second-fastest half marathon to date.  I went through the finishing chute and got my medal, a chocolate milk, some pretzels, and then I found Theresa waiting at the finish line festival, sporting her Rock 'n' Roll Mini Marathon bling.  We had one more order of business -- finding the Heavy Medals booth so we could pick up our Desert Double Down medals for completing both the Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas and Arizona events.  Once that was taken care of, we met up with my parents, went back to the hotel to shower and change, and then of course we went to lunch for our traditional post-race burger and fries.  Red Robin, if you're interested in the details.

As I said earlier, Rock 'n' Roll Arizona is a fantastic race, one that I highly recommend to everyone.  I'm certainly considering doing it again next year, although it's the same day as the Carlsbad Marathon and Half Marathon, which I've heard is awesome as well.  We'll see what the future brings as far as that goes.

In the meantime, I'm getting ready for next week's Surf City Marathon, which will be my second full marathon.  Looking forward to seeing how the new Hokas handle the 26.2 miles of torture.

Until next time, Happy Running!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Holiday 5K Pomona and New Year's Race L.A. Recaps

Yes, it's been a while since I've written anything here.  It's not that I've stopped running (far from it), it's just that I haven't gotten around to putting pen to paper, metaphorically speaking of course.  Since we've last shared company, I've run two races.  Which I will sum up shortly.

Like, now.

Crossing the line with a new PR.
On December 14, Theresa and I ran the Holiday 5K in Pomona, California.  For those of you not from Southern California, Pomona is famous for . . . well, not much of anything, unless you count the L.A. County Fairgrounds or the Whatever-It's-Called-This-Week Speedway (think "drag strip," not "NASCAR").  Anyway, the 5K took place at the fairgrounds on a quite chilly Saturday morning.  My goal for this race was simple: Set a personal record.  My previous PR for a 5K was 24:35, but that was at the "unofficial" Hesperia Days 5K a few months back.  I was eager to top that (or is it "under that") in an officially timed race, which the Holiday certainly is.  The course was pretty flat, except for one short hill early in the race.  The first half-mile or so was all downhill, so I took off at a really fast (for me) pace of about 7:10 per mile.  Then came the hill, which I traversed without any trouble.  I completed the first mile in 7:23, so I was easily on pace for a PR.  The second mile was a bit slower, and we ran right down the Whatever-It's-Called-This-Week drag strip which was pretty cool.  No need for a parachute, though, as I was a bit slower for mile two, completing it in 8:09.  I picked up the pace for the last 1.1 miles, and crossed the line in 23:44, beating my previous best by 51 seconds.  Mission accomplished.  I waited for Theresa to finish, we collected our snowflake medals, and headed to Slater's 50/50 for the traditional celebratory burgers and fries.  For those of you who have never been to a Slater's (I'm not sure where they're available geographically), you MUST find one.  Their burgers are half ground beef, half ground bacon.  Condiments include baconnaise, bacon catsup, and all sorts of other deliciousness.  Definitely worth the trip.

The second of our two "Holiday Break" events was the New Year's Race Los Angeles (subtitle: L.A. at Night).  This was on January 4, and to date it is the most difficult course I've run.  It was also a heck of a lot of fun, as it passed through all kinds of L.A. landmarks incluing Chinatown, Olvera Street, and the highlight of the race, Dodger Stadium.  Of course, the downside of running through Dodger Stadium is that it's located in Chavez Ravine, which is Spanish for "The top of a really big friggin' hill that will beat the crap out of your legs if you try to run there."  But we'll get to that in a minute.

Doing the "Gibby" during the Dodger Stadium lap.
I didn't really have a set goal in mind for this race, which is unusual for me.  I'd seen the elevation profile for the course (more on that later), and I knew going in that there was a nasty hill at about mile four.  I've been to Dodger games before, so I knew pretty much what I was in for hill-wise.  But according to the profile, the one big hill was the only thing to worry about.  From mile five on, so it would appear, it was all flat or downhill.  Still, I knew that a PR wasn't going to be in the cards, and even a sub-2 hour finish would be a bit of a reach.

The race started in downtown, and the first three miles or so were pretty comfortable.  I'd settled into about a 9-minute per mile pace which is my norm for the half marathon.  And then came the hill.  Or, more accurately, series of hills that somehow didn't make it into the course elevation profile.  Some
were steep, some were long, some were steep and long . . . the next four or five miles basically sucked.  The only fun part of this stretch was the run through Dodger Stadium (literally . . . we ran around the warning track) which is definitely a career highlight for me.  And as suggested by my
swell pal Jim "Suldog" Sullivan, as I passed the Dodger dugout and the official race photographer, I did the patented "Kirk Gibson Celebratory Fist Pump."  As I write this, I have yet to receive my official photos, but as soon as I do, that one will go up here for you, Sully.

Side note: Neither Sully nor I are Dodger fans, but we appreciate baseball history.  Though we have much different perspectives on the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry.  I'm right, he's wrong, we'll leave it at that.

But back to the race.

Once the hillaciousness (copyright pending) subsided, I was able to get back to my normal pace but by then a sub-2:00 was out of the question.  Pressure off, I enjoyed the rest of the race, finished in a respectable 2:04:41, and got a really blingy medal for my efforts.  Theresa met me at the finish line (right in front of Staples Center), having completed the 5K in a fantastic time.  We had a late dinner at Yard House (the burger-and-fries tradition again), and we happened to catch the end of the Kings-Canucks game on the television and witness the postgame hoopla first hand.  Kings 3, Canucks 1.  Great night all around.

Tune in again soon, for the recap of my next race . . . Rock 'n' Roll Arizona on January 19th.  See ya then!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon, 2013

Me and Barry at the Expo
Rock 'n' Roll Vegas was my second of back-to-back Rock 'n' Roll events, coming just three weeks after the half marathon in Los Angeles.  I was looking forward to the Vegas race for several reasons.  First, it was on the legendary Las Vegas Strip which promised to be an exciting place to run.  Second, it was a night race, so there was sure to be glitz and glitter.  And most of all, we had about twelve people from our school and families participating, so it was going to be a fun weekend all around.

The big challenge for me with Rock 'n' Roll Vegas was planning my nutrition around a night race.  Since most races start early on a Sunday morning, I'm used to doing my main carb-loading on Friday night and then having smaller, high-carb meals on Saturday.  This time, with the race scheduled for 4:30 on Sunday afternoon, I did most of my heavy eating on Saturday morning (hello, IHOP), and then again for a late lunch at Buca di Beppo that afternoon.  It worked out fine, as I had no issues during the run.

We checked in to the Excalibur and Saturday around noon, and my sister Katy and her husband Barry picked me and Theresa up to go to the race expo.  Katy and Barry live in Vegas, and this was to be Barry's first half marathon.  Katy was "along for the ride" this time, but we're going to talk her in to signing up for one of these things before too long.  The expo was nothing out of the ordinary, but very well-organized with lots of opportunities to spend money.  Barry, having completely caught the running bug, signed up for Rock 'n' Roll Arizona in January, so he and I will be running that one together.

Saturday night, we met up with the rest of our school folks for dinner at Margaritaville.  One of the main advantages of a night race is that you don't have to worry about getting to bed at a reasonable hour the night before.  Most of our group also ran Rock 'n' Roll L.A., but we did have two first-time half marathoners besides Barry, third grade teachers Lora and Amorette.  We had a great time hanging out with everyone, and headed back to the hotel.

With such a large group, we had to come up with a plan to meet up after the race, so we chose a spot about 200 yards from the finish line which turned out to be right in front of Treasure Island hotel and casino.  Several non-running family members were with us on the trip, so they would stake out an area for the rest of us to meet at once we finished.  What could possibly go wrong?

On to the race itself.
Team Cottonwood in the starting village.

Our group met in the start village for a few team pictures, we listened to a bit of the pre-race concert featuring the All-American Rejects, and then headed off to our starting corrals.  This was a huge event with over 20,000 runners entered, so our group was spread out among the thirty-six corrals.  I was in Corral 8, Theresa was in 18. 

For the first three miles, the course was so crowded that I couldn't settle into a comfortable rhythm.  To make matters worse, a "runner" who decided to start in an early corral even though she had no intention of running at the pace required to be in that corral accidentally knocked my water bottle off of my fuel belt.  This wasn't a huge problem but now instead of hydrating on the run, I'd be forced to deal with the water stations on the course which were undoubtedly going to be jammed up.  On the plus side, running on The Strip was awesome.  Lots of spectators, on-course bands, and just the overall excitement and sparkle of the Flamingo, Caesar's Palace, the Mirage, and all the other landmark casinos made this the most energy-packed race I've been in to date. 

By about mile five, the field had spread out somewhat so it wasn't as difficult to work my way around other runners.  One notable exception was somewhere around mile six where I saw two women running side by side in front of me.  They were running along the right curb, as was I, and there was a cluster of other runners to their left.  My only option (other than to simply slow down) was to gently nudge my way between them.  Well, the nudge turned out to not be as gentle as I intended (no one fell, but there was contact) and to make matters worse, just as I'd forced my way up the middle, I saw one of the official Marathonfoto photographers capturing the moment for posterity.  Check out the 18th-20th pictures at the following link:

At mile eight, the course turned off The Strip and into a very dark and sort of scary neighborhood,
and looped back around to The Strip again for the final three miles.  Given this was my first night race and the final three miles were a gradual uphill stretch, I hadn't figured that I'd have a shot at a PR, but I did want to come in under two hours.  As I turned back onto The Strip, I checked my Garmin and saw that I would be able to do that with room to spare.  As I approached the finish line, I saw our group of spectators right where we'd planned for them to be, one of whom was holding up a "Go Coyotes!" sign (we're the Cottonwood Coyotes).  I crossed the line with a time of 1:58:57.  I'm perfectly happy with that.

I got my medal, had my official photo taken, picked up a chocolate milk and a bag of pretzels, and started walking through the finishing chute to the gear check to get my bag.  Most races, this is a fairly quick process but here in Vegas it took forever.  Much, much longer than usual, so it took almost half an hour for me to get my stuff and then work my way back to where our team had planned to meet.  I finally made it, and watched the rest of our runners complete the course.  Since it was such a long trek back to our meeting place, as the last few of us finished, the rest of us headed back to meet them.  We ended up splitting up (it just got too crazy out there) and said we'd see each other at work on Tuesday.  That's right, we all took Monday off.

All three of our first-timers completed the race and did a fantastic job.  I'm particularly proud of my brother-in-law Barry, who has been training hard for this for several months.  He's just going to get faster and faster, and I'm looking forward to running many more events with him.  And of course, we're always trying to recruit more runners at work, so hopefully our group will continue to grow.

Moving forward, I've got a 5K coming up in December, but the main focus between now and New Year's is building my weekly mileage and increasing my long runs in preparation for the Surf City Marathon in February.  Before that, I have two half marathons in January.

The fun never stops.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Rock 'n' Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon, 2013

Our Team, L to R: Theresa, Michelle, Rebecca, Renee, Staci, Katherine, Lorena, Rachel, Tina, and me.  We need more guys.
After being mildly disappointed with my performance at the Long Beach International City Bank Half Marathon, I was looking forward to Rock 'n' Roll L.A., my first race in the popular Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series.  During the last two weeks of training for this race, I focused on two things: lowering my arms to reduce tension in my shoulders and improve my running efficiency, and to run at an even pace for a longer time.  At Long Beach, I knocked out a couple 7:30 miles early in the race, but I paid for it during the last three miles.  This time around, the plan was to run as close to 8:45 per mile as I could, which would get me to my race goal of 1:55:00.  After a couple training runs where I concentrated on my arm swing, I saw that it made a huge difference.  I was running 8:30 miles without expending much additional energy.

We had a lot of our school's staff members and friends running Rock 'n' Roll L.A., so there was a lot of excitement building in the week leading into the race.  On Saturday, Theresa, her co-worker Tina, and I drove out to the race expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center.  We got our bibs and shirts, and browsed the many booths.  We got hooked on Dave's Killer Bread (look for it at your local Vons store), checked out the medals from a few upcoming races, and stocked up on gels and other goodies.

The race started at 7:30 on Sunday morning, so in order to get to Staples Center with time to find
parking and warm up, we woke up at around 3:30 in the morning.  We picked Tina and her husband up at 4 or so, and made the hour-plus drive to L.A.  We'd prepaid for our parking, so there was no issue finding a spot, and since we were early, not much traffic to deal with.  I turned in my bag at the gear check, where we met up with the rest of our team.  In all, there were ten of us running in the race, with several family members there as our cheering squad.  At about 7:15, we headed to our various starting corrals.

I'd estimated my finishing time at 1:55, which had me starting in Corral 4.  As I waited for the gun, I reminded myself to concentrate on consistency.  No 7:30 miles this time around, just keep it comfortable and save my energy.  Moments later, my corral was released to start, and we were off.

Theresa coming to the finish line.
The weather was cool and overcast, and a bit foggy.  The starting line was at Staples Center (home of the Lakers, Kings, and yeah, I guess the Clippers).  During the first mile, I once again encountered what is quickly becoming a pet peeve of mine.  Several people were walking already!  The whole point of starting runners in corrals is so the field gets spread out and so faster runners don't have to navigate around slower ones.  There aren't race officials who check for these things, but it's a matter of etiquette that apparently some people have no interest in following.  Seriously, if you're planning to walk the entire race, start in the back.  I ditched my disposable arm warmers (tube socks with the toes cut off) around the first mile marker and checked my pace.  8:33 for the first mile.

The course took us around the legendary Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (site of the first Super Bowl, the 1984 Summer Olympics, and home of the USC Trojans), and back up Figueroa past Staples Center again at mile six.  Mile seven was the first uphill stretch, a gradual climb leading to a right turn into a tunnel.  I sucked down a mandarin orange GU gel at mile seven, downed some water from my fuel belt (I'd decided to forego the water stations in favor of maintaining a consistent pace) and enjoyed the band rocking out alongside the course.  This is a hallmark of the Rock 'n' Roll series . . . live bands every couple miles or so.  It's great for maintaining the energy along the route, along with the spectators.  Miles eight and nine were mostly downhill, and I took a peek at my Garmin at the nine mile marker.  1:17 and change, which was minute and a half or so under the pace I'd need to reach my goal.  I was right on target, and still feeling really good.  No fatigue, no soreness.

Then came the bridge.

Mile ten was a pretty significant uphill, a bridge crossing the Los Angeles River.  I knew this was
Early in the race.

coming, which is why I'd tried to build up a bit of a cushion on my goal pace.  I maintained my level of effort, not trying to speed up, but also concentrating on keeping my form under control.  We went up to the peak of the bridge, slightly past the crest to the turn-around, and back down.  Mile ten turned out to be a 9:16, which would prove to be my slowest of the race, but I knew I'd be able to make up for it on the downhill side.  Going back down the bridge, I saw one of our teachers, Michelle, heading up.  We high-fived as we passed each other.

During miles eleven and twelve, I looked for the rest of our team going the other way.  I saw Rachel as a approached the mile twelve marker, then Staci as she came out of the tunnel.  As I reached the end of that tunnel (going the other way), I saw Theresa, looking strong.  This was her first half marathon, and I was more excited for her than anything.  I exited the tunnel for the final mile, which was a straight downhill shot to the finish line.  I was right on pace, so I turned it on the best I could, and as I came to the finish, I saw our support crew off to the right.  One final push, and I crossed the line . . .

1:54:28.  Boo-yah.

I collected my medal (a very-cool Halloween-themed piece of hardware), posed for the official finisher's photo, and downed a chocolate milk.  I then walked back up the course to where our crew was waiting, and I watched for the rest of our team.  Being a Halloween race, there were runners in all sorts of costumes.  In no particular order, I saw:

A giant squirrel.
A taco.
Several bananas (there's ALWAYS a banana).
Various Superheroes.
Fred Flintstone.

And many, many more.

Everyone on our team finished, and Theresa completed the race under her goal time.  I'm so proud of her . . . awesomeness!

For me, it was great to have my preparation pay off, and now I've experienced first-hand the importance of keeping an even pace.  Lesson learned.  And hats off to the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series, this was a fantastic event, well-run and plenty of support.  Can't wait to run another one.

Which is perfect, because our team is doing Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas next month!

See you then.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Two-Event Weekend

After a summer of training, a bout with a minor injury, and weeks of anticipation, my fall racing schedule kicked off with a bang (how's that for a mixed metaphor?) this past weekend as I participated in two separate events.  Since one was a 5K and the other was a half marathon, I didn't think it was going to be too problematic as opposed to, say, running a half marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday.  I know people who have done that, and they're idiots.  Or maybe they're just extremely fit and dedicated runners who don't know the meaning of the word "fail."  Decide for yourself.

Here's the recap.

SPOOKTACULAR 5K:  San Dimas, Ca. 10/12/13

Theresa and I signed up to run this one together, well, kind of.  Initially this event was scheduled for Sunday, October 20th, so when we initially registered, my plan was to bust out a 5K PR and call it a day.  But the race ended up getting rescheduled to the 12th, so I didn't want to take a chance on wearing myself out the day before a half marathon.  Instead, Theresa and I ran pretty much side-by-side and she beat me by two seconds.  Ladies first, I always say.  This was a really small event, comparatively speaking, with only a few hundred runners total in the 5K, 10K, and half marathon.  That being said, however, it was one of the most enjoyable and well-organized races I've been a part of.  We arrived at Bonelli Park in San Dimas about an hour before the start, checked out some of the vendor booths, and mingled with the other runners, several of whom were dressed in Halloween costumes.  My personal favorites were the jellyfish (big styrofoam domes wrapped in cellophane with streamers hanging down all around) and the father-daughter tandem dressed as a Ghostbuster and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.  That one seemed somewhat lacking in foresight, because the Stay-Puft outfit did not do a lot for the guy from an aerodynamic standpoint.  Looked cool, though.

The course was simply gorgeous.  We ran alongside a shimmering lake, across the dam, and along a tree-lined path that made up the 3.1 mile "out-and-back" course.  It was somewhat hilly, but nothing too troublesome.  I ran this one strictly to enjoy the morning and run with Theresa, and that made it a great run, free from the pressure of breaking a PR or hitting a time goal.  Theresa finished 4th in her age group, coming in at 37:34, I was two seconds behind at 37:36.  We got our medals (REALLY cool Halloween-themed bling), scarfed down the post-race goodies, and headed for part two of the weekends festivities.

Long Beach, Ca.  10/13/13

The Long Beach Marathon and Half Marathon is part of the Beach Cities Challenge, a three-race
Bobby and me at the starting line, ready to go.
trilogy that gives runners the chance to earn an enormous bonus medal the size of a pie plate (that's how they advertise it).  You can complete the challenge in any order, but the three races must be run consecutively.  I did the Orange County Marathon last May, and I'm already signed up for the Surf City Marathon in February, so Long Beach is race number two in the series for me.  The course promised to be wonderful . . . a pass by the Queen Mary, a three-mile stretch along the beach, fabulous weather, and it completely lived up to these expectations.

We went to the expo on Saturday afternoon and as is the custom (it might be a law, I'm not sure) we spent way more money than we should have.  Theresa got a massage and a couple tech shirts, I picked up a running belt with a zipper so I don't lose my keys while running (again) and a bunch of CLIF Bars (banana nut bread flavor, thank you very much), among other assorted goodies.  We then headed to Chili's for lunch (pasta), followed by hotel check-in, and a relaxing afternoon.  My brother Bobby and his fiance (first time I've referred to her as that . . . they're very recently engaged) arrived later that afternoon.  Bobby and I were signed up for the race, Theresa and Amy were there for moral support and photo ops.

After a light dinner (Subway), I hit the sack early so I could be up around 4:30 to go through my pre-race routine.  The start time for the half marathon was 7:30, so I needed time to eat something, hydrate, take care of "business" and loosen up a little bit.  Also, we had about a six-mile drive from the hotel to the starting area, and we didn't want to risk getting snarled in traffic or some other unforeseen snafu.

Things went according to plan, so we arrived at the start around 6:15, just in time to see the start of the full marathon and the bike tour.

And then it was showtime.

In large events such as this one, runners are grouped into "waves" or "corrals" based on their estimated finishing times, with the Kenyans at the front and the walk-runners at the back (this is not how it's worded on the registration form, but you get my drift).  This is so slow runners don't end up getting trampled and elite athletes don't get a PR screwed up by tripping over some guy in a banana costume and trust me, there's ALWAYS some guy in a banana costume.  Bobby and I estimated our finishing times as 1:55, which put us in Wave 3.

I basically started the Long Beach Half with a four-level goal.  First, and least realistically, I hoped to run a 1:50.  I figured that if I felt strong and conditions were perfect, I'd have an outside shot at this.  To be honest, I had no rational data to support this goal, but whatever.  It was there.  If that didn't work out, then 1:55 would be perfectly acceptable, and I was pretty confident I could make that happen.  But if not, well, then I'd have to settle for breaking my PR of 1:57:04, set at the San Diego Half Marathon in March.  And if, for whatever reason, I failed at that . . . anything under two hours would have to do.

Sometimes I tend to over-think these things.

Right at the start I made my usual mistake, taking off at a faster pace than I ever run outside of race day.  I know better, yet I always talk myself into busting it early and trying to survive late.  One of these days I'll run a smarter race, but today was not going to be that day.  I ran the first mile in 7:32.  Along the way, I passed two ladies who were walking.  Now, I'm certainly not judging anyone, we all go at our own pace, but if you're not even planning to run the first mile, what estimated time did you put on the registration form that got you starting in Wave 1 or Wave 2?  Seems discourteous to me, but what do I know?  Just before the first mile marker, I saw Theresa and Amy off to the right.  I swung by for a quick high-five and continued on.  The weather was perfect.  Low 60's, slightly overcast, so the first five or six miles were fast and comfortable.  I hit the 10K split at around 52 minutes and there were Theresa and Amy again.  It was really great to see them at a couple different points along the course.  Miles eight through ten were right along the beach, absolutely beautiful, but this is where I started to feel it a little bit.  I don't know if it was because I'd started too fast, or maybe a residual effect from running the 5K the day before, but I suddenly felt a little sluggish.  I'd gone out faster than Bobby so I'd been ahead of him to this point, but right around mile eight is where he caught up to me.  We ran a mile or so together, but at the next water station he moved out ahead and I didn't see him again until after I finished.  He ran a great race, certainly a smarter one than I did.

At mile ten the course doubled back, going down Ocean Blvd.  Lots of spectators offered encouragement, but I was getting passed like crazy.  My pace for miles eleven and twelve was over ten minutes per.  Checking my Garmin, I saw that I was going to have to step it up to even break the two hour mark.  Thankfully the last half mile or so was a slight downhill, so I turned it on the best I could and crossed the finish line with a time of 1:59:53.  Couldn't have cut it much closer than that.

Bobby waited in the finishers' area for me, so after getting our medals (they're awesome . . . my favorite so far) and snacks, we posed for a few pictures.  It's a lot of fun running these things with my little brother.  Or in this case, behind him.

So all in all it was a little bit of a disappointment in that I was really confident that I could PR and maybe even break 1:55 and it didn't work out that way.  With several more races coming up, I'll have a chance to redeem myself and run more intelligently, especially during those first few miles.  Rock and Roll Los Angeles is coming up on October 27th, so I'll give it another shot then.

What a fun weekend, though. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hesperia Days 5K

And the fall running season has officially begun. 

The Hesperia Days 5K is a small (some would say "tiny") local event that is part of a community celebration that includes a parade, fireworks, and other events.  I don't know if we have a Pie Eating Contest, but even if we did there's no way I'd enter it.  Too many carbs, and after reading Stephen King's "The Body" featuring a set piece revolving around a kid named Lardass Hogan and his revenge upon those who wronged him, I don't think I could hold down a blueberry pie anyway.  Several members of our school's unofficial running team entered the 5K.  Now, when I say "small local event," what I mean is there is no official timing chip and (this is the truly disappointing part) no finisher's medal.  They do give medals for the top three finishers in each age group, but that's not the same thing, especially for those of us who are either too slow or too young to have a shot at winning one.  But medal or no medal, it's still a fun event and an opportunity to run with the folks in our hometown.

Besides, I did have a PR to think about.

The 5K is the only distance I don't have an "official" personal record for.  I've run 10Ks, half marathons, and a marathon, so those PRs are covered.  My best 5K that I've run in training is 24:47, so that's what I was shooting for.  I was also trying out a new piece of equipment which I borrowed from Theresa.  Specifically, an elastic "belt" that's sort of like a pouch.  There as cuts in it for you to slip in your phone, credit card, money, keys, pretty much whatever you'd need to have with you while you run (or didn't have anywhere else to leave it).  In my case, I slipped in my phone and car keys.

The course was about as simple as it gets, just down Main Street and back, basically.  Slight downhill for the first half, slight uphill for the second half.  I started at a fast pace (for me), about 7:10 per mile.  Music blaring through the earbuds, nice cool weather, perfect conditions.  After about half a mile, I felt around my waist and noticed my keys were gone.  The belt had failed, and failed miserably.  Okay, it's more likely that I didn't tuck my keys back far enough from the opening, but still.  So I just half a mile into the race, I abandoned my pursuit of a PR  and turned around to go look for my keys.

Yeah, SURE I did.

Actually, I pressed forward, assuming that someone would find my keys and turn them in to a race volunteer, and I would just go claim them at the check-in table after the race.  I guess there was also the possibility that someone would find my keys, wander around the parking lot clicking the unlock button and drive away with my car (and my wallet that was left in the glove compartment . . . and speaking of that, do you know anyone who actually keeps gloves in their glove compartment?  It should be called the "random crap compartment," if you ask me).  But impending car theft did not occur to me as I raced downhill toward the halfway point.

I hit the two mile mark in 15:14.  The rest of the course was uphill, so I wasn't expecting to match my initial pace, but I knew I had a great chance to beat my personal record.  I kept an eye out for my keys as I headed the opposite way on Main, but to no avail. 

Coming to the finish line, I saw that I was going to hit a PR (though not by much).  My time (according to my Garmin, because as I said, there was no chip timing for this race) was 24:34.  I drank some water, and then went back and walked the first part of the course looking for my keys.  No luck.  I asked at the check in table, and I was told that a police officer had found some keys and left his business card in case someone reported a set missing.  Long story short, the officer had my keys and met me at the corner of Main and E.  Disaster (okay, inconvenience) averted.

And now the training continues.  Three weeks from now is my first "two event" weekend.  Theresa and I will be running the Spooktacular 5K in San Dimas, Ca. on Saturday, October 12 and then we head to Long Beach where my brother Bobby and I will run the Long Beach Half Marathon.

I'm not wearing the belt, that's for sure.