After the semi-debacle of the Santa Barbara Marathon in Dec'09, I was expecting to be able to run a good time at this race, and possibly run a Boston qualifying time (3:20:59 or better). However after driving the course sometimes in January, the doubts started to creep in. The course was advertised as a "fast, downhill" course. Although the net elevation is a loss, the first half of the course was "rolly-polly", with hard downhills alternating with a couple of steep hills and more gentle inclines. There was also almost not flat segment in the first 13 miles, which would make for a difficult first half, as the steep downhills would fatigue the quads, and the uphills would make it hard to get into a rythm.
Once you reached the more gentle profile of the second half, the damage would be done and it would be hard to benefit from the last few miles downhill on San Vicente Blvd in Brentwood. I trained as much as I could on hilly terrain but realized this too late to get in sufficient hill training. A few days before the course, the forecast was not ideal - start around mid '60s and reaching the '70s in downtown...probably cooler close to the Ocean, but only for the last few miles.
I decided to reach the start of the race by limo. Too early to be dropped by the family, and I figured that in case of problem, the fixed price of a limo would be advantageous compared to a taxi. This was a semi-good choice. Arriving at the 10-110 freeway junction, we realized that the traffic was so bad that we would not be able to reach Dodger Stadium that way. After circling in Downtown L.A. for 30 minutes, we then found out that it was impossible to reach Dodger Stadium through surface streets, as all the roads were closed due to the race. I started to get angry to the driver, we took the 110, where we saw cars stuck on the freeway and runners abandoning vehicles to run to the stadium...:
|Runners trying to reach the start running on the exit ramp of the 110 Freeway (photo courtesy of RWOL forumites)|
We then took the 101 freeway north, the first open exit, and the limo ended up dropping me at about 2 miles from the Stadium after we realized there would be no way to reach the stadium due to road closures. It took a half an hour walk to reach the stadium as I tried to walk slowly to preserve my glycogen stores for the race. Once at the stadium, I got into the sub-4 corral and waited. Due all the traffic nightmare, the start got delayed by 40 minutes, and it started to become uncomfortably warm. I drank my Gatorade bottle and we finally got started at 7:45am.
The first mile was a loop around the stadium, with a relatively steep uphill. I did not feel comfortable, and I felt my right calf that was really tight, probably due to the walk to the stadium and then the waiting in the corral. After exiting the stadium a steep downhill to reach downtown. I tried not to go too fast to avoid fatiguing my legs for the uphills to come. The first one was a short but steep to reach Disney Hall. Then some more ups and downs to Echo Park and Sunset Blvd. Arriving in Hollywood, the slopes were more gentle and I got into a semi-good rhythm. However, the pace was around 7:50 and I realized that a BQ would not happen on that race, so I revisited my goal and tried to make it under 3:30 and beat my Santa Barbara personal best of 3:30:30.
Near the Chinese theater I spotted a runner wearing a "Mar Vista School" shirt. This is the same school that my children go to, and I chatted for a couple of minutes with that runner. After leaving Hollywood, I was glad to be done with the first half and its alternating ups and downs. Arriving in West Hollywood was fun, with a lot of drag queens cheering the runners and some pretty funny signs. However the temperatures were becoming uncomfortably warm and muggy, not so great for marathon running. After West Hollywood, we reached Beverly Hills. This is where my pace started to slip significantly. I got caught by the 3:30 pace group around that time. Shortly after, I saw Robert, my taxman who was there to encourage runners. He pumped me up, encouraging me not to let the 3:30 pace group go. A couple of miles later, it was Century City, and I saw Edie who told me prior to the race that she would be there. She took a few pictures of me.
|At Mile 18.5 in Century City...still in good shape (Photo Courtesy Edie Gralla)|
|Runners reaching the Mile 18 marker in Century City (Photo courtesy Edie Gralla)|
This is the first place where I remember starting to pass some runners who looked like they were in serious trouble. I was in semi good shape myself, but tried to keep the pace at around 8:00 min/mi or below. In Westwood I saw Matt, a grad student in the Gober lab who cheered me up, and near the VA center, Deepa, a postdoc from the Koehler lab. It was nice to see some familiar faces in these miles 17-19 when things start to get hard but it is still a long way to the finish.
In the VA center, there was a very short but steep hill who probably took a bigger toll on me than I initially thought. About 0.5 miles after going up that hill, at mile 21-22 in Brentwood, I started to feel twinges in my right calf. I knew that feeling from the Santa Barbara Marathon, and knew that if I pushed too hard, a full blown cramp was to be expected. So I tried to keep the pace at 8:00 or below on my GPS, while trying to relax to avoid full cramping.
In Brentwood, there was a lot of crowd support, in particular a deafening wall of cheerleaders at mile 21. However this was mentally difficult as being on the verge of cramping made me feel like I did not want to have people yell in my face -- I would have rather been on a solo training run. Miles 22 to the finish were a long, agonizing run. Looking back at the pace, I did not slow down that much, since the pace stabilized at 8:03 min/mi. The downhill on San Vicente helped me keep the pace, and I caught up with many people walking or run/walking and who were in much worse shape than I was. However it really felt like a "death march" as I though I would start to cramp the next minute or so...a very long 4 miles to the finish.
We finally turned the corner of San Vicente down to Ocean, with just 1.2 mile to go. That 1.2 mile seemed to go on forever. A female runner was with me during the last couple of miles, and we sort of pushed each other not to slow down for that last mile but I could not push harder than 8:00/mi. Last trick of the organizers: down on Ocean you could see from far away a large orange banner, making you think that it was the finish. Alas, it was only mile 26, with 0.2 to go...argh ! A final push to the finish, and as soon as I crossed the finish line, my calves went into full-blown cramps and I almost fell on the ground after finishing. A volunteer picked me up, asking if I was OK, and I told him I was, that it was only muscle cramps. I got my medal, space blanket, drinks and orange, and then looked for the family who was there to pick me up. We finally found each other -- Catherine freaked out with the traffic zoo in Santa Monica. I was so happy that this race was over and I hugged everyone.
Only after did I realize my finish time: 3:30:03...so no sub 3:30 but a 30 seconds personal record. A bittersweet result; a PR is good, but the course and weather made this race a tough one, and I was clearly not well prepared for the hills, which beat up my legs and made for a difficult last 4 miles. I did not do so badly as I passed many runners in the last 4 miles, but still a hard race. Walking 2 miles before the start probably did not help either, and the warmish and humid temperatures in downtown and Hollywood were not so great either.
My splits and stats from my GPS and the race web site page; I did not set my GPS to 1-mile split but it shows the average from miles 0-2, 2-10,10-15, 15-20, and 20-26.2.
I will probably not run the LA marathon in 2011. The course is just not conducive to running a good time, and the logistics of getting to the start were a hassle. ( I admit I should have taken the shuttles to the start from Santa Monica). So while it was fun to run by all the landmarks, the new Stadium-to-the-Sea course is not a fast course and I will probably not run it again, at least if I go after a personal record.