Distance Totals

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Moutains to Beach 2014: A gravity-aided 3:03 and most importantly, a quality race.

The 2014 edition of the Boston marathon left a bitter taste in my mouth. After 4 months of great training, I was not able to capitalize on it and ran one of my worst marathons to date. I slowed down progressively throughout the race, resulting in a 5 minutes positive split to finish in 3:11, with the feeling that my legs could not move properly. Immediately after the race I thought of three possible causes for this bad performance: 1) insufficient taper; 2) a right leg weakness which I felt throughout the last 10 days before the race and made my right leg feel wobbly, especially on downhills and while decelerating from fast running and 3) the warm weather, which although not as bad as in 2012 still affected me more than anticipated.

The week after Boston triggered a lot of thoughts, emotions and reactions. My coach wanted me to take an extended 2 weeks break from running and not think about racing for a while. However my bad performance made me question my recent training with him. I was disappointed with the results I got over the last year, especially my last two goal marathons (3 bridges in Dec 2013, and Boston 2014), and the lousy race I had in Boston was the straw that broke the camel's back, which led to the decision to leave him. I then decided to run a redemption race a few weeks after Boston. Two events made the shortlist: Mountains to Beach, a 700 ft downhill course from Ojai to Ventura just 5 weeks after Boston;  and Utah Valley Marathon in Provo, also downhill but with a much bigger elevation drop, 8 weeks after Boston. Deciding between these two races was difficult. UVM would give me more time to recover and get in some training. However it was in altitude (starting at 5000 ft), the bus shuttles started ridiculously early, and going there would involve some traveling, and a one hour time change. I knew from experience that I don't run well in altitude if not acclimated, and the advertised downhill course still involved some significant climbs, which combined with the altitude did not seem particularly appealing. Finally, my last two goal marathons involved long traveling to the east coast and time changes, which persuaded me to stay local. For these reasons I picked M2B even if the timing meant less time to recover and train.
Moutains to Beach marathon Elevation profile

To address my right leg weakness, I visited my acupuncturist and got weekly treatments. During the first visit he suggested to talk to a physical therapist. I made an appointment with Dr Dawn at Kinesis Physical Therapy, and she performed a few tests on my right leg, which showed that my right quad was not responding properly. This was likely due to tightness in the popliteus, which inhibited leg extension and ultimately shut down the quad. She prescribed exercises ("homework") to release the popliteus and calves, and help the right quad fire. I did the homework religiously, which resulted in a rapid improvement - after a couple of weeks I lost that feeling of right leg weakness and regained some balance in my running.

My training during the 5 weeks was adapted from the Pfitzinger in between races plan, with some influences from Hudson, McMillan and Tom Schwartz for the workouts. I made a point to try and not overdo it and err on the side of recovery rather than trying to cram more workouts.

Week1: one run (4M) on grass; 3 light cycling sessions (30min; 41min; 1hr)

Week2: 50M with two medium long runs (11.1M and 12.3M), and a few strides sessions

Week3: 57M with one workout (7x1:00 hill repeats), an 11.9M progression run (30min@8:16; 30min@7:34; 30min@6:58) and 1 long run (16M).

Week4: 42.5M with 1 workout (3x2M@HMP/2:30 jogs), one 10M run with 10x30s surges, and a 12M run with last 6@MP effort (6:54)

Week5: 21.1M before the race with 1 workout (2x1M@10k pace/3min recovery) and 2 runs with 5x30s surges at 5K pace.

I finished the taper with the feeling that I did the best I could to balance recovery and maintain fitness. More importantly, I felt relatively fresh in the days before the race, which I never really felt before Boston.

I drove to Ventura on Saturday afternoon, met quevola from the west forum at the expo, and ate at the pasta dinner at the Ventura high school. It was fun to be there talking with other runners instead of being by myself at a random restaurant. I spotted several runners wearing Boston 2014 gear, apparently a few of them also had lousy races and were looking for a redemption race there.

I slept really poorly the night before the race, probably nervous about the early wake up time (3AM) necessary to make my 4AM shuttle time. I had coffee, ate a bagel and a slice of bread, showered, did some light rolling and walked half a mile to the shuttle pick up. The drive to Ojai took about 25 minutes and we arrived at 4:30AM. It was uncomfortably warm up there - warmer than the forecast had announced, and I did not really feel that I needed my throw away clothes. Checking back, it turned out that the temperature did not drop below 61F, with some humidity:

6:00 am   61°F
7:00 am   61°F
8:00 am   62°F

8:41 am  64°F
9:01 am  65°F

I took care of business a couple of times, chatted briefly with Larry my acunpuncturist,  then lined up a few rows from the front. We got started at 6AM, right on time

Right after the start it felt relatively easy to run 6:50 pace and I ended up running between the 3:00 and 3:05 pace groups...however by mile 1 the 3:05 pace group caught up with me, I was sweating more than usual and I felt that I was spending too much effort trying to run at sub-3 pace. I immediately accepted this, and rather than stubbornly focusing on pace I tried to maintain my heart rate around 165-167 to keep the effort constant. I saw the 3:05 pace group getting progressively further.  

We ran on the downhill bike path from Mile 3-5 before exiting it to complete a loop in Ojai, prior to getting back on the bike path. Miles 3-7 were spent thinking about the fact that this would be a long race considering I had no expectations of getting a PR, given the pace I was running at. Although I was running in the low 7 min/mi pace, it seemed like trying to run faster would have resulted in spending too much effort, and a high risk of blowing up later. I doused myself with water at every aid station to help me stay cool given the moderately warm conditions. My main goal at this point was to try and run a quality race, to maintain a constant effort and to avoid the slow and progressive fade which plagued me during my last two marathon goal races.
During the section between miles 5 and 8 we hit a slight incline and I saw my pace dropping around 7:10-7:15. This made me think that this race would been similar to the previous two, and that I would progressively slow down. During that stretch I saw John Loftus, the coach of Run Your Potential, who came here to support his runners. He took a couple of pictures of me, asked me how I felt and I responded "it's not going to happen, with 7:10-15 pace at marathon heart rate" - he told me that this was tough, just a few weeks post Boston, but encouraged me to keep going.
Courtesy John Loftus -- yes it's fuzzy but it looks like I am going fast....
Once we got back onto the bike path and hit the decline portion, things started to feel better. I knew the only slight uphill was out of the way, so I tried to stay relaxed on the downhill. I still had to focus to maintain a constant effort, as my natural tendency was to run easier on the downhill and it felt difficult to keep the heart rate up to 164-165. However, what was encouraging was the fact that I was starting to pick up some runners regularly. I forgot to look at my Garmin at the half but looking back at the data I hit the halfway point in 1:32:42.
On the bike path, taking advantage of the downhill

After the halfway point I started to see the 3:05 pace group far away. At this point, I was clicking 6:54 miles regularly, which made me think that I would eventually catch up with them. I ran quite a regular pace while on the downhill bike path, and was encouraged at this point that I would end up having a much better race than at Boston. 
Crossing the wooden bridge, somewhere around Mile 16?

After reaching Mile 18, most of the downhill was behind us and we only had a slight decline towards the end of the course, which became pancake flat after mile 21. At this point my heart rate monitor was not functioning properly, probably because the sensor got too wet due to of the regular water showers at the aid stations. Because of this I had to rely on feel to guide my effort and pacing until the end. This is also where I really started passing a lot of runners, who may have run the earliest part of the race too fast, and were now paying the price. It felt good to run a regular pace and to keep reeling runners one by one. The bike path was now winding through an industrial area with graffitis, but I did not pay too attention to the scenery, staying focused on the tangents, and on picking up the next runner. I ran the tangents too aggressively and almost twisted my foot a couple of times when it slipped on the edge of the bike path.

At mile 22 I finally caught up with the 3:05 pace group, or whatever was left of it - 6 or 7 runners, as we reached Ventura and the ocean front. I saw John Loftus a second time, who was riding his bike and he offered some water - one of the runners from the pace group took a bottle, and then passed it to me. I did not want to stay with the group so I ran a bit harder to avoid getting stuck with them. A couple of runners hung on with me and then got in front of me. However they started fading after a half mile and I passed them again on a pedestrian/bike path along the Ventura beach. It became a steady grind to run sub-7 pace, but I was hanging on with the thought that all I wanted was to finish strong regardless of my time.

At this point I wasn't sure what my finishing time would be; I thought I would be a minute under 3:05 based on my position relative to the 3:05 pace group. We had to turn around about a mile and a half from the finish, and that's where I realized that there would be quite a bit of a headwind for the last stretch to the finish. The headwind slowed me down a bit for the last mile, but I kept plugging and passed a few other runners in the process. One of them hung on for about a half mile, but I left him in the dust when I accelerated after M26 to finish fast - the last 0.2 at 6:12 pace. There were quite a few spectators at the finish and I raised my arms to encourage them to cheer on us while sprinting to the finish.

Sprinting to the finish..

Once I crossed the finish line I got a huge sense of relief, as I was finally able to run a full marathon with no fade. I immediately jumped on the ocean to cool my legs, and reflected on the race. I did not really care about the actual finish time, nor about the fact that this was another Boston qualifier with more than 20 minutes to spare. I was just relieved that my body was finally able to function normally, and that I was able to sustain a solid and continuous effort throughout the race, as opposed to my last two marathons when my legs could not run faster, despite willing to.

Granted I did not hit my sub-3 goal, and the negative split time was gravity aided with the 700 ft net downhill of the second half, but this was my second fastest marathon, and hopefully this race will serve as a good stepping stone towards faster times.
 Splits (* = Heart rate monitor malfunction due to water dousing...)
 First Half = 1:32:42; Second Half = 1:30:46

Split         Distance        Time                   Pace            Avg.HR           MaxHR

1 1 mi 06:59.3 7:00 159 169
2 1 mi 07:02.1 7:03 167 170
3 0.99 mi 07:06.1 7:11 166 170
4 1 mi 06:59.8 7:00 166 169
5 1 mi 07:05.7 7:06 165 171
6 1 mi 07:16.9 7:17 151* 160
7 1 mi 07:14.3 7:15 165 173
8 1 mi 07:11.4 7:12 166 170
9 1 mi 07:04.1 7:05 166 170
10 1 mi 06:59.7 7:00 153*   166
11 1 mi 07:10.0 7:11 164 168
12 1 mi 06:56.3 6:57 163 166
13 1 mi 06:54.9 6:55 162 165
14 1 mi 06:54.5 6:55 155* 165
15 1 mi 06:54.7 6:55 156* 167
16 1 mi 06:59.9 7:00 164 167
17 1 mi 06:54.8 6:55 164 168
18 1 mi 06:56.5 6:57 149* 165
19 1 mi 06:54.6 6:55 134* 144
20 1 mi 06:53.2 6:54 158* 166
21 1 mi 06:49.4 6:50 153* 167
22 1 mi 06:54.5 6:55 139* 145
23 1 mi 06:54.9 6:55 123* 129
24 1 mi 06:58.3 6:59 134* 141
25 1 mi 06:51.7 6:52 132* 138
26 1 mi 07:02.6 7:03 127* 130
27 0.24 mi 01:29.2 6:12 131* 135

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