Distance Totals

Friday, June 12, 2015

Mountains to Beach Marathon 2015: Just 10 seconds away...




After the 2014 CIM debacle, I made the decision to run Mountains to Beach in 2015, since I managed to pull off a good race on that course last year, just a few weeks after a very bad race at Boston. However the recovery from CIM went slower than anticipated. The left thigh issue that plagued me the last few weeks before CIM and during the race became a major issue, with pain on the inside of the leg and elevated heart rate at slow speeds, indicative of deficient mechanics. It turned out that I had developed a left hip weakness, and that my gracilis, one of the long adductor muscles, had compensated for this weakness. The gracilis took a beating during the last training weeks and during the race and finally gave up, leading to pain and flawed running mechanics especially at lower speeds. The end of December and January were spent aggressively rehabbing my left hip, with lateral leg raises, clamshells, and planks 5 times a week, and managing to run 6 days a week, albeit slow and in moderate pain. I made steady progress, and with the consistent hip exercises I felt I was getting healthier every week, with most of the pain gone by early February. I maintained the core/hip routine throughout the training cycle and also lifted weights at least once a week to keep my body from developing weaknesses.

I ran a rust buster 8k at Brea at the end of February in a relatively mediocre time (31:58). This was my only tune up race, but from there most of the training went fine, the highlight being a solo 10 mile hard tempo run at 6:26 pace at the end of March. I hit a difficult week 4 weeks before the race, with general fatigue and difficulties maintaining paces on the later intervals of my workouts, so my coach decided to backoff and reduce the mileage, leading to a 3 weeks taper instead of the usual two. As a result, I felt relatively fresh during the last week before the race, although that week was very stressful at work and home, with too many events that did not contribute to a relaxing environment. In addition I got a sore throat a week before the race; although it never evolved into a full blow head cold, I was still coughing and having minor congestion the day of the race.

I drove to Ventura on Saturday afternoon, and after picking up my bib at the expo, I checked in at the hotel, and ate my last dinner at a sushi restaurant. I slept reasonably well considering the early wake up (3:10AM), drank a bottle of carbo force, ate two toasts and boarded the shuttle at 4AM. The drive to Ojai was quick and we were dropped at 4:30AM. I used the bathroom a couple of times, and met Duck, a forumite of the RW west forum about half an hour before the start. I jogged a few hundred yards about 15 minutes before the start – luxury of a smaller race - but did not feel the need to warm up too much.
At the start, shortly before 6AM
I lined up two rows from the front line, and at 6AM we were off and going. Having run the race last year I knew what to expect and the topography of the course. First, a loop around Ojai with some inclines and declines, then a steady decline from M8 to M18, and then a flat course to the finish.The first two miles were close to average pace with some very minor rollers (6:52; 6:55). At Mile 2, I saw Robert, my taxman who came to support his wife who was running her first marathon. Miles 3 to 5 were fast because of the downhill on the bike path (6:46; 6:43; 6:44). I felt comfortable, and the downhill made these three miles really easy. I did not try to hit a specific pace but rather tried to keep the HR at reasonable value and save my legs by not hammering the downhill.

Elevation profile with corrected elevation values.

The next three miles (6-8) were harder, because we left the bike path to go back towards Ojai and regain the all the elevation lost. I tried not to work too hard on Mile 6 steady incline and the rollers, keep the HR under control even if that meant a few slower miles (7:04; 7:05; 6:59). Once we were done with that loop, we got back on the downhill bike path and I thought things were going to get easier, based on my earlier pace on the downhill segments at M3-4. However the downhill did not feel as easy compared to the first time we ran on the same section. During that second time on the bike path I saw John Loftus, coach at Run Your Potential who yelled at me to get my attention and took the picture on the left:



In that downhill segment I got dropped by a few runners, including one of the rare females in the group, as they accelerated quite a bit. Miles 10-13 were spent trying to take advantage of the downhill (6:48; 6:54; 6:45; 6:43) but trying at the same time not to hammer it to avoid muscle damage and subsequent leg fatigue. I reached the 13.1 mark at 1:29:45, which gave me confidence that I would finish under three hours, since I was able to run last year’s race with about a minute negative split.

However, around Mile 16, I started to feel some early signs of fatigue. It felt difficult to keep the heart rate above 160, and I wasn’t sure where this was coming from. Early leg fatigue due to the downhill segments? I had taken gels regularly every 30 minutes so it was too early to be low in glycogen, but I was clearly starting to work harder. I tried to increase my leg turnover but this was not effective and I could not maintain this higher turnover for very long. By Mile 18, most of the elevation drop felt negligible, and it became a steady grind to keep pace. In addition, we were reaching the Ventura plain, and the temperatures were now warmer (above 60F) with no cloud cover, making the conditions harder. I doused myself with water at every aid station but the cooling effect was unfortunately short lived. I did not slow down dramatically but it was becoming harder and harder to maintain pace (6:48-6:50). I remember passing a few runners there and maybe being passed by one or two, including one guy in a tri jersey who blew past me finished two minutes ahead of me - I ended up chatting with him at the finish. We were also catching up with slow half marathoners and the bike path was getting more congested. I focused on staying on my race one mile at a mile, bargaining with myself to try and get the mile I was running in at 6:52 or less, before thinking about the next one.

Once we got out of the bike path into Ventura things definitely got tougher. Mile 21 was run at 6:47 so I was encouraged that I might be able to finish stronger. At Mile 22 I crossed the train tracks and was relieved because I knew I would not have to wait for a train crossing (the runners information mentioned that due to train schedule, runners running between 2:55 and 3:05 may have to stop for trains….). 


Detailed view of the loop from Mile 22 to the finish, with the cross-training train-crossing shortly after mile 22, and the turn around towards the finish before mile 25.
The next miles between the freeway and the ocean front were progressively slower, around 6:55 pace. The course had more turns with some irregular surface, and it was definitely more congested than before, with the sun directly above. I started to calculate mentally how much cushion I had to go under 3 hours...but with each mile clicking at 6:55 or slightly slower I was getting worried that I might not make it. However I really did not have it in me to close faster, as I felt like if I had pushed harder it would have resulted in a blow up in the next mile.  As someone once said, I knew my goose was cooked, it was just unfortunate that it was already well done way before mile 26….

We passed the finish around mile 23 (6:55). During that section I was seeing slow half marathoners on the other side who were running in the opposite direction towards the finish, and it felt like the turning back point to reach the finish line was never coming. My mind was feeling foggy but I was trying to make it one mile at a mile while also trying to catch up some of the marathon runners who were slowing down to help me keep pace. I finally made it to turnaround, and from there we were back on the bike path towards the finish. It was more tortuous and bumpy than I would have liked, with many slow half-marathoners blocking the way, and I could not muster better than a couple of 6:59 miles. I flew by the female runner who had passed me at ~ M11, as well as a couple of others marathon runners who clearly bonked in these late miles. As my Garmin beeped signaling Mile 26, I realized I needed to cover the final 0.2 or change in less than 1min 30s. I knew I was in trouble but gave it all I had to try and finish under 3hrs. About a swimming pool length away from the finish, my Garmin showed 3:00:00…I still kicked hard and was happy to be finally done, but did no excessive celebration when crossing the line in 3:00:09... 
Less than 0.2 mile from the finish..so close, yet so far.

This finish was surprisingly unemotional. I could have broken up since I was so close, needing only 10s to go under 3 hours. I could have been stoked to finally get a personal best by 45 seconds at the ripe age of 47, after two years without any improvement at the marathon (or any other distance). I just felt a dull sense of relief and satisfaction as the race was over and I managed to run a solid race, even if I fell short of my main goal. I will always wonder where in my splits I could have gained these ridiculous 10 seconds...but at least the template for a successful run was there, and I hope I won’t have to wait another two years before improving.
With Rocky from the West forum who PR'ed but just missed a BQ by ~ 1 minute.


Splits:
Interval
Distance
Time
Pace
Avg HR 
Max HR
1
1 mi
06:51.3
06:52
154
172
2
1 mi
06:54.4
06:55
163
171
3
1 mi
06:45.5
06:46
164
169
4
1 mi
06:42.2
06:43
162
165
5
1 mi
06:43.4
06:44
162
165
6
1 mi
07:03.6
07:04
164
167
7
1 mi
07:04.1
07:05
165
168
8
1 mi
06:58.5
06:59
164
166
9
1 mi
06:51.3
06:52
162
164
10
1 mi
06:48.3
06:49
161
164
11
1 mi
06:54.5
06:55
162
164
12
1 mi
06:45.4
06:46
160
163
13
1 mi
06:43.3
06:44
159
161
14
1 mi
06:46.3
06:47
159
161
15
1 mi
06:53
06:53
158
161
16
1 mi
06:50.4
06:51
158
160
17
1 mi
06:48.6
06:49
159
161
18
1 mi
06:48
06:48
161
163
19
1 mi
06:50.0
06:51
162
164
20
1 mi
06:54
06:54
161
164
21
1 mi
06:46.8
06:47
162
164
22
1 mi
06:55.2
06:56
162
164
23
1 mi
06:55.4
06:56
162
164
24
1 mi
06:59.9
07:00
161
164
25
1 mi
06:59.6
07:00
162
164
26
1 mi
06:58.7
06:59
162
168
27
0.27 mi
01:38.6
06:05
166
169

2 comments:

  1. Congratulations!! You toughed it out and produced a nice PR in the end! Great race and props for giving it all you had despite the fatigue. I'm a little nervous because my October marathon is downhill and I was hoping that would be in my favor for an easy ride. Maybe not so easy, after all. However, I'm not going to be running 6-7 minute miles...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for the nice comments. Yes it's easy to overdo the downhills and get leg fatigue because of this during the later stages of the race. So it's a good idea to slow down in the first half, even if the pace feels really easy, your legs will thank you later...

    ReplyDelete