March 15, 2014

2014 LA Marathon Recap - It's a PR!!!!

For all my Beginner Runners, I should start this recap out by saying, "Do as I say not as I do". I PR'd on a day when I "shouldn't" have... no rest day the day before the race, no taper, in the heat [82F at the Finish], in the middle of a 50K training plan and at the end of a high mileage week [46 miles]. Despite all of it, I showed up energized and excited like I've never felt before a full marathon before. I knew it was going to be unusually hot this year (the last few years have ranged from stormy and rainy to overcast and humid) and with no taper, I was extra cautious about hydration and pre-loading on potassium and sodium in the 48 hours leading in to race day. I watched my pace and checked in with myself frequently as the heat rose. Am I drinking enough? Do I need more fuel? Is it time for electrolytes?

Everything went "right" on a day almost everything could have gone wrong. After finishing 12 marathons now (14 attempts overall), I know when it comes to the Marathon, you have to respect the distance. No matter how well you trained, no matter how strong you feel at the Start, everything can change within a short time but if you know how to push the risks just right, you might find yourself with a pleasantly unexpected (but well-deserved) PR!

Let's get to the race!

This year, the LA Marathon fell on the same day Daylight Savings Time began. Let's face it, as bad as it may sound to have one less hour of sleep the night before a race, for many runners it simply means one less hour of tossing and turning on a night we aren't really sleeping much anyway. The event organizers did a phenomenal job of reminding us via emails and signs at the Expo exit. I think there were additional reminders in the race program too. Come Saturday night, I wasn't concerned about setting clocks ahead because I was using my cell phone alarm and that would be updated overnight by the satellites or whatever magic happens with our electronic devices. I set the alarm for 2:45a giving me one hour before hubby and I needed to be in the car and on our way to Santa Monica. Our shuttle time to Dodger's Stadium [race start location] was 5am.

I tossed and turned all night as usual, not wanting to look at the clock, at the same time wondering how much more time I had until the alarm went off.  At one point, one of our cats wakes me up with his cute little face pressing into my cheek. Hubby is already up. Maybe I should check the time. 1:46a. Still another hour to go....  But wait. 1:46a. That means it's really 2:46a, right? Why isn't my alarm going off? Why hasn't the clock jumped forward....  Then it hits me. Guess which hour of the day doesn't exist every year? 2-3am on the night Daylight Savings Time starts. My alarm wouldn't be going off until Monday morning at 2:45a. Time to get up! Just as all these space-time quantum physics anomalies are aligning in my sleep-deprived, pre-marathon brain, hubby comes walking in and says "Are you up?" Me: "Yep. Shelby just woke me up". Hubby [laughing]: "You know what I just figured out?" Me: "That 2:45a was never going to happen tonight?" Now we're both laughing.....

I make some coffee and a bagel with homemade cashew cheese. My gear check bag is already packed. By 3:50a, we're off to the shuttle pick up location. We make it to Santa Monica by 4:30am but it takes another 25-30 minutes to actually get to the parking lot because the off-ramp and city streets were jammed (for this race, you pre-pay for parking online a couple of weeks before race day). We were in no rush. Of course, in true Vera style, I had to pee already. There were plenty of porta-potties near the shuttle pick up spot on Main St and no line. From there, we jump in the Shuttle line. There are more buses lining the street than I can see or count. The line moves quickly and within 5-10 minutes, we're on a bus to Dodger's Stadium. Weather-wise, it was already feeling warm. It was 65F when we left the house and 58F in Santa Monica at 5:00am. The expected high in Santa Monica was 82 in the mid-day sun.

We arrive at Dodger's Stadium just before 6am. Hubby and I start snapping photos as soon as we exit the shuttle and a photographer grabs another of the 2 of us:

Arriving at Dodger's Stadium

Me and hubs
Of course, it was time for me to use the porta-potty again so we head of for sea of Porta-Johns just outside the Stadium. The ballpark is open and a lot of runners hang out in the park before it's time to be in the corrals. I was meeting up with a friend at 6:45 so we didn't head for the stadium this year. Opting instead to stay in the parking lot. The lines for the porta-potties were still short so I was in and out and pretty quickly. There are bagels, bananas and water available for everyone and I grabbed some extras for hubby to eat and for me to throw in my gear check bag so I'd have them at the Finish. I eat a banana, have a few sips of water and it's almost time to head for the corrals. I drop my gear check bag off at the UPS truck, take one last porta-potty stop (yes that's 3 now for the morning - hello coffee and nerves!), a good luck kiss for hubby and I'm off to find my race buddy for the day by the NutriBullet stage.

The corrals were closing at 7am so my friend and I tuck into Corral E (the last seeded corral) which wasn't very full. Within just a few minutes of the corrals closing, they let the unseeded corrals in from the back. Many of them just pushed and shoved their way past us to get up ahead as far as they could. I really don't see the point of having the seeded corrals if they aren't going to be enforced 15 minutes before the gun time.

On a brighter note, the sunrise was spectacular. "Everyone" had their phones and cameras out taking pictures. Here's the one I snapped:

The little speck in the sky near the center is a local news station helicopter.
The orange banner in the distance is the official Start.
By now, the Elite women have already started and the men are soon to follow (I think the women's lead time was 17 minutes and change).  Our official start time was 7:25. The Mayor comes out to say a few words of encouragement, including his excitement about the 2016 Marathon Olympic Trials that will take place at this event in 2016 (I can't wait for that either!). The horn goes off and we slowly move forward. It only takes a few minutes to get to the Start mats and we're off!

I had a race plan to stick with based partly on a strong finish I had here last year where I was able to run the last 5K straight through at a slightly faster pace than the first 23 miles. My goal was to feel just as good at 23 miles this year as I did in 2013. Here was my plan:

  1. Run the first 13 miles at a 10:45 pace using 3 min run/ 1 min walk intervals
  2. Run the next 10 miles (@ 10:45 min/mile) by walking 1 min at each mile marker (run 1 mile / walk 1 min)
  3. Run the last 5K straight through at a 9:30-9:45 pace (or whatever I could handle)

My friend and I decided to run through the first mile without walk breaks because it was pretty crowded and we were running at slower pace. There are a few steep downhills early on here and you want to be careful not to overload your quads by speeding down hill. I turned on my interval timer just after Mile 1 and we stuck to our 3:1 intervals through Mile 5, holding a pretty consistent albeit slightly faster than planned pace at about a 10:30 min/mile. Somewhere between Miles 5-6, we started dropping every other walk break so now our intervals are 7 min run/ 1 min walk. There are a couple of steep hills between miles 5-7 so our pace slows a little and there are a couple times when we revert back to the 3:1 intervals but by Mile 8, our pace is back to a consistent 10:30 min/mile.

Early miles - maybe Mile 3 or 4? I can tell because I'm still holding the water bottle I had at the Start.
The first 10 miles have gone by pretty quickly. Somehow we were managing to escape the sunshine thanks to a light cloud cover but that would soon fade as we approached Hollywood. And I have to pee again. The lines for the porta-potties have been at least 8-10 runners deep along the course so far...too many for me to want to stop. I spot a row in Hollywood just after mile 11 that few runners have noticed and there's no line! I let my race buddy know I gotta go and he waits on the sidelines for me. I'm in and out in less than 90 seconds but it drops our Mile 11 pace to 11:47 overall. I'm not worried. We're still on track for a 4:45 finish. At Mile 13, we change up the intervals to 1 mile run/1 min walk. Somewhere close to Mile 14, my friend tells me his lower back is bugging him and he needs to walk and stretch for a bit, and probably slow down for the rest of the race. I check in with him to make sure he's going to be okay on his own (he just ran his first 50-miler 4 weeks ago - woo hoo for that!). He assures me he doesn't need me to stay with him. I'm on my own to face the last half of the course and the looming heat.

By this point, I've had a few fuel sources. A Honey Stinger gel around mile 5 and 3 Margarita Cliff Shot Blocks (because they have 3x sodium) around mile 10 I think. I started alternating water and Gatorade at the aid stations around mile 10 - the sun started breaking through the clouds in Hollywood and by the time we hit West Hollywood, the heat had arrived. I grabbed a few pretzels and downed some water at the Mile 15 (or 16?) aid station and pressed on.

While there is a nice downhill stretch coming out of West Hollywood, I know there is a long climb coming up between Beverly Hills (Mile 16-17) and Century City (Miles 18-19) with very little shade. Here's the elevation changes so far:

I started to get in my head a little through Beverly Hills. The 1 mile run/1 min walk intervals are feeling fine but I'm fighting "feeling" the heat. The asphalt is heating up and it is radiating back up on my face. I've seen a couple of runners down on the course already, people are starting to breath heavy and I'm losing focus. This is no time to fall apart, Vera. You've still got a climb coming in Mile 18 that is going to be really hot in Century City and the VA Center after that. Keep it together, girl!

Mile 17
(Asics "Support Your Marathoner" board in the background)

So... is effing hot and shade is non-existent. I think a few spectators and groups saved me through Century City. Pretzels, oranges, more water.... I even saw one group of kids with a Mom pouring Gatorade into runner's water bottles. Some groups had ice. It was tough to get through. I wanted to walk more and did when I knew I should have more water or sugar (mostly in the form of oranges and pretzels at this point).  Although it seems like I'm slowing down, my watch is telling me otherwise. I'm right on target. My slowest mile between 17-20 is 10:40 min/mile. The struggle I'm having isn't physical, it's mental.

For some reason, I decide to grab a caffeinated Mocha Cliff Shot at the aid station just before Mile 20. My marathon brain thought it could use the caffeine to boost my mental state. I didn't have all of it...more like 3/4 of it.  Firemen had turned on a fire hydrant just after Mile 20 and I made a b-line for the spray as soon as I saw. Damn that water felt cold and SO GOOD. More of that, please! There's a group that is always handing out beer shots just before the VA center. I see and hear their enthusiastic cheering and I know the last of the hills is right in front of me. Hang in there Vera...stay strong. 2 more miles with hills and it's time to cruise to the ocean.

The VA Center is about what I expect it to be. Heat, hills, groaning from other runners (and the voice in my head), lots of support from vets and the staff along the route which is such an inspiring sight. A couple of people are at the base of the last steep hill with spray bottles of cool water and a reminder that this is the last big hill. Finally I'm up and out of the VA, turning the corner into beautiful (but HOT) Brentwood with it's tree-lined, shaded streets. Unfortunately, the trees weren't providing much relief from the sun directly overhead but it did feel good not to be in the direct sunlight at times.

My face is really on fire here and I'm doing everything I can mentally to ignore it. That caffeinated Cliff Shot is not sitting well and I'm having a little GI distress. Nothing you can't manage (or ignore!) Vera. One more mile until you get to 23 and it's only a 5K from there. Focus. Focus. Focus. There are a lot of runners walking now. I'm tired but I'm still strong, passing more people than are passing me. Miles 22-24 are on a straight-away for the most part (San Vicente Blvd) but there are a couple of slightly rolling hills until you get to 23.5 miles. I can feel that it's not time to push hard yet.  I slow for water. I'm feeling thirsty which is unusual for me and I'm not taking any chances of getting dehydrated when I'm so close to the Finish.

I reach the Mile 23 marker and I'm ready to try to push to the Finish.....even if I need to take a couple of short unplanned walk breaks for water or Gatorade. I stick with the plan to speed up and drop the regular walk breaks. My Garmin is nearly 1/2 a mile ahead of the mile markers by now but I can see the Mile Markers in the distance. Just push to the Mile Marker and walk for a 15 sec if you need to. Don't give up. You're on track to PR! I make it to 24 but I'm barely holding onto my planned race pace.

I pick up the pace again. My left hamstring is not happy with me for slowing down and it takes me a couple of minutes to shake it loose. Let's go Vera - it REALLY is "all downhill from here"! The crowds are out in full force. I see a couple more runners down in the middle of the road being attended to by Medical teams with what appeared to be cramps and heat exhaustion. I silently thank my hamstrings and calves and pat myself on the back for doing a good job with my hydration plan. The GI discomfort has subsided and I'm getting a 2nd (maybe 3rd or 4th?!?!) wind. I hear a couple of spectators yelling out to us that we're only a few blocks from the ocean. I remember thinking "When is it going to cool off already???"! The adrenaline rush drops my pace even further and I'm managing to hold a sub-10 pace through the Mile 25 marker.

At Mile 25, we're on a downhill slope and the Pacific Ocean is in view. NOW it's time to push - GO! My breathing is getting more rapid and heavy than I've ever heard it during a marathon but it doesn't feel unmanageable or like I can't handle it. My pace pops from 9:30 min/mile to 8:30 as I open up my stride and allow myself to surge ahead. The Finish line comes into sight with just 1/2 a mile to go.

I manage to push a little harder in the final quarter mile to an 8:20 pace and hit the Finish mat with an official time of 4:42:32 - a 5 minute PR!!!

Damn that was a great race! I've PR'd here the last 2 years in a row. The course really is amazing...probably in my Top 3 of marathons I've run so far, 2nd only to New York. My race buddy stayed strong and was able to finish...and so did Hubby!

Hubs with his medal

I know we'll be back year after year for this race. With a Start at Dodger's Stadium and a Finish at the Santa Monica Pier, how can we say no?

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