February 20, 2015

2015 Bandit 50K - Race Recap!

Well, I am not sure how or where to start but I can say without a doubt after running both the 30K and the 50K distances, this is my favorite race event. Randy and Sarita Shoemaker are excellent race directors. They know JUST what trail runners need to have a successful race, and provide knowledgeable and experienced volunteers and aid stations at least every 5 miles. In no other event do I feel more taken care of or cared about by the volunteers.

The morning of the race, I woke up with an odd sense of calm and focus. Strangely (for me, at least), I had gotten a decent night’s sleep. That hardly ever happens to me before a big race. I really was feeling prepared for the course. Months of training with my running partner, lots of time on the mountain we’d be climbing, an effective taper leaving me with fresh-feeling legs… I just had a good feeling that I’d done everything possible to have a good race experience. This was going to be my 2nd 50K!

My friend and I arrived at Corriganville Park about 45 minutes before our 7:00am start time. We’d picked up our bibs the day before so there was no rush to get to packet pick up. We hung out near the start, took some pictures and stared at the 50K course map, taking note of aid station locations and in particular, how much further we’d have to go to get to the Finish once we left the final aid station. Don’t get me wrong, we’d both obsessed over the route many times before. We were just taking final inventory at this stage!

Soon it was time to line up at the Start.  I was anxious but focused. We had a strategy and now it was time to execute it. I don’t remember if there was a countdown or a gun or a beep, but it was time to hit it! We make the first loop through the park and then quickly start the steep climb to the Rocky Peak trail out of Corriganville. My friend and I were both pleasantly surprised at how much easier it was feeling on our legs compared to our practice run up this same trail just a few weeks ago. Another sign the taper did its job! Before we know it, we have already put nearly 6 miles behind us and we hit the aid station at the top of the Chumash trail. The sun is already feeling hot and it’s not even 9am.

We happily trot down Chumash, pausing for a few short walk breaks but running continuously downhill for the most part. It wasn’t long before we hit the Marrland aid station (just before mile 10). Coming into this station was like coming up on a mini-party. Volunteers were proactively asking what we needed and what could they do for us. The assortment of fuel and hydration options seemed endless: boiled potatoes, Red Vines, chips and other salty snacks, Coke, ice, water, electrolytes, Ginger Ale….the list goes on! This would also be our mile 20 aid station after a challenging 10 mile out-n-back (5 miles from here to Tapo Canyon Rd where there would be another aid station). This was the only part of the course that was unknown to us. We’d run about 1.5 miles of this stretch a few weeks ago, but we had never followed the trail all the way out to Tapo Canyon.

Hot Dog hill was tough – no shade and very steep. The decent on the other side was single-track and there were a lot of roots sticking up from the trail. Both my friend and I fell once on this section. We got down onto the flatter fire road, heading West towards Tapo Canyon, where there is very little to no shade again. I can hear my friend’s breathing pick up and I’m sensing she’s struggling a bit –
which is very unusual. At one point, she urges me to run ahead but I’m not ready to do that yet. We just need to get to the next aid station. We are slowing down, walking more than usual, but we make it the mile 15 aid station.

Within 30 seconds of us standing there, my friend shares with me that she’s not sure she’s got it in her to finish. As soon as I ask her some questions about how she’s feeling physically in an attempt to help figure out what I can do to help her, we have 2 aid station volunteers on her almost immediately. They were amazing. They get her some wet towels that were soaking in ice water, pull a chair up in the shade and get her to sit down. I told them about her unusually labored breathing and when it started. They're telling her to not think about anything but making it to the next aid station at this point; to not let the miles remaining overwhelm her. They gave her a shot of pickle juice and pretzels, and we filled her pack with ice. We spent about 5 minutes there. Just getting her cooled off and relaxed somewhat was all she needed to want to continue back to Marrland. She was not having any physical difficulties (other than red skin) - no dizziness, no disorientation. She’s ready to go.

Once we left the aid station though, the conversation turned back to the possibility of separating. I was hesitant, but I understood where she was coming from. She wanted to walk for a while and I wanted to run. So it was here that we parted. And for the first time that day, it was just me and the trail in front of me. I got into a great groove, even passed 4 or 5 runners. After a couple miles, the course was looking really unfamiliar. Too much sand and some other landmarks that I thought surely I would have seen on the way in. I realize I'm way too close to a road (Cottonwood!) and that this just isn't right. But I see another runner ahead of me and it occurs to me that maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention on the way here and that I just wasn’t remembering this section.

All of the sudden, my right foot catches on a huge root sticking up and I hit the ground really hard. So hard my bib rips off one of the safety pins. I picked myself up, checked for blood and as I'm fixing my bib, this other runner comes back around the corner and says "is this the right way?" and I say "no, this isn't right. I'm going back".  I turned around, took two steps, and my left foot catches on the same damned root and I'm on the ground again. A flurry of expletives come to mind but getting mad and frustrated isn’t going to help me find the course.

As I'm running back to find where I missed the course route, a few thoughts start creeping in about whether or not I'm going to be able to do this. What if I can't find the course marker, what if I'm so far off course that I'm in last place and I can't make the cutoff, I should take this as a sign that I should quit... blah blah blah. It was short-lived. As soon as I got close to the turn that I missed, all of that disappeared because I could see other runners up on the mountain in front of me and I knew I could catch up. I could even see my running partner up there (she was wearing a bright pink top) and I made it my goal to catch up to her.  I was feeling like me getting off course and having those 2 hard falls happened because I left her. If I'd stayed with her, I'd be where she was now.  Karma really bites sometimes!  On the other hand, I was sort of glad that I was going to be able to check in on her and make sure she was going to make it back to Marrland safely.

Once I got back on the course, I was feeling good again. I powered up the trail well. Passed the same runners I'd passed before getting off course. They were probably wondered what the hell I'd been doing all that time.  One girl looked really tired. I later learned from my running partner that this other young woman had missed the mile 15 aid station all together. It sounded like she made a loop at a point where she should have continued going West - and it meant she likely missed at least 2 miles of the course - but missing that aid station meant she had run out of water. Luckily, my friend had just filled her pack and practically forced her to take some of it.

I caught up to my friend around mile 18.5 (20 for me at this point), told her what happened and then she scolded me for thinking I'd gotten off course because I left her. ;-) I kept running and made it Marrland where I saw my friend’s hubby and her daughters. I gave him a quick run-down on what had happened and then let the volunteers take care of me for a few minutes. My friend came in a few minutes later and after touching base with her family, she came up to me and with heavy sadness, said that she was done for the day. We shared a big teary-eyed hug and I told her how proud I was of her for sticking it for those 20 miles. It was hard to leave but I knew she was making the right decision. We’ve all been there. It was just not her day.

I was eating potatoes with salt at every aid station. I hardly ever think about having salt, but on this day, it was on the top of my list (along with ice).  I started dunking my buff in ice water at every station starting at mile 20. I was also filling my pack with ice and a little water.  It was so hot that the ice was melting fast and the cold water felt sooooooo good.  The stretch between Marrland and the Chumash aid stations (mile 26) is the hardest part of this course. I was really surprised at how good I was feeling when I left the Marrland station. Maybe it was because I knew my friend was safe and with her family... whatever the reason, I kept pushing forward. The air was feeling so hot. I sent a quick text to my hubby as I was leaving Marrland to let him know that I had missed a turn and tacked on an extra 1.5 miles so my ETA was about 3 hours from whatever time it was. He replied with the some encouraging words that I heard many times in my head on my way back up the mountain.

Taken from:
I ran where ever I could, being cautious of letting my HR get too high. I was able to run until about mile 23 (mile 24.5 for me) where the course gets really steep. There was water, ice and salt tablets at the top of Shells, one of the steepest climbs of the course (about 1 mile before the Chumash aid
station). There were a couple of other 50Kers taking a break here. I stopped for about a minute to dunk my buff in ice water and throw back a couple salt tabs. From here, I was able to run most of the mile to Chumash. From Chumash, it's about 5 miles to the Finish. The aid station volunteers were pumping us all up for the home stretch. Someone had asked me if I'd fallen because I was so dirty and my arm was banged up. They offered me a beer when they heard my story about getting off course and falling on my ass twice. :-D  The next aid station was only 3 miles from here.

I passed a few more runners in this next stretch and was passed by one. I would not let myself think about being 1.5 miles ahead of the mileage. I know that the same 50K training plan I use is also recommended for 50 milers so an extra 1.5 miles was really just a drop in the bucket. A slight breeze had picked up and that felt good in a few spots. The descent back down in Corriganville was nothing short of brutal on the quads. There were several of us who were struggling. I expected it to hurt after the tough 28 miles behind me, but damn! I helped a woman get down one really steep part....then I sort of fell/slid a few feet not too long after that. I really had to concentrate on my footing. It took longer to get down that part than I thought it would but maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. I saw some volunteers helping another runner get down a really steep portion near the end of this section and they let him finish on his own once they got down on flat land in Corriganville park. Another awesome display of helpfulness by the volunteers!

Once I was in the park and off that crazy descent, I was ready to be done!  There were a few people in the park cheering as I ran by, reminding me that I was almost done. ;-)  The Finish is a little deceiving but we had learned our lesson last year that you don't just run straight into the Finish when you get back to Race Central. The course loops around the main area. As I'm entering the loop, I hear my friend yelling my name and I can’t believe she came back to see me finish. I start getting choked up but I don't want to cry. Her youngest daughter has climbed up onto the course about 150 meters from the finish line and she's yelling for me.  I am just so emotional at this point that I'm almost numb.

About 50 feet from the Finish, I can hear my hubby calling my name and I catch a glimpse of him.

From hubby's phone
Ahead of me, I can see the race director, Randy, holding out my medal, just behind the Finish banner.

His wife, Sarita, is on the PA system, calling out my name and says something about how I brought my own cheering section (my friend and her daughter had made their way down to the Finish line as I was coming around the corner). Randy says to me "that was a long day of a lot of hard work - you did it!". I started crying immediately.

Local photographer and new Ultra runner Jesse Luna captured these 3 pics of my finish!

The Medal!
I drank and fueled more often that I wanted to or thought I should - and I think that really paid off. I never felt under-fueled or thirsty. No cramping. Not a lot of negative thoughts. Knowing the last 11 miles of the course so well from being out there often helped me a lot. That backside is hot, barren and freaking steep. I just kept telling myself that this was the hardest section. Embrace it. Get through it. Just make it back to Chumash and you're golden.

This was one of the hardest and most gratifying experiences in my running career. I’d do it again in a heartbeat! (As soon as my quads recover, of course).

May 26, 2014

Born To Run 50K Recap - My First Ultra!

I finally did it - I finished my first Ultra marathon! After a half-hearted, failed attempt at a 51K a few years ago, I am so proud to have crossed the Born To Run 50K Finish feeling strong and smiling all the way to the end.

Biggest Lesson Learned: Follow a training plan intended for Ultras
The training plan was tough. Really tough at times. I used the 50-mile/week plan laid out in Byron Powell's Relentless Forward Progress. There is also a 70-mile/week plan for 50K training but since my marathon training programs have typically maxed out at about 45 miles/week, a max of 50 miles/week sounded about right for me. There were back-to-back long run weekends that I wasn't sure I'd get through but I stayed faithful and confident that I would....and I did. I wasn't perfect. I cut a couple of miles off a few long runs here and there. I raced a marathon and PR'd when the book specifically told me not to the weekend of the 26 mile training run. Not perfect by any means.

I think the biggest difference in my success this time around versus the DNF a few years ago had to do with mental toughness and the resolve to finish. For my last attempt, I just used a basic marathon training plan where my last long run was a hilly 26 miles in the heat. I was barely putting in consistent 35-40 mile weeks and only had 4 or 5 runs longer than 18 miles in the 2 months leading up to the race. The 51K started at midnight, at elevation (4500 ft) and the first 13 miles was like one long hill. I'd had very little sleep during the day, didn't eat right and just felt like crap in general for 20 miles before calling it quits. This time around, I used a genuine Ultra training schedule. One that had me running eight 18-26 milers usually followed the next day by a medium-to-long run of 5-14 miles. I realize now that I needed those big weekends to develop the mental strength it takes to run an Ultra. My biggest weekend was 20 miles Sat + 14 miles Sun. I had no idea I would ever be the type of runner who could handle that - but I did it. A couple of weeks later I ran a tough 24 miles in 20+ mph winds and could hardly walk afterwards. I doubted I would be able to get through the 5 miles I was scheduled for the next day but instead of questioning my ability to do it, I woke up the next day, put on my shoes and hit the TM - putting faith in my training and in the plan itself - and I finished it with relative ease. With each of these big weekends behind me, I was in awe of my ability to get through them. I believed it and felt proud, but at the same time, I didn't know who I was... almost like having an out of body experience every week. How is it possible that I am doing this? But I had faith in the plan and thus in my ability to get through each workout, and it worked.

Tapering and Pre-Race Hoopla: Believe in Yourself
I hate tapering. I hate is so much that I've blogged incessantly about how much I hate it. I can't stop eating, I feel tired and lazy and anxious and cranky. To add to the challenge of the taper for the 50K, we were in a heat wave the week leading into the race. 100F+ degrees on Wednesday & Thursday. A week before the race, race day temps were predicted to be in the mid-to-high 90's. I panicked. Why even try? I'm not going to be able to run farther than I've ever run before in that kind of heat. Quit before you start - avoid the DNF. Even though these thoughts were short-lived, I still had them and it scared me that my brain would even go there. I spent the week drinking lots of water, reviewing my training journal and reminding myself that I was a stronger runner now than I ever have been in my life - mentally and physically. Dismiss the doubt. Trust the training plan. The schedule had me down for a 31 mile run on Saturday so that meant I could do it! It had been right all along. This weekend would be no different! Just slow down, walk more, drink more water, have some ice... You're going to be just fine... no, more than fine! Get ready to impress yourself again!

I'd been having a little aching in my R heel for a few weeks before the race but I wasn't focused on it or worried. I mean, when you're training longer and harder than you ever have, it's reasonable to expect a few body parts to complain here and there without it having a negative impact on your training or
overall health. That was true until the Wednesday before the race. I ran an easy 3 in my Hoka Bondi's that day. I bought these Hoka's about 6 weeks ago thinking they might be a nice recovery shoe to use once a week or so with all these high miles I was putting in. They have exactly the same heel drop (4mm) and weight (9oz) as my usual trainers (Pearl Izumi M3) so it didn't seem like that much of a stretch to introduce the Bondi's. As it turns out, the extra cushioning in the Bondi's was in fact too much of a stretch (no pun intended!) for my R Achilles tendon. After only 40 miles in the Bondi's, a short 3 mile run in those shoes just 3 days before the Ultra pushed it over the edge. I was in so much pain the next day, I couldn't walk without a limp. I remember stepping out of bed that Thursday, sick to stomach as soon as my R foot hit the floor and a jolt of pain shot up through my Achilles. I iced, wore KT tape and compression socks all day and all night Thursday and Friday. By Friday night, it was still sore but my gait was no longer compromised. My heel was still swollen, but not as bad as it had been on Thursday. "You've just got to get through one more run and then you take all the recovery time you need", I pleaded with myself. Lesson learned: don't fix what ain't broke and don't change up your shoes in the middle of a heavy training cycle. DUH!

Race Day Eve
The Born To Run Ultra is a good old-fashioned, hippy-ish running event on a private working cattle ranch in Los Olivos, CA (just outside Solvang, north of Santa Barbara). No frills, no muss, no fuss. You come for the run, not for PRs or bling. There is no course map. The course itself is a figure-8. Each loop in the "8" is 10 miles and you pass through Main Camp at the end of each loop (so every 10 miles you're coming through camp).  The elevation gain for the entire figure-8 was estimated to be about 2200ft. Nothing extreme by any means. I'd just run the Bandit 30K in February that had about 4500ft of ascent work and had been keeping up with some medium distance hill work since then. I was not worried about hills at all. Lots of people camped overnight, some for several nights. Camping and sleeping on the ground the night before a 31 mile run did not sound like a good idea for me personally so we opted for a real bed and 15 minute drive to the Start ("Main Camp") on race morning.  Hubby and I stayed at the historic Pea Soup Anderson's Inn in nearby Buellton.

General shenanigans at Pea Soup Anderson's restaurant 
We arrived Friday afternoon, picked up my bib and shirt, paid our camp dues for the weekend, and hung around the Main Camp area for about half an hour, just getting a feel for everything.

Shot of Main Camp from the Pink Loop (aka Loops 1 & 3 for me).
Everyone we ran into was super friendly. Although I felt like an outsider, we were certainly not treated that way. There was supposed to be a trail debriefing a 1pm but by 1:20 there were no signs of a debriefing about to take place, so we hopped back in the car and checked into the hotel. We needed to be back at Main Camp no later than 5am on Saturday.

Back at the hotel, I had a hard time sleeping. I was excited and nervous. By about 10pm, I just wanted to get started already! I tossed and turned...wondering how the run was going to go. It's been a long time since I ran 'further than I've ever run before'. What would I be like at mile 28, mile 29, mile 30, mile 31..... Tick tock tick tock. Damn I wish it was time to leave already!

After about 4 hours of what resembled sleep, I pop out of bed just before 4, have a quick shower, a small cup of coffee, a couple of mini homemade gluten-free pumpkin oat muffins and we're off for Camp! Hubby dropped me off and would be back in a few hours so he could sleep a little more and check out of the hotel. I'd see him again at Mile 20.

Camp was already buzzing with runners and smelled just like I remember mornings camping with my parents as a kid. The air was even a bit chilly! I made my way up the road towards the Start. The main stage was lit up. Runners were starting to congregate. The Race Director gets up on stage about every 10-15 minutes starting at 5:15, warning everyone that they need to be up and dressed like a distance runner by 5:45. Race time was 6am sharp!

Almost go-time!

We hear a few last minute instructions and reminders, including the fact that we needed to track our own loops. No one else was going to know which loop we were on so don't ask! We also raised our right had and recited the following oath: "If I get hurt, lost or die....It's my own damm fault!". Fair enough! And with that, we were off!

In Mile 1.
For the first couple of miles, my heel was really aching. On parts of the trail where the path was uneven, I could feel the unsteadiness stressing and stretching my Achilles. "If I have to deal with this for 31 miles, it's going to be a long freakin' day" I thought. I know how to solve that problem - put it out of your head completely and you won't have to deal with it at all! I dealt with severe IT pain halfway through my first full marathon in 2010 and was able to dismiss that pain for last 13 miles. I've been in this position before....I can manage it!

We came up on the first aid station about 2 miles into the run. I wasn't expecting one until mile 5 based on the race instructions. Bonus! I didn't need anything at that point so I continued on. My heel was warmed up now and the road was more like a flat fire road so it was easier to not think about the soreness and just focus on my surroundings and the run itself. The air is still cool and we even hit a little fog in a valley near mile 4:

Walking the steeper/longer hills early in the race. Save your legs for later!

By mile 5, I had pee....badly. But there was no aid station (with a porta potty) at mile 5 like I was I used a tree instead. :-) I really had no sense of where we were which was kind of fun in a way. There were some long rolling hills but they didn't feel hard. I was keeping a slow pace and making sure I wasn't breathing hard. After a couple of steeper hills in Miles 5 & 6, we end up on the main gravel road that leads into Main Camp but we're going in the opposite direction. At Mile 7, we come up on the 2nd aid station. The sun is starting to come out and it's already feeling hot. I'd heard some water sloshing in my tummy earlier and backed off on drinking water. I stopped briefly to fill up the 20-oz handheld bottle I was running with. One of the volunteers is drilling holes in coconuts and giving out fresh coconut water and the "meat" to anyone who wants it. I'm not a fan of coconut but I do grab some dried fruit. There is also a huge spread of every kind of fuel and electrolyte-supplement a runner could ask for. Good to know since I'd be back here around Mile 27!!

We also passed this station around Mile 12.5 on the Yellow Loop.

There is a very long climb coming out of this aid station on the Pink Loop. Almost everyone I can remember is walking up the hill. I notice some runners coming back down the route and I realize here that the Yellow loop (Loop 2) must double-back here out of camp. After a nice long descent, we're back at Main Camp. "Just 1 loop to go and hubby will be here - and then I'll only have 1 more loop to do!"

We're directed by volunteers to pass through the timing gate on the other side of Camp (at our original Start) and loop back through Main Camp to hit the Yellow Loop. There are lots of people at their cars and campsites along the route here. Clapping,'s awesome and encouraging. I wasn't sure how I'd feel about the loops and coming through the ultimate Finish area like this, but I liked it!

I make my way back through Camp to the start of the Yellow Loop. Another steep climb awaits in Mile 10. Some of my patience for walking the hills is weaning and now that my Achilles isn't distracting me, I run more of the hills in this loop (initially).

It doesn't take long before I notice that the Yellow loop is much more challenging than the Pink loop. And it's getting freaking hot... but it is beautiful out here. We have a couple of long steep climbs that weave in and out of shade but some of the trail is very exposed to the sun and you just can't escape the heat. We even get a little single-track work in this loop and the views from the peak are fabulous:

After this single-track section, we traverse a steep descent and I realize we have somehow dropped down onto the Pink loop and we're coming up on the first aid station we passed at Mile 2.5. Oh good - there's a porta-potty there and in addition to needing water again, I need to pee! (I guess there's no need to question whether I was hydrated for this race!). I stop for several minutes here. I need salt and carbs. I grab some boiled potatoes and dunk them in salt. It tastes soooo goooood.  I also grab a small square of a quartered peanut butter & jelly sandwich. With an empty bladder and a happy tummy, I set off in the opposite direction from when I'd left this area on the Pink Loop. It looked like a very long, sloping ascent in front of me. It was A LOT longer than I could have imagined. I wondered when it would end. I ran as much as I could and walked when I felt like I was breathing too hard. I remember a young woman passing me, looking so strong as she trotted up the sloping road. "Great job!" she said as passed. We were all encouraging each other at this point. Every person I passed or that passed me gave a shout or some signal of support. It was tough. There was a photographer at the end the climb. I joked with him that he needed a sign that said "You made it!". He laughed and said something about how he didn't know how we were all making it up there. :-)  I look at my Garmin see I'm almost at mile 18. Only 2 miles to go to get back to Main Camp where Hubby would be waiting. Then I'd "only" have to get through the now-familiar Pink Loop and I'd be in the Home Stretch! We again double-back on the Pink Loop and take the familiar-looking long descent back into Main Camp.  As I come around the corner, I go into high alert and instantly start looking for our car. Hubby is RIGHT at the start of the line of cars and supporters. Woo hoo!!!
This is such a landmark moment - one I've been waiting all morning for. He has fuel, water and Gatorade for me. I hang here for a few minutes telling him how much harder that Yellow Loop was. I let him know I'm feeling good but it's hot and this Pink Loop is probably going to take me more than 2 hours to finish. He reminds me not to rush - to enjoy every minute. RIGHT!  I sip some Gatorade, he zips a Lara Bar into my fuel belt for me and I'm off for my last loop. There are already a few sections I'm recalling from the early morning on this loop that I'm not looking forward to - but I AM looking forward to finishing!

Running towards that first aid station we had come up on at Mile 2.5 was my next landmark. I was focusing on small segments at this point. Just get to the aid station. Then you think about getting to the next aid station at Mile 7. Then you'll only have about 4 miles to go! The hilly sections felt much different this time through. And at some points, it felt like a completely different course. What a difference 20 miles and the hot sun can make! I stopped at the aid station, had a little more food, filled my bottle with ice and water, threw a handful of ice down my sports bra and headed towards the next aid station.

Damn it was hot. I started struggling physically and mentally. Miles 21-24 were really really tough. I walked a lot. Then my Achilles started yapping at me. I pass a couple of runners, then a few pass me. Some of us are see-sawing with each up the long sloping sections as we "run when we can, walk when we have to". But we are all encouraging and checking in on each other.

I tried to relax as much as I could, reminding myself that it was normal for me to struggle mentally until about  mile 24. Once I made it out onto the main road again, I knew I was close to that aid station that would signal my final approach into Main Camp was about to begin.....but that also meant a monster hill awaited me too. I took my time at that aid station. I was so hungry it was almost hard not to eat more...but I didn't want to have a tummy ache for that last 4 miles either! This time, when I climbed that big hill, I got my camera out and took a pic of both the ascent and a selfie:

Just as I'm starting to fret and obsess about my time and how much further I had to go, my Garmin dies from a low battery. I don't let it bother me. In fact, I take it as a sign I'm not supposed to be thinking about that right now. I've been on the descent part of the course twice now since both the Pink and Yellow loops merge as we come in Main Camp. I know that I just need to make it to the top of this climb and I'll be heading down to Camp, Hubby and the Finish!

The total ascent work for the 50K was about 1,000ft more than expected
Possibly due to anticipation of the Finish, I got a 3rd wind in descent to camp. I walked for almost 0.75 miles out of the aid station and my legs were ready to run now. I picked up the pace around mile 28 and didn't stop until I saw hubby again in Main Camp. I still had about 1.5 miles to go. "Husband!" I called out as a I rounded the corner. I couldn't believe how good I was feeling. I stopped just for a second to say "I think I'm just going to keep going".  There was a 50K turnaround flag on the Pink Loop about 0.5 mile from the timing gate outside of Main Camp that I was anxious to get to! We agree to meet at the Finish and I'm off for that flag! I have butterflies in my stomach as a I round a corner and finally see it:

Only 0.6-ish to go!!!
I took one more walk break after circling the flag, just to be sure I would be able to run all the way into Camp and through the timing gate one last time. I feel emotional and tear up but the shock of finishing is almost too much to actually cry.

I pass by a few cars and campsites. They know based on the direction I'm headed in that I'm just about to Finish. More cheers and words of encouragement from other runners and spectators. Where is that damned finish line?!? Then I see it....the timing gate and hubby waiting for me. Holy shit. I did it....I'm doing it....this is IT!!!!! There's a volunteer with a cowbell cheering me into the timing gate so I don't pass it.  YAY!!!  I'm DONE!!!

The amulet around my neck is the homemade Finishers "medal"!

This is one of my favorite race experiences of all time and although the timing won't work out for me in 2015, I'm planning on coming back in 2016! Who knows...maybe I'll be ready for the 100K?!

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?