Monday, March 19, 2012

2012 LA Marathon: BQ or Bust

So, the big day finally arrived. Months of training all leading up to one chance to run under 3:30 and qualify for Boston. Yet the days leading up to the race, I was focused on the weather. It looked like it would be another rainy day like last year, with possible high winds. I cursed my luck, but tried telling myself not to worry about it, and just go with whatever the day brings. At least it wouldn't be too hot! Luckily, the storm blew through on Saturday, and by Sunday morning the predicted showers were gone, and the winds were not too bad. One of the coldest days of the year in So Cal, but that was perfect marathon weather - about 45 - 52 degrees during the race, and mostly sunny by the finish.

Pre-race went smoothly. I had my co-worker/runner friend Julia to hang out with for the shuttle ride and while we tried to stay warm in Dodger Stadium for an hour. And soon enough, we were off and running!
My goal was to break 3:30, which is 8 minute pace. My plan was to try to stay at 8 minute pace the first 5 miles and then aim for 7:45 - 7:50 the rest of the way. So I would be keeping track of how far under 8 minute pace I was on the official clocks as I banked time. Plan was to be 1 minute ahead at 10, 2 minutes ahead at 15 and 3 minutes ahead at 20.

Mile 1 starts uphill out of the stadium, and then has a long sharp downhill for about a mile and a half. I worked my way through the crowds and was at 9 minute pace by the time I started heading down, but finished mile 1 at 8:03. Oops! Mile 2 was all down and I was relaxed but cruising - 7:27! I saw JB at about mile 1 and expressed my enthusiasm with a big WooHoo!

Miles 3 and 4 were more level but I found myself running 7:41 and 7:35. Uh, so much for the plan. I was trying to slow down. Honestly! But my body knew it was race day and was just pushing it. I wouldn't say I was relaxed. I was already "racing" despite knowing there was 20 miles to go. I was worried I would crash later, but I remembered all my successful half marathons, and decided to trust my instincts and just roll. Mile 5 was up a big hill so I dropped to 8:04. Then I got to see my #1 fan JB again.

Mile 6 also had a good hill and I hit it at 7:57. And then it was on to the flat section of the course. I got into a groove at about 7:30 pace and decided I was just going to keep banking minutes. We were heading west into the wind most of the way, so I would pick out some big guys and draft behind them. This also kept me from going too fast if I found someone at my pace. One guy must have been 6'2" and I trailed him for about 2 miles and never even thanked him. But I think this strategy probably made a big difference because it was pretty breezy.
Miles 7-10: 7:33, 7:37, 7:45, 7:33. I hit mile 10 about 3 minutes under pace. I was still pretty worried I was setting myself up for a big bonk. My legs didn't exactly feel fresh - I was working. But my chips were all in now, so I would see how it played out. Saw JB again on Hollywood Blvd - twice! I'm flying!

This being my 3rd time on this course, I wasn't noticing all the cool parts of LA that I was going through as much. I was focused on racing. Miles 11-14 were through Hollywood and Sunset Blvd and I was cruising. 7:30, 7:24, 7:39, 7:34. Then mile 15 was downhill with two blocks of screaming downhill and I ran 7:10. I now had 5 minutes banked. Yet I wasn't feeling confident. I knew that this was where my pace started fading last year, and I had no idea what the future held.

Mile 16 I was still moving well with a 7:32. Mile 17 was a gradual uphill and I was starting to feel the serious fatigue. My quads were sore already. My calves were giving cramp signals. Even my neck cramped up a few times. My motivation was flagging. Yet I hung on to a 7:45 and made it to Rodeo Drive where crowds and a downhill awaited to boost my spirits. At the end of Rodeo Drive I hit a tracking strip which seemed odd because it wasn't a 10K or mile mark. Then I looked up and saw a huge video billboard with these words on it:

Go Bangle!!! Boston called and told you to get that BQ today!

or something like that. Wow! Big thanks to whoever did that for me! I had just taken a Roctane GU, seen this and then hit a huge wall of screaming fans, and I was pumped up! I was starting to feel pretty confident that I could do this and make the Loop proud. Mile 18 went by in 7:41.

Then right after that was another huge crowd of cheerleaders, like 300 of them screaming their fool heads off, and that pumped me up too. And then I had my DW and Dorky teen just ahead. I high-fived DT and flew downhill for another mile.

Mile 19: 7:38. OK, now the real challenge was coming. My legs were starting to hurt more and more. My energy was flagging. I felt like I was slowing, but the pace was holding up. I got through mile 20 in 7:53. 6.2 to go and over 6 minutes in the bank. I just had to run 9 minute pace the rest of the way. Mile 21 had a long hill - the most significant hill left. I decided to take a little break and walk through the next GU stop. I figured a breather would help me stay on track and I knew I could afford it. During my training runs I always felt better after my water stops, so it would be just like stopping at a water fountain. And sure enough, I did feel better once I started up again. Made it up the hill and mile 21 was 8:39 including about 30 seconds of walking.

The good news was once I was in mile 22 my pace was back near 8 and I finished 22 in 8:04. Still with 5 minutes in the bank, by this time I knew I was going to make it unless I had major cramping problems. Which was still a definite possibility. Saw JB again here.

Mile 23 was one last uphill. Oh boy I was hurting. It was survival time now. One step at a time. Just keep it going. I told myself I could take one more break once I got over the hill, since the last 2 miles are downhill to the finish. Mile 23 was 8:19. Slowing, but not too bad. I was definitely going to make it. In mile 24 I walked a little, took one last GU and water, and started up again. Mile 24 was 8:40.

Now it was downhill and I had a little burst of energy. Well, it was easier to keep moving anyway. I was able to get through 25 in 8:04 and got to the ocean. The last mile is straight along Ocean Blvd. and you can see the finish for about a half mile or more. I had no more energy to give, and thankfully I didn't have to. I knew I had it made. I think I took one more little walk break at about 25.4 just to gather myself and ease the sore muscles. Then I was shuffling in to the finish, soaking up the crowd energy, the beautiful sunshiny day, and just basking in the fact that I did it. Mile 26 was 8:40 and the last chunk at 8:37 pace.

The last 1/4 mile the crowds were screaming. There weren't too many other runners around on this big wide road. I felt like all the screaming was for me. It was awesome. I trotted in while pumping and exalting. Official pics to come later. 3:26:52. Hello Boston!

Soon after I was dizzy and had a volunteer hold me up for a while, but I was OK and walked off the pain and found more food and water. I had several moments where I got choked up, both during the race and after. I felt the momentousness, and was just very, very happy and proud and overwhelmed. I did it!
DW and DT were waiting at the reunion area and it was great to share the moment with them.

Got a shot of me with Santa Monica pier.

Finished 721st out of 18,700 finishers. 79th in my AG of 1,151. Although if I was 1 month older I would have been 25th in the 50-54 group.
Celebrated with a triple cheeseburger at In N Out. 3 hours later I was still hungry and ate half a pizza.
Life is GOOD!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Once More Unto the Breach

OK! So it is almost time to try this marathon thing again. I thought of the title phrase so I looked it up and got inspired by Shakespeare. Since it is an appropriate call to war, I am going to print the whole thing here, to motivate all of you racing this weekend.

Interestingly, the "Breach" is a gap in the wall of the city they are attacking. So that is perfect as I attempt to get through my own "wall".

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'

The last two years on this blog, in the week leading up to this race, I have posted the Bangle Chronicles, rehashing my memories of my entire marathon history. Well, I'm not going to post them again (curious newbies can dig in my archives from last March), but here is a quick summary just to remind me and you; seven previous attempts at a BQ.

1980-Age 18: Two weeks after graduating high school I run Grandma's in Duluth. No runs over 12 miles in training, but lots of miles and track work. I run 2:58:55 with negative splits, but BQ at the time was 2:50. Not that I could have gone anyway.

1991-Age 28: Los Angeles crushes me in the heat. After a first half at 3:20 pace or better, I bonk hard and walk most of the last 8 miles. 4:30.

1995-Age 33: Twin Cities treats me better with 40 degree temps. Success at 3:26:28.

2001-Age 39: Twin Cities again. Another good one, 3:33:38

2003-Age 40: LA beats me down again in warm temps. Ready to break 3:30, but I bonk hard and get 4:27.

2010-Age 47: The Loop inspires a comeback. I train better, bonk less hard and get 3:52 in LA.

2011-Age 48: LA again, better training, less collapse, 3:44:16.

2012-Age 49: LA again. Training is better than ever. Temperatures will be downright chilly in the 40's. I have no excuses. Time to get that BQ.

Goals: Well, the only meaningful one is to beat 3:30 and BQ. But...

E: Beat 3:44:16 - course record, best time in 11 years

D: Under 3:33:38 - best time in 17 years

C: Under 3:30 - BQ

B: Under 3:26:28 - best time in 32 years

A: Under 3:25 - BQ-5

Honestly, my pikermi times and training suggest 3:25 is a reasonable goal, and that is what my strategy is based on. So here's the plan:

3:30 is almost exactly 8 minute pace, so that makes the math easy. I will aim to relax at the beginning and try to stay at or over 8 minute pace through 6 miles. Then allow the pace to drop to 7:45-7:50 and keep it there basically as long as I can. My guess is I may end up going even faster than that, but I will try to restrain myself. I want to be 1 minute under 8 minute pace at 10 miles (1:19), 2 minutes under at 15 (1:58) and 3 minutes under at 20 (2:37). I'm hoping to keep it under 8 all the way in, but having never finished 26 miles without slowing, this allows some room for collapse.

So now I just have to wait a few more days. Easy run tonight. I have zero aches and pains. I'm not sick. I have run more miles in training than any time since 1981. I am ready to crash that wall down.

And if it doesn't work out. I've got another one in 6 weeks.