Wednesday, February 24, 2016

LA Marathon Race Report: Loopfest Magic for the Win

Loopfests are full of joy and fun and positivity, and sometimes that translates into what has become known as Loopfest Magic. That's when loop love carries you to an unexpected peak performance. Well, I was looking for a good dose of it in LA after my training plan went off the rails.
To recap, everything was looking good six weeks before the race. I finished my first 20 at faster than goal race pace, and was planning 4 more solid weeks of peak mileage. Then I strained my calf the next week and had to shut it down - logging only 19 total miles over the next 4 weeks, including re-injuring it while trying to recover. But with a week to go it seemed to be healed. I managed five runs of 4 to 7 miles in the last ten days, so I was ready to test it. I was just worried that it would flare up again at some point since I hadn't gone more than 7 in over 5 weeks.
Then the weather forecast was for record heat. Highs near 90 and race temps in the 60s and 70s. So my race goal was really just to have fun, run with some loopsters, treat it as a long run and hope that the calf held up so I could jog/walk to the finish after the inevitable bonk in the heat. I carried my phone in case I needed to call DW for a ride. I was hopeful about finishing, but I wasn't considering time goals. I figured the BQ I was planning to run before injury would not be possible. If the downtime didn't get me, the heat certainly would. I ran this race last year in the same heat and bonked spectacularly with better training, so I expected a repeat of that - best case. I would be happy with sub-4.
On the other hand, last year there were no Loopsters around. This year was a fabulous Loopfest!
It was fun traveling on the shuttle to Dodger stadium in a big group, and then hanging out at the stadium. Plenty of time, no stress, not too cold while sitting around. I headed to corral B with DeuceDeuce, Mild Sauce and Mr. Bacon, who would be running with his coach, loopster Ghrrfy. It was great to finally meet her after "knowing" her online for 6 years.
Sauce and I would start together, but she was out to run fast, and I immediately was going a little quicker than I wanted to keep up. I tried to slow her down to no effect. She just yelled at me to keep up with her. It was downhill and easy, but when I saw the pace was 7:11 in mile 2 I let her go and tried to relax. But the die was cast. Once I get moving it is hard to slow down. And it felt pretty easy. Mile 1 was 7:46 getting out of the stadium (course record!) and the huge downhill mile 2 stayed at 7:11 despite letting Sauce go. Miles 3 and 4 were flatter and I was just fun running, but the pace was 7:34 and 7:30. Oh boy. I know how this is going to end...
Miles 5 and 6 had big hills. I tried to relax and get over them without any extra effort. Mission accomplished with 8:07 and 8:00 splits. Now we were into the easy part of the course, where I normally bank a lot of time. The calf felt fine. Everything felt good. It wasn't hot yet, still lots of shade. Then the 3:25 group came up on me from behind.
Holy crap, what am I doing still ahead of this group? Last year I ran with the 3:30 group in this section. I decided to roll with them for a while, mainly to control myself from going even faster. Same thing this year - different group. Plus there were two of my teammates from track club in the group, so we ran together for a while. I was having fun and it didn't feel like work. By mile 9 I had slipped ahead of the group at a water station and somehow pulled ahead. Just can't help it. 7:38, 7:43, 7:51 through 9.
My dear wife and QCs DH were at mile 10. Originally I thought I might drop here. Instead I was flying by, way ahead of schedule! I gave the thumbs up, and then shrugged my shoulders to say "I don't know what's happening or how long it will last but it's all good for now!"
I cruised down Hollywood Boulevard and on to Sunset feeling great. 7:37, 7:32, 7:27, 7:44, 7:40 through 14. The crowds were great. The weather wasn't a problem. I was dumping water on my head every mile and drinking a lot. It was a beautiful, sunny, southern California day, and I was having fun!
Mile 15 was a huge downhill and I logged a 7:16. Then to my surprise I saw Mr. Bacon up ahead. I soon caught him and we ran together for a few minutes before he had to back off. What the hell? I had no business catching him. I was still ahead of the 3:25 group. What the hell was I doing? But it was still just long run pace - I wasn't pushing at all. My quads were starting to get sore though. I could tell the pain was coming.
16-18 through Beverly Hills is usually when it starts to hurt. This is my 5th time on this course and I think this is the best I felt through here. 7:30, 7:47, 7:47 The quad pain was getting worse, but the pace was holding up. It seemed like there was more shade than I remember. I guess the early start time, and moving the date to February helped for that. Crowd support was great here, especially the 20 groups of cheerleaders that always boost my adrenaline.
I was calculating times and how far under 8:00 pace I was, and after 15 I started to think I could BQ. (My BQ-3 goal was 3:37) I had over 3 minutes in the 3:30 bank, plus another 7 to fall back on. Still expected major bonking, but if I could keep it under 10:00 at the end it looked like I could somehow pull this off! I was kind of in shock, but just taking it a mile at a time. I was at under 3:25 pace and had no illusions about keeping that up, but felt pretty good about my BQ chances!
Each mile I would check my bank time vs 8 minute pace and recalculate what pace I would need for the remaining miles. And as I kept clicking sub8s the odds kept getting better. Mile 19 was 7:46. More bank. Mile 20 was 7:59 and I hit 20 at 2:35. Five minutes in the bank. Maybe I could even stay under 3:30!
But the fatigue was finally hitting.  I was reaching the wall. During mile 20 the breathing got heavier. The quads were really sore. Now it was work. I figured, well, I am in it to win it now. Time to earn that BQ. Mile 21 is all steady uphill, and I felt like I hit the wall. I finally stopped for some walking to get my breathing back under control. I counted my steps when I walked, and gave myself a 30 step limit. Then I started up again. It helped and I adjusted to a slower gait and kept going.
Then I got another shock as I saw Mild Sauce and Corcorama walking up ahead of me. I greeted them as I went by but didn't want to stop and chat since I was on a timeline! I couldn't believe I had passed 3 of the fastest Loopsters! Maybe the heat was worse than i thought. Or maybe I was just having a great day. I must admit it gave me a big mental boost and kept me going over that hill. Mile 21 was 8:48.
I was able to keep running to mile 22 in 8:26, but then took another walk break.  I let my breathing tell me when I needed rest. For the rest of the way I let myself stop about every 1/2 mile for 30 steps to gather myself and it worked pretty well. By now I knew I had the BQ in the bag and was enjoying the run. Sure the legs were aching and I was tired all over, but there was no cramping and I wasn't grimacing too much. The pain was much better than last year. I was just trying to keep the pace in the 9's and get to the finish. The last 4 were 9:16, 9:26, 9:00, 9:45.
It felt great to finally start the downhill after 24 and roll toward the beach. the fog had come in, so the last few miles were not hot at all. The heat never seemed to bother me. The last mile along the coast was a victory lap. Corc and Sauce flew by me in the last mile at sub-7 pace and invited me to join them to the finish, but that was physically impossible. It was hard to run at that point, but I managed to go the last 1/2 mile without a walk (9:11 pace for the last part) and finish with a smile.
3:31:32, 1,024th of over 20,000. 71st AG. Best time in 4 years.
Here's how you bank and bonk for the win.
I credit Loopfest magic or good karma for being a good host. Life is good.

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