The problem with running marathons is that there is a fairly large probability of failure. Not actually in finishing the thing but in achieving the arbitrary goal you set 3 months in advance. I’m pretty experienced in this department, having struggled over the finish line on several occasions after some very enthusiastic starts. In fact, I’ve probably only run one ‘successful’ marathon before which was my previous PR of 2:50:10 in New York in 2008. The rest have played out more like an episode of ‘I shouldn’t be alive‘. Sure the numbers haven’t always looked terrible but they hid the ugly truth of a poorly executed race and a seriously blown target.
I suppose that’s why I still do road marathons. They are just really hard to get right. After 20 years of running, there are no guarantees, regardless of what your training says. In fact, my training this time said some pretty horrible things. It went badly…really badly. As usual I struggled with several injuries that put in doubt whether I would actually do the race at times. Here’s this years rundown :
- Seriously tight hamstrings. Solution : Bikram Yoga
- An inflamed 1st metatarsal on my right foot. Solution : Metatarsal Pads and Moon Boots
- A year long hip injury stemming from my incurably tight ITB. Solution : Ignore it
Although the training went poorly, I did have some flashes of potential with a decent half-marathon race and a few encouraging training runs. My last session prior to the race went terribly however and caused me to go into the race with a lot of doubt. With only two long runs this year I didn’t exactly have much documented evidence to support a successful bid. Sure I had some decent speed as my last race demonstrated and I certainly had some endurance seeing as I regularly run for hours at a time in the mountains. The real question was, could I combine both to run fast for 26.2 miles?
I was pretty sure that if I aimed to just break my PR then my chances of success would be good. I had my sights set on a bigger target though. 6 minutes per mile. I can still recall, many years ago, just after leaving university, running on a treadmill at the office at a 6 min/mile pace thinking how crazy it would be to run a 10K at that pace. Well, I managed that a long time ago and even managed a half-marathon at that pace several years ago (my previous PR prior to Ralston Creek). 6 min/mile pace for me is a magic number. It’s legit. 10 miles per hour. That sounds fast. If nothing else it makes the math really easy when you pass by the clocks at each mile marker in the marathon. I had a publicly stated goal of 2:40 but held silent ambitions to average 6 min/mile which would mean a 2:37:18 target. I wasn’t super hopeful for that given my shoddy training and injury laden body but if there’s one thing I can’t be accused of in my racing, it’s being cautious.
My plan was to go easy on the first mile, average a 6 min/mile for the first 10k then a 1:18 ish half-marathon split. After that, suck it up and give it everything I had.
On race morning, we sat around Dodger Stadium for the better part of 3 hours. As far as race starts go however, this one was pretty good given the mild weather and home plate seats. We lined up in the spacious ‘A’ corral waiting for the starting gun. The elite fields were pretty small but the cool thing with LA is that the women start the race with a handicap calculated by the difference between the top 5 men’s and women’s times. Whichever man or woman crosses the line first gets an extra $50k bonus. The last two years it had been the men that banked the extra cash. We would start at the same time as the elite men although our chances for the 50 large ones were slim!
Miles 1, 2 and 3 – 5:48, 5:54, 5:48,
1st mile. 5:48. Don’t panic it was crazy amounts of downhill. 2nd mile, 5:54…..ok that one was also downhill. This is where things can go horribly wrong but for once I felt pretty restrained and as soon as the downhill was out the way we eased it back and Ben and I ran for the first 5K together. I think we were just inside a 6 min/mile average. Ben slowed down a touch to try and sort his knee out after those jarring first miles of downhills and I wouldn’t see him again until the end. The field was thin but I just forgot about everything around me and listened to my body. It should feel like I’m holding back, I thought. It did.
Miles 4, 5 and 6 – 5:58, 6:05, 6:05
The weather guesstimator had predicted some warm temperatures for race day so I had chosen to embarrass myself by wearing a fuel belt. I was glad for it though as I started drinking early and often. On top of this I opted to pour water over my head at every other aid station. It seemed to be working. The first 10K went by in 37:14, a 6 min/mile average so I had indeed managed a calculated and controlled start. First goal accomplished.
Miles 7, 8, 9 and 10 – 5:48, 5:52, 5:59, 5:51
I had a couple of scares early on with a really painful right hamstring. I tried to ignore it and sure enough at some point it disappeared or was overtaken by the general fatigue of racing. The foot was no worse than it had been in training and I was already used to ignoring that ache. The first battle had been won.
Miles 11 and 12 – 5:53, 5:47
The first 10 miles went by relatively smoothly. I had a couple of negative thoughts in the next couple of miles but mostly just the usual doubts. I searched for some excuses but a reality check on my condition concluded that there was nothing really problematic happening. No excuses left, time to shut off the brain and race this sucker.
Mile 13 – 5:57, Half-Marathon – 1:17:20
Well the move had been made and all my chips were laid out on the tarmac. No room for error now. I’ve never been one for fixating on negative splitting but I do hold a consistent pace in high regards. Thus my goal was to hold this pace. The thought scared me slightly but I quickly dismissed it and re-focused on my next goal which was mile 17. The furthest I had run in training this year.
Miles 14, 15 and 16 – 5:57, 5:43, 5:48
Things got a little uncomfortable for the next few miles but again it was mostly mental. I did another sanity check. I wasn’t labouring which indicated it was just mental weakness and the thought of running this pace that scared me, not the reality of it. In previous marathons this is where things would start to go wrong. Head down, game face on, do the work.
Mile 17 – 6:00
I had run one tough 17 miler in training with decent elevation gain under tough weather conditions so I knew I had more left in the tank once I hit this marker. It was, however, uncharted terrain afterwards…
Mile 18 – 5:51
Shin jumped out of the road and yelled at me. That bought me another half mile. I knew Andel was waiting at mile 19 ish so my next goal was to get there and make sure to pull a face at her so she knew I was doing ok. Talking isn’t really an option at this point in the race but face pulling was definitely on the cards. Especially when it is your sister-in-law.
Mile 19 – 5:51
What seemed like an unreasonably long way past the mile marker, Andel was standing taking some photos and yelling at me. Face pulled. Job done. Move on.
Mile 20 – 5:51
This is where it gets real. In my game plan I had thought that if I could hold pace until mile 20 then the only thing that would let me down at this point would be the mental game. The course profile had shown a gentle climb between miles 20 and 23 and then a descent from 23 to the finish. Suck it up, I thought, this is where the race starts.
Mile 21 – 5:54
Ok things were starting to get uncomfortable. Quads were starting to hurl abuse at me now. Not enough to cause an alarm but enough to ask yourself how badly did you want it. I wanted it badly.
Mile 22 – 6:03
When will this damn hill end I thought. Not soon enough was the answer.
Mile 23 – 6:03
Finally the end of the hill. 3 miles of gentle downhill to the finish, how hard could it be.
Mile 24 – 6:03
Pretty hard as it turns out. My quads were really quite upset at me now. I can’t think why? I passed a guy (the first person I had seen in ages) who was grabbing his leg and yelping. Somehow, seeing someone else in worse shape than me energized me.
Mile 25 – 5:48
Holy crap, I’m actually gonna pull this off. Quads were seriously uncomfortable now but who cares, those suckers would heal right back up soon enough. There was still a slight downhill so I stepped it up a notch. I had to cross the line knowing that I couldn’t have given anything else. Cruising in comfortably is for amateurs.
Mile 26 – 5:42
I could see the clock in the distance and a quick check of my watch confirmed that I had a shot at keeping it within the 35′ range. I gunned it as hard as I could.
Mile 26.2 – 2:35:04
To my surprise I crossed the line nearly sneaking in under the 35′ barrier. A 15 minute PR and the hallowed goal of a sub 6 min/mile average.
I strolled through the finish area collecting my things and re-fueling feeling better than I had on any previous marathon finish.
I sat at the meeting area, feeling pretty pleased with myself, when out of nowhere..
A pigeon crapped on my head.
It just goes to remind you. It’s just running and not everyone cares about it!
I sat around eagerly waiting for news from Ben, Dima and Matt.
Ryan – 2:35:04, Ben – 2:48:58, Dima – 2:53:19, Matt – 3:09:02
PR’s all around! I’d say we earned a beer for that.
Prior to the race we’d all decided to go tea total for some unknown reason and Ben taking it to the extreme and doing nearly a month! Now that we all set PR’s this is going to be an unfortunate precedent for future marathons. Sigh.