Friday, February 7, 2014

Surf City Marathon, 2014

The marathon is a grueling event.  I know, this is not exactly ground-breaking news here, but 26.2 miles is a long way to go on foot, even if you've trained perfectly for it.  And if we're going to be honest about it, my training for the 2014 Surf City Marathon was far from perfect.  Don't misunderstand, it's not like I'd been sitting around on my couch eating donuts and watching reruns of Happy Days for six months.  But conventional wisdom says that when you're going to run a marathon, that needs to be the sole focus of your training -- building up mileage, doing a long run every week, mixing in speed training -- and instead of that, I've been running half-marathon events every few weeks starting last October.  Therefore, in the months leading up to Surf City, my longest "long" run was 17 miles, and that was about five weeks before the event.

Hal Higdon would be shaking his head in disdain.

Suffice it to say that I was not in peak form on race day, but I was determined to give it my best shot.

The Surf City Marathon in Huntington Beach, California is a very popular event because not only do
you get to run along the Pacific Ocean in gorgeous (usually) weather, you also get rewarded with one of the coolest medals in the running world.  The Surf City bling is a gold medallion mounted on a wooden surfboard.  VERY nice.  This race would also be my brother Bobby's first marathon, his fiance Amy's first half marathon, and several of our Cottonwood Elementary School teammates were also entered in the half.  And, as if all that isn't enough, Bobby and I would be earning the coveted Beach Cities Challenge medal for running the OC Marathon/Half, Long Beach Half, and Surf City Marathon consecutively.

We went to the expo on Saturday to pick up our race packets (bib number, shirt, and other goodies) and we also bought some race memorabilia.  It was quite crowded (almost 20,000 runners were entered in the weekend events), so we didn't hang around too long, opting instead to go to the Spaghetti Factory to continue the carbo-loading process.  Theresa and I spent the night at my parents' house, about 30 miles from Huntington Beach.

Sunday morning, I woke up at about 3:30, had my usual breakfast of a bagel, CLIF Bar, and Powerade, and then Bobby and Amy picked me up around 4:15.  We got to Huntington around 5:00, and waited in the race expo tent where it was reasonably warm.  Race time was 6:30 for the full, so we milled around a bit, posed for pre-race pictures, and headed to the starting line about fifteen minutes before the gun.  Because my training was spotty, I really didn't have specific expectations or goals for this race.  I certainly wanted to come in under 4:45:00, but I wasn't expecting to PR (4:27:34, OC Marathon 2013).

The race started at sunrise, and as the sun came up, it got to be pretty sunny and comfortable.  The first two miles were straight up the Pacific Coast Highway, and then we made a right turn into a residential area.  There were a few moderate hills, but nothing drastic.  At about mile six we entered Huntington Beach Central Park, and the road became a fairly narrow footpath which made passing other runners practically impossible.  I was trying to maintain a 9:30/mile pace for as long as I could, knowing that I would drop off considerably once mile 20 reared its ugly head.  I made it through the park on schedule, and then we headed back up PCH.  At mile 11 there was a turnaround, so now it was south on PCH and I got to see all the other runners (marathoners and half-marathoners, who started about an hour and a half after the marathon) on the other side of the highway.  I saw Bobby before long, looking reasonably fresh and enthusiastic.  So far, so good . . . for both of us.

Then came a huge mental hurdle.

At mile 16, there was another turnaround, where the marathoners headed north on a
Bobby and me, with our Surfboard Medals

footpath/boardwalk right along the beach.  The half-marathoners, however, were at mile 12 of their course, and got to keep going south on PCH.  So we could see and hear the finish line and the gathering crowd right there in front of us . . . and then we had to swing around and run another ten miles.

Miles 17-21 were northbound on the beach footpath, the ocean on one side, and for one stretch, Super Bowl tailgate parties in RVs on the other.  Lots of the tailgaters were happily providing snacks and refreshments to the runners, my particular favorite being the "Bacon and Beer" table.  By this time, the cloud cover had rolled in, so it was cool and overcast.  Perfect weather.  What I didn't realize at this point was that there was a fairly healthy wind at my back, which became all too evident when I made the turnaround at mile 21 and . . .

Smack.  Right into a stiff headwind.

The last five miles of a marathon are extremely difficult under the best of circumstances.  But now, having hit the wall at mile 19 and feeling like my legs were made of Jello pudding, the added wind resistance booted any hope of a PR right into the cresting waves of the Pacific.  Up until mile 17 or so, I was right with the 4:25 pace group, and since that group started in the wave ahead of me, I was pretty sure I was on pace for a 4:22 or so marathon.  But now, at blustery mile 22, I was content to give it my best effort with the realization that my time was going to be in the 4:30's.  Which, to be honest, I was perfectly happy with.

Mile 23 seemed like it was four miles long, during which time Bobby and I passed each other again.  He was looking pretty wiped, just as I was, but his spirits were up and I knew he'd be fine.  Mile 24 was only a little bit better, and then for the last two point two, I took out my earbuds and just enjoyed the sound of the ocean, the crowd, the gasping and wheezing of my fellow runners.

I crossed the line with a time of 4:35:50, got my surfboard medal, posed for the official photos, and waited for Bobby, who finished about fifteen minutes later.  More pictures, and then we headed to the expo tent to pick up our Beach Cities Challenge medals and meet up with the rest of our team, who had already completed the half marathon.  Everyone did a great job, so we posed for yet another photo session, and then headed home to watch the Seattle Seahawks run 26.2 miles all over the backs of the Denver Broncos.

Team Cottonwood
I have to say, the feeling that comes with finishing a marathon is simply awesome.  Never mind the soreness, it's all worth the effort.

A few comparisons between this race and my first marathon, the OC back in May.  This time around, I suffered no blistering whatsoever.  After the OC, I could barely walk for a week, my feet were so destroyed.  But this time, nothing.  Sure, my muscles were sore, but two days later I felt like I was ready to go again.  During both races the last six miles were brutal, but this time it didn't seem quite so torturous.  Granted, I was eight minutes slower this time, but I didn't feel like I was about to implode.  An encouraging sign for sure.

My next full marathon is the San Francisco Marathon, slated for July 27th.  The course is supposed to be tough, but it includes a run across the Golden Gate Bridge, which is going to be amazing.  This time, I plan to focus more on specific marathon training in the hopes of a new PR.  This is not to say there won't be other events between now and then -- Rock 'n' Roll San Diego and the OC Half Marathon just to name a couple -- but the eight weeks prior to the SF Marathon will be devoted entirely to training.  And what could be more fun than marathon training in the desert in July?

Yippee-ky-yay, other runners.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Half Marathon, 2014

It's not as though I have a ton of half marathon experience, but last week's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona is definitely the best event I've participated in thus far in my racing "career."  It had everything a runner could ask for: top-notch expo, easy access to the start and finish line, a beautiful course, lots of spectator support, and a really cool medal.  Add to that the fact that my mom and dad joined Theresa and me for a weekend in the Phoenix area and, well, it just doesn't get much better than that.

Phoenix is about a five-hour drive from home, so we left early on Saturday morning and got to the expo at around noon.  We didn't spend a whole lot of time browsing this time . . . just long enough to get our bibs, shirts, a couple Rock 'n' Roll Marathon knicknacks, and for me a pair of Hoka Stinson Tarmacs that I plan to break in and use for next week's Surf City Marathon.  I've been having some foot issues lately and . . . you know, I think I'll save that for a post of its own (along with a Hoka review).  We checked in to the hotel, grabbed lunch at Joe's Crab Shack (carbo-loaded on the lobster pasta -- delicious), and pretty much relaxed for the rest of the day.  Theresa and I took some time to drive the half marathon course, which is something I like to do whenever time allows.  Always good to know what you're up against.  There were a few long straight-aways through Tempe (starting at ASU), and only one significant uphill stretch -- a quick out-and-back about half a mile in distance.  That is, half a mile up, and half a mile back down.  This was at mile nine, and from that point on it would be a mostly-downhill stretch to the finish

We woke up at around 5 AM to get ready for the 7:50 start time.  I had my usual CLIF bar and Powerade Zero for my prerace "meal" and then mom and dad dropped me and Theresa off near the starting line.  I was running the half, of course, and Theresa was running the 5.4 mile "Mini
Marathon."  I've recently discovered that I've become fairly good at anticipating how well (or poorly) I'll do at any given race based on the course profile, my level of training, and other factors.  For instance at my last race, the New Year's Race LA, I was pretty sure that sub-2:00 was unrealistic due to the hilly course and I ended up clocking in at 2:04:41.  For Arizona, I knew it was an easier course and I was feeling really good in training the previous week, so I had a time of 1:57 in my mind as what I could reasonably expect, and I would be more than satisfied with that result.

All in all, the race seemed to go by really quickly, perhaps due to the long stretches on the course along with the bands every few miles and the hundreds of spectators cheering and holding signs of encouragement (my favorite: You Paid $100 for this . . . Only $75 to Go!).  I had no issues along the way.  The runners were pretty well spread out so there wasn't a lot of jockeying for position.  I chose not to use my Amphipod belt, opting instead to carry a couple gels in my pocket and rely on course support for water.  Checking my splits, I hit the 5K mark in just over 26 minutes and the 10K in 53:51.  At about the seven-mile mark the course moved out of the "busy" part of town and turned into a nature reserve and park, which was beautiful.  This is where the hill came into play, right about mile nine.  It wasn't too steep (in fact, it seemed worse when we'd driven in the night before), so I forged ahead to the turn-around where runners were treated to a gorgeous view of the greater Phoenix area.  No time to sight-see, though, as I headed back downhill increasing my pace to make up some time.  I knew that in order to come in under two hours (which is always my primary goal for a half marathon) I'd need to hit the ten-mile mark in about 1:30.  When I got there, I took a peek at my Garmin.  1:28:12, and nothing by 3.1 miles of downhill in front of me.

"Go" time.

I cruised past the Oakland A's spring training complex, crossed a short bridge, and headed toward the final turn to the finish line.  I couldn't find my parents or Theresa in the crowd, but I knew they'd be there somewhere.  I turned on the final kick and crossed the line with at time of 1:56:41.  Not a PR,
but pretty close.  In fact, it's my second-fastest half marathon to date.  I went through the finishing chute and got my medal, a chocolate milk, some pretzels, and then I found Theresa waiting at the finish line festival, sporting her Rock 'n' Roll Mini Marathon bling.  We had one more order of business -- finding the Heavy Medals booth so we could pick up our Desert Double Down medals for completing both the Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas and Arizona events.  Once that was taken care of, we met up with my parents, went back to the hotel to shower and change, and then of course we went to lunch for our traditional post-race burger and fries.  Red Robin, if you're interested in the details.

As I said earlier, Rock 'n' Roll Arizona is a fantastic race, one that I highly recommend to everyone.  I'm certainly considering doing it again next year, although it's the same day as the Carlsbad Marathon and Half Marathon, which I've heard is awesome as well.  We'll see what the future brings as far as that goes.

In the meantime, I'm getting ready for next week's Surf City Marathon, which will be my second full marathon.  Looking forward to seeing how the new Hokas handle the 26.2 miles of torture.

Until next time, Happy Running!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Holiday 5K Pomona and New Year's Race L.A. Recaps

Yes, it's been a while since I've written anything here.  It's not that I've stopped running (far from it), it's just that I haven't gotten around to putting pen to paper, metaphorically speaking of course.  Since we've last shared company, I've run two races.  Which I will sum up shortly.

Like, now.

Crossing the line with a new PR.
On December 14, Theresa and I ran the Holiday 5K in Pomona, California.  For those of you not from Southern California, Pomona is famous for . . . well, not much of anything, unless you count the L.A. County Fairgrounds or the Whatever-It's-Called-This-Week Speedway (think "drag strip," not "NASCAR").  Anyway, the 5K took place at the fairgrounds on a quite chilly Saturday morning.  My goal for this race was simple: Set a personal record.  My previous PR for a 5K was 24:35, but that was at the "unofficial" Hesperia Days 5K a few months back.  I was eager to top that (or is it "under that") in an officially timed race, which the Holiday certainly is.  The course was pretty flat, except for one short hill early in the race.  The first half-mile or so was all downhill, so I took off at a really fast (for me) pace of about 7:10 per mile.  Then came the hill, which I traversed without any trouble.  I completed the first mile in 7:23, so I was easily on pace for a PR.  The second mile was a bit slower, and we ran right down the Whatever-It's-Called-This-Week drag strip which was pretty cool.  No need for a parachute, though, as I was a bit slower for mile two, completing it in 8:09.  I picked up the pace for the last 1.1 miles, and crossed the line in 23:44, beating my previous best by 51 seconds.  Mission accomplished.  I waited for Theresa to finish, we collected our snowflake medals, and headed to Slater's 50/50 for the traditional celebratory burgers and fries.  For those of you who have never been to a Slater's (I'm not sure where they're available geographically), you MUST find one.  Their burgers are half ground beef, half ground bacon.  Condiments include baconnaise, bacon catsup, and all sorts of other deliciousness.  Definitely worth the trip.

The second of our two "Holiday Break" events was the New Year's Race Los Angeles (subtitle: L.A. at Night).  This was on January 4, and to date it is the most difficult course I've run.  It was also a heck of a lot of fun, as it passed through all kinds of L.A. landmarks incluing Chinatown, Olvera Street, and the highlight of the race, Dodger Stadium.  Of course, the downside of running through Dodger Stadium is that it's located in Chavez Ravine, which is Spanish for "The top of a really big friggin' hill that will beat the crap out of your legs if you try to run there."  But we'll get to that in a minute.

Doing the "Gibby" during the Dodger Stadium lap.
I didn't really have a set goal in mind for this race, which is unusual for me.  I'd seen the elevation profile for the course (more on that later), and I knew going in that there was a nasty hill at about mile four.  I've been to Dodger games before, so I knew pretty much what I was in for hill-wise.  But according to the profile, the one big hill was the only thing to worry about.  From mile five on, so it would appear, it was all flat or downhill.  Still, I knew that a PR wasn't going to be in the cards, and even a sub-2 hour finish would be a bit of a reach.

The race started in downtown, and the first three miles or so were pretty comfortable.  I'd settled into about a 9-minute per mile pace which is my norm for the half marathon.  And then came the hill.  Or, more accurately, series of hills that somehow didn't make it into the course elevation profile.  Some
were steep, some were long, some were steep and long . . . the next four or five miles basically sucked.  The only fun part of this stretch was the run through Dodger Stadium (literally . . . we ran around the warning track) which is definitely a career highlight for me.  And as suggested by my
swell pal Jim "Suldog" Sullivan, as I passed the Dodger dugout and the official race photographer, I did the patented "Kirk Gibson Celebratory Fist Pump."  As I write this, I have yet to receive my official photos, but as soon as I do, that one will go up here for you, Sully.

Side note: Neither Sully nor I are Dodger fans, but we appreciate baseball history.  Though we have much different perspectives on the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry.  I'm right, he's wrong, we'll leave it at that.

But back to the race.

Once the hillaciousness (copyright pending) subsided, I was able to get back to my normal pace but by then a sub-2:00 was out of the question.  Pressure off, I enjoyed the rest of the race, finished in a respectable 2:04:41, and got a really blingy medal for my efforts.  Theresa met me at the finish line (right in front of Staples Center), having completed the 5K in a fantastic time.  We had a late dinner at Yard House (the burger-and-fries tradition again), and we happened to catch the end of the Kings-Canucks game on the television and witness the postgame hoopla first hand.  Kings 3, Canucks 1.  Great night all around.

Tune in again soon, for the recap of my next race . . . Rock 'n' Roll Arizona on January 19th.  See ya then!