Finally I'm getting around to writing this. Life has been hectic with the end of the quarter and some traveling to visit family over spring break. For the third year in a row, I placed an early season marathon as my first "A" race of the year. I'm still in the process of setting P.R.'s, as I've P.R'd the last four marathons I've run, so spending at least a month and a half focusing on running is still logical in my view. Last year I ran the Boston Marathon in April, but I usually prefer to mix things up and do different races as a way of "broadening" my life experience. That, and the Los Angeles Marathon is held each year in early March, and is the largest U.S. marathon west of Chicago. Indeed, in 2014 the marathon sold out all 25,000 slots, although just 21-22,000 competitors completed the event. I had taken most of December off of training after the HITS Palm Springs Ironman, instead spending a few weeks traveling around Colombia and then two weeks of unstructured training in late December/early January. With a relatively short time until early March, and with a more narrow focus on the bike in January, my build up to L.A. was challenging, but come race day I had done several threshold long runs where I felt pacing a 6:30/mile marathon was within the realm of possibility. In addition, three weeks prior I had run a grueling 6,000 feet vertical 50K in Simi Valley on no taper, just to make sure I got at least one trail run in in 2014.
Given such a large field, a layperson may wonder how all those people get through the starting gate. The marathon has several "seated corrals," so I started right up front in clear view of the elites (no body fat, how tiny!). After an extended warm-up in the parking lot, I had a mini-crisis ten minutes before start as it appeared the corrals were closed and I could not get into my spot as people were crammed in too tightly to move. I fretted for five minutes or so, but luckily I found an opening close to the front and got into my requisite spot. The advantage of the corral seating is obvious: no hassling and moving around 20,500 slower runners.
With my triathlete apparel donned (I had picked up a sponsor/coach in the off-season), I began the race upon the gun bang and off we accelerated up the hill at Dodger Stadium and out into the city of the Angels, pink sunrise and all. Naturally, the heart rate spiked uncontrollably, which is typical the first four miles of a marathon until all the nerves, etc., calm down. I tried to keep the pace within reason and not go too fast posting about a 6:30 first mile (due to the hills). The pace that developed was about 6:20-6:30 through the first several miles of the race. All signs were positive and after a bit my heart rate settled down to the high 150s beats per minute (bpm), which is where I wanted to keep it. I was surprised at the speed and kept thinking perhaps my pace was too fast to sustain but f* it might as well give it a shot if the heart rate numbers were within reason (i.e., not above 164 or so).
It turned out my pace was averaging right around 6:30/mile or just over because the L.A. Marathon is actually quite hilly. As such, one must keep the efforts consistent and not gun it up the hills but only increase bpm by five points max when inclining. Then, during the downhills the pace has to approach 6:00-6:15. This was my general approach and it worked quite well. That said, this was a fairly challenging marathon and it would have been smart of me to drive the course beforehand, but who wants to sit in all that L.A. traffic. I did enjoy the course, as the course travels through several scenic neighborhoods such as West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
I kept my pace rolling and took in beverages (water and gatorade) every chance I got because the temperature was slowly increasing. Luckily, the sub-three hour crowd did not get bonked too much by the heat, whereas the heat was more of an issue for the slower runners. In addition, I took in about four gels and eight salt pills (more toward the latter part of the race) throughout. Around mile 20 I felt a tinge in my calf, which is never a good sign, but it thankfully went away as I shortened my stride. Also around this time some of the faster runners had bonked and were walking. I thought about giving them some mother's advice as I passed but sided against it. The final 10K was a bit of a haze but it was here where I began increasing my effort. My bpm crept past 160 and stayed there the rest of the way. The pace was about the same, but the effort had to increase in order to keep the pace consistent. During this time I passed many runners and it is always pleasant to let a silent by deadly on the way by as gastro-intestinal issues are common at this stage of the race (little motivations).
Nearing the end, the motivation turns to desperation; luckily the last two miles are downhill. I rounded the corner after a continuous stream of passing and saw the finish line on the beach off in the distance. I got into a footrace with another runner down the stretch and I held on all the way to the end but he got me the bastard. My calves were firing and my gait was completely shot so I really could not sprint. Nevertheless, I always give it what I have and it was a pleasure to congratulate him at the end. I would up 12th in my age group and 64th overall in a time of 2:51 and change. A 6:32/6:33 pace, so right about where I was aiming. Perhaps with an easier marathon, next time I'll be able to go sub 2:50 and walk around even more arrogantly. But the nice reminder is there's always someone better and faster than you so to attain true enlightenment one must move on to triathlon!
By day I am a political scientist studying campaigns, public opinion, and race and ethnic politics. By early morning and/or night I am an endurance athlete.