I don’t see the point in keeping y’all in suspense ‘til the end of my race report to find out how marathon #3 went. Basically, I had one of those races where the stars align, everything goes (almost) perfectly and I learned that I was capable of achieving something that seemed like a long shot. I finished my second LA Marathon in 3:58:33 (9:06 pace; almost exactly what was predicted with my half marathon PR and McMillan calculator), earned a 25+ minute personal best, and pulled off a decent negative split.
Even though I’m exhausted, my quads are quite sore, and my body is punishing me for taking caffeinated gels, I feel pretty awesome.
I didn’t abandon the sub-4 goal. On Thursday, I downloaded Greg Maclin’s customizable pace bands made specifically for the LA Marathon. (It costs $5, but it is so worth it.) I fooled around with the settings and printed out two different plans. One had me running a 3:59 intending to start off conservative, hit the half at 2:00:16 and then manage a modest negative split in the second half. Yeah, it was ambitious and faster than what I discussed with Marc (my coach), but a similar strategy. The second plan was for a 4:03 and had an even larger negative split planned. I figured that even if I failed, I could still squeak in under 4:06 and make the A goal I set last week. The 3:59 plan was risky, but I was willing to give it a shot. I printed both bands and got them ready to wear. Sean helped me affix the 3:59 band on my right wrist. I stuffed the 4:03 band in my pocket.
I took a little longer getting ready than expected. On Saturday night, I opted for a long-sleeved shirt, but after re-checking the weather I thought it might be too much (highs were in the 50s with some wind). Rain was still in the forecast at 30-40%. Instead, I wore my 2011 Long Beach Marathon & Half finisher’s tee. I had a crappy race there, but the palm tree printed tech tee is one of my favorites. I took a throwaway hoodie, gloves and an old race mylar blanket to keep me warm while waiting for the race to start, but it was still pretty cold.
Most of the pre-race logistics at the stadium went pretty smooth. Just like last year, I took a shuttle to Dodger Stadium. It felt like I was going to a game, because I took a shuttle from Patsouras Plaza at Union Station. I didn’t have as much time to hang out in the stadium, but enough to get all necessities taken care of. Getting to chill in Dodger Stadium before a race calmed my nerves and got me more excited for the new season. I spotted, a marathon maniac I’ve seen simultaneously cheering at/running local races. I loved his sign.
The LA Marathon offers runners with previous sub-3, sub-4 and sub-5 hour marathons an option to get in to a seeded corral. I was assigned to corral C for runners with a recent sub-5, but was never able to get in. The one corral entrance line was long and lots of people were cutting creating a bottle neck. I waited for 25 minutes, but the corrals closed at 7 and I still wasn’t in. Rather than stress, I squeezed in to the open corrals.
Miles 1-6: Dodger Stadium, Chinatown, Downtown and Echo Park
Surprisingly, the race started on time at 7:28 after some words of encouragement from local politicians and the national anthem. I had squeezed myself in to the 8 minute mile area so I wasn’t too far back and didn’t need to dodge too many throwaway sweaters, trash bags, and ponchos on the floor. It was easy to keep the first mile conservative because of congestion and issues with my iFitness belt. I’d overstuffed it with Gu chomps and my iPhone. The bouncing was annoying, so I took it off and held it for the first few miles. The poncho I tucked in to the belt fell out, but it didn’t matter since I never needed it. That’s right, it stayed dry all day! I ran some of the early miles a little too fast, but it all evened out when I slowed down running the hills on 1st Street from City Hall to Disney Hall and on Temple leaving downtown and heading up to Echo Park.
10K stats (see below for mile splits compared to the goal splits based on the Maclin pace band):
Time: 57:59 [goal: 58:01]
Estimated finish: 4:04:02
Miles 7-12: Echo Park, Silver Lake, and Hollywood
The sun started peaking out and the runners were treated to some great views of the San Gabriel Mountains topped with snow and the Hollywod sign across town. The views are always best after a rainy day. I worried that I didn’t apply sunblock anywhere else aside from my face. I didn’t want a farmer’s tan or a sunburn. Thankfully, there were scattered clouds and the buildings provided some shade.
I was diligent about not running through any of the water stops and staying hydrated (despite needing to pee!). I threw off my throwaway gloves and took my first gel. I routinely checked the time on my watch against the pace band. I was pretty even and comfortable with the pace. Worst thing about running on Sunset through Echo Park and Silver Lake? The smell of bacon from breakfast spots. Best thing? Lots of crowd support, wonderful volunteers. The latter continued throughout the course.
Time: 1:54:22 [goal: 1:53:35]
Estimated finish: 4:01:12
Miles 13-18: West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Century City
My goal was to hit the half at 2:00:16. I don’t remember when I got there, but I was probably 30-60 seconds slower than expected. I was consistently off from my pace band, but I didn’t worry. I knew if I freaked out I’d start pushing too much and tire myself out before I hit mile 20. If possible, I’d make up the time later. If not, I wouldn’t sweat it. I stopped checking my watch against the pace band each mile and told myself I’d check it again at mile 18.
I coasted through the rolling terrain on the Sunset Strip and made sure not to take down the big hill on San Vicente to Santa Monica Boulevard too fast. I started to feel like I was fading as we entered Beverly Hills (I felt like this last year too). I had a small side stitch and wanted to stop for a bathroom break. I considered it at an aid station, but just kept going not being uncomfortable enough and unwilling to lose a minute. I took some Gu chomps again, but chewing them was annoying and felt like wasted energy.
I got a big boost when I spotted Sean at Wilshire and Rodeo… familiar running territory. Sean snapped a couple of photos and caught me chewing. I yelled out, “I love you!” but he didn’t hear me. Although I’m familiar with LA, I’m only accustomed to running on the westside. It felt good to be back on my home turf and on regular training routes and passing usual commuting points.
Time: 2:51:16 [goal: 2:49:56]
Estimated finish: 4:00:46
Mile 19-25: Westwood, West LA, Veteran’s Administration grounds, Brentwood, and Santa Monica
Approaching mile 20 on Sepulveda Blvd, Rilo Kiley’s “With Arms Outstretched” — a favorite song during races — started playing on my Shuffle. I paused it so I could begin listening at exactly mile 20 when I had 6.2 miles remaining. It wasn’t the “sixteen miles to the promised land,” but the lyrics still applied and the timing was perfect. I started to speed up slightly even though my quads were beginning to ache. As I neared the entrance to the VA grounds, a familiar person waved. It was Aidé, my friend Liz’s older sister (Liz ran the marathon too, congrats!). It was cool to see her.
I grabbed a Clif gel from a volunteer and took it with some water before leaving the VA grounds. It was gross, but the caffeine and sugar worked quickly to energize me as I approached the final five. Last year, I remember the hills through the VA being challenging enough to force a short walk break. I didn’t need to slow down and concentrated on staying on pace and getting to San Vicente. I knew I was behind my goal pace, but told myself I could let myself go once I got to San Vicente. At mile 23, my Garmin read 3:31:XX (should’ve been 3:30:15). I did the math and figured if I kept a <9 minute pace for the final 3.2 miles I could meet my A+/stars aligned/everything was as perfect as it could be goal.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t too hard to speed up and slap a tempo run at 10K pace to the end of a marathon. I had the motivation, energy, a moving mantra on repeat (We will run and not grow weary / for our God will be our strength — I’d heard it in church the day before), upbeat music, and a downhill stretch coming up. I ran a couple of my fastest miles at miles 24 and 25. I heard someone call my name. At first I thought it was just a random spectator reading my bib. Then I saw my good friend, Gabby, in a Dodgers pull over. I was so happy to see her. I smiled and waved and got another little boost.
I didn’t know how I was managing to run 8:20 miles miles so easily on very tired legs, but I was. It felt amazing.
Time: 3:47:15 [goal: 3:46:49]
Estimated finish: 3:59:54
The homestretch and finish
When I hit mile 25, I knew I could finish in 3:59:XX as long as I held on and didn’t lose momentum. I expected to slow down once turning on to Ocean Boulevard thanks to the wind. I slowed briefly as expected, but I picked it up again thanks to crowd support and a motivating glimpse of the finish line 8 blocks away.
Once again, I got a musical boost. This time it was from Tijuanense chanteuse Julieta Venegas. I skipped songs until something appropriate came on. It was easy to settle on “Eterno” with a driving beat and lyrics like: Quiero que sea eterno, este momento / suspendido en el tiempo (I want this moment to be eternal, suspended in time). I’m pretty sure I’ll always remember the feeling of running toward the finish line feeling incredibly strong and calling out to the the crowd, “I can’t hear you! Louder!” They responded and cheered louder. I loved it.
The official clock clicked from 4:00:59 to 4:01:00. I didn’t feel disheartened. I knew I was coming in under four hours. I crossed the finish line, raised my arms and waited a moment to stop my Garmin.
Official time: 3:58:33.
Looks like another perfect race, I love LA! (Apologies to Randy Newman.)
The green numbers were 10 seconds+ faster than goal pace for that mile; red were 10 seconds or more slower. I was generally a little slower and sped up a lot at the end. Garmin had me running 26.35 miles, hence the difference in actual pace on Garmin officially. Not too bad considering there are lots of turns, a couple of bridges, and weaving at the water stops.