Last fall I figured out that running is the one sport that is easy to train for when you’re constantly on the road leading bike tours. So it wasn’t hard for Andrew Lockton to talk me into signing up for the LA Marathon. I actually had a good base of running fitness, and a few of my training buddies in Seattle were looking for a spring marathon. Fast-forward to March and while I missed a few weeks of training due to illness and work and travel and family stuff, I felt like I was reasonably well prepared for my first marathon.
The best part about this race was the large number of friends and acquaintances who were all targeting a similar pace. I had done most of my training with Ari Schorr and Tahoma Khalsa, and we all planned to start together and run together. Andrew Lockton would be running, too, but at a slower pace after breaking his toe in a motorcycle accident and missing 6-8 weeks way too close to the race. Cyrus from Denver and Justin from Seattle were also likely to be in the mix.
The big pre-race highlight was our trip to the Goodwill store to buy warm-up clothes. We knew that the air temperature on race morning could be a bit chilly, and thought it would be fun to bring throw-away outfits rather than putting our clothes into our gear-check bags and claiming them post-race. Plus we weren’t sure how early we would have to line up in our assigned A corral, and how cold we might get between lining up and starting the race.
Ari found an excellent Macklemore-style long coat with a fur lining. I found a way-too-small pink puffy coat with a fur lining and some blue jeggings. It was $%#$ing awesome!
My spandex Bacon Suit and handlebar mustache were also awesome, and I got extra crowd support the whole way. Gotta try to find a photo…
I wanted to go out conservatively and we over-achieved. I ran the first mile with Lockton, Tahoma, Cyrus and Jesse Williams’s friend Craig. We knew that Craig & Lockton were targeting a slower time, but figured we were still pretty close to 6:00-6:10 pace while Ari was running like an idiot, nearly 30 seconds ahead of us at the first mile mark. We hit the mile a few seconds after 6:30. Oops. Looks like I was the idiot.
But after that we split up a bit and Tahoma/Cyrus/I strung together 12 miles that were each between 5:55 and 6:10. We took turns leading. We reminded each other to eat and to drink and to relax. We talked about how our legs and stomachs felt. We steadily plugged away, mile after mile, and hit the half-marathon mark together, at a 1:19:xx split. At that point, Tahoma was feeling good and dropped the pace a bit. Cyrus and I stayed at 6:05s. Somewhere between mile 10 and mile 12 we saw Ari come out of a port-a-potty up ahead of us. He had been 2-3 minutes ahead of us, but was now back to 30-45 seconds ahead of us. I was hoping we would catch up and run together for awhile, but Ari was clearly “on a mission” after his pit stop, and took off at sub-6 pace for a few miles before settling in again.
Cyrus helped me open a bag of clif blocks around mile 14.5. My hands were a bit cold/useless so it was great to have some help. All in all, I was pretty good about eating throughout the race. I had 3-4 blocks before the start, then 1-2 in the first mile. I had a gel at mile 4 or 5, then maybe another at 9-ish. I was starting to feel tired at 14-15 and may have waited too long between snacks. Cyrus got a few steps ahead of me at the mile 15 water station and just sort of dangled out in front of me for the next three miles. I could still see Tahoma and Ari up the road, especially on the longer straightaways.
Mile 15 to 18 was probably the biggest “dark period” that I had all day. I’d been through plenty of these in triathlon racing, so even though I felt a bit physically drained I tried not to lose confidence. Sure enough, at mile 18 everything started turning my way. The sugar from those 5 blocks got into my bloodstream. (I had given Cyrus one block.) I decided that it was okay for things to hurt from there on it – I knew/expected the race to get hard eventually, but I had subconsciously been afraid of it feeling too hard too early. At mile 18, I was less than an hour from the finish, or I was a “daily easy run” distance away from the finish, so I could start to dig or press a little. I didn’t have to stay so conservative. The Bon Jovi song “Living on a Prayer” got stuck in my head. I reeled off two miles that felt like 5:40s even if they were really still in that 6-6:15 range. I caught and pulled away from Cyrus, and thought I might catch Tahoma and Ari. I hit mile 20 at 2:01:30 and calculated that I only needed to run a 38:30 split for the final 10K in order to break 2:40. A good bit slower than my average pace so far. Hooray!
But then things turned south again at 20. The route from mile 20 to mile 22 was deceptively uphill, and was a bit desolate crowd-wise as we twisted and turned our way through the VA hospital campus. I felt like I was really struggling, and running 7+ minutes per mile. Seeing my 6:30ish splits at mile 21 and mile 22 didn’t help my confidence much. But I knew that the course would start sloping downward for the final four miles, once we reached mile 22. I took a gel around 20.5 and in retrospect I probably should have taken one at 18 and another at 22.
At 22 I started to get my energy back but my legs were starting to get crampy. I tried to ingest a bit of extra water and gatorade at each aid station, but once you start feeling twitchy pre-cramps, you are on borrowed time. My calves seized up a few times in mid-air, leading to a really terrible-looking stride, but somehow I managed to maintain a 6:20ish pace. Tahoma was suffering, too, and I caught him around mile 24.
Tahoma fell back about half a mile later, as cramps & fatigue hobbled his stride. I was really waddling/shuffling at this point, to minimize the strain on my calves, and I must have looked like a wreck when I passed Jesse Williams and Danny Mackey on the sideline at mile 25. They yelled encouragement, and later said something about my “gutsy” performance. “Gutsy” is better than wimpy, but it means that you’re not looking smooth & relaxed & fast!
The last mile was touch-and-go with the leg cramps. A video of my final quarter mile would probably be quite entertaining. I was hobbling. But I crossed the line in 2:42:01, which feels like a respectable-if-not-phenomenal time for a guy with a rather expensive background in endurance sports.
I struggled to step on and off curbs for the rest of the day, and walking down stairs hurt for about a week.
Lockton and his girlfriend and I ate about $75 worth of sushi after the race, and it was a 50%-off happy hour!
Tahoma and Ari and I went out in Hollywood and in Santa Monica after the race, but nothing too crazy happened. It was St Patrick’s Day, but it was also a Sunday night.
I barely ran for 2.5 weeks to give my legs a chance to recover, and didn’t resume regular daily runs until April 19. I attempted my first workout on April 24 and it was downright ugly. But the fitness will come back!
No other races on my calendar yet. Will have to see how the bike tour schedule shapes up, and how much I am able to run during the tours. Another marathon or triathlon next spring could be a lot of fun. Boston has been floated around as an idea. A bunch of our training buddies are running Chicago in October first, which won’t work for me training-wise.