Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Race(s) Report

I'm finally getting around to putting together a report of my first marathon. The delay is really mostly because my first was followed one week later by my second marathon. I had greatly underestimated the impact on my body of running two marathons back to back, at my level of training and experience, and had scheduled a half marathon the following week. At the last minute I decided to be smarter about it and just did a 5K instead.

Race #1: Carlsbad Marathon

My first marathon was the Carlsbad Marathon the last Sunday in January. The race was pretty much a blur, which is saying something considering that it took me 5:32:54 to finish in 1,304th place (out of 1,465).

Carlsbad Marathon Elevation Profile
As you can see in the elevation profile above, the Carlsbad course is mostly flat as it follows the beach between Carlsbad and Encinitas. The single hill is due to the course turning inland for an uphill section which resulted in 1,798 feet of elevation gained. Overall that is not a lot of footage compared to trail runs but it is deceiving because of the long straight and mostly flat stretch.

As most distance road runners will affirm hills are really the most challenging part of any run, no matter the weather or climate. The challenge may be going up or it may be going down, depending on your fitness and the terrain. Early in my training, the 'little' bumps you see between 15 and 22 miles were not so little to me and I'd have to walk at least part of each one. They were my walls to climb... and I did, slowly, over time. Now I barely even notice them, what a difference training makes! This is important training mentally and physically for my ultra-running aspirations where some races exceed 30,000 feet of elevation gain (and equal amount of loss), climbing Mount Everest in a day!

Carlsbad Marathon Course

My finishing time was not remarkable, in fact it is much worse than I hoped for. I'm happy to have finished but it was an amazing experience and one of the first solo achievements I've had in a long time. Getting here was not a solo experience, I owe a debt of gratitude to my running coach, Carla Barnett, and my running partners Judy & Dave Wade, and fellow first-timer Jon. We all met up at the start and were together for the first few seconds of the race but as we settled into our individual paces, we each ran our own races.

Just before the start!

I wore my GoPro Hero3 Black Edition camera for the first time at this race just so that I could show you all, especially those in the middle of the country far away from the ocean, what it looks like here in San Diego county in the middle of January.

What is it like running next to the ocean? Take a look and see for yourself!

What race report would be complete without a finisher's photo?

Race #2: Surf City Marathon
The Surf City Marathon provided a different race experience for me. During the 7 days between races I had a three day work trip to Washington DC that started the day after Carlsbad. I'm sure the walk from my car to the gate... and then at the other end from the airport to my hotel room was good for me in some way. It didn't feel great and I sure was not very fast. I also made sure to wear compression socks and do some light stretches and move around a little during the 5 hour flight.

I did not however do any running or specific exercise during the intervening week. I did not know what my body required and knew that I did not want to push it. In the evenings in the hotel I took the plastic garbage can liners from the hotel room, filled them with ice and packed my elevated knees... and kept the ibuprofen and tylenol levels up as much as I dared. All these things helped, I think.

My wife and I drove the 85 minutes or so to Huntington Beach, drove around a while looking for parking, and made a quick dash through the expo to get my bib and packet. There was a good vibe here with many thousands of people, most of whom were lining up to get their half marathon gear. There was essentially no wait for the full marathoners. We met up with fellow runners and friends at the Dog Pound (a named tailgate party hosted by friends outside their super cool RV Coach/home) for dinner at a restaurant next door. I was still limping 'a little' which was perhaps an ominous sign that I did not know was something worthy of more specific troubleshooting.

Afterwards we made our way to the hotel and quickly settled in for a short night. The 4am (or was it 3:30?) alarm came and it was time to suit up. I had some self debate about whether it was worth showering before a marathon or not, its not like I exerted myself at all since the previous shower a day earlier, but the routine-ness of it was comforting along with the hot water made a good start to the day to ease my nerves.

My wife dropped me off as close as she could to the start but I still had about 1/4 mile walk to the start. It made a good warm-up as it was a little chilly and very humid - I was dressed for the expected weather later in the day (warm and sunny). I had some time to kill so I found a porta-potty and scoped out the beer garden (motivation to make it back here later).

My GoPro Hero3 attracted the attention of a few people who asked me about it (that's when I noticed that nobody else had one, which either meant I was on the cutting edge of a trend or I was the race dork). People were friendly and as the dawn started to break over us I started to mentally shift gears and review my race plan.

I planned to go out at 11:30 pace and hold that until the last 5-6 miles (or last hour) when I could speed up if I was feeling it.

Surf City Marathon Elevation Profile

As you can see in the above graph, this is an extremely flat race with only one small hill to climb in a short out and back section that does a figure 8 through a city park. It was on my way out in this section that things started to fall apart for me.

My left knee started hurting suddenly and was making it difficult to run. So I slowed a little to try walking and that didn't make it any better. In fact it was hard to walk than to run and I found myself having to pull my leg up with my upper quads and avoiding having a bent knee as much as possible. I struggled for the next four miles with this, taking lots of walking breaks because of the pain when running... only to find the pain was the same when walking so I rationalized that if I ran the amount of time I was in pain would be less. This would work for a few minutes until I forgot how much it hurt walking and tried it again... and so it continued.

I'm not really sure if whatever was causing the pain actually lessened or if my body was becoming numb to it but after an hour it hurt less - although I found myself having less energy to run. It was very demoralizing to feel like I was done racing at mile 8 with 18 more to go! We had joined up with the fast half marathoners, first with the 1:20 pace group... who were going twice as fast as me. That didn't help my situation any and I started to experience the frustration and angst that comes with lackluster performance. Eventually the faster pace groups made their way past me and I was now among halfers going my speed (which means they started way to fast and slowed down).

Surf City Marathon Course

This race actually has three legs, each are an out and back, with the second two being basically the same scenery from both sides of a fence. This presented me with the greatest challenge though, as these extensions felt like they just kept going and going. Since I was not having a great race physically, the mental challenges were very trying. I kept on the lookout for people I might know and did see a few.

As I approached the final turn for the last out and back, the halfers were in their last two mile stretch yet they were dropping like flies. There were ambulances and fire trucks responding to calls all along the course as the day progressed. I was too much in my zone trying to finish to stop and render aid, not that anyone I was near looked like I could do anything for them in the few minutes before a local paramedic would be there. I'm ok with that... and I know that had I stopped and tried to kneel over someone I would have great trouble getting back up again and could become a casualty myself!

As I was about to cross the finish my wife was there cheering for me and videoing (I think). I have no doubt it was not a pretty sight and maybe that's why I haven't seen the video. It was great seeing her there knowing I was almost done, just another minute to finish. I finished 7 minutes slower than Carlsbad... and the winners were 10 minutes slower. I could make an argument that I really gained 3 minutes but nobody would believe me.

Pretty much as soon as I stopped going forward my body said it had enough and locked up in one giant spasm. From my belly button down I think every muscle was in trismus - I was a giant ball of cramps and almost couldn't even walk to the car. This of course provided great entertainment to my wife but at this point I didn't care anymore.

The following week I traded my wife, a half marathon for her 5K. This was the San Dieguito race through beautiful hills and homes of Rancho Santa Fe. She finished her first half and scrambled to cover the 3.1 miles which I somehow PRd. It has been about month now and I have not ran more than a mile (twice) since.

I'm now cross training with spin class, strength training, yoga, and even deep tissue sports massage. I'm getting better as I get more familiar with my body and its limitations. I'm focused on starting and finishing the 50 mile PCT50 in May...which means I may have to drop a few other race events before than depending on how things go.

I'm hoping to still finish the sister races (two more each) to both of these to get the San Diego Triple Crown and the Orange County Beach Cities challenges. I can scratch Carlsbad and Surf City off my list of races to do... I'm ready to trade the sandy beaches and occasional dolphin sightings for the mountains!