Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Marine Corps Marathon - Race Report

You’ve got to do this race. We were blessed with wonderful weather; sunny in the 60’s. The course is tougher than it might seem. My final time – 4:05:38 (chip).

I went into this race with less than perfect training. I’ve babied my right foot since spring which meant not doing any speed work in a long time. And although I keep running my left hip hasn’t been 100% since last August. After 18-20 miles it doesn’t so much hurt as just feels really week. Taking all that into account my main goal this race was just to keep things under that 4:00 barrier I worked hard for in 2006. At the very least I was going to enjoy the spirit of our nation’s capitol and cross Washington, DC off the list.

Julie and I planned on running together. More than once Julie told me she was relying on me to pull her through to the end. I wasn’t very confident I would be able to do that but I’d stick it out as long as I could.

We lined up that morning at front of the 3:50 to 4:00 pace group. The official elevation charts shows an incline from the start to mile 3 followed by a 2 mile decline to mile 5, then another long climb up to mile 8 and then down to 10 with a relatively flat course the rest of the way until the final 2 miles. The actual course, at least the first few miles were more rolling than the elevation chart suggested. By accident we found ourselves within striking distance of the 3:50 pace group so we decided to hang with them.

The first few miles were pretty crowded and the streets were often a little narrow for the number of people running through. Mile 1 – 11:09, huh? Mile 2 – 7:20, double huh? Up the hill to the top of mile 3 – 8:56. Crazy splits but the 3:50 pacer was always in sight so we put our trust in them to get us there.

Mile 4 was a really pretty tree lined street going downhill. The tree cover magnified the sound of hundreds of feet hitting the pavement. It was a wonderful sound. By the end of mile 5 we were even with the pace group but then fell back just a little as we worked our way the hills to mile 8.

Mile 4 – 8:06 (downhill)
Mile 5
Mile 6 – 17:26 (8:43 each uphill)
Mile 7 – 8:07
Mile 8 – 8:11

Between mile 4 and 5 is when we cross the Potomac the first time from Virginia to Washington DC. Mile 5 is also the first side by side out and back when we got a chance to see the front runners heading back at nearly mile 9.

The course was still pretty clogged up at this point. We were at nearly mile 10 or so before we hand any real elbow room. Because of the number of runners and the crowded conditions going through the water stations I skipped the first three water stops, relying on my fuel belt. I worried if this was a wise decision but to keep up with the pacers and Julie is seemed necessary. I finally stopped for water between mile 8 and 9. I lost Julie for about half a mile before I found her again. Mile 11 is where we hit the part of the route I was most looking forward too, the National Mall. Crowd support for the next several miles was tremendous. Mile 13 was the half way point right in front of the Capitol Building.

Mile 9 – 8:25
Mile 10 – 8:21
Mile 11 – 8:54
Mile 12 – 8:26
Mile 13 – 8:41

Although we were sticking with the pace group I really felt that we were going too fast. I knew in my head that I only needed 9:00 miles to get under 4:00 and we’d done many that were sub 8:30.

Just before mile 14 as we were about to leave the Mall the pace leaders changed and we were even with the pace group. The new leader slowed things down a bit. The group was about 20 strong and was holding together well. At this point I voiced out loud to Julie my doubts that I could keep going at this pace. Julie admitted that she had been thinking the same thing. During mile 15 I fell back a few paces from Julie and the pace group marched along. At mile 16 I had to visit the port-o-pot. By the time I exited neither Julie nor the pace group were anywhere in sight.

Mile 14 – 8:54
Mile 15 – 9:12
Mile 16 – 11:50

Miles 16 to 19 are the stretch around Haines Point that many people dread due to its lack of fan support. On a bad day the winds of the Potomac can be difficult. I found this section to be actually really enjoyable. It is so different from where I usually run I found it to me quite peaceful. I knew that the “Awakening” was out here somewhere but I never saw it. Ironically in one of the official race photos it is clearly over my right shoulder. I had been focused over by left. 19 to 20 takes you back over the bridge into Virginia again. More than several runner remarked that they had “beat the bridge” which I thought was a little odd since we were way ahead of the cut off pace of 14:00/mile.

Mile 17 – 8:44
Mile 18 – 9:19
Mile 20 – 9:54

Mile 21 to 23 took us into Crystal City, another area with great crowd support and an out and back section. I saw Julie on her way back; she was about half a mile ahead of me at that point. During the westbound route out of Crystal City we were hit with a cold head wind. As my legs were getting increasingly more tired and my pace increasingly slower the wind was not exactly what I needed at that point. Just after mile 23 the Pentagon came into view and I realize that this race was nearing the end.

Mile 21 – 9:55
Mile 22 – 10:03
Mile 23 – 10:36

Things were getting pretty desperate by now but I kept trudging along. I had seen so many inspiring sights along the way: the national monuments, the Marine support at the water stations, countless Armed Forces runners and family member running in memory of fathers that had served years ago or of friends and relatives that had given their lives in service; I had to keep going. Miles 24 to 26 were really odd since we were retracing our steps from the beginning of the race. The feeling was quite opposite from the hope and excitement of the start of the race. I ran/trudged along with others that looked to be in the same shape as me.

Mile 24 – 10:28
Mile 25 – 11:12

At mile 25 the finish line was just to my left. I could hear the announcer counting down the seconds to sub 4:00 finishers. I had less than 5 minutes left to get there with 1.2 miles still to cover. One step at a time. As I made the last right turn into Arlington the final hill was the only thing left to be conquered. I had no final surge to get there but the hill didn’t seem insurmountable. After I crossed through the finish arches and caught a glimpse of the Marine Corps Memorial the emotional toll of the event came to a head.

Mile 26.2 – 13:49 (11:30 pace)

The marathon seemed trivial compared to the significance of the surroundings. Being immersed in the history of the place and the reputation of the Marines was just incredible to me. The fact that my race time wasn’t what I might have liked didn’t really matter. Just being a part of such a well oiled machine was honor enough. I met up with Julie in the reunion area. She had managed to get her sub 4:00 at 3:55. I hung out the rest of the day until the last of our group of 10 had crossed the finish line at 6:50:08.

I would recommend this race without hesitation. And I’d also recommend taking the time afterward to explore all that Washington DC has to offer in terms of history and national pride. There’s no place or race like it.

Photos from Marathonfoto.com

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Next Stop, Washington DC

Taper time is maddening. I've been through this often enough I should be used to it, but I'm not. All the runs go well enough, it just seems that all those little aches and pains make themselves fully evident the last week or so preceding the next big marathon.

I was able to make it to Bonelli 2 out of 3 of the weekday runs. If I change at work, leave right on time and go straight there I've been able to get up to 5 miles done before darkness sets in. Next weeks runs will likely be the end.

Saturday there was a 5K in my hometown. Running a 5K in Covina has been on my wish list for a while now but I was never aware of a race. The $30 (late) registration fee and no hopes of a PR convinced me just to get down to the river trail and run with the Cruisers instead.

I set off with Julie and Gary. We maintained a really easy 10:00 pace. It didn't feel as easy as a 10:00 pace should feel for me. I worried that I would be too comfortable with that pace come race day. Chalk that up to more of the taper goofiness. Although Julie and I are both capable of sub 9:00, Saturday's pace felt right. My legs are still feeling the effects of the 14 miler in the mountains last weekend. About 5 miles into the run I had to make a pit stop and waved Julie and Gary on.

I finished the last 3 miles of the run on my own at 8:00 pace. It wasn't intentional, it was just the pace that I fell into and oddly it felt comfortable as well. That helped ease some of my taper anxiety.

This morning I headed over to Bonelli for an easy 3 miles. When I first woke up it was still a little dark. Since the run was going to be short I waited until 7:00 for the sun to be completely up. For anything less than 5 miles I simply head out the trail and turn around half way . I was just bopping along lost in my thoughts and ended up running past my turn around point. Fortunately just a little. I had to laugh at myself. I'm such a creature of habit I was on my way around for the full loop.

While I was waiting for the sun to come up I was checking my blogs and came upon this timely entry by Dean Karnazes. I think he's done a good job of describing the struggle of the marathon.

The weather here in SoCal is expected to reach the triple digits this week. It's the end of October folks, triple digits! So far the forecast in DC looks favorable. Even if things heat up I'm confident the Marines will be prepared.

My goals in DC are: 1) Give it my best shot at staying under 4:00 and 2) enjoy the pomp and cirmcumstance of our nation's capitol. Seems reasonable enough.

Several people have commented on the Holy Jim Trail. That is its real name. I can't make this stuff up. A cursory search of the web provided this:
TRAIL HISTORY: (From the Cleveland National Forest Website) If you expect that the Holy Jim Canyon is named for a pious, early preacher in the Santa Ana Mountains, you would be very wrong! Jim Smith was a beekeeper who settled in the north fork of Trabuco Canyon in the 1870s. It was said that: "Jim Smith was a talker...no ordinary talker... a man given to blasphemous eloquence. When he started cussing... he could peel paint off a stove pipe." When government surveyors first mapped the canyon, they chose to name it "Holy Jim" rather than "Cussin' Jim," since the word "cussing" was considered neither polite nor appropriate for a government publication.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Holy Jim! Revisited

Everything was back on track this week when it came to running. I was able to knock off two 5 milers in Bonelli; once running my favorite loop counterclockwise which I haven't done in quite a while. The other run was 6.4 over on the San Gabriel River Bike Path at an 8:21 pace.

Saturday I had one of the best runs I've had in a long while. I was lucky early in the week to get an invitation from Jessica of OCTR to join them for 14 miles. Unbelievably it has been nearly a year since I last joined the group for a run. This run was described as 14 miles near Holy Jim. It turns out it was the same route planned last year but run in reverse. I invited my friend Julie along for the run. I was really close to joining some other Cruisers at the Long Beach Half Marathon, but the trails won out.

Julie and I are planning on being running partners at MCM in a couple of weeks and had each coincidentally signed up to run Jessica's race, the Twin Peaks 50/50, next spring.

The group was about a dozen of us. I hadn't met any of them before today. No one from last year's run with the exception of Jessica were there this time. We started off in a light rain that was soaking a pretty well as we stood around before the start of the run. Once we started running the rain was less noticeable. We were only about a mile into the run before we all peeled off our jackets. One guy, Robert, commented that we were either going to get wet one way or another, from the rain for from the sweat. The jackets were just too warm. The rain ended up becoming a steady mist. The conditions were actually really good for running the trails. The rain/mist kept the dust down and the temps in control. The only drawback for me with glass in the mist is that the bill of the ball cap offers no protection from a heavy mist.

Julie and I fell in behind a strong runner, Martin, on the Trabuco Trail. He warned us about West Horsetheif Trail. The three of us ended up walking the majority of it. I still have a hard time with walking but the more trail and ultra people I hang around the more I realize that it is acceptable. I tried a couple of times to keep up a running posture and realized I was making no more forward progress than Martin and Julie walking so I walked too.

Once we hit Main Divide Road, we waited for Robert, Ryan and Sue. The others were farther back and we decided to head onward as we were getting chilled waiting. Martin lead the way again and Julie, Ryan and I kind of fell into a pack. Ryan is also signed up for the 50K version of Twin Peaks. Ryan has run one marathon and made the move to trail running. There are two official training runs for Twin Peaks in the future and the three of us hope to run them together. There is a third one planned for the week after MCM that Julie and I will miss.

A mile or so into Main Divide Martin had a sizable lead on us and we never saw him again until the end. Julie lead the way on Main Divide. I took over leadership when we began the descent down Holy Jim Trail. I've only run this trail the one other time but it has to be one of my all time favorites. The trail is superbly runnable with great views, even of mist and cloud filled canyons, and the terrain is just technical enough to keep you alert but gentle enough that you can let it flow. It is too bad that Holy Jim is not part of the 50K event.

It was a great 14 mile run in the mountains on a day that the scheduled called for 12. Thanks Jessica!

Today I ran an easy 6 miles with Tyler in Bonelli, on a mostly flat loop around the lake before the family went to Red Robin (Tyler's choice). Everyone had a burger, I had the Fajita Fiesta Pollo Salad with dressing on the side.

I ended the week with a potluck get together with the Cruiser that are headed out to Washington, DC for the MCM. We shared phone numbers, flight numbers, etc and discussed getting around and other logistics with a fellow Cruiser who had done MCM last year. We had a great time and now I'm getting really even more excited about adding DC to my list.

Weekly mileage 36.4 on a planned 32. Next week things drop off considerable to 24 for the week. That shouldn't be too hard to handle considering my recent weeks at sea and in Panama.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Fitness begins when you do - slogan on a t-shirt I saw during a long run in Huntington Beach.

When Tyler was home for the break between terms I mentioned an 8 miler that we did together over at the San Gabriel River Bike Path. I forgot to mention another run we took. Monday of that week (way back on 9/24) Tyler still needed to get his run in when I got home from work. I suggested that we give Bonelli a try. I debated which trails to take him on for his inaugural trail run and decided on the trail along the west side of the park. We could get in 3.5 miles with about half of it on trail and half on road.

I described the trail section as "a decent hill at the start, some rollers in the middle with another decent hill at the end." Tyler said "What you really mean is a really big hill at the start, some big hills in the middle and another really big hill at the end!" I got the idea that he didn't trust my judgement when it came to hills.

After about a half mile warm up on the roads we hit the trail and headed up hill. Tyler made it up the whole thing without stopping. I was proud. As we ran along we talked about school and running. About half way through the trail he said "This kind of running is fun." Huh, you think?

When we came to the last "really big hill", he motored right up the 4 or 5 switchbacks like a pro. We cruised back down the road to the car.

Tyler has been home again this weekend, since Wednesday. His birthday is tomorrow. Coincidence? He'll be 20, so we are down to one teenager and one adult (?) child. He's done three runs since he got home Wednesday and all three have been in Bonelli, one on the asphalt picnic loop and the other two on the trail. I think we've got a convert on our hands.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Return to Normalcy

Who's to say what normal is. When school started back up in September I was complaining to my son about the traffic and how I missed the normal traffic. He reminded me that there is no normal. There's either school traffic or summer traffic, who's to say summer traffic is normal? Teenager!

At the very least maybe I will get back on track with my training, I've got a marathon in less than 3 weeks.

It has been two weeks since I posted. I've been busy at work but not really keeping up with the running schedule. Here's a quick run down of the happenings in my running world:

Saturday, September 29: Tyler was home for the week between terms. He always likes to find a race to do when he's home. I found a fun 5K, the Huntington Beach Surf & Sand 5K. It is run at 6:00 p.m. on the sand at low tide heading north from the pier. We had to run about a mile to get to the start. We parked far and were running late. Tyler worried about running on the sand. Tyler wanted to try to run this one on his own so at the sound of the gun I took off. I finished in 24:44 and Tyler broke 30:00 for the first time at 29:12. Very cool for him. I was happy with my time since I hesitated a couple of times in the race wondering if I should have waited for Tyler after all. Add the fact that I ran my last 20 miler earlier that morning in 3:04. Lisa and I also celebrated our 23 wedding anniversary that day. The cruise was pretty much our celebration but we did go out to dinner the following night.

I took Sunday, the 30th, off from running.

I finished September with 150.1 miles even with the low mileage cruise week, continuing the steady increase since the crash in May.

Monday, October 1: I did a 5 mile trail run in Bonelli, finishing in the dark. It is that time of year again. It was kind of fun, kind of scary and sad for the end of another season.

Work wise I've spent all my time getting ready for the Latin America Sales Training. Last Monday our team took the red-eye to Panama City, Panama. The 6+hour flight was followed by a 2 hour drive out to the all-inclusive resort where the training was held. There was nothing else around. I made it through my portion of training on Wednesday. I think it went pretty well. The sales teams first language is Spanish obviously but they all understand English well. My only language is English. Besides product training one of our goals was making them aware of resources, and I think we accomplished that. A secondary goal of the regional manager was team building and fun. I am certain that goal was accomplished. I was able to get in two runs around the complex and on the beach for 30 minutes Friday and 34 minutes Sunday.

The training team was treated to a tour by boat of the Panama Canal. It is a fascinating engineering feat. I had Internet access during the meeting so while things were going on in Spanish I took advantage of the time to keep up with all of you.

Monday, October 8: I returned home at 2:00 a.m. (4:00 a.m. Panama time) this morning.
I ended up taking a vacation day. I was just too tired to go to work and it was a beautiful day. I caught up on some things at home since I had been gone for a week and most importantly I headed over to Bonelli for my 5 mile loop at 4:00 to take full advantage of the daylight.

Tonight at 8:00 we had to flip back and forth between Dancing with the Stars and the Cleveland Indians/NY Yankees play off game. Yeah Indians. I don't follow sports too much but we do keep up with things when the play offs come around. Besides it is always fun to support the old home town team. I do feel for Joe Torre though. His sense of normalcy looks like it will be taking a new direction with this loss to the Indians. About DWTS, can we terminate Wayne Newton's contract, please?!

Anyway, 17 days to the Marine Corps Marathon. It won't be a PR by any stretch, but it will be a very memorable marathon, no doubt.