I usually like to include an image to set the tone for the post, but it seemed rather inappropriate to go looking for the kinds of pictures that this post would require: road kill, wreckage, breakdown . . . So no picture.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: yesterday was not my day. Pretty much everything that could go wrong did.
But let me back up. I registered for the LA Marathon last March, during a brief pre-registration period that immediately followed the 2015 race. I watched that race on TV, and I felt an immense wave of homesickness. Plus, the Olympic Trials were scheduled for the day before the 2016 marathon, which meant I could see all of the best American marathoners competing in the same race (It should not be news that I am a runnerd). That settled it. And I’d been looking forward to the race ever since.
My training for the marathon officially began in the last week of September, and it went really well. I only modified two workouts, taking them to the elliptical because one of my knees felt a little more sore than is usual. I wanted to head off any potential problems at the pass, and that seemed to do the trick. I killed all the speed and tempo sessions, and I felt strong and fit heading into the taper. I had a few niggles, but nothing that I was worried about. All signs pointed to a major personal best and a potential BQ. Instead, I ended up with a personal worst and a lot of lessons learned.
In retrospect, there were a few things that I could have done better in the build up. Primarily, I should have stuck to my paces, especially in the speed and tempos sessions. I ran my paces or faster, usually faster. The result of these choices was that when the rubber met the road, I had a hard time finding my pace by feel and had to rely heavily on my watch. I also used music for my longer intervals and tempos. Music definitely makes these workouts (and pretty much all the others) easier and more fun, but I relied on it too much, and when I decided at the last minute to race without it, I struggled to run by feel alone.
As race day grew near, another factor entered the mix: the weather. All fall I had been expecting a rainy race day because signs pointed to an El Nino year, and El Nino in Southern California means rain. But instead, the weather gods called for sun, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but they also called for unseasonably warm weather, which is a very bad thing for a marathon. It’s especially a bad thing when the weather in South Carolina has been unseasonably COLD. It was 19 degrees on Wednesday during my run. It was 75 on Friday. My coach and I discussed adjusting my pacing for the heat. We also entertained the possibility of running the race as a training run and pushing my Race Day back a few weeks in hopes of BQing. Ultimately, I decided that the risk of injury in running two marathons in a month was too high for me given my history of other injuries. So we decided that I would aim for a time 5 minutes slower than we originally planned, which would probably not qualify for Boston, but I decided I could live with that. Had my ultimate goal been to BQ, I would have chosen a faster course. Instead, I wanted to run LA, which is more challenging.
Race weekend was amazing, but again, I made a few tactical errors. I made a point of drinking a lot of water and Nuun (my electrolyte drink of choice) from the moment my plane touched down in LA, but I could have eaten more, especially on Saturday. Speaking of Saturday, I went to the LA marathon expo early Saturday AM. That was fun, especially because I ran into a couple of my teammates on the way there, and we all went in together.
After the expo, we went to meet up with the rest of our teammates at the designated cheer spot (AKA Cowbell corner though it was not so much a corner as a whole city block–80+ awesome Oiselle teammates!). We had a great spot between miles 5 and 6 of the loop that the runners would have to complete 4 times including the last mile or so of the race. We were there by 9:30AM, which gave us almost an hour until the women’s start. I had been sure to wear sunscreen, and I had my American Runner hat, my “Go Fast Take Chances” tee, and my American flag socks. I was also wearing my birkenstocks, because I was running a marathon the next day, so I looked a bit like a fashion victim, Birki’s and flag socks, yes. The Trials race was awesome. It was truly phenomenal to see so many world-class athletes laying it all on the line to chase their dreams. BUT. It was hot. And standing on the pavement for several hours in the sun was not awesome for my pre-marathon legs. The day took more way out of me than I realized, but I didn’t know it until I started my own race. While I was god about hydrating, I also should have eaten more on Saturday. I should have had a bigger breakfast and probably could have eaten more for dinner.
I didn’t get much sleep the night before the race–only 4 hours, but the real problem was that this was the third of three nights where I didn’t get enough sleep. I had to get up really early Thursday to get to the airport, and then I didn’t sleep well that night either thanks to jet lag. Plus, it was an exciting weekend. I didn’t feel especially nervous for the race, but I was definitely keyed up getting to meet so many people that I admire from the running world.
Race morning came early–I had set my alarm for 4, but I woke up about 3:45. I ate my usual pre-race Mojo Bar, had coffee and tea, and got ready to head out. I was breaking a couple of rules in my race-day kit. One of these was fine. The other not so much. Since the forecast was calling for heat, I decided that I would abandon the outfit I had planned to wear, which was my Oiselle singlet, Roga shorts, and a belt. I knew that the heat would be a factor, so I decided to wear my new Oiselle 3/4 top and a different pair of shorts. I hadn’t planned to race in just a bra top, and I’d not gotten the chance to run in it AT ALL, let alone for a long run, but I decided that chafing would be better than melting. And I also decided to ditch the belt since anything touching my skin would make me sweat more. I applied my SPF, my anti-chafe (side note: 2Toms wipes are awesome for destination races!), and then threw on a long sleeve tee to wear until it was time to run since it was a bit chilly at 5AM.
The other rule breaker, the one that seemed like less of a risk, was my shoes. I’ve been running in Brooks Transcend 2s for the majority of my training cycle, and I currently have 3 pairs in various stages of mileage. I brought the pairs with the lowest miles with me to LA planning to wear the ones in the middle. But I’ve had a bit of inflammation in the ball of my right foot for the last couple of weeks, and the newest pair felt better on that foot. I had wore them probably 4 times plus some general walking around. And I assumed they were good. They probably would have been for a shorter race. But I learned the hard way that they were not ready for a marathon. More on that to follow.
Dressed and ready to go, I met my teammate in the lobby, and together we walked to the shuttle. She had grabbed a banana for me the day before, so I ate that while we waited for the shuttle, and we were off to Dodger Stadium. We had opted for the Pre-Race Hospitality package, which meant separate porta-potties with shorter lines, a tent with water, gatorade, Clif bars, and bananas, and a separate gear drop. Also we got fancy LA Marathon water bottles, but I forgot to put mine in my gear bag, so I only had it for the hour before we had to line up. I ate another banana and a pack of Sport Beans before we went to the start, Michelle dropped off our bags while I held our spot in the porta-let line for one final pit stop, and then we walked over to the start area. She and I were in different corrals, so we went our separate ways at that point.
I lined up at the front of my corral, within sight of the 3:45 pace group, which was my newly adjusted target. I found a couple other teammates to wait with, and we chatted a bit before setting off for the race. My first mile was slow for my goal, but the pace group was right there, so I thought, okay. I had set my watch to tick off half-mile splits instead of miles so I could better track my timing. After the first mile, I was seeing splits that were faster than the 3:45 end goal and was moderately concerned about this (red flag 1), but I felt mostly okay. But then my legs started to feel heavy early. Very early (red flag 2). And we got to the first uphill, which was steep, and it was really hard (red flag 3) but I charged up it, determined to stay with the pace group. Once the uphill ended, I caught my breath and felt a bit better. I’m not sure I could have taken that hill without being winded no matter how slowly I went, but I should have slowed down.
I was carrying a throwaway bottle with Nuun, and even with my own bottle, I still took Gatorade and water at all the aid stations. In fact, at mile 5, I ducked into a portalet for another pit stop–figured I would rather err on the side of excess on a day like that. The aid stations were plentiful and well-stocked with both fluids and volunteers, so I made a point of drinking water and gatorade at every one, and I also grabbed water to pour on my head and body to try to stay cool.
HIGHLIGHT: Seeing my friends Matthew & Megan around mile 6! It was really early in the morning for non-runners, and I was so excited that they came out to see me! I was a little worried that we would miss each other since I wasn’t sure how crowded the course would be, but I saw them and ran over to hug them both (it only occurred to me afterwards that they might have preferred not to be hugged by a wet runner . . . sorry M & M!
Legs continued to feel heavy. I told myself that I had trained for this, that I was ready for this. But I was a little worried that I was feeling heavy legs so early on.
And then a new sensation–the bottom of my left foot started to feel fiery (another red flag). Not good. It was the start of a blister. And I was a few miles from the halfway point. I could keep running, but this added to the discomfort factor in a big way. Get to the Sunset Strip, i told myself. You’ll feel better on the Sunset Strip because you’ll be on your home turf. And mentally, I did feel better, it was very cool to run down the middle of the Strip, a road that I had driven on countless times over the years. It was also very cool to run down my old street past my old apartment and then down the middle of Santa Monica Blvd., if only for a few hundred meters. By the time we headed down Doheney, I started to think, just get to mile 18; there will be Oiselle teammates at mile 18. Get there, and you can deal with the blister. But mile 18 was 3 miles way. On a regular day, 3 miles is no big deal, but it felt really far on that day. I continued to tell myself “I am awesome. I am awesome.” even though I didn’t feel even a little bit awesome. In fact, I felt pretty much the exact opposite of awesome. I knew that I was going to positive split, which bummed me out, so at this point I was just trying to hold on and keep running (red flag #TooManyToCountAtThisPoint).
Finally I made it to mile 18, and I saw my teammates, some of whom I had met earlier in the weekend, thankfully. Thankfully because when I saw them, I burst into tears (I am not usually a crier). They were awesome and really helped me to regroup psychologically. After a few minutes, I was on my way. My quads and IT bands were on fire and the blister really hurt. So much so that I started to think that I should stop at a med tent if I saw one (I didn’t). I started to walk through the aid stations, and at that point, it was all I could do to keep moving forward, whether running or walking. Walking was less painful, but the sun was now a factor, and I could feel the it on the back of my neck; I felt myself getting burned, and I definitely didn’t want to be out there in the sun for however long it would take me to walk the rest of the way to the finish. At one point in Westwood, heading under the 405, one of my calves started to cramp a little, and I both wanted to laugh and cry. What else could the universe throw at me?? It wasn’t a big cramp though, and it passed quickly (not to return).
So I walked and ran as best I could for the final stretch. By this point, my system was starting to go haywire across the board. If I had a dashboard, there would have been all kinds of blinking red, orange, and yellow lights. Emotionally and psychologically, I was running on empty. Here is where having music might have helped. Might have distracted me from myself. Physically, in addition to the problems with my screaming quads and IT bands and the blister, I started to have a hard time getting fluids in and was feeling pretty queasy, though I forced myself to drink at least one cup at every aid station and I continued to pour water on my head, though it felt much colder and usually resulted in a sharp gasp. When we got close to the beach, suddenly we were in the marine layer, and it turned cold and damp. This was both welcome and unwelcome since I was drenched at this point, and I started to feel cold. I managed to run the last mile and a half to the finish though I really, really, REALLY wanted to walk. I was grateful that there were a lot of volunteers at the finish whose job it was to walk with runners who were feeling out of it. I was definitely one of those runners on that day and am grateful to the person who steadied me through the chute.
A few parting thoughts:
- Overall, the race course was well managed. Fantastic crowd support from pretty much beginning to end. Aid stations were plentiful and well-staffed with lots of volunteers and plenty of supplies. This is a huge thing.
- I completely underestimated the difficulty of the course.
- I also had a overall different strategy of trying to run even splits. I am a slow starter. I know this about myself. I should not have tried to run even splits.I think the 3:45 was probably a little ambitious overall, but trying to start at 3:45 was a mistake. I need to build into the plan at least a few slow miles.
- I am very sore on the day after, but I’m not injured and learned a lot from this race. It wasn’t the day I imagined for myself or even close, but it was still worthwhile and I’m glad I finished.