March 18, 2013

LA -- My First Marathon DNF

After my last long run before the LA Marathon, I promised myself that I would have a plan the night before the race, and that I'd do my best to execute it.

As promised, I prepared a plan.  To tell the truth, it was a cowardly plan.  But, I'm a planner...

Between the worst cold I'd had in years 3 weeks before the race killing several key workouts, the complete absence of the standard taper rest feeling I associate with being ready to race, and the yellow haze E & I observed against the mountains on our descent into LAX, I was feeling *very* apprehensive about my performance on race day.

But then, after checking in to our hotel with my race number, things were looking up.   The weather report showed that the week's heat wave had broken and it appeared unlikely that I'd have to run in anything warmer than 62 or 63F.

Due to the predicted warmer temps, I hadn't even brought my St. Patrick's day 4-leaf-clover compression socks -- I assumed I'd have to run in ankle socks.  Given the good weather news, though, I just laid out my black compression socks (that I'd worn all day Saturday) and assumed all would be well.  I didn't want to be cold...

The plan looked like this:

1.  Saturday: After a short 2 mile shake-out run, a flight, and picking up my number at the expo, rest and relax on the bed for a true pre-race prep day.  Stay off my feet, read, wear compression socks, eat a healthy dinner in the hotel, pound water and tea incessantly, prepare a throw-away gatorade bottle with duct tape and a water bottle with a drinking attachment, watch a movie.  (I've never *actually* done the full pre-marathon easy day, so this was a big treat.  So decadently relaxing.  I'll definitely try to repeat this experience again.  It's a nice reward for a full marathon training cycle.)

2.  Saturday: Lay out all the race gear, pin the number on, prep coffee, sunscreen, power bars, etc. so I could sleep as long as possible, get dressed quickly and quietly in minimal light and walk to the shuttles.  (This amount of pre-race logistics commitment was impressively effective.  18 minutes from wake-up call to exiting the hotel, post coffee, including at least 2 minutes in the hotel after leaving the room.)

3.  Sunday: Get to the start.  Run the first 10K with the 4-hour pace group.  Assess.  If 9:09 is difficult (as it is likely to be, given the recommendations from my coaches), scale back to 9:19 or 9:30 pace and try to maintain for the remainder of the race.  If it's hard enough to maintain a target pace below 9:30  by the half, be prepared to run hard as long as I can for a good solid long run at race pace and walk off the course and call for E to come pick me up.

I told you it was a cowardly plan.

But, hear me out.  I haven't had a good, true, hard marathon race effort since 2011.  In 2012, I had a great time run-hiking the Fairbanks Equinox Marathon with Arvay, but it wasn't a good race effort by any measure. And then 2012 CIM weather plus life destroyed my commitment to a race effort there and I just did a nice easy long run while puddle stomping and laughing at the weather.

I've trained hard this cycle.  And I want to reap the benefits.  Also, I was already registered for the San Luis Obispo Half Marathon.  My dad's family is from there.  The family ranch is *on* the full marathon course.  But, it's hilly.  There's no crowd support.  It's not a course I'd choose for a performance marathon, by any means.  But if LA was going to beat me up and deny me a chance at a PR or improvement over CIM in 2011, I'd rather postpone the full marathon, and at least enjoy the pleasure of running past my family's ranch in exchange for the beating on my body and the satisfaction of just finishing a non-performance oriented marathon in my dad's hometown.

Sunday, I woke, dressed and got on the shuttle easily and quickly.  The only thing I noticed is that despite the dark and 5:05 AM time, I was warm.  Hmmm...

I ate my powerbars on the shuttle bus and chatted with a Texan who informed me that the highs in Dallas are in the 80s with humidity right now, so he wasn't worried about the LA weather (lucky dog).

Upon arrival, I headed into the Dodgers Stadium and waited in line for the restroom.  I did this loop 3 times.  In hindsight, I was on my feet, without a break, from 5:30 - 7 AM.  Suboptimal.

I headed to my corral (C: sub 5 hour) and upon showing my C-number was waived through by the guards as they kept everyone else who did not want to be in the unseeded corral D out.  Word to the wise -- this is a *big* race (24,000).  If you have the race results to get a seeded number, do so.

I found the 4 hour pace group and sat down.  The elite women started.  Time passed.  They announced that the elite men and then general corrals would be starting soon.

Everyone started peeing on the sidelines.  I'm serious.  I've never seen anything like this.  Men were just openly turning their back to the corral and pissing against the mesh over the gates of the corral.  Women were squatting (many with friends blocking, but some without).  The worst part was, many people had already discarded their warm clothes on the sides of the corrals.  In most races, the local Salvation Army or GoodWill gets the discarded clothing from a race.  In this case, I'm so sorry for whoever collects these clothes.  Such a waste.

Eventually, we started.  I stuck behind the 4-hour pace group leader and decided to avoid looking at my watch for a while.  After all, to stick with him for 10K meant my watch was useless anyways, right?

I had been warned that Mile 1 had a steep uphill, so I was prepared.  It wasn't that bad, actually. My watch beeped and informed me we'd hit the first mile at 8:57.  I was a little surprised, given the pacer's statement that his goal was to hit consistent 9:09 miles regardless of terrain or crowds, but I didn't think much of it.

Mile 2 was downhill and the pacer was clearly taking advantage of it.  I felt good, so I stuck with him.  Mile 2 beeped 8:22.  Oh.  Dear.  No time to stress about that, though, my self-made water bottle with duct tape handle was ripping. 

Mile 3 was also downhill.  I stuck with the pacer for a bit and finally, when I had to throw the broken water bottle to the side (7/8 full of gatorade), peeled off to slow down, realizing that my plan of sticking with the pace group for the 10K was not going to work.  9:09/mile consistent pace did not mean the same thing to Joe the pacer as it did to me.  Even with my slow down, I hit mile 3 at 8:44.

Mile 4 I just tried to stay with the crowd and run by effort.   9:01.  Now that was more like it.  There were even some uphills in this one, so I felt very good about my decision to leave the pace group and trust myself.  Water station  was great.

Mile 5, however, was a different story.  Steep uphill, then an equally steep drop, then back up.  9:41.  Hmmm...  Water/electrolyte station was still great.

Mile 6, 100+ ft. incline over 0.5 miles, then a drop.  Trying to run by effort, I heard the beep and saw the depressing report of closing this mile at a 10:08 pace.  Water/electrolyte station was great.

The race results say I crossed the 10K pad at 57:53 or a 9:19 pace.  Oh, boy.  I was in trouble.  That fast aggressive start and nothing to show for it?  Did I mention I was hot?  I'd worn a long sleeve shirt to keep warm and had made the mistake of leaving it on at the start.  I'd removed it during mile 2 or 3, but, even so, I'd heated up much more than I'd planned and the direct sun plus higher than expected temps were not making me happy.

After the 10K, I seriously started considering how long I'd need to run to make this a good strong training run for SLO.  I took a gu and committed to keeping the pace below 9:30 and ticked off 2 miles: 9:25; 9:21.  Unfortunately, despite my multiple trips to the bathrooms, it became apparent that I'd need a porta-potty stop.  I saw my opening in the next mile and took it (another 1:49 delay).

Back on the road after the stop, I closed out the mile at a 9:14/mile pace; then did another at 9:35.

I started to cough.  Intermittently.  But definitely proof that yet another thing was not right with me.  Ever since my water bottle handle had ripped, I'd been taking either water or electrolyte drinks or both at every aid station.  At the most recent one, however, I had trouble drinking because I was coughing and having some decent asthmatic symptoms. Awesome.

Did I mention it was hot?  I was dumping water on my head at every water station -- Thankful for the lessons I'd learned in Phoenix.  But also annoyed at the compression socks -- why had I double-guessed my original decision to race in ankle socks?   Oh well, I doubled them down to expose some additional skin.  No idea what the physiological effects of double compression are -- I didn't notice any except the additional coolness from the lack of coverage.  

The next few miles were a struggle with increasing cough frequency:  9:34; 9:47; 10:12; 10:21.  Finally, I decided to call it.  I gave myself 16 miles as a deadline and did my best to push it to that point.  I took a gu and made a point to note that the temperature started to decrease as we hit the fog.  We hit a downhill mile and I pulled out a 9:12 for mile 15 and then a 9:54 for mile 16.

And then I was done.  The policemen were nice enough to let me call E.  I walked to Wilshire and Doheny.  He picked me up.  And we went on to have a lovely day of brunch with my cousin, a dinner date, and drinks with friends.

No, this did not play out according to plan.  But I like to think that my flexibility to do what made sense for my body will pay off in the near future in the form of a successful and pleasantly finished full marathon in my dad's hometown.     


Anonymous said...

I admit to cyberstalking you yesterday and being alarmed that there wasn't a finishing time for you. I'm just relieved that you didn't have a major injury -- another friend of mine tore her calf muscle yesterday at a marathon in NC. Seems like you've had tough luck with marathons recently, especially with weather and pacing leaders. Hopefully the 3rd time's the charm in SLO! My friend Kate is running that one too, and going for ~4 hours/just under 4. Maybe you guys will want to run together?

Biting Tongue said...


Ah... you cyberstalked because you care! Thanks!

I'd love an intro to Kate. I suspect I'm going to shoot for just over 4, but I'd love someone to run with, even if it's just to keep a good even pace for the first 10K or whatever.

Arvay said...

The better part of valor and all that. I'm still proud of you!

bt said...

@Arvay -- aw, thanks. That comment totally made my day.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about your experience at LA. I agree with you, though not as hot as expected the first half of the course was WARM! I had also planned to wear the clover compression socks and decided against it but I decide on a hat which I regretted pretty quickly. Man, I also suffered CIM... are we gluttons for punishment or what?

Anonymous said...

I also DNF at the LA Marathon. My 1st DNF too.

I dropped out at mile 10. Definitely disappointed, but WE'LL BE BACK IN 2014, right?? :)

Angela Knotts said...

Sorry to hear it didn't go the way you planned, but it sounds like you made the smart choice to save it for another day.

On the other hand, I am SUPER amused by the image of people just peeing willy-nilly (pun intended) all over the sidelines. What is wrong with people????