John Muir Trail

John Muir Trail

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Race Report: 2012 LA Marathon

This is one of a handful of race/run reports that I wrote before I started this blog.

Raced the LA Marathon on Sunday, so here's some deets about my preparation, the race, and some post thoughts.
I've been running for about 5 years, the last 4 or so have been more serious, but I don't have any high school or collegiate history of pure running, so it's been a process.
Pre Race
I decided last year that I wanted to go sub 3 in a marathon this year, and 18 weeks seemed like a good amount of time to prepare for it, so I followed Hal Higdon's Advanced 1 plan to add some structure to my normally unstructured mileage. My long runs were at around 7:45 to 8 minute pace, tempo around 6:20, and track repeats at 6 min pace (Yasso 800 pace). I peaked in training at about 62 miles per week, with a couple weeks in the mid fifties and a few weeks in the high 30s to high 40s. I'll post my training log when I get home, can't access imgur at work.
I hit my last long run 3 weeks out from the race, and it was a smooth 20. Felt great, nutrition was solid, and finished feeling relaxed, so I was ready for a recovery week, and 2 weeks of taper. Recovery week was around 42 miles with a solid hill workout in the middle of it, first taper week was 30 miles with a set of 90 second 400s in the middle, and race week was 12 miles, pretty much all easy with a few 400m shake outs on Tuesday and full rest Thursday/Friday. Thurs/Fri/Sat consisted of a lot of time with my legs up on the couch reading, to make sure they were resting and loosening up.
Nutrition-wise during the week, I focused on carbohydrates like pasta, and potatoes, protein like chicken, and some fruits and veggies, like salad, banana, apple, and OJ. I made sure I had enough food to eat any time that I felt hungry, and made sure my meals consisted of at least a source of complex carbs and a source of lean protein. My calorie consumption seemed reasonable without being ridiculous, in terms of how full I felt and how often I was hungry. I haven't even counted calories, so no quantitative data on that front. I also carried a water bottle around with me everywhere I went to make sure I followed a diligent hydration plan, but I pretty much do this anyway.
Race Day
Race Day at LA Marathon is brutal if you don't stay at a hotel or have friends to drop you off. It's point to point, so you have to park at the finish and take a shuttle up to the start. The race starts around 7:30 and the last shuttle leaves for it's 45 minute journey at 5:30. I arrived early and got on the 4:30 shuttle, so I ended up sitting around for about 30 minutes until I began my warmup at 5:45. Luckily it was recommended to bring throwaway jackets/pants that they would donate for you after the race, so I was plenty warm (it was about 40 deg F outside).
Warmup consisted of a lap around Dodger Stadium, 4 sets of strides, some dynamic stretching, and another lap. Then I checked gear and got into the starting corral with about 45 mins to go.
My nutrition plan was as such: 6 gels total, 1 20 mins before gun, 1 20 mins after gun, and every 30 from there on out. This had seemed to work for me on a 30k trail race I did in January. They had water every mile, so I opted to drink a gulp of water every mile to try and stay hydrated but not have to pee.
After all the starting hoopla and a lot of too-loud announcer babble (speaker was literally next to my starting corral, and had to be loud enough for 23,000 racers to hear...ugh), the race set up to go approximately on time.
Gun went off and I started settled in to what I felt was a decent pace. The start is a short uphill followed by a couple miles of steep downhill, so I was trying to dial my effort (heart rate) to match my flat race pace miles that I did during training. This seemed to work OK, but my first mile was 6:14, followed by a 6:27, but my heart rate seemed to be at a reasonable level, so I was OK with going that quickly. The course flattened out midway through the 2nd mile, and I tried to settle onto a 6:45 or so pace, but it felt a bit difficult. Additionally, I felt drowsy. I decided that I was just cold from the downhill (at this point I was wearing running shorts, singlet, headband and gloves) and pushed through, but my heart rate was not settling out, and the uphill had started around mile 3.5.
I hit the 10k mark at 42 minutes even which felt good because the end of the course featured a lot of false flat and some big downhills, so just under 7 minute splits over the initial hills seemed reasonable. Soon after this, however, I got passed by a 'Sub 3' group from a local running club, and decided to hop in a draft down Sunset Blvd. which was a little windy. This only lasted for about 2 miles, or just after the 9 mile mark, because they were clicking off 6:40 pace, which was not going to be sustainable for me, and we hit 9 miles just over 1 hour in.
I let them go, and kept on trying to click off between 6:50 and 7:10 miles, depending on the slope of the course. I hit the halfway mark at 1:28, and had just started to feel like this was about to turn into a sufferfest. My heart rate was still 8-10 BPM too high (higher than similarly paced 10 milers in training), and my legs were starting to show signs of cracks. I had already made the decision that I was gonna hit splits and make 3 hours, or blow up in epic fashion trying, so my race plan was to keep it up until blowing up. And that's pretty much exactly what happened.
Mile 17 started to get hard, but it was uphill, as was some of 18, but my splits were 7:14, 7:09 so I was relatively on track still. Mile 19 is where things started to fall apart. Pushing through leg pain and burn is nothing new to me, that's pretty much par for the course if you wanna be a fast runner, I suppose, but I had never had stomach problems before, and my stomach started to cramp, hard. I was starting to have trouble breathing because of the cramping, but I pushed through 19 at 7:40, but 20 slowed to 8:40, and I had to stop for a few seconds to try and shake out the cramps because it felt like my stomach was getting stabbed, which made it really tough to breathe.
If you've ever been in that situation where you've got a long way to go and you're in a lot of pain, you know the feeling of thinking, "Shit, this is gonna be a really shitty portion of time." 10k of pain feels like forever, haha. Nothing of note happened in the last 6.2 of the race except that I either had to walk/run or stop to let the cramps subside. I was pissed. Mostly because I thought I could handle any pain running would throw at me, but the stomach cramp/breathing thing was a new one, and I did not handle it well. I at my 5th Gu over the course of a mile or so, but I couldn't handle the 6th later on.
I knew I had no chance at 3:00, but I thought if I could close just under 8 minute miles I might hit 3:05, but after 20 went by at 8:42 and 21 went by at 9:04, I kept having to revise my estimated finishing time. What ended up getting me is that a guy I know, who I'm faster than, had run a 3:30 at California International last year, so I didn't wanna get beat by him, even though I was in the midst of an epic blow up. My last miles were between 8:45 and 12 minutes, depending on the terrain, but I clocked in around 3:26 at the finish.
Post Race
I stumbled forward for a while, got the medal and heat blanket, etc. but the water and nutrition were a long city block from the finish, and it took forever to get there. I drank some water and ate a couple bites of a banana, which did not sit well, and my abs started to cramp/spasm, which was an interesting feeling.
Finally made it to my car and home, slept for like 2 hours and then mowed down a Chipotle burrito, followed by a burger and fries about 4 hours later.
Monday my legs were a wreck. Hips hurt, quads and hams sore, back hurt, felt like an old man, haha. Went for a 2 mile walk after work yesterday, and now today feel a lot better, but am gonna stay off running for another day and maybe try a couple miles easy tomorrow.
The whole experience was humbling to say the least. I was confident that I could hit 3, even though LA is not the best course to do it on, and I had my ass handed to me. It was an epic though, and I've thought a lot about it in the last couple days. What can I do to avoid these problems in the future? How can I avoid stomach problems, etc. For one, I think I need more miles. High 30s for off weeks and a peak of 62 seems like too low. In hindsight, Hal Higdon is known for his philosophy of undertraining, so perhaps I should have hopped up to the Advanced 2 plan, or looked at other plans like Jack Daniels or Pfitzinger.
On a more holistic aspect, I took this race more seriously than I've taken any race since I was racing bicycles super seriously 10 years ago. I didn't drink alcohol for 2 weeks before hand, my taper was huge, comparatively, to any other tapers I've done for past races, and I had everything planned out, splits, nutrition, hydration, etc. One of my friends suggested that I had taken it too seriously and perhaps I was over-amped and under-stoked, which could have caused the elevated heart rate that I didn't see in race pace training runs, and have subconsciously affected me. I don't know if that is the case, but it could be, so maybe I will take a slightly more relaxed approach to my next race.
Next race I think will be Santa Rosa Marathon in August. It's flat and fast and the date gives me a month of recovery from this race followed by 16 weeks of training to prepare for another sub 3 bid.
Feel free to provide feedback. I'm all ears for improving my training and racing.

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