John Muir Trail

John Muir Trail

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Race Report: LA Marathon 2016

I don't know why I never published this, especially since at this race I finally met one of my first marathon goals: a sub 3 marathon.  Oh well.  Here it is, 1.5 years later.

Race Report

I had a go at breaking 3 hours at the Los Angeles Marathon this past weekend.  LA is a fun, rolling course that is a bit harder than it looks on paper.  To top things off, race week greeted me with some interesting circumstances to spice my life up a bit! Here's a write up of how I built up for the race and how the race went down.


I ran my first marathon at the 2012 LA Marathon.  I had a goal of breaking 3 hours, but after hitting my splits for the first 18 miles, the wheels started to come off when my stomach started cramping badly, making it tough to breathe.  I finished up with a 3:26 total epic implosion during the final 6 miles after splitting 1:29 in the first half.  Later that year, I ran 3:00:36 at the Santa Rosa Marathon, which set me up for a 3:03:47 at Boston the following year (2013).  I knew I needed a faster time to get back into Boston in 2014, but after a 3:10 at San Diego 7 weeks after Boston, and a DNS at Santa Rosa due to injury, I left the road marathon scene behind for the allure of mountain trail racing.  I knew I wanted to come back and break 3, but I had timeline set out for me at that moment.

Fall 2015, I capped off a great mountain racing season with the biggest milage that I've run and a ton of strength in my legs...I was feeling ready for a return to the road, and what better place to do it than LA, where I live just 2 blocks off of mile 22 and could potentially redeem my inexperienced and painful go at a sub 3 run.


The aforementioned serious mountain mileage was accrued this past summer training for my A-race for the year, the Wasatch Front 100, followed by the Yosemite Snake Pit 100, and the Ray Miller 100k.  I knew that I would have a solid base headed into the new year, but all those long mountain runs meant that I had no speed in my legs to speak of.  I budgeted a 4 week 'off-season' after Ray Miller to let my legs and mind recover before I started a 10 week buildup to LA, which would focus on getting some leg speed back.  The goal was to ramp up miles to something around 70 mpw, and get up to 2 quality sessions per week.  I wrote up my own training plan that focused around LT work and 1 long run per week.  Pfitz and Daniels inform most of my training decisions, and they both talk about LT work as the bread and butter of the marathon runner's training, so that's what I worked with.

You can creep my Strava data [here]( to get details, but the high level view of my training was as follows: LT work (tempo, mile repeats, progression runs, pyramid workout, Yasso 800s, etc.) once or twice a week with a long run on the weekend at 10-15% below marathon pace.  I established some consistency after a slow start in December, and really only had 1 week where I felt completely wrecked because of poor workout execution the week before.

Key Workouts:

Two workouts stood out in my mind from this buildup:

1. A set of [Yasso 800s]( that I ran in Albuquerque.  I hadn't realized that Albuquerque was at 5000 ft. so when I traveled out there for work, it was 26 deg. F in the am and I was damn cold running to the UNM track.  The first 3 reps were awful and I was sure that I wouldn't make it through the workout, despite that I was hitting my intervals.  I reduced the recovery because I was getting too cold between reps...oof!  After 4 and 5 I realized that my legs weren't getting worse, they just felt the same, so I kept pushing, 2 more, 2 more, until I ended up at 10.  I realized that hitting splits without dying, aerobically, that I was actually in really solid shape for a sub 3 run.

2. A [marathon pace]( workout on the last 5 miles of the course. I stacked the MP workout onto the end of a long week of training to get an idea of how to hit splits on tired legs.  I jogged backwards on the course to check out the mile 21 hill, and then hit pace from 21 to the finish.  This gave me some great context for how fast I could expect to go on race day on the actual terrain.

Best laid plans to hit 2 weeks at 70 mpw...didn't work out, but I got a couple 60+ and very consistent LT work.

Weekly mileage leading up to LA: 36, 48, 29, 46, 55, 52, 68, 19, 60, 41

Race Week

To complicate things, on Tuesday before the race, my back decided to spasm, hard, while I was sitting in a chair at work.  I got out of the chair and couldn't even stand up straight!  I could barely walk to my car after work.  PT and doctor visit and lots of rest/stability work, and it relaxed enough that by Saturday (after watching the trials...of course!) I was able to run an easy 1.5 with no pain.  Fingers crossed for race day...stay healthy! It worked out...but what a few days of anxiety!

Race Day

Race Day, I got up, ate some eggs and toast, did some mobility warm up, and headed down to the finish to lock my bike up so I could get home after the race.  Then my lady drove me up to the start with my buddy Rob where I did a short warm up, some leg swings, and headed to corral B where I managed to get a spot by politely asking the LA Marathon folks if my ultramarathon times and expired marathon results would be enough to get me into one of the corrals.  The alternative to a seeded corral is a 20000 person open corral at the back of the seeded corrals...not a great place to start when trying to run sub 3!  I downed a gel 15 minutes before the gun and I was ready to go.

Miles 0-4

I started off smooth, attempting not to expend too much energy getting through the crowds and up towards the front into the grouping of 3-hour runners.  The roads were wide and moving up was no problem.  I had decided to go out around 6:45 pace to ensure that I didn't run myself into a corner, needing to have an miracle finish if something went wrong in the middle miles.  My heart rate was already high...but the pace felt easy, so I chalked it up to the sometimes anomalous high HR at the beginning of a run.  I focused on form and resolved to accept my fate if I blew up shooting for 3 hours...go big or go home, right?  Legs felt good, back felt good, no reason to worry...yet.  (6:43, 6:23, 6:31, 6:33)

Miles 5-8

My nutrition plan called for a gel every 4 miles up to mile 20, so after taking down a gel at mile 4, I slurped water while running through an aid station and continued on.  These may have been the longest miles of the race until mile 26.   Some self doubt started to creep into the fringes of my thoughts...this feeling of heaviness in the legs, my high heart many miles to go....could I handle it? No choice but to keep running.  The course rolls a lot in the first 10 or so miles, so I took the hills in stride (thanks mountain running!) and stayed focused on form.  I had found my buddy Kevin, also gunning for sub 3, and we clicked off a lot of miles in the general vicinity of each other.  The uphills weren't super taxing, but I figured they might make me pay if I went too hard, so I dialed it back a bit when the incline increased.  None of the hills are very long.  (7:13, 6:58, 6:26, 6:33)

Miles 9-12

Another gel, more water.  Actually, after the great cramping debacle of 2012, I decided to drink water at every aid station, and there were plenty of aid stations, so I was drinking maybe once a mile. Since the aids weren't quite on even mile splits, I ended up choking down some gel with no water, which is never fun, until I began slightly adjusting the gel schedule to coincide with the water stations.

These middle miles are on Sunset and Hollywood where from the top of each roll in the road you can see the next few rolls headed West.  I got into a great groove, staying towards the center of the road to avoid the crown, and clicked off more miles.  My buddy Michael cruised up, in the zone, and we ran near each other for a bit.  I saw some friends along the course, but mostly just stayed focused on form, especially turnover/cadence, and tried not to think about how my legs felt a little heavy on the ups.  In 2012, I started to feel the effects of an impending blowup around mile 14, so I knew I was probably OK at this point. (6:49, 6:33, 6:37, 6:33)

Miles 13-16

I came through the half around 1:27 and change.  This gave me a little mental boost...feeling ready to execute for 13 more miles!  Downhills were flying by, uphills were taking a small toll and worrying me about the state of my quads.  No alarm bells yet, however, so as I finished miles 15 and 16 I gained a little confidence that I wasn't headed for disaster.  (6:49, 6:50, 6:09, 6:37)

Miles 17-20

Ahhh, the treasured high teens...where shit might just hit the fan like it did in 2012!  Turns out, however, that shit did not hit the fan, yet.  Legs growing increasingly tired, heart rate still quite high, but stomach was good.  Santa Monica Blvd. has some protracted downhill sections and the miles clicked off again.  Listened to some dudes talk about the Olympic Trials, running and life, which helped take my mind off my legs a bit, and the impending mile 21 hill.  I stayed focused on turnover and hip position and shook my arms out a bit to keep my shoulders loose.  (6:56, 6:38, 6:40, 6:42)

Miles 21-26.2

Mile 21 is all uphill next to the freeway.  It was here that I was pretty much locked into the pain cave for the remainder of the run.  My heart rate crept into the 190s where it hovered, sometimes dipping into the high 180s, until the finish.  The left turn onto Wilshire and the 'climb' up over the VA underpass was the first time I started to think that I might have this race in the bag.  All I had to do was get to mile 23.5 where it's all downhill, where I'd put in so many hours of repeats and tempo work to prepare myself for a strong finish.  I continued up San Vicente to where I saw my girlfriend and my running buddies who offered up some encouragement.  I couldn't respond in words, but I offered a feeble wave and powered on towards 26th st. and mile 23.5.  When I crested the rise and headed downhill, I let out a big woop! I was feeling confident! All I needed to do was to avoid cramping or some kind of epic blowup in the final 3 or so miles.  Again, I stayed focused on form and cadence, and pushed to keep myself at the target pace.  I was really feeling the effort now, but I didn't feel like I was dying! Keep pushing!  Mile 24, mile 25, the left turn onto Ocean Ave...I remembered this section feeling terribly long in 2012, but I wasn't sure if I was just a wreck then...nope, it still felt super long.  I was kind of a wreck this year as well, but not like before...probably just how you should feel at the end of a hard run marathon.  It is maybe a mile from the turn to the finish, but with a thick fog marine layer obscuring the distance, I couldn't tell how close I was to the finish until I was 400m out!  The crowd was going bananas which got me all pumped up and I held pace in over the last quarter mile to the finish.  Unofficial time, 2:56:03!  (7:03, 6:32, 6:48, 6:51, 6:34, 6:32, 2:34-a 6:26 pace).

[Strava Data](

The Aftermath

Afterwards, I met my 3 buddies Marshall, Kevin, and Michael in the finish area, all who met their goals of running sub 3 as well.  We were all riding high on our better way to finish!  We hung out, got some food, and then I took off to grab my bike and head back up to mile 22 to meet my friends and get some more substantial food (and beer) in me.

I am super stoked on how things ended up.  Nutrition and hydration all went to plan, I ran at, but not over, my limit, and I met my goal of running under 3 hours.  I ended up with a 4 minute PR on a much harder course than my previous PR was set on.  Overall, a great day of running to culminate the 10 week buildup and a couple years of thinking about that sub 3 goal.

Up Next

Next up is the Zion 100 in April, where my only goal is to finish and net 6 UTMB points.  It's a relatively easy trail 100, so hopefully I'll go sub 24, but the real training begins afterwards with the summer mileage buildup for the Angeles Crest 100, my A-race for the year.  I'm hoping to go low-mid 20s.  The LA Marathon performance is a great start to my buildup this year:  add speed in the early part of the year (LA), re-add mountains in the spring to get my hill legs back (Santa Barbara 9-trails in March and Zion in April), hopefully with more speed in them, and then build on all that through the summer to get my fitness to a 22-23 hour burly mountain 100-miler level at AC100.

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