Category Archives: Race Reports

LA Marathon 2012: Rookie Mistakes, Nervous System Fail, Semi-Retirement

Well it’s been almost a week since I ran the LA Marathon last Sunday. Last year, I ran it in a rainstorm and nearly went hypothermic (see LA Marathon Race Report 3-20-11: Misery Redefined. I had hoped to redeem myself this year but it was not redemption I got.
The forecast was for rain again and my brain just sulked at the prospect of running it yet again in cold rain. Saturday before the race, the rain came down midday and I looked out the window at cloudy, wet skies and really was not psyched to run at all. If I had woken up to rain race morning, I was determined to just stay home and quit.
Here was my first rookie mistake: how can you run a race when you’ve already psyched yourself out before it even started?
Training before the race had not progressed well. About 2 months before, I was doing some Turkish Get-Ups with kettlebells and managed to strain some muscles in/around my left quad at the knee. This set off a chain reaction in my nervous system where if it started to get sore, my fascia would clamp down on my knee – first my left, and then a complementary reaction in my right knee. I never let the strained muscle heal completely; my time was short to the race and had little time to take off. So I trained through it. However, it was exacerbated by the fact that I added weekly mileage too fast. Normally I would add about 15 minutes each week. During this build, I decided to just add about 25-35 minutes each week. Looking back, I’m sure that this build was too much for my strained muscle and it kept bothering me, creating tension that would arise in response to high stress during the latter part of my long runs.
Second rookie mistake: Adding too much mileage during the training build.
This all caused my nervous system to flare up. By the time race week came, my quads were in a perpetual state of flex. Never felt anything like it. I did no running at all in the last week just to let them calm down. They finally came down to some semblance of relaxation before the race, but they needed a full detraining to reset them from flexing too much in response to race stress.
Add to that the fact that I wasn’t sleeping well in the weeks before all added up to a heightened nervous system that always ready to go, but never let me calm down enough to recover. There was also stress in finding time to run 3 hours; winter training meant reduced day time hours, as did responsibilities with my family. I managed three 18 milers but I usually like to do at least one 20+ miler, if not two, before a marathon.
Heading into Sunday morning, I woke up at 330am, wishing that it was raining so I could just call it quits. But the roads were dry so I got myself up and prepped, and drove out to catch the bus to the start.
The race itself was not very eventful in memory. I was not psyched to start, so I went out easy although I hit the half way mark past 1:50 so I was on pace for a sub-4 hour finish.
As for the rain, it turned out to be a nice sunny but cool day with whipping winds but thankfully no rain at all. I was very happy to be wearing a cool waterproof running jacket by REI called the REI Airflyte Running Jacket with eVent Fabric. Although it was not raining, the jacket was very breathable and it cut the wind amazingly well.
The sub-4 hour time was not to be. My nervous system acted up at around mile 16 when muscles around my right knee started tightening up. This lead to successive tightening up and down the kinetic chain, into the anterior tibialis and up my inner quad up to my hip. There was also stiffness and pain in my right foot arch and around the inner ankle bone.
The tightness in my right leg soon caused a reaction in my left leg in nearly the same places although not as worse. Soon it became painful to even move my right leg in running form; I had to stop and walk every few steps to calm it down. Then I would run and it would tighten up again. I tried to find some movement pattern where it would not flare up in tightness and pain and tried to vary it in little ways, but to no avail. This went on all the way to the finish line where I finished in my worst marathon in years at 4:46.
Well, no such luck with redemption. But it’s OK. I resolved to semi-retire after this race in any case. Having kids and being back in the work force just made long runs too hard to manage. I already gave up on triathlons and Ironmans, and now I’m passing on marathons and focusing on my swimming and half marathons, Total Immersion swim coaching, and my strength building work. Time for new challenges and phases in life….

NYC Marathon 2011 11-6-11 Race Report

This is a bit late but finally getting to this!
To recap, the build to this NYC Marathon was only about 2 months. Very short, but I got there without too many problems in my muscles.
NYC was very chilly, although there was a warming trend. The morning of the marathon was still very chilly – 42 degrees or so! I got out there early as usual. Nearing the start of the race, I of course butted my way up as far to the front of the line as I could get. But with 45,000+ people racing, I realized that the field was going to be full no matter where I would be – there was just too many people.
Everything was going great until I hit mile 18.5. Here is a screen shot of my pacing from my Garmin 305 watch.

I was at a very fast pace, just racing by perceived effort to the edge of my threshold pace. But as my pacing showed, and what I remembered from the feeling in my legs which were getting tighter and tighter, I was slowing down bit by bit.
I did manage to hit mile 13 at 1:43, or about 1:42 at my chip time. This was on pace for a sub-3:30 finish, assuming I could hold that. But of course I could not.
At about mile 18.5, I cramped which ruined my day. You can see the HR drop on these graphs, along with my pace.

After that, it was a constant cycle of walk about 2-3 minutes until the cramp spasm goes away, and then run until the cramp started again.
I still managed a 4:02 chip time but it wrecked my 3:30 goal time.
Observations and learnings:
1. It is possible for me to build to marathon fitness in only 2 months. It verifies my previous coach’s teachings, which is that you can build to endurance racing fitness by ramping volume only in the last few months of training, rather than maintaining a volume program for longer periods of time.
I would not recommend this to beginning marathoners. I think there are many variables that make it possible for me to have built successfully to marathon fitness in so short of time, not the least of which that I have now many years of endurance racing under my belt.
I signed up for the LA Marathon 2012 in March next year. I hope to build, starting Jan 1 so I’ll have about 2.75 months to build to that race. This is still not the typical 4 months or more that I usually like to have to build to a marathon, but having done so with NYC I feel confident that I can do it again.
2. The cramping problem is one that I have faced for many years. At the NYC Marathon, the day was relatively cool so temperature was probably not the factor in making me sweat too much and lose too many electrolytes. I also was taking electrolyte pills, about 1-2 per hour. My best guess is that I did not have enough strength to maintain my level of effort over the full 26.2 miles.
To remedy this, I am back on my Russian strength building program and hope to be deadlifting over 200 lbs by the time Jan 1 rolls around. I need to be stronger at a 3:30 pace or else I will risk cramping again.
I am back on my ASR Speed program and will be working on my speed, as well as strength building, until the new year. Then I hope to use a fast build to the LA Marathon, like the one I used for the NYC Marathon.

LA Marathon Race Report 3-20-11: Misery Redefined

The LA Marathon for 2011 started very poorly. There was rain in the forecast for LA, but it hit SF first and 1/2 hour before my flight was supposed to take off, AA cancelled my flight due to weather, sunspots, whatever! I got on the phone with their special hotline but they told me everything was booked solid and I could arrive on Tuesday. Well, that works real well, don’t it? So they did give me a refund thankfully on Saturday’s leg BUT I was panicking on how to get down to LA in time to get to the expo at Dodger Stadium, which was closing at 5pm!
I literally ran over to the Southwest desk, at the end of the next building over, to see if they had something. There was a flight with space, but it was at 310p at Oakland airport! I took it on the chance that I could get to LA in time to get over to Dodger Stadium. It was supposed to arrive at 420p but I thought that the chance of me getting to LAX in time to get in a taxi and get over to Dodger Stadium before 5p was pretty slim if not even possible. But I have no other choice. I hop in a taxi and he huffs it to Oakland.
As I’m sitting in the taxi, I’m starting to panic. Thankfully I find someone in LA to go to pick up my race materials for me. I forward over my race confirmation email, a picture of my license which I amazingly had on my hard drive, and an authorization letter. I get on the Southwest flight and arrive at 430p which meant that I would have never gotten to the expo in time.
I arrive to cold and light drizzle. That was the first part of this miserable experience.
The next morning I got to the race start and it was relatively dry but very overcast. The wind had picked up but all of us were staying within Dodger Stadium to keep out of the cold and wind. I hoped that the weather would just stay overcast without rain. I was wrong.
The race started but it was a big blur due to the weather. Shortly after we start, the rain starts coming down. First it was a drizzle, and it was stopping and starting. I was doing OK, actually going pretty darn fast all things considering. It was probably a mistake to run at that speed though.
At mile 14, my right quad starts threatening to cramp. Up to that point, I had run through many instances of stopping and starting rain, with the rain getting more severe as the day went on, and the wind was picking up also. My hands and fingers were getting numb and I could barely open up my gel packets. I was running through rivers in the roads and my feet were getting numb from being cold and wet. I couldn’t tell how my feet were being placed on the ground; they felt like stumps.
My race clothes were getting totally wet and I knew that stopping would be a potentially fatal mistake. Wet clothing in cold weather will suck heat out of your body like nothing else. It could make me hypothermic. So I had to keep moving no matter what.
My quad doesn’t get better; it gets worse. I start walking when it seizes up until it calms down. I remember bringing some salt tablets and take those, but it helps not enough. This begins to repeat itself over and over again and I start slowing down considerably, especially when my left quad starts to do the same thing!
By mile 19, my quads were getting screwed and taking longer and longer to calm down. I start walking for longer periods of time until they calm down. By mile 21, I am only walking. And it’s raining hard. I start to shiver which is not a good thing. Thoughts of quitting enter my mind, even at mile 21 so close to the finish. I start looking for a medical tent to retreat to in order to quit. I ask around at aid stations where the heck is the next medical tent. They keep pointing down the marathon course. Wonderful. I’m walking, freezing my ass off, on the verge of going hyperthermic, and these guys tell me to keep going.
So I want to quit, but cannot quit. By this time, I start getting mad. I think about the crap I went through the day before. I think about my build to the Honolulu Marathon in December and couldn’t race because I sprained my ankle 3 weeks before. And even if I want to quit, I cannot!
At mile 22, I am at about Barrington and San Vincente which is near where a couple I know lives. As I pass through there, I start running because I don’t want my friends to see me walking. The things I do to maintain my tough guy illusion.
I get to mile 23 and see a medical tent there but keep walking. I get to mile 24 and figure out that if I walk for a 10 count, and then run for a 20 count, I can actually get my speed up. I reach the home stretch on Ocean Ave in Santa Monica and just start running to look good crossing the finish line. I cross at chip time of 4:15:00.
After crossing the line, I start shivering uncontrollably and I’m limping due to my quads being so tight. The wind at the beach on Ocean Ave is considerably greater than amongst the buildings. Now I’m walking and move quickly to grab a mylar blanket. But the wind is just whipping my blanket around. So it’s raining hard, the wind is dropping my body temperature, and I’m walking to my daughter and her mom who have come down in the raging rain to see me at the finish line. I finally find them and now I move/limp to where the expo is…and my race gear bag. After some miserable minutes, we get there and it’s a mess getting my race gear. The trucks are chaos and finally they find my bag. I move rapidly back to a tent where about 50 other people are huddled under in the whipping wind and rain. By now I can’t stop shivering. I take off my wet clothes and put on some dry stuff. Then it’s off to my car where I can barely grip my steering wheel because my hands are numb and get home to a hot shower where I finally can stop shivering.
Before this race, I thought that my most miserable race was Ironman CDA back in 2009. It, too, was a cold, drizzly day and after 12+ hours in that, it was sucked pretty bad. But after running in the whipping rain and wind in 40-50 degree weather, this has become my most miserable race. It’s too bad; the course is not bad and I’m sure in decent weather this is a great race. It’s easier than NYC Marathon and I think I can set my marathon PR here. But not when the weather is so cold and wet.
My new definition of misery is….LA Marathon 2011.
1. In thinking about what went wrong, I think my race prep was OK.
2. I think I went out too fast, even though I wanted to PR and didn’t feel all that bad.
3. Since it was very cold, I think my nutrition could have been better. I did not drink nearly as much fluid, limiting my intake of electrolytes and calories. I also decided to try not taking salt tablets which may have caused or enhanced my cramping.
4. I should have run with wool socks which would have helped even when wet. I also should have worn my gloves which could have helped my hands not be so numb.
5. Cramping hasn’t happened to me in a while. But I think I pushed too hard this race, too early. I think I will try some insight from Tim Ferriss’s Four Hour Body which was about how a coach first gets his athletes as strong as possible. I think that in general, I am not so strong and need to do this.
6. Maybe I should have just resigned myself to fate and not worked so hard to get to LA the day before and just not raced. Certainly I would have just sat here enjoying the warmth of my apartment while watching the wind and rain through my window.
But then I would have been disappointed to have done another training build to a race that I wasn’t able to run. That would have sucked.
All in all, I am glad I finished. It is said that Ironman elites have extreme mental toughness. I think that even though I felt miserable, I think that my fortitude in the face of overwhelming odds was trained significantly. I look forward to applying that in my next marathon.
Besides, I have to maintain the illusion of being an Ironman tough guy amongst my racing friends…

Waikiki Rough Water Swim 9-4-06

Waking to a beautiful aloha morning in Honolulu and swimming 2.4 miles is the best thing.
The Waikiki Rough Water Swim was the original swim after which the swim leg of the first Ironman was modelled after. It makes this swim extra special to do.
This year, they let us out, after heavy winds prevented a race start last year. The water was very calm at the start and getting through the rollers was a breeze. It’s always fun swimming through the breakers and the challenge of not getting wiped out as you’re making your way through the waves is very cool.
The swim is one of the best marked I’ve seen. The buoys are easy to spot, with a tall flag rising above the waves into the sky. They are also spaced very close so that as soon as you reach one, you can pretty much see the next one. And by the way, you’re not sighting into the sun on this race at all…Very nice!
Clouds obscured the sun for most of my swim which was great to not have the sun beaming into my eyes upon taking a breath. Also, burning my race numbers into my skin would have been embarassing as well!
It’s about 14 buoys to the turn and I make it to the beach feeling very strong the whole way. I hit the beach at around 1:20 or so and my arms feel very tired. It was a good swim and I am glad to have shown improvement all this year in my strength and form.
Can’t wait to do it again next year! Maybe next year I’ll do the Dick Evans road race the day before.which is a 112mile bike race around the island. Also of Ironman fame, is the Honolulu Marathon which one of these days I’ll have to run…

More on Honu

Some more thoughts:
Logistics are always a problem at races. This one was no exception. Getting there in the morning was not well thought out. The start was about 6 miles away, on rolling hills, from the hotel. Not good. No way I was going to ride there in the morning. Parking was limited there, so you needed to get there early in the morning or else no parking spot for you! And then, after the race, how does one get back there to get the car? T2 was back at the hotel, but remember your car is still sitting back at the beach where we started. Not even a shuttle set up – you’d have to beg a ride, ride your bike, or get a taxi to travel back there to get your car. Or come with many friends and figure out logistics.
Drafting was key on the swim. I just kept finding peoples’ feet to follow, and the crystal clear waters made it easy to see the bubbles of other swimmers. One downside; as I mentioned in my previous post, we all were swinging wide of the buoys which added to our time, and the sun made it hard to see you were on track. I remember passing one buoy on the right finally, and realizing I was at least 30m away from it! This contributed to my additional swim time….

Honu Half Ironman Report 6-3-06

Honu went well except for overheating on the run.
Had my best half IM swim here, hitting the mat at 40:12. I thought the swim was setup poorly. The sun had risen right on the line of buoys and we were sighting into the sun as we tried to find the buoys. A lot of us ended up swinging wide unfortunately as an offshore wind was pushing us seaward, and poor sighting made it hard to know how close the buoys were.
Bike started off well. The temp was fairly moderate although a bit muggy and warm. Definitely not October Kona weather! Took a good 15-20 min to settle down on the bike and get my HR steady. Windy conditions made some stretches tough and I don’t think i’ll be bringing my front ZIPP wheel again! Some gusts made steering difficult and pretty hairy as I lost control of my front wheel while on aerobars.
I tried to keep even power and didn’t overdo it in an attempt to NOT cramp towards the end of the bike like on my last 3 half IMs! Bike ended up being about 3:10 which I felt good about given hills and wind.
Got into T2 and popped out onto the run with fast pace so my brick tolerance is very good now.
BUT…towards mile 5 I started feeling not too good. I started overheating and feeling the heat/humidity. At every aid station I would guzzle some gatorade or cola but it just kept gurgling in my stomach. It seemed like I stopped sweating and it was tough to drive my body to do more. I went to the bathroom once and saw that my urine was yellow, despite all the stuff I was drinking so I slowed down and walked and jogged until mile 10. At mile 10, the clouds rolled in and a nice cool breeze started blowing. I felt much better and then I started running and ran to the finish line at a good clip.
Definitely was not acclimatized and it’s something I really need to watch out for in the next hot weather race. At least I did not cramp on the run so at least I solved that. I also grabbed some cool sponges and held them in my hands. That felt pretty good as well and I heard last year somebody threw ice into some light gloves to keep cool. Looks like it works.
Biking still needs work. At least pacing is good, but I need to continue getting stronger. Same for the run, and need more strength for hills. The run course was through their golf course and had these steep choppy hills throughout.
2 Large Water Bottles each w/ 1.5 scoops Accelerade and one scoop Carbo-Pro, 3 small scoops of Endurolyte powder.
2 bites Balance Bar
1 GU every 45 minutes
1 Saltstick electrolyte capsule every 30 minutes
2 Large Fuel Belt bottles of Cola
1 GU every 45 minutes
1 Saltstick electrolyte capsule every 30 minutes
Onwards to IM Austria training.

NYC Marathon Race Report 11-6-05

It’s 430am and I get up to prepare for the race. The night before I lay out just about everything I need so that I won’t forget anything. But of course, I already find out that I don’t have any electrolyte tablets in my apartment, a fact that will prove critical in the race later.
But I fill up my race bottles with flat Coca-Cola, put GU gel in my fuel belt, get my race number belt ready with the race number and attach my timing chip to my running shoe. I double check that and then I throw everything into my bag and off I go.
I arrive at the NYC Public Library and it’s still pitch dark. The stars are shining in the sky so I know it’s going to be a warm day, as it has been the last few days.
I sit on the bus next to a guy from Oregon. He says he’s trying to get to 50 marathons, one for each state. More power to him. I am not sure my bod could take so many marathons in so short a time, or else I’m gonna die before I hit 50 states worth of marathons.
The sun finally starts coming up as we get over to the starting line in Staten Island. Different starting area this year. I don’t see the usual half-a-huge-PVC pipe pee-ing station. And it’s organized more by color too – I am in the Blue section, so they have their own food and UPS trucks to take our stuff to the finish line.
I chat with this woman from Iowa who is running her first marathon in NYC. Hope she finishes OK.
So my pacing really sucks, and this year I decide to follow some of the pace leaders. For kicks, I decide to follow the 3:40 group since I am thinking I will finish in 3:45; but who knows, maybe I’ll have a great day and finish in 3:40!
In the start of these races, my mind is usually filled with so many emotions and thoughts. I think about my goals in this race and wonder if I will do OK or crater somewhere in the middle. I think about my whole life surrounding racing and what it means to me.
I think about support, of which I don’t have any live support this year, but yet so many others have friends and family to cheer people on. But I’ve told people not to come; NYC Marathon is not an easy one to watch for your friends. You need to plan very well. And the last two years I’ve been totally off my time estimates and I am sure supporting spectators would have been wondering if they missed me or not. But somehow, it is nice to have support if it’s there.
I think about my daughter and how much she means to me, and missing her very much. I also think about my new life in this startup and wonder where that will go.
My brain is a jumble, but it all returns to race focus as soon as the cannon goes off.
The crowd surges forward. I am ahead of the 3:40 group for a while, but not for long. With so many people, it’s impossible to keep pace. I blow right through and around people trying to get back on track, and I see the 3:40 pace leader doing the same.
The Verrazano Bridge serves to be a heavy duty warm up – it is an annoying long hill, and we are glad to see the other side where we increase our pace to make up lost time.
The next 12 miles are a blur. I manage to pull ahead of the 3:40 pace leader and the group and keep that lead until a mile or two after mile 13.1. I hit that at 1:51, a bit slow for 3:40, but in range for a 3:45 finish.
Then I reach the 59th Street Bridge and my ass is kicked. It is fairly steep and it drains me going up and over. The 3:40 pace leader has joined up with his buddy who is also leading another 3:40 group. They blow by me and I lose them.
But I never get my pace back. The climb wipes me and I don’t get a chance to recover. The following miles are a series of gradual, grinding uphills where I don’t get the chance to recover and rest.
At mile 20, my right quad starts twitching like it’s gonna cramp. This is where those electrolyte tablets would have made a HUGE difference.
I don’t get my groove back until about mile 24 when all of a sudden I find some more energy, and I get my pace back up to about 9:00-ish per mile. And miraculously, the cramping subsides as well. I manage to finish following the 3:50 pace leader and my time is 3:51, which I am very happy for. It is a new PR for me and a substantial improvement from my last year’s time of 4:24.
But man, I hurt all over. For some reason, this year’s race was more taxing on my bod than last year. I move through the finish line with everyone else and my legs feel very abused. I make it to where I pick up our race stuff and I change out of my sweaty, smelly race clothes, and into some clean clothes.
As I move (verrrrryyyy slowly) out of the meeting area, I reflect on the fact that I can’t move very fast at all. My legs and feet hurt a lot, and I say to myself that I can’t do this race again next year. I need a break!
All the while, I am wishing that some strong, muscular guy would come over and carry me home.
Don’t you ever wish that this would happen to you?…No?…Never?
Hmmm…well I was just kidding then…really…