Monday, October 12, 2009

Post-Race: Long Beach Marathon

Because I know all of you have been checking daily to see if I have put up my race report, I figured it had to be the first post back from my weekend at home. Let me just start with the good stuff first so that you don't feel like you have to read through this whole thing to figure out how I did:
  • Final time: 3:37:12 (6 minutes faster than Chicago)
  • Pace: 8:18 minutes per mile
  • Placed 351 out of 3348 runners
  • Placed 291 out of 2053 among males
  • Placed 39 out of 245 in my division
  • In my last 8.2 miles, I was passed by 27 people but passed 70
What's pretty crazy is that my first 10k split was 49:47 for an 8:01 pace, but my 12.9 split was 1:40:52, lowering my total pace up to that point down to 7:50. So that stretch from 6.2 to 12.9 was actually run at a 7:37 pace. I ran the first 18 miles in 2:24:59, for an 8:02 pace, meaning that my last 8.2 miles were run at 8:48 per mile.

When I first saw that I had done that, I was a little annoyed with myself that my time had dropped so much. But now, I'm actually kind of impressed that I managed to keep up that pace for what is by far and away the hardest part of the marathon. I managed to not hurt myself at all. I have no real joint soreness. I had some knee pain during the race, but I think that is something that will go away if given some time to heal. My ankles are fine. It's really weird to me that all the pain that I had been feeling in my ankles over the summer just magically went away in the last several weeks.

So in the end, I improved on my first marathon time by 6 minutes while weighing a few pounds more and running less. Figure that one out.

Here is where you can stop if you're not interested in all of the marathon details, but read on if you want to hear my take on the Long Beach Marathon experience, and the thoughts that I have throughout the marathon and what the experience is like.

My first mistake was picking a world-renowned marathon like Chicago as my first marathon. If I had been planning on only running one marathon in my lifetime, then it's the right thing to do. But now that I'm officially a marathon runner (now that I have two under my belt), just about anything else that isn't on the same large-scale that Chicago is will always pale in comparison.

The race organizers boasted more than 20,000 participants, which is true, but only because they actually have a concurrent half-marathon and 5k going on as well. As you may have noticed, there were only a little over 3,000 marathoners out there.

The best part about Chicago was probably the worst part about Long Beach - local race support. Chicago has almost 2 million people line the streets in support of all the runners, and you definitely feel it too. I'd say at least 20 miles of the 26.2 are lined with people on both sides of the street cheering on not just the people they came to support, but anyone else who they happened to notice. Dave made the comment to Mike that it didn't feel the same way with Long Beach, and he was definitely right. With only a few exceptions, unless the person standing to the side actually knew you, they were quiet. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that no matter what, when you see both thousands and thousands of runners and supporters, it's impossible to not capture the excitement. For future reference, if you ever do decide to run a marathon, make sure to take time to see if the marathon you choose does have good crowd support. I've heard of a few that aren't the major ones that actually are known specifically for having such good community participation. When you're running for that long, you'll grab onto ANYTHING as motivation to keep on moving.

This also happened to make the few supporters I did have all the more valuable because of how little cheering there was otherwise. A friend of mine from home ran the marathon with me, and his dad drove us down at 5 AM to Long Beach, which was so unbelievably nice, but he also stayed the entire time too. When I rounded a corner at 7 miles, I heard him call my name and I turned my head, and really did feel a surge of energy. When I approached the finish line and saw my two gay friends, Dave rocking Mason in the baby bjorn and Mike, it meant the world to me that they bothered to come on out. As usual, I had the most incredibly painful burning sensation in my calves following the race, and I was so lucky to have Mike stretch me out. When I forgot the bag that I checked in before the race when we were already halfway to the car, Mike graciously picked it up for me. There was nothing better than seeing Mase chew on the bjorn while Dave took pictures of everything. They seem like little things, but they become so magnified when you're just so exhausted.

The first 10-12 miles of the course are beautiful - running right in front of the bow of the Queen Mary, on the boardwalk along the beach, right along the port of Long Beach, but miles 12-17 blew. They were in normal neighborhoods and very few people were out to support. You wouldn't think it'd be such a big deal, but I guess having the experience I had last year compared to this one yesterday makes me realize just how important a component that is to running the marathon. Whether the person knows you or not, it's like each shout, however ambiguous it is in referring to you, somehow charges your batteries just enough to make it another 100 feet, and while you're running on fumes the last few miles, you're making it on sheer willpower and good vibes from the race supporters. This is what made running through the campus at Cal State Long Beach so important - lots of different frats and sororities came out in support, including the cheer and flag squads, and they came out during some really tough parts of the run. Although I will say I didn't like that a good portion of the course had you backtracking on the opposite side of the street that you had been on just an hour before.

It made a world of difference for me to have the experience of last year in my back pocket for running this year's race. I was much better at listening to my body and pulled over to stretch and rest for a second when I did feel the pulling/straining sensations in my calves or quads. I think I fueled really well given that I never felt too thirsty or too heavy from fluids. The one problem I did have was that I would have killed for some bathroom relief from mile 15 or so and on. I should have been on a more regular eating/exercising schedule in the weeks leading up to the race, but I think a lot of it can be blamed on the drive from Utah to California. I ended up using the bathroom at different times than I normally would because of that. That wasn't very much fun to run with that feeling...

Anyway, like I was saying, knowing I had done this before made a world of difference. Although I had run a couple of 22 mile runs in training, there is just nothing that feels like those last 4-5 miles in the marathon, unless covering the full marathon distance is in your training regimen. I could finish a 22 mile run and not even be sore the next day, and be back to running within two days. Miles 21-25 are so incredibly lonely and hard, but I was well aware of that coming into this race. I knew that I would be stopping somewhat frequently to stretch out and would ease myself into faster and slower paces. And you can't credit enough just how much having the confidence of having experienced this before gives to you when you're trying to do it again. I was really amazed at how much I was able to straighten up and leg out the last 1.2 miles of the race.

I've been reading this book lately, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and it's the memoirs of this Japanese author talking about his running experience. There is one part that I really love:
One runner told of a mantra his older brother, also a runner, had taught him which he's pondered ever since he began running. Here it is: Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you're running and you start to think, Man this hurts, I can't take it anymore. The hurt part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand any more is up to the runner himself. This pretty much sums up the most important aspect of marathon running.
It seriously does. For the first 16 or so miles, I really felt fine, but then I started to reach a point where I'm seeing signs for the 21, 22, and 23 mile markers, areas that I know I won't traverse for another hour or so, and then I start to feel a little discouraged thinking about how achey my body is starting to feel. For the last 1/3 of the marathon all I'm doing the entire time is talking myself into finishing the race - I can run at least to the streetlight; I can run for another mile; I can't let this person beat me; I've done this before, I know I can do it. For the last 3 or 4 miles, I said some of my most fervent prayers that I've said in weeks: Please strengthen my calves so that I can finish this race; Please bless my right achilles that it won't tear until I cross the finish line; Please let this Powerade give me enough electrolytes to keep my legs moving for another ten minutes. I can't quite remember what went through my head last year. I think I was mostly just concentrated on finishing it, but I was surprised at how much self-talk and prayer there was in the last 45 minutes of running. It's funny what things will come out when you're feeling so desperate.

This is the last thing I'll say about marathon running. I ran 22 miles twice in my training, and was for the most part pretty consistent, but there is something about the last several miles that really takes it out of you. When I would finish the 22 mile runs, I would be tired, but I would recover enough that within a day or two I could go back to running. I'm finding that with the full marathon, I have aches and pains in places that I didn't know could hurt so much from running. Biceps? Between my shoulders? Really? What that author wrote is so true - the amount of pain you can tolerate really is up to you. Hurt is going to happen no matter what, but not running a marathon or not finishing one is only because you've told yourself that you can't do it. I feel like that's a metaphor for life.

Another thing, I'm amazed at how finishing the marathon frees up new energy to get on top of other areas of my life. Sometimes I feel like I have a finite amount of energy/attention to devote to certain things, and training just takes up so much of that, but I feel refreshed now to resume those other things. Refreshed mentally. My body still kinda hurts like hell. But at least I'm getting a massage tomorrow.

Thanks for coming this far. I'm thinking that my next marathon might be New York, and I might try and do it for charity. I think it's time for me to run that kind of race. But since that's a year away, it's about time I tried out some other athletic endeavors for a bit.

I'll post pics as soon as I get them.


Karen said...

Excellent recap! You are, of course, amazing. I still have a deep down desire to do at least a half marathon someday.

Congrats on dropping your time! Enjoy that massage tomorrow. Maybe even spring for the happy ending. :)

My word verification is: crusty. I hate that word, btw.

Laura said...

congrats! that is awesome. i was running just a mere 4 miles with friends the other day and we commented that we could not imagine running 26 of these. it's just crazy

Dave said...

I drove 26 miles the other day. I am gonna go see someone about that twinge in my ankle.