Sunday, March 31, 2013


As the pattern has been lately, I felt great after the Canyon Meadow Trail Marathon last Sunday.  But I didn't run on Monday, in large part because I took the shuttle down from Berkeley rather than riding two miles into work.  Hard to get a morning run in with that kind of commute.  And then Tuesday, still behind on sleep, I couldn't manage to get out of bed before 8:30.

Wednesday and Thursday I got a run in, and made them longer on purpose to try and make up for missing a pair of runs.  Meant I missed out on speed training this week.  Haven't done that for a solid three weeks now.  And then Friday, after staying out late on Thursday night....slept in again.  Ugh.  Five days, only two runs.  Not even close to staying on schedule.  On a positive note, those two runs were both pretty good runs.

Decided I'd run on both Saturday and Sunday and did about 13 miles each day.  I actually meant to do something more like 10 and 20, but the first one wound up being longer than expected, and the second I had to cut short since I kept getting lost on some trails, and I needed to make it back in time to go to an Easter get-together.

The longer one just didn't go well in general, but produced some nice views, and it was in the same area as next week's race, the Grizzly Peak Trail Marathon.  Maybe the experience will be worth something.

I might add that when you use your cell phone as your camera for things like trail running, biking, and backpacking, the lens gets smeared and dirty very easily, resulting in blurry photos in all conditions.  If some smartphone maker would actually start putting those little trapdoors over the lens like you see on every point-and-shoot, that alone might earn my loyalty.  Better battery life too.  Do that and you'd think the phone/GPS/music/camera device was built specifically for geeky outdoorsmen like me.

I started at Athan's place and ran through the UC-Berkeley campus and up a ridiculous hill towards Tilden Regional Park.  The first three miles of the run, all uphill.  Gets you right away.  At one point, my route had me cut across only about 20 meters of grass to get from a fire road into a parking lot, at which point I'd hop onto the paved road and keep going.  When I got to that point, there was a chain-link fence with barbed wire at the top.
"Oh man," I thought, "do I need to go down the hill again, then all the way around and come back up?  I really don't wanna have to do any part of that hill again..."  I stopped running and walked up to the fence.  The gate was unlocked.  I let myself in and kept running.

Now past the fence, I could tell I was in some kind of complex where I probably wasn't supposed to be.  I was holding my phone to use the GPS and find my way when I needed to, but something told me that if I was stopped, they'd be upset about the phone and accuse me of taking pictures.  When I reached the other side of the complex, there was a huge security gate, two levels to it.
"OK, clearly, I wasn't supposed to be here...."  I saw that there was a simple door for bike traffic and let myself out.

From there, my route took me to Lake Anza, and kept going farther into the wilderness on a mix of trails and fire roads.  I gotta say, the trails in that area are beautiful, scenic, and nice for running, but that's supposing you know what you're doing.  There are also a lot of un-maintained trails going every which way, and the correct trails are rarely marked.  It's very easy to get lost and frustrated.  On top of that, it had been raining that weekend, which meant you couldn't go full-speed on the trails, and had to slow down and walk some of the trickier parts.  I still haven't had a serious fall since I started trail running, and I'd like to keep it that way.

I made my way to a spot called Inspiration Point, where there was a small, completely full parking lot and a lot of people taking pictures.  One group was speaking French.  I wondered if they were French or Canadian.  I saw some people going off to the side of the lot, down a small trail, to take pictures from another spot.  You had to let yourself through an unlocked gate to get there.  As it would turn out, that was where my route headed anyway.  I kept running past the photographers and headed down towards a reservoir on a fire road that had been completely over-run by grass.  Looking around, there was a barbed-wire fence on either side, and past that, plenty of cattle.  After less than half a mile, the wire stopped, and yet, there were still cattle. Unfenced.  Either I was running through someone's private land, or the open range exists only about five miles from Oakland, CA.  The cattle, standing right in the middle of the road, would look at me like I was from another planet, then hurry away.  I was worried an angry bull might show up behind me and defend his herd.  Luckily, that didn't happen.

At the bottom of the hill, right near San Pablo Reservoir, I came to the end of the fire road.  There was a six-foot high gate with a prominent "NO TRESPASSING" sign, complete with details on the legal procedure you would go through if you got caught.  Why do I keep finding the more obvious sign on the other side?  I climbed over the gate and kept running.  It started raining.

From there on out, I actually had to climb back over the ridge that I'd earned in the first three miles.  It wasn't exactly easier the second time around.  I was trying to hurry back to make it to that Easter get-together, so I cut the route a little short and mostly stuck to roads from there, not trails.  Coming back down on Berkeley on the other side of the hill, I probably could've finished the run a little quicker, only the roads were now slick.  I couldn't even take full advantage of the downhills I'd earned and instead had to tap the brakes and head down gingerly.

Even though the run didn't go as well as I'd hoped, any training is better than none.  And it's good to run on days when things don't go right.  If you only work in ideal conditions or when it's convenient, you'll only been any good in ideal conditions or when it's convenient, and you'll never get enough practice to become great.

I've been eating less-than-healthy lately, mostly due to Easter festivities.  But it's pretty hard to turn down a rack of lamb and Athan's montrous dessert creation, a cookie-cake-brownie-pie known as the Diabeta-bomb.  Not good as a habit, but something to try once before you die.

Only a week before the Grizzly Peak Trail Marathon.  After last week, I'd love to get a lot of running in, but it'd be best to not go too hard the week of a race.  Ahh, such a paradox.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bikes, Blues, and Barbecues featured on Texas Barbecue Posse

Not running-related, but still about one of my adventures and a pretty cool write-up:

Texas BBQ Posse on "Bikes, Blues, and Barbecues"

For those not in the know, my dad and I spent a week last May riding town-to-town on our bikes in Central Texas, stopping at the best barbecue joints in the state and listening to a lot of blues.  Good times.

And yes, I'm still hoping to get that book published.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Canyon Meadow Trail Marathon

For the first time in my life, I was running marathons on consecutive weekends.  Not sure if that was a good idea.  But I figured if I was ever gonna do it, it might as well involve a beautiful trail run, and less elevation gain than normal.  Canyon Meadow happens to be one of the flattest in the Coastal Trail Runs series, but in this context, flat is a relative term. 3,070 feet of climbing is still nothing to sneeze at.

Like most of the Coastal Trail Runs, the marathon was a double loop - a half-marathon loop, run twice.  This elevation profile for the course showed essentially just one hill (per loop, of course), which started off incredibly steep, but didn't look too bad after that.  Alright, so just a strong initial effort, then cruise the rest of the way.  Sounded do-able.

The course record stood at 3:27.  Just about the exact time I ran the Golden Gate Trail Marathon a couple months ago, only this course has 1,800 feet less climbing.  I figured I had a good chance to break a course record for the third time in a row.

I think that morning was the coldest we've had to deal with pre-race, not necessarily in terms of air temperature, but because we didn't have the benefit of direct sunlight until after the race was underway (this was the first one since Daylight Savings Time).  Sunlight on your skin makes a huge difference.  I bundled up a little more than usual in the morning and was still shivering in between stretches.  Like always, waited till the last minute to ditch my warm-ups.  When folks saw me lining up in just a singlet, I got a few stares.  I knew I'd be the one laughing once they were sweating bullets halfway through the race.

Took off eagerly up the first hill, happy to get moving and get my body working hard just to warm it up.  I noticed up ahead an orange shirt, then grey, then blue.  That's who I'll have to pass at some point in order to win, at least if they're running the marathon like me.  I realized that maybe I should make a better effort to line up at the front, not only so I don't have to chase down people that start ahead of me, but also to look at all the front-runners' bibs and know who's running what race.

I quickly separated myself from the masses on the first hill.  Tough, but not the toughest I've ever done.  I'm guessing a lot of people walked it, and I can hardly blame them.  0.4 miles into the race, the course turned into rolling hills, inclines, and declines, more up than down.  The sun came out.  I was already warm enough.

I could no longer see the orange shirt.  Grey was still pretty far up ahead, but visible and within striking distance.  Blue started slowing down, just seemed like he couldn't hold on to his strong early pace.  As I passed him, I could hear him gasping already, only about 10 minutes in.  He was probably running a shorter distance.  He also looked like he might be in high school.  Grey was still going strong, but between him and myself was another guy in a green shirt.  After about another mile, I slowly caught up with him.  He looked pretty young too, college-aged, or maybe even high school.

"Great pace!" he said as I ran alongside him.  Sometimes I think it's odd when people congratulate me for being barely as good as they are.
"We're both doing pretty good up here!"  After a few more breaths, I asked "What are you running today?"
"Five miles.  You?"

"Holy crap.  Like this?"  I smiled.

I concluded that Grey and Orange were probably also running the five mile route, considering their ridiculously fast start and the fact that they looked young too.  I'm guessing it was something like a high school cross-country team came out to do the five-mile loop together as training for an 8K.  If that's the case, good on them for taking on an unusual challenge!

Green Shirt was still close behind me when the long and short loops split.  We wished each other good luck and I took off up a series of inclines that led to the main summit of the course.  I was pacing up the hill pretty strong, holding down about a 7:30 mile, which would be a good time regardless of the terrain.  Though I was fairly confident that Orange Shirt was also doing the five-mile loop, he was the only one still unaccounted-for (I saw Grey take the short loop split ahead of me), and I wanted to know if I was in first or second.  At one point, I saw a jogger coming the other way on the trail and called out,
"Hey, have you seen an orange shirt going this way?"  With my bib on, it was probably obvious that I was in a race.
She hesitated slightly, then said, "You know, I haven't noticed."

Only a quarter-mile later was a parking lot.  I hoped she hadn't just started jogging, which could mean that Orange was actually ahead of me and passed the parking lot before she got started.  But I remembered that she had a jacket tied around her waist, so if she's started from that parking lot, she probably would've just left the jacket in the car.

4.5 miles in, I made it to the first aid station.  As I approached, it looked like I woke up the volunteers to activity.  I only bothered taking a cup of Clif Shot, but confirmed with the volunteers that I was in first.  Good news, to be sure.  I no longer needed to worry about catching anyone, but should now just focus on running my race the best I can.  Which, in this kind of race, is really the best strategy anyway.

Shortly after the aid station was a fairly short but very steep hill.  Last little challenge before you earn a crapton of downhill.  It was right as I crested the hill that I finally started noticing how lonely this race had been, and how lonely it would continue to be.  Aside from running with the guys doing the 5-mile route at the very beginning, I hadn't run with, passed, or been passed by anyone.  And since it was out in front, it was likely to stay that way.  A different kind of race, for sure.  Almost felt like a normal training run, the kind of run that's on my own terms, but supported, competitive, and awesomely scenic.

As I started heading down the hill, I kept my head up a little more often and started enjoying my surroundings to a greater degree.  Nice, quiet woods, nothing but tall, noble eucalyptus and redwood trees, and stunning vistas of the hills when the trail hugged the side of a ledge.  Lots of twists and turns and intersections with other trails, always very well-marked (seriously, these race organizers rock).  More than once, I took a turn thinking "But I wanna go see that area too!"  I was just plain happy to be there.  When I originally decided I'd try a trail run, this was the experience I was essentially fantasizing about.

Right around mile 10, you have to deal with a hill that has a lot of false summits.  It keeps giving you short dips on the way up, and you're also slowly coming around a corner, so it's hard to see very far in front of you.  Finally, at one point it gets significantly steep before a tight switchback, and as you approach, it looks like the slope on the other side will absolutely break you.  But it's a visual trick somehow, because as soon as you make the turn at the switchback, you see that the slope isn't bad at all and it flattens out after about 10 meters.  It was a convincing enough illusion that I was actually fooled the second time around, too.

The second aid station doesn't come until mile 10.5, after you're nearly halfway through.  From there, it's about 1.5 miles of rolling gentle inclines and declines through more redwoods at the bottom of a canyon, then a 180-degree turn and a flat, fast, paved mile back the other way to the finish.  Well, the halfway point, if you're running the marathon.  Running back to the start/finish, I kept my eyes on the slope where I knew the trail was.  Only about 20 seconds after the turnaround, I saw a runner on the trail.  So someone was close behind me.  Of course, I had no way of knowing if he was doing the half, the 30K, the marathon, or the 50K.  So there was only a 25% chance that I was in direct competition with him.

At the start/finish, a few of the volunteers gave me something of an incredulous look.
"First loop?  But you're the first one here!"  I hadn't really thought if it that way until this point, but apparently I beat all the half-marathon runners at their own game.  I downed some peanut butter, drank some more Clif Shot, and took off up the steep hill again.

Halfway up the ridiculous slope that makes up the first 0.4 miles, I realized that the jog I was forcing myself to maintain was not much faster than a power walk, and yet my legs were starting to ache.  I switched to walking, barely slowed down, and instantly felt relief.  Good move.  It would cost me 10-20 seconds, maybe even more, but there are still 12.5 miles to go.  Having happy legs for another 90 minutes would be much more important.

This time around, the inclines leading up to the summit were a much bigger challenge.  The first time around, I barely noticed, but this time, I was fighting it.  One of the telltale signs that you're having a tough time is you keep looking at your watch.  After about 3 miles up the hill, I didn't even see where he came from, it seemed like some guy in a red shirt just materialized about 50 meters in front of me, holding almost my exact same pace.  Honestly, I couldn't even figure out what just happened.  I figured he wasn't in the race, since I'd been in front the whole time, I would've noticed if he'd passed me.  But just to be safe, and because I have a competitive side, I figured I should pass him.  As I did, I blatantly looked over at the front of his shirt.  No bib.  I'm safe.

We silently ran together for almost a mile and eventually passed another jogger.  She didn't have a bib on either, but seemed to be aware that there was a race going on.  She congratulated us and asked if we were winning, to which Red Shirt replied "I'm just going for a run!"  He eventually got away from me on another incline, right before I reached aid station 1 for the second time.

"We were placing bets on when you'd show up!"  I looked up at them with wide eyes as I did my best to swallow a gel in one gulp.  "One of us thought 10:00, another thought 10:05. It's 10:08, so you're basically right on pace.  Good job!"
By now, I'd gotten the sticky lemon/lime-flavored mess down my throat and could speak again.  "Thanks!"  I took another cup of Clif Shot and headed out again.

This time, I walked up about a third of the tough slope after the aid station.  Like the hill right after the halfway point, I could've run up the thing, but it would take more out of me than it would be worth.

Pretty much put it in cruise control from there on out.  I know I could've tried pushing the tempo, but 18 miles into a marathon, it's best to go for effortless, not fast.  My speed increased a little, but only to what had been average for the whole race to that point.  On the fastest part of the course, you'd expect your pace to be faster, but after more than two hours of running, I'd say it's OK if you come out even.  I started making a more conscious effort to hug the insides of curves.  On a fire road, that doesn't make that much of a difference, maybe half a second per curve.  But when there's a curve every 50 meters or so, that can add up to something like 5-10 seconds per mile, and in a long enough race, that adds up to a couple minutes.

One of the harder things about getting tired in a trail run is that you can't take full advantage of the downhills anymore.  The declines are great, and you can jog down the steeper hills easily enough, but you can no longer run through them at full speed like you could with fresh legs.

Around mile 20, I felt like I had to pee.  I debated stopping, thinking that I could hold it 'till the end, and why lose 20-30 seconds?  But then I figured you run better when you're more comfortable, and when you're not being distracted by some nagging thing like having to pee.  Besides, I'm out in the woods, I can just step to the side and go real quick.  So I did.  What came out probably could've just barely filled a shot glass, and it came out orange.  I'm either getting more electrolytes than I need, or I'm way dehydrated.  Probably the former, because if I were that dehydrated, I probably wouldn't've had the urge to pee at all.

Sometime after mile 20 was when I started lapping people still doing the half-marathon, or maybe their first loop of a full.  Most were good about hopping out of the way when we were on singletrack, with the exception of one, who had ear buds in.  I'm totally OK with headphones while running most of the time, but maybe it's not as good of an idea on singletrack, when there's no room to pass.

Arrived at the final aid station, still feeling pretty good.  They saw my marathon bib and somehow thought I was still on my first loop, despite the pace I was holding.
"Only 2.3 miles until your next aid station!"
"That's the finish line though, right?"
"Oh, this is his second loop?"

This time, due to reasons stated two paragraphs above, I took two cups of water only.  Enough electrolytes for now.

The last 2.5 miles were tough, but not killer.  I knew I was slowing down a little and basically just let that happen.  I probably could've run a little faster, but somehow didn't see the point.  Crossed the finish line in 3:12, a good marathon time even on a flat, paved course.  Had I been seven minutes faster, I could've qualified for Boston on a trail marathon.

By now, it was a warm, sunny day.  I swear, we get perfect weather for these things every time.  Hung out in the finish area for a while, had some snacks, collected my coaster, talked it up with other runners.  One of the greater delights of a marathon is watching people try to walk immediately after finishing; it's like watching tryouts for a zombie movie.

Met a few other Googlers in the process, one of which had apparently been reading my race reports that I post on the running group there.  Also met a pair of college students, 22 and 24 years old, who were running their first marathon.  And they came in third and fourth.  Holy smokes.  The idea of picking a trail marathon for your first is gutsy enough, but to also do that  I had nothing but admiration for those two young men.  As I walked back to the car, I saw one of them still running.  I asked what on Earth he was doing, and he explained that his GPS watch thought the course was a half-mile short, so he wanted to make up the difference or he wouldn't feel like he "earned" a marathon.  I think the 3,070 feet of climbing makes up for the difference tenfold, but you have to appreciate this guy's attitude.  Here's to you, nursing student whose name I forgot.

Went back to my friend Athan's house, helped him pack, and had a few well-deserved beers that afternoon.  It wasn't the most challenging course (of course, that is extremely relative), but I felt like I dominated it and had a great race.  And there are a lot of people that can't run a 3:12 on a PR-type course, so I'm very proud of having done that in an event that's designed for anything but speed.

Next up, the Grizzly Peak Trail Marathon, in two weeks.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bouncing Back

Recovery from the LA Marathon was a snap.  It really wasn’t any different from “recovery” from a normal long run on a weekend.  Had I not been so sleep-deprived (I still think those 4:00 AM shuttles were ridiculous), I would’ve gone for my normal run on Monday morning.  Tuesday I logged 10 miles and didn’t notice any difference when compared to any other week.  Wednesday, still catching up on sleep, I took another day off, and Thursday, I did a normal 10.5-mile route in record time.  I feel like I should add an asterisk to that though, having only run one day in the three before it, I was on unusually fresh legs.  Four days after a marathon, and I’m talking about having unusually fresh legs.  I think my legs are finally getting used to doing what I tell them.

I’ve been taking off almost every Monday directly after a marathon, but I’ve also been taking off only two days leading up to a marathon, as opposed to my normal three.  I guess that balances out.  I’d rather train through them a little more though.  If I keep taking days off every time I have a marathon, with my race schedule, I’ll never get better.  In fact, I may start declining a little bit.

After my first marathon of the year, I promised myself that I wouldn’t run marathons on back-to-back weekends for a while, until recovery got a whole lot easier.  I guess it has.  So I’m running the Canyon Meadow Trail Marathon outside of Oakland tomorrow.  It’s one of the flattest in the Coastal Trail Runs series, only 3,070 feet of climbing.  If it were one of the hardest, I’d probably pass.  But the idea of doing one of these trail runs I’ve fallen in love with, without the brutal hills as a drawback, that’s just too good to pass up.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Post-LA Marathon

(continued from "LA Marathon")

Crossed the finish line and got a medal put on.  A volunteer, probably only about 16 years old, handed me a water bottle and started walking with me, probably some sort of standard to make sure runners are OK after the race.  I gotta say, she was sweet and had a pleasant disposition.  After a block or so, she turned around and headed back to the finish line.

For some reason, I was having trouble walking.  Less than five minutes ago, I was churning out 6:30 miles, but now it’s hard to just walk.  Go figure.  After another minute or two of shuffling and groaning, I found Nick getting a massage.  I stretched for a while, and just as I was done stretching, Nick’s finished up, and Adam had just arrived.  We were all back together again, purely by chance.  Adam and I stuck around to get massages ourselves, while Nick started back to the hotel to get the first shower.

Before getting a massage, some guy had to take your pulse and make sure you didn’t belong at the medical tent instead.  He first took it from my wrist, gave a puzzled look, then took it again from my neck.
“That is low,” he exclaimed, looking at me with incredulity.
“My pulse is normally low, I think my resting pulse is 50...” I started
“Yeah, but you just ran a marathon!”
“Well, that was 15 minutes ago.”

A table opened up and I received an awesome massage.  Almost half the time the guy was just pushing or pulling me into stretches.  At one point, he lifted my leg straight up and started making circles.
Relax your leg,” he told me.
“Yeah, that’s as good as it’s gonna get.”

After 15-20 minutes (I had expected only about five), my turn was up, so I found Adam and we started walking back to the hotel together.  About two miles.  Should take about an hour.  Adam was still wearing all his warm-up, which he’d worn during the race, since he got in the line for the bathroom after I did and didn’t make it to the clothing drop in time.  So while I thought running shorts and a tank top was just enough for the weather we had (which was perfect), Adam was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, a long-sleeved one over that, and long pants over his running shorts.  He was lucky it didn’t warm up as expected, or that would’ve been completely miserable, rather than merely unnecessarily uncomfortable.

It was pretty cool to walk along Venice Beach again, this time during the day, after seeing it the night before.  After probably half an hour, Adam stopped in his tracks.
“Oh no,” he kept patting himself, like he was looking for his keys, “Shit!  I left my pouch at the massage tables.”
“Oh man.  What was in it?”
“My credit card, my ID....”
“Do you need me to drive you back when we get to the hotel?”
“No, I’ll turn around and go now.”
“....OK.  Do you need me to pick you up at the finish?”
“No, I’ll be quick.  Just go ahead and I’ll meet you at the hotel.”
We were already halfway to the hotel.  It would probably take an hour and a half to walk all the way back to the finish line, then back to the hotel again.  Nonetheless, I set off without him.

I headed on to the hotel alone.  Nick was packing up his stuff.  I told him we might need to pick up Adam, since I had little faith we’d be out by 1:00 otherwise (it was now about noon).  I hopped in the shower, and as I was getting out, Adam came through the door.
“Wow.  That was fast.”
“I told you I’d be quick!”
“Yeah, but.....
damn.”  I still have no idea how he covered that kind of ground that fast.

Nick was catching a flight from LAX that night, so he just walked back over to the Google office to hang out there for the rest of the day.  Adam and I got in the car, navigated some more bad LA traffic, then had a nice, easy long drive back to Silicon Valley.

I had wanted to go out for St. Patrick’s Day, but couldn’t find anyone to go with, and I wanted to get to bed early after only getting three hours of sleep the night before.  So I just had a couple beers while wearing a green plastic leprechaun hat and called it a night.

Was I disappointed?  Kinda.  There is some amount of pride in the fact that just about everything went wrong, I had to stop for the bathroom five times, and I still finished in a Boston-qualifying time.  But more than that, I’m glad that Boston improved their standards.  Because I’m not so sure a performance like mine is deserving of a spot in the world’s most prestigious footrace.  I’d like it if the cutoff time eventually got whittled down to 3:00, which would truly make that the ultimate mark of a good marathoner.

I don’t plan on running the LA Marathon again, and I don’t recommend it.  The course is...OK...the organization is bad, the support is average, and the price is high.  Not to mention you have to deal with driving in LA.  Nothing really made it stand out as good, and a whole lot of things stuck out as bad.  I understand some of those come with the territory of an event that large, but I’ve done these before, and I don’t remember any other one being this bad.

It made me start thinking though, and this may signal the end of mega-marathons for me.  I think for me, soccer was kind of like that first girl you had a crush on and made you realize that girls weren’t icky, and marathons were like your first love from back in high school that you went head over heels for, at the time.  Bike touring and backpacking have been other great loves along the way.  But now fully mature, I may have found my soul mate in trail running.  Sure, I might catch up with my old flames and do a bike tour, or backpacking trip, or road marathon every now and then.  But trail running and myself, I think we’re destined to be together.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

LA Marathon

The Day Everything Went Wrong

Woke up at 3:00 AM after no more than three hours of not-so-deep sleep.  I didn’t feel hungry, but put away a kiwi and a granola bar.  Walked the mile-and-a-half to the shuttle pickup with my hotel mates on some very empty streets.  For whatever reason, the majority of the shuttles picked up at 4:00 AM, which got you to Dodger Stadium at 4:30, three hours before the marathon started.  Why the race organizers want everyone to be there that early, I have no idea.  Some of the shuttles left as early as 2:30, and a few left at 5:30.  You had to reserve those in advance though, and I was too late.  Here’s a thought: have a lot of shuttles, and have them all leave between 5:00 and 5:30, rather than staggering them, so we can all sleep a little later.  Or have shuttles take you back to the start after the race as well, so you can choose between getting yourself to the start or finish.  With 23,000 participants paying $180 each, this should be do-able.

Arrived at Dodger Stadium.  4:30 AM.  Only three hours of doing nothing before the gun.  Plopped down in a seat along the first base line.  After about five minutes, a very loud woman shouted that the area we were sitting in was closed off.  There was no partition, no rope, no sign.  Any one of those would be better than someone yelling at you.  I took a seat nearby and closed my eyes, hoping to get a catnap in while I waited.  Every 30 seconds, she had to yell at someone else.  There didn’t seem to be any particular reason we could sit in some sections, but not others.  And she never made an effort to cordon off the area, just shouted at everyone that got near.  I’m curious what the application for that job is like.  I imagine it primarily focuses on how little experience you have thinking or solving problems and how much experience you have being mean.

I was able to rest and relax, but not fall asleep.  While I waited, I ate a complimentary bagel and banana, as well as the granola bar I brought.  About 5:50, I got up just to throw away my banana peel.  While I was up, I noticed the line for the bathroom was already long.  I was gonna need it before the race started, so I figured I might as well get in line now.  One hour later, I got my turn.  There were only three toilets in the only bathroom we had access to (thanks to inexplicably not being allowed past the loud woman), and one of them didn’t have toilet paper, so we were down to two.  Plenty of urinals, but that wasn’t what I needed.  I got out of the bathroom at 7:00.  The clothing check closed at 6:45.  Was this why they wanted us there so early?  Because they knew they have inadequate facilities?

Luckily, the clothing drop was still open when I got there, presumably because I wasn’t the only late one.  I put down my highly caffeinated Clif Shot, my secret weapon against only three hours of sleep, and headed towards the start area, planning to stretch when I got there.  For yet another inexplicable reason, they didn’t let anyone enter the start area until about five minutes before the gun.  And they somehow expected us to sort ourselves by our expected pace.  Needless to say, that generally didn’t happen.  As someone warbled the Star-Spangled Banner and over-milked the ending, I attempted to nudge my way towards the front.  I’m fully aware that it’s rude and I feel like a jerk doing it, but I think it’s much better to push past people before the race, rather than during.  Way, way too many people line up at the front despite being average-or-worse runners.  So as much as I hate being rude to those people, they also deserve it for being inconsiderate.

Two minutes before the gun, I started the GPS feature on my watch.  It couldn’t get a reading.  I was outside, not even close to any buildings or trees, and it didn’t get a reading in the two minutes before the gun.  It wouldn’t be until about three miles into the race that it finally did.  Somehow, when I accidentally bump my watch while I’m indoors, it gets a reading every time and drains the battery, but when I’m outside and ready to run, it takes forever.  So I wouldn’t be able to record the whole race and wouldn’t be able to use my watch to pace myself.  I’d just make sure and pay attention to the mile markers and the course clocks.

The gun started, and predictably, I had to slow-jog and push past the masses for the first half-mile.  I hate doing it, but I hate having to do it more.  As rude as it is to bump people on the run, I think it’s much more rude to be in someone’s way in the first place.  If you’re not fast, don’t line up at the front.  The real-life equivalent is when someone complains about the guy that's late, or tells someone to hurry up when they’re holding back the whole group, and invariably, it’s the messenger that’s always labelled rude.  But I’ve always considered that to be an order of magnitude less rude than the guy that’s actually late and forces everyone to wait on him.

After what seemed like a mere prelude, there was an aid station.  They were supposed to be every mile.  A mile can’t have gone by already, can it?  They wouldn’t set up an aid station less than a mile into the race either, would they?  I asked this aloud to someone near me, and yep, we’d gone a mile.  No mile marker though.  Wonderful.  Not only is my watch not working, but the miles aren’t clearly marked.

Miles two and three had clear markers and clocks displaying the gun time, which I figured to be only about 10 seconds ahead of my chip time.  I was running 6:00 miles.  My general strategy was to run a 6:30 pace as long as I could and hold on.  I didn’t even feel like I was trying very hard though.  Just needed to mentally calm down.

It was only about a mile later that my stomach started turning.  This was early.  And it didn’t seem like a simple problem either.  I’d probably need a toilet at some point.

I took my first drink at mile 5.  The drinks were supposed to be clearly separated: water first, electrolyte second.  From what I could tell, that rarely happened.  Patterns were usually something like water-electrolyte-water, or electrolyte-water, or water-electrolyte-water-electrolyte.  So you never really knew what you were getting.  An even more disturbing pattern was that the aid stations, which were supposed to be at every mile, were not at the mile markers.  There was one about every mile, but you never knew when it was coming.  And since the electrolyte drink was only at the odd miles, you actually had to try to remember what mile marker you last passed and figure out what the next station would have.  And just to make matters worse, it didn’t appear that all of the odd-numbered stations had electrolytes at all.  This is a problem when you made a plan ahead of time, and now you have no idea what to expect at any point.

At mile seven, I stopped to use the bathroom.  Barely anything came out.  Uh-oh.  That meant this was going to be a problem throughout the race.  I knew I was eating too much before the race, but since the race decided to go with a calorie-free electrolyte beverage, I felt like I would need extra calories before the race since it would be so difficult to get any during.  I’m sure they made that decision based on the highest bidder.  I wish they’d made that decision with the runners in mind instead.

I started running again, slower though, since my stomach was decreasingly pleased with me.  By mile 10, I was in significant physical pain.  I really wanted to just fart, and managed that a couple times, but that wasn’t gonna cut it.  I just then realized that there had been very little crowd support so far.  I wasn’t expecting anything like Boston, but there was so much buildup from the race’s own website and program, I figured it was gonna be pretty significant.  I gotta say, it was no better than Dallas or Austin, both of which have far less participants, over half of which are only doing a half-marathon.  A few of the live bands made me smile, but the crowd support was kinda sorry for such a big event in such a big town.

Starting at mile 10, I was looking for a port-o-potty.  There was supposed to be one after every aid station, at every mile.  Not only were the aid stations not at the mile markers, the port-o-potties also weren’t there, and they weren’t next to the aid stations either.  Nothing about this race was organized.  I’d say it was poorly organized, but that would imply that there was some semblance of organization.  And the erratically-located port-o-potties didn’t appear once per mile.  2.5 miles after I started looking for one, I finally found one.  The gap between port-o-potties was at least 1.5 miles bigger than advertised.  While I was looking, I was sorely tempted to duck into a 7-11 or McDonald’s and use one there.

After using the port-o-potty, with much more success this time, I felt pretty good and picked up my pace.  Managed to fart a few times, and relieving that gas pressure helped a lot too.  I got to the halfway point with a gun time of 1:27.  That’s still pretty good!  Even with two bathroom stops, that put me basically dead-on pace for my ultimate goal of 2:55, which would give me a sub-seed at the San Francisco Marathon (I would be able to line up directly behind the pros at the start line and not push past everyone like a jerk).

But it didn’t last.  Only a couple miles later, I stopped at another port-o-potty.  It was almost entirely liquid by now.  All that food I ate before the race was probably not getting absorbed, so I was likely in caloric depletion.  Nor had I been eating the peanut butter or Clif Shot I was carrying in my pocket, hoping not to add to my stomach problems.  And I hadn’t had more than about an ounce of liquid this whole time either, since with my stomach problems, I only wanted to take in electrolyte drink, basically didn’t wanna have to do both water AND something else.  But since I couldn’t figure out where it was, I didn’t have any.  Combined with diarrhea, I was probably dehydrated too.

Not long after leaving the port-o-potty, I passed mile 15 and saw the clock reading 1:45.  I came to a sad realization: 3:00 was still possible, but 2:55 wasn’t.  I would have to be a jerk in San Francisco.

My stomach felt less churning, but I didn’t feel much better somehow.  My legs weren’t tired.  I wasn’t out of breath.  But I didn’t feel well.  And then my stomach acted up again.  Of all the things I ate that morning, for whatever reason, I kept blaming the bagel. It could've just as easily been the caffeinated Clif Shot, since I almost never have caffeine and it can have a laxative effect. I started looking for a port-o-potty again, and for the second time, I went more than a mile without finding one.  I honestly started considering just moving over to the sidewalk and taking a crap there.  If they won’t provide the toilets they said they would, that’s what they get.

Found a port-o-potty just shy of mile 18 and used it.  Not long after leaving, I realized I just wanted the race to end.  Nothing to do but keep moving though.  This was supposed to be the toughest part of the race; between miles 16 and 23 were a net uphill.

Between mile 20 and 21, I took what would be my last bathroom break.  Leaving the port-o-potty, I felt good for the first time since somewhere around mile 4.  Right about then, I crossed a sensor and saw some messages from my friends displayed on a giant screen.  One in particular, written in a kind of inside joke quasi-code, made me laugh loudly and probably drew a lot of puzzlement from other runners and spectators.  Then the course turned uphill, and other runners, now hitting the wall, slowed down as I kept going strong.  Trail runs have made me tough on uphills, and I hadn’t really had a chance to run hard and wear myself out yet, with the frequent breaks and my stomach slowing down my pace.  All that combined sparked something in me, and I took off on the toughest miles of the course shot out of a cannon.  21 miles into a marathon, uphill, and I was at a 6:30 pace.  Now that’s getting it done.

The previous two bathroom breaks and a bad pace for the last 8 miles had made breaking 3:00 impossible, but at mile 22, I realized that 3:05 was still within reach.  This was the last chance for me to salvage an accomplishment for the day, since 3:05 would be a Boston-qualifying time.  And even though I don’t necessarily plan on doing Boston again, knowing I could is something, and qualifying is a benchmark for a good runner.  Where I was, a 7:00 pace might do it, but a 6:30 mile definitely would.  I still had one mile to go before the course would turn back downhill and just head down to the beach.  For the third time, spectators were calling it the last hill, but they were finally right.  I did my best to pace up it, not wanting to burn myself out, but also not wanting to let myself slip too far behind.  Arrived at mile 23 at a 6:45 pace.  Not bad, but that might not cut it.  It would probably have me finish in 3:05:something, but not under 3:05.  And while Boston used to count 3:10:59 as good enough when “3:10” was the qualifying time, I’m not sure the specifics these days.  Better safe than sorry, so I kept my pace strong.  And besides, if you can do better, is there any reason not to?

Over the last hill, I got to mile 24 holding a pace just under 6:30.  Fan-freaking-tastic.  Just keep it up for two more miles.  Only problem was I was finally starting to feel tired.  I did my best to ignore it.  Mile 25 came and went.  Same strong pace.  Then the course reached the beach, turned left, and flattened.  A little harder now.  You actually had to earn that last mile or so.  I knew I could’ve relaxed a little and probably done a 7:00 mile at that point, but I was worried that I would relax a little too much and miss 3:05 by something like 10 seconds, and I would hate myself for that.  It was now getting pretty difficult to keep up that pace though.  The crowd got thicker and louder, but I barely noticed.  I just kept focusing straight ahead on the task at hand.  When I could finally read the clock at the finish line and knew I’d reach at least one goal, I smiled.  Crossed the finish line.  Started walking.  Immediately, my legs hurt like hell.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Pre-LA Marathon

I headed down to LA with two other Googlers.  I had just posted on a Google message board that I was running the LA Marathon and was looking for someone to carpool and share a hotel room.  So on Saturday morning at 7 AM, we met for the first time and drove down together.  Nick was from Georgia and Adam was from Poland.  So I got to hear some wonderful accents all weekend.

We drove down 101 instead of I-5 for the scenery, even though it would take an extra 45 minutes or so.  All was great until we got into LA.  Just about as soon as we did, bumper-to-bumper traffic.  ALL THE TIME.  It wasn’t even rush hour.  It was 1:00 on a Saturday.  What the hell?

We decided we’d go straight to the expo rather than going to the hotel first, just so we’d avoid driving around LA as much as possible.  Good choice.  It took about an hour to move about a dozen miles to get to the expo.  I could ride a bike faster.  One of the strangest things was that there was never an accident or a lane closure, and every now and then the traffic would get moving back up to highway speed, and then slow down to a crawl just as quickly.  What on Earth causes that?  This might sound bad, but whenever I’m in traffic, one of my primary thoughts is “Someone better be hurt.”  It’s not necessarily that I want people to be hurt, but I want to know there’s a good reason for the traffic.

After dealing with frustrating traffic for an hour, we drove about a lap and a half around the convention center before it was clear where we were supposed to park, due to a lack of signs, and confusing directions on the occasion you saw one.  And it cost $12.  If the marathon’s gonna justify charging $180 for registration, they really oughta provide free parking, and that means at the expo, start, and finish.

The expo went smoothly enough.  Short lines for packets and T-shirts.  Not sure why the T-shirts weren’t in the packet, but it was still easy enough.  Took care of everything we really needed to within about five minutes, then just hung around for a while and tried out a lot of free samples.  With little else to do, we headed to the hotel.  Which, of course, took over an hour, despite being only a dozen miles away.  Somehow, San Francisco’s highway system is a fraction of LA’s, and yet the traffic wouldn’t even register on LA’s scale.  And it’s not like the bay area doesn’t have a substantial population.

Our hotel was within walking distance of the morning shuttle pick-up and right on Venice Beach, and by that, I mean right out the front door was sand.  Pretty sweet, honestly.  It wanted to charge us $15 for parking.  If you’re going to justify $200 for a one-night stay, you need to provide free parking.  One of us knew that the LA Google office was two blocks away, so we parked there.  That was a surprise to me, for sure.  Had I known that, I wouldn’t’ve bothered looking for carpoolers and hotel mates, I would’ve driven down myself with a sleeping bag and stayed at the Google office.

I didn’t actually eat a lunch, but snacked all day.  We went out for a pasta dinner in a downtown area of Venice beach.  At 6:00, there were tons of people wearing green, some of them visibly drunk, and long lines out the door of every bar, especially Irish-themed ones.  It wasn’t even St. Patrick’s Day until tomorrow, nor was the sun down yet.  I guess this town likes to party.  I wasn’t that hungry and split a dish with Nick.  Still made me feel really full.  We walked back the long way along Venice Beach, then went to bed around 10:00, giving us only five hours before we’d have to wake up at 3:00 AM.

To be continued...

Monday, March 11, 2013

Finding the Groove

The past few weeks have been productive.  Doing a better job of training every single day.  This past week I managed to finally break through the 60-mile barrier and added a 55-mile ride on top of that.  Now I just need to do a better job of staying on top of my strengthening exercises.

I’ve felt like I run asymmetrically for a couple months now, and I finally feel like my left leg is doing an equal amount of work, and the same goes for the right side of my core.  In general, I’m running with better form.  That isn’t translating into faster times just yet, but I think it will soon.

What’s been a little disappointing is that I haven’t been setting any personal bests.  In general, most of my runs, ever since the first marathon of the year, have been at a pace that’s 5-10 seconds slower per mile than I’d like.  Not sure why.  I think for a week or two, it was due to recovering slowly from a marathon.  And this past week, I think it’s just because my training has been so consistent.  Hard to have a “good” day when you’re never running on fresh legs.  A lot easier to run fast when, for one reason or another, you didn’t yesterday.  I’ll take two runs at a 6:35 pace over just one at a 6:25 pace.  For whatever reason, speed training seems to be excluded from this.  On speed day, I’m as fast as ever.

Had a GREAT long run this past Saturday though.  18 miles at a 6:30 pace.  Whew!  Those new shoes, I’m still happy with them.  I feel ready for LA.

I’m looking forward to the point that my body just gets used to what I’m trying to make it do.  I think I’m getting there.  If I can just hang in there and keep training every single day, including strength training, and do that consistently for a few weeks, I’ll see a significant change.  Especially if I drop a little weight in the process (no, I don’t consider myself fat, but I’m also not at race weight).  A lighter, leaner, tougher runner I will be.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

New Kicks

Since the Montara Mountain Trail Marathon, recovery has been a lot easier.  It may have been due to better stretching afterward, or running a little easier (I was 10 minutes slower), or maybe I’m just getting used to long distance.  I took Monday off, ran a slightly shorter-than-normal flat run on Tuesday, and was back in business Wednesday with a good speed workout, then a solid day of hills on Thursday.  Took Friday and Saturday off in Disneyland.  Sometimes I’m still dumbfounded at how lucky I am to have the life I do.

After having the same racing flats for almost five years, which were always a half-size too small, I’ve finally replaced them.  It was a little hard to let go since I always ran so damn fast in them, even though they frequently gave me black toenails and made me all but lose a couple.  I knew their replacement would have to be something that ran just as light and fast, or I’d be disappointed.

So after a little research, I went into a running store with a particular shoe in mind.  According to the guys there, I was asking for a shoe that was way too minimal for a marathon, and the “racing flats” I’d been using could be better described as a transitional shoe, something between a light trainer and a racing flat.  With that in mind, they brought out a few shoes for me to try on, and I fell in love with a pair of Saucony Kinvaras.  They’re advertised as a light trainer, which means they should give more cushion and support than my old “racing flats”.  But astonishingly enough, they weigh less, which should make them faster.  And they have a lower heel-toe drop, only 4 mm compared to 8 mm, which puts them in a more level, race-aggressive position.  A little less comfortable for some, but more natural for runners with good form, and generally faster too.  So they’re supposed to be better for long runs, feel more natural, and yet they’re also faster?  Sounds like the best of both worlds.

So this Sunday, I took ‘em out on their maiden voyage.  Intending on training in similar conditions to the LA Marathon, I waited till late morning so it was a little warmer out and ran a mostly-flat route that was almost entirely paved.  The funny thing about the shoes is that they didn’t feel fast.  My old racing flats, and my new trail racing shoes feel fast.  When you lace ‘em up, you immediately think “I wanna be running right now, and I wanna run fast.”  Not so much in these.  Until I was four miles into my run and looked at my watch.  I was holding a 6:15 pace without even trying.  Holy crap!  So they run fast, but the feel they give I’d describe as effortless.  Which may be even better, at least for long distance.

After about an hour into the run, I was slowing down.  I didn’t feel like I was, but my time reflected that in a big way.  My theory is that since most of my training runs are about an hour, my body has gotten too used to working for that long, then quitting.  I should really shake up my distances a little more.

Late in the run, about 14 or 15 miles in, I got a second wind of sorts and started moving faster again.  That seemed to disappear by mile 17, and the last two miles were a little tough, but not devastating, and my pace only sagged to something just shy of normal.  Wound up finishing a 19-mile run at a 6:42 pace.  Not as good as my long-term goal of holding a 6:30 pace for all runs under 20 miles, but still pretty good, and a lot better than most long training runs lately.

The verdict on the shoes is positive for now.  Again, they don’t feel fast, but it’s hard to argue with results, and they do feel effortless.  The 4 mm heel-toe drop, smaller than anything I’ve run in before, is a noticeable difference.  It feels like I’m using my lower legs a lot more, but that’s probably a good thing.  Nothing at all felt uncomfortable, nor did it ever feel like I was fighting the shoe.  Thumbs up all the way around.  It’s possibly the best trainer I’ve ever run in, and probably the best road racer too, both in the same shoe.  Of course, that’s with a very small sample size thus far.  We’ll know much more later.  But I feel great about running the LA Marathon in these two weeks from now.