It’s been more than three weeks since my last race, a marathon, of 2015! So why it took me this long for this write up, I guess I finally feel settled and mostly recovered from this major suffer fest! I had a great race in the Boston Marathon this year and that really motivated me for another marathon in the Fall.
There were actually some other great races out there including the Victoria, Chicago, and Toronto later in the month of October. The problem was I needed to do this as a family trip with my wife and my little boy. None of these places would match what Disney in California could offer! Hence, I chose the Long Beach Marathon in the beautiful Long Beach of California. The race happened on the same day as Victoria and Chicago. This was my 5th marathon build up and it was by far the most satisfying one for few good reasons.
This time I trained with two other Mile2Marathon runners on most of my long and tempo runs each weekend. Kat trained for the Chicago and Sean for the Victoria. We were virtually of the same pace. I did aim for a faster finishing time (sub 2:50:00) but ended up running the slowest among the three . The second thing was I had never fallen ill during this buildup and never missed a day of workout. I think the only day my workout didn’t go well was when I had to do a workout on a Friday after work at a temp of 30oC with very strong head wind. I felt tired and drained going into that workout. I needed to hit 4min/k for 3K for 4 times. That was the only workout that I got side stitches because I couldn’t breath with the sand blowing right into my mouth . Otherwise, my past four months had gone really well. I was en route to achieving another PB for sure!
My wife, son, and I had already flown numerous times in the past year. This current less-than-3-hour flight should be really a smooth journey. By now, my little guy was behaving much better than our flight to Boston. Nonetheless, the moment we landed and stepped foot at the Los Angeles Airport, I knew the race would not go well. It was like an oven and it was at 38C even in the late morning! Oh well, there was really nothing I could do now but just hope for the best!
Race Day Morning
I’ve always woken up at least three hours prior to the start time of my races. This time, it was brutal. The race started at 6am and I woke up at 245am to get my usual routine going. I was most grateful that we stayed at an apartment that was less than 15mins jog to the start. The apartment however was old (over 100 yr old) and by far one of the most filthiest places we had stayed. The floor was so dirty that I felt reluctant to use my foam roller on it and I never did!
I got out the door at 315am for an easy 10min shake-out run to get some blood flowing and calm the nerves. There was a slight breeze in the air and it felt good even though it was already at 21C. Honestly, I was still feeling optimistic about the weather staying cool that way and I’d hit a PB that morning.
Realistically, however, my last run in Vancouver was at 16C and I remembered complaining to myself that it was warm! I sneaked back to the apartment without making a sound to startle my wife or the little man for breakfast, stretching and etc.
I sneaked out the door again at 5am. It was funny the moment I stepped foot on the street I had a guy immediately asking for direction of where the start would be. It turned out that he didn’t want to stay a night at Long beach and took Uber in the morning from LA and the driver was lost. He also just arrived the US from Africa. We chatted a little as we walked towards the start. I had actually planned to run there as a warm up but I figured I’d have plenty of time to do it there anyway.
The atmosphere at the start was great and loud! Many runners, cyclists, volunteers and spectators had already showed up at this early hour. The amount of port-o-lets were satisfying. The wait for one was less than few minutes. As I was in the line-up, I noticed something I don’t normally see in other races. There was a Christian group called the Run Chapel in the middle of the crowd and the pastor was preaching and praying for the runners out there! I joined in to receive some blessing!
With less than 15 mins to the start, I noticed the crowd was getting thicker in the corrals. I knew getting to the front would take me some time and effort so I slowly found my way up there. I was standing at the 2nd row and saw another Vancouver runners there (Jeremy and Sarah Cuff).
I had seen comments on social media that this race in the past had started late and as late as 20mins long. It appeared that this time not all wheelchair athletes were ready for their start. Some of them failed to make it on time to the start-line, causing a delay of 8 minutes. Thousands of runners had to make room for these late athletes. Once that was cleared up, we were all set to go. At this time, the sky was still dark, very little to no wind, and the weather wasn’t too bad (probably about 22-24C).
Now, this race was originally organized to have a 1.5 h staggered start between the half and full marathoners. Three days prior to the race a heat advisory email was issued and the organizer gave an option of early start (same time as the full) to the half runners. It turned out about 7000 people took that option. The half and full shared about the first 15k or so before splitting into two different courses and eventually merged again in the last two miles or so crossing the same finish line. For me, the start was great but the end was horrible. I will explain more later.
The great part about running with the half was that it felt great and motivated to have so many people around you. It was also good to have few fast ladies to pace me for that distance. Of course, I had no idea who would be running in the half or full until I could see the colour of their bibs (red for half and yellow for full). I realized later that none of the people who “paced” me, however, were in the full. That also meant that after we separated, I was pretty much on my own.
The first 15K or so was pretty much looping back and forth in the streets around the start. So, I got to run pass the start line again, only on the opposite street. During this first stretch, I got to run on the road, the bike path, the highway,an overpass and the promenade along the beach. I didn’t like running on the bike path nor the road along the beach at all. I was facing the rising sun the whole time. The path was blocks of solid concrete that were really hard on the legs. It seemed very long and dull. I think this path would be really great for an easy long run, however!
Towards the end of the bike/beach path, I made an U-turn and ran back on the road. I felt relieved. There, in less than 400m, I saw Jeremy working on his own. I caught up to him, gave him a thumbs up, and moved on. This is the part where the two races separated. It became a lonely game from there onwards. I was right on pace. I did try to run a bit more conservatively to conserve energy for the second half. My Garmin had been consistently showing a slower pace than actual and that was the case during the race. I later found out for at least two Ks I was running about 10s faster than race pace. May be it’s time to look for a new watch or even a new brand name? I ran the first half at about 1:24:40. I felt good until I hit 25k. The weather by now was really warm and I felt very drained. I pretty much stopped by each water station and had a small sip since the start. To prepare for this race and its predicted very warm weather, I chugged in three 1L bottles of Gatorade/day since day one I started carbo-loading.
The course was described as a very flat course. I didn’t find that so. The biggest hill came at 18mile in a college campus. After seeing few cheerleaders at the entrance, the place seemed very deserted and no support was found anywhere therein, whatsoever. The temperature at this time was probably reaching close to 30C. I was sweating excessively and began to feel my calves to seize up at times. It was definitely a terrifying moment. I ran at an easier consistent effort up the gruesome lonely hills before finally reaching the top and cruised down a long stretch of steep decline.
After leaving the campus, the course was pretty much around the residential streets (which I liked very much) and later moved onto the unforgiving unshaded main roads. At this point of time, I had no idea how I was ranking. I remembered passing about 3 marathoners with one that was already walking and calling it a day. I could only imagine everyone was taking a big toll from this brutal weather physically. And, I am no exception. From here, my calves began to seize up every K onwards. The word “quit ” came across my minds a million time!
My ultimate goal for this race was to run sub2:50 and I knew this was not possible even before this race had started. My secondary goal was to run a PB (any time less than 2:53:45) and with my calves seizing like that, I knew I’d need to fall into my next goal. The 3rd one was to run sub2:55 and my 4th would be to run a sub3. The last one is DON’T QUIT and finish the damn race! I had a strong feeling that I’d have to resort to my final goal today and it was a sad feeling. With all these goals in mind, however, they kept me going.
As I reached the last 5 ks of the race, my fear for a full cramp was growing immensely. I was on survival mode at this point of the game. I could maintain a certain stride and rhythm that would prevent me from seizing up. As mentioned earlier the two races merged again, and here it was the worst part of the marathon. As I reached the last stretch of the race, there were thousands of walkers/slower joggers from the half marathon on the course. I had to both dodge and yell out to find my way through. Few times my strides was interrupted and a cramp on the calves followed. For that reason, I had no desire to stop by any water station even when I knew I was dehydrated.
I ran my slowest splits in this last stretch (e.g. 4:37’/K) and just really wanted to get home. The next confusing part was that there were two paths of the finish for the races. The full was on the left and the right for the half. I ran only on the opposite street while spectators kept telling me I was on the wrong side. Boy! was I frustrated!
With less than 500m to the finish line, I squeezed out the last bit of juice in me to finish off the race strong and with a brave face on. It was 2:56:32! The finish for the full was just adjacent to the half. The atmosphere between the two however was drastically different. People were loud and cheering at the half side and volunteers were handing out finish medals and towels to the runners. The full side, on the other hand, had not support whatsoever. I just picked up my own medal laying on the table.
Actually, the moment I stopped running I could also feel that my body was about to collapse. So, thank God for that table because my body was shutting down and I was about to black out. I stood there for couple minutes before I could carry on. Thank God, there were buckets of ice cubes and towels. I took some and placed them on my head. That was awesome and I felt an instant relief. As I walked down the finish chute, I found a beer tent offering free beers! This is something I don’t do normally and had never done so. I chugged a full cup of beer and that was awesome!
My ‘family’ vacation began literally immediately after the race. We were all over LA venturing all the theme parks. My tired marathon legs endured few more days of strenuous activities including waiting hours and hours under the unforgiving Sun at Disney and chasing after my little man who would often run away from us!
In retrospect, I am very happy that I completed the race and never quitted. This race humbles me and also motivates me to know I am strong enough to endure in this extraordinary tough conditions. The moment I left the race site I asked few spectators to check for me of the current temperature and it was 90F (about 32C). That’s insane! When I got back to my apartment, I realized I actually came in 15th place overall and 2nd place in my age group…not too shabby at all!
Thanks for reading my race recap and onwards to my next marathon in Tokyo 2016