Sunday, March 28, 2010

LA Marathon 2010

I am a bit late for my review so by now you have probably heard all about the pre-race chaos that occurred with cars and even the official race shuttle busses. Here is my perspective. I woke up early and headed out to my designated shuttle pickup point at 6am, a little under an hour and a half should be enough to cover what took me about 10-15 minutes on Friday when I went to the expo. I was shocked when I got to the pickup point to see a large crowd waiting for the bus.
After talking to some other racers, it became clear that no busses had picked up runners for at least half an hour. Getting a bit anxious about my race experience, I started thinking about alternatives. The start line was only a few miles from my location, probably runnable. The course actually snaked by less than a mile from where I was standing, I could always join at that point even if that meant giving up my official timing. After a bit of nervous discussion with fellow racers, a race official showed up and informed us that there was an accident on the freeway (the only access route to Dodgers Stadium apparently) and that it was being cleared up and more busses were on the way. No answers about whether the start would be delayed or other measures to ensure a good experience for all the late runners. The busses did eventually show up and we headed into traffic. The freeway was a parking lot! Runners were getting out of their cars and running amongst the traffic. I sincerely hope no one got hit doing that, it looked really dangerous!

At about 7:30, someone announced that the start would be delayed until 7:45 (20 minutes). That gave us enough time to get there, but not really enough time to go to the washrooms and line up where we needed at the corrals. I waited patiently for my spot at a portopotty while Alex was giggling about the people going in the bush. I decided then and there that I was too civilised for the bush and that I would wait for an available portopotty. I was racing the chip anyways, not the gun so even if I started late it should be ok. All that time in line gave me plenty of opportunity for some pre-race stretching and posing :)
I heard the gun and all the cheering that went on with it, wishing I was part of the excitement and not waiting in line to relieve myself before the race. I then realized that the race route actually cut between the start and portopotties, what a confusing setup! Anyone getting to the race late or needing to go before starting had to cut across lanes filled with runners. Anyways, I eventually did make it across with no accident and slowly started to make my way to the start line.

The people at the back of the corrals had just started moving, it must have been insanely crowded at the 9m/mile and under corrals. I felt like I was in the peanut gallery of the race but at the same time I felt really fast as I zoomed by the walkers and slower joggers. I crossed the start line anxiously trying to get through the thick crowds where I could, to get to a comfortable speed. I was so worried about finding the open spots where I could pass people that I didn't even think of starting my watch time until about 30-45 seconds into the race!

The views from up the hill where Dodgers stadium is are pretty cool.
After circling the stadium for what felt like forever, we finally hit the road and went into what I think is east downtown LA!
The first part of the course started as downhill but then had quite a few uphills. I remember one of the hills had big asian drums and the rhythm was awesome to pull me up the hill. I don't know if it's because I was so far back but it felt like everyone just stopped and walked on the uphill portions. Weird. Here is a forced smile near an important looking LA building.
I slowly got into my groove and maintained a decent cruising speed. I was really disappointed at the water stations. People would just stop suddenly (Dangerous!) instead of grabbing the water as they run. Some of the early stations ran out of water it looked like. Their positioning also seemed off, either after tight turns or in narrower streets where all the traffic made it hard to keep up the pace. As you can see there were quite a few people on the road!
I used my strategy of drinking the first cup, using the second cup on my head and drinking a third cup when available. I don't know what happened with the sportsdrink sponsor Powerade but it wasn't often available at the stations and when it was, it felt a bit weak. I'm used to mixing my own and usually am quite generous with the sugar so maybe that was the recommended mix.

One thing I noticed right away is that the community was out in full force! There were people cheering virtually every step of the way except maybe for the veteran's hospital and a bit of Santa Monica blvd. People brought noisemakers, drums, flutes, costumes. There were even rogue water stops and people giving out candy and fruits. I went against my mom's childhood advice and accepted candy from a stranger, the Starburst was exactly what I needed, thank you Starburst man! The constant cheering really made me feel like I was one of Hollywood's stars! Thank you random people who tried (and mostly succeeded) in pronouncing my foreign name!

I feel that one of the best part of the course is as we slowly headed towards Hollywood. I was really happy to see the Hollywood sign in the distance!
A little later I saw a bunch of kids wielding a water hose. I ran up to them and drenched myself in the water, much to their disbelief and amazement. I guess the weather wasn't that warm for Californians, but for this Canadian, 20 degrees celsius is hot! The water was refreshing! Thanks guys. 5 minutes later realised that I was carrying my phone in my nylon belt. Ooops, I hoped it would still work at the end of the race, more on this later.

I finally reached Hollywood. One of the most exciting portion of this course. Don't try these running backwards photos at home, they can be dangerous!
The famous Chinese theater was a great sight, too bad it flew by so fast.
Even Big bird was here!
There's a hard rock cafe coming soon to Hollywood. Cool!
I loved this sign at the Laugh Factory about running harder for free healthcare, just one of the touches that makes this race feels like the entire city is behind it.
I think this Diner is famous, I had a vague recollection of having seen it before.
I was also told that this Ketchup restaurant claims Ashton Kutcher as one of its investors
Going into West Hollywood was a hoot. Not only was there gorgeous guys to cheer us on, the water station was manned by drag queens. Hurray for diversity!
This is my favorite picture with the Beverly Hills sign
With all the sights and cheering going on, I didn't really have a sense of how much distance I had covered already. I still felt pretty strong and didn't have to worry about the pace yet since I was running a bit ahead of my sub-4 goal. Every time I looked at my watch, I would see the picture of my dad that I had attached to it and almost always forget to look at the time or pace.

I don't even remember where the halfway mark was but I remember that I was looking at my handy pace band that ClifBar was nice enough to give away at the expo (you can also print your own).
Calculation while running can always be difficult but I understood that I was well on my way to a sub 4 hour chip finish and that if I really wanted to, I could probably catch up to the gun and have a sub 4 hour gun finish as well! I made that my mission, to continue on a rockstar pace and shatter all expectations!

Going in to Rodeo drive was a bit surreal. I don't think I could afford to walk down that street on a regular day and here I was running by all the flagship stores where the super wealthy spend their dollars
Right after the Rodeo drive portion of the course, there were a bunch of green aliens hanging out at the Nike store. I remember them being loud and jumping around up and down trying to attract attention and cheer us on. Then I saw they were handing out Gatorade bottles. The real deal
I detoured to get one since the official on-course hydration and nutrition felt very poor. Thank you Nike! If I was a local, I would go and spend a bundle at that store just to thank them for saving my race!

A bit later, I ran into the Cheer alley. Imagine a bunch of cheerleading teams competing to see who can outcheer the others. I love it!
The crowds on the street got a bit thinner after that as the main attractions of the course were behind us.
The miles still went by fairly quickly as we passed the Veteran's Hospital and other minor LA landmarks. I remember being a bit surprised at how strong I felt when I saw this sign:
Only a mile and some change to go? Wow. I never really hit the wall at this race. I was really happy in the last few miles with the downhill slope and the ocean breeze.
The finishing chute was nice with the palm trees and fairly crowded the closer we got to the actual finish. I didn't see the sea, maybe because I was too focused on getting to the finish line with a smile :)

I crossed the finish at a gun time of 3:55 and some. Not bad at all. My official chip time came in at 3:39:59. Wow. What a PR! I ran the whole time thinking about how strong my dad was and how much I wanted to be like him and make him proud. This race and PR is %100 for him and it will be a tough one to match when I run on my own.

After finishing up, I realised that my cell phone was inoperable due to the water that got into it. I had big hopes of meeting all kinds of people I touch base with online but unfortunately couldn't follow through with those plans. I was really lucky that Alex spotted me and yelled my name out. It would have been real difficult to find him without cell phones to coordinate our locations!

Here is a picture he took of me with the medal.
Overall the LA Marathon was an awesome experience. Despite the anguish at the start and the frustration of not starting around runners running the same pace as I was, I still had an almost perfect race. The water stations were a mess and I hope they can be fixed for next year. They also need to have more nutrition on the course. I didn't think that a major marathon could get away with not giving out gels on the course.
The swag also could be better. The shirt is really dissapointing, especially considering the entry price. The medal also is a bit simple and to feature the 25 in large characters as they did is a bit funny. Some people at the office actually thought I came in 25th at the finish and earned this special medal :)
The one redeeming feature of the medal is the ample space at the back for an engraving:
I don't think I will run LA again next year for the simple reason that it is a long way away from home for me. If I was a local I'd most certainly participate again and hope that they can fix the minor logistical problems they experienced this year. Maybe they need to work on the slogan a bit. While we did run from the Stadium to the Sea, I was kind of expecting the start to be in the Stadium and finish line to actually be on the beach. Maybe I was dreaming if I thought that this was possible.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

PR at LA Marathon!

Just a tease for now, more details later...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ready, Set ... Wait!

Marathons are really exciting events. It's the culmination of months of training and the celebration of having achieved or maintained a level of fitness long sought after. It's also a test to see if the training was done well and if the mind can follow through once the training runs out on the course. For this reason, I find that the few days before a race are difficult. I'm worried of catching something, eating something that won't feel right or doing something silly like twisting an ankle while walking around.

The actual day before the marathon is the worse. I haven't had a decent long run in weeks. My energy stores are overflowing and I'm so excited that I cannot sleep. All there is left to do is to continue to hydrate and fuel up and ensure that I am ready for the big day. That's definitively the plus side of the day before the marathon, I can throw the calorie counter to the wind and eat as many carbs as I desire!

Having arrived in LA yesterday, I checked out the fantastic running expo. It's like a giant mall where every store is running related. Fun!
I met ChicRunner at the expo, where she was promoting the Long Beach Marathon. I didn't really get anything at the expo since prices were really high in my opinion (even after factoring the high Canadian dollar). I kinda like the black vest but I can't really convince myself that it is worth $100. All the free food and drink samples and interesting talks were definitively worth the time I spent at the expo.

This morning, I went for a quick warmup 5k. I never knew LA was so hilly! I only got spotty GPS signal, I hope I get better reception during the race tomorrow.
I saw two different film crews getting ready to start their day. No stars yet, I don't think they get up that early :) It's pretty cool to be in LA where everything is famous.
I'll try to be a good tourist today while finding a way to stay off my feet. I want them fresh for the task ahead tomorrow!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

En Route to LA

By the time you read this, I will most likely be en route to Los Angeles to run the marathon. The last few weeks have been quiet on the blog as I've been extremely busy and dealing with the recent loss of my father. The Los Angeles trip will be an opportunity for me to recharge my batteries and honour my dad by dedicating this race and the expected PR to him.

Even if my training has been uneven in the last few weeks, I think I have a solid base to work with and perform quite well at the race. I think that I have a sub 4 hour marathon in me, whether it comes out in LA is still unclear. This will be a fantastic and scenic course so if I need to slow down to admire the scenery, I will. On the other hand, if I see a celebrity, I'll spare no effort to leave them behind in my dust :) Do you hear that Shia and Gordon? The race is on!

If you're in LA and want to meet up, leave a comment or @ msg / DM me on twitter. Also follow my twitter feed on Sunday for results right after the race if I am lucid enough to tweet about my experience :)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Still here

Haven't posted in a while as my schedule has been really stretched. I did make time for training and ran a total of 54km last week as I'm slowly entering tapering.

My work has me in Baltimore this week and the weather has been totally gorgeous. I couldn't help but make time for quick runs after my conference yesterday and today with 8 miles and 12 miles runs around the waterfront. I'm not sure if this is typical for Baltimore but there were lots of runners about the waterfront. This city is really neat even if a bit quiet. The cobblestone streets add a certain charm to this city.

I don't have a lot of running left until LA. I can't believe it's only about a week away! I'm excited about meeting some online folks there.