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The hardest decision for yesterday's race? Picking out clothes.

The forecast had been mentioning rain all week. The morning dawned bright but I wasn't taking any chances. I put on one set of running clothes, checked the weather one last time, packed up several alternate layers, and headed out for Pasadena. I figured an hour would be plenty of time to get my registration packet, gear up for the race, adjust clothing to the conditions, and make one last potty stop before the start.

I was right - barely. After waiting in a long line for a stall I made it to the start line with about a minute to spare. Somehow I picked Mister P out of the crowd and forced my way over to wish him luck. The gun went off and we crossed the line together before he dashed off into the crowd.

The first few miles were downhill and so I went out a little faster than I did in Santa Clarita last month. I tried to keep The Sandbagger in view as we made our way through the neighborhoods of Pasadena.

At around mile 3 we hit our first of many big hills. It was time to back off the pace a bit - I tried to settle into a good tempo. I slowly caught up with The Sandbagger somewhere in the third mile. We had this brief exchange:

Me: Clip clop clip clop
TS: Have we hit Mile 1 yet? I haven't seen any signs!
Me: Umm. Yeah. We just passed "3"
TS: (looks at his watch) Oh! Meep Meep zip Bang! (a la The Roadrunner)

Off he went like a shot.

We ran past scaffolding erected for the Rose Parade and the Gamble House before coming across the timing pad at the 10k point - 54 minutes, wow, I've got a shot at a PR here!

Not too far past the timing pad I slurped down a delicious gel pack and headed down onto the dirt trails that made up the middle section of the run. I was a little concerned about dust in this section but the week's rain made that a non-issue. I walked up a brutal uphill stretch of single-track trail - some poor dad out for a weekend stroll with his two little kids got caught on this section while I was climbing it. I encouraged the little girls, separated from their father, to wait on the uphill side of the trail so they didn't get hurt or fall down the side of the hill. (I didn't hear any screaming so I'm guessing that worked out okay.)

Once off this slope I tried to find The Sandbagger. He had opened up another 50 yards or so on me and so I went back to trying to reel him in without blowing myself out. At around mile 8 we got to the turnaround point and went onto another single-track trail. I really didn't like this stretch - it was very narrow and I was in a pack of runners that was moving along at a pretty good clip, enjoying the slight downhill slope. I had the feeling that if I slipped I would end up at the bottom of an eight-runner pileup.

As I came up to the Mile 10 marker I realized that I could still run a PR - if I ran the fastest 5k I'd ever run ever in my life ever. (My watch said 1:30, my half PR is around 1:53:30, and my 5k PR is 24ish.) I knew it was a longshot but I also knew the course was mostly downhill for the last three miles, so I poured it on, passing several people on the last big uphill section of the course.

Once again I could see The Sandbagger, 100 yards in front of me. I tried to keep him in sight while holding a sub-8 pace. Coming into mile 12 I had closed the gap down to about 50 yards but that was as close as I could get. Just like Stroller Lady at Santa Clarita last year, he might as well have been on a different planet.

In the end I just couldn't do it. My times for the last three miles were 8:03, 7:31, and 7:45 - fading to an 8:17 pace for the last tenth of a mile. I was just blown out. I had gone as hard as I could for as long as I could, but still managed a respectable (for me) time of 1:54:45.

Q&A With JaR:

Q: What's with "The Sandbagger?"
A: Look. Mister P has been telling me for the last two months "oh, I haven't run a sub two hour half in forever. oh, I haven't been running enough. oh, I had a bad long run this weekend oh, I have to wear these clown shoes to work because I have a pizza-sized blister on my foot" Then he peels out like Evel Kneivel from the start line, and when he gets a whiff of me behind him takes off like he'd been stung. Yeah. Right.

Q: How do you feel about your time?
A: I feel great! I wanted to improve on last month's Santa Clarita time (1:57:49) - check. It was a tough course and I'm quite pleased that in spite of all the hills I sliced a little more than three minutes off that time. I know that I was sniffing a PR for some of the race but I was not expecting one at all. I had nothing left for a finishing kick so I know I left it all out there. I did good.

Q: How about the Masters Clydesdale bit?
A: This was good too. It gave me something else to think about as I passed people, or people passed me. Just how fat is that guy? Does he look like he weighs over 200 pounds? I ended up finishing sixth in the class (out of 45, I was surprised how big the class was - no pun intended), which is fantastic! I had the 9th-fastest 10k split, so I picked a few guys off in the last six miles in spite of my so-so last mile. I'm hooked - I'd much rather finish 6th of 45 than 37th of 79, which is where I would have landed if I had run in my age group.

Q: How was the race otherwise?
A: Not bad, on balance. Good things: "Day-of" packet pickup. Two free beers after the race. Nice medal. Friendly volunteers on the course. Challenging course. Bad things: $10 to park. Two stalls in the men's room. Hard-to-find post-race snacks. Lame goody bag - homeopathic toothpaste?

Q: Free beers?
A: I know, crazy, huh? The beer sponsor was Michelob Ultra - which I discovered later is a low-cal, low-carb beer. This information almost led to another weblog entry titled "Does This Half Marathon Make Me Look Fat?" or "I Burned 2000 Calories and All You've Got Is Light Beer?" I know that 10 AM may seem early for a beer but the one I shared with Mister P was pretty tasty.

Last weekend I ran the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon. Here's how the weekend went:

Saturday morning I got up and packed my marathon gear and a change of clothes and headed for Irvine. My college friend Greg is a running fanatic and he offered to run along with me in San Diego - we were meeting for lunch and heading down to the palatial Motel 6 room Greg had reserved for us. The drive down was uneventful and we got checked in to the hotel.

Ah, the hotel. Greg booked it, and he had two criteria - (a) reasonably priced and (b) not too far from the start line. The room was $90 a night and it was 3/4 of a mile from the start line, so he nailed the requirements. However, we also got a little more than we bargained for. The San Diego airport runways were about a block away, and the Amtrak tracks were about 20 feet from our room. I could only laugh as we watched planes on final approach fly over our hotel moments before landing and listened to trains whistle and rumble by.


After we checked in we headed over to the convention center to pick up our race packages. Race check-in was extremely well organized. With short stops to pick up our race bibs, timing chips, event t-shirts, and goodie bags, we were in and out of registration in less than ten minutes. After a quick stop in the expo area to buy some Body Glide we were on our way.

We met some of Greg's running club friends for the traditional pre-race pasta dinner, stopped by the grocery store for breakfast and last-minute snack supplies, and headed back to the hotel to try to get some rest. After enjoying the second half of a network-edited version of Office Space we turned off the lights and went to sleep.

Our wake-up call came at 5:20 and we started getting ourselves geared up for the day's activities. It was a great morning for a run - I was expecting it to be a little colder and a little damper but it was very pleasant. We ate a little something, got ready, packed up, checked out, and started walking toward the start area.

We got to the race start with about five minutes to spare. The national anthem was being performed as we found our start corral and got ready to go. At this moment I took off the long-sleeved tee I was wearing for warmth and revealed the "I BLAME GREG" sign I had pinned to the back of my shirt (props to Neoprene Wedgie for both the idea and the sign). Greg took one look and moaned a quiet "oh, no..." as he saw it. See, I would be happily running on my treadmill without a care in the world if it hadn't been for Greg calling me up one day a few years back and saying "Hey Spud, Devo is playing at the finish line of a race called the Run Hit Wonder - can you run three miles?" It was my first race and I have been doing them ever since. It really is all his fault.

The start gun went off - or so I was told, we didn't hear a thing what with 10,000 people in front of us - and we were underway. About 4 minutes later we came across the starting pads and were officially On Course. Woot!

My goal for the Rock and Roll Marathon was 4:20. Personally, I recommend this as a goal because the math is extremely easy - 10 minute miles. For some reason, when I get an hour or so into a run I lose the ability to do simple math problems. It can take me a mile or so to figure out what my per-mile times have been and what my overall pace /predicted finish times are - and then I have another mile to contend with. It's painful.

Anyway, with that in mind we set a pace at around 10 minute miles and tried to settle in.

Now seems like a good time to mention my general health on Sunday morning. As I mentioned in a previous post, I had some kind of stomach bug all week. I won't get into the specifics but I was not eating much all week and had actually dropped 3 or 4 pounds. Saturday's lunch was the first big meal I'd eaten since the previous weekend. Sunday morning I felt great but I wasn't sure how long one lunch and one pasta dinner were really going to last me. (You can only carry so many gel-packs...) Greg and I talked a little about it and I decided that we might as well give it a shot and see how long I could go.

The first ten miles went quickly. We picked up a little time here, gave back a little time there, and basically ran our pace. The route was packed with people - I just couldn't believe how many runners were out on the course. We got through Balboa Park and the Gaslamp District before heading out onto the freeway for a few miles.

It is very bizarre to run on the freeway. We walked a little here as we headed up some of the only decent sized hills of the course but got all that time back and more on the downhill side. Before I knew it we were passing the 13.1 mile timing standard, right on pace for a 4:20 marathon.

This was, however, the beginning of the end for my 4:20 dreams. With no reserves to speak of I started to flatten out, and by the time we got to mile 18 we were walking as much as we were running. At mile 20 or so Greg - who had said he would "run with me the whole way" told me he was going to go and that he'd find me around mile 25. I told him to get going and that I wasn't running anyway. (In hindsight I should have offered him a quick rendition of my oft-rehearsed monologue of Gloria Gaynor's biggest hit.)

I made a couple more half-hearted attempts to get into a running rhythm that I could sustain but it never lasted more than a few minutes. I was able to maintain a brisk walk - 13-14 minute miles - and so I purposefully strode towards the finish. I won't lie to you - I was bummed that I wasn't going to reach my goal - but the mind is amazingly flexible on some things. In this case, it was a very smooth transition from 4:20 to 4:45 to 5:00.

At the Mile 23 marker I did some quick calculations (the extended walk had restored math function to my brain) and figured I was on pace for 5 hours if I didn't lag about. "It's just a 5k" I told myself as I tried once again to run - my body said "screw you" and I returned to my aggressive walk.

Let me say one more thing about the number of runners. No matter what your pace was there were people everywhere. People, people, people! I was walking faster than most of the walkers and slower than all of the runners - although some of the runners seemed to be expending a lot more energy than I was, only to be moving 30 seconds per mile faster. The funny thing was that most people seemed to be traveling with friends, which made conversation much more limited. Why talk to strangers when you can chat with your friends? I got a few comments about Blaming Greg - some from guys named Greg - but it was not the big conversation starter I was anticipating. In the end, the crowds of runners and volunteers were there but they didn't seem to play too much part in my race. I've heard people say that the loneliest they have ever felt was walking down a crowded sidewalk in New York City and I think there's something of that in running a mega-event like this one. (I will say that the volunteers for this race were plentiful and extremely appreciated.)

My new revised revised plan for the race was to walk to the Mile 25 marker and then burn whatever was left running the last 1.2 miles. It certainly wasn't "before I knew it" but eventually the Mile 25 marker and water station appeared around a corner and it was Go Time.

Walking in to the water station I gave myself one of the world's greatest pep talks. It was definitely up there with my favorite example from literature, the St. Crispin's Day speech from Shakespeare's Henry V. Unfortunately for you the reader, in addition to being deeply motivational it was also deeply personal and I will not share it here. Suffice it to say that I was physically stirred (goosebumps) and filled with the last rushings of adrenaline my body had to offer.

The Mile 25 water station water was Ice Cold. This was not so good for sipping (can you say stomach cramps?) but the cupful I dumped on my head felt Wonderful.

Cooled and motivated, I scared several runners around me with a loud "Let's GO!" before bolting off through traffic.

As I turned into the Marine base for the last 3/4 mile Greg came back onto the course to finish with me. In spite of the time he lost strolling with me he still managed to turn in a 4:30 marathon, most impressive - and still come out and run some more. The last stretch involved a lot of blind turns so it was nice to have Greg along. Here's how the conversation went:

Brad: Is that (observable landmark) the finish line?
Greg: No

(Repeated about five times.)

Finally the finish line was in sight, and I checked my watch. We had a couple hundred yards to go and I realized that I had 60 seconds remaining if I was going to finish in less that five hours. So I did what all foolish runners who are motivated by arbitrary time intervals do - I picked up the pace as much as I dared. From an academic perspective it was an interesting exercise - how hard can I run without throwing up? If I were to throw up, what would vanilla gel packs taste like the second time around? Luckily these questions both remained unanswered as I stayed below the Vomit Threshold and came across the line in 4:59:39. Woot!

Once you finish a marathon, it really doesn't matter any more how you got there. Done! DONE! Yeah!

Here are some pictures of my exciting day at the races:


After receiving my medal and turning in my timing chip we gathered up our free food and drink before wandering off. The shuttle lines for the buses looked to be about an hour long so we ended up walking back to the hotel - 2 more miles thank-you-very-much. Once back at the hotel we jumped into the pool to cool off, got dressed, and headed out. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt!

I am still a little disappointed that I so completely blew through my original time goal but I think that my illness made it extremely unlikely. However, by the middle of the week I was feeling much better about the whole thing - I was not sore at all. To run a five-hour marathon and have a three day recovery is not so bad, really. In the words of Neoprene Wedgie I have "no unfinished business" with the marathon - and now I am on to shorter and more varied adventures. I will keep running but I plan to focus on 10k's and half-marathons for a while. Frankly I'm looking forward to a little less distance in the training plan.

Yesterday I completed my first marathon. Here's how the day went:

I got up around 5 AM and headed downstairs to get dressed. I had laid out all my race gear - shorts (stocked with gels, running gloves, and ibuprofen), shirt (number pre-pinned on), socks, shoes (new battery in the footpod on the right, timing chip attached on the left), watch, heart rate monitor strap, body glide, sunglasses, glasses strap, sunscreen - Saturday before bed. I also put together a "Pump Me Up" mix, which I listened to as I puttered around getting dressed, making some breakfast, and waiting for Mister P to arrive.

Mister P got there around 6 and we spent a half hour getting our post-race stuff coordinated and arranged. He was wearing a very snappy "I BLAME BRAD" sign on his back. Nice.

My sister Anne, who surprised me with a visit this weekend to cheer me on, gave us a ride down to the start line around 6:30. We milled around, I saw a couple people I knew, and took turns making "one last trip" to the porta-potties. Suddenly it was almost time to start, and I had no idea where Mister P had gotten off to - after a brief moment of confusion he appeared out of the sea of humanity at the start line. (Well, okay, more of a puddle of humanity - only 1400 total entries in the half and full marathon.) We stood together for the national anthem - I sang, he did not - and then the gun went off. We started slowly towards the timing pads and as soon as we got across them, Mister P was off like a shot, weaving through the crowd. I caught a glimpse of him slipping around the first left turn and then he was gone, not to be seen until mile 18.

After crossing the pad, I counted to five and started my watch.

In some ways it was good that he was gone. I was able to concentrate on taking it easy, and running my pace. The first mile seemed to pass pretty quickly, and my watch reported a pace of 10:01.9. I was pleased to have put a minute in the time bank for later. I was surprised as I worked my way along mile 2 to pass people that were already blowing really hard - what I call 2-breathing, inhale for two paces, exhale for two paces - and struggling. I checked their numbers and they were all half-marathoners, but still - that's a loooong way to go. I also sped up a little in the second mile to get away from some Very Loud Talkers who were busy Talking Very Loud. I can't tell you what they were talking about but it was Annoying As Hell.

Over the next few miles, however, it became clear that I had a problem with my footpod calibration. It has seemed a little wonky lately but I had hoped it was a battery problem that would be solved with a fresh one. By mile four I realized that the mile markers were not misplaced, but that my footpod was overreporting distance by a fairly healthy margin, which made my lap times extremely optomistic. And wrong. But that was okay, I knew about it.

Also at mile four I had the pleasure of hearing my family cheering for me, and having my kids each hand me a cup of water at the aid station. That was a nice boost - even though I was still feeling very fresh.

Miles five through nine were pretty uneventful, with the exception of one thing. This section of the race was on a 10-foot wide bike path, and by this time people were pretty spread out. Until Mr. Red Armbands came along. He passed me twice (I think I passed him back at a water break), right off my shoulder - like two inches - and as soon as he got an inch past me, he cut in front of me - both times. He had on headphones (dork) and so he did not hear my remark that there was Plenty Of Room For Everybody. Then in mile 8 or 9 he came to pass me again. I did not move from my line and once again he started to cut across the front of me, and he jostled my elbow. He apologized, and I told him that was the third time he'd done that to me. He was surprised ("what do you mean?") but apologetic when I explained the problem briefly. More about him later.

I was feeling great for miles ten through twelve. I taught some half marathoners the saying "I'm here to kick butt and chew bubble gum, and we're fresh out of bubble gum." I thanked volunteers for coming out to help. I drank water. I probably had a gel pack or two. As I was coming up on one of the sound systems they started playing "Eye Of The Tiger," which was awesome. Great! I feel great! The full marathon/half marathon split came up quickly and pretty much everybody went right for the half. My family was there cheering for me again as I came up to mile 12. Yea!

Suddenly it was quiet on the course. Only 320 people were running the full marathon, and we were pretty spread out. I picked up the pace a little because I was feeling good, but in general I was trying not to go too hard. I passed the 13.1 clock at 2:12 and thought, hey, I could break 4:30 here! Somewhere in mile 13 I had a couple behind me that was taking calls on their cell phone. "Yeah, we're coming up on mile 14." Honestly, who carries a cell phone during a race?

The mile 14 water break was the best. It was manned by Brownies - all dressed as pirates, complete with eye patches. I gave them a good "Arrrr!" as I took my by-now customary two cups of water - one to drink and one to dump on my head. Had I mentioned it was hot?

Between mile 14 and 15 the full marathon once again crossed paths with the half marathon. Since they were on mile 12 or so, I saw a bunch of people I had passed long, long ago. They seemed to be suffering. I must admit that I did not feel particularly sympathetic. At mile 15 I stopped to take some ibuprofen along with my gel pack and water.

Things started to get interesting around mile 16. The course was set up with an out-and-back spur between around mile 16 and 20 and another between about mile 21 and 25. I hit that first spur and started to wonder just what it was that had convinced me to sign up for this. The route was very non-scenic, with lots of roadside trail with zero shade and less character. For the first mile or so I was dreading seeing Mister P - I knew he was out in front of me somewhere, but I had no idea how far in front of me he was - and I was increasingly surprised when he kept not being the guy coming around that next corner.

I finally saw him a little past my mile 17/ before his mile 19. He and I gave each other the traditional Shout Of Greeting and the Low Five of Passing Runners You Know and I kept going. Finally, I got to the turnaround (and it's timing pad) at mile 18, and there was my sister Anne with her camera and her big voice - Go! Brad! Go! I was surprised and very pleased to be going back the other direction, with the wind. My 18 mile split was 3:05:26, or 10:19 miles.

I made my way back to the start of the first spur and headed up toward mile 21 and the second one. By this time the field was completely strung out and I was basically running by myself. This made for some tough miles but the peppy tunes at the water stations helped immensely. I watched for Mister P but there were several spots where the "back" side was not visible from the "out" side. I entertained myself with thoughts that perhaps I had passed him while he was in a portapotty and just tried to keep moving. I figured out that I could run 12 minute miles and hit my goal, which was reassuring on one level and no use at all on another. I still had to cover the distance.

At some point another runner and I started passing each other back and forth. On one pass he mentioned to me that he was 71 years old. This did not encourage me. The AARP guys are burying me out here! I finally dropped him around mile 23 - not long after Stroller Lady passed me.

Stroller Lady. Where to start? This woman was pushing a gigantic twin jog stroller with signs for the local Baskin-Robbins. I think there was a kid in the stroller but frankly I just can't recall. She blew by me somewhere between mile 22 and 23. Good grief! The stroller people are passing me! I cared about this but it was more of an academic exercise as I was going as fast as I dared - heart rate in the mid 90% of max range - and so I could not reel her back in. At least not then.

Miles 23 through around 25 were on packed dirt horse trail - plenty of shade (hurrah) and an uneven surface for Stroller Lady (hurrah). So I started to catch up with her. I also passed Mr. Red Armbands And Headphones on this stretch. He was walking with his head down at this point, looking like he was suffering. Ha! Sure, I'm being petty. But I won't lie to you - I enjoyed passing him.

We got back onto the pavement around mile 25 and then it was just a matter of grinding it out. The water station for mile 25 was closer to mile 25.5 and I didn't think I was ever going to get there. The curving paths made it seem like I was completely alone on the course, which was tough. I don't think I've ever been happier to have a paper cup of water than I was at the mile 25 water station.

I caught up with Stroller Lady as we were coming into the last mile or so. We were going over a bridge into the parking lot where the finish was and I turned to her and said "Okay, Stroller Lady. It's on!" (The smack-talking may have been a tactical error.) I pulled away from her on the downside of the bridge and started my way around the parking lot to the finish line.

Sadly, with about a half-mile to go, she blew by me once again - for the last time. I lamented her speed. She observed that she just wanted to be finished. Who can argue with that?

I came into the last couple hundred yards and turned on what little kick I had left. The stupid finish line band was sitting there picking their noses so I yelled at them. "I ran 26 miles and you're on break? START PLAYING!" (This earned me a quick guitar riff and a cymbal splash.) As I came around into the finish chute, I heard my family cheering and the announcer reading my number and name over the PA. (They thoughtfully did not mention my age.) I didn't realize it at the time, but as I passed them my kids came out onto the course to finish with me, which was really sweet. If I had known they were going to do that I would have waited for them - but as it was, if I heard them (which I doubt) I probably thought it was some other marathoner breathing down my neck.

I waited to a count of five past the finish pad and stopped my watch. 4:37:09. One second off my official chip time of 4:37:08.


More thoughts later. That's enough for now.

On July 4th I ran the local 5k - I needed to do a 3 mile run anyway and I thought it would be fun to do. The race course goes right along the parade we always attend so it seemed like a no-brainer.

I parked the car where we usually do for the parade and walked / jogged to the starting area. After wandering around for a while looking for race day registration I got my number and my bag of race crap, including a pretty nice t-shirt. Since I didn't want to walk a mile back to my car to drop it off I stashed the paper bag of stuff in a bush at the junior high school across the street.

There were about 600 runners and walkers lined up at the start. Starting from my traditional "2/3rds back" position I crossed the line about 10 seconds after the gun and tried to settle into my mile one pace. (I planned to run a 9:30 mile, a 9:00 mile, and an 8:30 mile.)

As I came around a corner onto the parade route I saw my family walking along looking for a place to sit. They all yelled greetings as I went by - except for Katy, who shouted something along the lines of "Hey! There are people pushing strollers in front of you! Get moving!" Thanks sweetie!

From there it was pretty routine - slowly passing folks that went out too fast and were gassed out early. In the last mile or so I kept passing this young kid. I would pass him as he walked along panting, and then thirty seconds later he would blow by me, running full-out. This repeated itself a couple times until we got into the last hundred yards or so. I picked up the pace and passed him for good about 75 yards from the finish chute.

I heard his mom talking to him behind me and then I heard a splashing sound. I figured his mom was dumping water on his head until I turned around and saw him projective vomiting on the street. Yikes! Somehow I managed to keep it off my shoes. After that narrow escape I grabbed some orange slices and a bottle of water, recovered my bag from the bushes, and joined the family for the parade.

So, to summarize: Fun run, happy with my pace (9:40 / 9:10 / 8:30, negative splits babeee!), final time 28:25, only beaten by one stroller-pusher, made one kid throw up. Cool!

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