Sunday, May 18, 2008

Running the hills of Palos Verdes

When our family visited Palos Verdes for the first time back in April, I realized I really need to run the Palos Verdes Marathon sometime. That's one beautiful place to run a race. Basically, the Palos Verdes Marathon is SoCal's version of the world renowned Big Sur Marathon in NorCal.

When May rolled around, I had to decide full or half? Full or half? I was really wanting to run the full marathon at Palos Verdes to fully experience the place. I also prefer to run the longest race when an event is sponsoring more than one race. Normally, when I run a half marathon, it's a stand-alone half marathon (not just a shorter event being offered at a full marathon).

But since my training had been minimal due to injuries (only 8 weeks of solid miles in the 50s or 60s) and I hadn't run a race (due to repeated nagging injuries) in over a year (since last year's debacle at Boston), I opted for the half. Turned out to be a wise decision for other reasons. A high pressure system moved over SoCal the weekend of the Palos Verdes races. Normally, the afternoon high is supposed to be 72° in mid-May. But was predicting the following temps for race day:
7am - 69° sunny
8am - 72° sunny
9am - 76° sunny
10am - 81° sunny
The full marathon started at 7:00am and the half at 7:30am. I was very glad I had chosen the half. It was 78° when I finished around 9am. Those full marathoners must have really been suffering out there in the heat.

My training was only minimal going into this race. My last eight weeks of miles had been: 50, 51, 52, 62, 62, 64, and 71. My long had increased in those weeks: 11, 13, 17, 20, 18, 21, and 21. But still, only 6 times in those 2 months had I run farther than the half marathon distance. Also my four tempo runs had only been 6 miles each. I knew that meant I was probably not going to have a strong finish. But still I would give it my best effort.

Going back to 2004, I had a string of half marathon races in which I had always run sub-1:30 (or sub-90 minutes which is 6:52/mile). I really didn't want to see that streak come to an end. I knew it'd be really tough to run sub-90 on a sunny, hot day on this course which is far from easy... 878' of total elevation gain! There are lots of hills on this course.

Ready for some erratic splits? Here you go. BTW, the question mark means I missed the mile marker and had to split the difference with the next mile. Also realize that the elevation only indicates how high the mile marker was. There were hills in between all those mile markers too. I actually felt like I gave a very even effort up and down the hills (even though the splits don't look like it) until the last 2-3 miles.

(7:03 pace for the last 1.1 miles which included more uphill.)
Finished with an average pace of 6:54/mile.

I could see the clock ticking away from my goal in the distance as I made every effort to get there before it rolled over to 1:30. Dang. In the immortal words of Maxwell Smart, "Missed it by that much." 23 stinking seconds.

I was hurting by mile 9 and never so glad to finish. I was hanging on for survival in those last 3-4 miles. I got some help from those downhills at the end, but still I knew I was fading in the last 2-3 miles. The guys I had been running with for the first 10-11 miles were starting to pull away from me, and I couldn't hang on. Even though my splits for miles 11 and 12 look fast (compared to the rest), those were some bigtime downhills and I just couldn't hang on to the runners I had been running with.

After the race, I had to rush off. I ran through the finish line, bent over and caught my breath, walked over and picked up my t-shirt, and headed for the car immediately. I had to get home ASAP so my wife could get to an important meeting. Only the next day did I make a surprising discovery... I WON my age group!?! Are you kidding me?

At the turn-around, I knew I was around 25th place overall (out of ~1300 runners). Since M40-44 is typically a large age-group, I figured surely 4 or 5 or 6 of those in front of me were in my age group. I honestly didn't expect to place. But lo and behold, out of 107 runners in M40-44, I beat them all. I'm still not sure how that happened. Obviously, a bunch of fast guys in their 40s must have slept in!

The next day I could tell I had given it my all (despite falling 23 seconds short of my goal). I was pretty stiff and sore for my recovery run on Sunday. But it sure felt good to be back in the thick of things and toeing the line at a race again. Thirteen months is too long of a stretch without any racing.