Monday, September 14, 2009

Running the Bear

Well, I didn't plan to blog about my run at the Big Bear Lake Marathon since this wasn't a peak effort or a target race for me, but I was describing it to some running friends online and ended up typing way too much (as usual) so I enhanced the narrative and here's my recap.

I knew going into this that I wasn't in great marathon shape... I was battling plantar fasciitis in the winter and spring which severely limited my running. I got in barely enough runs to run the Leadville Trail Marathon on July 11. But then I only got about five decent weeks of training in between recovering from Leadville and then tapering for Big Bear. And my long runs didn't go well (I was bonking at the end of the last 3... not good) and my weekly mileage wasn't as high as I like it (only averaging ~55mpw)... so I knew going in, that it was going to be a struggle on Saturday. But I wanted to continue running this race each year, since I did so last year in the inaugural edition. I also wanted to "Run the Bear" (the marathon slogan) since I did the "Ride around the Bear" bike century through Big Bear back in June.

So on Friday, I drove up to Big Bear and secured the same campsite (Yellow Post #26) on the southshore that I had used before last year's race. Then I went over to the race HQ and registered. Normally, I do that well in advance, but lately I just never know if my plantar fascia is going to let me race or not. I called Mary Ann to let her know everything was going smoothly... and I began my pitchtalk that we really need to buy a house up here and live here year round... :-) Then I went over to the pasta dinner sponsored by the local middle school. Good carbs.

They changed the course for this year so it was actually a little easier compared to last year. Last year, it was a loop course that included some long climbs up high to the ski resorts in miles 19 and 20... really, really tough since Big Bear Lake itself is at 6,750'. This year, they basically took the first half of last year's course, and made it an out-and-back... which removed those monster climbs and retained the most scenic part of last year's course. But still there were some good-sized roller-coaster hills in the last 4 miles after crossing the dam this year... really tough stuff... hills at altitude at the end of a marathon is a recipe for some serious pain and suffering.

So last year, I ran 3:21 (having bonked on those tough climbs) and finished 10th overall. I knew that even with the new course, I probably couldn't get within 10-15 minutes of that time since my training has been limited by PF. But still, 3:30 was my goal (basically 8:00/mile pace)... which is tough enough on roller-coaster hills in thin air. And I ended up running Saturday's race with my trainers (Air Pegasus) because my PF did not like my Asics Speedstars (my normal racing shoes) at all earlier this week when I tried a short easy run in them.

Unfortunately, they started the race 2 hours later this year... they had one of those blasted bike tour thingies beforehand. I'm certainly not against cycling, but it's aggravating when a bike event delays a marathon start by 2 hours on a sunny, warm day. Runners more than cyclists need the cooler early morning temps to do well. So us runners didn't start til 8:30am. Aaaarrrrggghhhh. I made it very clear to every race volunteer that I encountered that that is waaaaaay too late to start a marathon in one of the sunniest places in the country. Seriously, Big Bear has more sunny days than almost any other place in the US. It was 49° at 6:30am (perfect marathon weather). But two hours later when we started running it was already 64° and sunny, and when I finished shortly after noon it was 75°... and there were plenty of people behind me that had to endure more of that hot sunny weather than I did. If you're not running, those temps are nice, but marathoners risk serious dehydration if it's that warm. It was one of those mornings where you could feel the intense sunshine even before the air temps had a chance to warm up. Fortunately, I lathered myself in 70+ SPF sunscreen, otherwise I would have been scorched, not just dehydrated.

I'm a little embarrassed to post my mile splits because in the closing miles I logged some of my worst mile splits ever (outside of Pikes Peak and Leadville). But I try to be a transparent kind of guy, even when I don't do so well, so here goes...

Mile 1 = 7:50, 0:07:50 - Taking it easy on the opening climbs from the marina on Pine Knott Drive and west on Hwy 18.

Mile 2 = 7:16, 0:15:07 - This mile marker had to be off since I did not speed up that much. I was chatting with a couple of other runners, one of which I suddenly realized I knew from previous races. We pass through a water station but only one of us was able to grab a bottle while running through... so we share it among ourselves... good thing because we were gonna need every drop we could get in our system later in the day....

Mile 3 = 7:46, 0:22:54 - Starting to get in a groove. I'm thinking, Don't run any faster than I think I can maintain at the end of the race. Try for an even effort.

Mile 4 = 7:49, 0:30:43 - Enjoying the scenery. I catch up to a guy who's a firefighter and we chat for a while. We're thinking, These hills are going to be tough to come back over on the way back.

Mile 5 = 7:44, 0:38:27 - The lake is beautiful to run near. We're now running through the last of the half-marathon racers that started at the same time but 2 miles up the road from us. We'll be running through the half runners all the way to our halfway point.

Mile 6 = 7:34, 0:46:02 - A little fast... I hope I'm not letting the half racers cause me to run too fast by subconsciously trying to reel them in.

Mile 7 = 7:46, 0:53:49 - Back in my groove. Highway 38 is a nice smooth place to run, right next to the lake. There's a little bit of shade from some trees, but not much.

Mile 8 = 7:46, 1:01:35 - Becoming the definition of running in a groove...

Mile 9 = 7:38, 1:09:13 - Oops, slightly lost my groove... 1/3rd done.

Mile 10 = 7:56, 1:17:09 - Now running on the bike path on the northshore through Serrano campground. It's more up and down than the highway is.

Mile 11 = 7:51, 1:25:01 - Still on the bike path going up and down... I gradually pass another marathoner, and we chat a little bit.

Mile 12 = 7:43, 1:32:44 - Back in the groove again...

Mile 13 = 7:35, 1:40:19 - Oops, how the heck did that happen, that was a tough mile... maybe the mile marker was slightly off...

Half = 1:42:00 - On track for a 3:24 finish... I don't feel like I'm overdoing it, but that's still probably too fast for me... but we'll have to wait and see...

Mile 14 = 9:05, 1:49:25 - What?!? This mile marker was definitely off... I didn't slow down much if any, even though there were some uphills. I'm now running next to another marathoner near the turnaround, and I mentioned, "I think you're second female overall." She said, "Yeah, but the other lady is way too far ahead of me." I said, "Well, you never know... it's hot out here... there's gonna be a lot of people fading on the back half today." She moved on ahead of me but slowly I caught back up, and unfortunately, I think the heat took it's toll on her because gradually she faded and I didn't see her any more. It was becoming very lonely out there now. The half marathoners had split off and us marathoners were very spread out. I couldn't see another runner in either direction for miles and miles on the back half until long after I had recrossed the dam.

Mile 15 = 6:53, 1:56:18 - Some of this mile was obviously in the last one. I definitely didn't suddenly run a sub-7 mile.

Mile 16 = 8:14, 2:04:32 - Now I'm going uphill on the highway towards the Big Bear Discovery Center... it's getting sunny and hot... I can't see anyone in front of me... and I won't all the way to the finish...

Mile 17 = 7:58, 2:12:31 - Maybe I can hang onto 8:00/mile pace and still get my 3:30 goal...

Mile 18 = 7:48, 2:20:19 - Ah, nice split... there's that groove again.

Mile 19 = 7:57, 2:28:17 - This is about where I would start bonking in my long runs in training... let's see if I can work through this...

Mile 20 = 8:28, 2:36:45 - Just keep running, even if I have to slow down some...

Mile 21 = 8:06, 2:44:52 - These hills in the last five miles are going to be brutal... keep on running...

Mile 22 = 10:15, 2:55:08 - Finally on an uphill, I have to stop running and start power-hiking... my heart-rate is spiking... and no sooner do I slow from running and a motorcycle patrolman pulls up and says, "Jeff!?!" And it's my friend Chad. Dang it... wouldn't you know he'd spot me just as I start walking... :-) anyway, he was working patrol for the race and just happened to spot me. He rode alongside me for a good half mile and we chatted.... it was kinda nice... it took my mind off my misery for a while... :-) Chad offered to get me some water or food. I said, "How 'bout a ride..." :-) Of course, I was kidding... I was gonna finish this race even if I had to crawl to the finish. Chad said I was about 10th or 11th place... I said, I don't think I'm that high. I figured I was probably about 15th or 16th but I really didn't know. And it really didn't matter... I was struggling so bad that I honestly expected people behind me would be waiting in line to pass me.

While talking to Chad, we crossed the dam at the far western end of the lake which also was the lowest point on the course. That dam part was really tough because it was mostly uphill from there for the next several miles. Just pure evil.

Mile 23 = 10:39, 3:05:47 - My 3:30 goal is getting crushed by these hills and the intense sunshine. I'm really dehydrated and cramping up, even though I'm guzzling all the liquids I can get my hands on at every aid station.

Mile 24 = 9:22, 3:15:10 - At last a little downhill... run as much as I can...

Mile 25 = 11:03, 3:26:14 - That's a Leadville kind of split... but this ain't Leadville... ugh... dang, I see someone coming up from behind me... and within a few minutes he passes me... nice smooth pace for him... but he's the only marathoner that passed me after 3 miles into the race... I'm really surprised because I'm fading horribly... I guess most everyone else must be suffering in the heat and on these hills as well.

Mile 26 = 8:27, 3:34:41 - This was mostly downhill... during this mile, my watch beeped 12:00 noon... ding, dong, my goal was dead... 3:30 was officially gone... now I see another runner coming up behind me in the distance... she looks like she's running strong... I'm gonna try to keep jogging and maintain my place and minimize my damages. And later I learned she was running fast... she ran a 12-minute negative split on the course (1:54/1:42)... wow. (Btw, this was a different lady than the one I saw at the turnaround.) And I barely was able to run fast enough to keep her from passing me. I hate being passed at the end of a race. In the opening miles of a race, I don't mind as much... but at the end of the race, it's just downright annoying.

Back half = 1:54:22... ugly 12:22 positive split

Finish = 3:36:22 (8:15/mile pace), Chad was right... I finished 12th overall... and the next day I was surprised to see in the online results that they listed me first in my age group (M40-44)... but that's only because they didn't count the first two overall finishers who actually were in my AG... even though I don't see it that way. I know I wasn't the fastest or even second fastest person in my AG since the winner finished nearly an hour ahead of me! I'm not exactly sure why races do that with the AG results... I guess everyone needs a trophy. But 12th overall in 3:36? I only dropped 2 spots from last year and yet I was 15 minutes slower? I guess it's still a tough course and it certainly was a hot day... but 12th?... definitely a small crowd. :-) For the record, there were more than 13 of us... :-) but not many more (197 finishers to be exact)... but certainly nothing like the big-city mega-thons... and for my finishing pose, I must give credit to my running maniac friend Sam Felsenfeld... I got it from him... but I had to do that because that's what I felt like this at the end of the race... (btw, check out Sam's goal for 2010... amazing stuff)

I was really surprised that I only got passed by one runner in those last four ugly miles. But I guess it was a war of attrition out there for everyone. I noticed that the same guy who won the race both years finished over 2 minutes slower this year. Maybe it was the warm sunshine or maybe those hills on the new course aren't really that much easier than the ones on last year's course. I dunno.

Anyway, I'm a little disappointed that I wasn't in shape to run as fast as I did last year, but I'm not too disappointed. I knew I was going into this undertrained and my long runs were not optimum... and I must admit I'm pretty amazed I was able to keep from bonking worse, even though those last 5 miles were ugly enough. At least that didn't happen a few miles earlier.

And I am glad that I ran this, even though it was painful at the end. This is the 2nd year for Big Bear having a marathon and I've run them both. I'd like to make this an annual tradition... especially if we ever happen to move up there... a 90-minute commute isn't that bad, is it? :-)

Thanks for reading.