Wednesday, March 23, 2011

LA Marathon 2011 - Race Report

This was my first marathon and although I had trouble and missed my goal of 3:30 by 8 minutes, I am still incredibly happy with my time, especially as I would be the first to admit, I made a lot of rookie mistakes. (Splits in brackets belong to Philip Steinman, my LA Road Runner Group 2 (3:30) pace leader).

My first mistake was needing to go to the bathroom on the start line. I wasn't desperate so I let it go in the hope that I would get my fluids in balance once on the run.

In the first mile, it was all about grouping together with Philip and the others to make sure I was holding back enough. In the jostle, I managed to get just ahead of the group, but not by more than 10 meters. Although I kept trying to slow myself down to join the group properly, it felt like they would also slow and my relative position didn't change.

Mile 1: 7:41 (7:53) // Philip started ahead of me so I went faster to catch him
Mile 2: 7:35 (7:42)
Mile 3: 7:52 (7:54)
Mile 4: 8:24 (7:57)

As we took the hill at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, everything felt good but I was closer to the Cliff 3:30 group in front than Philip behind me. I desperately wanted to drop back but I also realized that I wanted to buffer a small amount of time to do a bathroom break and rejoin not too far behind.

Mile 5: 8:08 (8:26)
Mile 6: 8:40 (8:16) // Bathroom Break

To my surprise, when I exited the porter potty, with the though of having to chase down my group, Philip was right there. I thought he was up with the others so this confused me a little. He seemed to be on his own so I tucked in with him as we ran around Echo Lake.

Mile 7: 7:54 (7:57)
Mile 8: 7:54 (8:02)
Mile 9: 7:52 (8:08)

Without realizing it, as I dodged puddles and concentrated on avoiding crowds to take decent apexes, I was creeping away from Philip again. This was the part of my race that I think was my biggest mistake.While looking around to locate him, I saw others from group 2 just ahead of me. Stupidly, I decided to try to run up to them, rather than hold back. The problem with doing this was that there was someone else from the group just ahead of them and then the big pack from the Cliff 3:30 pace group ahead of them.
All of a sudden I craved being in a big group again so I set out to try to catch them. Big, Big mistake. I ended up on my own in limbo and making only slight progress. To top it off, Philip was probably only a couple of meters back the whole time and I should have been running on his shoulder. For some reason I couldn't locate him while he probably had me in sight the whole time.

Mile 10: 7:55 (7:48)
Mile 11: 7:41 (7:50)
Mile 12: 7:45 (7:54)
Mile 13: 7:45 (8:00)

While Philip was thinking at this point that he is on target for a 3:30 finish with a negative split, my world was feeling completely different. I was getting close to the Cliff 3:30 group and could see Carlos and others from our group but I didn't want to be going this fast. I just wanted to get up with the group and then slow my pace again. It seemed to be taking forever though.

Mile 14: 7:38 (7:47)
Mile 15: 7:15 (7:28) // Bridged the gap to the Cliff 3:30 group on the steep downhill

I finally caught the group ahead, joining Carlos and some of the others. The problem here was that I think I put my right leg under stress on the steep downhill and although relieved to be in the big group, I think I had taken more out of my body than I had wanted.

Mile 16: 8:03 (7:48)
Mile 17: 8:28 (8:01)

As my legs start to stiffen and towards the back of the pack, Philip glides past looking great. I see him nod to the others from group 2 and in a smooth move, takes them off the front of the pack. This is the last I saw of these guys and I was struggling to stay with the Cliff Group too.

For the next 4 miles I knew my body had hit a wall. My focus changed from hitting my 3:30 goal to getting to the finish as fast as I could. I started walking though water stops and taking on fruit and snacks in case I was low in nutrients. This is new territory for me so I tried everything. I am guessing my run pace was around 8:45 but with taking on fluids and stopping to stretch I was adding seconds here and there. I just wanted to keep as much form as possible.

Mile 18: 9:02 (7:59)
Mile 19: 8:47 (7:52)
Mile 20: 9:16 (7:53)
Mile 21: 9:32 (8:10)

Jumping torrents of water running down hills and big puddles was taking it out of my already sore legs, but worse than stopping was knowing that I was just extending the amount of time I would be out there. I focused on short strides with good cadence and it started to feel like I was in a sustainable rhythm.

Mile 22: 9:08 (8:19)
Mile 23: 9:05 (8:14)

Brentwood was amazing for me. I knew I was hurting but I also knew I would get to the finish and the last couple of miles would be better than the previous 6 or so.

At the end of mile 24 I see my wife and 2 year old son with a group of our friends. I'd already said goodbye to a 3:30 time so I figured it was time to reward them for standing out in the cold rain for hours waiting for me to arrive. I give my wife and son a big hug and a kiss and high fived all of my friends, before tearing myself away and setting off for the finish line.

Mile 24: 9:18 (7:58)

I stop briefly to encourage fellow group 2 buddy Jamie who looked in a world of pain and was briefly walking. He sets off faster than me and for a brief moment think that I couldn't stay with him. I dig deep when I see that during my family stop, the Cliff 3:40 pace group had overtaken me. I'm not having that I thought.

Mile 25: 8:34 (7:42)

I picked up the pace and reeled them in, overtaking that group and opening up a clear gap. No sprint finish for me, but a solid 6:00 mile peak.

Mile 26: 8:18 (7:25)

Finish Time: 3:38.33

As I said at the start, this was my first marathon. With only 16 weeks of training, I went from doing sprint distance triathlons to running 26.2 miles in under 3:40. I think next time, I will get in a bit more mileage and maybe some speed work.

My Performance

iPhone GPS Data

Now, most of the people that witnessed the race would be wondering now why I haven't really mentioned the weather. For those that didn't know, a freak winter storm passed through LA during the race and actually hospitalized a lot of participants due to hypothermia. The honest reason why I didn't mention it above too much was because I really believe it didn't affect my race as much as my basic tactics and I wanted to stress this. On the start line, everyone pretty much agreed that having rain would be better than a hot day. I don't think we really expected a cold and windy storm like this but to an extent, this statement still held true. Let's look at my race again quickly from the weather point of view.

Going back to the beginning of the race we started in the dry. It took me only 16 seconds to cross the start line after the gun went off. The luxury of being in a the sub 4 hour start corral.

By the first mile, the rain had started. It felt good. Refreshing. It grew heavier but stopped again soon after. If the race continued like this, it would be perfect.

At around mile 4 or 5 it was raining again and I saw a flash of light to my right. I asked those beside me if it was lightning or a camera flash going off. Just as we were thinking the latter, a low rumble filled the air followed by a massive crash of thunder. A huge cheer went up from everyone. What are we doing running in a thunder storm. It still felt great though.

It was probably around the half way mark that it started to feel miserable. The rain was coming down heavier and the intervals between the showers was reducing. The problem now was that we were not having any opportunities to dry out. Standing water was a problem as well as small streams of water across the road. We are always warned to try to keep our feet dry and this was now impossible. It wasn't too uncomfortable, it was more the worry that my feet may suffer and affect the second half of the race.

Beverly Hills. This was fart of the race that I thought I would look forward too. All I can say is that Beverly Hills does not look as appealing in the rain. The roads were flooding and we had to leap and bound around rivers and lakes, up onto side walks. My legs didn't like the plyometric workout that was being asked of them. I suppose I should do more of that in training next time around :-)

The final quarter of the race was all about getting to the finish. It was cold, it was wet and the weather was set in for the day. As we got to the sea front, the cold rain and wind combined for a dangerous combination. This is what was causing the hypothermia in so many athletes. Luckily, my wife came to the rescue and got me into a warm car pretty quickly.

We had finished a race that we could definitely talk about for years to come.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Malibu Triathlon Classic 2010 - Race Report

This was the big one of the year for me. I have been racing this event for the last 4 years and I see this as a great snapshot of how I am performing.

Last year I saw this race as my breakthrough event. I got on the podium for the first time, although technically I finished 4th so this was due to the podium being 5 deep. That being said, it was by far my best result and as the race was very competitive, it lit the fire that has now allowed me to focus on being competitive in the events that I enter.

Up to this point, I have had a great year so far with one second place and three age group firsts. My focus on this race was to improve on last years result.

Before the race

I like to think my pre-race routine is kind of set at the moment and I felt nice and relaxed going into my warm up. I took all of my nutrition as usual and after the mandatory pre-race talk from the race organizer Michael Epstein, I took to the water for a good warm up. The water was cold at 58 degrees F but all of our recent practice sessions this year have been similar so not long into the warm up I felt pretty comfortable. I watched the first wave head off and saw a great swim from Chris Lieto.

After the 3rd wave had set off, I made my way to the start, hooking up with fellow team mate Jamie Specht.


As the gun went off, I raced into the water. Even though I always try to start at the front, It always feels like I am a bit slow off the mark. This time was no exception.
Myself and Jamie on the right
I tackled the shallows well though and made good progress but messed up the negotiation of the first large wave and lost ground. After recovering I got into my rhythm. It felt good and fast but hit lots of traffic from the earlier waves in front. It didn't feel like it affected me much but I did need to sight nearly every stoke. I also failed to get in the tow of another swimmer which wasn't the plan either.

I rounded the last buoy and headed to the beach. I only caught a small wave and felt a little sluggish exiting the water but all in all I thought the swim went well.


I sprinted into a very long transition and did well stripping my wetsuit down to my waste with plenty of time to spare. My wetsuit had a little issue getting off over the timing belt but an extra couple of seconds using my fingers rather than the standard "stand on it" technique helped it off without too much complication. The rest of the transition was swift but I had already seen Josh exit transition at least 30 seconds in front of me and Jamie would have been long gone if his swim was to the usual standard.


The chase was on. Now was the time to try to reel my two friends in on the bike. If I hadn't done it by the end of the bike, they would both probably have me on the run so this was the crucial stage for me.

Sorting out my feet
I got up to speed pretty quickly before getting my feet strapped in. This was the first time this had gone pretty much perfectly. I negotiated the speed bumps with caution followed by the wet temporary bridge that took us under the PCH. Once out on the highway, the race was on.

The boys were nowhere in sight so at first, I did not have the confidence that I would reel them in, but about 4 miles into the course, I spotted what looked like Josh up ahead. I put in a push and closed the gap. The pass was made on a false flat I think and I made sure I had good speed to take him and open up a gap. It was not long before I passed Jamie in a similar move.

At the turn, I realized that the wind had actually been behind and was now a head wind. This was different to previous years and also my recent training.
In a way I knew this was going to be to my advantage due to my strength on the bike but it also meant that my pacing was out. There are normally climbs on the course on the way back that would allow you to treat them as 30mph+ false flats when a tail wind is present that today were transformed into pretty hefty obstacles.

As I rounded the final turn that takes us back into the beach parking lot, I looked out for Josh. It was a good 30 seconds after the turn that we passed each other. This meant that I had about a 1 minute lead.

I nearly lost it on a speed bump on the way on though as I mistimed a pass and had to bunny hop it instead of squeezing around the side. We had been warned against this and it is only because I have been practicing this on my way into work that I was able to avoid a catastrophe. It even gained me some time as I was up to nearly 30mph at the time.


My dismount went well and I made good ground through transition. My shoes went on and I chose to keep the glasses on too this time.
As I was exiting transition to head out on the run, I saw Josh coming in on the bike. This actually put me about 2 minutes ahead.


The run went well. I got into a rhythm and felt comfortable. A couple of people passed me but they were all from earlier waves so I decided to try to keep them in sight instead of trying to overtake them back.

At the turnaround, Josh didn't seem to be taking time out of me so I maintained my pace and tried to finish strong. Josh's brother Zach was also doing great at this point. He was way ahead of me from the wave before. Last year I caught him on the run but this time he was easily going to stay clear.


My Move
I put in a final kick as the finish approached just in case someone was catching. I stayed clear and out of trouble and crossed the line with my new "Simon Gowen" move.

After the race

The race felt good and at first I thought I had finished close to my target time but then I realized that I had miscalculated the finish clock and the 15 minute, wave 4 offset. I had hoped to go 4 minutes faster than last year but in fact, I was 4 minutes slower. But everything felt great. What had gone wrong.

My swim felt good but was actually over 1 minute slower than last year. In fact all of my splits were slower than last year except for my run time that was only 4 seconds quicker.

The bike course may have been slower than last year because of the head wind on the normally fast way back but the only explanation I can offer that explains the other times were a combination of back issues leading into the race and a lack of racing effort. By the latter part, I mean that I don't feel I ever really left my comfort zone and could maybe have pushed harder.


Although the times were not exactly to my liking, the podium was a much better result. Although I only finished 16th Overall, I finished 2nd in the M30-34 age group. To make things even better, Josh Wills finished only one place back in 3rd and to round off the podium, Jamie managed to pull off a great performance to grab 5th. Congratulations to Tyler Willingham for taking first place by a convincing margin.
Myself, Tyler, Josh and Jamie

Zach pulled off an equally great result grabbing 5th in the M25-29 age group  to get himself a podium position.

Lots of things to take away from the race but a great day had by all.