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Sunday, May 09, 2010

Avenue of the Giants Marathon: Race Report

On May 3, 2009, I ran my first marathon. It wasn't pretty, and I made a lot of mistakes along the way. I ran the first half way too fast (which is a common mistake), but in my case, there were hills, which made it even worse. I wore myself out within the first 7 miles and by the time I got to the halfway point, I was physically spent.

The following December I proved how many mistakes I made by beating that time by over an hour. I'm not saying that because I think it's an accomplishment. On the contrary, I think that I did so badly in the first race, that it almost didn't matter what time I got in the December. Unless I didn't try, I would have had a PR!

Even still, it didn't seem like redemption. I decided to do better this year, and registered for the Avenue of the Giants marathon, which was to be run May 2, 2010, a day short of a year from the first.

We drove to Humboldt on Friday, and stayed at the Motel Garberville, the same place we stayed last year. It's a pretty run of the mill place, but they only charge $60 a night for our entire family of 5, and have free internet. The internet was running poorly this year, but it was still worth what we paid.

Friday night we didn't do much other than lounge around the motel room. We had dinner at a place down the street that claimed to be an Italian place, but wasn't much more than a deli. The food was premade and microwaved, and while my lasagna was delicious, my wife's sandwich and the kids' bagel dogs left something to be desired.

On Saturday morning, I drove the marathon route, making a video of the drive-thru to put on Youtube. I recently replaced my car stereo with one that has a DVD player built in, so while I was driving the route, I had Spirit of the Marathon playing in the background. It was certainly a highlight!

As I got beyond the first half, the memories of last year's race came over me and I got a little emotional. I didn't cry, but you could certainly see it on my face. In fact, my wife even asked me at one point of I was okay! I think what I was feeling was more fear than anything. Would I be able to conquer the thing? Was I properly trained? Would I be walking as much as I did last year?

After driving the route, I picked up my bib & promised t-shirt at the starting line. While last year they had disposable champion chips that attached to a shoe, this year they were doing something different and had the timing RFID tag attached to the bib itself. It's a neat idea, certainly people won't be forgetting their chips, but it also added weight to the bib.

We then headed up north to Eureka, and my favorite place to eat in Humboldt County, the Samoa Cookhouse.

It was originally the mess hall for employees of a lumber company, and while they still own the place, it's now a restaurant that's open to the public. They serve up what they call "family style", and bring out the food the same way you would at home: on serving plates, which you then serve onto plates yourself. If you want more, no problem, they bring more. They also have a logging museum on the premises, and make up some of the best homemade bread you'd ever want. The food for the day was fried chicken.

I'm not sure if that counts as carbo loading, but it's certainly a great once a year splurge that's guaranteed to be burned off during the marathon!

That reminds me...

Saturday morning, I got up with little trouble. I had my clothes laid out the night before, and my GPS in one of my running shoes to ensure it wouldn't be forgotten. I had the fanny pack pre-stocked with energy gel, 5 of them planned, and one extra in case I was slow like last year. Rather than using Cytomax, I brought Nuun, which is sugar free and was much more compact. All that was left was to make breakfast.

I boiled some water with the motel-provided coffee pot, but mistakenly turned it off before pouring. I used two packets of oatmeal and a scoop of protein powder, mixed in the water, but as I started to eat, realized that I was mixing in lukewarm water. WOW, that didn't taste all that great! I didn't have much of a choice, this was the only oatmeal I brought. I hoped this wasn't a sign.

The drive from Garberville to the race start at the Dyerville bridge was uneventful. I made sure to leave early so I could get a decent parking spot on the road, as opposed to the river bar. It wasn't my idea of a good time, having to walk 50 feet down a hill to get to my car after the race!

Once I was parked, I got my gear together and made a visit to the portapotties, then walked around looking for people I might no.

As luck would have it, I ran into Layla Bohm from Twitter (@laylabohm) almost immediately. There were 30 minutes left before the start, so Layla decided to go back to her car to drop off some clothing.

I headed over to the starting line. There were a lot more people racing than last year! After a few minutes, I stumbled on Layla Bohm again. While we didn't say much to each other, it was nice to have someone to chitchat with to get my mind off the race.

After the National Anthem was sung, the race started.

Miles 1-5
I made a big effort to try to keep my pace around 10 minutes per mile during the first 6 miles, which is where most of the uphill running would be. It was obvious pretty quickly that the road hadn't been maintained at all in the past year, and in fact was worse than it was the year before.

As planned, I stopped at each aid station, but of course instead of drinking ERG (quite possibly the worst named sports drink), it was water for me. My bottle had Nuun in it, and I sipped on it the whole way.

While it was hard work, it wasn't near as hard as I expected. Slowing down made a world of difference, and I was feeling surprisingly good.

Miles 6 to 10
At the 6.5-mile turnaround, the guy at the timing mat was demanding a high five. I had to oblige, there wasn't much else I could do.

Once on the downhill, I increased the pace ever so slightly. Just before Mile 7, I noticed an older gentleman was starting to pass me. Over the next half mile, we did the exchange: I'd pass him, he'd pass me, and this went on two or three times.

At the 7 mile mark, I paused the music I was listening to in order to hear the time read out by the person on the side of the road. As I passed, he said, "Looking good, number 303, you're doing great!" The older man shouted, "What about number 393? How's he doing!" to which I responded, "Number 393's going to beat me, that's for sure!"

I also noticed that as we ran, just about everyone coming in the opposite direction was shouting positive words to him. And who wouldn't? It's always great seeing older people run, they're quite inspiring. With him running near me, it also gave the illusion that everyone was giving positive words to me!

Since we had the exchange at the mile marker, I took it as an opening to talk to him. He told me his name was Keith Sime, and he'd been running since he was 44 years old. He was 76 years old.

Incredible! I told him that when I get to be 76 years old, I want to still be running as he had. He said that running had made his life worth living and he wouldn't want to be doing anything else.

As we ran along, he started giving me advice. Cut the corners, keep your form up the hills. I told him thank you, started my music, and kept going. He ended up finishing long before I did.

Miles 10-15
I kept musing to myself at how good I felt. It was truly night and day from last year, and I even felt better than I did at CIM in December. It was truly amazing to me.

At two occasions I passed a guy who waved and said my name, but I had no idea who it was. I later found out it was Derrick Tsang (@derricktsang) from Twitter. While I didn't know who it was at the time, it was great having someone say my name!

At the halfway point, I once again thought about how it felt the year before. Approaching the bridge, the half marathoners were being ushered to the left, while full marathoners were being ushered to the right, and the number of spectators cheering for people were a whole lot less the direction I was going. While it was depressing last year, this year I couldn't help but think that we were the "chosen few". This was a good feeling!

As I crossed the bridge, I saw a photographer, so I came up with the best smile I could muster. It's not the best one I've even given, but it did the job.

Miles 16-20
There were so many landmarks that made me think of last year. The Visitor's Center was one particular spot that made me sad at the time, since I was so tired when I shouldn't have been. This year was much different! I had them fill my water bottle and dropped a Nuun tablet in, then headed off again.

Around Mile 18, I started feeling fatigue in my legs and decided to do some walking. I tried not to walk too much, and I felt good about it because it certainly wasn't the death march I had been on before. I had also been listening to music the whole time, which to me was making a huge difference.

The 2nd turnaround was between miles 19 and 20. As I reached the Visitor's Center the 2nd time, I used the bathroom.

At Mile 23, I'd been running for 4:30, and started wondering if I might be able to finish in less than 5 hours. I did some more walking, as did another guy I was next to. We talked a little bit, and I mentioned to him that if we busted our butts, we might break the 5-hour barrier. He laughed and said he'd been thinking about the same thing. I started running again.

It just wasn't meant to be. While I could reach a 10 min/mi pace, I just couldn't hold it for more than a few minutes at a time. I decided to focus on a PR instead.

My time for the California International Marathon had been 5:18:21. As I reached the last mile of the race, I met up with a person who was walking alongside a guy with a bike, who'd somehow gotten a flat tire. She told him that there was no way she'd continue walking just for his sake, and started running again. I talked to him for a few minutes, but finally had to concede that I'd PR if I ran the final mile, but if I walked with him there was no way I could do it. I started running again.

Coming over the final crossing over Hwy 101, the final incline of the race, I knew I was close to the finish. I saw the sign for the Dyerville Bridge, and the silliest water stop in the world. It was placed at the end of Mile 26! Why anyone would bother to stop 2/10 of a mile before the actual finish of the race is beyond me.

I came over the bridge and turned to the right, towards the finish line. My final time was 5:10:29, an 8-minute PR over CIM, and a full hour and hour and 11 minutes faster than last year!

Just look at that photo! The woman to the left is walking the 10k, crossing the finish line with a nicely posed smile, while I'm struggling to finish the last six inches! I thought it was pretty funny.

See the activity on RunSaturday
Type:Run - Race
Distance:27.46 mi

Comparing this year's splits to last really tell the story of what I did wrong last year, and how I did better this time around.



In 2009, I ran most of the first 6 miles under 10 minutes per mile, a few around 9:30. I started walking as early as mile 7, tried to pick it up again, but by the 2nd half I was walking most of the 2nd half.

In 2010, I kept the pace right around 10 minutes per mile during those first 6, some around 10:30. I picked it up slightly at mile 7, but still kept it slower, and while I was slowing during the 2nd half of the race, I was walking a lot less. In the end, I finished stronger than I expected and ran probably twice or even three times as much during the later parts of the race.

For fun, here are the numerical splits for both 2009 and 2010, as well as CIM for reference. The slower of the splits are highlighted in gray.

AVE 2009CIM 2009AVE 2010
Mile 10:09:130:09:460:09:56
Mile 20:11:010:09:560:10:10
Mile 30:09:550:09:420:10:15
Mile 40:09:440:10:020:11:12
Mile 50:09:360:10:160:10:57
Mile 60:09:580:10:220:10:48
Mile 70:10:000:10:240:10:37
Mile 80:09:520:10:390:10:29
Mile 90:09:460:11:340:09:47
Mile 100:09:360:10:260:09:31
Mile 110:12:230:10:360:09:45
Mile 120:11:410:10:400:10:15
Mile 130:13:110:11:020:11:40
Mile 140:12:360:11:510:10:10
Mile 150:15:150:11:580:10:21
Mile 160:20:090:12:170:12:06
Mile 170:19:450:12:370:13:20
Mile 180:20:410:16:110:12:07
Mile 190:16:190:13:190:12:20
Mile 200:19:390:15:050:14:53
Mile 210:26:110:13:210:16:40
Mile 220:20:180:12:390:11:00
Mile 230:20:210:11:330:13:39
Mile 240:22:100:14:470:12:47
Mile 250:20:280:13:470:13:40
Mile 260:14:570:14:360:15:01

Hydration & Food
During the race, I drank two full bottles of Nuun, and only 4 energy gels. I thought I'd need 5, but that late in the race it just didn't matter to me. A couple times in the middle of the race, I felt my stomach growl, so I ate a few pieces of fruit given along the way. Banana and oranges, nothing else. For water, I drank one or two cups at every aid station.

I think next time around, for training I really need to focus on endurance. One of the problems I've had all along has been slowing down towards the end of a race as fatigue has set in. I need to get to the point where I can hold a pace for 26.2 miles. The next step after that is to push that pace, the "all day" pace, even faster.

Here's the video I created of the race. Unlike my prior races, I didn't take any video during the race, just before and after.

Finally, here's the drive-thru video I created. It took more than an hour to drive, and the Flip actually holds less than an hour's worth of video, so I came back and finished it off the day after the race.

Special thanks go to Layla Bohm, Derrick Tsang, my family for once again being so supportive of me leaving for the day, @biscuiterie from Twitter, who ran the half marathon and shouted at me as she passed, and finally, Keith Sime, whose story I'm telling to everyone who wants to listen. Keith's final time was 4:33:54, he was the only person in the 75-79 age group, and NAILED a BQ. We should all aspire to be doing as well as this man when we reach 76.

It was a great race!

From Twitter 05-08-2010

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