Just keep Swimming … How to Finish a Marathon in the Rain

CIM startline. Look how reflective the pavement is – it was wet!

Yesterday, I ran California International Marathon, reputed to be one of the marathon fastest courses in the world. With gentle rolling hills and a net downhill elevation, runners sign up to run CIM in hopes of a PR, a Boston Qualifying time, or just a fast day.

Unless it’s raining.

The last week, Northern California saw unprecedented amounts of rain, and Sacramento was no exception. The start line was buffeted by wind, and runners were hiding against walls and underneath gas station awnings to stay dry. Thousands of trashbags glowed in the artificial light.

This marathon was a reunion of sorts – six of us who ran the Inca Trail Marathon converged on Sacramento in the hopes of running a race slightly easier than Inca Trail, and spend some time together. We’d eaten dinner together the night before and discussed race-day tactics, such as wearing trash bags, hiding in pace groups to block the wind, and wearing short sleeves, long sleeves, no sleeves, jackets … the permutations were endless.

Trashbags glowing in the pre-race artificial light.

Despite the rain, the start line was festive. 8000 runners couldn’t believe how ridiculous the weather was, and the only thing to do was laugh and run.

My goal in this race was to run somewhere in the 4:00 range. I’ve been running a 50k or marathon a month for the last few months, and I have another 50k in early January, so I didn’t want to go out too strong that I couldn’t recover in time.

The first few miles of the race featured the rolling hills, and we were fortunate that the wind wasn’t terrible. I dropped my trashbag around mile three, and was soaked through moments later. Running in the rain was actually exciting. A hat kept the water mostly out of my eyes, and, once I mentally committed to being soaked through for the next several hours, running through ankle-deep puddles didn’t seem so much of a hardship.

The strangest part of the race wasn’t the weather oddly – I grew to like that component. every so often, I would hear a dog barking … eventually, I realized it was a racer making those sounds. I was keeping pace-ish with a member of “Team Ah-some,” who was wearing a vibrant neon yellow shirt, and he seemed to be randomly barking every five or ten minutes. Around mile 18, I heard an actual dog barking, which was even more confusing.

Those cheering on the slidelines were amazing. Not only were they out in the rain, but they were creative and enthusiastic in their encouragement. One group was handing out beer. One woman was holding a “Just Keep Swimming” sign – so appropriate. My favorite was a guy who was yelling out things like “I’m making loud noises!” and “These are words of encouragement!” and “You are running, I am standing here watching you run!”

The last 8 miles were pretty rough. Road races aren’t my forte – the pounding of the pavement and the monotony of the terrain make it easy to get sore quickly (I qualified for Boston on a trail marathon – my favorite!). Around mile 21 I ran into one of the other Inca veterans, and we ran together for about a mile or so.

At mile 22, I saw a teeny tiny strip of blue in the sky.

A flooded Sacramento street a few blocks from the race.

The last three miles of a marathon, I don’t give myself any excuse to walk. Even slow running is better than no running.

Trail runners are strange creatures. Even though we run extremely solitary races with sometimes fewer than 60 runners, we tend to glom together for vast stretches, sometimes up to hours. We talk, exchange stories, and encourage each other to keep moving. This camaraderie doesn’t crop in in marathons; there are just too many people trying to go fast, and runners tend to keep to themselves and leave other runners to their own goals.

At mile 24.5, off to my right shoulder, I saw a runner slow to a walk. Without thinking, I turned to him and encouraged him to join me – the race was almost over, and he could definitely do this last bit. He fell into step with me and we started running.

The last few miles of a race are always a bit strange. I want nothing more than to be done with the race, but at the same time, once it’s over, it’s over, and gone forever. In my mind, I play this game where I tell myself it’s only forty more minutes of running … only twenty more minutes of running … only ten, five, three, two … and suddenly the finish line is there.

At the finish line!

This other runner and I kept each other going into the city, through tree-lined streets now streaming with shiny wet sunlight, and past the motivational music thumping through the air. He almost stopped twice, but we pushed through to the last 1/10th of a mile. When they split out men and women finishers, we grasped hands quickly and smiled, then split up to our respective finishing chutes. I didn’t see him again afterwards, and don’t know his name.

In elementary school, teachers say that when you point at someone, whatever you say to them comes back three times to you. Encouragement feels that way; sometimes, encouraging someone else is just as motivating to ourselves.

It was a mixed race for my friends. Several of them PRd despite the rain, and two of my girlfriends qualified for Boston. My Inca Trail team also did okay; a slow race for most of us, a DNF for one, and a wet (now non-functional) phone for another.

Overall, definitely a memorable, fun race. I finished in 4:06, which is close enough to what I wanted to do. The rain made it exciting, and getting together with friends, old and new, from all parts of my life, gave the weekend a festival-like feel. Not bad for marathon number 28.

Inca Trail Runners celebrating in Old Town Sacramento.

Inca Trail Runners celebrating in Old Town Sacramento.

50k Fun Run (Lake Chabot 50k)

Scenic Lake Chabot! Credit to ebparks.org for the photo.

Some runs are quiet, pensive, and lonely. During some races, you might not talk to someone for hours.

Lake Chabot 50k on Saturday wasn’t like that at all. The scenic and flat course attracted a lot of runners; I don’t think I ran a single mile without conversation of some sort. Sometimes, the lack of alone-time while running can be difficult – it’s hard to get in the proverbial “Zone” – but, in this case, that friendly camaraderie was just what the day called for. Beautiful scenery and friendly runners kept me moving to one of my fastest 50k finishes ever.

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And … we’re back!

First in age group for Horseshoe Lake 50k. #ComebackKid

My mom always told me to frame questions not as binary, Yes-No decisions, but as multiple-choice, A-B-C decisions. That is to say, there’s always more than just two outcomes for success. I’ve applied that to racing. Before I start a race, I set several time goals and give them each a letter grade. If I hit any of them, I still consider it a successful race.

Yesterday was my first 50k since my injury, and I was so excited to be back. I set these goals:

  • A: Finish in 6 hours (super stretch goal!)
  • B: Finish in 6:30
  • C: Finish at all!
  • F: Drop out. =(

Therefore, as long as I didn’t drop out, I was a winner. Continue reading

We Run in a Land Down Under (Sydney Marathon)

I took this picture last week at sunrise. This was along the last 10k out-and-back of the course.

This weekend, I ran a marathon on my fourth continent: Australia. Australia’s the only continent that’s a country, and it’s also the world’s biggest island.

This was my first marathon after my injury. I was tentatively aiming for a sub 4-hour finish, not for any reason other than it was a round number.  I had been running low mileage, but pain-free, so I was cautiously optimistic. For no apparently reason, I had also put a lot of weight on a sub 4-hour finish, so I was a little nervous going into the race.

To get to the start line, a coworker and I took the train across the Harbor Bridge. The start was on a field just underneath the north side of the bridge; we saw the sunrise casting a warm glow on the Sydney Opera House, just across the channel.

The day of the marathon is the only day out of the year that Sydney closes the Harbor Bridge. To me, that indicates that this race is kind of a big deal. However, a surprisingly small number of runners registered for the full marathon: 3,406. In comparison, 47,000 people run the New York Marathon every year. This Sydney event had several other distances, including a half marathon and several other shorter distances, totaling about 35,000 runners.

The start line felt fairly relaxed largely due to the staggered start times. The half marathoners took off an hour before the marathoners, and the marathoners were split into several groups by estimated speed. It made for a very peaceful start to the race.

The roughly 3,000 of us started out on the north part of Sydney, and looped around to cross the bridge. Just as we started running across the bridge, around kilometer 2, a man dressed in a full Spiderman suit passed me. I’d like to say that distraction is what caused me to face plant in the middle of the street, but really it was my clumsiness. I didn’t stop for bandages; I ran the rest of the race with blood oozing from my knees. Now I’ve got some excellent scrapes on to show for it. Off to a good start!

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Minimum Viable (Tri)athlete

Right before I wiped out – I look so psyched and have no idea I’m about to hit the pavement. Image c/o Chris Chabot

In the tech industry, there’s this concept of Minimum Viable Product. An MVP is a really basic, stripped-down prototype of the ideal final product. It’s got just enough to work – barely.

Yesterday, I competed in my very first triathlon – the California International Triathlon. Summary: triathlons are awesome. This was an Olympic Triathlon, which means 1.5k swim, 40k cycle, and 10k run. I finished in 3:21ish, which was in the middle 1/3rd of my age group.

Triathlons are very tech and logistic-intensive. Having never done one before, I didn’t know if it was something I’d want to do again. As such, I adopted the MVA approach – Minimum Viable Athlete. What was the minimum amount of gear I could invest in while still competing in this event?

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Inca Trail Marathon

The course profile, as annotated by me prior to the race. The profile isn’t 100% correct – we added some flatter parts at the beginning to make the 26.2 miles.

Super long race report.

The Inca Trail is 32k and ends in Machu Picchu. It starts at 9,000 feet and peaks around 13,800 feet above sea level. Most people hike it in four days.

The Inca Trail Marathon ins a 42k course. It’s run on the same trail and also ends in Machu Picchu. 42 competitors attempted to run it in less than a day.

For the last week or so, I’ve been traveling around Peru, prepping for the first annual Inca Trail Marathon. The race is the first marathon-length race that includes the Inca Trail, so in a lot of ways, this was a pretty big deal.

The race is 26.2 miles [obviously]. It starts at KM 88 of the Inca Trail, which is about 8,500 feet above sea level. It peaks at Dead Woman’s Pass – Warmiwanusqa – around 13,800 feet, then plunges quickly to 11,800 feet, then quickly back up to 13,000 feet. After that it’s basically downhill to the finish – around 8,000 feet.

The race started yesterday morning, and it was substantially more difficult than any of us anticipated.

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Boston Marathon Race Report: It Does Not Matter How Slow You Go …

This is a picture of Smoot Bridge in Boston, the bridge measured in Smoots (the height of a guy named George Smoot. Read about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoot )

Boston Marathon: I don’t even know where to start. In the style of Dickens, It was the hardest race I’ve run, and the easiest race I’ve ever run. It was the fastest, and the slowest. It was the most isolating race and the most friendly race.

To be sure, it was certainly the hottest race I’ve ever run. Temperatures were 90F towards the end of the race. The Boston Athletic Association offered an unprecedented option to defer racing due to the heat; about 4,300 people (15% of racers) deferred to run next year. 2,000 participants (10% of the field), received medical attention.

My finish time was 4:28 ish, which is about 2 minutes/mile slower than my qualifying time [3:35:05]. I’m just happy I didn’t end up on a stretcher. You can see my splits here (my bib number was 15030).

In terms of the actual race, I guess the best place to start is at the beginning. I qualified at the Santa Rosa Marathon last year, with a time of 3:35:05. As mentioned, I had no plans to run Boston at a pace even close to that. Continue reading

So Long as You Do Not Stop

MIT, Cambridge, MA

Currently: relaxing before the Boston Marathon tomorrow. It’s supposed to be very hot. Check out this strongly-worded announcement from the Boston Athletic Association.

I took this picture earlier while wandering around Cambridge. This is on MIT’s campus. I liked how alien the construction looked – like something beings from another planet would have built. When I think about the warm race tomorrow, my mental picture is tinted this hot orange color.

From the announcement:

The weather situation continues to be a significant concern for Boston Marathoners. We have determined that the race will occur in a “red zone” which is considered an increased risk but acceptable for high-level elite runners. However, it is not considered safe for unfit and novice runners.

Those who are running the race should run much slower, adding several minutes to your per mile pace.

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Boston Marathon – Pre-Race Ponderings

Took this last night at dusk, near MIT in Cambridge.

Last year, I qualified for Boston with a 3:35:05 marathon. I’ll be running the Boston Marathon on Monday.  Here are a few things I’m thinking about as the race approaches.

It’s no big deal.

I’ve run almost four times as far before. A marathon isn’t a super long race. It’s comparable to most solo long-runs I do on the weekends.

It’s kind of a big deal.

Qualifying for Boston is actually really hard. Sometimes I wonder how it was possible that I ran that fast, and I wonder if I’ll ever run that fast again. 8:12 miles for 26.2 miles is pretty impressive, even though it doesn’t feel like it.

Also, my parents think this is pretty cool; they flew out from California to cheer me on.

I’m not planning to run a PR.

  • I’m injured. The knee is feeling a lot better, but it’s still not at 100%.
  • It’s going to be hot. The weather forecast predicts a high of 87 degrees. The Boston Athletic Association just sent out an email recommending that inexperienced runners don’t run this race. In fact, because the weather is so bad, BAA is offering deferred entry to the 2013 race. That pretty much never happens. It doesn’t look like they’ve updated the website yet, but here’s verbatim what they said in the email:

We are now making the recommendation that if you are not highly fit or if you have any underlying medical conditions (for example-cardiac disease, pulmonary disease or any of a number of medical problems), you should NOT run this race.

Due to the unusually warm weather forecast for the Boston area on Monday, the B.A.A. will defer the entry of those official entrants to the 2013 Boston Marathon for participants who decide not to race.

This will be the only time I run this marathon.

I like races where you show up, get out of your car, then start running. When you finish, you get back in your car and drive away. Easy, fast, low-stress, and no room for error.

This particular marathon, logistically, is very complex. Packet pickup is several days before the race. Runners have to ride a bus to the start line – a full three hours before the race actually begins – then wait around in corrals until their gun. The registration process was equally complex.

I like simple races.

Track me if you want to, but don’t expect blazing speeds.

My bib number is 15030. You can track me online, of via text messaging. Tracking information here.

Summary: this will be a fun, slow race.

The entire city of Boston is pretty excited about this race, and I hear that most of the course has people cheering on the sidelines. Clearly I’m not going to be running this very quickly, so I plan to take my time and fully enjoy the experience of running the world’s oldest annual marathon.