Monday, November 21, 2011

Race Recap: Catalina Eco Marathon

In June, I ran my first trail race and after I finished, I was eager to sign up for my next trail run. Enter: the Catalina Eco Marathon on Catalina Island in Southern California. The location for the race was ideal because my brother as well as some of my relatives live in the Santa Monica area. So, in addition to running in the race, I had a chance to catch up with my family. My mom decided to come out as well, so it was quite the gathering!

The race started at 8am which gave me, my bro and mom enough time to catch the 6:15am boat from Long Beach to Catalina. Such is my luck, the only rainy day the whole time I was in Cali was on race day. The poor weather also made for an "interesting" boat ride to Catalina. The ride was about an hour long and the first half went smoothly. However, as we neared the island, the water got rougher and the boat started tossing and turning. I've never thought sea sickness was a problem for me, but the coffee and Clif Bar I had earlier started to yell at me in protest.

Somehow I made it to the dock without getting sick, but I can't say the same for my brother (I later heard the ocean swells were about 9 feet!). By the time I got off the boat, I was left with only 30 minutes till race start and I still felt pretty queazy. I quickly hustled over to the packet pickup to drop off my bag and get my bib. By the time I pinned my bib on and headed to the start line, the race was only minutes from starting.

I had received an email the day before the race from the race directors stating that they might change the course due to the inclement weather. However, as far as I knew when the race started, we were running the planned course.

For this marathon, I had no time/pace goal. Since I knew this was going to be a hilly race, I let the course dictate my pace. I was there to enjoy the sights and I stopped frequently during the run to snap pictures on my phone.

 Race Start
Luckily, my stomach had settled down by the time the race began. The first 4 miles were more or less uphill the whole way. By the time I had reached mile 4, I was 1,500 feet above sea level. Due to the low clouds that were hanging over the island, I was running in near white out conditions!

...and here's a video I took while running in the clouds:

When I hit mile 6, the course transitioned from trail to road. I was hoping that this was just going to be a short section of road that would quickly turn back to trail, but as the miles continued and the posted mile boards were replaced by oranges cones & mile marks spray painted on the road, I realized that the course had in fact changed. If an announcement was made pre-race about the course change, I had missed it. I was bummed that I was not going to run the advertised course, but understood that for the safety of me and my fellow runners, it's what needed to be done. Better to change the course then cancel the race.

It was evident from the mile markers on the other side of the road that the changed course was now an out & back. It was another bummer as I'm not a fan of out & back courses. On the plus side, the clouds began to lift and I was finally starting to see the sights I had traveled all the way from Washington to see.

Here are some of the pictures I took.

During the 12th mile, the course entered the grounds of the Catalina Airport. As I continued through the airport, I neared an aid station and saw the turn around sign. Looking at my watch, I still had at least a good half mile to go before I should of hit the turn around. I asked the volunteers if this was the halfway point and they assured me it was. Part of me still didn't want to believe that this was right, but when reached the mile 14 mark with 13 miles registered on my watch, I realized that the new course was unfortunately measured incorrectly. Another bummer.

Catalina Airport - Elevation 1602
Airport terminal. The white sign on the second level says, "Airport In The Sky"
The middle part of the race was a mix of rolling hills. All and all, I was feeling good. Since I had spent most of the first half of the race to stopping to take pictures, I decided to get into more of a rhythm and lay down some faster miles.

When I reached the mile 20 mark (or 19), I was back on the portion of the course that was trails. I knew that soon I'd be facing a 1,500 foot decent down to the finish line. I had burned my quads up a bit by running faster and some recent hills hadn't helped the cause. As I suspected, the decent was pretty tough on my quads. I tried to keep a steady pace on the down hill, but my legs wouldn't let me. It was frustrating.

Fortunately, the grade of the decent lessened in the last couple of miles and I was able to up my pace again. As I neared the finish line, I saw my mom and bro off to the side cheering me on. As I approached the finish line, I did something I'd always wanted to do when finishing a marathon... I crossed the finish line running backwards.

Unbeknown to me, my mom took a video of me finishing:

The official distance was 25 miles, just shy of the marathon distance. Ironically, my first trail marathon course was long by about 1.5 miles... so I guess I broke even!

The Catalina Eco Marathon was like none other. I still wish I could have run the original course, but the last minute course change still provided me with some amazing views! I guess I'll have to come back next year and run this race again!

A big thanks to my mom and bro for braving the nasty weather on Catalina to support me. It was great to have them there. I'm so grateful for all the love and support they and the rest of my family give me!

My Garmin Upload

Race Stats
Time: 4:10:05 @ 9:55 min/mile avg.
44th of out 195 overall
6th of out 11th in age group (25-29)  

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Race Recap: Marine Corps Marathon

Well, there you have it.... my 24th marathon is in the books and what a great day it was for the 36th running of the Marine Corps Marathon. It certainly wasn't the warmest during the pre-dawn hours, but I didn't mind. Compared to what the weather was like the day before (cloudy, rainy, and even some snow flakes!), this was perfect. As the sun began to rise, I was treated to an amazing array of colors. 

Sunrise from the starters village
Being a local of DC, it was a great feeling to toe the line at my home race. Many parts of the course are routes I use for my training runs, which was nice. For the non-locals, you got to experience a truly unique course.... Rosslyn/Georgetown/Watergate/Kennedy Center/Lincoln Memorial/Jefferson Memorial/Hains Point/Tidal Basin/MLK Memorial/Monument/Capital/Crystal City/Pentagon/Iwo Jima Memorial. What's not to like?

My goal for the race was to beat my current marathon PR (3:54:20). I had run a strong half marathon (1:39:47) in early October, so I knew the possibility of setting a new marathon PR was real. However, no matter how well prepared I am on race day, I still get butterflies before the start. For me, there's always a level of uncertainty before the race starts. I've run enough marathons to know that even if I'm well prepared, things don't always go my way on race day.

I found my way to the start corral and patiently waited for the race to start. Before any race starts, I ask my Dad to watch over me and provide me the strength I need to finish the race. Running has given me the ability to connect with him in such a special way. Never do I feel his presence more then when I'm running. I always write his initials on my running shoes to remind me that he's always with me.

It had been awhile since I'd run in a marathon of this size (there were about 21,000 finishers). I forgot how annoying it is to not be able to maintain a consistent pace when I'm surrounded by runners on every side. Instead of zigging and zagging between runners, I patiently waited for gaps to develop in front of me.

The atmosphere on the course was awesome! The run down M Street in Georgetown was electric and I was surprised at the amount of spectators that were out when I reached the Lincoln Memorial. It took me a lot longer than expected to find my rhythm in the race. It wasn't until the 11th mile that I started to get comfortable and felt ready to up my pace.

I treat the first half of a marathon as a warmup. I like to run at a relatively conservative pace to ensure I have enough in the tank for the second half. For me, the real race starts after the halfway point. That's when I kick it into the next gear and start pushing myself to the limit. I'm all about the negative split, or running the second half of the race faster than the first half. Most runners claim they have a more positive experience running by this method because it leaves them feeling stronger at the end of the race.

The second half of the race took me past some of my favorite places in DC. After running through the Tidal Basin around mile 16, the course route went right by the newly built MLK Memorial. Next, the course took you through the National Mall for miles 17 through 20.

Overall, I was feeling pretty good. I was able to increase my pace by about 15 to 20 seconds per mile since passing the halfway point. However, my quads were starting to tighten up and my legs were getting heavy. I tried to ignore my legs as best as I could and continued pushing. I was able to maintain my pace through the Crystal City out and back section, but once I made it to mile 24, fatigue was setting in big time. The last two miles were really difficult. Checking my watch, I saw that I was close to finishing under the 3:50 mark. Knowing that was all the motivation I need to keep pushing!

When the finish line came into view, I was flooded with relief. The end was near and I was going to make it under 3:50! As I crossed the finish line, I pointed my fingers skyward and thanked my Dad for being with me out there. Waiting in line to receive my finishers medal, I began to reflect on my race. I started to feel tears well up in my eyes. Running a marathon brings so many different emotions to the surface. I kept myself composed as a Marine placed my finishers medal around my neck and congratulated me. I thanked him for his service and then found a quiet place off to the side to be alone for minute. The realization of running my best marathon was starting to set in. I started thinking about my Dad again. I thought about how much I miss him, but at the same, how grateful I was for having him out there with me in my heart and soul. I could not hold back the tears any longer.

They say that running a marathon changes your life forever. I couldn't agree more. It's such a wonderful distance to test the limits of human endurance. As the late Emil Zatopek once said, "If you want to win something, run a 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon."

Race Stats
Time: 3:49:10
2,932 out of 21,013 - Overall
2,229 out of 12,420 - Gender

My Garmin Upload