The thing I was most please with was how all of my past experience came into play. In 2012 I ran the LA marathon in 3:00:12. It became an obsession to try and break 3:00 since I came so close. I thought it would be easy next time...
LA 2012 - 3:00:12 - so close
The Run up to Race day
Since missing out in Sacramento in December my training continued at a steady but not fantastic level. Fitness took quite a while to come back up. I track the total number of heartbeats I take to run a mile averaged out over the four key training runs per week. I need to be under 1100 to be in 3:00 hr contention. On past races I normally get there a few weeks before the race and maybe peak early. This time I was struggling to get fit enough but it dropped perfectly the week before the race...
Those big ups and downs are caused by training runs after several days of no sugar trying to force my body to get better at fat burning. It makes the heart rate high but gets you better prepared for the post 20 mile finish. I also trained hard right up to the race - no taper except for the last 5 days. So fitness peaked perfectly without being over trained. I averaged around 50 miles of running combined with 50 miles on the stationary bike per week. This took around 9 hours of actual training time per week.
I also got my sleep under control. For the three weeks before the race I slept more than eight hours every night and averaged 8.3 hours. We adjusted our sleep timing to be in sync with the start time, getting up at 5.00 am so no jet lag effect. Also no alcohol.
I kept my body weight at around 145lb which is the lightest it has been - saving another few % there.
Not working meant we could have a stress free approach to the race just thinking about running, nutrition and watching movies. We also did 20 min leg massage after each running day. Marathon training was taking about 25 hours a week. The last run was an 11 mile carb depleater on Thursday followed by three days of carb loading, massage and relaxing. So everything was in place by race day.
The Race Plan
Past LA marathons gave me all the race data I needed to make an accurate pace note chart. I take into account all the ups and downs of the course and overlay that with the general effort, I like, of starting easy and finishing fast. This results in a VERY specific pace per mile 'script' to follow. Early miles are easier than later miles. Up hills are slower than down hills. The effort level should feel even and slowly increasing to a hard, all out finish. A slow start stops your body going into panic sugar burning mode. The pace notes also account for the GPS watch reading 26.55 miles at the end rather than the 26.2 of the race distance.
Once I start running I just take one mile at a time trying to run exactly as the script dictates and see how long I can hold on.
This graph shows my pace script in green against my actual pace in blue. Numbers are in seconds per mile so a higher value is a slower time.
5 4 3 2 1 BANG.
The start was a bit of a scramble and my first two miles were slow putting me about +15 seconds on my plan. I over compensated a little in the next few miles as I catch up and end up running too fast and was now around -10 seconds by mile five. But everything starts to settle in. Mile six is the first gel and the miles are going by quick and easy. I now had to consciously hold back the speed to stay on script. Confidence of success was high but I tried not to think about it and just concentrated on the next mile pace. By mile eight I was really dialed in. You can see that from mile 8 - 20 I hit my pace notes within a second or two. I really felt in control. I continued to hold a very slight advantage over the notes of around 10 - 15 seconds. I was also consciously running an efficient racing line around every corner trying to run the shortest possible distance.
As expected I was passed by many runners during the early miles. On the steepest climb at mile five I was chugging up hill at around 9:30 pace taking it easy. Another runner in a red vest was being extra friendly encouraging me up the hill as he eased by and out of sight. I said I like going slow up hills and smiled. By mile eight I was no longer being passed much and more or less held steady with the runners around me. After half way I noticed I was passing many more people than were passing me. On a down hill section (where I tend to run faster than average) I passed red vest guy from the mile five hill. I never saw him again. In fact no other runner passed me after mile fifteen but I steadily passed 100+ runners over the next 10 miles.
Each mile that went by on script 'qualified' me for the next. All I had to do was to follow the numbers, run relaxed and keep fueled up. I grabbed a few sips of water along the way in the second half as the sun brought the temps up. By mile 18 I knew success was with in reach and for a moment I thought I could run faster than planned but I held back and told myself to just stick with the plan. There is an up hill section that peaks at mile 23. I told myself to get over that last hill on script and then see how I feel.
That turned out to be the ideal approach as the the sustained effort was starting to take effect. I had mile 23 marked down for a 6:43 effort but the steady climb up to the mile marker took away my pace. In earlier miles I was able to fairly easily apply more effort and hit the number but at this point the nausea level was increasing faster than my pace and I ended up dropping about 10 seconds on that mile. That was the first time in the race that I thought I could be in trouble.
As I peaked on the final hill at mile 23 I took stock. 3.2 miles to go. My watch showed an average pace for the first 23 miles of 6:47 mins per mile. I knew my watch had to show 6:46 or less to guarantee a sub 3:00 finish. So I had 3.2 miles to drop the average by one second. That meant I had to gain 23 seconds to drop the average by 1 second and that meant I had to average a 6:40 pace for the final miles which were down hill. There was one more bonus. My watch distance was closer than I had allowed saving me another 0.1 of a mile which was worth 40 seconds.
COME ON THIS IS IT!
As the down hill started. I went back to physical fundamentals. I know I can never run faster than my most efficient running style. So I concentrated on running as perfectly as I could manage. Run tall and taught, up on my toes, arms swing dictating the drive and pace. Breathing was at a hard effort with a big breath on every step. Haa Haa Haa I knew I could sustain this grind for three miles as I regularly did it in training for six. I felt I still had a good blood sugar level that allowed for a sustained effort. Run run run you bugger you may never get this chance again. Don't screw it up. Don't trip up. Just run.
I was passing runner after runner. Several called out. "Yeah looking strong" or "Go for the finish". I heard a spectator say "wow he is looking good". I was feeling great at this max effort. I glanced down at my watch to be sure I was beating 6:40. I was running at 6:22 and held it for the mile. I held 6:25 for the next mile and knew I must be safe. The watch displayed 6:45 average pace for the race.
I came around the last corner and could see the finish banner in the distance. I switched my watch over to display my total time 2:55:50. Four minutes to get under that banner. DONT SLOW DOWN NOW. GO GO GO.
I was now in an all out, tunnel and blurry vision sprint. I knew I was going fast. I could feel the stride length was really flying. HAAA HAAA HAAA HAAA. I could hear the announcer calling my name and saying all these runners are coming in under three hours. DRIVE DRIVE DRIVE. I could see the clock at the finish line from a few hundred feet out. 2:58 TICK TICK TICK. With the final timing markers on the road in sight I relaxed for the first time. YES YESS YES. Arms in the air and over the line.
Stop the watch 2:58:23. Check again. Yes. Check again Yes. Look at the clock 2:58 YES. Finally. Finally.
I am walking in a daze. I shake hands with another runner with the same time. I get my medal and water. I pick up my bag. I sit at the side of the truck in the shade for a moment. I think about what happened and cry.