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March 21, 2011 / Rohit

LA Marathon 2011 — Race Report

I ran the 2011 Honda LA Marathon yesterday (March 20th). In less than perfect conditions I managed to do a personal best and completed the full marathon in 4:28:06, beating my previous personal best by over 20 minutes.

The day began at 3 AM. I got ready in an hour and took a cab to Santa Monica, where there were a number of shuttles waiting to take the runners to Dodgers stadium. I reached the shuttle stop and waited for Anjana. We took the shuttle as soon as she arrived and reached Dodgers stadium at 5:30 AM with almost 2 hours to kill. It was already pretty cold and windy, though no rain. We first hung around in one of the tents along with other runners, protecting ourselves from the cold. Later we went out and got something to eat. They were giving out bananas and bagels. There was coffee too, but the line was too long for it. After that we went and checked in our bags.

That’s when I thought it was time to switch on my Garmin Forerunner 305. But it didn’t turn on! I had charged it the day before, so I was pretty sure it wasn’t the battery. Neither had it gotten wet, because it hadn’t started raining. I tried banging on it, but nothing worked. I should have carried my digital watch. Slowly, I realized that I will have to run the whole race without help from my Garmin. I had never run a race (or for that matter trained) without it. The only thing which I had to help me pace was a wrist pace chart (targeting a 4:30 finish) which I had picked up from the expo. I accepted my fate.

Before the race was about to start, me and Anjana parted ways — I was in seeded corral C and she was in the unseeded pack as she registered late.

The race started some 15 minutes late with the wheelchair athletes going first, followed by the elite women. In the LA marathon there is a gender challenge where the elite women athletes get a head-start over the  elite men, whoever crosses the line first gets $100,000. So the elite men and the rest of the runners started 17 minutes after the elite women.

Figure 1: Start of the LA Marathon. I am somewhere there.

When the race started it was still cloudy, so I was optimistic that it won’t rain. The mass of runners left the stadium and started their way towards China Town. The first couple of miles went by pretty quickly and we entered China town. Somewhere on the 3rd mile, when we were in Little Tokyo, that the rain started. It was something which I had already known would happen, so I was prepared for it.

There were few uphills in the downtown area. The one before the Disney concert hall was pretty steep, but as it came early on in the race it wasn’t too bad. The drums beating at Disney hall helped. All through this time, I didn’t know how slow or how fast I was going. There were quite a few people passing me, and I had to somehow control myself from not going fast. Fortunately there was a 4:45 pace group which was around me. My goal for the first few miles was just to be near those guys. Or more specifically, I didn’t want the pace group to pass me.

At mile 6, there was a clock. When I looked at the time and then at the pace sheet on my wrist, I knew that I was 5 minutes behind pace for a 4:30 finish. Somehow I managed to not get distracted by that and kept an easy pace. It wasn’t easy, with the rain, people zipping past you and I needed to take a loo break. From the 6th mile to the 12th mile, the stomach cramps kept bothering me. All the porta-potties on the course had queues in front of them. I was already behind pace, so it was bothering me whether it was worth waiting in the queue. At mile 12, I finally decided to take a break and go.

I felt much better and started enjoying the race. Though when I came to the next mile marker with the clock, I was almost 8 minutes behind pace. As I was feeling good, I decided to pick up the pace a little bit but not too much as the hard part was yet to come. At mile 13, my goal was to just maintain that pace till mile 18 and see how it felt.

There was excellent support all throughout the course. There were water stops at every mile and they were giving out Gatorade. In spite of the really heavy rain, people had come out to cheer the runners. Many gave out food. There were so many bananas and orange which I ate. Thank you guys!

The rain started getting really heavy at mile 13. The roads had flooded. My shoes were soggy. The socks were wet. I had to keep squeezing the water out of my gloves. My shorts, in spite of them being dri-fit, kept slipping down and I had to constantly pull them up.  And the most irritating — my shoe laces kept on untying and they would never both come off at the same time; first it would be the left shoe, then after 3 minutes the right one.

Regardless of that I managed to maintain my pace. By mile 18 when I saw the next clock, I had managed to shave off 3 minutes, now my deficit was only a little over 5 minutes. Mile 18 is where things start getting really hard in a marathon. My legs had started to hurt and I just told myself to “stay with the pain.” I remember passing by volunteers who were spraying runners with pain-relievers and refusing to stop for it. My goal was now to maintain the same pace till mile 20 and pick it up from then on.

When I reached mile 20, I had reduced the deficit down to 4 minutes. In fact mile 20 onwards  was home territory. I was familiar with the terrain, so there was something to my advantage. I knew that just after mile 20, at Veteran’s administration, there was going to be an uphill. As I had done my homework, I was ready for it. When the uphill finally came, I was actually in pretty good shape and ran all of it. Once that hill was over, I knew that it was a gradual downhill descent from there to the finish. And I further picked up the pace.

Somewhere at mile 20, there was actually somebody giving out beer shots out to the runners. I almost had it, just when the guy said “Beer” and I backed off. Beer at mile 20 … now that is sadistic.

The last 7-8 miles in a marathon are the hardest. A number of people were slowing down or walking. The rain was relentless. Then there was the cold, the wind. I though, was having a great day. In those last 7 miles, I was actually feeling pretty strong. I knew that even if I wasn’t going to make it in 4:30 it was very likely that I was going to beat my previous time of 4:50:19. But at the same time I was worried. The first time I ran the Auroville half marathon, I was on target for a sub 2 hour finish, but got lost in the trail course and messed up my time. Then there was this video which I had seen, where they discussed how an athlete “hit the wall” in the last mile and completely ruined up her time. Because of all that, I became extremely focused. I just concentrated on maintaining my pace and form.

Figure 2: Notice the split timings during the last 7 miles.

When I reached mile 23, I realized that I was just 1 minute behind the target pace for a 4:30 finish. A guy shouted “You guys are WATERPROOF!”, and that got me so pumped that I decided to increase my pace a little bit more. The only irritating thing during those 3 miles was the number of times my shoes laces came off. Because of the cold, my hands were numb so it was hard to tie them. Moreover I needed to take off my gloves before I could tie the laces. After around 5-6 rounds of tying each shoe lace, I decided that I would tuck the laces to the side of the shoe. Whenever the laces would free themselves from the side, I would stop and push them back in — it took lesser time then tying them back on.

The final stretch was on Ocean avenue. I could see the finish line straight ahead, the ocean to my right. It was a good feeling and I ran. When I reached near the finish line, I could see the clock. I had around 150 m to go and the clock said 4:29:00. I couldn’t believe it. Now I had to do it. I had to finish below 4:30. With whatever energy I had left, I increased the tempo further and crossed the finish line. The last time I saw the clock it said 4:29:34. It felt good! As my Garmin wasn’t functioning, I didn’t know what my net time was. It was surely going to be less than the clock time. When I came back home and checked it was 4:28:06!

Figure 3: The Wrap with which we were covered at the finish line. Ironic, yes (via).

The volunteers present at the end of a race quickly covered me up with something like a aluminum wrap. Once the heat dissipated from my body, I realized how cold and windy it was. I started shivering. After getting my medal and photos taken, I waited for Anjana. It took some time for her to cross the finish line and us to get synced up. Both our phones were wet and not functioning properly. With a little bit of luck, we finally met each other, exchanged war stories and headed home.

Looking back at the race, it was a bad day. And I am sure that without the downpour, the loo break, the laces coming off, I could have done much better. But who knows, maybe I did well because of them. All the things which I was worried about in my training — running late evenings in the cold — actually worked to my advantage.

I had a great day on a really bad day! I would do it again.

The good and bad of the race:

Good

  1. Excellent support all along the race course. There was enough water, Gatorade and medical support. Thanks a lot volunteers!
  2. The course is really scenic. You cover a lot of tourist spots along the course.
  3. The on course music and entertainment was really good.

Bad

  1. The race started around 10-15 minutes late.
  2. The mile markers weren’t present on all miles. It’s understandable to a certain extent due to the weather conditions. I saw a mile marker being partially blown off in the wind.
  3. The gear check and the finish area far far far far away from the finish line — almost a mile away. Do you really expect someone to finish a marathon and walk that much? Almost nobody knew where the gear check was, with a number of runners asking around and not knowing where to go.
  4. Getting the gear back at the finish line was a pain. The area was first far off, then the entire place was full of chaos. The bags were strewn here there and people had a hard time finding their belongings. Mine only contained a t-shirt, so I decided to not take my bag back at all.
  5. The organizers had promised Clif shots at each mile after mile 21, but I only remember seeing them once after mile 21.

The bad points are more than the good, but overall I still liked participating in the race. And as I said, I would do it again.

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5 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Shantanu / Mar 21 2011 11:22 pm

    Nice account! Congrats again roxtar! have a cpl of beers from my side and enjoy the high.
    After reading your race report, I came to the conclusion that SCMM was an awesomely organized event this year!

    • Rohit / Mar 22 2011 12:41 am

      Aye aye sir. Just did that. For a race which is celebrating its 26th anniversary, I did expect more from the LA marathon in terms of better organization. Maybe I am being a little unfair, managing over 20,000 runners is quite a big deal. But irrespective of that, it’s still a great race to run in.

  2. Ankur Gupta / Mar 22 2011 12:10 am

    Nice read … Totally inspiring …

    • Rohit / Mar 22 2011 12:41 am

      Thanks Ankur!

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