For the sixth time in nine years I left Dodger stadium at dawn to the sound of Randy Newman's "I Love LA". Goals were the same as the last four times; Run 8-minute pace or better as long as possible, try to break 3:30 and BQ. Luckily I'm older now, so I really only needed 3:37 or so, but I just kept those 7 minutes in my pocket for bonking insurance. Because I have a pattern.
I was up at 3:20AM, out the door at 3:30 for a ride with my club running buddy, S. We got to the finish area in Santa Monica at 4:00 and got right on the bus - no lines! So we were at Dodger stadium by 4:30 with over two hours to kill. It was cold - 47 degrees - but no wind, and I had plenty of throw-away clothes to stay relatively warm while we went into the stadium and used the facilities and grabbed a seat near the first base dugout.
I ate a lot and relaxed. Headed to the corral and didn't strip down until after the national anthem. Perfect conditions. No excuses. Time to make it happen. Having done this course 5 times already, I wasn't nervous. I knew exactly what was ahead. Just had to go do my thing for 20 miles, and then bear down and grit it out when it got tough.
First 1/4 mile I stayed with the crowd and worked my way up out of the stadium lot at 9:20 pace. Then it was downhill time. It's hard to control the speed on this long downhill, but I did better than last time. Miles one and two were 8:20 and 7:25. Which was 48 seconds slower than 2016. I found my other two club buddies and we ran together for a while. Felt good. Controlled. Flat miles 3-4 were 7:34 and 7:26. Too fast. Sigh. Just can't help it. Miles 5-6 go over a few big hills and I kept the effort steady and relaxed going over them. 8:02 and 7:55.
So. I was basically right where I expected to be, entering the easy flat, fast section of Hollywood. I was in a groove that's hard to get out of. Plus I like being in the groove. It's racing! I have not figured out how to treat a marathon like a training run and slow the fuck down.
7:32, 7:36, 7:48, 7:30, 7:30, 7:30, 7:36 through mile 13.
I had about 4 minutes in the bank at halfway. EXACTLY where I was two years ago when I finished at 3:31:32. I was starting to feel it in my quads, but I put faith in my higher mileage this year and still hoped for a stronger finish. Just needed to stay mentally strong and keep plugging.
I had pulled ahead of all my club buddies at this point. Because they're not stupid. The next section wasn't as bad as other years. Still felt pretty strong through Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive and up toward mile 19 where DW and DD awaited. But the quads were really getting sore. And I was just feeling tired. But I kept plugging. 7:46, 7:26, 7:38, 7:52, 7:45, 7:58 to 19. Just keeping the pace under 8 was work now. But I had to look good for the fam, right?
This is where it gets tough. Time to grind. I had close to 5 minutes in the bank as I approached 20. Which really meant 12 minutes in the bank for the BQ. So that's 2 minutes per remaining mile, so if I can keep it under 10 minute pace I got this. These were the thoughts going through my head much of the next few miles. No problem, right? I grabbed a Clif Gel at mile 20 (8:03) and took my first walk break to ingest it. Quads were screaming now. But I got going again on the long gradual uphill of mile 21 and kept plugging all the way over it, despite REALLY wanting to walk some more. Both club buddies passed me here, and I couldn't hang with them. They both cruised on in to a 3:25 finish. Mile 21 was 8:47 with the walk break. I re-did the math and kept plugging and managed to get through 22 in 8:37 before taking another walk break.
That was as fast as my legs would allow now. And I still had over a mile of uphill ahead before the last 2.5 miles were downhill. But the math was good. I could still stay near 10 minute pace with walk breaks and that would be good enough. I still kind of wanted to break 3:30, but I had to listen to my body. What I really wanted was to just walk it in, but that wouldn't cut it. So I committed to more suffering and kept running. Well, jogging basically at this point. My run pace was barely under 9. But I made it over the hill to 23 in 9:10 and figured I had this in the bag. But I still needed to do it.
Saw a friend on the course here and that helped a bit. I took 6 walk breaks in the last 4 miles. Each time I counted 30 steps, just enough to get my breath back, and then forced myself back into trotting mode. 24 was 9:27. 25 was 9:25. My other buddy, pacing the 3:30 group, passed me here. I knew 3:30 was gone. But I also knew the BQ was mine. And DW and DD said they would be there to see the finish for the first time (logistics there are tough). So as the finish line came into sight I got a little emotional. Not like the first BQ, but still. The sense of pride of finishing the 6-month plan and reaching that goal - it's still pretty special. And the sense of relief that the pain will soon be over is pretty nice too.
I managed to run the last 1/2 mile or so without stopping. Mile 26 was 10:04 and I finished at 9:15 pace, which is as fast as my legs could handle. But no cramps, no grimacing, no blisters, no bleeding nipples. Crossed the finish in 3:33:02 for a nice BQ minus 6:58. It was good for 25th in my Age group and 67% age grade. And I hit my goal of the top 1000 (out of 20,000 finishers) finishing 996th overall.
Walking afterward was brutal. I walked about 8 blocks to get to the car and that was worse than running. For my quads anyway. But I was happy to see these guys.
Marathon #15 done! Goal accomplished with BQ #3! Now I can rest for a while. I have only one race on the schedule: New York in November. I'll need to cut back a bit first for a mental break before I jump back into marathon training. But I still look forward to doing it again. Conquering the pain is invigorating. Yeah, we're nuts. Life is good.