Sunday, February 13, 2022

Rundown: Mesa Marathon 2022 (#35)

Kicking off 2022 with another marathon! After running CIM 2021 I have a pretty good base of's a shame to waste that, right?

As a Marathon Maniac I have done a 'double'  (2 marathons in 2 days) but I'm talking about taking some recovery time, re-peaking with a bit of training and then doing another. 

I looked for upcoming marathons and discovered the Mesa Marathon.....Toni and I had been in Phoenix earlier around the new year and had some fun and it's a very quick nonstop flight from San Jose. I decided on a 24hr down day before run the race and fly back. 

Take a look at the elevation profile:

Looks good, right? A lot of net downhill except for the huge uphill bump at miles 4.5 to 6.5. But the scale is quite coarse here...200' per line...some of those little tiny bumps are bigger once you get there....and there's a lot of them, turns out there's about 300' of up which is not that bad but not zero.

I know that downhill races are hard on the quads but I figured I could toughen them up in the 11 weeks I had before race day. 

The course is point to point, which means a bus ride in the wee hours to the start...the other issue with this race is HEAT.  It's Arizona  after all...that was a bit of a worry.

But hey, it's a filler marathon, I'm not going to be re-peaked very well (I do have to recover from CIM properly). I didn't worry about it.

But my training went well, perhaps too well:  I tweaked a muscle on the top of my left foot. I tried to take it easy and train at really slow paces, but no go....eventually after 2-3 miles it would force me to a walk! 

I just laid off running completely for a while, just some easy walks and doing a lot of icing and spa. 3 day before the race and did a ~2.5 mile run and it seems ok. My biggest fear was that it would let go mid race and I would not even be able to walk it in, I'd have to wait for the sag-wagon or some other race vehicle to get me back to the finish. I moved my return flight to 4:30pm-ish to make sure I had plenty of time.

As race day approached the weather looked "ok" but not great. The start time temps were forecast to be 55F @ 6:30am  rising to 70F at 11am ....a 4:30 finish time pace. Add to that a full desert sun's heat on your body..and that adds at least 10F effective heating (if not more).

I would have to be extra careful with hydration, not something I normally have to 'sweat' over...<haha>.  

During CIM 2021 I wore my water bottle belt and it came in handy even though I got water at every single stop. Nice to be able to get more whenever I need it. Normally,  I wear a belt with GU pouches but I have a really nice belt for training with little Lowenpro camera pocket on the belt for my phone. (Quick access for pics!). I decided to use that again. 


Mesa was not a GU race (some other stuff...not trying that out in a race!)  And instead of the sticky little foil packets I would be using these:

These hydropacks (I found them on Amazon) are made by GU and hold 5 packets worth of GU. They are soft, easy to squeeze and the rotating knob on top is easy to close with your teeth.

I found during CIM the ease of use made me eat more and my body seemed to really like it...more on that later..... 

To fill them, you don't have to open up zillions of packets, you can buy a bulk bag of GU  (see below). I got one of chocolate and the other of berry.

I'm not sure one should leave GU for a long time in the hydropak.. but for a short time it seems fine. I only use them for races and long runs...I just fuss with the foil packs otherwise.

Speaking of gels, when we were AirBnBing in Seattle for a month I ran out of gels and had to buy some and could only find "Hammer" gels. I made do with them but they are TERRIBLE. Do Not Buy.  Not tart like GU and the flavors are poorly done. Blech. I'll stick with GU thankyouverymuch. (And it sticks with me ;)

Easy flight down and Lyfted to the Marriot Courtyard hotel Wrigleyville. Plenty of other marathoners arriving there too ;)

(Did NOT have to go to a Expo at all:  I loved the option to get my bib and other race stuff sent to me for a slight additional charge.)

Picked the hotel because it was only a 10 minute walk from where we catch busses to the start. Loading was starting at 4am (YAWN)! Got some food at around 5pm and then just stayed off my feet  in the hotel room, eventually slept a few hours.

Race Day

Was up and double checked that I had everything and out the door @ 3:45am and walked in the dark (but lots of streetlights) to the start.  And .....of course.... it was hopping. One of the helpers directing traffic pointed me to where I should wait for pickup and I walked over to join about 10 runners standing there. In the booklet for the race it had mentioned the busses would be lined up for boarding..and we could see them in the distance..and also everybody heading over.

We realized the helper was wrong and went with the crowds toward the busses.

We left pretty quickly ..driving for a while and started climbing uphill...after 30 minutes we parked in a long line of busses that was facing the start way way ahead. After the buses there was a line of porta potties with a line of propane heaters (a la Covid al-fresco dining style) I tried waiting outside.

It was just too windy and cold. 
I had an old long sleeve cotton shirt as a throwaway and also the mylar rescue blanket that was part of the race kit but not good enough. The start was at 6:30 and we had an hour and a half to go (!).

....back onto a bus:

I picked one that was not too crowded (easy to do) and it was warm enough to do the job...just barely.

Some chatting with people nearby to pass the time.

Eventually back out and walking toward the start.

Did you ever see porta potties with a Saguaro cactus looming over them? Still pitch dark out in the desert.

Eventually it was time to head up to the start ...I didn't even bother to go a pace group. I was playing it by ear and staying out back. The Star Spangled Banner and some fireworks to signal the start!

Started my watch on the mat and off we went. It was dark..some had headlamps but there was the slightest twilight dawn making it not pitch dark and once we got on the course there were some artificial lights set up.

I just had to stop for a few seconds to take this photo:

See that bright star? It's the "Morning Star" , i.e. the planet Venus when it's elongation from the sun causes it to be visible in the early morning just a little while before the sun rises.

The super clear dry sky, low humidity and minimal sunlight creeping over the horizon made it super bright. 

Early Miles

The roads here (and the rest of the course) are quite good.  No winter 'frost heaves' nor huge cracks, humps or other dangers. The roads are crazy wide. I settled into my 10:15-ish pacing and just tried to loosen up. (I realized I had not done my usual stretching and flexibility stuff at the start. oops)

I had my hearing aids set up as usual to give me pace and HR from my garmin once a minute (so I don't have to look at the watch ) and I was running a pretty low HR for my 10:15 pace, about 118. Talking with people on the bus that had run this race before they made it clear that the downs will burn out your quads if you hit then too fast so I was trying to just relax and not push it.

The desert was beautiful......gradually as we bombed downhill there were more (fancy) houses but they were integrated with the desert.

Sun is still not very high, and so not on our bodies. Pretty quickly the road became quite wide with basically 4 lanes of space. This was true all the some cases we had TWO lanes just for runners.  

Here is the course:

We're on the part that heads due south from the start and that's why the sun in that photo is from the East/(our left) and why Venus was over there ;)

Soon we take a sharp right and it's still downhill..we a view out of the city (sorry no photos).

The water stops are every 2 miles and I take one glass at the first and second stops but not long after that I start taking 2 full glasses at each stop.  I can already tell my quads are getting a workout after 3-4 miles. They are holding up but getting beat on. 

Eventually turn right (heading north) and this is the climb visible on the elevation profile. Of course it still early and it's a nice change from the down so no problem. I'm keeping the paces in around 10:15 and on the big hill was at 11+ for one split.

At mile 6 it's another 'bombing down' section....we start hammering the quads again. I feel it adding up over time.  The sun is now on our bodies and it is strong. It probably adds the 10F to the equivalent heat load.  The good news is that it is bone-freaking-dry air and so sweating works really well. 

But you need hydration for that...

In the early miles I was getting annoyed by the tiny amount of water in the cups handed to me at the water stops (1/3 full).  This luckily got better after the first hour,  but I was getting noticeably thirsty: I started taking TWO glasses at every single water stop...I did this for the rest of the race (and I used up the water in my  bottle too).

At the Half

I had averaged ~10:20 m/m which in retrospect was too fast. Thinking I could pull off another 4:30 race in such heat was a bit silly. My quads were indeed toasted but I really don't think that was a problem..they kept working spasms or cramps. 

It was just the heat and sun. At this point of the race there were a lot more spectators. The half marathoners had left before we got there but spectators had hung around cheering us on...with the usual signs (a corny tradition for races, especially marathons).

2 small cups of full of water every 21 minutes (2 miles) in that weather was not going to cut it. But..I could tell I was still sweating so that was good. My shirt was mostly bone dry from the evaporation. (Often in a race  or long run it gets yucky dripping wet, but not here..)

Splits gradually creeping up from 10:30+ ...then at miles 17 and 18 both were 10:55. 

19 to Finish

At mile 19 I was finally forced to drop to a walk/run strategy.  My walking was at about 18m/m and my running was still at 10:20 to seemed to average out at 12:xx to 13:xx. At mile 26 I pulled 11:xx.

The last .2 I did at 8:00 pace....once I see the finish I always speed up ;)

The Finish

Place OverallPlace GenderPlace DivBib #Last NameFirst NameSexAgeChip TimePace (min/miles)Gun Time
1464852 M31 M65-691116RodmanPaulM664:50:3311:054:50:33

I'm not sure what's up with that 4:50:33 chip time. I punched my watch on the start and finish mats and showed 4:47:44. (Answer: I was looking at strava ..which was showing me moving time, doh!)

I was 31/39 in my age group. There are some fast people that run this race! Usually I'm in the top 40%. 

My garmin recorded 26.19 miles...almost no GPS noise. 

Which, after talking with other people, seems to have been common. This is not unexpected for a race that has few turns and is out in the open (no tall buildings/trees, or heavy clouds around)

I enjoyed that free cider...and even so it was quite a few hours before I was properly re-hydrated. 

free cider (or beer) at finish

nice medal

And that's a wrap for #35

Monday, December 06, 2021

California International Marathon 2021 (#34)

Hello blogosphere,

The last two years have been trying times (and I'm sure Covid is not done with us yet) but this marathon was back after missing 2020! 

Predawn school bus
from hotel to start area
I thought of running my own solo marathon (supported by Toni) but just didn't have the heart to do that. A marathon is not just 26.2 miles or 42 km. It's also  many people running with you, spectators cheering on total strangers, volunteers handing out food and water, police closing off traffic, etc. 

It's an event.

Yes, a marathon is a long run ..but what a long run: a run mixed with the theater of huge physical+mental effort with goals and hopes... and potential miscalculations, failure and crushing disappointment. 

So, yeah, more of a big deal than 'going for a run'.

Why CIM? It was not my first marathon (that was Napa) but it was the first marathon where I went sub-4 (back in 2011 at age 56). 

In the 4:30 corral
looking back
It is a hilly race but point-to-point...very rare. At CIM the start is up at Folsom dam and you run west through Sacramento suburbs. You finish in front of the old California State house (which is now a museum).

Usually a city course snakes you all over the city and back to where you started. A point-to-point course makes it clear you are going somewhere, i.e. you have a mission.

All participants had to be verified as vaxed or tested negative. Admission to the expo was timed. I, like most folks, just picked up my bib and shirt and left. I know the course from having run it twice so didn't need to see the blow by blow on that. 

And after reading every decent book about marathon training and attending dozens of previous expos seminars I've heard all of it before. 


Normally I nerd out over my training, but for this race I was more laid back. 

I have been running a *lot* during Covid, probably an average of high thirties miles/week

Can you see the starting line banner? 
View from the 4:30 expected
time lineup area.
(more typical would be high twenties). Over 12 weeks  did the usual ratcheting up of the Sunday long run every other week, going from 13 on the off week  to  16, 18, 20, 20 20 for the on week.

But I haven't been doing all the other things you really need to do to get ready for a marathon, e.g. strength training, hill sprints, intervals, etc. I did do a set of Yasso 800's at one point. I did try to mix in more hills (CIM has 850' of up, 350' of down) but I live 2 miles from the nearest hills around here and I was lazy.

So I knew that aerobically I was ready but I needed to be careful with the hills. 

Race Morning

Toni and I drove up Saturday morning to stay at one of the partner hotels in Folsom closer to the start. The weather forecast was absolutely as good as it could possibly be, which had me excited: 

Cloudy all day,  44F at the start time, rising to 55F at my anticipated finish time. No wind!

These temps are ideal. You generate a lot of heat running and if your body temp starts to rise you will slow down (and feel like crap). Great to know that water loss / overheating would not be worrysome.

The school bus pickup to the start closest to my location was to depart at 5:30am from the Trader Joes nearby (about half a mile from the hotel). The night before I laid out my kit of stuff and used my pre-race checklist to make sure everything was the morning it is not a good time to be rushing to get things together.

At 4:30am (after a night of fitful 'sleep') I got up and dressed.  Toni had bought me a super fancy running jacket and shirt that were both uber lightweight and svelt, just for this race 8). I also had three old throw-away t-shirts to wear under the jacket to keep me warm before the start.

It was good I wore these extra shirts. Normally if you are staying at a Folsom hotel they have a special 'keep warm tent' at the start area, but this year, due to Covid I assume, they just had an area at a gas station that had a cover over the pump area and a bunch of folding chairs to sit in. It was still 44F there. 

CIM is famous for having the most generous set of porta-potties for the runners of any race on planet earth. Typical ratio might be around 1f or 100 runners. At CIM it's 1 for 30! 

With thousands of runners that is a LOT of porta potties! Take a look:

~800++ foot line of porta-potties

Eventually it was time to line up. The fenced and roped off chute for runners had signs marking off pace group areas. I headed for the 4:30 pace group sign and slipped in. After last minute chatter from the announcer (who's talking the entire time ......trying to entertain and help pass the time) we are ready to start. 

But don't get excited. With thousands of people there could be lots of bad accidents with a gang-start so instead each pace group is walked up to the line and started independently. Of course your bib has a small chip that only starts the clock for you when you cross the timing mat. 

Finally, after a couple of minutes, our group gets to start!....well, we can't really run yet but we trot ahead and over the next minute spread out and hit full pace. 

Finally we are running a marathon again! I'm hoping to meet up with Toni and 10 miles and again at 20 miles.

Start to 5 miles

 First let's take a look at the elevation profile and see what we're in for:

You can see the net downhill of 350'.. hey that's nice! But look closely at all the little squiggles going up an down along the turns out if you count them up you actually have another 850' of up/down added in. 

Downhills are good, but not all good. You can easily blow out your quadriceps on the down if you run them too hard. The CIM org has lots of recommendations they throw at you that basically tell you to be very conservative, especially in the beginning.

Paces for miles 1 to 5: 10:07, 10:23, 10:07, 10:22, 10:26 (HR ~ 120-125)

Considering all the downhill, I took these miles super carefully. The ups I took very easily at 15s slower (10:30-ih) than my intended overall marathon pace and on the downs I only let myself speed up to 15s faster (10:00-ish)

During a marathon you get to observe the people that are running near you..i.e. at similar pace. There are all types out there....many people are clearly running there first marathon. How can you tell? They are huffing and puffing in mile 5. 

You know these folks are in for a long day of walking (or a DNF).

There is so much writing about how to figure out your personal marathon pacing but it seems most people just figure if they ran a half marathon they can run two of them back to back. I love talking about running but draw the line at trying to suggest a slower pace to these people during the run would just be super rude. And who knows, maybe they *always* huff and puff at any running pace?

I was slowly remember all these ups and downs from my previous races there and also from the very nice time-laps course movie (taken with a stabilized GoPro camera) that I had watched. But the reality was of course worse ;)

I thought had been very careful not to drink too much before the start, but I was already feeling my bladder starting to let me know it was I knew there'd be a pit stop sometime in the next hour. Argh.

Paces for miles 6 to 10: 10:27, 11:17, 10:19, 10:14, 10:01 (HR ~125)

I don't remember exactly the 11:17 split mile but I remember a looonger stretch of up. My HR was up to 130 so I just didn't go faster.

Along here I ran across the first of three blind runners with guides. They were all young (I would say late 20's) and the guides the same. I got to listen to them a few times and I could hear the guides warning about broken pavement coming or right turn ahead. 

My watch was reporting my current pace and average pace and the latter pace was stabilized at 10:19 or so. This was a little off my goal pace for 4:30 marathon of about 10:18 so I was worried...usually there can be up to 5s of slowdown due to not running the tangents and gps noise fooling the watch thinking you are going faster.

The other problem was that the Garmin 945 I use, which I dearly love, does not have as sensitive a GPS receiver vs the 935. So the instant pace bounces around a huge amount. (The cloud cover reduces the signal too so that didn't help). 

Upshot was I was nervous about this.....I was running the tangents well (many people NOT doing that..noobs) and I remember that my finish distance for my previous CIMs was 26.35. That is only .15 mile of extra distance. 

Just before mile 10
Of course my watch was chirping mile splits before I reacted the CIM split signs ..but the distance was small and not getting bigger very fast. I decided I didn't need much of a pad over the 10:18 pace to hit 4:30. 

Which was good because with all the hills I really didn't think I could or should go faster. 

Somewhere in this stretch I popped into a porta-potty. Took less than one minute.

I was expecting to see Toni at mile 10 but instead she caught me a few tenths of a mile earlier. She was ringing the cowbell and shouting my name so it was easy to spot her 8) 

She took this pic of me there.

Paces for 11 to 15: 10:03,  10:17, 10:15, 10:10,  10:19  (HR ~ 131)

Mile 10 was a major spectator point, lots of fuss and bother and cowbells! 
We zig-zag a bit there. Mile 11 has a full 100' drop and then climb back about 80', ugh.

I'm really getting tired of the hills and the effort level to hold pace is going up. I'm holding steady on the average pace at 10:19 on the watch.

Still not done with hills. We climb 80' to get to the mile 15 marker.

Paces for 16 to 20: 10:11, 10:09, 10:19, 10:37, 10:16 (HR ~ 134)

You can see my HR is inching even though my paces are similar..this is called "cardiac drift". 
It occurs from dehydration (thicker blood harder to pump) and also from muscles getting tired
and taking more oxygen to get the same work done.

So let's talk about water for a bit....

Hydration  and proper water stop technique

Staying hydrated is a must, but actually no matter how hard you try you can't drink enough at these paces..having cool temps and no sun on the body helps slow it though.

I had a belt with a single bottle and it saved me navigating the crush at the water stops which was nice, but now I had run out and so had to hit the stops. They were about every two miles, which was good, because you only get a small cup of water that is half full at each stop.

I will now tell you how to navigate a proper race water stop:

1) As you approach the commotion, look for a helper that is holding up water and looking around.

2) Stare directly at the person to get their attention and when they look toward you as you approach (they will) point to them to confirm you are going to take water from them.

3) Hopefully they have been told to pinch the cup any case as you approach slow down a little bit and keep your pointing arm ahead with hand set to grab the cup and hold that same pinch (thumb vs all other fingers).

4) This is the fun part: as you pass slow a bit more and simultaneously pull your hand back so your hand velocity goes very close to zero for a split second ...then grab the cup with your own pinch...and move the cup forward with smooth acceleration to bring it forward back to your lips as you accelerate away. With luck you don't spill a drop.

5) Drink!

6) Throw the cup away TO THE SIDE or even better in the barrels they have downstream a bit. NOT in front of any runners, (so they don't slip on them...what is wrong with people...sigh).

I learned this online and always do it and lose minimum seconds mucking around confusion. For almost every stop I noticed a slightly surprised reaction from the person.

Back to miles 16 to 20.......Eventually the hills started to get smaller but they were still happening and I was a bit chagrined that I had forgotten that only at mile 20 would I be rid of them. 

I held pace..but it was getting hard and harder.  I did not have a problem with aerobics...yes my heart was speeding up but my breathing was ok: for the first miles my breathing was so called "2:4" breathing. This means inhale on two steps (left, right) and then exhale on four (left, right, left, right). At this point I started to flip to 2:2 breathing on the uphills. 

Finally at mile 20!

Toni caught me approaching. I was feeling pretty good and knew that now it would start to flatten out.

Excited to see Toni!

Toni took this shot. One of many funny signs. 

After you have run 34 marathons you have seen them all....many many times. 

But it's still fun to see them and hear them cheering everybody on!

Didn't get a shot of it but they have some big drawings of brick walls mounted on sawhorses to signify that at 20 miles you are breaking through the wall (you hope).

In previous years this was differently was a HUGE fake wall with an opening in it. 

Paces 21 to Finish: 10:31, 10:19, 10:00, 9:53, 9:53, 10:47, 9:49 (HR 143)

Knowing all the hills were done was a good feeling...and now was the time to see what the last 6 miles would bring me. On my first CIM where I broke 4 hrs for the first time going over the H -street bridge is where I got emotional and realized I was not going to fade and I would make my goal.

The same thing happened again. I just started feeling a lot better..even my hill battered legs! I gradually sped up a wee bit even getting some <10 m/m splits. 

If you look at the Race Splits section below you can see that except for the 5k to 15K section where I went purposely slowly I gained on the crowd at each split. 

For mile 26 I started to fade badly and logged 10:47, but then as I neared the end..and heard the crowds,  the last .2 I kicked in sub-10 again.

Marathon 34 done!

Very happy with a 4:31 at age 66. 
39 / 74 in my age group
5596 / 7622 overall

It was really easy to find Toni and
we got some pics taken of us

Whats next?

Note: there seem to be glitches in the data below

Number of total "overall" people that triggered each split was different at each split..if the number dropped it could be due to people dropping out, but it also went up....perhaps the final results will come out in a few days.

Or perhaps somebody did some cheating. Sadly, that happens all the time. 

Race Splits
of 7833
of 4621
of 76
of 7813
of 4612
of 77
of 7779
of 4593
of 76
of 7631
of 4510
of 74
of 7605
of 4492
of 74
Full Course
of 7622
of 4502
of 75