Monday, January 22, 2007

Carlsbad Marathon Race Report

Warning – This is way too long

Although this was my first marathon, it was certainly the most scenic race I’ve ever participated in. Although the race starts in a parking lot of an average looking mall at the far north end of Carlsbad proper, the course quickly climbs a hill into the older part of town and continues to wind its way through town until it breaks free of the buildings and parallels the coast within the first 3 miles. For the next 3 miles the course undulates along the beach with nothing but ocean to the right. The route gets close enough to the water at several spots such that you can hear the waves crashing on the beach. After mile 6, the ½ marathon turns around and the full marathon heads 3 miles in-land for a 300’ hill climb, with most of the elevation change on the last ½ mile. On the way back down hill, there are several breathtaking vistas of the Pacific coast as it was in the '60s ... not a condo insight. Once the course gets back down to coast highway it turns south again and continues rolling up and down the bluffs until reaching the turn around at 18 miles. From there, it’s a straight shot north along the coast and back down to the shopping mall.

Not only is the course a sight to behold, but you couldn’t ask for better weather. Although the official forecast for Carlsbad this past Sunday morning predicted overcast skies with patchy fog, the predicted fog was nowhere to be found and as far as clouds were concerned, I couldn’t see anything in the sky in any direction. At the 7:30 AM start time the temperature was 48F (9C) with light wind and clear skies and it didn’t get much warmer than 53F (12C) by the time I finished. This was evidently too cold for some of the locals, for although I was perfectly comfortable in a sleeveless tech top and shorts, many of my fellow racers were bundled up for arctic conditions. It’s a good thing they weren’t at the Phoenix R&R Marathon last week when the temperatures were far below freezing … but I digress.

The race was a lot larger than I expected. The half-marathon sold out with 7000 entrants and the marathon had roughly 1400 registered runners. The entire field of 7000 half-marathon runners and all marathoners with anticipated finish times below 4:30 started at 7:30 AM. Marathoners requiring more than 4:30 to finish were encouraged to start at 6:30 AM. So I found myself surrounded by a virtual sea of half-marathon runners when I got the start line at 7:15 AM.

Just before the gun went off, I spotted the 3:50 marathon pacer standing 20 feet behind me and made my first tactical error of the race. My original strategy was to take the first hill slow, run through the first 3 miles at 9:00/mi, accelerate up to 8:30/mi over the rolling hills for the next 3 miles, take it easy up the big hill, hold 8:30/mi through the rolling hills along the coast to the south until mile 20 and then pick up the pace.

Instead, once the gun went off, I latched onto the small group of runners huddled around the guy with the 3:50 sign and jogged up the first hill at a 9:00/mi pace. My thought process was sound. I figure I could hold an 8:48/mi pace without a problem and have fun running with a group of people somewhere in my league. In fact, from a gross perspective, I followed my game plan through the first 20 miles, and had a fairly typical 10K at the end:

Start – 9.3 miles; 1:23:39; 8:59/mi pace
9.3 – 13.7 miles; 0:37:21; 8:35/mi pace
13.7 – 20.0 miles; 0:53:43; 8:29/mi pace
20.0 – 26.2 miles; 1:02:48; 10:06/mi pace

Although it looks like I followed the game plan, the actual mile-by-mile pace varied a lot. Once we reached the top of the first hill, the pacer accelerated on the second mile to an 8:15/mi pace; much faster than I wanted to be running at this stage of the race. As the course continued to roll along the coast, the pace settled out and ranged from 8:36/mi to 9:07/mi before we turned in-land. This was OK, but in hindsight, I should have let them go as soon as the pace picked up too much on mile 2.

As we turned in-land and began the big climb, my right foot started tingling and fell asleep over the next mile. Fortunately, I was chatting with other runners in the group and ignored the problem. By the time I got to the top of the hill, the feeling returned to my foot and I was left with only a numb sensation in the pads of my middle toes. This was a pretty weird feeling, but nothing that would cause me to slow down. After cresting the hill on mile 9 we ran the next three miles down hill at 8:34, 8:13, and 8:24 respectively. That 8:13 was way too fast and really pounded away on my quads, a mistake that would come back to haunt me later in the race.

We turned onto coast road again on mile 15 and continued heading south through several more rolling hills. At mile 18, we turned around and headed north back up the coast. There was a nice breeze coming out of the north which felt great, but I started having trouble keeping up with the pacer on the up hills and he dropped me completely on mile 19. So now, for the first time in nearly 3 hours, I was running by myself. Of course, I was not alone exactly. I was catching up with and passing runners that had started an hour earlier than me, but there really wasn’t anyone near me running at my pace and I continued to slow down as lactate built up in my legs. What I needed now was a buddy.

Fortunately, on mile 22 a 20 something woman struggled to pass me on an up hill– finally, I had a buddy. I locked onto her and let her drag me up the next set of hills. Running with someone again really help and I improved my pace by 20 seconds/mile, but on mile 25 she stopped and walked through a water station and then proved herself a much stronger runner when she blasted by me and continued to pull away on the last little climb. This wasn’t really much of climb at all, probably no more than 60 feet, but it might as well have been a jog up the Hillary Step on Mount Everest. I wasn’t hurting; I just couldn’t get the legs moving; but I was getting close to the end and there was only a down hill between me and the finish line.

Up to this point, I was confident that I would report that I ran the entire race pain free. I could lie of course (who’d know?), but running down that last hill on mile 26 was pure torture. My quads were screaming to stop on every step; but I since I hadn’t listened to my right foot when it feel asleep on mile 6, I wasn’t about to listen to my quads on mile 26. I told them to buck up and keep going. And I can’t tell you how happy I was to turn the last corner and still see 3:5x:xx on the race clock only 100m in front of me. I was about to finish my first marathon on a hilly course in under 4 hours. With the massive slow down on the last 10K my average pace decreased to 9:04/mi, but I had made it 26 miles with no serious damage. It was also very strange to finish a race and not be absolutely drained. I just picked up my finisher’s medal and walked off the course. My quads weren’t going to be doing any running, but the rest of the body was functioning as if I’d just been out for an easy 5 miler. Needless to say, I was very happy to have finished.

Thanks again for all the encouragement you have offered me over the past 18 weeks since I decided to take this on. Now that I’ve got the first marathon behind me, I can focus on getting better without worrying if I can even finish. One of my goals for this year was to run two marathons, so I signed up for the San Diego R&R marathon in June. I know that many of you have run this race, so I’ll be digging for pointers as we get closer to June.

Hope you all have a great week.


Carlsbad Marathon Elevation Map from my Garmin

Mile 2 - Still looking fresh; but look at the fellow behind me. He's ready for snow.

Mile 12 - Coming off the big hill with the 8:50 pace group

Mile 27 - 50m from the finish - not exactly sprinting

Wife happy to see that I survived


Ewen said...

No, that wasn't too long Phil! Not for a first marathon report. The details make for interesting reading.

I guess sticking tightly to the pace group wasn't the best tactic - especially that fast early downhill mile.

Still, sub-4 is an excellent debut and gives you great experience to take into San Diego.

It looks like a beautiful course :)

Thomas said...

It's nowhere near too long - my marathon reports are way longer than that. I found it a very enjoyable read.

I don't think it was much of a mistake to latch on to that pace group. You couldn't know that the pace would be so uneven, and it was definitely good to have people to talk to when you foot started that tingling thing again.

Mate, if you wouldn't have hurt on the last mile there would have been something wrong with you. Marathons hurt. That's why we do them, I think.

Congratulations again. A good race on a fairly difficult course.

Michele said...

Congrats again.
The course looks beautiful but hilly. What a tough first marathon. Yet you rocked out a sub 4!
Enjoy some rest time.

Jim said...

Congrats on your first marathon. Double congrats on breaking 4 hours on a hilly course. The race report was good and not too long. There is nothing like doing your first one, it there?

Kick you feet up for a few days and then look at your calendar and figure out when you can strike again while the iron is hot.

Again, great job!

tb1 said...

Nice report Phil. I thought you said it was too long or were you referring to the race? I am told that the marathon is a 20-mile warm up then a 10K race. Helluva thought huh? Keep up the hard work.

Sempre Libera said...

Again, congratulations! Your time is even more impressive considering how hilly the course was. I'm glad you were able to find a buddy once your legs started to hurt - it's amazing how useful that is.

As for the pacers, I agree that you couldn't have known at the start that they'd run so unevenly. There are a lot of them at the NYC Marathon, too, and sometimes they're wildly off - it's a good idea in theory, but running such a long distance with someone you're not familiar with is always a tricky proposition.

Pat said...

Great race and report. the course sounds wonderful. Except for maybe that mountain you had to climb. Hope you enjoy your recovery time, I look forward to more posts about your experience.

Arizona, USA

olga said...

Wonderful!!!! Congratulation on sub-4, it is a goal to get and you got it! Awesome write-up, long is when you read some of mine, especially once I call "bad day":)
Oh, you are such a trooper with sleeping foot and crying quads - they are babies, you are not!
But do I see you crying on the last picture?
:) Fantastic, and welcome to the club. You are hungry for more, and you know how to get ready to tackle it.

Feminist Runner said...

AMAZING! The elevation chart of that course just proves how tough you are. Well done!

StumbleGuy said...

Long reports are the best! More, more! Sounds like if you had a spare pair of legs you could have gone round again.

Congratulations and I look forward to reading your exploits as we head towards June.


D said...

This was a very well written race report. You ran a very smart race. Your training certainly paid off. Congratulations on an awesome first marathon time!

Love2Run said...

That wasn't long at all. Nicely written too. We were all a bit worried about your sleepy feet but you managed. And you're hooked, looking for the next one already! Have a cold one on me and enjoy the post marathon high.

DawnB said...

Congratulations again Phil, excellent race report. You did an outstanding job. I know you're hooked when you already have your next marathon on the calendar!! Outstanding!!!

Anne said...

I agree with you on that last hill. As familiar as I am with that course, it always seems to sneak up on me. It also sounds like the Carlsbad (formerly San Diego) Marathon is making a comeback after Elite decided to compete with the AZ Rock 'n' Roll races.

I've done the one in June several times now and can give you plenty of pointers. It's a very different race -- fewer hills but no ocean views (or breezes) to help carry you along.

But that's a comment for much later. For now, a big high-five for doing so well and writing a report that reflects that.

Laurie said...

All of the comments combined are longer than your race report! ;)

Congratulations on a great marathon! The scenery looks amazing.

Dusty said...

AWESOME race report! Not too long - can't think of anything you should have deleted. Amazing views - what a nice distraction while running. So for these pace groups, someone actually runs the whole 26.2 with a sign??? I figured they had a neon vest with the time written on the back in huge lettering.

Great pics of you through out. AWESOME JOB!! You are really going to be set in June with all this knowledge from how you did on this race and confidence behind you!

Go Phil!!

angie's pink fuzzy said...

Wow, Phil, that was an awesome report. How amazing that you finished 26.2 and felt as good as you did; that's some great training you did! Love the last photo.

Phil said...

Yeh ... the pacer runs with the sign. Off course, this guy was just out for a morning jog. He's a sub 3:00 marathon runner and iron man. A real nice fellow who talked the entire way (at least until he dropped me). He also stopped to take pictures along the route and had someone else carry the sign for him while he dug his camera out of his belt. He actually came out from North Carolina to pace for this race and visit friends. He had a great time.

Darrell said...

A great race report, Phil and congrats again on a job well done.

Yvonne said...

Congratulations on your first marathon Phil! Great job and great race report.

Thanks for your concerned comment on my blog. I'm just fine. Been a little too busy and exhausted to post. And the running is not going very well either so I'm a little embarrassed :(

Again, huge congrats!

Andreas said...

Congratulations on your first marathon. Sub 4 is great. You will never forget the moment crossing the finishing line.
Regards, Andreas

Nicole said...

And I loved the post - especially the pics.

Lana said...

Awesome job, Phil. And great race report!
Sometimes those pacers can do more harm than good. I don't know that I'll try to run with them the next time.
It looks like the Pfitz plan really had you ready. Congrats!!!

J~Mom said...

Great job, Phil!!! Great report! I have been to Carlsbad so I can just picture how beautiful the race course was!