A blog by runners. For runners.

Done with the San Diego Marathon!

After months of training I finished my second marathon in 5 hours and 49 seconds on Sunday June 3rd in San Diego. Anyone who has read this blog for over a year will recall that this was nearly an hour slower than my time last year in San Francisco but lets go back to the start and look at my training.
This year started slow for me from a running perspective as tendonitis in my right ankle had me visiting a physio once a week to work out the problem. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise since I discovered I should be wearing at least a production orthotic in my shoes and running shoes to counteract my overpronation. The plantar fascitis I had noticed but ignored disappeared within a week of me wearing these. At the same time I bought a new pair of Nike Air Triax 10 and started the Team in Training program to raise money for Leukemia and Lymphoma in memory of my Aunt Moreen who died from cancer 4 years ago. One week later we discovered that Melissa's 3 year old niece, Haidyn, had developed Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and had started an intense program of treatment.
The Team in Training group were really organized and we met each Saturday to do our long runs while pursuing the midweek miles on our own. Mentors are assigned to small groups of runners to help you toward your fundraising goals and help keep you going. In addition, coaches start each long run session with a discussion of the goal of the run and some tips on form. They also provide a great resource for any injuries you may pick up during your training, nutrition or training advice.
The team were all really friendly and I quickly made new friends. Long run distances built up steadily from a 45 minute run to 20 miles at it's peak. I religiously attended the group sessions each week until the last month when things started getting in the way but from the start I struggled to fit all the midweek runs in and the cross training. Nonetheless I made my long run distance each week and plodded on. I noticed that unlike last year with the Hal Higdon plan for San Francisco, I was not losing any weight. In that program I started around 200 pounds and gradually slimmed down week after week to a post-college record 182 right before the marathon. This time I was stuck at 200 pretty much the whole time despite several efforts to watch what I was eating. They say that dieting while training for a marathon has serious consequences so I was very wary to change my eating habits radically. Besides, last year, I seemed to be eating more. I'm not sure of the reasons – part of me wants to take the blame and say that it was the lack of discipline to the midweek schedule, another wants to say that training for a marathon means fewer nights out with the boys but equally valid is the posibility that after last year my body was starting to learn my new, higher calorie burning running schedule so this year it didn't respond the same.
Approximately 20 miles from the end of your training, before you begin the marathon, you are supposed to buy new shoes to make sure you run 26.2 with the maximum amount of support and cushioning. Symbolic of my lack of focus, I neglected to do so and approached race day 20 pounds heavier than last year with a pair of running shoes I had completed over 300 training miles in.
The team met at the gate at O'Hare and flew on a block flight to San Diego making new friends as the miles whizzed by. At the airport we were met by guides to gather us and deliver us to the Town and Country Hotel where we were staying. Later that day we took trolleys to the expo to get our race packets together and took advantage of all the fun powerbar lookalikes and drink supplements. After the expo I left the team (who were heading for a pasta dinner at Dick's Last Resort) to meet a friend living in San Diego. It was great to catch up and after dinner we explored the Gaslamp district a little more before driving to the airport to meet my wife. The next morning we took our time getting out of bed and had a late breakfast. Our Illinois chapter were scheduled for the Team in Training 1pm pasta party so we hung out til then.
The pasta party was fun with lots of good pasta and water jugs everywhere to make sure we were keeping ourselves hydrated. John “The Penguin” Bingham spoke to us amongst a lineup of others including the director of the Elite Racing company organizing the event and a coach from Canada who had survived Leukemia and was running this year. It was a great motivational section with floods of tears around the large hall. Some stunning statistics at the event were that just shy of 4,000 team in training runners from around the country would be running on Sunday and had collectively raised $12.9m! Each participant from Illinois is required to raise $3,900 to participate but a news anchor from Utah had raised $50,000!
Melissa and I took an early dinner in the Gaslamp district at a fun bar on the high street and then headed home for an early night. The next morning I was up minutes before the alarm at 3.45am and started the ritual: bandaids on nips, vaseline pretty much everywhere you can imagine, lycra shorts, over shorts, t-shirt, socks, hat, shoes and then down to the lobby for some instant oatmeal and coffee before heading to the start line. Before leaving the hotel I asked Melissa to write the name of my Aunt Moreen on my right arm and Haidyn on my left with a sharpie.
I started the race with Jen and Erin from the team and we stuck together for the first 7 or 8 miles until we hit the highway where Erin powered forward leaving Jen and I to plod along. The race was really well supported by the community and people lined the streets everywhere to cheer us on our way. The music was great with somewhere around 40 bands placed along the course really getting us pumped up as we ran by. The highway was brutal to run on – the first 2 miles are a gradual hill but the highway is cambered meaning that the the road tilts to the left and to the right around corners. This is fine for cars but when thousands of runners are there it means you are left battling over the level parts of the road if there are any. After the initial hill the highway just kept on coming.
Just after mile 13 at Fashion Valley mall Melissa was waiting by the road to give me a motivational peck on my salty cheek and take a photo. Jen and I trudged on to mile 18 together before I told her to go on without me. The clouds had been burned away and the sun was now pounding down somewhere in the mid 80s. Training in freezing temperatures all season long in Chicag hadn't prepared me for the heat and I was really struggling. At mile 19 I walked through a water stop and then kept on walking for some time, alternating walking and running each time a new song came on. I looked down at the names on my arms for inspiration each time I started running again and plodded on. At least all the highway was done and we were now heading down the Mission Beach region from La Jolla.
The scenery was beautiful but I was bitterly disappointed to be walking so much of the last 10k of the marathon. The worst part was realizing that a distance that would ordinarily take me 60 minutes to finish would now probably take at least an hour and a half to complete. Each time I ran it was for less and less time with longer walk breaks all the way to mile 25. The music that was so much fun before was now starting to be too loud as I was cranky. The band Zoo Two were a welcome exception at a point in the race where you run down one side of a road then double back towards them again before looping over the highway above. The music was so much fun it got me back on track to run more than walk.
At mile 25 I figured it was 1.2 miles or 10 minutes of running away and I started running again, slowly at first but as we turned a corner and I saw the gate of the marine corps recruit depot where the race was set to finish I got a second wind. Through the gate I picked it up and got even faster, charging past people now, ducking around the children goofing around in the street in front of me on the way to the finish. The path twisted around and disappeared through an archway and I was in full stride now with my power song on my iPod pushing me along. As we emerged on the other side I could see the finish line and the crowd were all cheering louder here. As I ran to the finish line I remembered the advice of the coaches and deliberately chose not to stop my watch or my iPod at the finish line, instead removing my hat and whirling it around for the camera. Five hours and forty nine seconds and I was done!
The finish line had the usual setup but nearby bands pumped out more music and I hobbled my way through the crowd looking for Melissa. The race had a family reunion section with letters on poles so I headed to the H where we agreed to meet. We made our way over to the TnT tent, checked in and gobbled down some of the peanut butter jelly sandwiches and a coke. They had a splash pool for us so I sat and put my aching feet in the icy water. The organization was really good and after a beer and some music we headed back to the hotel on one of the TnT shuttles. At the hotel we changed and headed to the pool to take advantage of the good weather. All the while we had forgotten sunscreen so my skin was frazzled from the run. Later when I washed my arms to get rid of the sharpie markings I discovered that the markers had acted like sunblock and I now had an inverse tattoo on each arm bearing the names of Aunt Moreen and Haidyn!
We headed over to the victory party where John Bingham was showing his photos and we had some more good food and a beer. He ran a rollcall and our Illinois team hadn't arrived at this point. After seeing that I was the only one from our chapter to make it down we decided to head back to the room for a jacket and then off to the Seal concert. As we stopped in the room we talked about the idea of sitting or standing for an extended period at a concert and elected instead to order the 18″ pizza + 4 beer special from room service and watch the Yankees vs. Red Sox. Two beers and one pizza later both Melissa and I fell asleep only to wake up to the end of the game wrap up by ESPN. The next morning Melissa left on an airport shuttle to make her flight and I followed shortly behind with the TnT crew for our block flight only to discover bad weather would keep us behind and extra 3 hours. It was a good opportunity to catch up with Katie and Amy from the team about the race and hang out.
I'm pretty happy with the overall result – I finished and the time was still very respectable at a fraction over 5 hours. I was happy with my pre-race preparation in terms of carb loading, drinking water and resting up. I'm delighted that when I ran all my long runs this year I ran all the way with the exception of one 12 miler where I started at 8:40 with JP and had to walk the last mile. I was thrilled to make my fundraising goal before the race and I've actually been asked to help the team as a mentor as a result! My lessons learned for next time are pretty obvious:
1. Don't forget to buy new shoes at least 2 weeks before the marathon
2. Don't skip midweek training sessions
3. Don't eat like a horse on the assumption that the marathon training will yield another 20 pounds of weightloss
4. Don't put off buying sunscreen to the point you forget it altogether
5. Using sharpie is fine if you combine it with sunblock!
I thoroughly recommend training for a Team in Training event – it's a great cause raising incredible amounts of money for Leukemia and Lymphoma and the support you receive to train and to raise the money is awesome. I am looking into the idea of becoming a mentor and am also considering the triathlon training program for next year.