Saturday, May 17, 2008

Palos Verdes Half Marathon

My alarm goes off at 5:30am, coffee is already brewed. I down my wakeup juice with a bowl of cereal, throw on my clothes, and am out the door shortly after 6. The sun rises as I make my way east along Palos Verdes Drive North and south along Gaffey Street. Unfortunately, there is no marine layer...today will be as hot as I feared.

After following signs for "Race Parking", I find a spot in the back of a lot near the Marine Mammal Care Center more than twenty minutes before the full marathon is scheduled to start. I am glad I did not arrive any later because I am three-quarters of a mile uphill from the start/finish line. Return trips to the SUV are definitely out of the question. I must get ready now.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), it is already more than warm enough to ditch my windbreaker. I lather on plenty of sunscreen. I debate bringing a bottle of water with me, but decide to leave it in the car figuring I will have no problem finding water around the start/finish line. The shorts I am wearing today do not have pockets, so I can carry only one Gu Gel (which I plan to consume 15 minutes before the start of the race). I lock up the car, loop the key through my shoelaces, and begin my walk towards Point Fermin Park.

As I head down the hill, I detour through Angels Gate Park to take a closer look at the Korean Friendship Bell. It is not something I expect to find on the Palos Verdes Peninsula and it has a prime location overlooking the race course, so I decide to take pictures of it with my cellphone. With the full marathon starting in less than five minutes, I realize I am better off finding a spot to watch the start from up here. I look around and find a trail descending towards spots that overlooks the start and the stretch from Paseo del Mar towards Palos Verdes Drive South.

The full marathon gets underway shortly after 7am. I now have only half-an-hour to reach the bottom and get ready. Fortunately, I find a trail that continues down the hillside directly to the start/finish line...a good shortcut. Point Fermin Park is pretty crowded and filled with vendor tents and registration tables (glad I pre-registered and already picked up my bib). As I notice the long lines for the port-a-potties (and remembering how crazy it got at the Silver Strand Half Marathon), I decide I better hop in line now.

I am still far from the port-a-potties fifteen minutes before my scheduled race time. Conversing with the people around me in line is a pleasant distraction, but I am starting to worry that I will not make my pit stop before the race begins...and I now need to go. I also need to consume my Gu, but must now do so without water since I did not think to look for a hydration station before hopping in line. My pre-race strategy is falling apart.

Even as I reach the front, I debate leaving the line. It is now 7:30am. I faintly hear the announcer over the P.A. system. Though the race could start any second, I take my pit stop...and then quickly run over to the start/finish area. Thankfully, the race has not yet started. I expected a small field of runners, but find over a thousand ready to go. I find a space for myself probably three-quarters to the back of the pack and take one last picture before putting away my cellphone.

At around 7:35am, the horn sounds. It takes roughly a minute for everyone to navigate through or around the narrow start/finish line. As we spread out along Paseo del Mar, we finally get up to speed and I start advancing through the field of slower runners. Though the temperature seems pleasant through a shadowy stretch of the first mile, I am already sweating so profusely that I can barely see where I am going. The first water station cannot come soon enough.

As I down my first cup of water, I realize that I need to maintain as fast a pace as I can handle early on because, as the heat rises, I will have a much harder time doing so. There is no shade after the first mile. The hill begins after mile 2 as the road turns up Western Avenue. When I drove the course yesterday, this hill did not seem as steep as any on my training runs, but, now that I am on it, realize that it is similar. Typically I expect to drop to a 12 minute/mile pace on such hills, but, today, I foolishly try to sustain a sub-10 pace. I manage to do so for half the distance to the top of the steepest segment. Again I feel the heat. Fortunately there is a water station before we turn on to 25th Street.

Though the half marathon's steep uphill is now behind me, 25th Street is still a slight incline...and it remains such for more than a mile. I try hard to regain a sub-9 minute pace, but find it surprisingly difficult to do so. I start worrying that I went out too fast.

A two-and-a-half mile long mostly downhill stretch begins after the fourth mile marker as 25th Street becomes Palos Verdes Drive South. When planning my race strategy, I looked forward to this segment hoping I would be able to lower my pace to at least 8 minute miles. Unfortunately, the heat has really started to get to me. I barely can sustain under 9. This is even more disappointing given that I am running much of this stretch on a dirt path that parallels the road. I barely can enjoy the view of the coast or Trump National Golf Course. I grab two water cups at the next water station, one to drink and one to pour over my head. My pace does improve, but only as long as my head stays cool.

My pace slows far more than expected as the road starts to flatten out around mile 5. I had no problem sustaining an average 8:30 minute mile during my first half marathon...which was nearly flat for the entire race...but now I find myself having issues keeping sub 10. Of course, the road around Portuguese Bend is not really flat, but rolling. Adding to my frustration, the race leaders have already passed us going in the opposite direction. I cannot see the turnaround point, but can see that the next water station is up a considerably steep (albeit short) incline. Ugh.

When I reach this aid station, I decide to give my legs a break...at least until I finish drinking the cup of water. Due for Gu, I ask the volunteers if there is any available, but apparently none of the stations have Gu today. They do not appear to have Gatorade either. I vow will not make the mistake of running without pockets full of Gu or Shot Blocks ever again. As I leave the station, I get my legs sprayed with a mist of water. Feels great, but not a feeling that lasts long in this heat.

I can see the turnaround point as Wayfarer's Chapel comes into view, but, rather than be encouraged that my race is half over, all I can think about is how I have to go back up the three mile stretch I just came down. I am even more discouraged as I see the race clock has already crossed the one hour mark. Though I never expected to PR today, I did hope to finish sub-two.

I periodically walk as I ascend back towards the top of Palos Verdes Drive South, unable to regain a rhythm. The lack of breeze or shade along this stretch does not help. Aid stations seem farther apart (they have not moved...it is just taking me longer to reach them). I cannot wait for this to be over.

When I reach mile 10, I start feeling pain in my right ankle. I sometimes get this sensation when I first step on to the cold floor when I wake up in the morning, but never have I felt it when I run. Now it bothers me almost as much as the heat, making it even harder for me to run. Unfortunately, this is also when I should be able to regain my pace since the course is starting to go descend.

As the course turns down Western Avenue, I decide to go for it...one last hurrah before the final two mile stretch to the finish line. I am able to regain a sub-8 pace, but cannot sustain it as the road starts to flatten.

The last two miles on Paseo del Mar are not quite flat. In fact, this slight incline proves a lot more torturous than it should. The once shadowy stretch is now only such over the sidewalks...and I find myself needing to stay in the shade to keep comfortable. I hate that I am walking much of the last mile. I probably have just added ten minutes to my final time.

I make one last effort to run across the finish line, crossing with an official time of 2:16:23. My actual time for completing the course is 2:15:31 (I started and stopped my watch on the start/finish line...it took me nearly a minute to reach the start line at the beginning of the race), but individual timing chips were not used today.

I am surprised to see my dad as I step into the park. He apparently has video of the half marathon start (though he couldn't pick me out of the crowd) and may have a shot of me crossing the finish line. We hang out for a bit as I down bread, fruit, and fluids trying in an effort to recover from the race.

I am not terribly happy with my results (I could not even beat the top times of the oldest runners) or with the way I finished the race, but I have to remind myself that this is training for a marathon. That said, if today's 80+ degree temperatures have already gotten the best of me, how will I survive Maui? In September?

1 comment:

Jake said...

Great job on the race, I ran the half and wrote up my own report with lots of photos and links to other race reports.

PV Half Marathon race report.