Or, how I bought a one-way ticket to bonk-ville.
Saturday night I ran in the New Year's Race Los Angeles Half Marathon. This was the inaugural race, and I actually signed up for it six months ago, at the Rock 'n' Roll San Diego expo. At the expo, it was a lower price, plus I didn't have to pay any processing fees, so it seemed like a great deal. They were also promising hoodies instead of t-shirts, which I really liked. The race was to start at 9:00 pm and run through downtown Los Angeles, including Dodgers Stadium. I thought it sounded unique, plus a great way to start the new year. I booked a room at the host hotel, the Millennium Biltmore, and we decided to make it a short family getaway.
This race is, to date, the worst half marathon I have ever run. Most of the awfulness was my fault; I can only blame a little bit on the race itself.
Several factors went into this being an awful experience. First, I didn't really know how to fuel properly for this race. The only race I've ever done at night was Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas in 2011, and that race started at 5:30, which is way different than 9:00. I was also a bit worried about the late time---I'm usually in bed by 9:30/10:00, but I figured that once I started running adrenaline would kick in. Finally, I was worried about some pain. I've been having some of my usual plantar fasciitis pain in my left foot and sciatic nerve pain in my left leg, on and off, but last week a new pain had developed. I did a 40 mile bike ride on New Year's Day, and the day after the inside of my right ankle was very tender; I couldn't even run on it all week. I must have had it turned too much during my ride. As the week went on, however, the pain went away.
Saturday morning we dropped Padfoot, our dog, off at the kennel and drove up to L.A. The plan was to get to the Biltmore, where the expo was, and I would get my packet and hoodie. We were then to meet some of my dearest friends and their kids, and see the Space Shuttle Endeavor. I thought we'd be there for a short time, have a big late lunch/early dinner, and then I'd have a snack before the race.
As it turned out, we hit a lot of traffic heading north. We barely had time to do the expo. I literally ran in, got my bib and hoodie/goodie bag, and ran out. I didn't get to see any of the vendors, although it didn't look like it was a big expo. We then met our friends at the California Science Center, where we saw the Endeavor. While it was really cool to see (truly, I loved it), we were there longer than I expected, and by the time we sat down to eat it was about 4:00 or so. At that point, I was worried about eating too much, so I ordered pancakes (we were at a deli). I really wanted the potato pancakes but was worried about how greasy they may be. I didn't want any GI issues a few hours later while running.
After dinner, we went back to the hotel, checked in, and went to the room. We watched a movie on TV and then finally it was time for me to say goodbye to my husband and kids to go down to the race start. As I was walking down the hall toward the elevator, there was a big group of runners in front of me. One had a backpack that had the name of one of my favorite bloggers and twitter friends (I even have her on my blogroll to the left) and it was her! It was so nice to meet Elisabeth in person, and in such a random way.
9:00 came and went. The race didn't start until 9:20, which means that I didn't cross the start line until 9:29 (they were spacing the corrals out by a few minutes). There was no explanation of the late start, at least none that I heard all the way in the back. I was frustrated. I hate late starts. Late starts in the morning means that back-of-the-pack runners like me will run more in the heat (at least in hot-weather San Diego) and this late start at night meant that I wouldn't finish until after midnight. Grrr.
|waiting pre-race, full of hope|
I know we passed by some L.A. landmarks, but since I am pretty unfamiliar with downtown, and it was dark, I didn't notice much of it. Maybe it would have been better in the daytime. At any rate, around mile 4 we arrived at Dodgers Stadium. I knew from the course map that we would be running a few miles around it the parking lot, but I didn't realize just how odd this was. Stretched ahead of me were thousands of runners, running in a snake-like pattern back-and -forth. It was kind of eerie and kind of cool. There were a few parts of the parking lot that were not well-lit at all, and it was then I that I was glad I had my Knuckle Light to turn on. Most people didn't have any lights with them, but a few had on headlamps. (I think the race organizers did a great job of lighting the way in the dark; there were only a few unlit areas...but even those few could be dangerous. One step on a rock or in a pothole could really injure a runner badly).
Every time it seemed that we would finally be going into Dodgers Stadium, the course would take us on another tour of another part of the parking lot. At the crest, many runners got off the course and went to look the breathtaking view of the skyline at night. I just kept going, although by this point "going" was a lot of walking. My left foot and left sciatic nerve were really acting up, and every step was painful. Additionally, I was starting to bonk---I hadn't fueled enough and though I was taking my Gu as I normally do (miles 4, 8 and 12) and also had some Gu Chomps, it wasn't nearly enough calories. Finally, I was tired. Adrenaline hadn't kicked in after all, and I felt like I was in a daze the entire race.
At long last, we entered Dodgers Stadium. THIS was cool. THIS is what made the awfulness of my race worth it. We entered the stadium right around center field, and ran the entire perimeter of the stadium. I ran by the dugouts, home plate, and the warning track. As a baseball fan, this was awesome. For the first time EVER in a race, I stopped. Normally when I take pictures I take them while running (which is why they are usually blurry) but I stopped to really soak in the experience and take pictures. By that point, I knew my time was going to be horrible---too much walking--so a few extra minutes wouldn't matter. I would likely never get to run in Dodgers Stadium again, and really wanted to enjoy the experience. So I did.
|entering Dodgers Stadium|
|view of the field|
|Dodgers' dugout---they're doing some sort of construction on the stadium|
The last few miles were agonizing. I stopped at a port-o-potty, something I rarely do in a race but at that point I didn't care about my time. At that point, the tenderness on my right ankle came back, so now I had THREE pains, one on each foot and one on my left leg. I was bonking big-time, with not enough fuel. I started to get cold, which I hadn't been during the run at all (I had ditched my gloves at mile 1 and took off my ear warmers at mile 3). And I was tired. Oh, so tired. It was sooo past my bedtime. I know we ran past Olvera Street and China Town, but again, with it being so dark I didn't really realize it until after the race.
Finally the finish line was ahead. I got my medal (it's gorgeous), a space blanket and a bagel. My running time was 2:50 (I had forgotten to take my Garmin off of auto-pause) and my actual time was something like 2:54. Not a PW (personal worst) but just about. I think this was my 15th half marathon, and my 3rd worst time. Usually I finish in 2:30-2:40 (my PR is 2:29) so this time was way off what I'm capable of. After getting my bag from gear check, I had to walk back to the hotel. Unfortunately, the start and finish were not in the same place, and the finish line was pretty far from the hotel. It was a long walk back on tired legs and sore feet. My space blanket kept me warm, and I didn't even need to put on the jacket I had gear-checked. By the time I got back to the room, it was after 1:00 a.m.
I'd like to learn something from this awful race, and in thinking about it, I learned a lot. Here's what went wrong, and what I can do better next time (if possible). And also what I did right.
1) Improper Fueling. Usually I'm pretty good about fueling. I have a big dinner the night before, eat a Luna Bar (or two) in the morning, and I'm set (plus my usual Gus, etc). I should have eaten a bigger breakfast (I had only had a Luna Bar), and and I should have eaten more at dinner, and had another bar closer to race time.
2) Exhaustion. I will never again run a half marathon at night. I do have a 5k in a few weeks that starts at 7, but running 3.1 miles at 7:00 is way different than running 13.1 miles at 9:30. The only one I would ever reconsider for would be the Disney Wine and Dine, as that is to be quite the experience. No more night half marathons.
3) Pain. There is not much I could have done about this, except for not run. My pain hadn't been THAT bad in a long time. I think I was smart by walking much of instead of pushing it hard and exacerbating it even further.
4) Hilly course. Again, I couldn't have foreseen how off the elevation chart was. I don't mind some hills (heck, I set a PR at the Hollywood Half Marathon last year even with a 2 1/2 mile hill at the end). I just would have liked to have known what to expect.
5) Lighting. Most people ran without lights, but I was glad I had my Knuckle Light with me. I didn't need it for the most part, but again, for those few really dark patches I was happy I was able to shine a light.
All in all, while I hated this race experience, the race organizers themselves did ok. Yes, they had the late start---but as far as I could see they had plenty of water, Gatorade, and gels. There were port-o-potties along the course, and lots of volunteers and medical tents. They had tons of official photographers---seriously, tons (many at different miles and then about 3 in a row on the last .2 mile. And then one at the finish.). I felt bad for the people who did the accompanying 5k.....many ended up running 4.2 miles instead of 3.1, as the course wasn't clearly marked. I was afraid that would happen, as the half marathoners and 5k-ers started together, and I myself never saw a sign for the 5k turnoff.
This medal was hard-earned, and while I will never do this race again, I can only hope that my next race will be better!