California International Marathon 2018: Not Today!

Executive Summary: California International Marathon, 3:09:57 (chip time), keeping my sub-3:10 streak alive for a little longer. At 56, I’ll take that!

Detailed splits:

Or on Strava (a few seconds longer because I didn’t stop my watch right away):

First off, I should say that the only reason I ran this thing is because my running team needed to field a full male 50s team in order to get points in the Pacific USATF series, and CIM is an important, double-points race. At this point in the season, it’s challenging to find uninjured 50s guys who are also capable of putting out a decent time.

I wasn’t sure I met that last criterion, given that my running mileage since the beginning of June averaged 11 mpw. There were a couple of weeks – one in July and one in August – that slightly exceeded 30 miles, but other than that, my training consisted of swimming and cycling. A lot of cycling, so at least I was fit. It was a real question, though, what kind of pace my legs would be able to sustain on race day.

Conditions were almost perfect for fast times – temps in the 40s at the start, warming up to the 50s by the end, and no wind to speak of. I seeded myself just in front of the 3:00 pace group, and it took them past the 10K mark to catch up to and pass me. The 3:05 group caught up to me just before the half, which I passed in 1:33:04. At that point I had been gradually slowing from my opening 6:58 pace to around 7:10-7:15 pace, which seemed mostly sustainable.

That is, until beyond mile 20, when it crept up to 7:38 for a few miles, then started coming down again, thanks to a combination of a well-timed energy gel and the beginning of “smelling the barn.” I was doing all sorts of mental race math at that point and realizing that I was probably looking at a 3:11 or 3:12 finish. Not bad, but I have never had a finish time of 3:10 or slower, other than my very first marathon way back in 1982, and one time where I paced my brother-in-law in his very first marathon. I don’t count that one, since I wasn’t going for my best possible time. (Of course there are marathon runs in the 19 Ironmans I’ve done, but I also don’t count them – an Ironman run is more like an ultra.)

Anyway, I started rationalizing a bit. “Still a good time for an old guy, for someone who didn’t really train for this, the team will still be happy, etc.” Then something in me just said “No. Not today!” So I picked it up. Subtly at first. 7:38 in mile 24 became 7:30 in mile 25, and at that point I realized I could dip under 3:10 IF I MOVED MY ASS.

I’m not sure where it came from, but I focused on running like I would run a mile repeat on the track. JUST ONE MILE REPEAT. I thought about my form. I went to my arms to quicken my stride. I repeated “quick, light, smooth, relaxed.” I hit mile 26 with a 7:01 and had 1:40 left to do the final .2 in. I was coming down into the final chute with not too much left, and I could see 3:09:4x on my watch. “Sprint, FFS,” I told myself. And just like that, it was over. I was pretty sure I had gotten it, but I stopped my watch a little late, so wasn’t 100% sure.

It turns out that I beat 3:10 by 3 seconds and ran the final .2 at 6:31 pace. I’m quite pleased that I had enough left in the tank to do that.

Oddly, even though it’s 2:07 slower than I ran two years ago, by age-graded standards it’s my best marathon performance ever. I’m not sure I really buy into those tables – they may just be a way to make old guys feel good about themselves. 😉

Post-race analysis: I’m not sure why this race worked out as well as it did. No marathon training program would tell you I had any business running this thing on the kind of mileage I had put in in training. My lead-up was crewing for Rob Gray at Ultraman the weekend before, which included short sprints to hand off bottles on Days 1 and 2, and then about 16 miles of pacing in the heat at around 9:00 pace on Day 3. That’s way too close to the race to get much physiological benefit, so I can only conclude that keeping up one’s intensity on the bike can maintain one’s running ability to a great extent. Especially if one has a lot of marathon experience and paces realistically.

Anyway, that’s my story. Apparently, the Stupidest Distance Known to Man hasn’t done me in just yet.

I hope Dad is proud

As many of my friends know, we lost my dad earlier this year. The grieving process is not linear; the realization of it comes and goes.

Dad instilled many values in me, among them curiosity to learn as completely as possible about things that interest me, which has served me pretty well in my career (though might bore a number of my friends), but most important a love for endurance sports. It was he who got me running. First a 10K, then another, and pretty soon I was running my first marathon with him.

That was an interesting moment in our relationship. We had been training together all of the summer of ’82, and I was 20 years old to his 47, so naturally as I got fitter I started to get faster than him. In 10Ks I could finish 4 or 5 minutes ahead of him, and this made me start to think that I should target a faster time in my first marathon than his 3:30 pace.

There were two problems with this idea:

  1. I had never run a marathon, where he had. Experience counts for a lot in the longer distances.
  2. The marathon we had picked was the Frontier Days Marathon in Cheyenne, Wyoming, which was at over 6000 ft.

I took off (from memory) at around 5 miles and was on pace to run 3:15. By 19 miles I was walking, and sure enough here came Dad. It would have been so easy for him to leave me in the dust and teach me a lesson, but he slowed and stayed with me, helping me through horrible miles of walking in the heat. We finished together in 3:42 and change, not exactly the auspicious beginning I had hoped for. But I took that lesson with me and did better the next time.

I’ve since gone on to run 30+ marathons and finish 18 Ironmans, and Dad was there for a number of them. My siblings have similar stories, so among other things we did to honor his memory was run up Pike’s Peak this summer (he raced the Ascent in 1981). An MIT graduate, he also prized academics, and he had two sons go to Rice (and one of them go on to get a PhD at Cal Tech), so I thought a fitting way to honor him was to name the Rice Invitational Cross Country Meet after him.

My brother Scott and I in our respective times at Rice both had very good friends on the track and cross country teams, even if neither of us was good enough to actually run for the school, but it’s a sport I believe deserves more support – the inherent discipline it takes to do all of the training and endure all of the suffering is a pretty good parallel to what it takes to excel academically and out in the work world, so I’m happy to do my part in contributing to the program.

If you’re in Houston on Friday, September 8, please go out and cheer the runners on! Here’s a link to the event.

Miss you, Dad.

Ironman 70.3 California, a comedy of errors

My first race of the 2016 season looks ok on the surface.

Not my best 70.3 time, but not my worst by a longshot. The bike is not particularly easy, and my run was 5 or so minutes better than any of my 70.3 runs last season, so no complaints on my fitness.

But my prerace routine was a disaster with a capital D.

The first mistake was a mid-afternoon arrival the day before the race – normally not a problem, except when you haven’t done the race before and have no clue about the logistics. I parked near the bike checkin at the harbor, but it turns out that packet pickup and the expo were more than a mile away, which I only found out by walking and continuing to walk until my friend and I found it (my wife was waiting in the car since the bike was on the roof). This resulted in probably 3 miles of walking in the afternoon sun, which left me a little sunburned since I hadn’t put sunscreen on, thinking it would be a short routine.

But that paled in comparison to the mistakes on race morning. Things started badly by leaving our rental in Carlsbad a few minutes late, which put unnecessary time pressure on things. On my walk to the transition area, I reached in my bag and couldn’t find my timing chip. WTF? I was sure I had put it in the bag right away. So I went to the help desk and got another chip, no problem. Then I got to my bike to set things up, and as I pulled things out of the bag, there was my chip! So that was another thing to take care of. I got my bike set up, and then a woman wanted to borrow my pump, which I obliged since there are plenty of races where I’ve borrowed other people’s pumps. The thing was, the woman kind of disappeared, and I needed to go and take care of my now-extra timing chip. Finally she reappeared, and I took off with everything, went back to the help desk and handed over my original chip. I found my friend and prepared to head to the start, but I then remembered I hadn’t gotten body-marked in all the chaos with my other issues. So I went back and did that, and we were off to the start. 

Or what I thought was the start.

The swim course map showed an out-and-back course in the harbor, with the start on the side opposite the transition area. I don’t know why this got in my head, but I thought the entrance to the water was on that other side as well. So we headed over, despite the fact that NO OTHER TRIATHLETES WERE HEADING THAT WAY. Basically, every instinct I had that morning was wrong. Sure enough, I looked across the water and saw age groups entering the water RIGHT FROM THE TRANSITION AREA I HAD JUST BEEN IN. My swim wave was about 12 minutes from starting at this point.

So I RACED over, and told my friend just to head back to meet my wife. I got back to the transition area, put on my wetsuit, and then weaved my way through the many waves lined up behind my wave, taking care to avoid the pro men who were now coming out of the water and heading straight at me as I tried to weave past people who weren’t expecting someone to be coming through in the direction I was coming, and finally got to the water’s edge just as the final people in my wave were entering the water. Whew! Two minutes to the start.

The gun went off, and immediately I noticed two things:

  1. I should have done the spit-clean on my goggles to keep them from fogging up.
  2. I was exhausted from all of the prerace drama. I could barely lift my arms to turn them over.

Oh yeah, and the water was pretty cold. A lesser man might have given up at that point – and in fact that lesser man was sitting over my left shoulder, whispering stuff like “you should just make this a nice training day; don’t go hard” – but remember the old saying that “it doesn’t always get worse.” I did start feeling better, even though the swim was getting rougher as we approached the mouth of the harbor. At one point I looked up to sight and got a mouthful of nasty ocean water. 

The difficulty continued in a different fashion on the way back, as we were headed straight into the rising sun. I hoped the people who were splashing around me knew where they were going, but I decided a better tack was to follow the rocky harbor. That worked out pretty well, and soon enough I was exiting the swim, albeit in a sucky (for me) 37 minutes and change.

My transition was super pokey – it took a while to get my wetsuit off and my sleeved top on. Some practice would do me good. 

The bike course is…undulating…and the climbing starts almost immediately as you leave the harbor area.


I was in swim wave 10 – about the middle of the field – which made for a crowded bike course early on as we entered Camp Pendleton. Let’s just say that there was some drafting…


There were a few relatively steep climbs on the 56-mile bike, which made me wish I had put the 11-28 cassette on my bike instead of the 11-25 – there was some slow-cadence grinding up those hills. I steadily built my power over the course of the ride and ended up with a normalized power of 215W, one of my best half-Ironman efforts. I was also experimenting with using a lower cadence and bigger gear, and the test for the efficacy of that would come on the run.

Off the bike with a 2:41, which reflects the difficulty of the course if nothing else, I again had a pokey transition but felt pretty good as I started running.

The course was two loops, and there were some interesting steep ramps that the organizers made us run up.

These felt much better the first loop than they did the second.

I had been managing a low 7:00-mile pace for the first half, but the second half saw me closer to 7:40s. Nevertheless, I did pass a few guys with M50-54 on their calf, and I even got in a head-to-head battle with one around mile 9. I decided I didn’t want to get into a miles-long tête-à-tête, so I surged pretty hard to put a gap on him and try to break his spirit. By the next turnaround, I saw that my tactic had worked. 😎

With a mile to go, I was ready to be done and working pretty hard.

The finish line is always worth the suffering!

The 5:05 was only good for 16th in the age group, so I have a lot of work to do. But I didn’t cramp during the run, and my troublesome calves and hamstrings behaved themselves, so there’s that. And my switch to Glukos nutrition (the race top I’m wearing) this season seemed to work really well – I took mostly liquid nutrition on the bike and had no bonking or GI issues. (The road rash on the knee, by the way, is from a minor bike crash two weeks prior to the race.)

I give my race a B+. I give my prerace a big #fail. We can only get better from here.