San Diego Rock'n'Roll Marathon 2017 recap

Why the hell was I even there? I guess that I just like racing. Signed up for this race for 3 reasons:
  1. San Diego Rock'n'Roll  2012 was my first marathon. I wanted to see how I progressed in 5 years.
  2. It was only $70 through a promo.
  3. In June of 2016 I was not sure if I was going to get into Boston, so I wanted to sign up for a late Spring marathon as a fallback.
So then I got into Boston and talked myself into racing the "inaugural" Santa Rosa 70.3 in mid May... and suddenly I had my hands full with 3 races in 7 weeks. I kind of considered both Boston and Santa Rosa to be the A races, and so had to re-allocate the time that would have normally been spent on running/recovering to cycling. As the result, I ended up with 22 weeks of mixed mode training and racing with about 37 miles per week of running all in all. In other words, this is about 25% lower than the mileage I'd consider standard for the marathon training. The big positive was that I got plenty of aerobic exercise, which made the tempo runs very very fast at low heart rate readings. Accordingly, in 2017 my times for 13.1 were about 5 mins better than my previous PRs, but running a full marathon in Boston on 39 mpw for 15 weeks proved to be not so awesome, even though I BQ'ed there.

Come mid May, I vacillated for a while thinking of just using my cancellation option that I paid an extra $10 for during the registration, but then the stupid part of me took over... and with that I decided to give it a go since I had a whole bunch of Hilton Honors points and there was a Hampton's right next to the finish line that I could book for $30/night after applying the points. I also was keen to test the theory that I had read on Slowtwitch that if you can hold a certain pace for 16 miles, you should be able to hold it for 26 miles. I was pretty certain that I can hold 7 min/mile pace for 16 miles, so in theory that'd would have given me a very solid PR. In other words, all kinds of cocky, stupid stuff but if you don't need to worry about BQ'ing, all kinds of self abuse suddenly seem like a good idea.


Drove to San Diego in the afternoon, checked into my hotel and walked about a mile or so to the convention center. It was a bit crowded, but I got done with the packet pick up fairly quickly. I had no desire to hang around, so I walked back to the hotel and noticed that it was quite warm despite the cloud cover and definitely VERY humid - I was sweating from just a moderate walk. Huh!

Stopped by a nearby Claim Jumper for dinner. Had a beer and a chicken club sandwich with mashed potatoes. Was really really full when I left. Watched TV for a little while at the hotel, read the book and went to bed at 9:30.


The alarm clock went off at 3:45am. I was actually soundly asleep for a change. The pre-race meal consisted of 2 strawberry pop tarts with peanut butter, a banana and 2 cups of coffee. I was out of the door at 4:45am with the intent of solo Ubering to the start line. Luckily a couple of runners downstairs graciously offered to split their Uber with me, so for $5 I a ride to Balboa park arriving at around 5am.

Walked to the gear trucks, sat on the curb, chatted with a few fellow runners, got my gear bag checked in and went to the porta potties. Just like 5 years ago, the lines were super slow moving, and eventually I just gave up and committed a quick pee behind a tree. No idea why this race sanitation situation is like this - seems like a ton of porta potties, but I guess for some 30k people+support at the start it is just not enough.

Made it into the Corral 2 about 5 mins before the start.  To be honest, I still did not have a very good plan as to what I was going to do race wise. From looking at the elevation profile I knew that
  1. there will be rollers for the first 10 miles
  2. there was a big drop coming at mile 11 or so 
  3. the hill on the 163 that used to be mid way through the race was now coming sometime around mile 22. 
  4. the elevation gain was going about the same as Boston
With that in mind, I decided to just hold the same pace I did for the Santa Rosa 70.3 run leg (about 6:50 min/mile) for as long as I can and, if things go well, re-assess at around mile 18. Wanted to be sure that I have something left in the tank to do that hill and then just blast down to the finish line. I also allowed myself  2 30 second pee breaks around miles 8 and 16 to break things up and give myself a breather.

The race kicked off at 6;15am. Oddly, for a while everything was happening more or less as planned. I jammed the first 12 miles running slightly under 6:50 min/mile, but the legs were not feeling fresh at all. From the mile 3 I was feeling like I had run a 10 miler already, mainly in the quads and the hip flexors. But I pressed on and was concentrating on not pushing the rollers too forcefully, having learned that lesson in Boston the hard way. There were lots of them for the first 8 or so miles, with a couple of decently steep but short climbs. The sky was overcast, with almost no wind and a muggy but cool air. After a while it started to drizzle a tiny bit and soon I realized that I was completely drenched from the humidity. But the weird thing was that I had to keep taking fluids at almost every other station - it sure felt like I was sweating up a storm. Even my feet were eventually swamped in sweat.

We left the downtown area, ran around Normal Heights (what a name) and eventually split from the half marathoners. Then after a while we were moving along the side (but in the opposite direction) of the runners just going through mile 5 or so. At one point I saw a bunch of school girls all decked in KISS makeup and costumes and had a really laugh. They were going completely nuts rocking out to Dr Love - fantastic! More looping through the neighborhoods and eventually we got to Presidio Drive, where the big drop was about to happen before we would cross the 8 freeway. We ran down that serpentine downhill that had some pretty steep sections where I had to slow down and go very gingerly since the pavement was a bit wet. Once I got done with descending, that's when the legs started to feel really uneasy for the first time. I was definitely doing ok aerobically, and the effort did not feel too hard, but the lack of training volume was not helping any. I was slowing down a bit, and I could tell that I won't be able to hold the sub 7 pace for that much longer. Saw the leading men while making my way through Overlook to to Mission Bay and they looked pretty miserable too, so that made me a feel a bit better but not really.

At that point I started taking caffeinated Clif gels every 3 aid stations. Really wished that I could have some Cola, but no dice. This was probably the lowest point of the race for me, as I was really dreading that I had miscalculated my abilities and there would need to be some walking in the near future. Coming out of the Mission Bay area, and tracking back along the road that we took on the way there, I saw a bunch of other runners, and they were definitely suffering. Eventually, we started climbing at around mile 19, very slowly but... suddenly I would see people in front of me slow down and walk, stretch, jog. Not race anymore in other words. I was not hauling ass anymore either, but I was still moving at a reasonable clip, so at that point I started to pass some people. Eventually made it to the off-ramp to the 163, saw the KISS girls one more time, they were still going nuts. Awesome!

Suddenly I started feeling better. That's when the actual hill at mile 22.5 presented itself. It was more of the same - I was not going super fast but was passing people consistently. About 1/4 way up I did get overtaken by a very fit looking runner chick - I tried to hang on and have her tow me up the hill but she was just stronger at that point and eventually dropped me once we started running down. She was absolutely flying!  She definitely helped me go a bit faster up that thing that just seemed to never end. Hurray for getting chicked.

Once I got over the hill, I knew that I was going to finish strong as long as the grade on the way down was not going to be too crazy. I still had some strength in my legs but could not do better than 7:20ish min/miles. The downhill was snaking all the time and I was trying very hard to run the tangents and not put any extra distance - as my watch was already showing an extra 0.12 miles by that point. I was very very happy to see the downtown San Diego again, and see us merge with the 1/2 marathon crowd - who were also moving at a zombie pace. There was a tiny tiny hill right after the 26 mile marker, and that seemed like a mountain... but soon enough I hit the finish line. Not going to lie - I was completely out of gas. Could barely see or walk. Somehow in the downtown area I picked an extra 0.08 miles and now my total was almost 26.4 miles. Grabbed some water and Gatorade and started slowly moving towards the gear pickup area - which was like 4 blocks away.

Eventually, I made it there, got my bag and my finisher jacket, got back to the hotel, stretched, showered, grabbed a few munchies and drove back to LA. Had to stop half way through to eat something and stretch. Even McDonalds tasted good at that point.

The finish time was 3:12:50 (Garmin file here), so this at least will improve my corral placement for Boston if I decide to run it next year. The first half of the race was run in 1:31:20 and I added a solid 11 minutes to the second half, so no negative splits here! Once again - this was a hard, painful run, but then again in 2017 I was 30 minutes faster than 5 years ago on almost the same course (yay getting older?). It is entirely possible that I simply had not been fully recovered from Santa Rosa, where I was probably not 100% recovered from Boston.

I got back to my house 3 hours later, and only then realized that I was totally and completely spent. Chilling by the pool never felt that good before.

Will take the next 5-6 days off completely, and will get back into swimming and cycling next week. Won't run til the end of the June, but will need to eventually get back into the groove to build for the NYC 2017!

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