The Rental Drive: 2013 Kia Optima Hybrid

I rent a lot of cars in the course of my work, so I though I might make the long hours behind strange wheels more interesting by actually reviewing the cars I drive. More interesting for me anyhow, no promises this will be at all interesting for you.

Off to Wickenburg

So last weekend a client in Wickenburg was having problems and I needed to drive down. It’s about a 2-1/2 hour drive (each way) so I decided to rent a car for the day, rather than put the wear/tear on my car. The nice folks at National Car Rental supplied me with a 2013 Kia Optima Hybrid in “Blue Medium” a color so popular Kia has apparently decided not to offer it on the 2014 Optima Hybrid. Can’t really blame them for that one, the color is really not good. Luckily, the car sort of is.

Interior

The strength of this car is the driving controls. From the breathtaking dashboard that greets you with exciting graphics when you get in the car to the power seats and the ample controls on the steering wheel this is one of the better vehicles I’ve driven in its class.

The center display is extremely configurable and offers a lot of different information sets that it can display for you. It’s pretty easy to display your current gas mileage, the speedometer is easy to read and, once you find it amongst all the blinky stuff, the gas gauge is as well. Some of the available displays on the center screen don’t make a lot of sense. There are a couple of different “Eco Screens” (this being a hybrid and all) which might make more sense if this is your daily driver and you’ve figured them out, but for a one-day rental I tilted my head at them momentarily then moved on to the next screen.

I like having stereo controls and some of the display controls on the steering wheel where they’re easy to use without taking your hands off the wheel and the Kia has one of the most function-packed wheels I’ve seen in the class.

The powered seat was comfortable and visibility from the driver’s seat was not a problem (as it occasionally is in mid-size vehicles).

One thing I especially liked about the Kia was that the aux jack (and a USB port) were located right in the front console where they were easy to use and access. I recently had a VW Jetta rental and as I recall the only Aux jack I could find was inside the center console. Not exactly convenient.

This 2013 Optima Hybrid features keyless ignition. Which means you just have to have the key in the car and press a button to start it. That’s a nifty feature though it tripped me up once or twice. At a rest stop I got out of the car to use the restroom and took the key with me. The car, being a hybrid, was so quiet though I’d forgotten it was still on. It made a long quiet beep at me to warn me that the key had left the running vehicle…and once I realized the problem it was trivial to get back in and push the “Engine Off” button.

Later however I was at a gas station, had shut the car off and gotten out with the key…but the car insisted upon giving me the same low beep. I never did figure that one out, even after starting and stopping the engine a couple of times.

Driving

So the interior is pretty good…how is it to drive? It’s good, but not brilliant, actually. My biggest complaint with it would be the ride. For a midsize sedan it was awfully busy/choppy. I’m not sure I’d want it as my daily driver unless I lived somewhere with extremely smooth roads.

My other complaint is that occasionally, at low speeds, the automatic transmission would make a particularly harsh shift and you could actually feel it slamming into the next gear.

Once you got to highway speeds it was fine. The cruise control was sort of unremarkable – I have to say that I missed the digital readout of the Chevy Cruze that told you exactly what speed you had the cruise control set to, so if you wanted it at 74 it was easy to set it there. The analog imprecision of the Kia felt like a bit of a step back. But it held speed well and the engine never felt like it was having to work too hard to maintain speed.

Gas mileage was fine as well, this particular trip was a lot of highway driving, so not exactly the strength of the hybrid, but it managed to average about 34MPG even though there was a fair bit of elevation change on the drive and the Optima is a fairly solid-feeling sedan – no lightweight Prius here.

TIP: If you want to improve performance – especially when accelerating on a highway on-ramp, turn off the ECO mode with the handy steering wheel button. When I did so coming out of Carefree it felt like a turbocharger had kicked in – the improvement was immediate and dramatic. I turned ECO back on once I reached 65.

Handling was fine – not terribly exciting or disappointing, but it’s a Kia hybrid, not a Porsche 911.

I didn’t do any especially hard braking, but overall I felt like the braking was quite good. It felt smooth, controlled and level all the way.

Looks

Have to say, picking up the car in the morning I was a bit put off by the color which I can only describe as sort of a charcoal blue/purple. As I noted above it appears Kia has discontinued this color and that’s probably a good call. That said when I dropped the car off at night I had to admit the color looked a lot better in the dark. I can’t fault it there, I look a lot better in the dark too.

It’s not desperately pretty though. Not as boring as the late model VW Jetta’s but nowhere near as pretty as the Ford Fusion.

Conclusion

The Ford Fusion is still my favorite vehicle in National’s mid-size fleet. The conventionally powered Kia Optima is a nice drive and the hybrid variant is right there with it. The Chevy Cruze I had a couple of weeks ago was a pleasant surprise and I think those three vehicles are my top 3 in the class right now.

At the end of the day I’m mostly about driver experience, comfort and controls. I don’t care that the Kia isn’t very pretty. I wish the ride were a little more comfortable, but otherwise I’d be fine with driving it again.

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Starting 2013 on the Run

So…after a relatively relaxed 2012 (if two marathons and a half can be considered relaxed) I’m going to start 2013 with a bit more aggressive a schedule: 2 marathons in 14 days.

On January 20th I’ll be doing the P.F. Chang’s full marathon and on February 2nd it looks like I’ll be doing the Desert Classic full.

So…what’s the plan? I’m in no condition to go out and race them fast – I’ve only recently returned to pretty steady running and working out. And I’m definitely not in shape to try and race Chang’s and then come back and do another 14 days later.

So…I’m just going to cruise them. The current plan is to try and keep the pace between 12:45 and 13:00 and just keep it easy. If that goes well, and I feel strong, I may try to push the pace a little more aggressively in the 2nd half of the Desert Classic.

Now if you’ll excuse me…I need to have my head examined.

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Happy 5th of July!

A few random thoughts…

1. Is it really necessary to say “An unknown shooter took out a gun and opened fire,” If he’s a shooter and he’s “opening fire” I think we can assume he’s got a gun.

2. I love how some of the gossip sites and mags love to run specials like “Newly Single Celebs!” It’s important to know which “celebrities” (most of whom I’ve never heard of) are single because, you know…you might have a shot with one of them.

3. Speaking of celebrities, I love how they let celebrities out of jail just days our hours into their sentence and claim “Overcrowding” as the reason. Seriously? They aren’t putting Lindsay Lohan into general population – she’s got the special “VIP wing” at the jail.  How crowded could it be? Is Paris Hilton in there hogging the bed?  If it really is an overcrowding issue why is it the rich celebrity girl who gets kicked loose after 84 minutes in jail and not the inner-city girl who got arrested for the same crime but has been there a week?

4. There was a certain irony to having to pick up littered pieces of paper that said “Friends of Flagstaff’s Future” on them after yesterday’s 4th of July Parade. Hopefully Flagstaff’s future includes people who can find a trash can for those bits they wish to discard.

5. We got a dog. Or he got us; not sure.  His name is Sam and we adopted him from a rescue place in Scottsdale after meeting him at the “Pets in the Pines” event here in Sam in the carFlagstaff.  So far I can say he has the sweetest disposition. He’s very affectionate and playful. He rarely barks and has taken to some simple commands like Sit, and occasionally Stay, pretty well. Seems likely that whomever his previous people were they did do some training with him before he separated from them.

The folks from the rescue farm (http://www.fedwellfarm.com/) said he was on the “Euthanize List” at the nearby pound when they found him and took him in – just hours before he was to be put down. We’re awfully glad they saved him (though our cats aren’t so sure yet) because he’s been a wonderful addition to our family.

6. We’re on the verge of “cutting the cable”.  We’ve just ordered a “Rikomagic MK802” which is a tiny Android/Linux computer which we can connect to our TV and our wireless Internet and use to stream media, movies, TV, music and more. Once we have it working and are happy with what it offers us we’re going to disconnect our “DirectTV”. Turns out the cost of the MK802 is about the same as one month of DirectTV and the reality is…we don’t watch that much television. We’ve discovered that nearly every show we watch is already available, sometimes on a slight delay, via the Internet. We have NetFlix, we have Amazon Prime, we can go to Hulu and these days pretty much every TV station (HGTV, Bravo, NBC, etc) has their own websites where they stream episodes of their shows.

So…we’re going to give it a try.  If it works out the way we hope, we’ll save several hundred dollars a year.

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San Diego Marathon 2012

Quick recap of last week’s San Diego Marathon.  I’d done San Diego twice before but that was on the old course.  A year or two ago they changed the course so that it now ends at Sea World instead of the Marine Recruit Depot so this was my first go at the new course.

Pre-Race

Carrie and I drove over to L.A. on Thursday and spent the evening with my parents. We had a lovely dinner (pasta, of course) at Giovanni Ristorante and a good night-sleep.  The next day we did a little relaxing in L.A. before getting a slightly later-than-planned start for San Diego in the mid-afternoon.

I’m not sure the departure time made any difference but the drive to SD, which has always taken me 2-1/2 hours or so in the past, was so beset with congestion and traffic that it took nearly 4 hours that day.  A lesson for the future I guess – don’t take that drive for granted and be sure to leave yourself plenty of time.

Arriving in San Diego we got checked in at the Ramada Plaza hotel.  I picked the Ramada because it was fairly inexpensive and just minutes from the Sports Arena where we’d be parking.


My 30 second review of the Ramada? It’s an older property that clearly has seen some hard days. Some elements of it seem fresh and I want to think they’re slowly renovating it back to top condition.  But I suspect they’re a few housekeepers short and some of the common areas look…well, pretty common.

That said the room was fairly comfortable and it was clean. Parking was free and easy, the hot tub works (even though it was overflowing a bit), the typical hotel breakfast (waffles, muffins, toast, yogurt, juice) was free and about as expected.

Internet WiFi in the rooms was free and steady.

We had very few interactions with the staff – not even sure most of the staff we encountered spoke English – which was fine because we rarely needed them after check-in.

One caution: even though some of the websites imply the rooms have refrigerators (and/or microwaves) in them NOT all of them do. If you really want a fridge or a microwave you need to request it – and you probably should do that BEFORE you arrive. We got there, discovered our room had neither and called down to the desk. They said they were all out of fridges.  Lesson learned.

All in all I guess the Ramada is good value for money – it’s a bargain property at a bargain price.


A light dinner, then off to bed.

The next day we started off at the San Diego Marathon Expo. I’ve done 15 full marathons now and a bunch of triathlons and half-marathons. Anybody who knows me knows that I’m something of a connoisseur of race expos and I have to say that the 2012 San Diego expo is the best one I’ve ever been to.  It was large, vibrant, full of interesting and relevant vendors and everywhere you looked were endurance sport celebrities!

We got to watch 4-time Ironman World Champ Chrissie Wellington being interviewed by Bob Babbitt then, on the way back from a restroom stop, I spotted Olympic marathoner Meb Keflezighi.  I probably could have spent all day there, but I was getting hungry and my shoulder was starting to hurt from getting jostled by the crowds.

A late lunch at Souplantation and then it was back to the hotel to relax.

Marathon Tip: As always, lay out all of your gear the night before. I like to lay mine out as if it were a person, of sorts.  Race hat over race sunglasses, over race shirt, over race shorts, sock in each shoe…race number on the race belt around the “waist” etc. That way I can look it over and more easily spot if something’s missing.  Sunscreen, race nutrition, watch…watch…watch?

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? Does Anybody Really Care?

One thing I did for the first time in this race (clarify: I’ve done it in training plenty, but never in a race) is that I didn’t bother wearing a watch. Truth is, I didn’t care what my time was. I was just going to run and enjoy.  How did that work out?  Stay tuned…

Race Morning

Race morning the alarm went off at 3:25 and we got ourselves dressed and ready to go. By 4:05 we were on the road heading to the Sports Arena, where race parking was.  We encountered very light traffic (in fact, practically none compared to what I’ve seen at some races) and were directed to a convenient (and free) parking spot.

I have to admit, I was worried about the logistics of this race. There’s no parking at the start and only “VIP” (read: $$$) parking at the finish. They were encouraging everybody to use public transport or shuttles to get where they needed to go. Turns out my concerns were unfounded. The shuttles were plentiful, comfortable and timely.  We had nary a wait or a queue on either end. Parking at the Sports Arena was easy and (as above) extremely convenient to our hotel.

There was even a handy In-n-Out Burger between the Sports Arena and the hotel for the post-race feast.

O.K., enough Double-Double talk for now…back to the race. The shuttle dropped us off at Balboa park and we made use of a porta potty (with a relatively short line) then found a spot to relax and wait for the start.

Race morning weather was PERFECT…barely 60 degrees and overcast with a bit of a breeze.

Pre-start I managed two MORE porta-potty visits…the first one ~30 minutes pre-gun featured a typical EPIC San Diego Marathon porta-line.  I think it was close to 45 minutes in the line. The second, was wiser. As they sent the corrals off one-by-one, the porta lines emptied out. Everybody rushed to get into the race…and that meant practically no wait at all for a porta just near the start line.

I still made my corral in plenty of time to cross the start.


I’d like to thank Team in Training for letting us participate in their race. Smile  I’m half-kidding, but it’s clearly TnT’s (glad they opted for that acronym, rather than the more obvious one) A-race of the season as there was a LOT of purple on the course. And a lot of TnT coaches and support crew along the course cheering and supporting.

Good job Team!


Meet the New Course, Same as the Old Course?

I have to say, at first glance I didn’t notice a lot of big differences between the two courses for the first 15 miles or so. 

The course winds through Balboa Park which is a pretty cool section of the race. At one point we ran past a giant pipe organ with an organist playing for us as we ran past!  From there we went past the zoo, wound through the business district and then past Petco field where the Padres sort of play.  So far pretty much the same as before (though we went around Petco on the other side before).

Unfortunately miles 8-10 are still that tough slog up the 163 freeway. It’s a long gradual climb on a cambered road and if the day is hot (which mercifully our day wasn’t) it can be pretty tough.  As it was, I was glad to get to the summit of that section and put it behind me. 

Right about there we found ourselves parallel to the half-marathoners and I was scanning the crowd for a beautiful girl in a purple shirt (my girl loves purple!).  Sure enough, a mile or so down the road there she was!  She actually saw me before I saw her but I scampered over to where she was and we walked together for a little bit.  My favorite part of the race!

Finally we had to say goodbye though as our courses were going to split again and I needed to get back to running the fairly familiar course.  I stole one last kiss and headed off with the rest of the full marathon crowd.

Miles 15-18 or so are long Morena Blvd. At that point my pace had dropped quite a bit so it felt like a bit of a trudge.  I can sense that if I were trying to race this event I’d want to approach that section as a particular mental challenge – to feel strong all the way to the turn at Milton.

One reason to run a little faster than I did…Denver Street (just shy of Mile Marker 19) is famous for the residents coming out with trays of oranges and other snacks for the runners. By the time I trotted through though they were mostly packed up.

Once we got past Denver Street and dropped down into the park the course change became more apparent. No more lap of Mission Bay. The last 5 or 6 miles now are an out and back of sorts along a bike path, then a lap around Fiesta Island before wrapping up in one of the outer parking lots at Sea World.

From 19 to 23 you’re running along Mission Bay in the beach park. It’s actually a fairly nice stretch, though most of it is on a concrete bike path. I found myself wishing I was a little stronger at that point.

The Fiesta Island lap is a tough one – that’s basically miles 23-25 – and if you’re not familiar with the area (like I’m not) and didn’t study the course map (like I didn’t) you’re not really sure how long it actually is going in.  It’s not too hilly and, thanks to the cloud cover, wasn’t too hot, but the wind had started to pick up a bit and for some reason seemed to be in our faces no matter what direction we were going. I even made a half-kidding effort to draft off another runner for a few yards, but she was too small to provide much of a draft.

Around mile 23.5 I picked up a companion of sorts. Some fellow with a bicycle who decided to walk alongside me and tell me his life story. He was apparently waiting for his girlfriend who was somewhere back behind me in the field.  He walked more or less with me until the 24 mile marker then said he’d wait there.  Seemed like a nice fellow – I hope his girlfriend did well.

Approaching the 25 mile marker I didn’t really know what my time was (I wasn’t wearing a watch, remember?) but I started to wonder if I might have a chance to sneak under 6 hours. I’d always planned to run the best I could in the final mile (“Last mile best mile!”) though at that point I didn’t really have a lot of speed left.  I was already in the place where you’re making deals with yourself (“O.k., I’ll run to the next trash can, then I can walk to the trash can after that, then run to the trash can after that…”) so it didn’t bode well for a blazing finish.

Nonetheless as I lumbered past the 25 mile marker l took a deep breath and increased my pace to the extent I could.  The last mile is actually pretty nice, though a little up and down (more up than down) and the finish chutes seem almost anticlimactic.

If you’re looking for energized cheering crowds the San Diego Marathon is probably not the best example. They’re nice enough, but by comparison to some other races like L.A. or especially New York, they’re pretty sparse.  You go some long stretches where you might see a handful of people – some of whom are just walking their dogs. The finish chutes at San Diego are sort of that way too – though maybe they were more charged up for the faster finishers.  By the time I got there the crowd numbered a hundred or so I guess and they seemed to mostly be waiting for specific people – and I wasn’t that person.

The volunteers are terrific…but the spectators, well, they seemed a little more comparable to a golf crowd than a race.  That’s o.k.

Finally I crossed the line.  Pleased to be there, anxious for some food, looking forward to reuniting with my girl, still no idea what my time was, and ready for some In-n-Out.  Another reason to finish faster than I did…a lot of the finish area tables were broken down already. Two slightly-perplexed teenagers were passing out water bottles and there was an unattended box of bagels on a side table.  Somebody handed me a finisher’s medal, I passed up a few offerings of fruit, gratefully accepted a small bag of chips, and gave my girl a great big hug.

The post-race shuttle worked as well as the pre-race shuttle did and we were quickly back to our car and off for a rendezvous with a Double-Double….

Wrap Up

A few random thoughts to wrap it up…

  • My final time turned out to be 6:11 and some seconds.  A little slower than either of my previous two efforts at San Diego (though not by a lot) but in both of those races I had a watch and a race plan and a pace and I was working hard to hit a goal time. I Gump’d this race and just went out to enjoy it…which I did, very much.  If I want to go faster in my next race the formula is no great mystery:
    • 1. I need to drop about 15 pounds or so.  I’m a little soft right now and carrying the extra weight is NOT helping.
    • 2. I need to do a better job of my training, especially on long runs.  I felt pretty good (and was on a decent pace) for the first half – especially considering the slog up the freeway from 8-10.  But I just didn’t have the legs to push much of a pace from miles 17 to 25.
    • I really think that if I’d come into this race at my Ironman Texas race weight and with a few more 15-20 mile runs in my recent training that I could have easily cut 30 minutes off my time without a lot of effort.
  • Carrie did great. Even though she barely trained she finished within a minute or two of her Sedona Half-Marathon time and did so without really jogging any of it.  “After doing a marathon a half-marathon seems a lot easier” she commented afterwards.  Yep.
  • I never really felt great in this race but I never really felt awful either. Right from the start I felt a little heavy/sluggish and my shoulder got progressively more sore throughout the day (though never really agonizing).  For a fair bit of the race I had on-again/off-again pains in either knee – something I’ve had very little of since changing my stride to more of a mid-foot strike. I attribute the extra knee pain to the extra weight I’m carrying right now.  None of those injuries slowed me too much and a DNF was never a question.  That said I did take 3 Aleve throughout the day…which undoubtedly helped.
  • Aid stations are reasonably plentiful on the course, though I did find myself wishing that they had Gatorade at all of them instead of just every other.
  • The bands along the course were pretty good – though as usual late in the race it was getting late in the day and the stages were often either empty or just playing recorded music. Didn’t matter too much to me, I’d brought headphones and was listening to Pandora between stages.
  • The day after the race Carrie and I spent the day at Sea World.  Part of our race entry was free admission to Sea World so we took advantage. It was a fun day, we got to pet the dolphins, and saw a lot of neat shows.  Neither of us had been to Sea World in probably two decades and it’s changed a lot since my last visit certainly.  Unfortunately my still-injured shoulder kept me off the roller coasters.
  • Carrie and I have already been talking about our next race.  Maybe the half-marathon in Las Vegas on December 2nd, though the entry fee is pretty steep for a half-marathon. I’d like to do the full marathon but the time limit is 4:30 and I’d really have to train hard and race hard to have any chance to get close to that.  I just don’t think I want to work that hard right now.  The race after that would certainly be P.F. Chang’s Marathon (and half for Carrie) in Phoenix in January.
  • We’ve talked about returning to do San Diego again next year. The one thing that’s giving me pause about that idea is all of the driving.  It was 7 hours or so to L.A. Then four down to San Diego.  Then 8-1/2 probably to get from San Diego back up to Flagstaff. Good thing we spread it out over 4-5 days but even so that was a lot of time in the car.  We might consider driving down to Phoenix and flying to SD from there…that might not be much faster or cheaper but at least it might cut our driving down to a more manageable 5 hours instead of 20.
  • I’d forgotten how much I like Souplantation.  Wish we had one in Flagstaff.
  • I’ve already resumed running a bit and getting back to the gym.  The running is to recover my legs and shed a few pounds; the gym is to try and rehab my shoulder. Looking ahead, even though at this point I don’t plan to wear a watch in my next race either, I would like to be in a little better shape for the next race.  I’d like to be a little more comfortable in the later miles and maybe finish while more of the food is still at the finish line. Smile
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San Diego Marathon This Sunday

On Thursday Carrie and I are going to head out to San Diego, with a too-brief stop in L.A. to visit my parents. (Hi Mom!)  The headline of the trip is the San Diego Marathon next Sunday. I’m going to do the full while Carrie does the half and I’ve decided I’m going to do something I’ve never done in a race before…

…I’m not going to wear a watch.  Yep, I’m going to run entirely on feeling.

It’s interesting how your approach to races changes when you’re A) Sure you can finish and B) Not really concerned with your time.  Other than being aware of not going out too hard at the start I really don’t care what my pace is.  If I feel good and I’m having fun I’ll run hard.  If I want to slow down, I will. If I feel like walking a bit, I will.  Maybe I’ll stop and take a photo or three along the way. The finish time will be whatever it is.  Could be 5. Could be 7.

Either way, it’ll be fun!

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Running Is Like a Box of Chocolates

I Forrest-Gumped the L.A. Marathon last weekend.  Not exactly in a “Run Forrest Run!” kinda way more like in a “When I felt like running, I ran. When I felt like walking, I walked. When I had to go….well…I went.” sort of way.

Let me explain…

Last year I did L.A. Marathon.  Despite coming off an illness I wasn’t in bad shape, tuning up for Ironman Texas, and had high hopes for not only a new personal record (PR) but I planned to destroy my old PR. L.A. Marathon is a generally fast course, I was in shape, motivated, ready.

But mother nature had other plans.

The first 4 miles last year went very well. Other than an unplanned porta-potty stop that cost me some time I was running pretty well. Then around mile 4 the skies opened up. As one friend described it…it started off torrential and escalated to biblical.  For the next 22.2 miles it got steadily worse. Cold. Wet. Pouring rain. Ankle-deep water in some places. You’ve heard the story.

Despite the weather I really liked the course so I wanted to give it another go. At my first opportunity I signed up for the 2012 L.A. Marathon. I figured in good weather I’d finally be able to rip off a fast (for me) race.

Last May I did Ironman Texas.  In November I did Ironman Arizona. Somewhere between those two my enthusiasm for endurance sport decided to try a new training method by walking a mile every day…by September I had no idea where it was.

The winter didn’t bring much improvement and by a month before L.A. Marathon I realized that there was no way I was going to race it.  I just wasn’t in shape for that. At that point I decided I’d just Gump it.  I debated whether I’d even bother wearing a watch (Ultimately I did, but never calculated my pace).  Run for fun, enjoy it, take in the sights, thank the volunteers…and, BONUS, my girl was going to do her first marathon that day too!

Déjà vu

In the days before the race I was checking the weather forecast, like ya do, and saw something that sent a chill down my spine and an unpleasant word out of my mouth: Rain. In fact the forecast called for rain in L.A. all weekend. Not again!

I checked it again every day as the race got closer and every day the same…rain forecast for the weekend. Sad Ben.

Travellin’ Man (and Woman)

So the first issue we had to deal with was how to get to the race – or more to the point – how to get home.  Unfortunately the race is held on a Sunday and even more unfortunately Carrie had to teach the next morning. If she was teaching at USC that wouldn’t have been a problem but since she teaches at Northern Arizona University…it meant we were going to have to head for home directly after the race.

That would be bad enough on a plane but since we were driving to and from the race it meant a 7-hour car ride immediately after finishing a marathon. Hmm. O.k., I’ve done Ironman I can do this.

But mother nature again had other ideas…as the days went on the forecasts were calling for a pretty big snowstorm to arrive in Northern Arizona…just before we were supposed to. We were starting to worry about if we’d be able to get home at all on Sunday. Contingencies like “Stopping at a hotel in Kingman Sunday night then pressing on very early Monday morning and hoping the roads are open” came into play.

The drive to L.A. was uneventful enough – other than having to pass my beloved In-n-Out Burger because I wasn’t going to eat that in the days before a race.

The Lead Up

Thursday night we got into L.A. and met friends for dinner at Buca Di Beppo – a little nice pasta and a bit of a reunion. My high school buddy Jeff Holt joined us for dinner.  He was taller, far more more athletic and handsome than I was in high school and…I’m chagrined to report…he still is.  Nice guy anyhow and it was good to see him.

Friday we went to the expo at Dodger Stadium – a rare outdoor expo – and we got there just ahead of the weather. L.A. has a pretty good expo. Packet pickup is painless and quick and they have quite a few booths.  Not sure the people who went on Saturday felt that way though as the promised rain storm arrived and dumped all over the city.

In the car on Saturday one radio news weather guy said of Sunday’s Marathon that it was going to be “Cold, wet and generally unpleasant for everybody.”  Great.

E-mails started to arrive from the race organizers detailing their cold/wet contingency plans. Warming buses, heat blankets, towels for drying off. All signs were point to a repeat of the year before.

There was one bit of good news though…the anticipated winter storm had in fact started to arrive in Flagstaff and Northern Arizona University, knowing that faculty and students would be returning from Spring Break, wisely decided to cancel classes for Monday so that people wouldn’t be trying to rush back to Flagstaff in the middle of a dangerous winter storm. Smart move. And it meant we didn’t have to drive back Sunday night.  Carrie’s next classes wouldn’t be until Wednesday so though we’d like to try and get back sometime Monday, we could hold out until Tuesday if we had to.

Race Morning

Woke up on the morning of the race, got dressed and gathered our stuff. We opted to take the freeways to our reserved parking at the finish line in Santa Monica rather than the canyon route. Bad weather makes the canyon route unpredictable (and a little treacherous) so even though the freeways were a bit more circuitous (and not as scenic) they were safer and probably faster.

So far, no rain.

Got the car parked, found a porta-potty and our shuttle bus. The ride to Dodger Stadium was interesting in two respects:

1. No rain (so far)

2. When we got off the freeway near Dodger Stadium the bus we were following apparently had no idea how to actually get to Dodger Stadium.  We got a nice tour of the surrounding neighborhoods and one false alarm when we tried to enter Dodger Stadium through the wrong gate. Eventually…we got there.

Where’s Vin?

I’ve said before…L.A. Marathon has one of the nicest pre-race waiting facilities around. Dodger Stadium is open for us and we can plop ourselves down in some prime seats on the 3rd base side of home plate!  Comfortable, covered, and the stadium restrooms are open too!

TIP: (Just for you fellas, sorry ladies) The lines for the stadium restrooms look epic. But in the Men’s Room the lines are ONLY for the stalls.  If you just need a urinal walk right past the line and on into the bathroom. Every bathroom I went into had dozens of unoccupied urinals waiting to be used. We tried to pass word down the line that guys who only needed a urinal should head on in but still…I’m sure many waited in line needlessly.

At 7AM we all started to make our way out to the parking lot where the race start was.  The skies were grey and overcast but so far…no rain.  I wasn’t getting too excited though – that’s exactly how it started last year too and 4 miles later we were drenched.

TIP: (for everybody, this time) When you exit the stadium the start line queue is directly in front of you. The pods to drop off your gear bags are to the right and beyond those pods are rows of porta-potties.  At 7:15AM there are NO lines for those portas. You’ll be able to walk over, and walk right into one no problem and no waiting.

They sang the National Anthem (quite well) and at 7:24 we were off! Well…that’s not exactly true. At 7:24AM the gun went off, Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” started blaring through the speakers and we moved forward several inches.  It turns out that “I Love L.A.” is about a 3 minute song. I know this because about 3 minutes after it started, it finished…and started again. We, on the other hand, really hadn’t started yet…still waiting for the crowd to move.

We actually got to hear “I Love L.A.” no fewer than FIVE times before we finally were able to make our move to the starting line.

And Away We Go!

I kissed my girl one last time and took off running.  For the next 23 miles I Gump’d it.  When I felt like running, I ran. Sometimes I ran pretty fast. Other times I ran pretty slow. Occasionally I walked (mostly at aid stations). If I felt like stopping at a porta potty, I did. Otherwise it was basically just one big fartlek run for me.

Seen on the Course: A sign that read “Who Fartlek’d?”

And I was having a grand time!  I chatted with other runners, thanked lots of volunteers, looked at the trees, looked at the buildings, listened to the bands and music, high-fived lots of little kids.

My nutrition plan was working pretty well, I was taking in fluids at the aid stations and I was basically cruising. I could feel my lack of training in my legs, but since I wasn’t pushing too hard it was fine.  I came through the halfway mark in just over 3 hours. I was vaguely disappointed in that, had thought I might be a little faster, but my liberal use of the porta-potties along the way and lack of a definite pacing plan had taken its toll.

Turns out I was fine with that.

Hollywood Blvd. Sunset Boulevard. The course was a tad hillier than I remembered it being but still….through Beverly Hills, enjoying the crowds, through Century City and feeling more comfortable than last year. Best of all…not a drop of rain.

Through the VA Hospital grounds and still feeling pretty good I settled in for the last 10K on the long residential street down to Ocean Blvd. My plan of just doing what I wanted and having fun was working well. At mile 23 I decided that what would be really fun would be finishing with my girl. So…

…I stopped.  Just stepped off the course onto the grassy median, and turned into a spectator for a while. I had the tracking on my phone to tell me that she’d passed the 30K mark about 15 minutes before that so I figured I had an hour or so to wait. No problem. I chatted with some spectators, cheered on passing runners and anxiously scanned the crowd for pretty girls in purple shirts with beige visors on.

And then right about when I expected her…there she was!  Walking along at a nice clip with another lady (whose name was Bryn I learned). I ran out to greet her and took up pace right alongside. She seemed happy to see me.

WHOOSH!

We never did get a drop of rain but at some point in that last hour or so the winds came up so fiercely that the course marshals had to start dismantling some of the mile arches. In fact the arch for mile 24 blew down (pulling several 50 gallon water barrels with it) right in front of us. 20 seconds later and it would have come down on our heads.  We opted to go around it while course officials ran into the street and tried to wrestle it under control.

Bryn eventually excused herself and went on to finish and my girl and I did the last 5K of the race together, holding hands most of the way.

Our final time was 7:52 something I thinkCorrection: My beautiful wife has informed me that our actual time was 7:37:51.  The slowest marathon I’ve ever done as it turns out. And also one of the most enjoyable.

It was Carrie’s first marathon and though she said she prefers half-marathons she hasn’t ruled out maybe doing another one some day. She really did great and I’m so proud of her!

Last notes….

  • As always thanks to the many folks who offered support and encouragement including:
    • Jay, Lisa and their kids
    • Lora who looked after our kittens while we were away
    • Jana
    • Jeff
  • Thanks to my parents for their wonderful hospitality as always!
  • L.A. was my 14th marathon (not counting the two Ironmans). I don’t think it will be my last.
  • Yes, as is the tradition, we did get In-n-Out Burger after the race.
  • Jeff crushed it…finishing in 4-low.  Nice!
  • Yes, I’m back to running and training a bit more consistently now. Actually giving some thought to what my next race might be…
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O.K. L.A. Let’s Do It Again

Back in L.A. to give the L.A. Marathon another shot. And…like last year, somebody it looks like it could be a wet one.

Well, as they say around here, “Take 2″

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