San Diego Marathon: Been There, Run That

O.K., Marathon #6 is finally in the books – barely.  It was the Rock ‘N Roll Marathon and I had my MP3 player loaded with my best running songs.  I’ll be interspersing some lyrics from the songs I listened to during this race into this entry as appropriate. 

Those of you who read my blog regularly…o.k., both of you who read my blog regularly know that I’ve been battling with a cold that has knocked my training completely off track and has left me with a persistent cough that has ranged from annoying to debilitating.  Well in San Diego, as expected, both of those issues came into play.  In fact at some point during this run each of the health issues that has plagued me in the past made an appearance, however briefly.  Hamstrings, calves, knees, back, hip flexor…all stopped by to say "hello" at some point.  In the first half the calves were the bigger problem – in the second half the knees.  But all the way thru the real story was the lungs.  More on that later.

Good Morning!

My 0410 wake-up call came way too early, which is to say it came at 4:10AM.  I managed to shake off the grogginess, eventually, get dressed and get my gear together.  We were on the road by 0445.  Good thing too as we got to the 5 freeway and found ourselves at the tail end of a MASSIVE traffic jam trying to get to the parking area.  The last shuttle to the start line was supposed to leave at 0600 which didn’t seem like any big deal…until 0545 came and we were still staring at the back of the same pickup truck.

"I’m through with standing in line at clubs I’ll never get in
it’s like the bottom of the 9th and I’m never gonna win
this life hasn’t turned out quite the way I want it to be."

Luckily we just barely got into the "Adjacent Lot" and parked in time for me to make a trolley over to the start.  The trolley ride was uneventful; to my left two guys were quipping with each other about this being a "2 hour run" and wondering if they might be too fast for the chip timers to register.  Funny, they didn’t look Kenyan. 🙂

Gentlemen (and ladies) Start Your Engines!

The timing actually worked out just about perfectly.  I got into my corral 5 minutes before the starting gun, which was fine by me.  Temperatures were good; it was nice and cool and overcast at the start; just like last year.  Much like last year I never heard a starting gun, the crowd just started surging forward at the appointed time and away we went.  Crossing the starting line I felt that familiar joy of being out on the course with 22,000 of my friends.

It was pretty apparent, early, however that this was not going to be a fast day for me.  The big problem, as expected, my lungs.  I wasn’t coughing much, but right from the start I couldn’t really take a deep breath.  I could feel the congestion and constriction.  That lasted for the next 26.2 miles.  It was pretty discouraging to have my breathing be a little labored and measured right from the outset.  It’s especially contrary to how I run.  As anybody who has ever run with me can attest, I tend to be extremely conversational when I run.  My breathing is usually comfortable enough that I can talk the whole way (and sometimes I do; much to their dismay).  Not today.  Today just getting good air required a lot of my attention so unnecessary conversation was mostly out of the question.

Seen on the Course:  A surprising number of mobile phones.  Not just folks approaching the finish calling loved ones to announce their imminent arrival; but runners in mid-race apparently having actual conversations on their mobile phone. 

The First Half

All in all, however, I was o.k. with my first half.  I turned in a respectable (for me) 2:45 through the first 13.1, which is not THAT far behind my L.A. pace.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain though, since it was a struggle between the breathing and the tightness in my calves (my near lack of training over the last few weeks catching up to me).

"Forgetting all I’m lacking, completely incomplete, I’ll take your invitation, you take all of me."

Seen on the Course: Two young ladies in nearly matching tank tops running together.  On the back of the girl on the left it said "This was her idea." followed by an arrow pointing to the girl on the right.

The first few miles of this course winds thru downtown San Diego and though it’s hillier than it appears it’s really a fairly pleasant way to start.  The bands are plentiful and energetic and the crowd energy is great.  I was a little surprised when we got down around Petco Park that the Padre’s mascot was nowhere to be found this year.  Maybe the Padres are on the road?


Seen on the Course: There are quite a few Porta-potties at various intervals, including the start.  One smart move I made…as the crowd surged forward to start, but BEFORE I crossed the mat at the start, I ducked out of the corrals to the now empty Porta-potties in the starting area.  I knew I was going to have to go anyhow, and this way I got it out of the way without having to wait in line and without it counting against my chip time.  Despite the numerous Porta-potties at various points along the route there were still quite a few folks just ducking into bushes and alleyways.  Not quite as obvious as last year but still.  One lady picked a fairly public spot to drop trow and was perhaps a little embarrassed to look up and realize that she was essentially squatting behind a dandelion in almost full view of the thousands of passing runners.


"Working so hard to make it easy."
-Van Halen-

The sun got out on us a lot earlier this year than last – by mile 8 or so we were bathed in sunlight, but thankfully the temperatures stayed cool and a cool breeze was with us nearly the entire race.

Around the 13 mile mark there were a couple of folks with huge pouches handing out individually wrapped Aleve – clearly a manufacturer’s promotion.  I had intended to just take 1, but the young lady shoved four into my hands.  Boy am I glad she did.  I took one almost immediately.  A second a couple of miles later.  A third a few miles after that.

As I approached the half-marathon mark the thought entered my brain, briefly, that I could just pull into the Half-Marathon finish and call it a day.  My breathing was still difficult, my calves were tight and painful, I’d gotten a glimpse at the knee pain awaiting me in the future miles and it was clear that today would not be a PR.  But as I approached the Half-Marathon finish I glanced over at it and said under my breath as I passed "Yeah, that’s not happening."  I was pretty _IGP3526determined to finish the full 26.2.

"I’ll try to do it right this time around, it’s not over, cause a part of me is dead and in the ground."

The Second Half

Pressing on into the second half of the race the Aleve started to kick in which helped quite a bit.  Though at mile 12 I was really unsure of how far I’d actually be able to run today, by mile 15 I was settling nicely into my rhythm and making steady, if slow, progress.


One thing I really noticed on the course was that the bands were more present this year.  I don’t know about there being "45" of them – but last year it seemed like by the time I arrived a number of the bands later in the course had packed up and their stages were manned just by DJ’s spinning CDs of music.  This year nearly every band had a live band on it, actually playing.  (I could have lived without the rap group around mile 2, but hey…)  Also the cheerleaders were a lot more apparent this year – high school groups all I think.  Last year I saw only a handful of cheerleader groups and most of them weren’t doing much cheering.  This year there were a LOT of them and they were almost all in full cheer, often at impressive volume, as we went by.


"I’m living for the only thing I know,
I’m running and not quite sure where to go,
I don’t know what I’m diving into,
just hanging by a moment here with you.

One area this year didn’t seem to do as well at, though, was aid stations.  They were plentiful enough, and there was Accelerade at nearly all of them, but often they seemed to be short of volunteers and so some aid stations turned into self-service affairs as the scrambling, but outnumbered, volunteers couldn’t keep up with the demand.  Some of the aid stations were themed: Hawaii, Margaritaville, Pharohs and Egypt, Elvis/50s.  That seemed to add an element of fun for the volunteers.

Seen on the Course:  A large contingent of running Elvi (Elvises?) again this year.  It looks like fun, and I would have considered doing it, but to be honest I just didn’t have the enthusiasm for such shenanigans this year.  Maybe next time.

You Have To Respect the Distance

Though I’ve become increasingly comfortable with 26.2 there were reminders on Sunday of how much of a toll it can take.  From mile 20 on I increasingly saw fellow runners who were exhausted, dehydrated, suffering from blisters and other discomforts.  At mile 25 I saw a woman sitting on the curb who looked like she was dehydrated – I detoured to the side of the course a short ways ahead to flag down a police officer and ask him if he could have somebody check on _IGP3531her. 

On the one hand it was really good to discover that even on one of my worst race days as far as health/training I can still cover the distance and walk away from it.  On the other, it was a sobering reminder that 26.2 is not to be trifled with.  If you’re going to do a marathon, take it seriously, eat, drink and train properly, and respect the distance.

Finishing the Race

By mile 18 I knew that a PR (5:25) was out of the question today.  By mile 21 I knew I had almost no chance at a San Diego best time (5:46).

Play That Funky Music White Boy: My hopes to have "My Hero" by Foo Fighters playing on my MP3 player as I hit the finish line was foiled…the battery in my MP3 player died at Mile 25.

"Don’t the best of them bleed it out
While the rest of them peter out"

  -Foo Fighters-

Crowd support on this race was great.  Nearly every house had signs on the balconies or residents in lawn chairs on the yard cheering for the passers-by.  There were a number of informal aid stations.  Not as many as L.A. but still – the oranges on Denver Street were a welcome relief. The Team-in-Training folks were out in force again, a sea of purple.  At two points along the course they had their own cheerleaders as well – a group of big, oft-bearded, men dressed as outrageous cheerleaders in short skirts, with wigs on and giant balloon "breasts" under their tops.  They jumped and cheered and had a great time – as did the rest of us.

Speaking of cheerleaders…one thing that really helped keep my spirits up was that M kept popping up at various points on the course. I think I saw her at least 4 or 5 times during the race.  She was taking the trolley to stay ahead of me and I never knew around which turn her smiling face might appear.  It’s fun to have a cheering section and she held aloft a big sign that read, appropriately enough, "Breathe Ben Breathe!"  _IGP3578

So I tried to.  I also tried to have a good time out there, which really wasn’t as hard as it sounds.  I high-fived every kid (and even most of the adults) who held out their hand.  I encouraged my fellow athletes whenever I could.  I thanked every aid station worker who handed me water or Accelerade.  Around Mile 21 I came across a fellow who was clearly hobbling and in some pain.  I had the extra Aleve in my pocket so I offered it to him; which he gratefully accepted.  I didn’t see him after that, but hopefully it took the edge off and helped him finish.  All in all I tried to stay positive, enjoy the day, enjoy my fellow runners, and not worry about the fact that this race was going to be slow.  It was still a great event and something I’m glad I did.

Seen on the Course:  As I passed one of the Medical Aid tents the workers, having no customers at that moment, said "Hi" to me as I trudged past.  "I don’t need medical aid." I quipped "I need psychological aid.  But I think it’s 19 miles too late for that."  They laughed.

My final time was a not-great 5:59 (watch time, not gun time), but all things considered I feel great to have finished and to have actually felt fairly strong at the end.  As promised I finished with one hand triumphantly in the air and ready to start thinking about Maui on September 14th.

"Can’t stop the spirits when they need you
this life is more than just a read-thru."
-Red Hot Chili Peppers-

Will I do it next year?  Probably not.  For a few reasons.  First I’d like some variety.  I’ve done San Diego twice now – if I do a June marathon next year I think I might like to try someplace else.  Maybe one of the European marathons; have to check the schedule.  Secondly I’m hoping to do the Kona 70.3 Ironman next year – and that was on May 31st this year so it would likely conflict with this marathon next year.  Third…I’m not crazy about the San Diego course.  It looks fine, scenic enough, great weather, good crowd and good organization…but it’s a surprisingly tough course because of the nature of the terrain.  Lots of concrete freeway on and off ramps and such and the road surfaces are often cambered or crowned pretty severely.  Imaging trying to run on a surface that is inclined 10 degrees or more to the side.  Not just for a few steps but for a mile or more.  It’s really tough on your ankles, knees, back and hips – this course sort of beats you up more than the other marathons I’ve done._IGP3595

The finish area is really well done at San Diego with the one minor complaint that there’s no shade to speak of.  The photos and chip removal are smooth and efficient.  The water, fruit and goodies tables are lined up nicely, staffed with friendly folks and VERY plentiful.  Almost TOO plentiful, in fact.  By the time I got to the end of the row I had so many granola bars, bananas, bagels, fruit cups and such that I didn’t have enough pockets or hands to hold them all.  They need to give you a bag or a basket or something.

She Runs Like a Girl (try to keep up): Beth really brought it on Sunday breaking off a sweet 3:41 effort and Boston Qualifying!  Attagirl Beth!  Joe ran a very strong 4:22 himself.

"What have you done today, to make you feel proud?"
-Sarah White-

I guess I’m a slow learner.  Having parked in the "adjacent" lot again, we discovered the trolley lines were epically long so we decided to just walk it.  Again.  Somehow the walk seemed a little shorter this year, but it was still a pretty long trek from the finish area to the car.  It was great to finally find it and be on our way.

Final Thoughts and Acknowledgements

  • I wonder if there’s something about San Diego that causes problems with satellites.  Emma was really struggling to navigate us around San Diego; she often seemed lost or confused about our position and required frequent resets.  She was fine in L.A.
  • The post-race concert on Sunday night was sort of fun.  Pat Benatar sounded great, she hasn’t lost a step, and her band was rocking.  Unfortunately it was an outdoor venue and a little chilly.  I’d neglected to bring a jacket and was wearing flip-flops so I was shivering before her 3rd song.  Secondly it was a "concerts on the lawn" sort of affair which meant…no chairs.  With thousands of people who ran a marathon that morning making us sit on (and more importantly get up off of) the ground seems like a bad decision.
  • San Diego is like L.A.: no finisher’s t-shirt.  There’s a shirt they give you at the Expo, but everybody who registers gets one; no finishers shirt.  There is a finisher’s medal which is nice, though.
  • To answer the inevitable, but silly, question…of COURSE I went to In-N-Out Burger immediately after the race. 
  • All of the pics you see in this post are from Maureen.  I have some in my cameras (yes, plural) too but won’t be able to upload them until Tuesday night or Wednesday at the earliest.  If any are worth sharing I’ll do a post and upload them.
  • A few big thank yous I need to send out:
    • Mom and Dad, for your great hospitality as always
    • Nickelback, Van Halen, Incubus, the Foo Fighters, the Pet Shop Boys, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and others for getting me thru this race.
    • Patricia, Sue-Baby, Ox-bunny, Jana, Brian and others for sending along well-wishes and congratulations; thanks for your support!
    • The biggest of them all…to Maureen who gave up her weekend to come down to San Diego and hang out with me, was a terrific support crew in helping me get stuff together, great company out and about and hustled her buns off just to cheer, photograph and wave her sign at me as I lumbered by.  You ROCK.





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