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.


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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