Palomar – felt just like a half marathon!

25 Feb

“So what is your objective for climbing up Palomar today?” Rick asked me.

 

“I’m going to try and improve my PR by 10 minutes,” I said jokingly, “Seriously all I am here is for the camaraderie. I’ll just stick with you and then if I feel good around halfway up I’ll go a bit harder”

 

Palomar mountain is our local hors de categorie climb, it is around 12 miles and takes around an hour to climb. In 2012, after I had been riding a road bike for a year I was invited by some of my friends from the local Tuesday/Thursday ride to go up Palomar mountain. I had come to riding from a running background where I enjoyed climbing. Going up Palomar with that group of around 15 I wasn’t able to keep up with them. It was a long lonely climb and as I approached the top I saw the group heading back to the bottom where they would wait for me.

 

After what seemed like forever I reached the peak and turned around to descend the mountain. Descending a mountain on a bicycle is an exciting experience particularly when you have the protective bubble around you that comes from inexperience. I descended quickly as I wanted to catch the group. I went around a right corner then a left corner and then rode straight into a guard rail at about 30MPH. My front wheel took most of the force and I instinctively put my helmet forward to stop my forward motion and cracked it on the guard rail. My first ride up Palomar ended with me being driven home in a good samaritan’s car.

 

I’ve ridden thousands of miles since 2012 and epic rides which are much harder than Palomar. I have improved my bike handling skills, my ascending and descending and gotten fitter and faster. Despite my improvement, every time  my friends suggested a trip up Palomar mountain, I had an excuse not to go. Finally in January 2015, my friend Juan wanted to go up Palomar mountain and I rode with him and a small group which thankfully ended my Palomar phobia.

 

I discovered that the Palomar ride is very scenic. The climb is tree-lined and it is a constant effort. The temperatures during the San Diego spring are perfect as it is in the 40s on the climb and in the 50s on the descents.

 

This particular Saturday in February, I invited my friends from my Wolfpack Cycling Club to join me for 3rd time up Palomar. We had 8 people show up. Dan who climbs around 1,000,000 feet a year and his wife Jackie, Eric and Renee, another climbing couple, Travis the mountain biker and his friend Rob. And then finally my main man Rick who I ride with at least once a week.

 

We started the ride from Wohlford Dog park and rode to Palomar at a mellow pace that kept everyone together.

 

On our last Palomar ride Rick dropped me halfway up and beat me by about 5 minutes. Today Rick’s plan was to try and improve his performance by around 5%. After about 5 minutes of climbing, we had DC up the road followed by Rick and I with Renee (Eric’s girlfriend) giving chase. The balance of the group was spread out behind us. Unbeknownst to us Travis had a flat tire and Eric stopped to help him out.

 

About 15 minutes in I decided to go at my own pace and slowly accelerated past Rick and 2 or 3 times Rick caught back up to me and then I would accelerate again. Rick didn’t bother to try and hold my wheel as he was riding at a constant effort as measured by his power meter. Just after the halfway point I pulled away from Rick then all of a sudden I looked back and couldn’t see him behind me.

 

I decided to try and catch Dan who was ahead of us. Since I don’t ride with a powermeter I tried to maintain the same level of discomfort. As soon as the gradient eased I would feel that I could spin easier and I would change up a gear and do the reverse when the gradient went higher.

 

After a few minutes I caught up to Dan. Dan’s climbing style is the complete opposite of Ricks. He spins at a high cadence and would ride hard for 3 to 5 minutes then back off for 30 seconds. Then ride hard again. Each time he did that he pulled away from me. And then when he backed off I would catch up to him again and actually pass him. Each time I passed Dan, he said, “Good job”. Once he tried to have a conversation about our families, and I said Dan, not now!

 

Riding with Dan was great as I ride much better when there is someone next to or around me. The miles ticked down and we approached the top of the climb. As we got down to 2 miles to go to the top I continued to push just a little harder. With the end in sight accelerated away from Dan ultimately beat him by about a bike length. I celebrated the “win” as that was my first time to ever be first up Palomar! Ultimately I improved my time up Palomar by almost 9 minutes! Dan also had a personal record (“PR”) with his effort.

 

Rick came through about 30 seconds later and congratulated me. He had improved his time by around 2 minutes! I rode back down to get the last cyclists up (Travis and Eric) and rode with them to the top. It was a great ride and I look forward to doing it again in March when Rick says we need to improve again!

 

Surprise!

9 Feb

I had spent the first 10 minutes of the San Dieguito half marathon looking for Susan and her friends among the 1,500 or so participants in the Half Marathon. I knew Susan planned to run with the 1 hour 50 min pace-setter so I had looked for the pace-setter at the start of the race, however my plan to find her was foiled because there was no 1 hour 50 min group! I quickly changed tack and decided to start the race in the back (around the 2 hour pace-setter) and then overtake everyone by running on the side-walk on the right until I saw her. As I looked for her I started to get worried because I was passing so many people and I had to focus on not falling on the side-walk while looking for her in the throng of people. I was very happy when I spotted Susan wearing her Kenyan bandana as I approached the 1.45 pace setter.

I was 75% sure Susan had figured out my surprise so I expected her to not be surprised when she saw me. She looked at me very confused as I said, SURPRISE!

Susan’s first question was, “Where are the kids?”

Our babysitter, Lamunu (name changed to an Acholi name!) was crucial to this surprise. About a month ago when I hatched my plan to surprise Susan by showing up to run the San Dieguito half marathon with her, I realized that I couldn’t do it without our 16 year old babysitter coming to our house at 610am on a Sunday morning. She has a pretty good social life so I knew that a) this would be a sacrifice for her and b) even if she committed to coming there was a lot of risk that she’d either forget or not be in a state that would allow her to be there. Not only did Lamunu say yes to coming those 4 weeks ago, she confirmed during the week AND she showed up exactly on time at 610am. She still had mascara on her face from the prior night’s activities and actually apologized for the mascara. I was like thank you so much for being here!

After Lamunu committed, I knew I had to start training to run the 13 mile race with Susan. Typically I prepare for a half marathon by doing lots of hilly work for about 1 to 2 months then I do interval work for 1 to 2 months for a total of about 3 months of prep. In this instance I had 3 weeks to go from running around 5 to 10 miles a week to being able to run a half marathon. I took the immersion approach to training and I ran home twice (8 to 9 mile runs) in my first week and I told Susan, which is true, that I was doing long runs home because they are much more efficient for me than running ~5 miles at lunch. In my second week I did a good 9 mile lunch run on Monday but then I was physically incapable of doing my Wednesday long or short run because I was so tired so I got in only 1 run that week! My third week was the week before the race so I knew I couldn’t do a lot of volume and I ran a short 2 miler on the Monday of race week. I didn’t explain to Susan why I ran so little during race week and she didn’t ask! She knew I was tired the previous week and assumed I was being smart and recovering.

At this point I figured it was safe to register which I did. A couple days later I received an email from the race organizers which had a PDF document with my bib #. The issue with the PDF document was that it had all the racers by order of last name and it had Kenneth LABEJA right next to Susan LABEJA. The concern was Susan was going to receive the same document AND look for her bib #, probably find me spoiling the surprise! I had a couple choices a) delete the email from Susan’s inbox b) rely on the inherent trust and laziness of human beings. I decided to go with (b) and I told Susan I had checked the race website and I found her bib # 376. I sent her a calendar invite with this information that included her bib information AND where we would pick it up. She therefore never bothered to open the PDF and she trusted I had all the correct information.

The bibs were going to be picked up at a store in San Diego, about 23 miles or 30 minutes from our house. They were only available between 1pm and 4pm on Saturday before the race so there was no way I could sneakily go there on my own. We made a family trip of it, like we do with all our weekend stuff, and I drove. As we got into the parking lot that was FULL, I pulled a Labeja and said, honey-bun I need to pee can you please park the car and I’ll meet you inside? Susan said yes since she knows I have the smallest bladder on the planet. I quickly went inside, peed (haha I really needed to go) and then quickly signed my waiver and picked up my bib that I then stuffed in my pocket. I then picked up my race t-shirt and then being a nice guy got Susan’s bib and t-shirt that I then put in a bag along with my race t-shirt. Susan said, oh you got a t-shirt too? And I said yeah. Susan assumed I charmed them into giving me a t-shirt.

On Saturday night Susan had a pre-race pot-luck dinner planned with her friends Ayat (yes another Acholi name) and Anying (one more Acholi name!) who were doing the race with her. Ayat cooked up lasagna and Anying cooked some pasta, Susan cooked up some ribs and quinoa salad and there were numerous desserts. Since no one knew I was racing I did my best to eat normally – I had a taste of the lasagna (my favorite Italian dish as my Mom used to make a great lasagna when we were kids – hint hint Mama!),  a couple of the ribs Susan cooked (they fall of the bone and their tastiness is legendary among those who’ve had Susan’s ribs) and 2 helpings of quinoa salad (Susan put this healthy tasty salad primarily for me and I love me some quiona). Ayat’s husband asked me what my plan was for the race and I said the parking sounded complicated. I said we would try to make it at the end but I suggested that Susan try and get home with Anying or Ayat.  Susan seemed a little forlorn at the prospect of not seeing us at the finish line.

Usually the kids have breakfast and get dressed with their mom. Since Lamunu our baby sitter was going to be there I had to put everything out for them. I told Susan that I wanted to get everything ready for the morning and I put the kids breakfast stuff out and I got the kids to pick out what they would wear. Susan thought I was just being organized as I’m usually that way about my own stuff (If I have a ride in the morning I will set up my breakfast at night and pick out what I’ll wear). Susan was going to leave at 5.50am and I had to leave shortly afterward, so I told Lamunu to get to our house at 610am. As we went to bed, I could picture myself surprising Susan at the start, hoping she would be happy and reminded myself constantly through the night DO NOT BE COACH LABEJA. Just let her run her own race!!!

Susan’s alarm went off at 530am and I went downstairs to make some tea for myself. Again weird since I should have been going back to bed but Susan just assumed I was just following my normal early morning routine. When Susan left I went in to check on the kids. I told the kids Lamunu was coming to baby sit them which they were excited to hear as they like playing with her and they didn’t mind missing the race. After Lamunu arrived at exactly 610am I was off to the race where I parked near the start and napped until 745am (race started at 800am).

45 minutes later I was running with Susan on what was a ridiculously flowing and nice descent. We were chatting and everyone was in a good mood. Susan’s target for the race was about 1.50 or a 8.24 pace. We ran our first couple mile at about an 8 min pace and I actually said we should probably slow just a little bit. Around mile 2 we turned up our first hill Granada which has about a 2 mile climb. Coach Labeja showed up at this point and said lets target a 9 min pace for this climb. Susan was running well and we held 9 to the top of Granada turned around and flew back down at around 8 which boded for an average of around 820 to 830 which meant we were on track. We turned right onto San Elijo which I knew was going to be where most runners would suffer. This was about 3 miles uphill at a slight gradient with false flats so you’d think you were almost done climbing but then had to climb some more. Coach Labeja said Susan let’s go for 900 once again which we did for the first half mile or so but then 900 became hard for her and we slowed down to 930. We got to the end of San Elijo then turned around to start the long descent. Since we’d lost time Coach Labeja said lets go for a 730 pace. Susan easily revved up her engines and we flew at 720 to 730 down the hill. We passed some people who had passed us on the climb.

The San Elijo downhill had its own false flats too with slight ascents. We hit one of those and I heard Susan moan and groan and hold her hips like she was getting a stitch. I thought oh..oh…and then on the second false flat she said I’m going too hard and I have to walk for a bit which she did. And then of course we came to the 2nd climb up Granada. If San Elijo was the suffer point, then the 2nd time up Granada was where I knew people would crack! I’ve ridden bikes with Susan enough times to know that when the going gets tough, I just have to let her figure it out so rather than run beside her, I dropped behind her and let her pick her own pace and fight her hill demons. She moaned, she groaned and thought about stopping but she made it all the way up at about a 10 min pace (versus about a 900 pace the first time). Somehow Coach Labeja managed to stay quiet the whole way up. Once we turned to go back down I alternated running next to her and running behind her. We were now in the last 3 miles, which I think are the toughest of a half marathon, especially for anyone (which includes Susan) on the Labeja low mileage high intensity training program.

My Garmin GPS watch was extremely low on battery but as we got the bottom of Granada and turned left with about 2 miles to go I realized that we could still make 1.50 if Susan could hold an 8.00 pace. So of course Coach Labeja told Susan to try for 8.00 for these last 2 miles. Susan valiantly ran at 8.00 for about a half mile, during which we passed 2 or 3 people, and then like a Prius running out of gas and then electricity, she came to a stop and said those words you don’t want to hear in a race: I cant! I’m cramping!!! Hubby Labeja said keep moving, walk if you have to. Susan moved and started running again. Now we were down to about a mile to go and she needed under 800 to get to 1.50 so I knew it would be tough especially since because the race started with a nice downhill it ended with a painful UPHILL. As we got down to the last mile there were lots of spectators with words of encouragement. Susan gritted it out and ran at about a 11 min pace which is very slow for her after running at 8.00 the entire race. Coach and Hubby Labeja merged and I kept telling her just focus on your form, no hands on hips, go as slow as you need to but keep going.

We got to the finish line and were being rushed through the finish chute as there were runners behind us. I put my hand on the small of her back to help her along and she smacked my hand away and I knew she was truly spent. Susan completed this hilly course in 1.53 pace of 8.37 (Strava time) versus her PR of 1.50 for a flat half marathon. I was very proud of Susan – she pushed herself extremely hard and after she recovered she was happy with her effort. She was happy I surprised her but it doesnt sound like she wants to do this hilly run anytime soon. Assuming I’m in shape and healthy, I plan to do this race competitively in 2016 and try and break 1.20. Hasta luego!

 

Oceanside Turkey Trot 2014. In the books!

2 Dec

Our Oceanside Turkey Trot started about 3 months ago. I asked a friend on Strava what he was doing for thanksgiving and he said he was running the 5 mile OTT and invited me to join. I looked it up and it met a few key requirements (a) proximity (b) nice distance (c) races for the kids to do

I asked Mrs. L and our conversation went something like this:

Mr. L: What do you think about us running the Oceanside Turkey Trot? It’s 5 miles and …

Mrs. L: Yes

Mr. L: There’s a kids race as well. Should…

Mrs. L: Yes

And thus we signed up our 7 year old son OL for the 1 mile kid’s race and our 5 year daughter WL for the 0.25 mile kids race and Mrs. L and I for the 5 mile.

Our training program went something like this. Tell me if you see a pattern.

The kids ride their bikes with Mrs. L to school every day and twice a week Mrs. L took them for a 1 mile run. On Sundays we do a family bike ride of about 5 to 7 miles.

Mrs. L does a 10 mile-ish ride about 4 days a week and a 15 to 20 mile ride on the weekends. She runs about a 4 to 5 mile run once or twice a week.

I ride every day and try and do 2 or 3 hard rides a week. I do an easy run on Mondays (somewhere between 5 and 10 miles depending on how I feel) and a really hard run on Wednesdays (usually 2 to 5 miles with one section where I run about a mile all out uphill on one of Carlsbad’s many 4 to 5% gradients).

We take breaks if the weather is bad, or have work meetings or travel (mostly affects me).

The Sunday before the race I took the kids for their one and only track workout. While I don’t like track workouts, this made sense because with the kids running different speeds I figured we could all get a good workout in and be together. We did 4 laps, basically walking the curve and sprinting the straight. Our 5 year old daughter WL had a 10 to 15 second head-start, followed by the 7 year old OL with the same head start on me and then I’d give chase. Surprisingly OL only caught WL once! And I caught them 3 or 4 times running all out! They got bored after the 4 laps and then we went and played hide and seek in the playground.

The last week of training was very difficult mentally for me. I always don’t feel like doing anything and then a day or 2 before the race, I get into fight or flight mode. We went to check out the course the day before it and I was surprised to see that at mile 3.5 we had to run up the Oceanside Pier which I knew would take the edge off. I walked the climb a couple times and while it was short, I decided I’d go up it slow and then try and get back to race pace after it. We also drove the entire course and I spotted 1 other mini climb at mile 2.75-ish.

On race day we got up at 5 am. Everything worked like clockwork, thanks to all the pre-planning and packing we did the night before and we were parked near the start of the race (scheduled for 7am) at about 6 am.

I’m going to talk about the races in reverse order starting with WL’s race.

WL is a strong runner. She has really powerful legs (looks like a miniature Venus Williams) and she always runs really fast with her brother as I discovered on our last training session. Her 0.25mile race was at about 11am and she jogged it with her mom at a comfortable 10.30/min mile and she seemed to have a good time. They were done in 2.38 or so. I think she could have easily been in the top 10 if she wanted to but she seemed to enjoy herself doing it at a relaxed pace.

OL is equally strong and is the opposite of his sister mentally. We scoped out his 1 mile race the day before the race and I told him multiple times to start slow and start running fast around the 0.25 mile mark then try and catch everyone.

I ran the actual race with him at about 10.30, and because the parents were asked to start at the back and I got to see him running well ahead of me on the boardwalk while I was on the street above. I chased him down at about a 7 min pace and caught him right before the finish. When he saw the finish line he sped up and dropped me which was the highlight of his race. He finished in an 8.36 mile which is his fastest ever.

Mrs. L and I ran the 5 mile race at 7 am. She ran it at a 7.45 pace and broke 40 minutes pretty convincingly. 8 years ago when I was an overworked investment banker, breaking 40 minutes on a 5 mile run was my goal so I think she did well.

Today my goal was to finish in the top 10. I set my watch to a target pace of 5.40 which based on my review of the prior year’s results would get me there. My pace on the Carlsbad 5k was 5.39 so I knew this was achievable as I felt like I had a bit left at the end of the 5k. Mrs. L and I did our Kenyan warm-up ahead of the race. Kenyan warm-up = coordinated warm-up stuff that we saw professional Kenyans doing before a 10k race in Jersey City, NJ. It’s very intimidating and we decided to intimidate the 10 people in the parking lot who saw us. After stretching too, I stripped off my warm stuff and went to the front of the start line where I met my friend Thomas and also met last year’s winner professional Kenyan runner Okwaro Raura. I had a minor panic at this point because my GPS watch took 3 minutes to find its signal but it did before the race.

When the gun went off, the lead guys took off at what was about a 4.45 pace. I started at what felt comfortable and then looked at my watch and as always realized I was running way too fast at about a 5.00 pace. I backed off to about 5.35 to 5.40 and a group of people passed me. By the time we hit the first turn at about 0.5 miles I had passed most of that group of people and I latched on to a group of 5 people including Thomas. We ran the first mile in 5.30 and Thomas said I’m backing off homie, I’ll see you later. We kept running as a foursome that included the first woman, a guy who looked about 5’3 in a green jersey who appeared to be pacing her as we ran, there was a guy in a red jersey who looked normal but was dressed in hardcore running garb and then yours truly. Around mile 2.0 red jersey seemed to be slowing and I told him to get behind me and he did and he stayed. The foursome became a threesome shortly afterward when we went up the first bump where I’d already planned to slow down which I did. They kept going at the same pace up the bump and gained about 10 to 15 seconds on me. I followed my strategy and kept them at that same distance. The threesome caught and passed a guy who looked really normal and was running in blue basketball-ish shorts and a white tee-shirt (note that everyone else was dressed like professional marathoners). I caught up to this guy just before the slight climb up the Oceanside Pier. He said good job to me and I said same to you.

Going up the Pier, I slowed again per plan and again the 3-some went up really quickly and I could see 5’3 green jersey go up it really fast and drop the group which splintered. Basketball shorts also didn’t slow and he went ahead of me. I came up the climb and now I was about 30 to 40 seconds behind the 3-some and about 10 to 20 seconds behind basketball shorts with about 1.5 miles to go. I looked at my watch and I was running a 6 min pace and I willed myself to go faster. I heard a beep, looked down and my watch said “On Pace” as I was back to 5.55 (the watch has a 15 second error range so 5.30 to 5.55 was considered on pace relative to my 5.40 target). We then had a right turn and a downhill and then about a mile run to back to the pier and finish. I looked for motivation to try and catch basketball shorts and discovered I either didn’t care about catching him or I was simply going all out at my 5.50 to 6.00 pace at this point. I looked back to see if anyone was chasing me and I couldn’t see anyone so I figured alright just try and hold it and finish. That last 0.5 mile was HARD but I was able to hold it an finished in a total time of 29.18 at a 5.41 pace. I was 10th overall!

HIIT

19 Nov

As we all know intervals are the home of speed.

I’ve been doing intervals every Wednesday in preparation for a 5 mile race on thanksgiving. So far so good. Every Wednesday I get up like clockwork, go out and get the Strava Course record on various segments from my neighbors.
I’ve found a few challenges as I’ve done this.
- Last year as I was getting ready for the Carlsbad Half Marathon, it took me 3 or 4 attempts to match up with the CR leader (Kraig W) on Faraday. That is a tough segment at 1.7 miles and a 2% av gradient with that kick in the middle. I ended up getting pretty scientific about it and had to figure out where to go all out, where to ease off, etc.
- This year it’s been cake. Until today. I ran Rancho Santa Fe from Calle Barcelona to La Costa. It’s a great segment for me as it’s only about a mile from my house (perfect warm-up) and the end of it is right by my house. It’s only 0.7 miles with a 5% gradient. No segment could be more perfect. Even better, the leader on the segment is local supertriathlete Karl B who ran it at a 6.12 pace.
Some references on the speed – My race pace on my last 5k was 5.39 and I’m going to try for that on the 5 mile race next week. So…I know I can do about 6.12 on a segment like this one.
When I started the segment I started off at about 6.00 on the flat part of the climb. About a third of the way I got to Sprouts and started the climb, I thought wow I’m gonna get friggin’ Karl because  my body was okay and I was holding a 6.10 to 6.15 pace as I climbed.
Then about halfway to a 3/4 of the way through the run, my body literally switched off and my pace dropped to ~8 minutes. It was tough mentally but I reset, recovered and then cranked it back up to finish the run. I probably did it in the high 6.00s to low 7.00s which set me up as second on the segment.
What do I takeaway from this last interval? => a great segment close to my house with another virtual dude to chase for my next race!

The 5000

30 Mar

Susan has run the Carlsbad 5,000 for 3 straight years. In 2012 she run it in 24.54 and in 2013 she ran it in 23.20

After running a personal best on the Carlsbad Half Marathon in January she had great fitness and was targeting a sub 22 minute pace in 2014!

Having trained for different events including the half marathon and long crazy bike rides I have to say that the 5k is awesome to train for. Once you have a fitness base from a longer event, you just need intervals to get and keep your speed up. Every few weeks you can do the full distance i.e. a 5k to test your engine. Michael Johnson (the gold medalist) wrote that he knew how he would do in his Olympic races because he did engine tests close to his target race and had a clear view of his expected time.

Susan did a couple 5ks to get ready for this race and her fastest was a week before the race where she ran around a 23 minute 5k (7.30 pace) so I knew she was on track to do a 7.15 pace or mid 22 min race. However she had a few mental lapses including on her last 5k engine test she gave up at mile 3.0 with 0.11 miles to go and on an interval run she just gave up mid interval.

On race day she was confident and I set her watch to a 7.15 pace and told her to go faster on the first mile (advice I’d received from a team-mate because it’s a net downhill) but not too fast. Target pace for that first mile was ~10 seconds faster than her race pace i.e. about a 7.05 pace.

She ran it in 7.00 minutes which was perfect. She ran the second and third miles at 7.25 and 7.26 and ended up averaging 7.16 for a total time of 22.40, an improvement of 40 seconds on 2013! She was 27th overall out of 274 runners.

While she didn’t break 22 minutes this year this puts her on target to break 22 minutes in 2015. We also learnt a bit about training and will do more 5k specific training runs next year. Finally although Susan had a couple mental lapses, they didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, which is reassuring for the future. We probably need to incorporate more rest into her schedule to allow her to have quality hard days!

Oh and I did a 5k today too but it was really an excuse to turn it into a family day which it was, and to have some fun. 17 minutes 30 was my time and I hope to break 17 next year!

It Takes a Village

19 Jan

Andy:

About 1 and half years ago I met Andy on the group rides. He was coming back to riding after a hiatus of a few years. His riding style was interesting because he rode like he was fast even though he wasn’t (at the time). 

He told me he had recently run a half marathon PR of 1 hour 22 minutes. That is fast – it is equivalent to a 6 minute 15 second pace over 13.1 miles. To give you some idea of relativity – my PR on a much shorter distances prior to 2013 was 19.53 5k or 3.1 miles equivalent to a 6 min 23. My PR for the Carlsbad half marathon 2013 was 1hour 28 minutes (6 minute 42 second pace). A 1 hour 22 pace would put a runner in about the top 50 of runners in the Carlsbad Half Marathon which features ~7,000 people. 

My goal for the Carlsbad Half Marathon 2014 was 1 hour 22 minutes.

Susan:

Susan is my BFF, my partner, my Baby Momma, my dietician, my stylist and my wife. Her half marathon PR was 2 hours 10 minutes which she did on Staten island circa 2006/2007. I remember that race because at the time I worked late on a Saturday (I was in NYC working in investment banking), hung out with my friends until 3am or so and then got up at 6am to go to the race with Susan. My attendance of the race was a testament to my love for Susan. After she was done, she was a little unhappy with her performance in the second half of the race where she faded principally due to having gone out too hard in the first half. At the time, I weighed about 50 lbs more than I do today, the longest run I did was ~3 miles in 25 minutes (8 minute 2 second pace), about 3 days a week and I worked about 80 hours+ a week.

Susan and I signed up for  the Carlsbad Half Marathon 2014 and we developed a training program (checkout our Strava if interested) that we started together in August 2013. With her training she was on track to break 2 hours in the half which is a major goal for a lot of runners. In December, she strained her calf and her race was in jeopardy as for a week she could barely run. The biggest mistake we had made was not massaging and foam rolling Susan’s legs after every hard effort. Having Susan finish the race became the most important part of the race for me.

The race itself:

Was over at mile 1 (I thought). I met 2 guys and they told me they were going to run 1 hour 22. Perfect I said, I’ll run with you guys. They run with Prado Racing a.k.a PRT (a San Diego running club that I’ll probably join) and they ran at a smooth pace. On the first half of the run they backed off a little on the hills as I planned and then upped the pace a little on the downhills. We were able to converse as we ran. We continued to pick up runners who we were passing so that around Tamarack (saw Jackie at that point!) we were about 6 runners with PRT at the front. As we went on the slight ascent past the NRG power plant (great to see my work-mates!), we dropped the other runners one by one. As we approached the halfway point, a spectator shouted, “come on guys it’s not a jog-a-thon, there are 4 women ahead of you”. My response, they’re probably pros so I’m ok with that…

After cresting the NRG hill we passed a water stop and after sipping a little water I had to accelerate a bit to catch back onto the PRT crew. That acceleration was expensive and I waited for my body to recover as I was forced to breathe deep. I heard my neighbor Tim yell at this point which was awesome. We caught girl 4 just before the halfway point (thanks for yelling John D!) and then turned round and caught girl 3.

Just after the halfway point I felt a bit of cramp in my stomach which was a little disconcerting. I am fortunate to never get stomach cramps but today I guess my body was telling me we were going fast! I was a little worried as I thought it may get to debilitating pain. We approached the little hill up to the hotel (a.k.a. AM 101 hill for my fellow Swamis bike-riders) and I had intended to run this at a 6.45 pace. My PRT homies went up it at 5.55 slowing to 600 as we crested the hill.  I was ok until I looked at my watch which made me panick a little bit as I thought we were going too fast. I think we may have had a little bit of a tail-wind or a lot of adrenalin as I felt ok after doing a check of my mental and physical internal computers (hamstrings ok, breathing ok, stomach cramp => forgotten…).

We passed my neighbor Tim again (thanks for yelling Tim!), came up to the Power Plant where my work-mate Jennifer had brought our kids (Jennifer = tres awesome!!!) and I looked out for them. As we had practiced they had their hands out and I moved close to them and high-fived them. That was an amazing feeling.

All of a sudden we were now on the last incline up to Carlsbad. I knew this was going to be rough and with my original plan I was going to have pushed on this segment. Thanks to Team PRT I was ahead of my pace time though AND one of the PRT guys, unbeknownst to me at the time was feeling good and he decided to “up the pace” which he did by holding a 6 minute mile as we went UP the INCLINE. I thought about dropping off and recovering but decided to stay with them. I used my jedi mind trick of focusing on PRT #2’s shoulders and just running. Unfortunately PRT runner #2 was feeling it too and he waved me forward to get behind PRT #1. I stayed behind PRT #1 for maybe 30 seconds then I let him go. 

We had about 2.5 miles to go, I was completely finished and I slowed it down a little bit. I went down to about 6.45 and then was able to get my pace back to about 6.15 between Tamarack and Carlsbad town. PRT #2 stayed right behind me and I paced him for that distance. Around Carlsbad town he moved forward to take over the pacing. At this point, I was again in distress and I couldn’t stay with PRT #2 and let him go ahead. I looked at my watch. I had around 2 miles to go and I was in danger of missing my goal as my pace was now down to 6.40 to 6.45 and I was struggling to keep it there. I was beginning to do math in my head – how fast did I need to run the last couple miles to survive….

In another sign that I was in distress,girl #3 caught me, we told each other good job, and she went by me. I had nothing left to keep after her and I’m usually good at chasing girls :) AND I’m usually a negative split runner (passing people later in the race) I looked at my shadow and I looked like I was literally plodding along and looked at my watch and it said 6.40 pace. I thought wow surprised I’m running that fast because my shadow was running at about a 8.30 pace.

To make matters worse I felt a twinge in my left calf – that knowing feeling when your leg is about to cramp and I thought uh…oh! Again I’m fortunate in that I rarely cramp. Everyone who saw me at this point could see the pain in my face and they kept saying, almost there, just a mile to go, almost there!!! This was going to be the toughest 1.5 miles of my life. I came to the last water stop and considered drinking water (Pro: slow down rest, water always helps Con: loose 10 seconds, Decision: better to recover than to completely bonk which I was in danger of doing). The water guys yelled at me to keep going after I slowed almost to a walk. I know the last mile is mostly downhill and I was able to get my pace back up to ~6.15 for the mile. I pushed thru and finally got to the finish line.

1 hour 22 minutes 7 seconds.

Susan finished about 30 minutes later. She was crestfallen because she had fallen. It takes a lot to make Susan sad but she had tears in her eyes when I saw her from the pain. I took her to the first aid folks and we got some ice on her chin which was bloody. She had been running comfortably with the 1hr 50 group when the fall happened around mile 9 and she had been on track to hit 1 hr 50. I was glad a) she had finished and b) her time was definitely better than 2 hours despite the fall. She had also shown a lot of grit by taking a serious fall (bloody chin + bruised quads) and then gotten up and finished. Weren’t we pleased when we checked online later and her time was 1 hour 50 minutes 48 seconds!!!!

Shout out to all the people who encouraged us all, came to the race, sent us text messages and emails. A special thank you to my workmate Jennifer who, of her own accord, came to our house at 615am and brought our kids to an unforgettable race!!! 

Twas the week of Thanksgiving

29 Nov

‘Twas the week of Thanksgiving 2013 and we made our way up to San Jose to visit our friends A and A (or Asquared).

Susan and I are in the midst of preparing for the Carlsbad Half Marathon which will take place in January 2014 and we scheduled an easy week for this week. We came into this week with very tired legs but fortnuatenly no injuries. We were glad to be taking it easy. We decided to do 2 runs when here, one on Thanksgiving and the other on Saturday. As I surfed the WWW, I found out there was a very popular 10km (6.21 mile) Turkey Trot in San Jose. Very popular = my number was 20131 i.e. participant 20131!!! A and A graciously agreed to babysit our kids on Thanksgiving while Susan & I would run the race.

Susan and my target paces for the Carlsbad Half Marathon are 8.30/mile and 6.15/miles respectively and we decided to use this race to test our race pace. Susan’s pace is based on what she’d need to run to break 2 hours and mine is based on the time (1hr22min) a good friend, Andy, run a half at a few years ago. For some reference, I ran the Carlsbad 2013 at a 6.45 pace (~1hr28min). I was 100th out of 7,000 people. Improving to 1hr22min feels pretty serious. Susan’s fastest half is 2.05 at the Staten Island half marathon back in 2006 so she felt nervous about running an 8.30. So to get there we’re taking the training “serious” this year and we’re on a 5 month training program. 

The San Jose turkey trot is in downtown San Jose about a mile from A and A’s condo. It started at 7.50am. Given the 45f temperatures, we decided to jog to the start and get there about 10 minutes before the gun went off. 

Well attended races/runs like this are broken into waves based on pace. There were 3 waves for this one. The 6min to 7min pace group. The 7min to 9min pace group and the rest. We went to our respective groups and I started chatting to folks. Of the 4 people I spoke to, everyone was polite but brief, like they didnt want to talk :). The only guy who was responsive was a 65 year old man who was targeting a 6.45 pace. He was very nice and said he comes down to Carlsbad for the Carlsbad 5,000 every year. Hopefully I will see him at it with him next year. I also chatted briefly with a cross-country highschool kid who said he was targeting a 6.20 pace..

When the gun went off, the usual happened. Everyone just took off @ a brisk 5.30 pace. I’ve seen the results and I know my pace and I kept to it.  I felt comfortably at my 6.15 pace but I was a little worried about keeping the pace for the next 6 miles. I judiciously kept to my pace as people pulled away. I remember 2 kids who caught me and went by me. I asked them how old they were and they said 14. That made me feel better because they werent 9! Surprisingly after about a quarter of a mile they couldnt hold their speed. I caught them and I didnt see them again.

Then I saw the mile 2 sign which was a relief.

I also passed a fit looking woman, the only one I saw ahead of me between mile 2 and 3. Around mile 3, I passed the lone other black guy I’d seen. I remember he had yellow Nike tights, and nice hair (Labeja = envious bald guy) and looked more like a quarterback than a runner. At this point I had started a trend that would continue for the rest of the race – passing people.

Around mile 3.5, my pace dropped to 6.35 briefly and I went thru a brief panic thinking maybe I’m done. Fortuntately I got my pace back up, and I was good.

I also saw multiple groups of highschool cheerleaders. When I ran by a group of predominantly black girls, they yelled extra loud for me and I felt a surge of energy.

When I saw the mile 4 sign, I felt some relief. I knew I could maintain the 6.15 pace for the remaining 2 miles. The 6.15 pace is a discomfort that is difficult to describe. I was able to speak although not conversationaly like I could at 6.45 to 7.00. I was doing what I refer to as focused breathing, I have a pattern I like to maintain when under stress. My legs felt good although I could feel my left hamstring was a little sore, and it’s been a problem for me in the past.

I was encouraging everyone I passed at this point, telling them 2 miles to go, 2 miles to go. Unfortunately they didnt have any legs left to stay with me after they’d run the prior 4 miles faster than me.

At mile 5, I told the guys I passed, 1 mile to go, time for some pain! My target was to run the last mile at 6 min or faster.

I caught the cross-country kid I saw at the beginning around mile 5.5. He told me I was looking strong and he reminded me that there was less than a mile to go. Those were encouraging words. I ran mile 5 to 6 at ~5.55/min.

As I passed the 6 mile sign I heard a heavy breather on my left. It was a kid I didnt recognize, who I probably passed earlier. He was in final sprint mode. Bro, thought Labeja, lets go. I went into beast mode and sprint we did. I held him off and about 200 meters from the finish I looked back and he was about 20 steps back. My body relaxed a little bit and I slowed a little. And then bam! He blew by me with about 50 meters to go. I was really impressed by this young guy who got dropped, dug deep, and sprinted by in complete and utter PAIN. He got to the finish maybe 5 seconds ahead of me and bent over double. I went and congratulated him. He ran awesome!

I then walked back to look for Susan. She was tough to find in the crowds as she was wearing the event t-shirt. Fortunately she saw me and yelled, Labeja! I ran with her for the last 0.2 of a mile with some pain in my butt. She looked comfortable and even said she was ok. At the end she told me she ran at a 8.07/mile pace which is awesome as that puts her on track for a sub 1.50!

I ran at a 6.12 which was great. I set PRs for my 1 mile, 2 mile, 5k and 10k speeds. Hopefully we can make the turkey trot a Labeja family tradition!!!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 424 other followers