Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"Official" LA Marathon Training has begun: Week 1, Day 2

After a few weeks of trying out the Hansons marathon training plan, including 4 weeks of @40-mile totals, the "official" 18-week training plan for the March, 17, 2013 Los Angeles Marathon has finally begun. Countdown to race day: 123.

The first 3 days of the Hansons plan actually calls for....off days.

I had started my speed regimen along the Hansons plan three weeks ago, with 400-meter interval repeats X 12, then 600mX8, then 800mX6. The intervals are run at 5K-10K paces. I am definitely finding the speed days to be the least exciting regimen: running around a track, counting the quarter laps, laps, repeats. Not to mention the intervals are tough.

Today, it was pouring pretty hard in the afternoon, so I decided to do the speed work on the treadmill. 1 mile warm up, 1000m X 5, 1 mile cool down. Instead of podcasts and radio, I had Arrested Development to keep my mind off the monotony (and even off the count: I think I missed out on a half lap somewhere....).

I don't feel as sheepish doing my speed/interval days on the treadmill. For someone training for long distance runs, I look at these days as cardiovascular workouts. Running on the track has that even, smooth, artificial feel anyways, which is not too far off from the feeling of running on the treadmill.

The exciting thing for the LA Marathon planning: I found mymarathonpace.com, which has a pace planner tailored to the contours of many popular marathons, including LA Marathon. I purchased the program and it may prove to be very useful. I could adjust goal time, pacing strategies (fast/slightly fast/slight slow/slow start, fades, positive/negative split, etc.) and the suggested paces are matched to the course profile. While there are other pacing programs, I have not seen another that matches the profiles as well as this program by Greg Maclin. He was also very helpful in helping me with the technical issues of the program.

This is what a pacing and elevation page looks like from the program:

LA Marathon course, from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica, takes runners through many of the highlights of the city and should appeal to natives and tourists alike, without resorting to the cookie-cutter, manufactured "excitement" of the Rock 'n' Roll marathon series. It also has a few quirks in terms of the profile: starts out with a downhill, then a steep then moderate hill, then rolling, then a big drop, then gradual uphill....in short, not as flat and novice-friendly as the LA Marathon vibe might suggest.

 Properly pacing the start is not as easy as simply following the "start off slow and warm up later" adage. It would be a shame to not take advantage of the downhill and go against common sense and "bank" some time. I believe it's OK in this case, since the usual "time-banking" involves running harder than average pace; in that case the body is not yet at an efficient state and the time banked will need to be paid back (often with interests!) but in this case if I time the pace just right I can run easy and still bank 10-20 seconds a mile from the start without burning excess energy if I just let the hill carry me.

Here's a run I did this past Sunday that slightly mimics the start of the LA Marathon:

This profile actually starts right from my front door. I plan on doing this run more as the marathon approaches and try to find that easy groovy feeling, gliding without braking down a hill, right from the start of a run. I find it's easy to run fast downhill but not easy to run smoothly and fast to avoid beating up the legs.

Hard to imagine the "official" training has only begun: this run, this course has been occupying my attention and my training for many months already!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Am I training too fast, or is my goal pace too slow?

Countdown: 138 days to race day.
Today's run: 6 miles, average 8:25 pace, along Seattle waterfront and Myrtle Edward Park.

Setting a marathon goal pace is a tricky affair. Realism and aspiration/wishful thinking all play vital roles.

Previous marathon result is an important starting point. Mine was 3:57:17, in my first and only marathon, for which I trained just barely over 14 weeks.

Current fitness and recent race results also matter. For that, I can point to a result from the Lake Union 10K in August 2012 of 45:11.

For a while now, the time of 3:35:00 for the next LA Marathon has been my goal. I came up with this by looking at the various pace calculators and equivalent race times. The goal: to get as close to 3:25:00 as I reasonably can, so in the next 1-2 years I can shoot for that <3:25:00 time at a flat, fast race (which LA Marathon, as much as I love the course, is not) like Chicago Marathon. If so, I can qualify for the Boston Marathon as a 45-year-old in 2015.

I also have other reasons to believe that the 8:12/mile pace is reasonable as long as I work on the endurance part so I can run that and last the entire marathon: I have had long runs of 13, 15 miles recently where I averaged 8:00/mile, without running flat out.

The puzzling aspect of it: when I use 8:12 as my target pace, and plan the speed runs, tempo runs, long runs according to the plans by the Hansons, Pete Pfitzinger, etc. all those runs seem rather easy. The tempo runs as prescribed in the Hansons plan are actually marathon pace runs, and I have to constantly and actively restrain myself from running faster and faster.

If I just let myself go, I probably end up running the long runs at a pace slightly faster than relaxed and easy: @8:00, 7:50....

Using a heart monitor, I find myself running the 8:12 marathon pace miles at an easy 73% of my HR max. And that was today, after having run 6-6-6-12 miles in the four days before today.

The common advice for someone in my situation is to just take it easy, stick with the goal, since if I was initially satisfied with the goal, why change it now? The danger of running too fast during training, and wasting one's best effort in the weeks leading up to the race and having less than a full tank, is a common warning from the marathon training experts. However, what IF the goal pace was indeed too slow, because I goofed up in picking that pace? Would I be leaving too much in the tank at the end of the race?

One of the advantages of being a late comer to running, as in only starting @11 months ago: even at the age of 42, I am probably still improving, not because I am that gifted, but because I am still a relative rookie. Or maybe I am just inexperienced enough to allow the wishful thinking to creep my goal time downward. Maybe once the weeks and the miles start to pile on in the next 4-6 weeks my optimism will just trickle away....

Sunday, October 28, 2012

LA Marathon: 20 Weeks to go

I put up this video earlier this year, before the March 18, 2012 Los Angeles Marathon.

Today's countdown to the 2013 LA Marathon: 139 days, or twenty weeks from today.

Long way to go it may seem, especially since last year's prep for my first marathon consisted of "Hmm maybe I can do this" point of inspiration (which could have very possibly turned into foolish disaster) in December 2011, with only 13 weeks to go.

At that time, my running history consisted of irregular but generally 2-3 times weekly runs of no more than 4 miles each, and all indoors. With a free "Rookie Plan" from Runners World in hand, I began a buildup in speed and distance that included a variety of intervals and tempo runs.

I was lucky to have avoided major injury setbacks throughout the relative crash-course preparation. My goals were modest: to finish, and to do it under 4 hours. I was able to just barely eke out both, coming in just under the 4-hour time (3:57:17, and that's not "Paul Ryan modified") despite a late-miles slowdown by pains coming from places I had no idea would be hurting (undoubtedly a result of lowish total miles in my plan and experience as a rookie runner).

Fortunately, I survived the "why not" experience that could have easily turned into a disastrous crash-and-burn and marred the entire aspiration as another "never again" dark episode, and actually enjoyed it enough to have maintained my running. I ran a couple of shorter races in the spring and summe, and the results indicated I was still improving. This is not a sign that I am some latent Ryan Hall material: it makes sense that I could still be improving in my fitness even at the ripe old age of 42 (43 by the next marathon) because I had just begun to work on running on a regular basis as of about one year ago, after years of inactivity. However, it is definitely nice to log faster paces and feel stronger overall, compared to just a year ago.

This year, I plan to use the training plan from Hansons Marathon Method, with some variations. I have read the Hansons book along with Pete Pfizinger's Advanced Marathoning and believe I can combine some features of the two to come up with a plan for my needs: for example, I plan on doing the longer of the long runs in the Hansons method at marathon goal pace (a Pfitzinger method's feature), and on those weeks I might slow down the marathon goal pace "tempo" runs scheduled in the Hansons method. I will be going into this training at a different level: more miles per week, faster overall paces, and a higher expectation (3:35-3:40 finish time?). I am also making an effort to do all my runs outdoors.

Knowing that one could finish a marathon is a big step: I know now that cliché is completely true. However, the marathon distance is long and daunting enough that failure to finish is always possible, even with the most robust preparations. From beginners like me to Olympic marathon elites, that looming potential of doom is what keeps every marathon runner humble.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Jedward: Did They Run LA Marathon....or Were They Teleported?!

By now, some of you may have heard about Jedward, the Irish twin pop duo, and their alleged athletic feat (cue soft-focus lens and ethereal visual effects):

Having arrived in LA after a transatlantic flight on Saturday, March 17, they spotted a flyer in their hotel room about some marathon taking place the next day in LA, and decided to just go for it on a box of Raisin Bran for carbo loading. Why not, since they happened to have matching Spandex outfits, and just sooooo happened to have brought their running shoes.

And they completed it! OMG! Look at them with their hard-earned medals!

Their tweets "along the way" lit up hearts and minds of Jedward fans everywhere (mostly limited to intellectually and culturally unincorporated parts of UK, let's be honest).

BBC News even did an article spearheaded by the story: "Can You Run a Marathon without Training?" that took the rumor of their completion of the 2012 L.A. Marathon at face value.

When I saw the story, I recalled seeing one of these twins finish alongside me on Ocean Avenue at the end of the marathon. I ran a time of 3:57:17, and there was a gun/chip time differential of about seven minutes for me, as I started near the front of the general bunch, and by the time my section walked forward to cross the finish line, about seven minutes had elapsed since the elite frontrunners had taken off at the gun.

As I read more and more stories about the marathon and the exploits of Jedward, two things:

1. They did not register for the race.

2. Their sightings do not indicate a completed run from start to finish.

First, the issue about not registering and running (a.k.a. "banditing") the race. This is simply a theft of the organizational effort supported by all registered runners who paid a hefty sum to have the street closures, the police and ambulance support, and the hydration and energy stations.

The excuse that "sure, people do it all the time" is simply not good enough. Sure, people shoplift and eat and run without paying all the time. Newsflash Jed-heads: it's still not OK. Only attention hogs like Jedward would be tweeting about shoplifting, dine-n-dash, and banditing a marathon, and have adoring fans bending over thrice and making excuses such as "a marathon is not really a race for most people, it's a fun run." 

Second, the issue whether they ran the course from start to finish at all.

Without registration, Jedward received no runner's numbers, and no timing chips. That means they do not have official times at the 10K, 20K, 30K, 40K, and finish lines. Therefore, there is no record of their running the race route from start to finish.

Jedward fans will claim, "sure they don't have official splits and finish times: they couldn't register so they aren't on the roster!" And, some of the comments by Jedward fans indicate they will take the existence of a few photos and a video by KTLA of Jedward running in their garish Spandex suits and dangerously spiked coif on the course as definitive proof they ran the entire course.

The lack of registration number and thus lack of official split times may seem a dead-end thwarting of any effort to verify their presence on the course. However, with little effort, one can uncover much evidence to time-stamp their appearances along the course.

The presence of registered runners all around Jedward in the photos, the availability of the registered runners' official time splits, and other information gathered from the photographers and the EXIF data in their photos as well as videos posted by Jedward themselves can be used to piece together their whereabouts along the course.

Result: they are either superhuman and will own human land speed records for the next two centuries, or they CHEATED and had a driver shuttle them around the LA Marathon course for their "appearances."


The first concrete piece of information in my LA Marathon runners post-race Facebook communication that led me to suspect foul play by Jedward was this:

I checked out Jon Chernila's official times on the LA Marathon Website and his times are as follows:

Great times, and specifically at "around Mile 13 or 14," when Jon passed Jedward, the actual time of day would have been 9:20 A.M., or @ 1 hours 50 minutes past the start time of 7:29 A.M. 

This made very little sense, as Jedward said they got into the general start group from the back. My start from front of that pack was already seven minutes behind starting gun time. The back of the pack would have been close to ten minutes behind gun time, perhaps longer. This meant they ran 13 miles in 1 hours 40 minutes or less. Not impossible, but very suspiciously fast.

Next, I looked at the photos found in a very broad search of "Jedward marathon" and found only less than ten actual photos that are reposted, cropped, shrunken into various versions. In some of these, non-bandit runners (who actually paid for their participation) could be identified by their numbers. The runners' official splits and the locations of the photos can be irrefutable evidence of where Jedward were along the course and at what specific time.

First photo that I was able to make the time/location connection was this:

The runner between Jedward in this photo, #12972, is Mr. Santos Figueroa. Here are his times:

This photo, at a former Blockbuster currently under offer for lease by Cushman Wakefield, is on 7833 W. Sunset Blvd., just past Mile 13 (Sunset and Fairfax). 

This places Jedward at midpoint of the marathon in this photo. Since Mr. Figueroa ran the first 10K and 20K at about a 9-min/mile pace, this photo places Jedward again at 9:15 to 9:20 AM at the Mile 13 area, about 1:45 to 1:50 after gun time, and corroborates Jon Chernila's report above that he ran by Jedward about this time at Mile 13 or 14. Now we not only have Jon Chernila's report, we also have proof in photo of their whereabouts.


Next, let's look at this photo, taken by bloodyeyeballs, available on Flickr. This is now almost Mile 22, in Brentwood. (I recall the scenery fondly as this meant the hill is still going up but the finish line was near!)

I wrote an email asking photographer "bloodyeyeballs," whose LA Marathon galleries have been excellent over the years and which I have heavily studied to prepare for my LA Marathon experience, if he could pull up the info on that photo and let me know at what time it was taken. Here is his reply:

So this now places Jedward (or one of the twins, the one seen in this picture) at Mile 22, at 9:46 A.M.

From Mile 13 at 9:20 A.M. to Mile 22 at 9:46 A.M., Jedward (or one of them) would have had to run at a pace of 2 minutes, 53 seconds per mile, or a speed of 20.8 mph for 26 minutes.


The final evidence of their physically improbable journey along the LA Marathon course comes courtesy KTLA, the local television station doing live broadcast of the event. This final nail in the JEpic marathon myth coffin was posted by none other than MrJepicFan, the official ID of Jedward PR machine on YouTube.

Notice that when these two twins were approached, they were running together, and the backdrop places them at Hollywood Adventist Church, located at the intersection of Hollywood Blvd. and the 101 Freeway.

As for the time of this Jedward sighting, the same KTLA video continues with a simultaneous showing of the locations of the elite runners, and the map shows the men's leader, Simon Njoroge, right at Mile 19. This allows us to time-stamp the video, since the elite runners' times were reported in official news bulletins by LA Marathon.

(from the KTLA video)

from official LA Marathon press releases of the progress of the elite men racers.

At 1:33:45 into the race, the Jedward sighting on video was at @ 9:05 A.M., and they were seen just past Mile 10, at Hollywood and 101.


Let's put this incredible Jedward journey together, and here are their splits from Mile 10 to 22:

Mile 10 at 9:05 A.M., as seen on live TV broadcast
Mile 13 at 9:20 A.M., as seen in photo and Facebook runner report with verifiable time splits
Mile 22 at 9:46 A.M., as seen in photo

For a time of 41 minutes, an average pace of 3:50/mile, and a speed of 17.6 mph, over the 12 miles.

(World record for a 13.05 mile half-marathon: 58 minutes 23 seconds. Zersenay Tadese.)

These boys are definitely JEpic. They not only ran the marathon on no training, they ran it so fast they might as well have had a limo driver shuttling them around. (And probably did.)

What's amazing is the press coverage of this "feat:" symptomatic of how "news" is disseminated these days, Jedward's tweets were taken whole hog without any fact checking by news outfits including the ostensibly reputable BBC News and ABC (Good Morning America). They got free publicity based on 99.9% probable fraudulent claims of accomplishment and diminished the achievements of all those who trained for months for the event with their claim of "we did this run on no preparation and looked like a million bucks at the finish!" Not unlike their "musical" career made possible only by the grace of Auto-Tune, they chose to "run a marathon" with limousine shuttle service in between points of freebie publicity.

At least give the stolen medals back.