Monday, March 21, 2011

LA Marathon- Pursuit of the Olympic Trials Qualifier Part 2


When I woke up on Sunday (March 20th) morning at 3:05am, I bounded out bed, flipped the switch for the coffee maker before it could start on its own. I was up, I was awake, it was race morning and I felt, calm, deadly calm. I know I can't fake that feeling but I knew it meant that I had genuinely conquered my expectations and was ready to accept the day no matter what happened. I was ready to just enjoy the race, be present for the race and smile at the rain that I knew was coming. I decided to take the above picture before I headed out. I wanted to be able to look back and say, I went into the race smiling, did I finish that way?

I am happy to say, I achieved that goal. I also had a "Devon Day". But now, I am getting ahead of myself.

Post-Houston/Pre-race

I have talked a lot about my feelings after having such a bad race after Houston. It really messed with my confidence and my head, but in the end, despite feeling like there was nothing redeeming about the experience for a long time, I see now that the bad experience itself was its redeeming factor. Because it taught me a hell of a lot and it gave me experience going through all sorts of things all at the same time (kind of like an ultra, just way faster).

Even though I was bummed after Houston, I got right back up and back in the saddle. I considered my race schedule and decided to do LA marathon. I was helped greatly by rockstar Creative Director of the race Peter Abraham. I am so appreciative of Peter from getting me into the race to allowing me to join him and others in his hospitality suite before the race to introducing me to other ladies going for the OT in the open field to braving the crowds in the corrals to ensure we were up front and had room to get out quick. I am eternally grateful. Thanks Peter for making this experience possible.

Once I had LA on the schedule, it was a matter of balancing recovery from Houston and sharpening for LA. I think I walked a very fine line and part of me was very afraid that I was doing too much, that I had pushed myself over the edge, pushed too hard. And I knew I wouldn't know until things started to shake out on race day.

I headed down to LA on Saturday morning where I was met by Jonathan (aka Bestest Everest) and we headed over to the expo to get a little excited by all the race energy. I didn't need to go to the expo for my number because Peter and friend/Coyote leader/coach/ultrarunner/etc Jimmy Dean had made sure I had all my number, credentials, etc and was completely set. But going to a race expo at a big race is run. LA marathon had 26,000 running! You can't but help getting excited around that kind of energy!

We then made a quick stop at Whole Foods to get all my necessary dinner items and then headed over to my wonderful and gracious host's house. I was lucky enough to be hosted by Kathy Eldon and Michael Bedner at their house on the beach in Malibu. Jonathan works with Kathy at Creative Vision Foundation and they were excited to help support my pursuit of getting my OT any way they could. They were amazing hosts and I felt right at home. Jonathan and I went for a good run, but short and then we made dinner early; nice rib-eye steaks Michael had gotten, roast potatoes and salad. It was a delicious meal, but I ate pretty light overall for the day and went to bed early (before 9) feeling good. I slept really well despite being woken up about every 2 hours by something (first text messages then a faulty iphone alarm). Just after 3am, I was up, eating a hearty bowl of oats with banana and peanut butter and getting my racing kit on.

Excited by the forecast for race day: Lots of rain, urban flooding and debris flow.

Race

It wasn't raining, yet, when I got up but the forecast wasn't that good. The night before it had looked hopeful that it might not rain between 7am-9am and that there would be a lot of rain before and after that but it didn't really play out that way.  But I wasn't particularly worried, I am a battle hardened veteran and after Houston, I wasn't surprised I was again pulling the crappy weather card. I think at this point I should just expect the storm of the century every time I line up. At least there was no talk of canceling the race like there was at Houston.


Jonathan was wonderful and drove me to my shuttle bus at way the hell too early in the morning (arrived at 4:30am). I was able to get on the Coyotes shuttle, again thanks to Jimmy Dean, so that I didn't have to navigate the horrendous traffic at Dodger Stadium as 26,000 fought to find parking or be dropped off or shuttled in. We were to the start and another OT qualifier hopeful, Emily Mitchell, and I made our way from the shuttle up the stadium to Peter's hospitality suite. We met one other hopeful, Joanna Zeiger (who is a badass 70.3 World Champion) and eventually made our way to the start. And waited and waited and waited. Finally after lots of waiting in the cold (thankfully still not raining), they sent the elite women's field off. Then we waited exactly 17:03 and we were off. We were at the front of corral A but we were swimming in a sea of pushy, scraping for the front folks whose bibs indicated they should be way back in B or C. I had my apprehension as we took our first steps and I was cautious. My intuition was right as this dodgy guy next to me accidentally tripped Emily 3 steps passed the start line. She slammed into the ground and I could barely hurdle her and keep going to avoid being crushed my the crowd. It was a bummer not to have the opportunity to run with her but she managed to pull herself together and run a PR of 2:56. Not the day she wanted, but she overcame a lot and had a great race.

I was off and running. Jimmy Dean had sent me some splits the night before for a 2:45 pace adjusted specifically for the course. I didn't memorize it but I noted the mile splits that I should expect to be higher than my needed 6:18/mile pace. All I did was remember that miles 4,5, 18,19, 21 and 22 would be slower to much slower. It provided me a guideline to work with based on my plan to run by feel not by pace. I didn't wear a garmin, I wore a watch and hit lap every mile split (where there was one, only about half of the miles were marked which sucked). I would glance at the split and compare it to how I felt. Simply note it and leave the math for later in the race.



We headed out of Dodger's stadium and proceeded to follow an amazing course to the sea. I really liked the course. It really highlights all the various things you'd want to go visit in LA. It was interesting and despite the rain that started in about 1/2 mile into the race, there was a great deal of crowd support. I settled in and felt really comfortable. My first mile was slower than my goal pace, a 6:20 and I looked at my watch and smiled. Perfect. It was perfect because I wanted to go out slow, I wanted to keep myself comfortable for as long as possible. Especially since I knew, despite some good rolling hills later in the race, that this was a great course to negative split on.


It was raining quite hard by mile 4. We climbed this awesome, pretty steep hill heading out of Chinatown but I actually found it pretty easy to get up, being pulled upwards by the sound of 40 drummers beating in time at the top. Comfortable. I just felt like I was cruising, taking it in, smiling, doing my best to interact with the other runners and acknowledge the crowd. I got super excited at around mile 6 when I saw my fellow ninja, Georgia, who was at the race to help pace her sister to a BQ! She was screaming my name and it gave me such a boost.

I was cruising with a pack of folks including a few woman, Joanna included. One of the guys told me he was shooting for a 2:44 and I felt like I was in the right spot. There were about 8 of us that were roughly together and we made it through 10k in 39:21. Not smoking but within striking distance. After the 10k split, my mile times started getting faster. Partially it was the course, partially I think my body was finally warmed up, partially I think I knew that this was my day and that I should gas it a bit but not get too crazy.

I stuck to my nutrition plan perfectly. I drank a sip of water at every aid station (every mile) and I took my first gel at 45 minutes into the race. I felt like a machine. The running felt easy. I wanted to maintain that feeling for as long as possible. Sure I was aware of my overall time, but not really aware of the math that it would take to figure out if I was going to make it or not. I wouldn't really have a clue until the half way point of where I stood. I decided until then just to keep a smile on my face and the killer instinct in my heart. I was freaking so happy with every step. My body and mind were in sync and I am sure I annoyed more than a few fellow runners encouraging them and carrying on conversation.


The group broke apart a bit but Joanna and I stuck together. We hit mile 13 (which had no marker) and then the half way point was somewhere in there too (also not marked). I asked Joanna, who was wearing a Garmin, what we had hit the half in and she responded right around 1:22. Nice. Faster than Houston by about 30 seconds but I felt 10 billion times better and comfortable at that pace than I did at Houston. At Houston when we were passing the halfway mark, I felt like I was red lining, but now I just felt like I was settled in at that "I could run this all day pace". It was raining a bunch, we'd turn corners and get slammed with a headwind. There was even lightning. My hands were freezing and I could barely get my gels out of my pocket. I took another gel at 1:30 and accidentally dropped my Hyper-vespa which momentarily freaked me out, but then I instantly pulled myself back to the present and decided not to borrow trouble.

I was starting to get excited the closer I got to mile 16 for a few reasons. First, I knew that if I hit mile 16 feeling good that I would never falter. Why did I know this? I am not sure. Second, I knew that Jonathan, bestest everest would be waiting for me to hop in and run me in. Despite there being 26,000 in the race, there wasn't much of a crowd upfront and he was nice enough to be a volunteer pace rabbit for anyone who wanted to get in under 2:46.

Joanna and I ran passed the Chateau Marmont and I turned to her, as she had slipped behind me a few steps, and said, "just stay on my shoulder, hold on. I have a friend coming who will take us in under the standard". But I was accelerating and feeling strong and I was soon on my own.


I didn't have to be on my own for long. Jonathan jumped in and we were off to the races. In fact, looking back, my splits for the mile leading up to him and mile after picking him up were an average pace of 5:44. I was flying. And still smiling.

Jonathan cautiously checked in with me and all I could do was beam. "I feel great!" I said. I knew I needed to stay smart through the upcoming miles, especially since I didn't exactly know what the hills of 18,19, 21and 22 would entail. Thankfully, Jonathan had run the final 10 miles on Friday with Jimmy Dean and so he was able to talk me through each section and let me know what to expect.

I was so happy to be sharing that run with Jonathan. It was a beautiful thing to share. I simple was absorbed in the run, floating along. I would just suddenly get the goofiest smile on my face or say something out loud like "smile at the rain". We made it easily past the bumps of mile 18 and 19. I had to laugh because they were so little (especially compared to that first giant hill) but my pace was slightly slower as we rolled upwards. At 2:15, I tried to get my last gel out of my pocket but my hands were frozen blocks and I struggled for a good 30 seconds while trying to keep pace to get it out. Thankfully, I managed. I took my last gel and a salt cap and started to get serious.


I don't mean serious in a bad way. Like deadly ninja assassin serious. Like I am about to do one of my patented Devon closes. Like I am about to see how many guys I can chick in the final miles. I stayed smart and cautious through mile 22, getting up and over the final hump before a nice gradual downhill finish. Just after the last climb, I encountered the most serious urban flooding I'd seen all day (which is saying something since I went through some major flows). I splashed through ankle deep water that covered the road and then began the hammer drop. I was still happy on the inside but I had donned my ninja mask and was ready to fly. I was ready to put myself in the pain cave, I was ready to run "eyeballs out" as my friend Hollis says. I had been comfortable and cruising all day, now I needed to see what I could squeeze out in the final 7k. At 35k, I was running 6:16 pace, arriving there in 2:16:53. I finally took time to consider if I was going to make the 2:46 standard or not. I was feeling really good, but had I run smart enough and fast enough to make it? I couldn't do the math but I wasn't sure. It felt like it was going to be close so I put it on the line.

Something happened in that moment. I clicked over into the next gear seamlessly and my body didn't resist. My mind somehow had been able to communicate to my muscles "it's ok, we have enough energy to do this". It felt like no effort at all. And my mile splits got faster and faster.



I would occasionally look over at Jonathan or grunt a small command to him as I went for a water cup or to take the higher more even ground. I knew Jonathan was running quite possibly as hard as he could at that moment and I let that propel my forward letting out even more than I thought I had. I still didn't hurt, so I gave more. Mile 22-6:16. Mile 23-6:14. Mile 24-6:04. I was flying at this point, passing other racers like they were standing still, offering them not even a chance to respond or hang on. Mile 25-5:43. "Holy crap" I exclaimed. "We just ran a 5:43 mile in my freaking 25th mile". Jonathan beamed. I knew I was going to do it. I knew I was going to realize my dream of making the Olympic trials. I knew that I could push and push and enjoy every last soggy, cold, windy step of this race.

Thanks @zkiraly for the screen shot!

We made the turn onto Ocean avenue with just under a mile to go. I just kept pressing, now against the most intense wind I had felt all day. I could see the finish line. I knew the crowd would have no idea how important this was to me as I soldiered into the wind, all alone now (as Jonathan had to jump out of the final section as to avoid the shoots). It was my moment, I was all by myself facing down the finish line. I was the first woman in the open field and I would be the only woman from the open field to make the Olympic Trials. I pushed back against the wind with a final 1.2 miles in a blistering 5:42 pace. I crossed the finish line in 2:43:28. I thrust my hands in the air victorious. You might have thought I'd just won the race I was so excited. But I won my race. Peter Abraham was there and raced over to me to congratulate me and told the finish line emcee that I had just made the Olympic Trials and that I was the first woman from the open field (I think they thought I was just the last woman in the elite field). The emcee got back on the mic and excitedly told the crowd who I was and what I had just accomplished. I was interviewed for the news and wrapped in a heat blanket. I finally realized how cold and wet I was. I was soaked. But I was riding high. I felt like I just wanted to keep on going forever I was having so much fun.


Cool race info from Runpix.com. This is where I stood in the overall field,
excluding the women's elite race. My favorite stat was that in the final 4.5 miles I chicked 9 guys. I also like that it says "for the record, you were ahead of about 100% of the guys".


02:43:28
DistanceMAR
Clock Time02:43:32
Chip Time02:43:28
Overall Place44 / 19761
Gender Place10 / 7768
Division Place5 / 1205
Age Grade82.8%
Pace6:14.2
10K0:39:21
15K0:58:41
20K1:18:18
25K1:37:39
30K1:57:19
35K2:16:53
40K2:35:40



Wow. What an experience. It was a "Devon day". It was my day. And not just because I made my goal, but even more so because I did it with the same smile on my face that I started the day with. I ran happy, I ran without expectations. I simply ran the way I love to run. After Houston, I left a little lost,  felt a little void in my running self, felt a little question mark hanging over me. I just felt like I wanted it all (achieving my goal) to be over. After LA,  I was overwhelm with relief. It is exciting to achieve your goals, but it is also a great relief when you have pursued it hard after a failure. I feel invigorated, I feel excited, I feel absolutely renewed. I feel totally in love with running again. I couldn't have asked for a better experience. I am beaming and for once, I am going to take the time to bask in my accomplishment to let that feeling wash over me. It is deep and satisfying to achieve a goal, no matter what that goal is. It is a rare and genuine gift. I fully intend to take my time savoring it.

27 comments:

  1. Devon, what kind of warm up do you do before the race? if you dont mind me asking..

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  2. Payam- Don't mind at all. *Usually* I start out by jogging very slow for a little while maybe 10 minutes. I'll do some strides to get the legs turning over. But in cases like LA, I was standing around (packed in with people which at least keeps you warm!) waiting for the start. Ultimately, I do what I can and don't worry about specifics much. Before ultras, I don't do much of anything but tie my shoes!

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  3. Awesome!!!!! Congratulations. You rocked it.

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  4. I knew you had that in you! Awesome run! Well deserved!

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  5. Totally awesome race. Congrats! Excellent story telling too. I can't wait to follow the rest of your journey to the trials.

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  6. I love this report. Inspires me to have a "Fuss" day (my college nickname) this July 17th when I plan to do a big 205km cycling race in France. Thnks for the inspiration. http://ezclimb.blogspot.com

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  7. YIPPEEEE!!!!! I am SO happy for you! I have loved following your blog as I went through the same type of race as your Houston in Chicago this year. Seeing you come back so strong has been awesome to read about! You go girl!!!! See you next year in Houston, enjoy reveling in this amazing accomplishment!

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  8. So sick to see you flying at 22, I don't know if you heard me screaming, but it was mostly "WOO! WOO! GO! OLYMPICS!(and not the mountain range in Washington)" Awesome job, glad you came to LA to get the OT.

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  9. Congratulations on an amazing race! That was a great race report and I'm very excited you were able to redeem yourself and perk yourself up after Houston.

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  10. Hey good job, I am the girl who spoke to you partway through was wearing red,my old pr was 53 but I did manage to run a 2:48:40

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  11. Congratulations!!!! That's awesome!

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  12. I knew better than to send an early morn text! I LOVE the smiles and knowing that you and YOUR running are back! Can't wait to celebrate soon :)

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  13. Congrats on the qualifier! As for getting chicked: the last time I ran 2:43, according to your splits and mine, I would've been two miles ahead of you at the half-way mark and you would've passed me (walking) at 40K. Running a smart race must feel good; I should try it some day.

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  14. Thanks everyone!!!

    Dom-yes, I saw you and KD out there and appreciated your cheering (and taking Jonathan shirt, lol). Way to brave the rain!

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  15. completely inspiring. i'm thrilled for you...for the peace and joy you experienced of being in your genius...in your gift. & for accomplishing such a fantastic goal! tremendous!! :)

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  16. Wow--that was fun to read! Great focus. Must feel amazing to hit a 1:22 half and feel like you could run all day at that pace--awesome!

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  17. Wonder if they have the electronic note to the guys, like: you have been passed by a non-seeded female runner at mile 25, you smarty pants!
    Congrats on an OQ.

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  18. Devon,

    I was the last guy to get chicked by you! You took me down by 22 seconds.

    Congrats, I ran my final two miles in 5:56 and 5:57 and you blew by me. I was impressed! Hell of a job.

    I agree about the start, I've never had such a chaotic start and they have to control those corrals better in the future.

    Well done!

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  19. AMAZING! SIMPLY AMAZING! WAY TO GO DEVON!

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  20. I love this story! Congratulations on a brilliant race.

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  21. Great job Devon...definitely a day/race experience to remember.

    Get it done in Houston!

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  22. Wow. Great recap - congratulations!!

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  23. That was such a great race report, Devon! I'm glad you held us in suspense about the outcome because I got so excited reading it that I was tearing up. It's so great to hear the excitement in your words; I can just feel your love for running. It's awesome! Congrats on a brilliant and well-executed race. Hooray for Devon Days! :)

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  24. I just started running last year and reading posts like yours really keeps me motivated not only to run, but to run faster!

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  25. Wow, Congrats Devon! That was so fun to read (you are great writer!) and what an amazing accomplishment; for so many runners, like myself- we only dream of making the OT; what a joy to read of your journey and see how all your hard work and dedication has paid off! Well done!!

    We'll be cheering for you!

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