beach run with a kick

surf_festival_logoThe International Surf Festival Dick Fitzgerald 2-Mile Beach Run: that’s quite a mouthful for such a short race. I normally wouldn’t think to enter a two miler, except the event benefited my son’s high school cross-country team. In a show of support, I registered.coursemapThe Beach Run is an out-and-back that starts at the Hermosa Beach Pier, heads north to the Longfellow lifeguard tower, then doubles back to the start. With mile one in dry sand, and mile two in the surf, the course is uniquely challenging. Since it was such a short race, I decided to leave my training schedule intact and include the Beach Run as part of my Saturday long-run. I did not prepare or taper, and decided to race at my tempo effort.

Over 200 runners lined up for the start. Weather conditions were good, slightly overcast, not too hot. We set off at eight o’clock sharp, and that’s when my troubles began. My feet sank into the sand after every step and the loose footing prevented me from finding any rhythm. I had hoped to begin at my tempo pace- just under a 7:00 minute mile- but was already laboring. I checked my watch to make sure I did not go out too fast and it read 9:30. Crap. I had only covered a quarter mile. Double crap. The race was quickly becoming a salvage effort.start01With my shoes full of sand, I zig-zagged and stumbled to Longfellow, made the turn, and sprinted to the firmer wet sand. My feet found a bit of purchase and I began to recover. Unfortunately, the tide was in making the beach slope toward the ocean.  I was not aware of veering seaward until the first wave hit me, soaking my sand filled shoes. I course corrected but not before running into two more waves.DFBR_pace_blueOnly a half mile remained, and thankfully the race was about to end. I found myself running alone, in front of the pack but behind the runners who were better prepared to run on sand. I noticed only one person ahead of me but I was unsure if he was in striking distance. I decided to find out. Despite my earlier exertions, the short course left me with enough energy to kick. I began to close the gap. It was going to be a close finish, too close to call.

The last 100 yards were some of the most thrilling I’ve ever run. I had a chance to catch him, and it would go down to the wire. I didn’t realize until after the race that my opponent had the same name as me. His friends were cheering him so I heard, “C’mon John! Go! SPRINT!” That supplied the last bit of inspiration, and I surged and passed the other John inches before the finish line. It was electric. Never mind my overall poor race, all I could think about was the finish. My legs felt like they woke up and days later they still had some spring.

 

Turns out that John number two did all right. He placed first in his age group, a decade above mine. I came in 18th overall and fifth in my group. I ran my slowest race mile ever but also recorded my biggest negative split. If I race next year, I’ll need to practice running in the sand and maybe running barefoot. There’s a lot of room to improve my time but it will be tough to top this year’s finish.

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rainy day running

What’s this? Southern California is rainy for the first time in ages. My running vocabulary grew to include wet, cold, and muddy.  I love it.

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After years of training on dry roads and dusty trails, I’ll enjoy the rain while it lasts. There’s a thrill of getting caught in a downpour and showers during my workouts are a treat.

All of my usual haunts are transformed.

Beach runs during an approaching storm are a dramatic change from the usual blue skies.

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Griffith Park offers a misty morning trail run with sweeping views of the cloudy sky.

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Out on the Palos Verdes Peninsula the trails are a mess. I need to scrape the mud from my shoes while the wind catches me out on the bluffs.

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Sunshine is on the way. Maybe just in time so I don’t get tired of the rain and a special start to my running season.

 

Yuletide 5K

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The out and back Yuletide 5K in Manhattan Beach, CA, starts at the MB Pier and heads north along the coastline. The race is held at sunset, low tide, and right around the winter solstice. It was my first ever night race and first time running below sea level.

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I joined my son Alex who was running with his high school cross country team. When we arrived, the sun had just set, the temperature was dropping and the wind was picking up. We were ready for a festive and challenging race.

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Alex found his team while I set off along the beach for a quick warm up. There was still enough daylight to see the course which was flat and much softer than the roads and trails I usually run. After breaking a sweat, I headed back and kept warm until the start.

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The start/finish line was under the pier. It was dark when everybody- about 500 people- lined up. We belted out a verse of Jingle Bells and that was our signal to go. Off we went plunging into darkness.

The uniqueness of night racing soon asserted itself. I could not see my watch or any other runners except for those immediately around me. I was running entirely by feel without any frame of reference. I focused on my breathing and footsteps to set a fast but relaxed pace and by the first mile I felt surprisingly good.

I soon learned there were three kinds of sand. The driest was too soft for any traction while the wet sand was not firm enough to hold my weight causing me to sink a little bit. Both surfaces slowed me down considerably. Meanwhile, there was a sweet spot in between the wet and dry sand that was firmly packed and responsive. The only problem was that it was impossible to see and I needed to pick out the narrow and winding band with guesswork.

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As I approached the turnaround the lead runners came from the opposite direction. This was a new challenge since they were invisible until the last moment. I was toward the front of the pack and when I started back I made sure to watch out for the rest of the field. I’m happy to report that there were no collisions but the two-way traffic certainly added to the challenge.

My least favorite moment of an out and back 5K is turning and seeing the finish line in the distance. Since it was night the finish line was all I could see and it seemed impossibly far away. It was time to dig in and hold my pace. I kept going for another mile focused on my breathing and footsteps. I saved enough for a nice little kick at the end and when I could make out the finish line I cut loose.

splits

I finished with a 21:07, about 30 seconds slower than my PR. My splits were encouragingly consistent; I usually start too fast and sabotage my final mile. Oddly, I felt much stronger tonight than on my previous 5Ks so I wonder how much the sand affected my time. I finished 34th overall and 3rd in my age group, while Alex finished 19th and third in his age group. A nice ending to our 2016 season.

summer running

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This summer, my best time to run is early morning along the beach. No complaints there. I spent most of July exploring the South Bay from Palos Verdes, through the beach cities of Redondo, Hermosa, and Manhattan, and as far north as El Segundo.

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After running a marathon at the end of May, I spent June in recovery mode building back my weekly mileage. In July, I put together a string of consistent weeks and feel like I’m back to normal. I started the month with a 5K and surprised myself with a new PR. For the rest of the month I stayed consistent with five runs and a long run each week.

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The Strand bike path is flat and fast. I found that I could work on my running form without worrying about traffic or the irregularities I encounter on trail runs. It’s also ten to twenty degrees cooler than the rest of LA, a definite advantage for summer training.

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The bike path ends at RAT beach and the Palos Verdes peninsula. From the top of the bluffs you can see all the way north to Malibu and most days are just right for running.

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This summer has been a nice break from dedicated training. Three half marathons and then a marathon took up almost an entire year. Now I’m ready to get back to setting goals and racing. I’ll be starting with a trail 10K next month and targeting the Manhattan Beach 10K in early October as a goal race.