Back to Racing at the Rose Bowl

The last year of running has been extremely challenging for me as I’ve dealt with several nagging injuries that have derailed my training. It started with shin splints and some type of hip or groin pain right before the London Marathon. That sent me to the pool for aqua jogging for a couple weeks and got me out of my routine.

After the race, I took some time off to heal and came back but then dealt with a calf strain that hampered me for a couple months. I also gained 5 to 10 pounds which I still haven’t lost and which slow me down a bit. I decided to take it easy with my training in the buildup to the Tokyo Marathon on March 3rd, which will be my sixth World Marathon Major. However, I then got a strain in my piriformis muscle. That sidelined me in December for about two weeks as my training was just starting to pick up. This was very frustrating to say the least. All these nagging soft tissue injuries were all on my right side. I decided to visit a professional and find out what was up and learn how to prevent these injuries. I had been doing a stretching routine before and after runs consistently so I was quite bothered when my piriformis muscle was hurting. I contacted chiropractor Steve Smith based in Pasadena. He’s a runner himself and specializes in treating runners. I figured if anyone can help me it’d be a fellow runner. He’s written a book about healthy running and also founded the well-known and popular Pasadena Pacers running club.

After asking about my running history, training, shoes and other information he told me everything I was generally doing was fine. He did say sometimes after marathons, the body is worn out and may seem fine but isn’t fully recovered which could lead to soft tissue injuries if a runner isn’t careful. He suspects this could’ve been the case after London and even in 2017 after the Berlin Marathon.

Upon physical examination, he quickly found the problem, which was my piriformis muscle. That muscle can put pressure on the sciatic nerve which can cause pain down the leg. He said I could run still but to take it easy until the pain goes away. I got a deep tissue massage and electric stimulation. I did that twice and it helped immensely. After just two visits in three days, the pain started to go away.

I picked up my training toward the end of December but only had four weeks until the Pasadena Half Marathon. I knew I wouldn’t be able to run the race as fast as I would like since my training was limited and stalled. I was able to bounce back and decided to treat the race almost as a tempo run leading up to the goal race which is obviously the Tokyo Marathon. My best time on the Pasadena Half course was 1:19:21 set in 2013. I ran 1:20:43 last year but knew both those times were not realistic and chasing them could strain my body ahead of Tokyo which would not be worth it.

I didn’t have a time goal but felt if I could run under 1:25 then that’d show me I have a pretty good chance to run sub-3 in Tokyo. I felt if I could manage a 6:25-6:28 pace that would be sufficient as I’d have about four to five more weeks to improve before Tokyo.

Me after the race in front of the Rose Bowl

Fortunately, muscle memory exists. Your body and mind get trained to do something and doing it again comes back quicker than you think. This race is also my first since London. Since I started running again as an adult in 2009, I had never taken this much time in-between races, which was just about nine months! That’s just too long.

Anyway, race morning arrived. I woke up, drank beet juice and a bit of my hydration drink, some Gu energy gel and a banana. I stretched too and headed down to the Rose Bowl where the start and finish are.

Lucky for me, I didn’t have to drive. It was a nice walk/warm-up jog of about one mile. I arrived and saw thousands of people there getting ready to run and accomplish their personal goals which is always inspiring. Starting outside of and finishing on the field of such an iconic stadium makes this race worth it.

The course isn’t easy nor is it extremely tough. I’d call it challenging. It’s hilly but not terrible. There’s a long hill at the end of mile 2 up California Blvd. and a shorter steep incline up Colorado Blvd. headed to the historic Colorado Street Bridge. There are also period of gradual uphill and downhill. The last mile is all downhill which is a relief. That last mile finishes a loop around the Rose Bowl and adjacent Brookside Golf Course. The toughest part of the course is between miles six and nine because almost all of it is gradual uphill and includes the incline up Colorado Blvd.

The great part about the race is you pass by the city’s hot spots from, obviously, the Rose Bowl to Orange Grove Blvd. (where the Rose Parade begins) to Colorado Blvd. (which used to be part of Route 66) to Lake Ave. (known for shopping and restaurants) to Caltech (one of the best universities in the world) and then back to the Rose Bowl with a finish at the 50-yard-line.

Beer tastes better after a race

Before the start, as I was in the corral, I told myself not to go out too hard. It wasn’t worth exhausting myself. This was to be a marathon training run to show myself I’m in shape enough to run at or a bit faster than my idea goal marathon pace. This was important because my ego can sometimes get in the way and I want to try to best my previous times on the same course. This is where mental discipline comes into play.

The race started and thousands of us were off! My first mile was at 6:14. I wanted it slower at about 6:25 to 6:30 but that was ok since a good portion of it was downhill. My second mile was slower at 6:24 but under 6:30 which was good. My 5k time was under 20 minutes at 19:48. I felt comfortable which was good but I also felt that I couldn’t really run much faster, and if I tried, I’d exhaust myself quickly. As the race progressed, I followed about 10 seconds behind a pack for much of the way. My mile splits were mostly consistent if you factor in the gradual up and down. My lovely wife saw me just before mile 3 and at mile 8.5 (both in the same spots at the top of Colorado Blvd.) and said I looked the same and didn’t look to be in pain. I wasn’t.

As I headed down from the Colorado Street Bridge to the Rose Bowl for the loop around, I saw my 10-mile time and figured I’d have a good chance at sub-1:25 which would be good. My 11th and 12th miles were my slowest of the race (6:36 and 6:33) but almost all of that stretch was gradual uphill. Mile 13 was my fastest (6:10) but that was all downhill.

Of course, because it’s a half marathon, I felt fatigued toward the end like most everyone but not exhausted and worn out. My wife saw me with about a quarter-mile left and said I looked the same as earlier. I felt a bit tired but not weak. I didn’t have much of a kick and cruised to the finish line in 1:23:40–good enough for 29th place and 5th in my 40-44 age group.

Me and the wife. I ran but she got the blister

Even though my time was three minutes slower than last year, I was pleased to make it through without any pain and without my legs feeling like mush. The bottom of my feet toward the end were burning just a bit so I’ll have to find new shoes for the marathon but that wasn’t a big deal. My time, I believe, puts me on track for a sub-3 at Tokyo. But there’s still work to be done in the next few weeks.

My legs feel fine now though I can tell I did run a half. I’ll be back out training this week but on the easier side. My goal in the next few weeks is to run three 20-miler long runs, two to three tempo runs of 10 to 12 miles and at least one 8 x 1-mile interval workout or a 3 x 5k interval or both. That’s ambitious but I’m feeling good physically and this race gave me the added confidence that I can make a sub-3 happen in Tokyo. I don’t expect to run a a personal best but I don’t have to.

I’m a Bruin. He’s a Bruin. We’re at the football home of the Bruins. This picture just made sense

The lesson here is to keep pushing to bounce back and please be patient. You have the time. Races aren’t going anywhere. Gradually build up again and don’t worry if you’re not hitting past times yet. You’ll get there. I’m not hitting those times yet but in four to six months, I might be. Who knows? Trust in your training and trust in yourself to make it back from a setback or two or several.

Running With You,


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