World Marathon Majors BEST list

Since March 3rd, I’ve relaxed and limited my mileage as well as celebrated my Six Star Medal after running the Tokyo Marathon. I took three-and-a-half weeks off before starting up again. It was a nice break because marathon training can be grueling and both physically and emotionally draining. It’s good to give your body a chance to recharge. In fact, after my first day back on the road running. I was very sore the next day as if I had never run before.

Soreness and other nagging muscle issues aside, I’ve had a chance to reflect on running the six World Marathon Majors since starting my journey in 2014 at the Boston Marathon. Each major marathon was special. Each has its charms and each experience was very different from the others. It’s what makes the World Marathon Majors so special. No race is the same as the other.

For those of you who are also looking complete, start or restart your Six Star journey, or for those of you who have finished the adventure and still love to read about it, here’s my BEST list for the World Marathon Majors. There are many topics I could list but I’m going to limit it. Some of you will agree. Some won’t. But one thing is certain–all six races are amazing.

BEST EXPO

London Marathon— I’m not necessarily a fan of expos, however, I don’t dislike them either. The London Marathon expo, I felt, was the best by far of the six. Yes, the location isn’t near the start or finish but ExCeL is a fine place to have the event. As far as expo logistics, it was easy to find, easy to get your bib and anything else you needed. The people there were friendly and helpful. I felt the layout was the best. It wasn’t tight or cramp like Boston or Tokyo. It wasn’t cavernous and didn’t feel half empty like Chicago. You really couldn’t get lost in different sections like Berlin. The apparel selection was good. They had nice areas to take pictures and provided an upbeat, lively vibe which got me excited about the race.

BEST PRE-RACE WARM UP AREA

Berlin Marathon–While I did like Greenwich Park in London, I think Berlin wins here. The area was easy to get into and close to a subway station. There was plenty of room to stake out a small area to sit and relax before warming up. Plus, how cool is it to prep for one of the world’s best races in front of an iconic building like the Reichstag?! You also had the Tiergarten too which provided a scenic area for a quick warm-up jog.

BEST START

New York City Marathon–There’s a serenity amidst the high energy of 50,000-plus runners when you look out from the Verrazano-Narrows bridge and see the blue waters around you and the magnificent Manhattan skyline in the distance. You realize your’re in the right place at the right time. It’s by far the most scenic start of the majors and maybe any marathon.

FASTEST COURSE

Berlin Marathon–This should be obvious given that the last several world records, including Eliud Kiphoge’s amazing 2:01:39, were run on this course. It’s also the course where I ran my PR of 2:48:48. So, what makes it so fast? It’s a very flat course. Chicago is also quite flat but there are far more turns in Chicago which can slow you down. Berlin doesn’t have all that many turns. Also, the weather is usually cool. With temperatures in the low to mid-50s, the conditions are there to run a PR.

HARDEST COURSE

Boston Marathon–I did consider putting New York here but I think Boston presents the most challenges. The first half is mostly downhill but then you have the Newton Hills in the second half and other small inclines toward the end that can make things tough. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to start too fast then blow up in the second half. For me, the crowded streets the first several miles kept my pace in check which helped me toward the end. I train in southern California in a somewhat hilly area so the Newton Hills weren’t anything I wasn’t already used to but they have broken many people. While I do think it’s the hardest of the majors, I managed to run my second-fastest time of 2:49:21.

BEST WATER

London Marathon–I understand plastic bottles, especially if they’re still half-full, can present a hazard. However, it was so convenient to squeeze the water and drink it without concern it’ll spill everywhere. This was important in 2018 when it was sunny and hot. I needed all that water when I crashed and burned.

BEST VOLUNTEERS

Tokyo Marathon–First, all the volunteers are great. They give up their time to make sure us runners can have a great experience. But since I have to choose one, I choose Tokyo. The volunteers kept thing organized before the race. They kept the course exceptionally clean at the water stations and they guided exhausted runners like myself after the race to the places we needed to be. They did it all with smiles, even in the rain and cold.

best crowd

London Marathon— Again, this was a tough one because all the crowds were great. I think London wins out here. I don’t recall any spot along the course that there weren’t loud cheers. This crowd was the loudest and most excited of six that were loud and excited. I could feel their energy and their support pushed me along when I was crashing and burning at mile 20. I heard nothing but encouragement. As a runner, it really felt like I was on the field at the Super Bowl or the World Series with the home crowd roars pulling me through.

BEST FINISH

Boston Marathon–I think cases can be made for London and Berlin but the Boston Marathon finish on Boylston Street is legendary. Turning from “Mount Hereford” onto Boylston for the last 600 meters is something runners of all abilities dream of accomplishing. Making that left turn and seeing the finish line gives you instant goosebumps amid the exhaustion. The cheers and roar of the crowd get louder as you get closer and you realize you’re about to make into reality something that was just a dream at one time in the past.

BEST POST-race gathering AREA

Chicago Marathon–Berlin was similar but I think Chicago was the easiest to navigate. I was offered beer before water after finishing–LOL! Seriously! That’s what makes Chicago fun. The volunteers lead you to a nice open area in Grant Park where you don’t have to fight crowds or sit on concrete or asphalt after a grueling race. There’s also more beer too–and it’s free as well if you remembered to bring your ticket from your goodie bag.

Me and my parents in Chicago 2015

BEST MEDAL

The Six Star–Why? The Six Star Medal represents all the hard work, planning and money spent to earn the other medals. It signifies that dedication, planning, fundraising and money well-spent for incredible experiences that will last a lifetime and more.

Agree or disagree with my list? Did I forget something? Write a comment below.

London Marathon Race Recap 5 WMM’s Down 1 To Go

This race recap is finally getting done now that I’m back home from across the pond. I didn’t have too much time to start my London Marathon race recap since my wife and I did a lot of sightseeing on our trip. London is one of the world’s most vibrant cities for a reason and we now have an even better understanding of why. It’s no surprise one of the world’s most important cities would put on one of the world’s best marathons–maybe even THE BEST.

Even though the race itself is a great experience, my performance was my worst ever. My goal was to run under three hours but the warm and somewhat humid weather, along with my minor training injuries, did me in. I finished with the official time of 3 hours, 15 minutes, 59 seconds. That’s roughly 27 minutes slower than my personal best time of 2:48:48 in Berlin just several months earlier. I’ll explain what happened, how I felt and what I can learn from this. Despite my performance, I did finish and I did complete my fifth Abbott World Marathon Major. I now have one more to go (Tokyo) before I complete all six and collect the coveted six-star medal which is given to people who finish all six majors.

I also completed my fundraising goal for Livability. I had a chance to meet some people who work for this outstanding charity and was touched by the work they do and was honored to be able to help.

Here’s how the trip started. We arrived Friday afternoon, ate and slept early to wake up to collect my Livability singlet and bib number at the expo.

me outside london expo
Me outside the expo

The expo was well-organized and it was very easy to collect my bib.

me and my bib
Me posing with my bib

If you notice, I’m wearing my 2016 Los Angeles Marathon shirt. I had to represent Los Angeles while in London 🙂

me and wife again
Me and the wife. It’s hard to run marathons without family support and without hers I simply couldn’t do it.  

After the expo, we toured the Tower of London which was magnificent and full of history, both good and bad. The walking didn’t bother me and my legs felt fine. There was no groin pain nor was my shin splint issue a problem. After touring the tower, we ate and went back to the hotel for an early night.

Like most people, I get a little nervous and anxious before a big race. My sleep wasn’t great but it wasn’t horrible either. I woke up in the morning feeling generally fine. My legs felt good thanks to massaging by my wife the night before that included a roller that really works at loosening the muscles. I ate oatmeal and a banana like I do every morning of a race whether it’s a 5k or marathon. I also drank my hydration drink from Osmo. This drink helps my body stay hydrated during long races. Hydration is so important in a marathon. Of course, I was drinking water regularly leading up to the race but this drink helps keep sodium and electrolyte levels more balanced. It’s not a miracle drink and it doesn’t replace the need for water during the race but it certainly helps.

I also knew it was going to be warm. Like all marathon runners, I check the weather forecast to the hour. The forecast called for clear skies and temperatures in the low to mid-70s. Yikes! While sunny and in the 70s seem like perfect weather it is absolutely horrendous for a marathon. The ideal marathon temperature is anywhere from 45 to 55 degrees. When a race is long, cooler weather is preferred because the warmer temperatures slow the body down because the body uses more energy to cool itself rather than to make you run faster. A one-mile run in 85 degree weather can be tolerated as I’ve done it before. That race is only four to six minutes. A race that lasts two to five hours in those conditions means slower times. Plus, it was a little humid and the race started at 10am when the sun is even higher in the sky. Knowing all this, I still felt confident that I could run under three hours but probably not a personal best. I have trained in these conditions but training and racing are much different.

I also decided to wear my usual racing shoes even though they were worn out. I used new inserts to prevent them from slipping out like one did in the Pasadena Half Marathon. I felt the new inserts would help. I did bring another pair of shoes to possibly race in but I felt I would go with what I know. That probably wasn’t a good idea. My racing shoes were done. More on that later.

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Me just before leaving to the race. I felt hopeful but it wasn’t to be. 

My wife and I got onto a bus and headed to the underground station to go to the start. We left around 7am so that would give us enough time to get there without rushing. The trains were packed with runners so I had to mostly stand. It was ok though.

crowded tuve
Crowded tube. We minded the gap while exiting. 

We arrived at Greenwich Park, where the race begins, a little past 8am. The park is huge and we walked uphill to the start line and runner villages. It was as sunny as it could get. Not a cloud in the sky in a city known for cool, damp and dreary weather. It was also getting warm. I could feel the sun beat on me even while sitting and relaxing. My wife went off to find a spot to see me around the 10k mark while I entered the runner’s village.

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I was thinking how warm it was already and the race didn’t even start. I had no need for my warm up jacket.

I drank my beet juice, which has nitrates to help expand blood vessels so more energy can get to the muscles. I also did my usual warm up routine. I wore calf compression sleeves for the first time in a race. My calves felt a little tight in the days before the race so I chose to wear the sleeves to help with blood flow and prevent possible cramping. It worked. There were no calf cramps and I didn’t feel the sleeves were a nuisance.

I made my way to the red start line which is where all the charity runners line up. Like the New York City Marathon, there were different start lines that merge about three miles into the race. I was in the pen when Queen Elizabeth appeared on the big screen from Windsor Castle to officially start the race. She pressed the button and we were all off. Us charity runners had to wait a couple minutes for the Good for Age runners to start. This was no bother because I had a timing chip on my shoe so my official time didn’t start until I crossed the start line.

Once I crossed the start line, I began my run. It’s always best to run the first few miles a little slower than goal pace. My first mile was 6:29 which was my ideal goal pace. I wasn’t sure if that’d be sustainable so I slowed down on mile two for a 6:39 then picked it up again for a 6:31 mile three. My first 5k split was 20:36 which is in line with my other marathons. However, the heat started to get to me and my legs started to feel a little heavy. I was already sweating more than usual. Every time I stepped down, it felt like my feet were slipping as if I didn’t have proper traction. It was probably the new inserts combined with the worn out shoes.

My second 5k split was slower at 21:07. It was at the 10k mark that I started to think a sub-3 hour marathon was going to be very difficult. I could feel the sun sitting on top of me like a weight. My shin didn’t bother me nor did my groin so that was good. While I felt myself starting to struggle, the amazing crowds kept me going. They kept shouting my name and cheering me on. How did they know my name? It was on the front of my singlet. I recommend, if you can, putting your name on your singlet for a marathon or any race. People will cheer your name and it does help. Hearing random people in the crowd shout for you really does push you along. I should also add the crowds for London were among the best I’ve ever heard.

My mile splits started to drop in to the 6:50s before bouncing up to a 6:36 mile 8 but they were all slower after that. The course itself wasn’t hard. It’s generally flat but has some small ups and downs in many places unlike Berlin or Chicago, which are basically pancake flat.

By mile 10, I knew anything above 2:55 would be almost impossible for me. I was starting to wither in the heat. I did grab water a few times at the stations. They were small plastic bottles which you can squeeze. I thought that was great because you can carry it with you for a bit without worrying about it spilling like in a cup.

I went up and through the Tower Bridge and crossed the half way mark a little bit later in 1:28:43. That’s still sub-3 pace but I knew at that point it probably wasn’t going to happen. I felt a little disappointed but I quickly just focused on running the best I could and didn’t worry myself about a sub-3 time anymore. It was just too hot. The sun just felt heavier and heavier as it sat on me. My shoes felt as if they had no traction and I started to heel strike on the hot pavement which made my left heel feel as if it was burning. I basically felt awful. I maintained my splits in the 6:50s until mile 16 when I ran a 7:12 mile. I could feel my body losing energy and power in the 75-degree heat which felt more like 95 to 100-degree heat. It turned out to be the hottest London Marathon on record!

I slogged through the next few miles seeing more people than usual pass me. Right before the mile 20 mark, I started to walk. I was just too exhausted. My body couldn’t handle the heat. I’ve only stopped or walked two other times in races. One was for a quick restroom stop in New York at mile 11 and the other was a 51k race (31.7 miles) in which I started out way too fast. I walked/ran for the next four miles in front of the largest crowds. I wasn’t devastated but I wasn’t happy either. I walked briskly with my head down so I could still walk with a purpose. I heard people cheer me on and give me encouragement. It helped tremendously. When I got to mile 24, I ran again..slowly…very slowly. I didn’t stop running until the finish–2.2 miles later. I made it a point to finish as strongly as I could. It wasn’t strong by my normal standards but it was all that I had.

I ran past the Parliament building with Big Ben hiding behind scaffolding for maintenance work. I turned right, saw Buckingham Palace and followed the curved road until it straightened out to the finish a few hundred yards away. I saw a line of British flags on poles leading to the finish and the roaring crowd. I plodded to the finish and put my hands in the air to celebrate. I was done! I collected my medal and my finisher t-shirt and walked slowly to the meet-up area. It was still hot.

Two things that I never experienced with such intensity during a race happened to me during those final 2.2 miles. I got hit with extreme tiredness as if my body wanted me to stop and nap on the side of the road and extreme hunger. My body wanted a large quantity of food. Usually, it takes 20 to 30 minutes after a marathon before my body can handle solid foods.

When I sat down waiting for my wife, I drank whatever liquids were in my post-race goodie bag along with an apple and a couple granola-type bars. I scarfed those down unlike ever after a marathon. It was unusual for me but this was an usual race.

While sitting, I was ok with not reaching my goal. While I strive for consistency, there are going to be some ups and downs. It’s just math. The more you run, the more good and bad races you’ll have. But that being said, you want most of your races to be consistent.  This race was on the bad end. I reflected on what I should’ve done better though. I remembered I went through something similar after the Boston Marathon in 2014. I ran a personal best at the time of 2:49:21. I felt if I could keep training like I did, I’d push my times even lower. What happened was I didn’t give my aging body time to properly recover before I intensified training for the 51k race that August. That race was bad for me as I briefly mentioned above, but I still didn’t learn. I trained for the Las Vegas Marathon that November. My training runs started to get slower (a sign of overtraining) and I felt anxious and pressured internally to perform well. This all added up to running a 3:05:50 just a seven months after my 2:49 in Boston. 3:05 is a fine time but not what I wanted. I didn’t run a marathon again until Chicago in October, 2015. I felt better, more focused and ran 2:54. That was done after not running for six weeks in May/June due to a stress reaction.

I think part of me felt pressured shortly after Berlin to equal or rival that performance in London. I had wanted to run all six majors under three hours. Because of that, I developed a nagging injury like shin splints which caused my groin strain. I lost valuable training time.

I sat down recovering realizing no goals were shattered. I reflected on the race itself and the course, crowds, etc. The whole experience was still amazing even as I struggled in the heat. I thought I could run this again and go under 3 which would still allow me to complete my goal.

Maker:S,Date:2017-1-9,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y
I may not look it but I was exhausted and sore. 

My wife and I headed to a nearby hotel for a post-race reception hosted by Livability. We met great people there and learned more about Livability’s mission of helping connect disabled people to their communities. They thanked us for raising money but we thanked them for devoting themselves to helping those less fortunate. I made a decision to run this race again in the future (possibly even next year) and when I do, I will once again fundraise for Livability.

me after race
I posed for pictures at the post-race reception. 

post race by parliament
Post-race by Parliament

What’s next for me? I plan to take two to three weeks off completely from running following the race. I want my legs, body and mind to rest and recover. I’ll start again slowly with renewed vigor and excitement and without anymore self-imposed pressure. I did plan to run the Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota in October but I may skip that one. I will also find some local 5ks, 10ks and half marathons to run coming up in the summer so that’ll be fun. This summer, I also have to figure out how to enter the Tokyo Marathon in March to complete my six-star journey. I will probably raise money for a charity again. I enjoyed that and think I can do it again. If not Tokyo in March, maybe Boston in April or London again. I’m excited about the possibilities. I’m even more excited about running again feeling fresh both physically and mentally.

Overall, the London Marathon is incredible. The crowds are loud and spirited, the course is fun and the weather won’t always be hot and awful. Raising money for a charity also give you more of a purpose. If you can run this race, do it!

Running With You,

Donald

WMM#5 London — Help Me Help Others

I’ve been enjoying my downtime post Berlin Marathon. You can tell because I haven’t posted since my race recap. I have run several times since returning home but not consistently again yet.

First, after a big race that involves heavy training, it’s always good to have some down time both physically and mentally. The body needs a break and a chance to recover which will help reduce the chance of injury during the next big training cycle. The brain needs a break too. Training for a marathon can be daunting and grueling. It takes a lot of discipline and toughness to complete the workouts day after after day when you don’t really have to do them at all since running isn’t a job or career for us non-elites. It’s nice to recharge so one can feel fresh in the head when restarting a heavy training cycle.

Second, it’s been hot here in southern California—really, really hot. It was in the 100s for two days. 100s in late October! Because of my schedule, I haven’t been able to run in the mornings or late at night when it cools down. I decided not to run in the heat since I hate running in the heat and because there’s no need to since I am not in the middle of a heavy training cycle.

I’ll restart consistent running in about a week or so. I’ll likely build up to 45-50 miles a week before my next big training cycle for my next big race which is the….

LONDON MARATHON!

Image result for union jack
Hail Britannia! 

The London Marathon is one of the six World Marathon Majors.  The race is scheduled for April 22nd, 2018. It’ll be my fifth World Marathon Major, leaving only the Tokyo Marathon left to complete before I earn the coveted 6-star medal. Before I can run this race though I’m going to need your help. Let me explain.

The London Marathon is one of the hardest marathons to enter if you are not a citizen of the United Kingdom. If you are a non-elite competitor like myself, there are only three ways to enter. 1. You enter a lottery. More than 300,000 people around the world entered the lottery for the 2018 edition with only 40,000 to 50,000 slots available. The race organizers, from what the word is around the marathon community, select very few overseas lottery ballots. I applied for the lottery but did not get in. 2. You can run the race through a tour group. Yes, there are travel companies that specifically cater to marathon runners. They are allowed a set number of entries for each marathon. For American runners, there’s only one tour group we can use for London. There’s high demand for this race so the tour group gives priority booking for members of its club and how many slots are leftover are determined by lottery. I applied through the lottery but did not get in. 3. The London Marathon is known for raising millions of dollars (and pounds for you Brits!) for numerous charities. How does it do this? The marathon gives partner charities a certain number of entries. These charities offer these entries to runners like myself provided we raise a certain number of dollars.

I got to thinking. I can wait and run through the tour group or I could wait to possibly get in through the marathon’s direct lottery at some point in my life.  Or I can take initiative now and use my running to help a good cause.

I decided on the latter. I’ve long wanted to help a worthy cause but often put it off except for donations here and there. I always told myself I need to give back to help others who have not been as fortunate as myself. Again, I’ve put this off. Now, I’m not putting it off. Now is the time to do it.

I looked a several different charities recently that still had slots available to runners. I studied each one and came across one charity that I really admired. This charity is called Livability.

Livability is a disability charity that connects people with their communities. It tackles social isolation and the barriers that can cause this in the lives of disabled and vulnerable people. It provides education, training and community services to promote inclusion and well-being for all.

I applied to run the London Marathon for Livability. The charity was awesome enough to get back to me within two days to accept me as one of its runners! I will now have the opportunity to run the race for Livability but I’m going to need your help to do that. It’s an opportunity NOT a guarantee that I will run.

I have a goal to raise $2,000 or £1,500 (for any U.K. readers). If I can raise this money, I will run the London Marathon for Livability.

I think this goal is achievable and I have amazing friends and family who can help me do this.

While I’m fortunate enough to run in great sporting events like the Boston and Berlin Marathons, there are others who will never have that chance through no fault of their own. If I can help make their lives a little better then I should because being human means to do your part in the community to make it better for all. Now is the time do my part.

I humbly ask all of you to please donate to Livability if you can. Any amount is greatly appreciated and I do mean any amount. Everything adds up.

The donations are made through my charity webpage which is set up by Virgin, the sponsor of the London Marathon. The money goes straight to the charity. The link to donate is HERE also.

Thank you all again for the support. You guys keep me going.

Running With You,

Donald