Sunday, January 10, 2016

Analyzing the Accidental PR (2:43:54, 2016 Camarillo Marathon)

Accidental personal records (PR's)...yes, they do happen! No matter how much you plan, train, and taper for a goal race, sometimes a completely different day chooses you right out of the blue. Then, like that line in the play The Producers, you have to ask yourself "where did we go RIGHT?" and solve the mystery.

The 2016 Camarillo Marathon turned out that way for me, when I unexpectedly shaved 35 seconds off my marathon PR to 2:43:54. It was supposed to be a "see where we're at" benchmark race - find a fast course early in the season, go out at PR pace with no specific training, and when I inevitably blow up, it identifies the weaknesses to focus on with an intensity that keeps me motivated (i.e., it hurts so much, you put in the training so that it never happens again). But this time that second shoe didn't drop, so to speak.

In retrospect, the Camarillo Marathon had all the elements of a PR-worthy race:
  • A flat two loop route on the smooth roads of the Southern California coast, known for still mornings in 50-degree weather. 
  • The race has been expertly run by Bill Escobar and the team at Elite Sports Venture County for six years, but is still small enough that there's never a line at the aid stations. 
  • I spent the night at my in-laws house without the kids, wife, and dogs, thus a rare seven hours of uninterrupted sleep. NEVER underestimate good sleep!
  • I've found that a race scheduled in the first half of January has a wonderful subconscious way of discouraging 3rd helpings of holiday pie and beer (well, pie anyway). 
  • My running was unstructured for December, but in looking back, it ended up being a lot of "long run followed by 1-2 rest days". I suspect the added rest helped.
I also had the benefit of a great pacer, past winner Angel Echevarria from Los Angeles, who just happened to go out at a 6:05 min/mile pace (just out of my PR range) and evenly split the first 22 miles. I wasn't wearing a watch, but in retrospect, shouldn't have been surprised to see 2:40's on the finish clock in the final mile.

The weather did turn out to be perfect, just cold enough we all wanted to get going, and I lined up with ~130 runners for the marathon (another 200 in the half to start later). They gave us a "1, 2, 3..." (but no "GO"), and it wasn't until somebody pointed that the clock was running that we all hollered and took off down the bike path. Too funny! The first marathon of the year had begun.

By the first mile marker, I settled in with Angel, who effortlessly stacked 6 min/miles with his long strides. We traded a few English/Spanish greetings, but mostly just enjoyed each others company as we distanced ourselves from the pack. Angel had the grin and energy of a runner recently back from injury (he ran a 2:36 marathon in November after taking most of 2015 off), and mentioned the Los Angeles Marathon in February was his focus. He was the perfect rabbit. "Operation Blow Up" was well on its way, and I nervously exhaled knowing what was prescribed to come.

The miles ticked off quickly as we circled huge polygons of crops, the edges so long and straight, one would swear they go on forever. I focused on my form, relaxing my shoulders and chuckling to myself that an "Angel" was guiding me through this sleepy town. The monotony of our rhythm was hypnotizing, soothing, and the silence only broke for the occasional car or shout of encouragement from the field workers. It was a great way to clear the mind for the New Year. I finally trading the lead around Mile 10 (59:27 as Strava would tell me later) just to change things up, but by the turnaround (1:19) Angel was setting the pace once again, smiling ear to ear.

The course was full of half marathoners on our second lap, and everyone was in good spirits as the day warmed up to the high 50's. The Marathon Maniacs were out in force, no surprise, and the local running groups had pacers for everything from 1:30 to 4:30 hour finish times. Volunteers were awesome...what a great little race! It wasn't until Mile 20 (2:03) that I started to get some niggles, mostly in the form of twitchy calves and a foot cramp. That usually means I need some hydration, so I walked an aid station to gulp down a couple of cups, and in doing so allowed Angel to gap me by 20 seconds. But as we headed down the long stretches, slaloming between the half marathoners, I calculated that we were roughly still going at the same pace.

At Mile 24 (2:30), I got light-headed and had to downshift (Strava later would say to a 6:24 min/mile). This is not an unusual thing for me, and typically means I either wasn't getting calories in (but I was in this case) or hadn't clocked enough 2+ hour long runs (probably it). But the wheels weren't coming off yet, so I kept at it, walking one more aid station to get some water on my head. Angel got a little closer, but his form was still solid, so I suspected he knew he had nothing to worry about.

Angel had a city block on me as we entered the final stretch, and I saw the finish clock saying 2:43:40 and yelled out a "WTF?!?". With a little extra turnover, I got under the banner just in time for a 2:43:54 and 2nd overall. Yeah! Funny how that "3" on "2:43" suddenly means everything. I thanked Angel for pulling us the whole way, and he had nothing but hugs for me when he heard the letters "PR". As we ate pancakes and cheered in the runners, Angel said "you come back next year and we'll do a new PR for 2017". Love it! He is an Angel in every way.

(Thanks for the new PR, Camarillo Marathon!)
A few days later, my soreness was pretty even across my glutes, calves, hamstrings, and hip flexors, so there wasn't any specific indicators of weakness. As a 46-year-old, one always wonders if this is the year of the inevitable slow decline, but apparenltly that's a big HELL no. Time to crank up the training a notch for 2016!

Thank you Bill Escobar and team for a great race, and helping me get that Corral #1 bib number back for Boston (hopefully). I hope you all had a great start to the New Year!

- SD


  1. This is a most inspiring story Scott! You constantly amaze me. Thank you for the excellent write up. does anyone else who has been pushing as hard and as long as you still set PRs in their mid40s? thank you for the motivation! Sarah S

  2. Wowza! Scott! Congrats! As you can see the fat as fuel approach makes getting older better! . . . not to mention the carbs also work better using less. Don't underestimate the uncoupled, approach as part of your success! Way to go.

  3. Congrats! I always enjoy reading your posts

  4. Congrats!!!!

    Hey...prob dumb question....does your Forerunner 910XT GPS-Enabled Sport Watc
    Connect with Strava?

    I was going to get Fitbit......what do you think? I want to stop carrying my iPhone :/

    1. Yes, Garmin GPS can be uploaded into Strava! Pretty easy once the software is set up (Garmin Connect).

      FitBits are fun and lightweight, although I miss the GPS data. I like having the beefier watch with God, pace, etc. The Fitbit I have only tracks steps.

  5. Great writeup! Good reminder that PRs can happen when you least expect them, and at any age!

  6. Great! Having no expectations sometimes is just the best. Have a great 2016!


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