Los Angeles Marathon (2013) - Race Report

My goal for this 28th edition of the LA Marathon was ambitious (at least for me ;)): I wanted to run a sub-3h marathon. I knew it wouldn’t be easy as that would imply to shave almost 26min off my marathon PR (3:25:39, set at the LA marathon 2012), but I guess we also run to overcome challenges like that no? However I had the feeling that this goal was attainable after all the training I went through in the past few months to prepare for the TNFC 50K and the Bandit Ultra Run 50K. I was aware that I hadn’t really done my homeworks of road specific training, having mostly focused on trail running for the past 6 months, but I was doing this race for the 2 on the clock at the finish line, so basically I wanted to have my cake and eat it too.

This marathon was also special in the sense that I had some family visiting from France, and David (brother in law) had registered to the race in an attempt to run (and hopefully finish) his first marathon! Therefore, I was really excited to share with him the LA marathon route which showcases Los Angeles and the cities beautifully with its “Stadium to the Sea” route. The race is a lot of fun and a great way to visit Los Angeles, beginning at Dodger Stadium and running through famous cities and landmarks like Chinatown, Hollywood Blvd, the Sunset Strip and Rodeo Drive, before ending at the Beach near the famous Santa Monica Pier.

On the day before the race, we went to the race expo to pick up our bibs. I loved the atmosphere there, it was electric and we could really feel the excitement people at the expo had for the race. We stopped by most of the sponsor booths and grabbed a ton of goodies ;)

LA marathon exposition
With David at the pre-race exposition

The plan

If you search on the internet, you will find that there are a lot of recommended strategies to run a sub-3h marathon. Some call for a first slow five miles, followed by running on pace until mile 20, then a fast close. Others prefer negative splits where the first half is just slightly slower than the second half. Some describe just even splits. The problem was that even if I was in one of the better running shape of my life, from my previous experience with the marathon distance it was hard for me to imagine a finish as strong (even splits) or even stronger (negative splits) than the first part of the race. So in the end my plan was just to run the first half in more or less 1:28:XX so I would have roughly 4min to spare in the second half. I though it was also a good idea since the second half has more downhills, so in the case I cannot sustain the pace the downhills would help to limit any time damage.

LA marathon profile
Elevation profile of the LA marathon.

The LA marathon was just 4 weeks after the Bandit 50K. In between, I focused on doing some race specific trainings on road, such as intervals trainings during the week and long tempo-ish runs on the week-ends (#1 and #2). I then did for the first time a proper taper on the two last weeks leading to the race.

home made marthon splits
My home-made pace band

The story

I didn’t sleep well the night before the marathon, probably a mix of pressure and excitement. After a quick breakfast, David and I headed out to Santa Monica to take the 5:30AM shuttle and we arrived at the Dodgers stadium with more than one hour to spare.

There was a lot of runners already there, and the conditions looked perfect.

40min before the start, I made my way to the corral B (previous sub-4h marathon finisher). Last year, I showed up too late and the corral access was already closed, so at least this year I didn’t do the same mistake. While waiting for the start, I chatted with some legacy runners, those guys are amazing and clearly know how to share their passion for the LA marathon. After some nice chats with my new friends, the gun went off, and suddenly we were running!

I started a bit faster than the planned pace, but I wasn’t too much worried about it as the first 3 miles of the race are basically all downhill and I wanted to bank some time before the first hills anyways.

Mile 1 - 6:32
Mile 2 - 6:34
Mile 3 - 6:46

In the next section we hit a good amount of hills. I ran them at a very conservative pace to limit my energy expenditure. Even if it was kind of early for a Sunday morning, there was a lot of spectators cheering on the runners, especially on this section, and that was clearly a mental boost for me! By mile 6, I was right on pace and the major hills of the day were already behind me. I crossed the 10km mark in 42:24, a bit behind schedule but feeling really good.

Mile 4 - 6:51
Mile 5 - 7:03
Mile 6 - 6:52

Miles 7-14 were basically all flat. Nothing much happened here, except that I had to quickly stop to empty my bladder right before entering Hollywood. I was running very relaxed, and my legs were responsive. I hit the ½ marathon mark around 1:29:XX. This was a bit slower than what I originally planned, but I was more than happy with it and I was still confident about my sub-3h goal.

Mile 7 - 6:36
Mile 8 - 6:44
Mile 9 - 6:48
Mile 10 - 6:43
Mile 11 - 6:38
Mile 12 - 6:40
Mile 13 - 6:47
Mile 14 - 6:45

We then ran through West Hollywood, followed by Beverly Hills. At mile 17 we entered the famous Rodeo Drive where a huge crowd was supporting the runners, spectators are amazing! At that point, I noticed that I was passing runners just by keeping my pace. I was still feeling really good, and those 3 miles flew by.

Mile 15 - 6:26
Mile 16 - 6:38
Mile 17 - 6:53

We turned back on Santa Monica Blvd just to be cheered on by a huge assembly of cheerleaders from various LA schools (the so called “Cheer Alley” landmark). That was surrealistic, they were screaming like crazy and I tried to pick up some of their energy to run this long slightly uphill section of Santa Monica Blvd. At mile 20 we made a right turn on Sepulveda Blvd, and started our way to enter the VA.

Mile 18 - 6:44
Mile 19 - 6:36
Mile 20 - 6:40

At the VA entrance the Cliff booth was waiting for us, giving gels to runners. I took down two more gels and my energy level went up. I looked at my watch, happily surprised by the time I was reading on it. I was on a good track to achieve my sub-3h goal, and mentally at this point of the race this was a huge boost. In addition, the route from the VA grounds to the finish is pretty much my home/work neighborhood and I knew I was going to see a lot of family and friends there, so I was more than ever eager to push myself and pick up the pace for the remaining miles.

Mile 21 - 6:49
Mile 22 - 6:42

Passing the Brentwood Golf, I got cheered on by Pauline and my mother. It was great to see them.

LA marathon guillaume calmettes
Accompanied by Pauline along the Brentwood Golf

My buddy Christophe was hanging out a little farther, and he ran with me for almost half a mile. He took a bunch of pictures, including this one showing my underwear-based marathon suit.

LA marathon guillaume calmettes
Smiling and feeling really good with only 3 miles to go!

I also ran into Josh that I had met at the Bandit 50K and who was pacing some friends toward the finish. I did my best to give everything I had left on San Vicente Blvd, and I am pretty sure I experienced the runner’s high on that section until the finish line, because I never felt so good while running.

Mile 23 - 6:38
Mile 24 - 6:31
Mile 25 - 6:33
Mile 26 - 6:23
0.35 mi - 5:30

I crossed the finish line in 2:56:25, banking a new PR, and good enough for 104 out of 23,016 finishers.

A huge congratulations to David for having finished his first marathon! The second half was hard but he stayed focused and did it!

LA marathon medals
Happy marathoners

The Aftermath

I am super happy to have crushed my sub-3h goal. This is the first time I finish a marathon feeling really great, and I am sure this has something to do with my recent focus on trail running which forced me to double my training volume. In fact, I didn’t realize that during the race, but looking at my official splits I basically ran negative 10K splits the whole race, something I could imagine I was able to. An other interesting point is that my recovery after the marathon was super fast, probably an other effect of my increase in volume training.

I can’t wait to be back on the trails now!

LA marathon guillaume calmettes splits