Latest reviews by Eric Rayvid
Ladies and Gents, LA and Skechers know how to put on a running party! From the Expo to the finish line, the LA Marathon was a super enjoyable experience.
Coming from NYC (where I run the majority of my races including marathons) I'm used to crowded starts, courses and even expos. But with only 25,000 runners, this race felt almost small, and highly organized.
The morning of the race, I walked across the street from my hotel and hopped on a bus that took us to Dodger Stadium.
I went into the VIP area, had a banana and eventually made my way to the start corral (I was able to get seeded in corral D due to my time in Philly a few years ago) and waited nervously for the start.
I was nervous for a few reasons, first, if you're not a little jittery at the start of a 26.2 mile journey, you're a robot (I say that only a little in jest). A healthy respect for the mileage you're about to run is something I feel not only keeps me humble, it keeps me from overestimating my ability and blowing up early.
But I was nervous for another reason. I trained for this race in NYC. And despite the mild winter we've had, it was still cold and LA had been going through a winter heat wave for the past week. The day prior it was 75 degrees Fahrenheit as we watched the Olympic Trials and without a breeze, it felt more like 85.
From what I'd heard, this course had very little shade and with a projected high of 75 again, I was worried I'd have a repeat of my performance at the Boston Marathon a few years ago.
So, I bought a white race hat at the Expo (for some reason, I only have dark colors) and planned to employ the "drink one, wear one" method at the water stations. I don't usually like to wear anything new on race day, but I figured a hat was pretty benign and it would not only shade my bald head from the sun, it would hold the water for a bit up there and continue to keep me cool. Turns out I was right.
Not to get too far ahead, but the heat never turned out to be too much of a factor - a small gift from the universe for which I am grateful.
So, we line up, the gun goes off and we're on our way. Right past the start is a small uphill followed by a HUGE downhill. It was hard to hold my pace running down such a steep hill, but I was pretty proud of myself for doing so.
There are two, what I'll call bumps, at the front end of the race, the first at mile 4 and the second at mile 5. That first hill is a killer. I'm not a pace group runner for various reasons, but I started a few minutes behind the 4 hour runners and when I caught up to them, I figured if I kept them in my sights, I would hit my #1 goal of under 4 hours.
So when we hit that first hill, I was happy to stay with them and let them slow me waaaaay down. The hill hits in LA's Japantown and there are drummers at the top that help you get past the hurt and up over the final steps. It reminded me of the Japanese drummers in The Bronx at the NYC Marathon.
Once past the second of the two bumps, it's really a slight rolling course (and I mean super slight uphills) with lots of downhills. In fact, every time I thought, "You know what would be nice right about now? A downhill," one would be there. As if I had conjured it.
But at mile 14.5 in West Hollywood there's a really steep downhill. Like a "lean-back-and-run-on-your-heels-downhill" that actually slowed me down a bit. It was a quad burner for sure, but better than a steep uphill for a half mile.
By the time I got to mile 19 the heat wasn't bothering me at all while I had gotten ahead of the 4 hour group, I was still feeling pretty good aerobically. But sadly, this is when the hamstring in my right leg decided to start to protest.
In fact, it protested enough that I felt my race might be in jeopardy. But I was rational about it, no panic at all. I walked a bit and it started feeling better so I picked up the pace and started running again.
Turns out I had to repeat this run/walk/run thing a few times from Beverly Hills through Century City, Westwood and finally Brentwood.
At mile 23 I was fed up with the pain and used all the mental energy I had left to bury it. After a half mile it was distant enough that I was actually able to negative split the last 5K of the race. Full transparency, it didn't hurt that the course was almost all downhill at that point.
I crossed the finish line missing my first two goals (1. Under four hours and 2. No walking), but I did beat my 3rd goal of beating my time from my last three marathons, so I walked away from the race without beating myself up too bad.
After the race I was thrilled to walk two blocks back to my hotel, jump right in the shower and do absolutely nothing for the rest of the day.
Would I run LA again? In a heartbeat. The race was fun, the course was great and it was really well organized. Now if they could just do something about the heat . . .
On Sunday November 17, 2013, I ran the Philadelphia Marathon, my second marathon in 14 days.
Here's what I did wrong.
I set a time goal and told anyone who would listen what it was, I wrote it on this blog many, many times and when I got to the starting line, I started to feel like maybe, just maybe I had made a mistake.
My goal was 3:45 -- a full 6 minutes faster than my fastest marathon back in 2011. AND, almost 15 minutes faster than the New York City Marathon on November 2rd.
But I nailed it! I crossed the finish line at 3:44:06 and am still floating on a cloud thinking about it.
Here's what I did right:
The weather forecast for the day had been a bit schizophrenic as I stalked it the previous week, sometimes calling for rain or not and a high of anywhere between 50 and 70 degrees. Dressing for the race was a crap shoot. I decided to go with just a pair of shorts, T-shirt (the same I wore in NYC) and conceded with a running hat figuring that even if it got warm, it wasn't going to get too hot for a hat.
And it turned out I dressed almost perfectly. In fact, I did almost everything perfectly for this race.
Runners were asked to prepare for increased security measures and were told to be at the start village no later than 5AM to have plenty of time to get through security. Being the neurotic runner I am, I was there by 4:45 so I wasn't a happy camper when the start area didn't open until 5:15.
Turned out getting through security was pretty easy and took less than five minutes which meant I had quite a while before the race started.
I was in the Black corral, so I was pretty far up front for the start. When the gun went off, the elite runners lit out and they held us back for a few minutes, I assume to keep the course from getting crowded.
I had my GoPro with me but only pulled it out at the start of the race. In the back of my mind, I still thought I might be able to PR this thing regardless of the negativity I had leading up to the gun.
I had a hard time regulating myself at the start. I wanted to keep my pace close to 8:40/mile for the first half and then speed up a bit for the second half (negative splits). Theoretically, this is the smartest way to run a race. I know it flies in the face of convention; one would think it's easier to go fast at first and slow down for the second half, but it’s actually the opposite. I'm not sure of the science behind this, but I'm here to tell you it works.
I started the race running comfortably so by the time we got to 10K split my time was 53:57 (~8:41/mile) - I had executed an almost perfect plan. I only had another 20 miles to go.
Then when I crossed 13.1 at 1:53 (~8:37/mile) I was seeing a trend I liked. I was a little shocked and psyched when I hit the half way point and was feeling as good as I was.
When we split off from the 13.1 runners, we followed the Schuylkill River for almost the entire second half - pretty flat with little rises of a few feet here and there. As I mentioned, I was feeling pretty good and decided to put some time in the bank as I knew the feeling wasn't going to last. From mile 13 to 19, I dropped my pace to an average of 8:13/mile and for two miles was actually right at or below 8:00/mile!!
My 30K split (~18.5 miles) dropped my overall pace to 8:30 which was putting me in contention to beat my goal. I started having visions of the bragging rights I would own if I crossed ahead of my goal time. But more than the bragging rights, I was starting to feel really proud of what I was accomplishing.
Then, when I hit mile 19 the negativity started creeping in. My hips were starting to complain and the "why are you doing this?" thoughts were edging into the back of my mind. Every professional runner will tell you that the marathon is a mental race. The best racers in the world are people who are able to ignore the pain and negativity that literally EVERYONE deals with. Of course, it doesn't hurt that they are super-fast and train to win races.
I'm not trying to compare myself to the professionals or even the elite racers, but the one thing I did perfectly in this race was push the negativity out of my head. It took some doing, but when I hit mile 19 and I couldn't fathom spending another hour pounding my feet and body on the course, I started concentrating on the people cheering, I distracted myself with the bands, or the signs or staying away from the rowdy kids near Manayunk trying to hand beer to runners. And when that stopped working, I put my headphones on and cranked up the music. Between Joe Walsh's "Life's Been Good," "Rocky Mountain Way," The Allman Brothers' "Nobody Left to Run With" and Queen's "Fat Bottom Girls" I was able to sing along or just listen to the guitars serenading me until I was no longer in a negative space. Thank GOD for music! I listened to those four songs twice through until I reached mile 25 when the crowds started getting thicker and the cheering louder. When I saw that, I pulled out my earphones and trusted them to get me across the finish line.
At mile 25 the sun peeked out and it started getting hot, I remember thinking to myself, "just eight more minutes, you can hold on for that long."
There's a slight hill at the end of the 25th mile which was a little disheartening, but I got to the top without too much pain. When I crested it, I assumed I'd see the 26-mile sign. I don't know if I missed it or it wasn't there, but the next thing I knew, the finish line was in front of me and I crossed it with my watch reading 3:44:06.
I could barely stand it, I had pulled off, for me, an almost flawless race. My overall pace for the race was 8:32/mile which means I slowed down a little from 18.5 to 26.2 but WHO CARES! I BEAT MY GOAL TIME!
It was more than a year in the making, but the 2013 ING NYC Marathon, my hometown race and the largest marathon in the world went off without a hitch on Sunday.
There's so much to talk about, I'm not even sure where to start. Do I talk about the expo? How crazy packed it was to pick up your bib and goodie bag, with a line snaking through the lobby of the Jacob Javits Convention Center and out the door to the corner of 34th Street?
Or the vending area where runners were shoulder to shoulder with each other as we jostled to see the latest in GPS-enable watches, hydration drinks or compression gear or maybe just to purchase a few last minute gels for the race? Or even meet running legend Bart Yasso or Matt Long?
Maybe it was just the general excitement and buzz in the air in NYC from Thursday through Sunday where it felt like everyone was here for one event? Whether to cheer, run, report on or coordinate, the marathon was, at least in my world, all-encompassing for those four days.
No, I think I'll just talk about race day.
It's like Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza and Diwali all wrapped up in one day. And the gifts you get are endorphins, fitness and camaraderie. And if you put your name on your shirt - the bonus gift is millions of people screaming your name and cheering you on for almost the entirety of the 26.2 mile course.
Cue the alarm at 4:30 to choke down a small breakfast and drink one last mug of tea before you head out the door and into the subway to make your way down to the Staten Island Ferry. Here's the one bad thing about the ING NYC Marathon. The starting line for the largest marathon in the world is in a little pocket of the city that's not so easy to get to. There's no waking up, having a leisurely breakfast and meandering to the start. Sure, the Staten Island Ferry is a great boat ride (and always free), but the starting line is at Fort Wadsworth, a solid three miles from the Ferry. Not exactly walking distance.
Getting 50,000 people (yeah, I said 50,000) to the start takes some coordination. And the New York Road Runners know how to do it. There are busses that leave from the NYC Library on 42nd Street but I have no idea why anyone would want to take them. Why wouldn't you want to hop on a boat with thousands of other runners and stare at the Statue of Liberty for a while?
One thing that was different this year - and a palpable difference - was the security. I guess this is the world we live in now. As we got on the Staten Island Ferry, we handed over our bags for inspection by a counter-terrorism specialist with the NYPD or a bomb sniffing dog. Entering the start village we either walked through a metal detector or were "wanded" like we were at the airport. Anyway, the coordination was flawless. This was my 5th official NYC Marathon and 10th overall (I did run 26.2 the day it was cancelled last year but I can't count that) and the start has gotten better each year.
From the start village we're corralled to the start line. I was lucky enough to be in the first wave so I was there for all the pomp and circumstance. The introduction of the pro men's field, Mayor Bloomberg making his annual speech, NYRR president and CEO Mary Wittenberg giving us all a last minute pep talk - all while the Verrazano Bridge beckons in the background.
My buddy and I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Anne Marie and Margaret from the Santa Clarita Running Club, they were here to run their first NYC Marathon. We met on the bus to the start village from the ferry and were in same corral. They were lots of fun and as it turns out fast. These women had qualified to be at the NY Marathon, which means they qualify for Boston as well. Needless to say, once the gun went off, that was the end of that. We barley saw then bobbing and weaving through the crowd.
So the cannon goes off at 9:40 sharp (no little starting pistol at this race) and we head out and across the first of five bridges to Frank Sinatra serenading us to New York, New York. And while it may sound hokey, it's really kind of inspiring.
But then we got on the bridge. The predicted weather was a high of 50 with winds of up to 15 MPH. I was cool with the temp, but the winds were freaking me out from the get go. And they didn't disappoint on the bridge. I literally had to hang on to my hat a few times for fear that it would blow off my head and right into New York Harbor - it was blowing quite a bit faster than 15 MPH. The bridge was also louder this year. Usually all you can hear is scattered talk in many different languages and the pounding of thousands of feet as we start our 26.2 mile journey. This year all I could hear were helicopters. There were at least three flying back and forth the length of the bridge, at times hovering, what felt like, right next to me. While I did feel pretty safe, it was a little annoying.
Once we got to Brooklyn things settled down. There were cops on almost every corner and I saw a ton of cyclists riding on the course who were wearing official jackets and radio headsets, so you knew security was tight and they seemed to be on top of everything.
I love running through all of the boroughs. There really isn't one that is more excited than another to host us but Brooklyn is where we spend most of the race, and there are so many different neighborhoods with a varieties of people cheering. Bay Ridge, Park Slope, Greenpoint, Fort Green, Clinton Hill, Bed-Sty, Williamsburg, etc. Each come with a different flavor, but one thing they have in common is a passion for runners on the first Sunday in November.
Out of Brooklyn and over the Pulaski Bridge (the half way point) and into Queens is the gentrified neighborhood of Long Island City. We wind our way through the borough for a few miles and make our way over the Ed Koch Memorial Bridge (which will always be the 59th Street Bridge for me).
The third bridge of the course is a trudge on a good day. Add in the headwind and a little spitting rain, and let's just say it wasn't my favorite part of the race. What made it worse is that my Garmin decided to stop reading the satellite signal. I was keeping the same cadence and virtually the same speed yet my watch starting telling me I was running a 15 minute mile. I knew there was no way that could be true but I pushed myself a little bit just to be sure (your mind can start playing weird tricks on you when you're 16 miles into a marathon).
After getting off the bridge and relishing in the wall of sound that the crowd generates I noticed my watch was reading the satellites again so I calmed down a little.
Of course, this is where I started to ache. I started feeling my hips hurt and then I got a twinge in the back of my right knee. I had to remind myself to ignore the pain which is not always an easy thing to do. If you're a runner you know what I mean when I say that getting stuck in your head is one of the worst things you can do in any race. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, running is 30% physical and 90% mental.
What made this race harder for me is that I didn't have my iPod. Usually I will carry it just in case I get into a place where I can't stop myself from the downward spiral. For some reason, I didn't bring it with me to this race. And I'm still not sure why. The only way I was able to get out of my head was to think about when I was going to see my friends on the course. I was super lucky in that a bunch of people had contacted me in the days leading to the race to tell me where and when they were going to be out cheering. Every time after I saw someone I knew, I noticed that my pace was faster. I was able to get out of my head and concentrate on something other than the constant pain! Never underestimate the power of someone you know coming out to cheer for you.
In the end it's always spectacular to cross the finish line (and finally stop running) and it's awesome to receive a medal and the Mylar blanket, but one of the best things that happened to me after the race is another story.
The NYRR encouraged people not to check a bag this year and as incentive they were offering early exit from Central Park and free ponchos to keep warm.
Since I'm a local and live less than two miles from the finish line, it was a no brainer to take this option. So, we're all trudging along, limping out of the park and make it up to Central Park West where they are handing out the ponchos. I reach the area and go to grab one from one of the many volunteers handing them out but she ever so gently pushes my hand away.
In a very soothing voice she says, "please, let me put this on your shoulders." After she draped it on me and secured the velcro, she asked if I wanted the hood up. It was all I could do to nod my head. I was mesmerized by this angel who was taking care of me like I was her child. I half expected her to kiss my forehead as she sent me on my way. There were literally thousands that opted for the ponchos and I only hope they were as well taken care of as I was. Whoever you were, thank you from the bottom of my still-sore toes.
For a full photo gallery and video of the race, check out my blog at www.DirtyOldSneakers.com