After I ran the Chicago Marathon all gimpy after a bike accident a week earlier, I wanted to run a fast race. The normal recovery time after a marathon is about six weeks but the Canyon City Marathon in the eastern LA suburb of Azusa seemed like a good idea. I would run back-to-back marathons in less than a month. I signed up!
|Ready to run the Canyon City Marathon 2017|
I had reservations at the Hilton Garden Inn in Arcadia, CA (just west of Azusa). I reached the hotel at around 4PM. As usual, I ate early and laid out my race attire. The race starts in the mountains at an elevation of around 5,600 feet. It would be freezing cold in the morning.
From top to bottom, I decided to wear my Boston Marathon visor, neck scarf that belonged to Missy and Simi (RIP my pups), long-sleeve gray Ironman tech shirt, Lululemon blue shorts, green and orange Zensah calf-sleeves (representing the colors of India), Wigwam white Ironman socks and Saucony Kinvara 8 shoes. I would carry my iPod for music. For nutrition, I would carry 2 Stinger waffles, 1 Gatorade gel pack and 6 salt pills. The race had a few Gel stops that I had carefully planned out to intake calories.
On race-day (last Saturday) I was up at 3:15AM. I showered, changed and left the hotel at 4:00AM. I parked the car near the finish line and boarded the bus. I was sitting next to a girl who was also trying to qualify for Boston. We chatted about this and that, and made random comments about the course as the bus drove us to the starting point. 26.2 miles is a long time even in a bus. It took us about an hour and we reached the top just after 6:00AM. It was freezing cold!
|Revel Canyon City Marathon 2017 – the scene before race start|
For about an hour, I spent nervous energy. It was still dark. Almost everyone was covered in silver foil provided in the race packet. There was a coffee shop and an outdoor fire. Did I say that it was freezing cold.
The first 6 miles: I knew the course was downhill but this was crazy. From the very first mile, I could feel the impact on my quads and my calves. Gravity is amazing! I was flying. I knew I would be faster than my race-pace and would bank miles, but my speed was ridiculous. Every time I would look down at my Garmin, I would see pace numbers in the low 7-minutes or high 6-minutes.
I knew I needed to slow down. My heart-rate was fluctuating in the mid 140s from the second mile. This was too high this early. I tried slowing down only to feel that braking was increasing the impact on my legs. It felt like swimming upstream, hence I decided to go with the flow. I suspected that I would pay for it towards the end of the race, but decided to enjoy the blazing pace. Just take a look at my mile splits on the left. I’m just not as fast as this looks!
The first six miles are stunningly gorgeous as the course winds through multiple switchbacks through lush conifers. I could see lead runners ahead of me and lots of runners trailing behind me each time I went through a switchback. My cadence was steady for the first 6 miles in spite of heavy impacts on my legs.
|The first few miles – looking quite comfortable – Revel Canyon City Marathon 2017|
As per the course map, there was to be a GU gel station at mile 5.5. I was depending on this. It wasn’t there! I was annoyed. I wasn’t carrying enough nutrition. I would have to improvise my nutrition plan. I decided to eat a Stinger.
|Canyon City Marathon 2017 – Still looking comfortable but it’s still early in the race|
To the Halfway point: The crazy downhill continued! The impact on my legs felt harder and harder. Slowing down was still pretty tough but I did slow down just a bit. Miles 7, 8 and 9 have a few slight uphills mixed in with the steep downhills. This actually helped me; not so much with the speed but it gave me a breather from the severe impacts.
The course was still gorgeous. Traffic was flowing one way with police escort. Gentle wind was blowing slightly against us. I had already chucked my gloves a few miles back. In the first hour, I had run more than 8 miles. That’s a pace faster than 7:30 per mile! I ate a couple of salt pills and continued to run at a brisk pace.
With only a thousand people running the marathon, there weren’t groups forming. I did see the same runners over and over again but our speeds varied greatly on the downhills, flats and uphills. I had passed the 3:35, 3:25 and even the 3:15 pace group in the first few miles.
At 11.5-miles, there was a GU station. Thank god! I picked up 2 gels; one vanilla and one chocolate. I stuffed one in my pocket and devoured the other one eagerly. I was back to full-strength on my nutrition plan. Perfect!
|Canyon City Marathon 2017 – blazing first half pace!|
As I passed the halfway point, I looked down at my Garmin. 1:34 and change. Yowza. I was 6 minutes ahead of schedule and flying! I was excited at the prospect of qualifying for Boston 2019. I may even PR today!
Here come the hills (the next 6 miles): The downhill fun ended with a thud. My legs were shot. My quads were showing the first signs of spasms. My calves, oh my poor calves were tightening up. I still had 13 miles to run with a few uphills.
The first uphill (mile 14) was not too harsh and was mixed with a steep downhill. I conquered it without much pain but my pace slowed to above 8-minute-per-mile. Then came a relatively flat stretch (mile 15) with a couple of uncomfortable uphills. My pace slowed further to almost 9-minute-per-mile. I took out the second chocolate gel and ate it heartily but knew that I was losing steam. The 3:15 pace group breezed past me right after I passed the 15-mile mark.
It was the next mile (mile 16) that took a great deal out of me. The uphill was steep. Every step felt like torture. I walked for the first time! The orange cones served as my guide. On the steep uphills, I would walk for one cone and then sprint for two cones. My mile-16 pace had slowed considerably to just above 10-minutes-per-mile. I looked down at my Garmin and noticed that I had run just under 16 miles in 2 hours. I was now averaging just above 7:30 per mile. Not bad…
|Mile 15 at the Canyon City Marathon – the 3:15 pace group is about to pass me|
That thought gave me some energy on for the next two miles. Mile 17 was more downhill than uphill and mile 18 was pretty much downhill. I was back to averaging around 8-minutes-per-mile for the next 2 miles. I took another gel at mile 18 and swallowed it!
When I finished mile 19 (which was undulating up and down), I knew that it would be a matter of hanging on to the finish line.
Hang on for dear life: With 10k to go, I calculated that I need to finish in less than an hour to BQ and less than 52 minutes to PR. I knew that the course still had more downhills than uphills but the last couple of miles were pretty flat.
I didn’t have much left in the tank. My legs were shot. I was walking at every aid station even when it was going downhill. A few miles back, at a Powerade station, I had accidentally spilled Powerade in my right eye. It stung. I tried to rub it out under my sunglasses only to make it worse. My hands were salty. I was literally rubbing salt over raw wounds!
Miles 21 and 22 were downhill. I surprised myself and managed to cruise through them at a better than 8-minute-per-mile pace. Something must have been wrong with my Garmin because my heart-rate was showing in the mid 130s. Just to be safe, I opened up a Stinger and ate it.
|Looks can be deceiving – I am dying but putting on a brave face for the photo!|
The fun came to a screeching halt at mile 23. I was showing signs of bonking but hadn’t quite shut down yet. I was running on empty. It was now mind over matter. There was nobody around me. My headphones were off. A few stray spectators had lined up the street with words of encouragement. I smiled to take my mind off my pain. I labored to finish the 23rd downhill mile at a 9-minute-per-mile pace. It had been exactly 3 hours since I started running. With 5k to go, I had 35 minutes to BQ and 28 minutes to PR.
The wind had picked up by now and blowing against me. It wasn’t much but psychologically it didn’t help. I was also hot as I entered the palm-tree lined avenues of the City of Azusa. It was gorgeous out. I knew my PR was out the door as I finished the 24th mile at a 8:50 pace. I still had a couple of miles to go.
|Canyon City Marathon – desperate for the finish line|
I laboriously ran-walked the next mile which was slightly uphill and then slightly downhill. With a mile to go, I was slow running to the finish line. Hundreds of spectators were cheering me on. I high-fived a few of them as I picked up my pace with a couple of hundred yards to go.
I can’t say that I finished strong but I qualified for Boston by more than 10 minutes. I missed my PR by just above a minute and finished at a respectable official time of 3:29:39.
|Gaurav Parekh – Revel Canyon City Marathon 2017 – BQ but no PR|
I hung around at the race for about an hour making small-talk and basking in my BQ glory. I knew that walking would hurt for the next few days. I went back to the hotel, showered and had lunch with Kevin while the Tesla charged in Rancho Cucamonga. The drive back home was smooth and easy!
It’s a week later that I write this blog. I have done zero activity since the race. I’ve been sore all week. My quads hurt. My calves hurt. My entire body is still sore but getting better with each passing day.