Monday, March 19, 2018

Race Report: 2018 Los Angeles Marathon

On March 18, I ran the Los Angeles Marathon.  This was the first time I’ve done this race.  I was registered for it in 2016, but had to cancel my trip because I was recovering from an injury.  Deb and I traveled to Los Angeles together, and built a short vacation around the race.  It’s the first time either of us has been there.

We flew to Los Angeles on Friday and stayed at the Hampton Inn in Santa Monica.  All the hotels in Santa Monica are expensive, but that’s where the race finishes, so it seemed like the most convenient place to stay.  We were able to avoid driving by relying on a combination of public transportation, guided tours, and rideshare services.  We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel.

We checked into our hotel room Friday afternoon and immediately took the Metro Expo Line into downtown Los Angeles.  There was a train station within a block of our hotel.  There were about a dozen other stops before downtown, so it took about 45 minutes, but it only cost $1.75.

The expo was at the Los Angeles Convention Center.  After I picked up my race packet, we spent about half an hour exploring the other booths.  There were hot dog vendors outside the convention center.  We smelled the food grilling before going in.  When we came out again, we were getting hungry.  I was sold when I saw the hot dogs were wrapped in bacon.  We also had some yogurt samples from the expo.

On Saturday, we took a guided tour that included Beverly Hills and Hollywood.  Our tour started with a drive through the Pacific Palisades, and a few other upscale neighborhoods.  Our tour guide pointed out the current and former homes of several celebrities.

Our first stop was in Beverly Hills, where we got out and explored Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive.

We had lunch at the Farmers’ Market.  Then we continued to our next stop, which was the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard.

We eventually continued into the Hollywood Hills.

After driving back through Laurel Canyon, we saw several famous sites along Sunset Boulevard.  I would see some of these places again during the marathon.

One of the last things we saw before returning to Santa Monica was Fox Plaza, which is the building that was used for exterior shots of the fictional Nakatomi Plaza in the movie, “Die Hard.”

We had dinner at a small Italian restaurant that was only two blocks from our hotel.

Sunday was race day.  I had to get up early to catch a bus to the start of the race.  When I registered, I selected a 5:00 pickup, but I got there about 45 minutes early in case there were long lines to board the buses.  Last year, there were long delays because of new security procedures.  They appear to have worked out those issues, because this year the bus loading went smoothly.

This was the 33rd annual Los Angeles Marathon.  Over the years, they’ve had several different courses.  The current incarnation, which has proven to be popular, starts at Dodger Stadium and finishes on Ocean Boulevard in Santa Monica.  It’s called the “Stadium to the Sea” course.

The buses dropped us off outside the stadium, where we were able to come inside and wait until it was time to line up.

One of the nice things about this venue is an abundance of real bathrooms.  We could also sit down in the stadium seats.  It wasn’t heated, and there was a gear check, so everyone wore extra layers.

About an hour before the race, I bumped into my friend Robert.  We dropped off our gear bags, made our final bathroom stops and made our way to the start corrals.  We were both seeded into the same corral.  We had to line up early, because they close the corrals about 20 minutes before the race.

When I registered for this race, I didn’t know it I was going to run or walk.  As recently as a few days before the race, I was planning to race-walk.  After learning about some food and beer stops along the route, I changed my mind and decided to run it, but without any time goal.  This was a “go easy and have fun” race.  That gave me opportunities to stop and take pictures.

I didn’t take a close look at the elevation profile, but I was expecting this course to be fairly flat.  I was surprised how much downhill running there was in the first two miles.  Downhill running still makes me nervous.  I quickly lost track of where Robert was.

After leaving the stadium, we had this view of the downtown buildings, bathed in the light of the early morning sun.  After taking this picture, I spotted Robert and caught up to him. We ran together for most of the race.

At two miles, we entered Chinatown.  This was the beginning of a short loop through the streets right around the downtown area.

Around four miles, we encountered a tiring hill and took a short walking break.  That gave me a chance to take a picture of the Asian drummers.

Just past five miles, we turned a corner and reached a stand with free chili dogs.  This has been a tradition in recent years.  Robert and I both stopped for chili dogs.  Then we took a walking break until we finished eating.

We turned onto Sunset Boulevard, which eventually led us to Hollywood Boulevard.  We went through a few ethnic neighborhoods, including Little Armenia and Thai Town.  At about 10 miles, I had to make a bathroom stop, and Robert went on ahead.  When I resumed running, Robert was nowhere in sight.  I picked up my pace and gradually moved up through the field, hoping I would eventually catch up to him.

Along Hollywood Boulevard, I started to see some familiar sights, like the Pig & Whistle, the Chinese theatre, and Madame Tussaude’s Hollywood Wax Museum.  Then we made a sharp left, and I felt a welcome breeze.  It was a sunny day, and I was starting to get hot.

After a quick right, we were back on Sunset Boulevard.  The breeze was gone, and I got hot as I started climbing a long gradual hill.  I eventually caught up to Robert, but it took me more than two miles.

By now, I was getting tired.  I felt relieved when Robert suggested walking part of the hill.  For the rest of the race, we took short walking breaks on each hill.

As the road curved to the left, we felt the wind again.  That made all the difference in the world.  Along Sunset Boulevard, we passed a few more familiar landmarks, including Mel’s Drive-In, The Viper Room, and the Whisky a Go Go.

After a brief jaunt over to Santa Monica Boulevard, we turned onto Doherty and entered Beverly Hills.  At the corner, there was a large group of police officers.  One of the runners gave them a shout out, but incorrectly addressed them as LAPD.  They all shouted, “No!”  They weren’t LAPD.  These were Beverly Hills cops.  Oops.

While we were in Beverly Hills, I got to run down Rodeo drive.

I had heard about a pizza tent at mile 15.  I was looking for a pizza tent, but never saw one.  Stopping for a slice of pizza during a marathon would have been fun, but I still enjoyed the route.

We continued to take short walking breaks on the hills.  We were going slower in the second half than we did in the first half, but it kept us on pace for roughly a 4:15 finish.

At 21 miles, we passed a Hash House Harriers tent, and we each had a small cup of beer.  If was non-alcoholic, but it was cold and refreshing.  We were in Brentwood now, but we were almost to Santa Monica.

There was a street with a fence down the middle.  On the left side, there was a USC cheer squad.  On the right, there was a UCLA cheer squad.  We were supposed to choose sides.  Deb roots for USC, so I went to the left.

The last few miles had a slight downhill trend, so we didn’t do as much walking.  In the last mile, we turned onto Ocean Boulevard.  Now, it finally felt like we were almost there.  I finished in 4:12:59.  Robert finished right behind me.

The finisher medal has designs on each side.  This is the “Stadium to the Sea” side.

I had a few post-race refreshments and retrieved my gear bag.  Then I headed for the beer garden to have my free beer.  From there, I only had to walk another half a mile to get back to the hotel.

While I was running the marathon, Deb took a Warner Brothers studio tour.  The tour guide asked everyone which TV shows they watch and tailored the tour accordingly.  Deb got to see the sets of Big Bang Theory and Friends, among others.

After we both got back to the hotel, we walked down to Santa Monica Pier.

On our way back, we took a detour through Santa Monica Place.  Neither of us had a real lunch, so we had an early dinner at The Cheesecake Factory.  I was long overdue for some California pizza.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  4:12:59
Average Pace:  9:39   
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  350

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Review: REVEL Race Series

In 2015, I wrote a review of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series.  Last year, I wrote a review of Mainly Marathons.  Now that the REVEL race series has grown to six races, it’s time for me to write a review of REVEL.

I’ve done three different REVEL races.  I’ve done the Rockies Marathon twice.  I’ve also done the Big Cottonwood Marathon and the Mt. Charleston Marathon.  Each of the REVEL marathons has a corresponding half marathon.  Since I’ve never done any of their half marathons, this review will focus on the marathons.


The oldest race in the series is the Big Cottonwood Marathon, which has been an annual event since 2012.  This race starts in the Wasatch Range, at an elevation of 9,696 feet.  It descends through Big Cottonwood Canyon, eventually finishing in the suburbs of Salt Lake City, where the elevation is 4,441 feet.  It quickly gained a reputation as a fast course.

Following the success of Big Cottonwood, REVEL launched the Rockies and Canyon City marathons in 2014.  The Rockies Marathon starts in the Rocky Mountains, at an elevation of 10,510 feet.  It finishes in Morrison (near Denver), at an elevation of 5,802 feet.  The Canyon City Marathon starts in the mountains north of Los Angeles, at an elevation of 5,691 feet.  It finishes in Azusa, where the elevation is only 618 feet.

In 2016, they added the Mt. Charleston Marathon.  This race starts near Charleston Peak and finishes in the northern suburbs of Las Vegas.  The elevation at the start is 7,633 feet.  The elevation at the finish is 2,507 feet.

The fifth race in the series was the Mt. Lemmon Marathon, which was introduced in 2017.  This race starts near Mt. Lemmon, at an elevation of 7,915 feet.   It descends through Willow Canyon, finishing in the outskirts of Tucson where the elevation is 2,725 feet.

July of 2018 will mark the debut of the Mt. Hood Marathon in Oregon.  This race will start on the lower slopes of Mt. Hood, near Timberline Lodge.  The elevation at the start will be 5,620 feet.  The race will finish in Marmot, at an elevation of 862 feet.  The early miles of this route should look familiar to anyone who has run the first leg of the Hood to Coast relay.

What They’re About

You may have noticed a trend.  All of these races start in mountainous areas that are near large cities.  They all descend roughly 5,000 feet from start to finish.  Here’s an excerpt from the REVEL website:

“REVEL races can best be described by two words: Fast & Beautiful. Our events take place in the most beautiful venues available in the areas in which they are held. REVEL races seek to maximize the time our runners spend running in canyons, forests, state or national parks, and so forth. In addition, the downhill nature of REVEL races provides a unique opportunity for runners to achieve personal best times and qualify for exclusive events.”

Make no mistake about it.  These courses are designed for speed.  That’s their principle selling point.  Most people can run much faster on these courses than they can on more typical marathon routes.  Last year, 40% of the runners who finished the Mt. Charleston Marathon qualified for Boston.  The lowest proportion of Boston qualifiers in any of their races was 22%.

They even have signs you can pose with that say “PR” (personal record) or “BQ” (Boston qualifier).

So far, each REVEL race is located in a different state, and the races are spread throughout the year.  Don’t expect to see them arriving on the east coast any time soon though.  They need to find venues where you can descent 5,000 feet within 26.2 miles.

The Opinions Expressed …

As with my other reviews, this is not a sponsored review.  I have no relationship with REVEL other than as one of their customers.  I’m not being compensated in any way for this review.  All of the opinions expressed here are my own.

Running Downhill

Downhill races are fast, but they aren’t necessarily easy.  Running downhill can be uncomfortable if you’re not used to it.  It can beat up your quads, particularly if you’re trying to resist the pull of gravity by “putting on the brakes.”  If you’re overstriding, it can put extra tension on your Achilles tendons.

It helps to do as much downhill training as possible, so you learn how to run downhill efficiently.  These courses have the potential to be very fast, but if you trash your quads in the first half, you could have a slow and painful second half.

While all of these races have a similar net elevation drop, they don’t all have the same elevation profile.  The Mt. Charleston Marathon has the most uniform grade.  The grade in the first half is slightly steeper than the grade in the second half, but it’s never uncomfortably steep, and there aren’t any significant uphill sections.  The Big Cottonwood Marathon, by contrast, is extremely steep in the first half and has a long out-and-back in the second half that could best be described as “rolling.”

The bottom line is that these races have the potential to be very fast, but it isn’t automatic.  You have to come prepared if you want to take full advantage of the descent.


These races typically have large parking areas at or near the finish line.  You need to park there in the morning, and they bus you to the start.  Getting to the start on your own is difficult, if not impossible.  There isn’t generally any parking at the start.  There’s usually only one road to get there, and it’s a road that gets blocked off to traffic fairly early.

You can expect to be dropped off about an hour before the race starts.  The bus that drops you off has to turn around and go back the same way it came.  They need to get all the buses off the mountain (or out of the canyon) before the roads get blocked off.

You’ll want to bring an extra layer of warm clothes, but the race will provide gloves and space blankets.  They also provide beverages, and they have an adequate number of port-o-potty’s at the start.

You can expect to finish close to where you parked your car.  If it’s too far to walk, they’ll have shuttles.

When I did the Mt. Charleston Marathon, the Mt. Charleston Lodge opened its doors to allow runners to come in from the cold while we were waiting for the start.  They made a last-minute decision to open the lodge that morning after lots of runners came up to visit the day before the race.  It wasn’t anything that the race organizers arranged.  That was obviously very nice, but it’s not something you can count on.


Most races start in the morning, when it’s near the lowest temperature of the day.  By the time you finish, it’s closer to noon, so it’s much warmer.  REVEL races have a much larger change in temperature between start and finish.  That’s because of the elevation difference.  For every 1,000 feet of elevation change, you can expect a temperature change of 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit.  If it’s 50 degrees when you board the buses in the finish area, you can expect it to be 32.5 degrees in the start area.

The first time I did the Rockies Marathon, I wasn’t sure how much colder it would be at the start.  I thought it might be below freezing, so I dressed accordingly.  I ran the race wearing tights and a warm hat.  It wasn’t actually that cold.  The temperature at the start was more like 40 degrees.  It was a sunny day, so the temperature near Denver climbed to almost 80 degrees by the time I finished.  In the late miles of that race, I was suffering.

You need warm clothes at the start, because it will be cold, and you’ll be there for a long time.  It helps if you also have some layers that you can shed during the race.  Don’t dress too warm, though, or those last few miles will be hot.  You need to strike the right balance.

Gear Check

There’s always a gear check at the start.  Feel free to layer up.  There will be a truck transporting everyone’s gear bags to the finish area.  Allow enough time to drop your gear bag in the truck and line up at an appropriate position for the pace you’ll be running.  Fifteen minutes is probably enough.


You can’t descend 5,000 feet without starting at a high elevation.  Running at elevations ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 feet affects different people in different ways.  Some people get altitude sickness.  I’ve never experienced that, but you can reduce your risk of altitude sickness by making sure you’re well-hydrated at all times.  It’s worth noting that the air is much drier at high elevations, so you have to work at staying hydrated.

I find that I tire faster when I run at higher elevations.  I notice it most when I’m running uphill.  I notice it least when I’m running downhill.  These races are mostly downhill, but there are usually a few places where the road turns uphill briefly.  These sections can be tiring, but they don’t usually last too long.  Where it’s downhill (which is most of the race), the elevation shouldn’t affect you too much.  Running downhill is easy at any elevation.  At least that’s been my experience.

My Own Results

My first REVEL race was the 2014 Rockies Marathon.  I prepared for this race by doing lots of hill training.  I also did other downhill races including the Comrades Marathon (it was a “down year) and the Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon.  During the race, I told myself to keep my legs relaxed and not resist the hill, even though I was going so fast I felt out of control.  I finished that race in 3:08:46.  That was my fastest time in three years, and it was 15 minutes faster than anything else I did that summer.  I made one mistake.  I wasn’t paying attention to maintaining a fast turnover.  As I result, my stride got too long.  After the race, one of my Achilles tendons started to tighten up.  Despite my best efforts to stretch it, I had a flare-up of Achilles tendonitis.

I did the same race again a year later.  This time I came into the race with a groin injury, so I had to run wearing a compression wrap.  Running downhill was the worst thing for my injury.  The compression wrap made running downhill more difficult, but I still started at a fast pace.  I ran out of gas in the second half and finished in 3:51:50.  It was much slower than the previous year, but it was still my fastest race that summer by far.

In 2016, I ran the Big Cottonwood Marathon.  I already had a Boston qualifier, but I was hoping to get a better time.  I didn’t dress warm enough, and my legs got really cold in the early miles.  I sometimes have circulation problems if my legs get too cold, and I think that’s what happened to me in this race.  Before I reached the bottom of the canyon, I was already slowing down.  Later, when the road leveled off and had a few uphill sections, I slowed down even more.  I finished in 3:53:11, which was similar to the times I was running in flatter races.

In 2017, I ran the Mt. Charleston Marathon.  Of the REVEL races I’ve done, this one had the least variation in the grade.  I did a good job of maintaining a rapid turnover.  I ran much faster than expected, but never had any soreness in my legs.  I finished that race in 3:21:57, which gave me a Boston qualifier with 18 minutes to spare.  That was by far my fastest marathon of the year.  At the time, I was running 3:49 or so on flatter courses.  I had a great race, but it took a toll on me.  Four weeks later, I started to have symptoms of a herniated disc in the middle of my back.  The impact of running downhill probably contributed to that injury.

The bottom line is that I’ve had some fast times, but I’ve also had some injuries.  Running downhill can take a toll on you.


REVEL races have all the amenities you would expect to find in races of a certain size.  At packet pickup, there’s a fitness expo, where you can buy shoes, running apparel, and other gear.  They have live runner tracking, so your friends can follow your race.  They have pace groups.  They have enough aid stations, and there’s a variety of post-race food and beverages.  The last REVEL race I did had both pizza and pie in the finish area.


The website for all REVEL races is  This website lists the dates and locations of all their races and has pages for each individual race.  This format makes a lot of sense, since these races all have common elements.


You won’t see many spectators along the course.  Most of the time, you’re running on a two lane road that winds through a canyon or on the side of a mountain.  You’ll get some enthusiastic cheering from race volunteers at the aid stations.  You also may see some spectators when you run through a town.  The rest of the time, it’s just you and the other runners.

The race organizers pepper the course with a number of small signs with inspirational slogans.  More importantly, you’re treated to some nice views.  These races are more about scenery than cheering crowds.

Facebook Discount

You can get a small discount on your entry fee if you have a Facebook account and give REVEL permission to post to your timeline.  These posts are mostly of the form, “REVEL Rockies is excited to welcome David Holmen to this incredibly fast and spectacularly scenic marathon…”  It gives them a chance to promote their races by letting your friends know you’re doing the race.

At least one of my friends has characterized these posts as spam.  If you have dozens of friends doing REVEL races, you do start to see a lot of these posts.

Race Pictures

Another benefit of letting REVEL post to Facebook is free race pictures.  If you give them permission, they’ll automatically create a photo album and populate it with all your race photos.  That’s how I got this photo from last year’s Mt. Charleston Marathon.

Results Cards

I like races where I can get my official result right after the race.  Some races have booths in the finish area where you can get your results printed on a small slip of paper.  At REVEL races, the results slip looks like a postcard.

A Logistical Nightmare

My general impression of REVEL races is that they’re well-organized.  The organizers know what they’re doing, and they cover all the bases.  They did, however, have a serious problem with the buses at the 2015 Rockies Marathon.

I was at that race.  While we were waiting for the start of the marathon, there was an announcement that the race would be delayed, because one of the buses was late to arrive.  After that bus arrived and unloaded, the race started.  It was good that those runners didn’t miss the start, and it was only a minor inconvenience for the rest of us.

After the race, I learned that there was another bus that never made it to the start.  It was so far behind schedule that the road was already blocked off.  Those runners were delivered to the start of the half marathon instead.  Their only option was to run the half marathon.  If you traveled to this race specifically to qualify for Boston, running the half marathon wouldn’t help.  If I was one of those runners, I would have been upset.

It was worse.  Hundreds of runners were waiting for buses to take them to the start of the half marathon, but the buses were so late that their race had to be cancelled.  The only runners who got to do the half marathon were the marathon runners I mention previously, plus a small number of runners who were dropped off at the half marathon start by friends.

Here’s my understanding of what happened, based on things I read in the days after the race.  I’m also making a few assumptions.  The race organizers contracted with another company to provide a certain number of buses at a certain time.  All of the buses were supposed to be available at the same time.  The transportation company tried to save money by having each bus make more than one trip.  They only provided half as many buses as they said they would.  The round trip time for buses to get to the marathon start and back again was much too long for this to work.  The race organizers understood that.  The transportation company apparently didn’t.

The first bus to return was probably the same one that didn’t make it to the marathon start on time.  They were making their second trip.  The next bus to return was probably the one that got diverted to the half marathon start.  The remaining buses took so long to get back, that they were too late to deliver any of the half marathon runners to the start of their race.

If my understanding is correct, it was the transportation company that failed to deliver the services they were contracted to provide.  If you’re one of the affected runners, you don’t care whose fault it was.  Your race got cancelled.  I read a criticism the next day saying the transportation company wasn’t reputable and had already lost their license.  This article said the race organizers should have known this.

Owning Their Mistake

You never want to see a problem like the one I just described.  Even the best races sometimes have unforeseen problems.  I’m willing to forgive a mistake, but I expect the race organizers to do three things.
  1.  They need to acknowledge that they made a mistake.
  2.   They need to do what they can to make it right.
  3.   They need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
In the case of the missing buses, the organizers of REVEL Rockies took responsibility for the problem.  They issued an apology the next day and promised the affected runners that they would make it right.  I’m not sure if they gave refunds or if they gave these runners free entry the following year.  I wasn’t one of the affected runners.  All I know is that I there’s still a lot of enthusiasm about this race.  I have friends who do this race every year, so I’m pretty sure I would have heard the rumblings if the organizers didn’t do enough to compensate the affected runners.

Most importantly, I haven’t heard of any other problems like this.  REVEL has been holding marathons since 2012.  They've held races at five venues and are adding a sixth.  As far as I know, the 2015 Rockies Marathon is the only one that had a major problem.  It was an isolated incident, and they made sure it didn’t happen again.


Would I recommend REVEL races to my friends?  Yes, I would.  In particular, I would recommend them to people who are having trouble qualifying for races like the Boston Marathon, and want to try on a fast course.  I would also recommend them to experienced runners who are good at running downhill and want a race with good scenery.

Those recommendations come with a few caveats.  You need to train yourself to run downhill.  You also need to be aware that these races subject your body to far more impact than a relatively flat race.  Last year, I got my Boston qualifier in a REVEL race.  It was my only Boston qualifier that year.  I ran so fast that I also gained automatic entry into the New York City and Chicago marathons.  I don’t know, however, if I’ll do another.  I have serious concerns about whether my body can still handle the wear and tear.

I’ll say one thing about the half marathons.  The half marathon routes mostly follow the second half of the marathons routes.  In general, the marathons are less steep in the second half, so the half marathons don’t descend nearly as much.  I would not recommend that someone do one of these races as their first marathon, but it might be reasonable do one as a first half marathon.