L.A. Marathon, 2019
Gear had been checked and re-checked.
Sleep had been minimal.
Nerves were high.
After lying in bed for a few restless hours trying in vain to turn off my brain long enough to sleep, the time had come to get up and go. My 17-year-old-son and I were going to find out if we could be considered Marathoners. At 3:15am we grabbed the gear we had packed the night before, along with our breakfast, piled into the car and drove to meet our destiny. One thing people don’t tell you about running in Marathons is that you need to leave your house really early in order to make the starting line in time! If you aren’t prepared to sacrifice some sleep and a lot of comfort, then you are NOT prepared to run.
Driving on the L.A. Freeways is normally an exercise in frustration, but driving on the L.A. Freeways in the EARLY-EARLY hours of morning is actually a TREAT! You can ACTUALLY DRIVE without riding the brake! We got to our pre-paid parking lot in downtown Santa Monica around 4am. First check-point made! Seeing all the other cars streaming in carrying loads of other runners just made things get more and more real. We were going to run in our first Marathon!
The L.A. Marathon is nicknamed ‘The Stadium to the Sea’ because it starts at Dodger Stadium and finishes at the beach in Santa Monica. Since the Start is 26 miles away from the Finish, you need to take a Shuttle Bus. We had signed up for the 5am Shuttle, but after sitting in the car for a bit, eating our breakfast, and feeling the need to get moving, we headed on foot to find where the Shuttle Bus was. It didn’t take long since there was a steady stream of people heading in the same direction. Turns out there is no indication of what time you are assigned to on your runners Bib, so we were able to walk right onto a Bus at 4:30. It was already fairly packed, so we made our way to the empty seats in the back and sat down. The bus doors closed, and we were on our way. Things were getting very real.
It’s a fairly surreal feeling to be riding on a bus full of people in eerie silence thru the darkened streets of L.A. Everywhere I looked I saw the same stoic look. Everyone was alone with their thoughts and the realization that we were heading 26 miles away from our cars to be dropped off with the expectation of returning on foot. We wanted this, we signed up for this, we even paid good money for this, but now we were actually going to have to DO this! After about 20 minutes I heard my 17-year-old-son state in a voice that sounded like a soldier heading into battle, “this is a long ride.” I had to laugh a little because I had been thinking the same thing! We were both realizing just how far 26.2 miles really was!
Just after 5am we were pulling into the Dodger Stadium parking lot and being dropped off. No more sitting down. Now was the time to be on our feet. We could hear a live band starting to jam in the distance so we headed in that direction. It wasn’t long before we met up with a few friends that were also making their Marathon debut. We did the mandatory pre-race bathroom stop, then promptly got our spots in the Open Corral, waiting for the race to start. At around 6:30am the Wheel-Chair division was started followed closely by the Hand-Cycle racers. Only 30ish minutes until we got our shot! Around 6:40, 5 minutes before the Elite Women were to start, we realized that we were NOT standing in the Open Corral! In fact, we weren’t in line to start at all! We were on the exact opposite side of the fence from where we were supposed to be! So we had to quickly scramble to find a way around the fence and onto the race way! Turns out we weren’t the only Noobs who made this mistake and we found ourselves further back than we wanted to be, but wedged our way into the crowd somewhere in the middle of the pack.
6:55am came with the start of the Elite Men, which signaled the release of the Seeded Corrals, and soon, the rest of us! As the crowd slowly started surging toward the Start Line there was a sudden flurry of clothes being thrown everywhere! My son and I exchanged glances as if to say, “did we enter a naked race?” Turns out there’s a lot of people who wear warm-ups that they shed at the start, donating them to local shelters. Quite a site to see so many clothes flying thru the air though! We were in a mass of 20,000+ moving shoulder to shoulder and my main concern at the moment was to NOT step on one of the many discarded water bottles and roll my ankle before even starting the race! We soon got within steps of crossing from pre-runner to full-blown racer, so we gave our final fist bumps and ‘see you at the finish’ nods, and we were off! No more time to prepare. No more time to worry. Now it was simply time to run!
If I could sum up the whole experience in one word, it would simply be:
There are so many runners that at NO TIME was I by myself. Instead, I was constantly surrounded by other runners. More impressive, the entire course felt PACKED on both sides with people yelling encouragement. There were local school marching bands, Japanese Drum Groups, live DJs, and always, always, tons of spectators. My Son took off and left me behind from the start, as I expected he would. What I DIDN’T expect as we left Dodger Stadium and started our first descent was the mass of runners who promptly peeled off the course to the left, dropped their shorts, and started peeing! Men and Women alike! I guess they didn’t want to leave the starting line to go use one of the MANY port-a-potties! Very strange!.
The first 4 miles were predominately down hill, and steeper than I was expecting! My race-plan was to not go any faster than a 10 minute mile pace, but no matter how much I tried to slow down, I just couldn’t! I felt like if I held back too much I would hurt my legs more than if I just went with it, so I was clocking off those downhill miles between 9:15 and 9:38, and growing concerned that I was starting WAY too fast! At one point, I actually hit a 7:13 pace for a short distance! Not to worry though, at about 4.5 miles I found a way to slow down called North Hill Street. You know you are coming up to North Hill Street when you hear the ominous sounds of the Japanese Taiko Drums, then you turn a 90 degree corner and start climbing with the drums to your back. It’s actually quite motivating, but I forced myself to simply cruise up the hill instead of pushing too hard. Plenty of miles left! At the top of the hill my Son materialized in front of me! I had caught up to him a lot sooner than I had expected! We ran close together for another mile or so, and then just before we crossed the 10k (6.2 mile) timing mat I happened to look down and he was gone. Not knowing who had passed who, I continued on.
Now, I’ve lived in the L.A. area for over 20 years and am embarrassed to admit that it took running in the L.A. Marathon to actually know where Echo Park and Silverlake are! By the 15k timing mat (9.3 miles) we were on Hollywood Blvd and I was much more familiar with my surroundings. Just before mile 11 we were passing Gower St about a block away from where I work at Technicolor and I laughed as I had fleeting thoughts of a few producers trying to chase me down with work-orders in their hands. I picked up the pace!
Although I’ve driven down Hollywood Blvd many times, it was quite refreshing to run it. It looks a LOT different when you can actually take in the sights. I think I take the historic landmarks for granted as I get caught up in the rush of life. But being able to see the Hollywood sign, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, El Capitan Theatre, and all the other iconic buildings was a fun distraction. Soon I had reached mile 12 and was leaving Hollywood to zig zag down to Sunset Blvd. where I would spend the next 3 miles.
Somewhere between mile 15 and 16, the wheels started falling off a bit for me.
I wasn’t expecting this to happen until mile 20, but maybe due to the faster start, lack of sleep, stress at work, or minimized training schedule (OR all the above), I started to get the twinges of muscle cramps. Normally this would by my calves, but those actually felt good! The first twinges started in the front of my shins, which wasn’t too un-expected since I had been dealing with some flexor issues in my left foot just above the ankle. A few stops to stretch solved the issue. However it wasn’t much longer before the muscles in my inner thigh started twinging near my groin! This happened on one of my stops to stretch my quads. When I raised my right knee toward my chest my inner thigh muscle suddenly tried to twist itself into a knot! I quickly lowered my leg to stop that from happening and decided that I had stretched enough! This was probably about mile 17 and I realized I was standing in the entrance of my Pain-Cave. Knowing that with still 9+ miles to go I was on the verge of cramping badly, I decided to break up my running into a 4:1 ratio. Every half mile I would walk 1 tenth and run 4 tenths. I maintained this ratio for about the next 5 miles. My energy levels felt fine and I wasn’t out of breath, but my pain and discomfort levels were building up and the number of miles left started to weigh a little heavy.
I was hitting my 'wall'.
I went from 12 minute miles to 14, 15, and 16. My focus shifted from keeping a consistent pace to consistently moving toward the finish. I was going to finish, and that became my solitary purpose. So I pulled out my headphones, cued up some tunes, focused my mental energy on running my 4:1 ratio, and began to mentally decorate my Pain-Cave. I’ll admit that I was pretty zoned out during this stretch of the race and don’t really remember much of it except one moment, somewhere between mile 18 and 19 where a shirtless man was standing on the side of the course, looking back the way we coming from and remarked,
“. . .something really scary down that way, huh?”
I’m sure it was the discomfort, but I couldn’t help but laugh a little bit. Later I realized he probably said that over and over and over, patting himself on the back each time at how clever he was. I still think it’s funny. The only other memory I have of this section was seeing a runner with a bib that read Legacy Rick. Knowing that the Legacy bibs meant the runner had completed multiple consecutive years I pulled up beside him and asked,
“Hey Legacy Rick, how many times have you run?”
“Actually, this is my 34th time.”
Then it clicked that I had read about this guy who had run in every single L.A. Marathon, this being the 34th year it’s been held!
“Are you the Rick I read about in the Race Program?”
He admitted that he was and I ran with him for about a 1/4 of a mile, drawing inspiration. He told me he was hoping to finish under 5 hours this year, but it was looking like that wasn’t going to happen. I told him this was my first ever marathon and he told me he thought I was doing very well. Thanks Legacy Rick! I eventually thanked him for being an inspiration and continued on ahead.
By the time I reached the 35k timing mat (21.7 miles), I had just crested the last major hill climb and was out of water in the 2-liter hydro pack I was wearing. I had already taken my Pickle Juice shot for cramps, downed a couple of mustard packs, and mixed an electrolyte packet with water from an aid station. Still, I was sinking deeper into the couch in my Pain-Cave. This was longer than I had ever stayed and I was running out of decorations to put up. I had never run longer than 22.2 miles in training, so I would quickly be entering unknown territory. I normally do NOT take anything on race day that I haven’t trained with, not knowing how it will affect me, but things were getting bad, so I decided I needed to try something different. I had seen people holding bowls of pretzels that other runners seemed to flock to, so I gave that a try. I figured the salt would help with cramps, and it probably did, but it caused a whole NEW problem when the pretzel turned to dust in my dehydrated mouth! Deciding not to do THAT again, I decided that I’d try one of the many orange slices that were being handed out. Seeing someone holding a bowl of orange slices up ahead I grabbed one and bit into the fruit. This ANGEL of a person had kept these slices in ice so they were VERY cold, and as soon as the juices hit my mouth I discovered that
ORANGES are tiny MIRACLES!
I had a sudden strength in my legs that I hadn’t felt for the past 5 miles and the fog lifted as I was suddenly ejected from my Pain-Cave! I had taken off my headphones just prior to this and was heading into a tight section where there were tons of spectators on both sides yelling encouragement along with a live DJ pumping up runners. It was very epic feeling and I found I could suddenly run a constant pace again without the need to walk. I had pushed against my wall long enough that it toppled over and I found daylight on the other side. Shortly afterward I found myself pacing along side another runner. His name was Rocky and we ran together for about a mile, drawing inspiration from each other until he announced he was going to walk and I wished him luck. I was back into a 12 minute mile pace and hunting down every orange slice I could find like a crazed addict!
A wave of emotion crashed over me as I rounded the final corner onto Ocean Blvd just before the 26 mile marker. I could see the Finish Line in the distance, and thru all the pain, I knew I was close to achieving a personal milestone. 5 hours, 15 minutes, and 28 seconds after I had started, I was crossing the Finish Line. My 17-year-old-son was only 11 minutes behind me finishing at 5 hours, 26 minutes, and 12 seconds. The gauntlet you have to walk after you finish felt like another mile all on its own, which was rather cruel to make people do when they just ran 26.2 and their feet are hurting! Regardless, my son and I successfully completed our first marathon! It’s an accomplishment that can never be taken away, and the feeling is great. WE DID IT!
Congrats also to my friends from work who also ran their first marathon and finished under 5 hours! Well done! You give me inspiration to run faster next time so I TOO can be under 5 hours! Of course, my next marathon is just over a month away and with possibly even more hills, but I’ll deal with that one then. For now, I know that I CAN finish! Now I just need to get more training in, more reps at that distance, and more decorations for my Pain-Cave!
For finishing the L.A. Marathon we earned a Race Shirt and a Finisher Medal. This is one of my favorite Race Shirt designs I have earned. Not only does it remind me of the accomplishment, but the design is VERY cool! The Medal is very detailed as well and is one of the only ones I’ve earned that has different embossed images on each side!
Finisher Shirt, Front
Finisher Shirt, Back
Finisher Shirt, Sleeve
Finisher Medal, Front
Finisher Medal, Back
Finisher Medal, Front, Close Up
Finisher Medal, Back, Close Up
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