(Running the last point two of the race)
Half of the battle with the marathon is getting to the start line healthy. I flew to Boston in 2012 and woke up on race morning sick with the flu. I flew to Boston last year and ran the whole race injured. Oh and there was also that bombing.
By now I am feel seasoned by the drama surrounding my attempts at 26.2, so it came as no surprise that the weather conditions for this year’s, and my first, Los Angeles marathon were predicted to be less than ideal.
I could lie and say that I remained optimistic during race week that instead of facing 80 degree heat during the final miles of the race, the high would miraculously top off at 6o degrees.
The truth is, I walked into my corral Sunday equally full of dread and gratitude. I was frustrated by the hopelessness of my chances for a personal record in the heat, but thankful to make it to the line healthy.
The day before the race was one of those spent wondering whose stupid idea it was to run this marathon. The kids’ schedules were packed with activities, so MFP and I divided and conquered the best we could. At 8 p.m. I was still wandering the aisles of the grocery store, throwing food in my cart and lamenting the fact that my ostensible “day of rest” had been completely illusive.
At 9:30 p.m. I was still on my feet in the kitchen with the song “Let it Go” coursing through my brain. Though I knew I had put in the work to run a decent marathon, the final week of “rest” turned out to be quite the disaster.
Because the time change lined up with race day, I also became slightly obsessed with losing yet another hour of sleep.
When our alarm went off, I found MFP missing from the bed. He was in the living room watching Breaking Bad after a fitful night of tossing and turning. I slept for a few hours, but spent a good portion of the night grasping for some sort of mantra to get me to the start line ready to roll.
Luckily we filled our car with three other anxious marathoners soon afterward and spent a lot of time laughing and exchanging rhetorical nerdy runner questions like, “Why do we do this to ourselves? “Why are we here?” “Whose idea was this?”
Though we arrived in plenty of time, we spent the next hour dealing with typical runner drama at a big race. The drama all took place in Dodger’s Stadium, of course, as this race takes you from the stadium to the sea.
Find the porta-potties. Nope the line is too long. Where to pee? Oh, right, behind the trash can. Man, I sure wish I could just whip it out anywhere. When I have to go, the whole world sees my fanny. Not fair. Where is bag check? Oh, right over there. I didn’t write my bib number on my bag. I lost our friends in the line. Where are they in this sea of 25,000 people? I forgot to tell them good luck!
And then the worst of the worst.
As we were standing outside of our corral, Carolyn realized that she had accidentally gear-checked all of her fuel.
I pulled a few chews out of my pocket and gave her those with clear instructions that Shot Gels would be available at mile 12 and 19.
She still look bewildered and upset, so as we walked into the corral I immediately looked for a nice runner to “bum a GU from.” It’s like bumming a cigarette in marathon world.
We got one from a nice guy and another from my Dailymile buddy Jeff M.’s friend who I randomly ran into along with his nice group from Kansas City.
With that crisis behind us, we tried to relax and get into race mode.
Soon enough the song “I love L.A.” was blaring from the speakers and we were off.
The first bit of the race was up a hill, so we ran slowly as not to tire ourselves out too quickly.
Mile 1: 8:07
I cannot tell you how many times I said to Carolyn, “I LOVE this corral!”
That’s because at every other marathon I have run, with the exception of Surf City, I have spent the first few miles weaving in and out of slower runners. This corral was freaking perfect. We were all running about the same pace. In Boston last year my friend Kristin and I kept looking at each other and saying “Really?” For some reason everyone in our seeded corral went out at around 10-minute pace, which made for some really frustrating early miles. Trying not to trip over people steals a little bit of that race day thunder.
In contrast, in corral B at the L.A. Marathon, there were probably eight volunteers checking bibs to make sure only seeded runners got in. We were so thankful for that.
(This reminds me of a wedding MFP and I attended a while back at which we sat at Table 6 and spent the late part of the wine-fueled evening cheering things like, “Table 6 is the best, we love table 6!”)
Mile 2: 7:51
The course flattened out a bit and we were feeling good. These are the miles where you have crazy thoughts like, “this is fun!”
Mile 3: 7:48
We were probably feeling a little too good, and began trying to back off a bit.
Mile 4: 8:15
This was the first tough hill. Which was tougher than we thought.
Mile 5: 8:11
We were getting worried that we had taken the pace out too fast, so we were still trying to run a bit more relaxed. We have both seen the wall and usually too-fast miles in the beginning are to blame for its arrival.
Mile 6: 7:48
The course flattened out and I lost Carolyn at a water stop. Since we knew staying hydrated was key to a successful hot race, we began drinking early.
In fact, my strategy in this race was to drink more Gatorade than water to keep my electrolytes topped off. I only took water when I needed to eat a Cytomax Energy Chew.
Mile 7: 7:50
I was feeling good, not listening to music yet, and enjoying the crowds during this part of the race.
Mile 8: 8:08
This miles was a long incline, and I could feel my legs already getting a bit sore, so I turned on my music and tried to start concentrating on hanging tough.
Mile 9: 7:47
Mile 10: 7:48
At this point MFP joined me. He started in one of the last corrals, so he spent the first part of the race passing people and jockeying for position.
I said, “how are you feeling?”
“Great. When do I start to kick it in?”
“After mile 13 but leave another gear for the last six miles…”
He was off. I was happy to see him running strong.
Mile 11: 7:46
Mile 12: 8:02
Mile 13: 7:56
I began to get a little freaked out around this mile that I still had over halfway to go. Because I have hit the wall before, I am always just a little bit afraid of that second half.
Mile 14: 7:18
I have no idea why this mile was fast other than the fact that it was a downhill. Also, note to self: save the Flo Rida for the last mile!
Mile 15: 7:46
Back on pace and headed for the ocean.
Mile 16: 8:04
I knew there was a big hill on the horizon, but for some reason I thought that this one was it.
Mile 17: 7:46
Mile 18: 7:48
The hardest part of this race, mentally, was that the course was pretty much straight. I really missed turning. In fact, every time we turned left or right (which was maybe twice or three times?), I let out a huge sigh of relief. There was something about running in a straight line that drained my energy.
Mile 19: 8:01
I had been running close to a pace group for the last few miles, but the leader was not holding a sign. Therefore I had no idea what pace group it was. (I was not checking my watch, which is a thing I tend to do in races. I get nervous that I will see slow numbers and that I won’t be able to do anything about it.) Anyway, I fell in stride with them and held on. People were dropping in and out of the group, but its leader seemed steady, so I tried to run near him. The sun was beating down on us, so these were the “hunker down and try to hold on” miles.
Mile 20: 8:17
I am not sure if this was when we entered the V.A. Hospital grounds or not, but it was definitely when everyone began to walk. There was no shade, there were many inclines and the temperature was rising fast. I think most of us sort of gave up during these miles.
Mile 21: 8:19
I tried to find some happy-medium area between still pushing but leaving some reserves as well. This is an art that I have not perfected.
Mile 22: 8:25
This was definitely the V.A. portion of the race, and it was the low point for me mentally. I ran a 5K on this part of the course, in the heat a few years ago, so I knew too much about these hills and the lack of shade. It was around this time that I took some ice from a spectator and stuffed my bra with it. Thanks stranger with the red bowl full of ice!
Mile 23: 8:32
I think we were about to exit this hellish part of the race, during which parts of the movie “Born on the Fourth of July” inevitably played through most of our minds. When we exited the shade-less V.A., we turned onto San Vicente and entered Brentwood.
The spectators in East Hollywood had been amazing. Ethnically diverse, cheering loudly, a variety of music and sounds emanating from their props. In contrast, Brentwood was almost completely silent. The tree-lined streets were filled with spectators, but all I could hear was the music on my iPod. (I thought I was imagining the silence but MFP later confirmed that he had had the same experience.)
Mile 24: 8:04
This was a long stretch, but there was some shade on the left side of the street, so I did my best to stay relaxed and run through the darker parts of the road. At this point I was playing cat and mouse with a few cast-offs from the sign-less pace group.
Mile 25: 7:48
At this point I was in pain. My legs were moving, but they felt like bricks. I could see the ocean, but I knew there was a way to go yet.
Mile 26 and point two: 7:41
All I wanted to do was get the race over with.
I saw 3:29:57 on the clock and made my way to the finish.
My Garmin read 3:30:39, which I was happy with, considering the conditions. (The pace guy went under the finish line alone a bit under 3:30, so at least that mystery was solved.)
Looking back I made plenty of mistakes in this race, mainly with fuel. Because I had such a poor experience at Long Beach a few years when stomach cramps hit at mile 7, I am still afraid of taking gels during a marathon. I took a few Cytomax chews, but hardly put a dent in the small bag. Instead I mostly just drank Gatorade. I knew that cramps would be lethal if they set in during hot conditions, so I decided to cut my losses and run closer to empty.
And that is why I look like I have a six-pack in my post-race pictures. First of all, I hate not wearing a shirt. But I knew that being as cool as possible was far more important than my modesty. And I normally do not look like that.
MFP and I had a good laugh about it, in fact. He was like, “you look like you could hurt someone with those things…”
Which brings me to why I was feeling so paranoid in the family meeting area after the race.
The race was very well run, and the volunteers were amazing. My only complaint, and it is minor, is that the Gear Check line was very long. And after a race in that kind of heat, the last thing you want to be doing is standing in a long line, exposed on asphalt.
Since I took so long in that line, MFP got tired of waiting for me in the “F” area, so he went off with some new friends and sat in the shade. #fastrunnerproblems
Meanwhile I was standing in that area feeling half-naked when two men started talking to me. I felt totally paranoid without a shirt on, so I did not make eye contact with them, even though they seemed harmless and nice enough. (I am an introvert with a wild imagination.)
I literally could not sit down, so they helped me by providing a camping chair that they brought with them. (Thank you strange men! Sorry that I am socially awkward and paranoid after a marathon.)
I began texting MFP in earnest, as I was very uncomfortable accepting their help, yet I was too weak to decline it.
At my most vulnerable, without a shirt, with strange men, I almost started to cry. Especially when they began commenting on my “ripped up abs.” Which for the record, are not ripped at all. In real non-marathon-day life.
The finishing area of a marathon is almost always surreal, and this time was no different. So another lesson that I learned Sunday is to remind my husband that when I say “meet me in the family meeting area,” what I really mean is: YOU BETTER MEET ME IN THE FAMILY MEETING AREA!!! Even if you meet new friends and are so proud of yourself for running an awesome marathon that you would rather hang out and chat in the shade. And even if you are so fast that you have ten long minutes to spare.
So that part was not fun. It was one those, “I need my mommy” moments.
Soon after my slight panic attack, everyone showed up, my dexterity returned and I was able to put my shirt back on. We all walked to the King’s Head Pub together while exchanging war stories.
There we met up with more friends, had a few beers and a lot of laughs. (Good-bye ripped abs, hello beer and French Fries! See you again in a few months.)
Unfortunately we saw a lot of people seeking medical attention on our way. The conditions for 26.2 were terrible, and I felt really bad for all of the first-timers.
I admit that I am a little shocked that I ran a little faster than I have before, but I also feel like this race was a long time coming. The things is, it is quite difficult to show up to a race with all of the stars aligned. Healthy. In a good place hormonally. Rested. Well trained. Perfect race day conditions. I was lucky that only one of these factors, the heat, seemed to throw me off. I have come to appreciate the good things that I bring to the line and try to forget about the bad ones. Try. I am still learning.
After my experience in Boston last year, I also been able to put this running thing into perspective. I feel blessed to run. The fact that I can cover 26 miles is a huge gift, whether I PR or walk the last six miles. (Can we just make a real word out of PR, or something?)
I really tried to keep that feeling of gratitude at the forefront of my mind, which I think helped to keep the darker thoughts at bay during the last six miles. (I saved those dark thoughts for the family meeting area.)
I’m sure I will have many more stories and pictures to share over the coming week.
Quickly, though, I want to say that I don’t think L.A. is a PR-friendly course. But it is a lot of fun and full of spirit. It’s the perfect race to run with friends in a relaxed way. I thought the race was very well organized and that the volunteers were amazing. I have no major complaints (the gear check was a minor problem).
I also want to say that though most of you know that I am not one of the more popular bloggers who is affiliated with a brand and gets a lot of free stuff, but I really do think that Oiselle makes the best running clothes for women. I did not have one ounce of chafing in this hot race, and for that I am so thankful. The Distance shorts were perfect.
P.S. Thank you for reading this crazy long post!