I “ran” the LA Marathon
May 26, 2009
I’ve been jogging for about a year and a half. Jogging doesn’t come easy for me as I am a generally inactive person. Never doing well at athletics, I found more comfort at the drawing board. After about three months of running last year, I caught “the bug” and started feeling the high that comes from running. I only jogged up and down my street, but I was regularly doing four miles three or four times a week.
By the end of summer 2008 I was ready to try a half marathon. I ran one back in 1987 with a four hours plus finish time. I never really ran again until 2008. But the weekend before I was supposed to run the Pasadena half Marathon in November 2008 I jacked up my back throwing hay bails for a church fall festival. My back was toast, and I couldn’t run. When the Pasadena half Marathon was cancelled due to fires I felt like I had an out so I didn’t have to admit that I quit because of my back.
My back recovered by January of this year so I started running again. But this time I was much stronger. I plowed through twelve mile runs with ease. Then on March 14th of this year I did eighteen miles. That was the longest run I could ever imagine pulling off. Then I start seriously thinking about the LA Marathon. It was hard to run that far, but I knew it was possible.
But something was wrong with my left knee while recovering from the 18 miler…I got a sharp, throbbing pain. Three days later I couldn’t run four miles without the left knee hurting. Four days later I couldn’t run 2 miles. I’d walk home and ice it, not sure what to do.
Most of the month of March I tried running again after two weeks of rest only to have to stop running after about miles. I needed to keep my miles up for the marathon and I already missed the deadline for when I needed to run 20.
In April I went to a doctor in LA who specialized in knee injuries and was prominent in the field of sports medicine. He felt a clicking in my knees. He said that my being so tall and lanky gave me a poor build for running. He suspected the underside of my patella was rough and causing inflammation of the cushion on the underside of the knee-cap…I had “runner’s knee”.
He sent me to another specialist for an MRI and the results showed that no other injury was going on, but the inflammation was due to the impact of running on cement. I tried running on rubber tracks, on grass and the pain still kicked in by mile 4. The second specialist called with a prescription for my knee…she said to simply stop running. She said I had “chondromalacia” known as ‘runner’s knee’. She said they do knee replacements all the time and most of their surgeries were on marathon runners.
My father has a bad knee. It’s probably his genetics that gave me this problem. He’s 69 and the doctors are trying to convince him to get a knee replacement. That’ll probably be me in my late 60s too.
At this point, I was done with running. I agreed with both knee doctors that I should just quit and find something else to do for exercise. I hit the pool and started swimming one mile, three times a week.
It had been two months of swimming pretty consistently, but I could feel my legs and lungs weakening. I also picked up a few packs of cigarettes and started smoking my pipe again so that could only hurt my lung capacity. I figured with running behind me, I had a future of swimming and maybe riding my bike.
Then My Beloved went and did it. She’s a jogger too and wanted to go to the fitness expo associated with the LA Marathon. I put the marathon so far out of my mind that I looked at her like she was crazy. What expo? Why would you want to go? It’s in downtown LA and it’s a ghetto. “Doug, the convention center isn’t a ghetto.”
I gave her the email I regularly get from the LA Marathon with directions to the fitness expo, she needed my registration number to get my stuff. I had paid 100 dollars as an entry fee to the Marathon so maybe there were some things in the goodie bag that My Beloved could use while jogging. By the way, the emails I kept getting form the LA Marathon were a huge insult. They reminded me every day that his race was not for me. I considered putting them on my spam list so I didn’t have to be reminded of my failure.
So Angie brings this bag of goodies home and we shared pretzels and chips with the kids. Then I looked in the bag and found the jersey with the LA Marathon logo. There was my bib number on it. On Sunday, I figured, “Why not put on the shirt and put in a couple miles? Just to get some closure on running. You’ll drop out at mile four and gimp back to the car, but at least you can experience a marathon.”
We have this 80 year old man who jogs around our house. He wears doctor’s scrubs as a sweat-suit and he runs in slow motion. It’s barely a jog…it’s a shuffle. But I thought to myself, “That’s gotta be low impact. Probably even less impact than walking.” I decided to run the marathon and try my hand at that shuffle.
I got up at 5:30am Monday morning. I put on my usual outfit: Ipod Shuffle, New Balance shoes, little runner’s socks, and I wore the LA Marathon tee shirt. I filled out the back of the bib number that has a place for emergency contact info. I put Angie’s number in there, mostly so I could keep her name close to me.
Part of the goodie bag was a free patch made to numb pain called “Salonpas”. I stuck a few of those on like nicotine patches on Krusty the Clown. I was willing to try anything.
Since the beginning of the race wasn’t until 7:20am I had enough time to eat some breakfast. So I had a bowl of Cheerios when my 3 year old, Olivia sat at the table next to me. She doesn’t get up this early but she said she was hungry so we poured her a bowl of cereal. Before eating we always pray, and this time I asked Olivia to pray for my knee. I told her I had to run and I was a little scared. We prayed together and she kept staring at me. I think she hadn’t seen me this serious in a while.
Getting to the starting line was a lot of fun. I got to talk to an older lady and a couple of guys running on behalf of fallen soldiers, policemen, cancer survivors. I started seeing a sea of people all of whom have an amazing story. I practiced my shuffle jog and didn’t have time to develop a pace.
As the announcer started the count-down I prayed, “God, I believe that you are the master of the materials and my bones and cartilage aren’t the final say in the matter. I can’t do this with just my will because my will isn’t enough. Nietzsche’s act of pure will isn’t enough. I need supernatural help. Let me run to represent your victory over the materials.” The countdown begun and I did my shuffle.
Now the shuffle is a really slow way to get around. I have to take really small steps and it avoids any real impact on the knees. More of the load is taken on by the thighs and the bottom of the feet and toes. I was slow that hundreds of walkers were passing me, including fat, 300 pound women I couldn’t imagine who they made it to the starting line.
A mile into the race I came upon a black man who was doing the shuffle! He was in his mid 70s and had a good pace. I just followed him and after a while we were going side by side. I was dying to know his story. His name was Ahmed Abdul-Bari and I could barely understand what he was saying, and he wasn’t terribly comfortable with me talking to him. At 74, he was one of the older men racing. He said he walked a lot and just thought he’d run the marathon this year. I think he’d run many before because he thought he had a good chance of finishing. He rarely took water. In 8 miles he only had one cup. At mile 9 I had to pee and when I came out of the bathroom he was waiting to get in. I didn’t know if I was supposed to wait for him or not. I kept running and hoped he wasn’t counting on me to be there.
I jogged through Crenshaw, where the streets were lined almost entirely of black people. Hundreds of families came out to cheer. Fathers and sons dressed like gang-bangers and women wearing brightly colored mu-mus blasted music and clapped for us. The crowds really helped me jog better. They’re amazing. Oh, and jogging through Crenshaw I’ve never seen more pit bulls in one area in my life. Every house had bars over the windows and doors. I remembered seeing whole blocks with tall chain-link fences surrounded the house. It looked like a neighborhood wrapped in a prison.
By mile 14 I picked up the pace on my shuffle a bit. I got more confidence that this wasn’t just a couple of miles, but that I might be able to beat my personal 18 mile running record. It was very hard being so far back in the run because many of the aid stations stopped serving orange slices…one even ran out of cups for the water so I picked up the big jug and swigged it.
Mile 20 started getting hard. My feet were pounding, the heat picked up a little, but I was amazed that I couldn’t feel ANYTHING in my knees! It was like God gave me an epidural.
At mile 22 my heart started pounding really hard. I thought I was on the brink of a heart attack. My thoughts went to Angie and the kids. I needed to show my kids that we shouldn’t quit difficult things but I didn’t want to have a heart attack either. I had to walk most of the 22 mile. Walking felt weird, because I went with a slower, longer stride to use different muscles. By now some of the traffic was allowed to breach the marathon course so cops held us up to allow cars to pass. When I stopped to jog in place and my toes instantly cramped up. That’s what’s weird about running long distances, as long as you keep going it doesn’t hurt that bad. But if you stop to rest the pain really kicks up.
Every mile from 13 to the end I got cramps in my toes and calves. Usually I could run through it by doing this weird funny step. It involves cramming the toes down into the ground. I don’t know why it works, but it does.
I started the shuffle again at mile 23 and my thoughts went to Ahmed. I wonder if he would finish? I wasn’t going to quit and have a 74-year-old man pass me. I was having a hard time running straight. every step felt like my legs were dead worms.
By mile 25 I still thought my body could give out, but I was going to finish. By the end there aren’t many water stations left. I guess they figure that someone gimpy enough to need 8 hours to finish a marathon don’t need as much help as some guy finishing in under 3 hours. Go figure.
Before I knew it, I was crossing the finish line for a marathon I didn’t plan to even run 24 hours earlier. I couldn’t believe what I’d just done. Now looking back it seemed like a waking dream. I know I was there but can’t remember specifics of the last 4 miles. I remember looking down at the ground a lot and concentrate on just taking another step. My shuffle’s music was too hard to play at the end of the race. I turned it off at mile 23 and ran the rest with no soundtrack. I imagined my Beloved, who always gives me strength. I thought about my children and how they are a great source of my happiness. I wanted to do finish for them. Daddy isn’t a quitter. Then I repeated the prayer to God that He is the master of the materials and that people have done great things under His inspiration.
I gimped up to the lady who put the medal over my head. She said that she was proud of me and I cried.
The final results found me one of the slower runners in the race. I was passed by hundreds of walkers, but it was a very personal race. I didn’t really care about my time, nor that my run was so slow that it would leave many scratching their heads at my pace given some men can plow 26 miles of field faster than I can got a marathon. But in crossing the finish line the victory was so clear in my head. This would be one of the most significant things I’ve ever done.
But the miracle keeps coming back to me. I can’t explain why my knee went off the grid for 8 hours. I feel no pain. In fact, my knee felt weirder before I ran the Marathon than after. It couldn’t be mind-over-matter because my mind wasn’t focused on overcoming knee pain. I never felt any pain. It felt like a legitimate miracle. One of the few I can even think of in my whole life. I’m always open to miracles, I just never see them. This time I have evidence for one that defies a natural explanation. It’s something I’ll never forget.
My stats for the run:
Division: MEN 40 TO 44
Chip time: 07:51:08
Clock time: 07:59:34
Overall place: 13414
And the good news? I looked up Ahmed’s information and he finished 30 minutes after me! He did it! That’s a form of inspiration I’ll always carry with me.