Marathon Journal: Conclusion
March 22, 2010
Here I am recovering in the basement studio from yesterday’s LA Marathon. I can’t believe I did it and this morning I’m full of a weird mixture of both pride and humility. On one hand there was a lot of failure associated with yesterday’s event, but there was ultimate victory so it has a happy ending.
The day started with My Beloved and I waking up at 4:30am. We got dressed, ate a bowl of cereal and drank some water. I had half of a Clif energy bar. Driving in the dark, we arrived at the finish line of the marathon and parked in our pre-paid spot. There were lines of shuttles and busses to take us back to the Dodger’s Stadium starting line. By the time we got to the stadium we had twenty minutes before the start of the race. It’s pretty rare to stand in a crowd of 25,000 people and we were in the dead center of the human pile. It took us ten minutes to get to the starting line!
Then BOOM we cross the line that registers the magnetic signal bouncing off of our bibs. The official starting time is locked in and our sole goal is to run slow enough to keep from spending too much energy early on. We were doing 11.5 minute miles, which didn’t feel fast, though it technically is above my 12.5 minute goal. Little did I know that my actual marathon average would be in the 15 minute range.
I loved seeing all of the runners having a good time. It’s one of the few times in LA where you can strike up a conversation with a complete stranger and they’re excited to share their story with you. There is an instant bonding between all of the runners that’s hard to describe. It’s also amazing to see so many “non-athlete” looking people. These are every day normal people doing extraordinary things.
In general, I took a Gu energy pack every four miles. The water and Gatorade stations were every mile, and I feel like I got water logged half way through the race. My mouth was dry and thirsty, but my body wasn’t processing the water for some reason. I ate some banana, a slice of orange and plowed through to mile 8. But even at this early stage I could tell that something was wrong. Every mile was a lot harder than my usual runs. Running at home, a four mile run would be a big nothing. But at this marathon it felt like an 8. The 8 mile marker felt like a 16. Still, by mile 13, the half way mark, I still felt like I could make it to the end.
There are lots of Jesus people running the marathon. One man ran holding up a big Bible over his head the whole way. He was covered in prison tattoos and wore a big “JESUS” on his shirt. There are also people holding big posters and banners saying “Jesus Saves” and many runners have scriptures written on their shirts. Churches of all denominations have stands along the way, some singing Gospel music, some offering water-bottles. In one area a bunch of men in turbans and giant beards gave us water.
I was running in the middle of a group of women wearing bright pink tee shirts which should have been adequate warning because any time women are wearing that color they’re usually angry protesters of some kind. I don’t know what these women were but when we ran under an overpass a man was holding up a sign that said something like, “Accept Jesus or accept hell” and these women went completely nuts. You’d think it was a sign holding a swastika. One lady shouted, “Oh, I suppose YOUR religion has it all figured out!” But as we ran by, I wanted to show my solidarity with normal Christian orthodoxy and I held up my pointer finger which is the universal “One Way” sign. So now I’m exposed to the angry women in pink and they start speaking loudly about me, “Ahhhh, now we see what’s going on! Now we know.” And I could imagine all of the stereotypical things they were heaping on my person. And I smiled inside. She ended by saying, “Atheists are going to be pretty depressed by the end of this race.” Jesus, what a crybaby.
Running down Hollywood BLVD wasn’t very fun since crowds of people were walking in the middle of the street. I wanted to see a few stars along the Walk of Fame just to help document the event. I ran past a corner and saw Jimmy Stewart and Kirk Douglas’ stars and felt like I luckily stumbled upon two of my favorites!
Somewhere around mile 12 I started to feel kind of heart-attacky. That’s when my cardio feels over-worked and my heart pounds in my chest. The only thing I know that solves that problem is to slow down to a crawl. Angie and I went down to a shuffle for about a mile. I cooled down and the symptoms went away. A heart attack isn’t out of the question given there are heart attacks during marathons. We were passing people on stretchers and on their backs in the middle of the road even at mile 12.
I had to go to the bathroom and used a public toilet for the first time of the race. You might want to skip this paragraph if you have any sense of manners. Taking a seat in a public toilet is disgusting enough, but during a marathon it feels like some kind of emergency event. Sitting on the plastic pot and trying to push is hard after running 13 miles. I had to put my head against the door, thankfully I was wearing a baseball cap to keep me from getting scalp-AIDS. My stomach muscles were killing me but I pushed and had to let out a big “ARRRRGH!” that made me laugh at the same time. I can’t go into any more detail of that ordeal because it would be too horrifying for you to read while eating that meatloaf on your plate. Coming out of the porta-pottie I felt a burst of energy. That’s just what I needed to put a little more kick in my step.
Mile 15 came and brought with it serious trouble. Angie and I tried holding hands to share encouragement but nothing was working. We were exhausted. It didn’t make any sense because we both can run 15 miles and barely break a sweat. By the end of the 15th mile we didn’t have anything left and HAD TO start walking. That’s the first sign of failure. I hate walking. To me, it destroyed the accomplishment of the marathon to have to walk at all and I was furious. Losers walk. Walkers walk. The marathon isn’t a walking event. Angie was clearly pissed off too.
We decided to walk mile 16 then try jogging again at mile 17. We held hands and talked the whole time, trying to put together a plan for the rest of the race. I blew the marathon but Angie and I were growing closer! I told her that if she could jog the whole thing that she just had to take that path. She didn’t think she could make it alone.
I passed a homeless guy pushing a giant shopping cart full of trash bags of his stuff. His face was scorched and he wore goggles. He looked like a cast-member of the Book of Eli. Then it struck me that these homeless people will run the world after the apocalypse. I mean, how much harder is life going to be for him? He already sleeps among cockroaches and rats, he already has his shopping cart to push around and he’s used to walking miles covered in his own pee while being separated from his loved ones, a job and a just society. A post-apocalyptic world will be traumatic for me but the homeless will just keep on ticking.
Mile 17 came and we jogged it slowly. We were doing 14 minute miles just shuffling along. Every mile marker was only a reminder of how far we were off from our original goal of finishing the marathon in 5 1/2 hours. But now we went from the goal of finishing the marathon running the whole thing, to finishing the marathon at all! We jogged through mile 17 and made it half way through mile 18 before we had to walk again.
The next few miles brought weird symptoms I’ve never experienced before. There was some freaky lower back pain that shot down my leg and made it go limp! I’d suddenly lurch to the right almost stumbling into other people. If My Beloved would have asked if we could quit I totally would have! I didn’t think I could walk the rest of the marathon. I drew inspiration from a father holding his collapsed son in his arms helping him limp along. Another father had a handicapped son who held onto his arm and pulled him along. I patted the kid on the back and said, “You’re doing really great!” He said, “My feet hurt! I’m in pain.” I told him that I hoped when my kids were his age that they would work as hard as he was without giving up. I said that he inspired me and gave me strength.
I tried jogging again a couple of times but couldn’t start running again until mile 25! After mile 23 my thoughts went to my God, my children and my friends who knew I was running the marathon. I didn’t want to let them down by quitting. Still, it was very hard not to quit. My legs would still fall out from under me, and Angie was furious at how difficult it became just to walk. It’s pretty cool at the end because we’re still walking in a crowd of people and everyone is encouraging each other to keep going. My body said, “You have to quit!” but I’d tell Angie, “We’re going to do this. I’m going to make sure we both get to the end.”
We passed under the mile 25 banner and started jogging again. We were holding hands at first but we actually started going at pretty good pace. We split apart and while my body was shooting pain up from my feet, my knees felt like they were bashed apart with a sledge-hammer, my calves and thighs were cramping up and my lower back hurt I didn’t care! I made angry tiki-like faces until the chords jumped out from my neck. Half way through the 25th mile I was hauling ass! I passed hundreds of people walking that last mile. thousands of cheering people lined the final stretch of Ocean BLVD but I couldn’t hear them. I was in a tunnel. I crossed the finish line with my arms up like a champion. The clock said something like 7 hours and 5 minutes. If I subtract our starting time, I finished at around 6 hours and 49 minutes which is about an hour faster than last year. That makes this marathon a bit of a loss because of the walking but a victory over the final crossing time. I’ll take the victory, even if it’s bitter sweet. I still don’t know how I finished.
After crossing the finish line I turned around to see Angie coming up in a crowd of other runners. I hoped she wouldn’t be mad that I ran that last mile so fast. She was jogging like a pro and she crossed the finish line and fell into my arms. We were both teary eyed. I am so proud of her, because she had a really hard marathon. I’m impressed, and at the same time she’s my hero because I couldn’t have finished without her.
As soon as we finished the major muscles started shutting down. We had a half mile walk to the car and we started limping along. Suddenly we found ourselves in a crowd of hundreds of limping finishers going back to our cars. We were all doing the Fred Sanford walk and it’s really funny to watch. Angie and I started doing our best imitation, “Lamont! You big dummeh’!”
On the way back home I asked Angie, “If you were given a baby for going through labor or running another Marathon, which would you rather do?” “Labor.”
Last year’s marathon was a miracle. I went to LA’s top sports medicine doctor who looked at my knee and said, “Never run again.” That was before last year’s marathon! So I consider a year of training without my knee going funky a good thing. I’m lucky and I’m grateful with thanks to God that I have another LA marathon medal to hang on my wall. I’m recovering today and there is NO knee pain. They feel so good that it makes no sense at all.
But best of all is that this year I did a marathon with My Beloved. We went through this voluntary trip to hell and back and came out of it closer than ever. This morning we woke and our daughter came into our bed and Angie told her, “Your dad is a hero. He helped me finish. He’s my hero.” My daughter looked at me and smiled like she was looking at a hero. I’ll never forget that.
I don’t know for sure if I’ll run next year’s marathon. I KNOW Angie will! If I do another one my goal will be to hack another hour off my finish time. I have a lot of room to improve. So why did we crap out so early and walk so much of this marathon? I have a few ideas. I did try to run the Pasadena Marathon last month and crapped out at mile 23, but that’s not the whole story. I think we peaked too early. We spent a lot of energy and joint/bone health on long runs in early February. We had both done 20 mile runs over a month before the marathon and our results were all downhill from there. How do you explain that we both ran 20 miles on our own without stopping but had to walk mile 15 of this marathon? My plan for next year would be to do my normal escalation of miles going up 2 miles every other week, but I would time it to only do 18 miles two weeks before the Marathon. Then the Marathon date would be when I do my usual 20 mile run, but I would just try to pound out another 6 miles. Even if I had to walk I think I would beat my time by an hour… that or I’d die.
Thanks to all of you for leaving such encouraging messages, for rooting for me, giving me advice (especially to old man Bob McGowan!) and praying for me.
We now return this blog to its regular scheduled programming.
P.S. my official time at the LA Marathon site is 06:55:23. My Beloved’s: 06:56:06