Monday, March 19, 2012

LA Marathon 2012

I've spent the past few months training for a grueling feat I have wanted to do all my life. Yesterday, I ran the Los Angeles Marathon. All the forces of nature were working against me, but I managed to finish. I swore I would finish, even if I had to crawl across the finish line on bloody hands and knees. Thursday I started to feel sick and that cold got even worse on Friday. Friday night I developed a cough and lost my voice in addition to the throbbing head from sinus pains and infection.

Saturday was my last real rest and hydration day. I spent that day going to Dodger Stadium with my mom to get my race bib and I also got my goodie bag. It was very much like going to Costco on a Sunday: lots of samples, lots of people, and just daunting in the end. Because it was cold, I needed to get something warmer to wear so I got some capri pants from the Asics booth along with a really cute green tech shirt and a marathon t-shirt. Their gear was 60% off since it was the last day of the expo. I also signed up for some other goodies and had fun at the expo. After, I had dinner with my mom and sister at Cheesecake Factory and got some fettucini alfredo, then it was off to home to get some shut eye.

At 4:30 am, I woke up and got ready for the day. Got ready and did everything same as usual. I won't waste so much time talking about taking the bus to Dodger Stadium from our parking spot in Santa Monica or the pre-race ruckus. I was supposed to meet a pace group but never found them and instead hung out with my bus-buddy talking running. She was a much faster runner but it was nice to have some company before the race.

By around 7 something, we decided to get in our pace areas in line. That's the point where I realized I am in fact running a marathon. It isn't real until you're there. Before then, it's just excitement and anticipation and dreams of finishing and all the good stuff. But sitting behind the corral is the moment of, "Oh shit, there's no backing down now." Well, there is, but we'll get to that later.

The marathon started off great. I was pretty motivated and feeling good. It took forever to get out of the start corral, but once out, I was feeling great. There were lots of great sights to see and people everywhere cheering for as far as you could see. Not to mention a wave of neon and bright colors flooding the streets of Los Angeles with runners. Everything is fantastic and awesome. Then mile 13 happens.

On our last long run, I had started to get serious pain in my left foot. I can't describe it other than my foot felt so swollen and tight and the muscles on my arch felt like they had been over stretched and tore. I've never had a serious injury but I assume that's what one feels like. I spent a lot of time resting and recovering before the race and I still was feeling some lingering pain up until Thursday before the race. However, by Saturday, I felt great and didn't think it would be an issue. But it was. It came back. And it felt worse than it did 3 weeks ago. I had to act fast. My first step was to address the mental. I could do it. Just walk through the pain and keep going. Distract myself with the excitement of people cheering me on and sights and taking lots of photos. But despite all that, the pain was too strong. So it was time to address the physical. I had read somewhere that tight calves sometimes caused arch pain, as does over use (long runs) and flat feet, which I happen to have very low arches that become flat when my feet swell on long runs. It was just another physical setback I had to deal with.

I did not have the power of the pack to help me through any of this. I was alone and I was in serious pain. I was thinking of stopping at a medical tent and quitting to avoid a more serious injury. Doing this would make me come home, in my mind, a loser. Someone who gave up. Someone who let down everyone who made it possible for me to do this. Someone who had the chance to do something incredible but gave up because it was too hard. I wanted more than anything to give into the pain. But I didn't want to give up. The next two miles were spent shivering in tears from the grueling pain determined to not give up.

Mile 16 came up. This was a turning point. It was no longer an issue of half-way there, but now a 10 miles left. 10 miles is nothing. You can do this. With a switch of interval timing and slowing down my pace, I trekked on. It was even more miserable. But I kept going. Mile 17 was another turning point. Single digits were left. Less than 10 miles. The pain got worse and worse despite my efforts of distraction and now other parts were hurting. The biggest relief was mile 20. That was the point where there were ONLY 6 miles left and that was a cinch. Unfortunately, the last 6 miles were also the longest. They were spent on straight roads in boring areas. There were no exciting photo ops. The crowds cheering you on were dwindling down, the weather was getting colder, and a high wind was coming at us from the ocean. Now my face was getting wind whipped and I had a gnarly sun burn. In addition to all of this, my phone battery was dying. I was losing access to my facebook support team of comments from friends and family cheering me on via the web. 22 miles was like that point in life where you pray for the strength to carry on. And then Jesus showed up. Literally. One of the runners was dressed up like Jesus. It was hilarious and inspiring. He was talking to some young guy about how he used to do a lot of drugs and cleaned up his life and it was the perfect distraction to my pain, which now included everything from hips down, including a pain I haven't felt in 4 years: my pelvic bone pains I had when I was pregnant, or as I like to call it, the most excrutiating pain I've ever felt in my life.

The good thing though: Jesus got me to mile 24, which was so close to the beach, you could feel the salt sucking all moisture from my skin. I was glad I was as hydrated as I was at that point because it didn't dawn on me till then that salt water air could be bad for hydration. I really loathed the run down San Vicente. The funny thing was, I knew, before I even got there, the first time I saw the course map, I would hate that part. I'm glad I know myself well enough to predict such things. Ha.

Once I got to the beach, I knew the finish line was just around the corner. Victory never tasted so good. In fact, it tastes like bacon. All I could do was think about how there was a medal at the end waiting for me. I kept going to the best of my ability, a sad little hobble, shuffle, limpity run, all the while smiling for the cameras. I was in so much pain when I finished. All I could do was think how the hell I would manage to get through LAX the next morning. That was going to be a daunting feat. I would have to carry my bags over my sunburned shoulders, adding weight to my already suffering feet. It seemed like a nightmare. I got my medal and found my mom and we walked back to the parking lot. I could no longer walk. I was in so much pain my body said, "Nope. None of your little brain tricks are gonna work on me. We're done. YOU'RE done." And you know what? I gave in. I said, "Sure. We got our medal. We finished our marathon. If you wanna crap out on me, by all means, GO AHEAD." So I plopped on the sidewalk on Ocean Ave. by the parking lot and laid there till my mom came back with the car.

Overall, I think this experience was the most absurd thing I've ever done. What would ever provoke me to run 26.2 miles or why is beyond me. All I know is I did something not many people have done. This is just as extreme as climbing a mountain. It's a test of your personal strengths and weaknesses. In the end, I can say I AM STRONG. Of the 23,000 people who registered to run, I am part of the 81% who finished. I didn't give up. So, I'll see LA again in 5 years from now to see if I can do it without getting injured, preferably with more training under my belt (I was a month short on my training due to the fact the group I trained with are training for the Nashville Country Music Marathon next month.)

A few things I learned from running a marathon:
- It's OK to go slow and to walk. Going slow and walking beats stopping.
- If it hurts, stretch it. Stretching makes it feel better and is sometimes the temporary quick-fix to get you one step further.
- Travel light. No sense in bringing food or hydration belts to a huge marathon like LA. There's so much food and fluids along the course.
- Expect the unexpected. I packed for 80 degree weather and the day I got out, it turned 50 degree and raining.
- Never give up. I wish my phone battery wasn't on the brinks of death because one of the best signs I saw was at Trader Joes by the Whisky and it said, "Ever Lose Faith In Humanity? Go Watch A Marathon."It's true. There is no better test of the human spirit than in watching people do such a daunting challenge.
- Even if you're alone, you're never alone. Support shows up everywhere. People will talk to you. People will help you out. You'll help people out. One gal was crouched on the side aching and another gal comes up and asks where she hurts and the girl says her calves. The other gal whips out a can of BenGay or something of the sort and sprays her calves. Towards the end, a guy and gal next to me were running low on energy. She says how she really wished she had some candy and her male running partner offers her some gel, which she refuses because she can't do gels. Knowing that problem all too well I offered her a pack of my sport beans, to which this made her day. That feeling of comradery between mankind during a time of physical pain and mental weakness is never seen or felt any greater.
- The last 6 miles are the home stretch. They are also the longest.
- There is nothing sweeter than the end when you cross that finish line, regardless of your time, you still feel like you just won the gold medal in the Olympics.

I'm so grateful to be able to do this. I'm thankful for all my friends and family who helped make it possible for me to be able to come out to LA. I never could have gotten anywhere remotely near 8 miles without the wonderful training I received from the Jeff Galloway running program through Big Dog Running Company. Many thanks to Shelly, who organizes it, Maureen and all the gals in my pace group, for keeping me on pace and all their insight and amusement over all our long runs. As much as I was hoping to finish long runs with them, I'll have to see how my foot recovers and follow up with my doctor on it. And if I can't make it to any of the long runs with them, I wish them all the best of luck in Nashville! I hope when I return to LA to try this again in 2017, I'll have some company. Maybe my sister and Jesse will join me and maybe some of my new running friends might feel up for a road trip to participate in one of the coolest marathons. If you've never been to LA, this is definitely the best way to see it. Literally, this is like sightseeing in the form of a marathon and it is epic!

Me and my Marathon bling at the end.

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