Let’s just say that this race taught me a thing or two in humility, perseverance, and outright pain & suffering. This was by far my worst marathon to date; but was easily the most important test of my will to finish and push through what I would only consider the impossible. In fact, it’s only now – weeks later – that I’m able to get over my pride, write about it and share my experience. Here we go!
The LA Marathon was my first marathon since the San Francisco marathon last year which I LOVED and, despite not PR-ing and injuring my foot, I consider my favorite marathon race. I had to take a few months off from running after San Francisco due to the foot injury which included missing out on my 10 year Portland Marathon anniversary race. Frakdammit! I was able to start some short distance training in September and ran the Seattle Half-Marathon in November. Still with a bit of foot pain, I took December off.
So I started officially training for the LA Marathon on January 1st 2012. I told myself that I would get my foot better no matter what and give my 2012 race season a real run for its money (pun intended!). The first real challenge was cramming a full marathon training schedule starting from an almost zero mileage base into a 10 week time frame. Impossible? No. Fucking difficult? You bet. But I was up for the challenge and was sick of letting my foot determine who was boss!
Training was going very well the first couple of weeks so I opted to throw a wrench into my plan – as gingers tend to do. I signed up for the Vancouver First-Half Half-Marathon in February. This way, I could get some of my race-day jitters out of the way with a jaunt around one of my favorite NorthWest cities. The race went fantastic and I felt like I was getting back to a healthy self. My foot felt free of pain and my confidence slowly came back to me. I finished the 13.1 miles with a new PR and nary a muscle cramp. Boom. LA Marathon was gonna get clobbered!
Jump to two weeks before raceday when I scheduled my first 20 miler in almost a year. I wanted to defeat it like I did my half marathon a few weeks earlier. I wanted to prove to myself I still had distance legs and that the marathon would be a smooth experience, much like the San Francisco, hell, maybe even better! So, that Sunday, I set out at an easy pace simply focused on finishing. And I did. Strong. Not fast, just strong. Exhausted as all shit, but man, I was confident. Oh how things can change in an instant.
The big news surrounding race weekend in LA, was the weather forecast. Everyone was predicting a crazy rainstorm – much like the year before where most of the runners practically drowned in 30 foot waves crashing down Hollywood Blvd. On Friday, I went to the expo – which was fairly straight forward and well organized – and I could hear the buzz emanating from every booth about, “rain this”, “rain that” and “buy a rain proof jacket NOW before you DIE!!!!”. Being from Seattle and having run MANY races in heavy rain, I wasn’t worried. Hell, I was EXCITED! I knew I could do it. Could the locals?! HUH? COULD THEY!? But guess what, the weather held out. No rain. Raceday was going to be perfect conditions.
So my first qualm with the LA Marathon are the logistics for transportaion, getting to and from the start/finish areas, and parking. The race takes you from Dodger Stadium to the Santa Monica beach by way of Hollywood Blvd, Sunset Blvd, Santa Monica Blvd, and many other thoroughfares. So how does one get to and from? Well, you wake up at 2am (Yes, 2AM for some people!), drive to Santa Monica to park your car in a parking lot ($15) and try to snag one of the charter busses headed back to Dodger Stadium (depending on when you reserve this shuttle, you could be leaving Santa Monica anywhere from 2:30am to 5:30am). This way, when you finish the race, you can hop in your own car and speed outta there. After paying $150+ for the marathon and $15 for parking and shuttle, I was about spent (haha) on dishing out any more funds for this race.
Luckily, I was able to persuade my kick-ass roommate, Blake, to not only drop me off at the starting line at the buttcrack of dawn, but to also meet me at the finish line in Santa Monica, braving some of the shittiest LA traffic this city has to offer. In addition, I had a callback for an audition in Santa Monica only 2 hours after my projected finish time so I bribed him with a free lunch to stick around and be my chauffeur to a local 24 hour fitness where I could shower the post-race victory off and prep for an immediate rocking of said audition. The logistics were solidly scheduled. Only thing left: kicking the LA Marathon’s asshole.
I arrived early to the start-line buzzing off little sleep (typical) and ready to see the mobs of fellow Angelinos moseying to their respective corrals. I wasn’t disappointed. Overwhelmed by the hords of racers, I opted to relieve my poop canal in one of Dodger Stadium’s few open lavatories. I stood in line for an hour. A FUCKING HOUR to poop. Apparently the mens rooms at Dodger Stadium feature 200 urinals and 3 stalls. Perfect for a marathon. Especially one where every guy decides to read the Sunday Times from front to back while they’re relieving their bungs. Once it was my turn to rocket-shit, I did my biz and hustled my ass out to the start line with 2 minutes to spare. I missed my corral B placement and was forced to the back of the line. Nothing like starting a marathon in a panic. Regardless, my pipes were empty and gearin’ to go! BANG. The race was off! Well, not for another 15 minutes as the HUGE mass of people slowly made their way through the starting gates. Aaaand HERE WE GO!
THE FIRST HALF
“Holy shit there are a LOT of kids running this race!”, I thought to myself the first VERY crowded mile or two. There were indeed. THOUSANDS of them, all wearing flourescent yellow/green jerseys. They ranged from the nervous, jittery crowd dodgers (the ones that run around everyone and everything without awareness to those they run into or trip) to the speed demons (the ones that are SPRINTING through the crowds hoping to get further up where they ‘think’ it’ll be less crowded). Let me first say that I was STOKED to see so many kids running a marathon. Holy CRAP I wish I had that opportunity as a kid – I probably wouldn’t have taken it – but still! That takes serious BALLS! Let me also say that a part of their marathon race education should include race etiquette training. In fact, EVERYONE could take a little lesson in this. Yup, I think I might even make a video!
Regardless, I kept my pace fairly consistent and moderate from miles 4 through 14. Running along the middle of the famous streets I so often drive in this town is such a privilege! I felt great, continued to hydrate and ate a gel every 4 miles or so. The sun was peaking through the clouds and beginning to warm the streets just enough hint at perfect race day conditions. I was stoked. The only thing that knocked me off my game a bit were the hills. There were more of them than I anticipated and they were steeper than I expected. Not brutal hills, just long rollers through downtown LA and into Hollywood. I’d incorporated hill training into my plan knowing I had the Big Sur marathon this month, so I took them in stride, but perhaps they were my undoing? I may never know…
I saw some of my good friends, Carrie and Chris, at mile 12 amongst the masses of spectators. It’s pretty amazing how this can revitalize you in a race. This also gave me a good chance to do a full-body check-in with myself at the half way point. I was good. Some of my muscles were beginning to cramp up ever so slightly, but a little more hydration aught to do the trick and it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. I was ready for the second half. Or was I…
THE SECOND HALF
Miles 14-19 were solid. I kept them moderate, never pushing past comfortable. I wanted to finish strong much like my 20 miler training run. In fact, I was really looking at this race as a longer training run in prep for Big Sur. I knew I wasn’t going to PR. I knew I wasn’t going to finish easy. I just wanted to finish. Then things started to unravel. At mile 19-20, I was passed by one of my twitter followers who was also running the race. We have similar paces, but man was he in great shape at that point. It was then I could sense something was amiss. Pushing myself to keep up with him wasn’t even an option because shit was about to hit the fan.
At mile 20 I opted to take a walk break to gauge my strength level and figure out if it was my nutrition or hydration that was getting messed up. Well, within seconds of slowing my already snail-pace to a walk, I felt it. The overall, encompassing feeling that not only was I going to pass-out, but I was going to throw-up the entire way down to the concrete. I tried to hold it together. Panic set in. What the fuck was going on?! I could barely maintain my balance and was fighting back the gag reflex with every step. It wasn’t like it took time for this feeling to set in, it was almost instantaneous. I kept walking hoping it was just a passing wave. I downed another gel and some water. I could barely keep it in. Continuing to walk, I told myself that at the next water station I was going to take a break, sit down and reevaluate.
I’d bonked before early on in the inaugural Seattle Rock n Roll marathon and vowed never to let it happen again. This feeling was similar to that experience, but worse. I got to the next aid station, which also happened to be a huge cheering station on UCLA campus, so I really didn’t feel like stopping there to let hundreds of cute coeds see me hork my belly contents onto their pristine grass. I continued to walk on. Each step harder than the last because as I continued, all of my leg muscles began to cramp and tighten. That all-to-familiar post-race crampage was happening right now. And I still had 6 miles left to go. 6 of the most difficult and excruciating miles of my life.
Quitting. I never thought it would be brought into question for the LA Marathon. Perhaps for Big Sur due to it’s crazy hills and brutally beautiful environment, but not the LA. Here I was, step after step, passing spectator after spectator (who in hindsight were awesome supporters, but at the time I wanted all to shut up and leave me alone), contemplating walking off the course, laying down, and dying. But I didn’t. What’s crazy was that the reasons for me not quitting were ridiculous! “I can’t quit there! There are kids playing near that tree and if they saw me die, that’d be horrible!”. “Don’t even think about quitting near that coffee shop. It looks sketchy.” “Too many on-lookers. Don’t die here.” “Ugh. I can’t quit right now, I see a lady with orange slices 20 feet ahead and I think I need those!” “Man, If you quit now, the lady that just gave you an orange slice will think SHE killed you!”
The only thing that gave my nausea and lightheadedness a respite were the orange slices that random spectators brought out themselves. I would eat one, instantly feel a little relief, then 30 seconds later feel like vomiting. I thought that if I could just make it to mile 24, I remember seeing on the LA Marathon website that there was a first aid tent there that I could stop at for a look-over by a professional. Miles 22 and 23 clicked by. I was getting passed by everybody at this point. Kids. Seniors. Very LARGE people. Limpers. Other walkers. Rabbit costumes. EVERYBODY. And here I was, thinking I was hot shit with my fancy shoes, cool custom race shirt and sunglasses, and ginger hair. Talk about a humbling experience. I’ll never have an ego about this sport ever again.
I trudged on. Slower and slower. I was no longer walking, I was INCHING along. I could have had a book-club conversation with every spectator at the pace I was going. I remember one guy looking at my bib and saying, “Alright!! You can do it……The Ginger? Really The Ginger? Huh, whatever THAT means!”. Then I reached mile 24. No med tent. No medics. Nothing that I could see. Bait n switch LA Marathon. Not cool! In my mind I believed I was all on my own. That I couldn’t ask for help and that I needed to push through it, no matter what. If I died, I died. At least I was doing something I loved (now looking back, I realize I don’t love suffering).
You wanna know what got me through those last 2.2 miles? That fucking callback audition I had in a few hours. I knew that I couldn’t miss it without hearing the wrath from my agents and letting down a casting agent, let alone MYSELF. I moved to this town to act, to pursue my childhood dreams. I wasn’t about to let a marathon stand in the way of those dreams. So I did it. At mile 26.2, I crossed that LA Marathon finish line slower than I had ever crossed it, feeling shittier than I had ever felt, with tears of misery and disappointment filling my eyes. I was so mad at myself. I was ashamed. I feel like my body & mind had let me down. 4 hours, 37 minutes, 31 seconds (while I realize this isn’t a horrible time by many standards, my predicted easy finish was 3:45:00).
I scurried through the mess of finishers with my medal (me like) and what little food I could hold in my hands (come on, LA, NO BAGS?) to meet up with Blake, whom I’d texted during my walkathon that I was in bad shape. We got to the car as quickly as I could, downed as much water and food as I could stomach, and headed to 24 hour fitness for that shower, and on to the callback. A fellow actor friend mentioned in the casting office’s waiting room that he thought he had seen on facebook that I was running the LA Marathon. I told him I literally had just finished, much to his and every other actor in hearing distance’s dismay. I also warned them all that I could pass out or throw up on them at any moment. I’m sure that settled their nerves.
In the end, I finished a marathon but I didn’t book the role. I’m sure the actor that did went on to live a rich and amazing life. But that doesn’t matter to me at all. I now mark that day as one where I learned something amazingly valuable. I learned that I can push through ANYTHING and still cross that finish line. I learned that despite what you think or what you predict, the situation you’re in at that moment can change in an instant, and how you adapt reflects on who you are. I learned that if I had finished that race easy and strong, I wouldn’t give it another thought, but because I struggled and pushed myself beyond what I ever thought possible, I know more about me. It’s taken a few weeks to come to grips with the fact – and even typing it is difficult – but the LA Marathon may very well be my best marathon.
The above video is my daily vlog from marathon day. Not much footage from the actual race (well, none) but hopefully gives you an idea of my pain at the finish.
As for the LA Marathon, it was a well organized, albeit HUGE, marathon that may join my annual gammat of races. It doesn’t live up to the high standards set by the San Fran marathon, but what’s great is now the two marathons are working together and have a “Finish Them Both” challenge. An extra medal by completing both in the same calendar year. Hoping to get that bling in San Fran in July!
- Really great course through all of LA
- Great support and spectators!
- Plenty of water at aid stations
- Easy expo w/ decent race shirts
- Finish on the waterfront!
- CRAZY crowds at Start/During race/Finish
- Overall High Cost
- Parking/Transportation logistics (unavoidable, but sucky)
- Only 1 GU station (at mile 20)??
- Crappy goodie bags at finish (well, no bags really)
RACE SUPPORT: 8/10
RACE ORGANIZATION: 8/10
BONUS: 8/10 (keepable running shirt, weather, fast expo, course)
PLACE OVERALL: 6,277/18,904
PLACE IN SEX: 4,705/11,501
PLACE IN DIVISION: 682/1,447
Tags: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2012 LA Marathon Review, advanced, beginner, best, blvd, bonk, brooks, brooks pure, cadence, clif, cliff, ethan newberry, fast, free, full, gel, ginger, gingerrunner, GU, half, hollywood, honda, los angeles, marathon, minimus, new balance, nike+, pro, project, pure, review, run, runner, saucony, slow, speed, sunset, the ginger runner, trail, training, worst