Full disclosure: I am a native Angeleno. This is my home and has been for many years. I bleed Purple & Gold and Dodger Blue. I have zero patience to those that think it's OK to criticize my city. So while I'm partial to all things LA, even a native like myself can't hide that we've been lacking a marathon deserving of a city as great as ours. Not even close.
The Los Angeles Marathon was my very first marathon back in 2007 when I decided to kick my smoking habit of over 12 years and run it in honor of my late father. I have run it every year since. While I have been proud of those races, I haven't exactly been proud of the course.
So yes, I have been pining for marathon organizers to put together a world-class destination race. But in years past, it has fallen short and has been anything but. Until this year.
Thanks to the great effort of Peter Abraham, Russ Pillar and crew (along with a crucial vote of city council), the race was once again moved back to take place on a Sunday in March (it was held in Memorial Day Monday last year due to political reasons) but more importantly, the route was changed to a far more scenic and runner/spectator friendly "Stadium to the Sea" route that began at Dodger Stadium and finished near the Pier in Santa Monica Beach. And 25,000 runners later, the 25th running of the LA Marathon had its first sell-out event and a once struggling race was now all the buzz in the running community.
Only question remained: could the race deliver?
Dodger Stadium: Mile 1
With an e-mail coming from race organizers the day before stressing that we arrive early to the start, Ryan, Danica and I heeded the admonishment and carpooled w/ a couple of others to the start leaving our Santa Monica location at 5:15am. We hit a bit of gridlock at the off-ramp to Dodger Stadium but we arrived and were dropped off with plenty of time to spare (thanks again Sarah and David!).
Lori, Me, Danica, Ryan
Once we were there, we ran into a few other friends, diligently stood in line at the port-a-potties and watched impatient folks scale the dirt hills behind to do their business. Quite entertaining actually. And as is our new custom, I once again caught Danica emerging out of the port-a-pottie:
I of course, resorted to my own personal, portable bathroom - the details of which will be revealed in a later post.
With Danica at the start.
After the bathroom and gear bag check, Danica, Ryan, Page, Lori and I walked over to the corrals which were already filled to capacity and had us waiting just outside of the entrance. While waiting, we encountered a very LA moment when "Goonies" actor and fellow runner Sean Astin came over to ask our group a question about how the corrals worked.
Don't forget your inhaler Sean.
After the national anthem and a slightly delayed start, the air horn went off, Randy Newman's "I Love LA" blared from the loudspeakers and our shuffle to cross the starting mat of the 25th Los Angeles Marathon was underway!
26.2 miles down to the Sea - let's do this!
I ran the first mile or so with Page, Lori and Danica but lost Lori somewhere along the way and Page was shooting for a faster time so Danica and I let her go. The first mile wound around the Stadium lot before finally spilling out towards the Downtown/Silver Lake area. There was a lot of dodging and side-stepping going on in that initial mile since we started so far behind the front of the pack but things got a little better after that initial section.
Danica running out of Dodger Stadium lot.
Downtown LA: Miles 2-5
One of the great things about this race were the abundance of water stops. Seemingly one every mile, not to mention the occasional spectators who set up and handed out their own. Still, I carried my own mix bottle of Nuun - especially to avoid the bottle neck that comes with the first few water stops.
The first few miles were a bit unremarkable from a scenic standpoint until we hit our first and biggest climb of the day between miles 3 and 4 approaching the Disney Concert Hall in downtown LA. Danica took this hill really hard (against my pleas not to) and I just let her go and would catch her up top. I was very glad to see and hear the Taiko Drummers however placed very strategically near the top of the hill.
Echo Park: Miles 5-6
After rejoining her up top where mile 4 was, the course again dipped and climbed a little as we ran up Temple into Echo Park. Still feeling good around this time, I even coaxed her into slapping hands with a motorcycle cop.
Running by Echo Park
We both took our energy stuff (PowerBar Gel for me, some blocks for her) and kept getting by with fuel from the crowds too. Loving the block party thus far.
Silverlake: Miles 7-8
Danica and some firemen.
Runners holding steady before Mile 8
She started complaining about getting tired early on, but I was hoping it was just a bad period she was going through. Even after taking some energy blocks, she seemed to be struggling along at times. I tried encouraging her by saying the real show was coming up from miles 9/10 on when we hit Hollywood Blvd and beyond.
Hollywood: Miles 9-11
Coming into Hollywood
With Danica still struggling a bit, I tried to get her to focus on all the cool Hollywood landmarks: the Pantages theater, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Grauman's Chinese Theater, etc. I was still feeling pretty good in the meantime. I was really apprehensive about what this day held in store for me since I was coming off a pretty significant injury, running mostly on softer, packed dirt roads and not much mileage. But so far, so good!
Tired, but still smiling
Hollywood and Highland
Sunset Strip: Miles 12-14
Danica crossing Mile 12
A little after mile 13, we began our stop into the Sunset Strip. She was really struggling after mile 12 and it was the first time I began to wonder whether she might be able to finish or not. But one good thing that came from this was that it took all my focus off of me and any self-pitying I might feel. Instead, I focused in on getting her across that finish line with me.
Subtlety, thy name is Sunset
That girl sure can perk up for the camera
West Hollywood: Mile 15
This pic of Danica stretching out her hip cracks me up for some reason
We began incorporating walking breaks here and there but they started becoming more and more frequent. Her hip and feet were starting to bother her on top of just general fatigue. Tried stretching out her hip here and there too. Also tried giving her a couple of my salt pills to see if they would help.
Only in West Hollywood/Santa Monica Blvd
Digging the equal opportunity dance party!
Beverly Hills: Miles 16-17
We ran into our friend Emil just as we were heading into Beverly Hills. He too was struggling but they gamely put on a smile for the first photo...
...although this second photo showed how they really felt:
We made our turn down to Rodeo Drive where she met someone she knew, so I took a short break from being her annoying cheerleader to taking in the sights.
Running down Rodeo Dr.
Folks at Niketown Beverly Hills representing!
Century City: Mile 18-19
Danica's still hurting but gutting her way through the pain. I was starting to feel really bad for her, but knew taking pity would be the wrong course of action for sure. Instead, after grabbing a little hand towel from someone passing them out, I went to a water station to dowse it and see if putting it around her neck would help any.
After leaving Beverly Hills, we took a turn down little Santa Monica Blvd where it turns into a wide, multiple lane road into Century City. Off in the distance, I hear screaming and ruckus and this is when I realized we were coming upon the "Cheer Alley" I heard rumors about. Sure enough, a cheer squad from what must have been from a dozen or more different schools were out in full force cheering on the runners!
This part absolutely blew me away and I felt positively rejuvenated from going through this section.
A little further down, we spot our Twitter friend Andrea cheering on Santa Monica Blvd which was great to see:
VA Grounds: Mile 20
Danica also knew she had her special fireman friend Brian waiting for her around mile 19, so she kept repeating that she needed to make it at least that far. When we didn't see him around mile 19, I could tell that she was a little disappointed. But then shortly before mile 20, she spots him and instantly lights up. We took a couple of minutes there, took some pictures before we once again embarked, this time into the VA Grounds of Westwood.
This is where we would encounter our last hill as well as see a lot of people struggling. I've always went by the rule that the first half of the marathon takes place during miles 1-20 and the second half, miles 20-26.2 because you're just going on pure will and determination at this point.
Danica again, gamely hung on and ran as much as possible on throbbing hips and on feet that were killing her and of which one was bleeding (a recurring problem she's had).
I also did my own quick assessment damage, which thankfully was minimal. My foot started aching ever so slightly but not enough to have me worried. My left piriformis nerve was bothering as it has been as of late on longer runs. And legs were still holding strong given the relatively slow pace we were traveling at.
(*also, the battery on my camera ran out around this point - resorted to shooting with iPhone)
Brentwood: Miles 21-24
Personally speaking, I was really looking forward to this section. It is an athlete's mecca for all things running, bicycling, etc. And right off the bat, they did not disappoint.
The good folks of the Hirshberg (?) Foundation that supports pancreatic research were out in full force on that first turn down famed San Vicente Blvd and let me tell you, they were LOUD. In a sea of purple, all I heard were cheering and support that instantly energized me and those around me.
That had me in even greater spirits the rest of the way. Probably annoyingly so to Danica. But man, was that girl pushing through pain. I know this because from about mile 12 on, I would hear the occasional whimper coming out of her. And they grew more frequent in the latter miles.
She would also offer up an, "I'm sorry" a handful of times which made me feel that much worse for her, but something I would not hear. I don't care how slow it took us, I promised I'd stick with her leading up to this race and that's how we would finish.
In spite of all of this, it just wouldn't be us without injecting some levity and humor into the situation:
I did thoroughly enjoy this section however. It was one long block party from the top of San Vicente til the bottom. Families were out handing out orange slices/pretzels/candy, plenty of other supporters were also hanging out in beach chairs by the route...it was nothing but positive energy as we descended down towards the beach during that final 10K.
Can you tell I was going through a little runner's high at that moment?
Ocean Avenue: Miles 26-Finish
Right at the base of San Vicente was mile marker 25 and at the point when we rounded the corner onto Ocean Ave - home stretch!
Sometimes though, this can be a hardest section. Especially when all your body wants to do is finish and your mind is telling you the end is near. Yet, the last 1.2 miles can seem like the longest 1.2 miles of your life. This is something Danica was grappling with down this long straightaway.
Still, she pulled up her boot straps, put her head down and kept charging. I kept telling her to soak this moment in and take in the energy of the crowd instead of focusing on the distant finish line, but I think all she wanted to do was strangle me (too bad she lacked the energy to do so).
I took my own advice though and really took everything in. The closer you got to the finish, the bigger the crowd and louder the cheer. Finally...the finish! Danica and I didn't do anything stupid like sprint it in, instead we kept even paces throughout the last mile or so.
Final stretch on Ocean Ave!
Right before crossing the line, I spot Frank McCourt (owner of the LA Marathon and the Dodgers) on the platform adjacent to it. I yelled out to grab his attention, pointed downwards with both fingers and screamed, "Keep! This! Course!!!". Haha...he kind of smiled and nodded with approval. Loved it.
And with that, 26.2 miles on the inaugural "Stadium to the Sea" course came to an end, and I felt very proud to have been able to participate in it. Danica and I finished in something like 4:41 and change, a personal worst time for her - but damn it, if I wasn't the proudest I've ever been of her. That kid seriously used every fiber of her being to get her hobbling butt across that line and that definitely says something about her character.
Congrats Danica, and congratulations to all the 20,000+ finishers on what turned out to be a great day for a marathon!
Peter getting some love from us runners - all smiles at the finish!
Finally: thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to the race organizers for listening to us runners and working tirelessly til the final minute to put on a great race! I know it wasn't without its problems, but it's impossible to bat .1000 with so many variables involved. All I know is what I experienced first-hand - and that was an awesome and challenging course, filled with great volunteers, spectators and sights. My visor cap is tipped.
Thank again...let's do this again next year!