Wow. Where do I begin?
The 2011 edition of LA Marathon's "Stadium to the Sea" will without a doubt go down as the most memorable marathon experience of my life - and this includes marathon #1 from 2007 (also the LA Marathon). In all my years of living in LA, can't recall a day quite as wet + windy as this one. Still didn't alter my plans to shoot for a sub-3:20 to earn a Corral A seeding at the 56-mile Comrades Marathon on May 29th in South Africa (where there is no chip timing). I knew I had the speed - the endurance however to keep it going for 26+ miles was in question - especially given my history of cramping in latter parts of races.
..to the Sea
The day before was a busy day with the expo, a KSWISS sponsored luncheon to shoot an interview, a carbo-load dinner with friends, some last minute laundry and I was finally home after 9pm with a 2:30am wakeup call. Yikes.
After going to bed shortly after 10pm, I awoke to the sound of my alarm along with rain coming from outside. I dutifully went through my routine while sipping on coffee and forcing down a couple of waffles topped with sliced bananas and maple syrup. After some deliberation, I decided to go with a hat, gloves, arm warmers and black singlet. I found street parking about 6 blocks away from the finish and shuttle area and started jogging over getting halfway before forgetting I left my gloves behind. After contemplating going back for a split second (I was already running late of my 4am shuttle time) I ran back to get them and glad I did. Thankfully I got on a bus that was about to leave around 4:15am and got to Dodgers Stadium a little after 4:30am.
Getting to the start over 3 hours before gun time may have been overkill. I walked into Dodgers Stadium wearing my race clothes underneath and a garbage bag over me and that wasn't enough. It wasn't raining when I got there (yet) but it was windy and plenty chilly. I hung out near the entrance and met up with some friends and acquaintances including my bud Sam a 3-hour marathoner who volunteered to run with me to hopefully a sub-3:20. I was tired, cold, hungry and couldn't wait to get moving.
A little before 7am, Sam and I decided to move into the corrals and we squeezed into the 'B' section reserved for sub-4 hour marathoners. After the national anthem and a little after 7:30am the runners were off!
Wouldn't you know it somewhere in the first mile as we were leaving Dodgers Stadium, we started getting hit with the first of the rain. I told Sam that I wanted to take the first 10K or so pretty easy since I knew that's where the majority of the elevation gains were and didn't want to trash my legs so early in the race. Somehow didn't quite work out that way but I was feeling good aerobically so I kept at it trying to keep paces steady. After running through parts of Chinatown and Downtown, we hit the biggest hill of the day going up to Walt Disney Concert Hall on 1st Street shortly after mile 4. I made a conscious effort to back off as we marched up to the sounds of Taiko drummers banging away furiously.
Mile 1 - 7:57
Mile 2 - 7:03
Mile 3 - 7:27
Mile 4 - 7:26
Mile 5 - 7:57
Running with Sam in Echo Park
We were running with or slightly behind the 3:20 pace group for the initial few miles. By now, the rain was a steady drizzle as we marched through parts of Silverlake and Echo Park. We hit the 10K mark a little after 47 minutes where I took my first gel. I recall my legs fighting fatigue and tightness early on due to the constant undulations and climbing/descending. But again, breathing and effort was pretty even so we pressed on into Hollywood.
Mile 6 - 7:43
Mile 7 - 7:24
Mile 8 - 7:28
Mile 9 - 7:44
Mile 10 - 7:25
Sam checked up on me every now and again and we traded quips here and there, but by and large I was pretty focused and paying attention to my body. We came upon a mutual friend who had just run a 3:11 marathon earlier this year and we traded places for the next few miles. The rain was coming down pretty good and I was still a bit concerned by how tight my legs felt. After going down the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the course takes a left and another right into Sunset Blvd. I saw my friend Andee who was out cheering and it definitely provided a boost.
Rounding the corner to leave Hollywood Blvd
Mile 11 - 7:22
Mile 12 - 7:21
Mile 13 - 7:40
I don't recall seeing a half marathon mark or mat but I recall looking at my Garmin and seeing us a little past the 1:40 mark. Right on pace. Sam also let me know every now and again how we were doing based on a 3:20 band he had on too. The next few miles were certainly my favorite when the course takes you through the Sunset Strip, down Doheny into West Hollywood, down into Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive, past "Cheer Alley" in Century City and towards the VA and Brentwood.
Soaked to the bone
I spotted our buddy Josh who was out supporting mutual friends of ours and running with them for a couple of miles here and there. It was good to see him and he hopped in with us for a few minutes as we wound our way into Beverly Hills.
Mile 14 - 7:43
Mile 15 - 7:13
Mile 16 - 7:30
Mile 17 - 7:48
However, this is also when it started to get difficult and doubts started creeping into my head. Also lost my one and only salt tablet when I reached for my 1st gel so I was concerned about my electrolytes despite the cold temps. I still routinely took in my gels approximately every 30-45 mins and made sure I got both water and Gatorade at the aid stations when I could.
Speaking of aid stations the volunteers that showed up to man them, anywhere from 5-to-50 year olds, were unbelievable. Even with the heavy rain and merciless winds, they were out there in full support and undying energy for 20,000+ strangers just to keep us going. I made sure to express my appreciation whenever I could but I wish I could have stopped to tell each and every one of them just how much they meant to us. If I'm completely honest, I'm not sure I would have done the same given the conditions.
Anyway despite my attempts to run as prudently as I could with as hard I was pushing, I got my 1st cramp twinge in my right calf around the 18.5 mile mark. I cursed out loud and when Sam gave me a quizzical look, told him what was up. Basically, I had to go into full-on "survival mode". Sure enough, about a mile later I felt a sharp cramp twinge in my left calf now. Paces started slowing while Sam - bless his heart - started running up and down to see if he could find me some salt (to no avail). I knew that wasn't the problem however given my extensive history in dealing with it. Basically I had to shorten up my stride, grit my teeth through the pain when they hit (more frequent as the miles wore on) and just get to the finish as fast as possible given the circumstances.
Mile 18 - 7:37
Mile 19 - 7:45
Mile 20 - 8:04
By the time we entered into the VA hospital grounds, the downpour was unrelenting and there were puddles that were ankle deep. I knew by this point that a sub-3:20 was out the window and thought even a sub-3:30 might be too.
"Just 6 measly miles" I'd think. "Just 5 measly miles" when the next mile clicked off. Still the cramps kept coming and with great frequency. I cursed each and every one out of frustration audibly. Sam slowed down and ran a bit ahead of me but there was certainly nothing he could do or say by this point. I kept the teeth gritted and marched forward the best I could down San Vicente Blvd.
Mile 21 - 8:22
Mile 22 - 8:15
Mile 23 - 8:29
Mile 24 - 8:13
Somewhere along the final stretch however, the cramps eased up a bit - in numbers anyway. I was still in a pretty good amount of pain however mostly in my left foot and knee. But with the cramps subsiding a bit, I felt more confidence in my stride and gradually picked it back up.
Mile 25 - 7:44
By the time I hit the base of San Vicente Blvd making that final left turn down the glorious home stretch of Ocean Ave, I must admit I got a bit choked up. The thoughts of my father, running through my hometown, the incredible spectators and volunteers that came out in support, overcoming the difficulty of previous 25 miles...all of it hit me at once and for a minute, I got pretty emotional.
However, I shook it off and kept my eyes fixated on the finish line more than a mile away. The persistent cramping came back in full force and by now, it felt like someone was turning my calf muscles into pretzels.
"Dammit!!...Motherf**kers!!...You pieces of sh*t!...etc, etc.
You name it and I directed every curse word in the English language at my failing calves pleading with them to cooperate with me. It got downright amusing. We ran into our buddy Chris who came out to support runners and he joined us for a bit before jumping back out. Sam asked if I had anything left for the final stretch and I told him I didn't. Stick a fork in me.
Mile 26 - 7:39
I crossed the line in 3:23:33.
I thanked Sam immediately for his help in keeping my paces honest and for pushing me all the way to the finish.
At the end, there was no triumphant sprint. There were no arms raised in victory. There will be no 'A' corral placement awaiting me at Comrades.
But through 26.2 miles in torrential downpour, I finished my fastest marathon by over 22 minutes. I saw the best in humanity in the harshest of conditions. And even in my near hypothermic state in sopping wet clothes covered only by a flimsy mylar blanket, I was brimming with pride and beaming from a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I left it all out there. And I had absolutely no regrets.
After running all the way from Dodgers Stadium, to the Sea off the coast of Santa Monica, it only reaffirmed my love for this city and the people in it. I love LA. Truly.
Thanks for reading.