Notes from the soggy LA Marathon
Here's the headline news about the LA Marathon: According to the Los Angeles Times, this year's marathon fell on what was "the stormiest day in race history." It rained the entire day. Poured. Torrentially. The Today Show stated that Los Angeles got "more rain in 24 hours yesterday than they received the entire previous month." Streets were flooded. Runners were walking. Walkers were shuffling. Hundreds of participants dropped out due to hypothermia. Yes, I finished the whole 26.2 miles. But it wasn't easy.
Here are the gory details.
I should have realized from the start that any athletic event which requires a wake up time of 3:45am is probably not for me, being the non-morning person that I am. But somehow I managed to wake up, and with my teammates Deb and Ron, catch a 4:30am shuttle bus to Dodger Stadium, which was the starting point of the marathon. The three of us, along with 20 other members of Team Concern who had raised money for cancer research, were treated by CBS to a catered pre-race breakfast in a luxury suite at the stadium. Watching daybreak at Dodger Stadium was pretty awesome. Little did we know it would end up being the highlight of the day.
I knew even before I left Albuquerque that there was a 70% chance of rain predicted for race day. By Sunday, that chance had gone up to 100%, with chilly temperatures and gusty winds predicted as well. The weather conditions weren't ideal for a marathon,but we weren't too worried about it. After all, what's a little rain? We threw on extra layers of clothing (which we planned to throw off once we warmed up at mile 2 or 3), and plastic rain ponchos that Deb had purchased for us the previous day. The 99-cent hooded plastic ponchos were pretty fancy; many other runners opted for more casual outerwear and donned Hefty trash bags with a hole cut for their heads to keep them dry. Because of the rainy forecast, our small sub-team, "69000 steps 4 cancer" decided that we should run/walk the marathon, instead of just walking it, to speed things up. Having run 2 previous marathons myself, I knew full well that it takes a solid 6 months to train to RUN a marathon. OMG. I hadn't even trained to WALK in this marathon, much less run. I rationalized that walking's easy, right? Anyone can do it, can't they? Who needs training?
It started drizzling at about 7am, as the 20,000 runners participating in the marathon lined up at the start. No one even noticed at first, as our adrenaline made us oblivious to anything except hearing the the starting buzzer.
During the first few miles there was intermittent rain. Most people threw off their extra "warmth" layers in these first few miles. I refused to even consider removing one piece of clothing, even the too heavy sweatshirt that I was planning to discard before the race started. It was chilly! By mile 5, the rain was constant, and the winds were blowing well over 10 or 15mph. By mile 10, it was a downpour, and the winds had picked up significantly. It was hard to stay dry because the wind gusts blew up our ponchos and blew off our hoods, so we got soaked everywhere. Our wet shoes and socks were the worst. They got heavier and more uncomfortable with every step. It was like walking with each foot trapped in a bucket of water. Miraculously, we kept up our run/walk routine, but at about mile 10 I started to "hit the wall", which is when racers start feeling weak as their stored glycogen is depleted. (Guess I didn't carbo load enough the night before.) I made it to mile 12, and then had my first fix of "gu" with an Advil chaser. "Gu", an electrolyte-restoring gel-like goop, is the darling of the running world. It comes in a little foil packet. You just suck the goop out, which allows you to eat while you run. It comes in tons of flavors and is similar to Gatorade, but in gel form. The stuff is amazing. Between the "gu" and the Advil, by mile 14 I was a new person, sloshing through the streets at breakneck speed.
By that point we had adopted a new teammate, Sean, who was doing his first marathon. He liked our run/walk pace, and so joined us for the rest of the race. Sean was wearing only a t-shirt and shorts. With no other protective clothing, he was totally drenched from head to toe. His cellphone, which he had put in his pocket before the race, was waterlogged and non-functional. We stopped at a med station so he could get a mylar sheath, which is what they usually hand out to runners AFTER the race to prevent chills. However, due to the weather conditions, they were handing them out along the entire route. All of us got one and wrapped it around us tightly.
By mile 15, the rain was a torrential downpour that never let up for the rest of the day or night. By this time it was impossible to avoid stepping in the puddles that had formed below us, as the streets were becoming flooded. Who said it never rains in southern California,anyway?? The winds were gusting to over 25 or 30mph now. Our hands were so cold and swollen that we could barely get the wrappers off the energy bars we had packed. My always upbeat friend Deb started skipping, to break up the monotony of running and walking, and soon she had a whole group of marathoners skipping behind her. Ron refused to skip with us, stating that under no circumstances should heterosexual men ever skip. We cheerfully disagreed!
At mile 20, we decided we were no longer going to even attempt to run. It was walking only from here on in. Getting from mile 22 to 26 was the hardest part of the race. By this time it was so windy that the trees were blowing sideways and the rain was pelting in our faces. The mile markers seemed to be hundreds of miles apart. It was getting hard to remain upbeat. I had hit the "wall" again, but my hands were too numb to tear open another packet of "gu" and no one else around me could manage it either. The rain had melted Ron's stash of Advil.
The medical stations along the route were crowded, but not just with the normal marathon ailments like sprained ligaments, twisted ankles, and dehydration. Hypothermia was a real concern. It was hard to stay warm at that point no matter what you were wearing. Everyone was soaked through and through, and was chilled to the bone. My legs were so stiff that they felt more like 2' x 4's than human limbs.
Crossing the finish line at 26.2 miles was not as boisterously joyous as it normally is in marathons (we were too cold, tired, and wet to muster the energy for shouts, high fives, and jumping up and down) but it was quietly joyous nonetheless. We made it!!! Incredibly, there were still lots and lots of people behind us. Before attempting to walk the half mile to where our car was parked (a cruel joke, no?) we went into a coffee shop to get hot beverages to warm us up. My teammates started looking at me strangely, and asking me, "Are you okay?" "What day is it?" "Do you know where you are?" I was fine, but apparently because of my extremely blue lips, very pale skin, lack of usual chattiness, they thought I might have hypothermia. Nope. It was nothing that a vanilla latte couldn't cure!
OK, you've heard the bad stuff. Here's the good stuff. I feared that because of the weather forecast, the marathon volunteers manning the water and medical stations along the route wouldn't show up. I was also afraid that spectators, who cheer you on when you are feeling tired, wouldn't show up either. They all did. Perhaps not as many spectators as would have normally been there, but the real troopers, the ones with umbrellas and raincoats and signs that said "Go Dad!", were scattered along the route. Kindly onlookers provided us with banana slices, orange segments, candy, and even food from restaurants that were on the route. Bands, protected by tents, played music for us at the main mile markers. We laughed at signs like "You are at mile 5. The Kenyans just finished mile 15." The Concern Foundation had a booth at mile 17 with an incredible cheerleading squad. The marathon route itself was fun, as it went through every well known area of Los Angeles, including Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Hollywood, West Hollywood (where scantily clad men in drag danced for us on a stage!), Beverly Hills, Century City, Westwood, Brentwood, and Santa Monica. I wanted to take photos of every area, of the runners, of the spectators, of my teammates and I, and of course of crossing the finish line. Alas, it was too rainy for any of us to even get our cameras out. And our hands were too swollen and not functional enough to work a camera until much later.
The best part of participating in this event, of course, was raising a significant amount of money for cancer research. Thanks to my wonderful friends and family, I not only reached my marathon goal of raising $1,000 for the Concern Foundation for Cancer Research, but actually DOUBLED the original goal by raising over $2,000. Our small sub-team "69000 steps 4 cancer" raised over $8,000. In total, Team Concern raised over $80,000 in donations from participants in the LA Marathon. Thank you all so much for your donations! The blue lips were totally worth it.
That said, in the future I may look for a way to donate to charity that does not involve walking, running or skipping 26.2 miles.