Braving the LA Marathon
A first-hand account
In the early pre-race hours
I’m back from Los Angeles, and am happy to report that I finished my fourth—and last—marathon. After completing two 26.2-mile marathons in NYC and two in L.A., my marathon career is finally over. I’m also happy to report that the weather conditions for this year’s LA Marathon were much better that last year, when the 20,000-plus participants practically drowned trying to get to the finish line, battling torrential downpours and gale force winds. More than 2,000 had to drop out due to hypothermia. It was the worst weather in the history of the LA Marathon. But that's all in the past now. Here’s how it went down this year:
It rained the entire day Saturday, the day before the race. All runners had to go to the Marathon Expo at Dodger Stadium to pick up their race bibs and credentials for the following day. After we did that, our small all-girl sub-team, in a nod to the short-honored tradition of last year, went to get pre-marathon mani/pedis, an important and necessary prerequisite to participating in any marathon. The weather forecasts for this year’s event were all over the place, calling for rain, showers, thunderstorms and possibly windy conditions. So this time we planned and dressed for crazy weather. Ski underwear, gloves, hats, fleece jackets, waterproof shells, plastic ponchos (or hefty bags with arm and head holes cut out, for those who refused to spring for the 99-cent ponchos). Cameras, cell phones,and supplies of Advil secured tightly in Ziplock bags. Running shoes treated with waterproofing spray. Plastic bags to wrap our feet in, just in case. But miraculously, although it rained nonstop on Saturday, on marathon Sunday, Mother Nature decided to give us runners a much deserved break. Well, at least for most of the day.
Dodger Stadium before dawn
I'd like to say that the members of our small sub-team, 69,0000 Steps 4 Cancer, woke up bright eyed and bushy-tailed on race day morning when the alarm sounded at 3:30 a.m., but after getting a total of four hours of sleep the night before, waking up wasn't exactly an adrenaline-fueled celebration. We put on our 17 layers of waterproof clothing and drove to Santa Monica at 4 a.m. to catch a 4:30 shuttle bus to Dodger Stadium, where the race would begin. There, about 25 Team Concern marathoners got to eat breakfast and relax in a VIP suite, which was kindly provided by sponsor CVS. We VIPs also got to use real bathrooms instead of port-o-pottys, which was a treat that we all took advantage of a record number of times before the race started. At 6:30, Team Concern, along with the other 23,000 marathon participants, started positioning at the starting line. After "God Bless America" and "The Star Spangled Banner" were sung, the starting buzzer sounded at 7 a.m. and the runners were off—to the appropriate strains of Randy Newman's "I Love LA" on the loudspeaker. The handicapped runners went first, then the elite women, who, interestingly, start 17 minutes and 31 seconds ahead of the elite men, who took off next. Finally, the rest of us 22,900 participants began moving. As the starting buzzer droned, the sun, with astoundingly perfect timing, made its first appearance. It was an auspicious beginning indeed!
Team Concern members at Dodger Stadium prior to running to raise money for cancer research
The sun stayed with us on and off the whole day, and incredibly, it never rained. It was almost perfect marathon weather - partly cloudy, partly sunny, and in the 40’s and 50's most of the day. We walked with Lisi, a cancer survivor, who brought a stash of food in her backpack large enough to feed a dozen marathoners for several days. I, in contrast, brought only “Gu”, the amazing electrolyte gel that brought me back to life last year after I hit the wall at 10 miles, and a Powerbar. The Powerbar and a quarter of Lisi’s graciously offered sandwich were all I needed to get through the entire 26.2 miles. Compared to last year, when I hit the wall at the 10-mile mark (hitting the wall refers to the point in the marathon when runners have a complete energy meltdown after depleting their glycogen reserves), I felt amazingly energized at 10 miles, and still felt pretty darn good even at 20 miles, when most participants, no matter how much they train beforehand, hit the wall. As I had not trained at all for this marathon due to my pulled hamstring I got while skiing several weeks ago, I must admit I was grateful to whatever marathon angel was up above holding my hand and moving my legs.
However, at the 22-mile mark, the wind, which had steadily increased from about 10-m.p.h. at the start to about 30-m.p.h., suddenly picked up alarmingly as we neared the beach in Santa Monica, where the finish line was. The gusts, which had to be at least 50-m.p.h., were head-on and fierce. We had to hold on to our hats with both hands so they wouldn’t fly off our heads. (What is it with wind and the LA Marathon, anyway?) The incredible headwinds slowed everyone down big-time. The temperature, or
at least the wind chill factor, also dropped about 10-15 degrees. It made the last 4-5 miles—the hardest anyway—seem pretty endless. But, we kept reminding ourselves, at least it's not raining!
The 17-mile mark in Beverly Hills
We braved the winds for the last 4 miles, watching leaves and small branches flying off the sideways-blowing trees, and stepping over the piles of palm tree fronds that had blown into the street. We held our arms up high, cheered, and high-fived as we crossed the finish line. My legs ached, but I still felt somewhat perky, quite an improvement from last year when I was blue lipped, hypothermic and shivering too hard to even speak when I crossed the finish. Medals were placed around our necks. Mylar sheaths were handed to us to provide warmth, but the wind was so strong that I literally was unable to wrap the thing around me, as it kept blowing off. So much for warmth.
It seems a cruel joke that LA Marathon finishers are forced to walk yet another mile to get to their parked cars after having just run or walked 26 miles. I would suggest airlifting finishers to their cars next year, or providing pedi cabs. OK, we'd settle for shuttle buses. Hello, LA Marathon planners! No one wants to take another step after stepping over the finish line!
OK, back to the race. This year, I was able to notice much more of my surroundings, since I didn’t have to stare at my feet the whole time to avoid large, lake-like puddles. We went through some awesome neighborhoods—Downtown,
Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Thai Town, Hollywood, West Hollywood (where sexy cheerleaders in drag performed very unique cheering routines for us), Beverly Hills, Brentwood and Santa Monica. Los Angeles is infinitely more interesting seen on foot than seen from the freeway, which is where most people from L.A .seem to spend their time. And because of the pleasant weather, all kinds of peeps from the aforementioned neighborhoods came out to cheer us on, and offer us water, orange slices, bananas, energy bars, tootsie rolls and specialites from their local neighborhood restaurants. Bands played for us every few miles and DJs spun tunes in between the bandshells. Not surprisingly, we heard the theme from Rocky
played at least 8 different times. Gotta love that, especially if you're a Philly girl!
But the best part of all is that the Concern Foundation for Cancer Research surpassed their goal of raising $100,000 to pay the salaries of two cancer researchers for a year, raising a total of $112,296.25. WOW! Our small 3-person sub-team of Deb, Cindy, and I (69,0000 Steps 4 Cancer), raised almost $8,000, thanks to Deb, our awesome team captain and extraordinary fundraiser, and to all of you who donated to this cause. Thank you again!
At last ...
Although I vowed that last year's marathon was my final one, and then vowed the same thing this year, who knows? Ha! Just kidding. The fat lady has definitely sung! I believe the song was "I Love LA"!