I decided to run the LA Marathon in December of 2003 after hearing a friend, Chip Kling, planed to run it as his first marathon. When I look up to the details on their website the race appeared to be bigger than the Boston Marathon with more than 25,000 runners and around 1 million spectators. So after deciding to run in December, I began training again a few weeks after the California International Marathon in Sacramento. I followed a similar training routine as the one I used for the Lake Tahoe Marathon only a few months earlier.
My training progressed as expected until in late January I developed some pain in my right knee after about 1 hour into my runs. Any run over 9 miles would be accompanied with a tightening in my right knee until it reached a point where the discomfort was too much to run through. Going back through my notes, I found I encountered the same type of problem while training for my first marathon. The actual diagnosis proved to be an IT Band problem but the pain was actually felt around the knee area. I visited the physical therapist at Kaiser to confirm the diagnosis. I left with a prescription for rest, fewer miles and religious stretching. For the next few days I kept my runs less than 8 miles and limited my weekend run to 13 miles. In two weeks I felt fully recovered and was back on schedule. The only other problem I encountered before the marathon was lots of rainy weather. For about a 2-week period, I had to complete many of my runs through driving wind and rain.
The week before the race, Nicole and I attended a convention in Las Vegas for my work. We were in Las Vegas from Sunday until Wednesday; I spent almost all of our time either in the convention, meeting with clients or sneaking out for an easy run somewhere off the strip. I spent Thursday and Friday back in Santa Rosa catching up at work, drinking lots of fluids and loading up on carbs. Superstition has settled in now and I try to avoid sodas, Starbucks and chocolate during the week leading up to the marathon. I don’t know if this provides any advantage or improves my endurance for the marathon but it is only for a week; a small sacrifice.
Friday night after work we rented a brand new Toyota Prius. With the price of gasoline at over $2 per gallon, this car definitely paid for itself since it cost us less than $50 to rent the car for the weekend and boasted up to 55 MPG.
On Saturday morning we woke up and I went for a short 2 mile run, showered then we drove down to LA. We stopped in Valencia and ate lunch at Claim Jumper, sharing a salad and a tuna fish sandwich. In less than an hour we were walking through the LA convention center to pick up my number and meet some friends, Forrest and Purity. We spent about an hour in the Expo then checked into the Westin Bonaventure, which was located only a few blocks from the convention center. We had dinner with Forrest and Purity then met with Chip for a few minutes before calling it a night.
At 6:30 AM the sun began to fill our room and I started getting ready. First I retrieved a few items from the car and bought a bagel downstairs. From our room on the 29th floor we could see runners already beginning to make their way to the starting line with almost two hours still to go. At 8 AM Nicole and I tried to find our way to the starting line since I had an armband that would provide me entry into the sub 4-hour corral, an area situated between the few dozen elite runners and the more than 20,000 runners who would finish in more than 4 hours. Getting to the starting line required saying goodbye to Nicole and then finding a spot in the masses.
The race directors decided to start the elite women 20 minutes ahead of the normal start to provide a more dramatic finish as the men would attempt to catch the women. Whoever actually crossed the finish line first, regardless of their elapsed time, would be considered the “winner”. So a dozen or two elite women started at 8:12 AM. Two celebrities saw all the runners off at the start: Muhammad Ali and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. At 8:32 AM another gun went off and the rest of the marathon started running west along Figueroa Street, passing the Staples Center and the LA Convention Center.
I concentrated on keeping my pace around 6:45 per mile. My first two splits were both around 6:25 so even though I made an effort to keep it slow early, my pace was a little too eager. We stayed on Figueroa until turning near the airport onto Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The crowds started to thin and everybody seemed to settle into a pace. I had never been in this part of LA so I tried to enjoy the scenery. We passed the LA Coliseum and USC early in the race and quite a few bands played along the streets. The early miles passed quickly but I tried to keep hydrated by taking Gatorade every couple miles. Early on the sun felt hot and whenever we found a shady side of the street, we ran on that side.
Unlike other marathons, I didn’t find a lot of people wanting to talk along the course. Most of the time I ran by myself but occasionally I would try to talk with another runner or offer encouragement if someone looked like they were having a tough time. I passed one runner who appeared to be tackling the entire course on crutches. I passed another guy running in a Lakers ski parka. As I passed him my only comment was “Are you insane?”
Along the course most people yelled encouragement in Spanish. Throughout this race I felt I was running a marathon more in Mexico than in the United States. By far, Spanish was the language of the day and Mexican was the theme.
Keeping my pace consistent proved to be a problem. My pace would vary from 6:25 to 7:20. If I ran one mile too fast, my next mile would be too slow. I think around mile 10 or 11 I found a comfortable pace but by this time the day was getting hotter. At mile 10 I took a Cliff Shot and tried to maintain my pace, picking off an occasional runner. At some stages along the course, people had hoses and would offer to spray us as we passed. A “Mist Lane Ahead” sign would welcome us and direct us to the right or left of the street. Other than a few steep but short hills, the course was relatively flat.
At the halfway point I felt pretty good and my pace predicted a finish under 2:55. As always, I knew running a strong second half would be critical. We started to approach another downtown area with some high-rise buildings and by this time there were few runners within eyesight. I tried to let my mind relax and do some sightseeing when suddenly I passed Midway Hospital, one of our clients at work. A little while later I passed City of Angles, another one of our clients. A different sort of satisfaction briefly settled in. Around mile 17 we started heading back toward downtown and the finish but the heat began to take its toll. I took another Cliff Shot and one Tylenol but I felt myself getting more and more thirsty. Afraid to burden my stomach with too much fluid, I continued to take Gatorade every other mile.
Monitoring my pace, my splits began to slow. I would struggle to keep my splits under 7:00 over the next few miles. I could see downtown in the distance but the miles felt like they were stretching themselves away from me. The course passed through an upper class neighborhood where lots of kids handed cups of water and a few even set up a lemonade stand.
At mile 22 I was tired and could feel my lips and mouth drying out. I knew if I could just make it to mile 24, the crowd and adrenaline would carry me to the finish. Sensing some desperation, at the next water station I poured water over my face and tried to catch up on hydrating but it was too late. When I passed the mile 23 marker, a sharp pain hit me in the left side. With every step, I felt like someone was stabbing me. I couldn’t believe it, only 3 miles to go and I could barely walk. For the next 5 or 6 minutes, I walked and tried to rub out the pain and cramps. Spectators along the course shouted “You’re so close. Keep going! Don’t give up!”. I wanted to yell back “I’m not giving up it’s just I can hardly move!” But I saved my energy and soon the pain subsided and I started to run again. I lost maybe 20 or 30 positions but running again, I now tried to maintain my new position. At mile 25 I passed under the 110 freeway and the crowd encouraged us to keep going. Turning onto the final stretch, I could see the finish line but it looked so far away. My legs tightening more and more, I had no kick in me so I wasn’t going to pass anyone on the final stretch. As the finish line neared, my eyes scanned for Nicole, Forrest and Purity. About a ¼ mile from the finish, Forrest appeared out of the crowd on my right, yelling and pointing ahead. He ran along with me for a few steps and then I spotted Nicole ahead on the left. I gave her a smile then lifted my arms for the crowd to cheer just a little louder. I finished with a time of 3:04:44 and in 96th place. My goal of 2:58 fell apart at mile 23 but I still made it in the top 100.
The finish area was empty of activity and the massage area beckoned me. After taking off my timing chip and filling up with some water, I bent over thinking I wasn’t going to make it much further. My strength returned and I headed over to the massage area. Someone took my pulse and said I needed to walk around until my pulse fell below 100. I searched for Nicole for a few minutes but couldnt spot her. So I went back to the massage area and had my legs stretched for about 10 minutes.
A little while later I spotted Nicole and fell into her arms. She said she held onto our hotel room long enough for me to take a quick shower. Ever so slowly, we made it to our room where I sat in the bathtub of warm water for about 15 minutes. Then Forrest and Purity met us downstairs and we talked about the race then headed back to the course to cheer Chip. Chip crossed the finish line less than 2 hours later and he looked strong as he passed us. Some of the runners looked like they didn’t know where they were and one collapsed only a few hundred yards from the finish.
We left LA around 3:30 PM and stopped in Valencia for dinner. We finally pulled into our driveway at 10:30 PM and we were so glad to be home!
Mile 1 6:25
Mile 2 6:25
Mile 3 7:01
Mile 4 6:53
Mile 5 6:32
Mile 6 6:45
Mile 7 6:39
Mile 8 6:34
Mile 9 6:32
Mile 10 7:27
Mile 11 6:28
Mile 12 6:39
Mile 13 6:39
Mile 14 6:50
Mile 15 6:41
Mile 16 7:02
Mile 17 6:34
Mile 18 7:18
Mile 19 7:11
Mile 20 6:51
Mile 21 7:15
Mile 22 7:06
Mile 23 7:37
Mile 24 10:20
Mile 25 7:54
Mile 26.2 9:10