The LA Marathon

LA Marathon 3/2/03
Lisa Welch

I felt compelled to write about my LA Marathon experience, not so much because of how intensely interesting a play by play recount of my 26.2 mile run through the asphalt jungle of Los Angeles would be (although many of us triathletes could use an effective sleep-aid every once in a while), but rather more to stroke a few memory strings of the “first time” experiences we’ve all had in our lives. It’s been a long while since I’ve had a first time experience – my first triathlon, my first 10k, first Nite Moves swim, first kiss, first job, first baby, first…..you fill in the blank. Remember how exciting and new it all is for the first time? Remember how fresh and un-jaded and how pure it all was? No bitching about how close someone’s bike is to yours in transition; no pressure or worries brought on by self-imposed expectations of beating your previous year’s time; no looking around to see who else is in your age group and who looks fitter or faster than you………just pure what’s-in-store-for-me excitement.

That was me this year for the LA Marathon – my first marathon ever. And my race was coated…no……dripping with the anticipation of 2 years of trying to get there. (Previous attempts had always failed with the breakdown of injuries. I trained for LA in 2001, but pulled up lame the week prior to the race and had to withdraw.) I had no idea what to expect at the starting line, at the half-way point, at 20 miles or even if I’d make it to the end. It was so cool! The ultimate endurance-geeky surprise party! It even had a sleep-over component, as I shared a hotel room at the Biltmore with 2 other SB athletes (one of whom WISHES he was a triathlete……..he shall remain nameless for his own protection, although he is a kick-ass distance guy). I had jitters, butterflies, was filled with self-doubt and fear of the unknown the week prior to – a total complete wreck over what was supposed to be “a long training run.” Yeah, right. These feelings were awesome – I astonished myself even – didn’t think I had it in me to be so excited about a race.

Generally accustomed to being saddled with tons ‘o gear like a bike, helmet, bike shoes, run shoes, wetsuit, cap, goggles, pre-race apparel, post-race apparel, a transition towel, a dry-off towel, etc., the morning was blessedly simple in that my most pressing decision was what socks to wear. With a start line of 23,637 participants one doesn’t take much with one’s self (especially a full bladder). The only thing that was on my body that wasn’t going with me on the run was an old, black sweatshirt that I was willing to part with just to keep the chill off before the start – I considered this my donation to the city of Los Angeles Rescue Missions. I was thankful to have the sweatshirt as we walked in the still-chilled shade of the looming downtown LA buildings, but quickly tossed it in the body heat of shoulder-to-shoulder, front-to-back stacked runners in the middle of this HUGE massive start! I squatted down to stretch my lower back and had this fantastic 2-year-old-tall perspective on life – just a sea of legs and running shoes.

Start gun! Blam! Randy Newman “I Love LA” is blaring out of speakers and we’re off! Along with everyone else, that first mile was all about just trying not to sabotage the rest of my run by tripping over someone’s heels, and finally settling down into an easy, albeit slow, pace.

The temperature was comfortable by my standards, maybe a bit too warm by others and definitely played a part in the dehydration factor – stellar sunny day. I ticked the miles off in my head – 5 went by as quick as lightening. When I hit 7, 8, 9 I was coming to the realization that this was a long run, damn it! and pondered (not yet being in the double digits) where I was going to be mentally at say…….. mile 14? “Whatever, Becky….just run.” Gu. Water. One foot in front of the other. At mile 10 I let myself pick it up finally to what felt like a respectable pace – one that not everyone on the planet was passing me at…although I think I did catch up to and reel in many of those people who taunted me at the beginning. Ha! There is such a thing as “just desserts” and much truth and wisdom in the teachings of Mike Swan and his “go slow at the start and trample ’em at the end” philosophy.

I called Jon Beeson at mile 18 from a Sprint cell phone that volunteers were running up and down the course with. “Jon! It’s LLJ! I’m at mile 18, dude! This is sooo great!”

Mile 20: Dave Parker’s words were ringing in my ears, “The race begins at Mile 20,” so I hunkered down and let it fly (well….. relatively) with all that I had.

By Mile 21 I was sorely missing the chatterbox conversations Andrew Maxwell and I had traded on our long training runs. But, alas I was in the zone – that beauteous “zone” known only to us sick and demented endurance athletes. I didn’t talk to anybody the whole run except for about 1/4 of a mile at the start with some LA guy who had just qualified for Boston – “Dude, I’m busy runnin’ here, can’t you see?” But my peeps were talkin’ to me in my head the whole run – you know who you are! Trust me, there were “voices.”

I got interviewed by the roaming NBC TV crew at mile 22 (still feeling good and pacing strong, thank God!). Word from the home audience was that I was on TV at end of the broadcast. I had my SB Tri Club hat on…well, other stuff too J ……”SBTC Rules, LATC Drools!” Those guys trailed me with an anticipated interview for about 1/2 mile before they finally went live and pulled up next to me for the interview……”Please hold.” I’m like, “damn it all, either interview me or get the hell off my tail, ’cause you’re breaking my concentration and pacing me nonetheless! And your little motor scooter thingy stinks!”

Mile 24………oh my! Mile 24. Yep, just like Mike said, the lactic acid would take over my body like an invading space alien. Yup. I felt like my brain was swimming through mud trying to reach my legs. “Move….legs……..forward…..hip flexor, fire……quad, go……now…..keep……moving……..ouch……pain” Oh my, how everything hurt! The phantom pain that had been making its way around my legs the whole race (IT band, calf, hip flexor, knee, hamstring) had permanently taken up residence in both of my quadriceps and my calves were cramping like hell (as the venerable Joe Howell – who pulled off an impressive 3:27:46 – put it, “I became very familiar with Mr. Cramp”). Some poor guy went down in front of me just blocks from the finish rolling on the ground totally cramped up. “Don’t look at him! Don’t even look at him! You’re gonna cramp up and lose it if you do.” I wanted to stop so badly but I knew I was on pace to meet my goal of sub 4 hours – even if I stumbled through a 10 min pace – and I didn’t want to do a 4:02:somethingsomething. Mind over body. The course turned left at Flower and 10th (???) I think (my recollection is fuzzy, go figure!) – those last 5 blocks up Flower were so flippin’ long. 5th street was an ocean away and it was uphill ocean at that (and I was always told “swim downhill” – these people must not have read the Total Immersion book).

I finished in the usual barf zone, ready to hurl as I heard the final chirp of my timing chip across the finish line, so I knew I’d given it my all. IT WAS GLORIOUS! I can’t wait to do it again. Love to run run run run run and love the way time passes on those twisting turning miles. Are you pickin’ up what I’m layin’ down here, people? For 24 miles I got to feel like the wind and feel the beautiful freedom that comes with running…….and then for 2.2 miles I got to feel a living hell and the horrific pain that comes with running too long! Pain and pleasure in equal measure.

Congratulations to everyone who ran – you did awesome! Thank you so much to all of my friends who supported me to getting to that marathon (countless talks, calming of pre-race tapering panic attacks, IT band massages), and of course Mike Swan whose coaching and wisdom has always brought me success.

No more first times for marathons for me, but it was so great to get to experience that first time thing again. I encourage everyone to try something new – find a new mountain to climb, if anything, just to experience the “first time” excitement again.

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