Marathon Man


I was certain I had made a mistake by signing up for the OC Marathon.

And I felt that doing so was just the first of a series of bad decisions related to running. And other fitness.

I purchased my OC Marathon registration shortly after my previous blog post (about running the Hollywood Half, joining the Leggers board, and buying a condo), mostly because a few other runners from my pace group said they were going and that I should come along, too. Some small voice in the back of my mind said, “You know, you didn’t really run the LA Marathon, since you walked the last 9 miles of it. Running this one could be a great way to redeem yourself.”

Of course, every single person with whom I’ve discussed my LA Marathon experience has simply looked at me funny when I described my experience in such a way that might suggest any need for redemption. But, you know, they just don’t understand.

Signing up for OC was only the first mistake. The next mistake, the Saturday after signing up for that race, was to try to go out for a 20-mile run to make sure I’d be race-ready two weeks later. I hadn’t done anything over 13.1 since the LA Marathon, and so I thought it would be ideal to do 20 that weekend and then 7 or 8 the following weekend to be adequately prepared for 26.2 on the third weekend – Cinco de Mayo. But I had Leggers board responsibilities that morning preventing me from starting my day with a 20-miler, and so I waited until I got back home that afternoon to set out on my journey. It would be a good opportunity, I thought, to see how a nice long run down the Orange Line bike/pedestrian path would shape up. Ten miles out, ten back—no problem

But it was damned hot in the San Fernando Valley that day.

I put on some sunscreen, in spite of how much I dislike the way it feels on my skin. It’s not nearly as unpleasant as a bad sunburn, after all. I strapped my water belt on and hit the road, making it about 5-6 miles by the time the heat’s oppressiveness really began to get to me. I’d already nearly run out of water, and so I popped into a gas station, bought another bottle of water and filled my own bottle with ice before heading back out.

I made it about another 2 miles but was really starting to feel like I couldn’t keep going. There was a recreation area of some type—baseball diamonds and a bicycle track—so I stopped to use their porta-potties. I’d been drinking so much water that I felt the need to pee, but I’d also been sweating so profusely that I didn’t have much liquid left to get rid of! It was a nice 5 or 10 minute break from the heat, and then I decided to go ahead and turn back instead of going on. I’d gone about 8 miles, so going home would make it 16 total.

After 2 more miles, I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I felt water-logged but dehydrated. The heat was just too much. I decided to take advantage of the best part of running along the Orange Line path: catching the Orange Line back home if I can’t make it on my own.

The next day was CicLAvia. My new bicycle had arrived on Friday, and so I decided to join up with a new friend from the Leggers board and ride out together. From Van Nuys. At 7:30am. On a bike I hadn’t ridden yet.

Things were going great as we passed through Studio City, Toluca Lake, and eventually found ourselves climbing up over hills in Griffith Park. And then we crested the biggest hill and began our descent. Carlos’ bike is a real road bike built for speed, while mine is a hybrid meant to be fit for urban commuting, distance rides, and/or trail riding. On his lighter, speedier bike, Carlos zipped on ahead through the downhill twists and turns. I was going fast enough that pedaling did me no good, so I decided to shift gears and see if that would give me any traction.

The traction I got wasn’t quite what I was looking for, though.

Bikes that are shipped partially assembled can be put together fairly quickly, but the brakes and derailleur have not necessarily been adjusted to exact specifications. That, and I hadn’t been riding the bike long enough to have a good sense of which shifter-trigger to hit to move the chain in the direction I wanted.

I clicked the wrong one, apparently.

The chain jumped off the back sprocket and ended up jammed between the spokes and the sprocket, effectively locking the wheel in place. I was going downhill at something like 30 or 40 mph, and now my back tire was locked in place. I was in a skid. I braced myself: I might end up colliding with the pavement at some point in the next few moments.

Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. I skidded to a stop, hopped off the bike, and immediately got to work identifying the problem and trying to figure out the solution.

After 5 or 10 minutes horsing around with it, I saw that Carlos was peddling up hill to see what happened. He and I spent another 30-45 minutes trying to free the chain from its spoke-sprocket prison. I texted a friend with a truck to see if he was awake to come get me, but Carlos persisted until the chain finally came free with the help of my U-lock as a tool for leverage. We put the chain back on the sprocket and I gave the bike a little test ride. It was back in working order!

We made it to downtown LA by 10am, just in time to depart downtown alongside Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. (We rode at least a mile on the city streets just 20-30 feet from the mayor and his police escort.) The Mayor was too slow for us, so we kept going and made our way all the way out to our Leggers tent in Venice. By that point, we were at 37 miles according to Carlos’ GPS. He was meeting up with his girlfriend in Venice, so I was on my own when it came to getting home.

I initially thought that I could just take one of our newer Metro rail lines, the Expo Line, from Culver City to downtown, where I would switch to the Red Line to North Hollywood, and then the Orange Line to Canoga Park. Except that as I headed back east on my bicycle, I didn’t spot the Expo Line station in Culver City. Maybe I was distracted by all the action, or maybe I was just so exhausted I overlooked it. In either case, I passed through Culver City and continued on toward downtown LA on my bike the whole way, not even spotting a Red Line station as I made my way through the downtown streets while police officers and city workers removed the barricades keeping car traffic off the streets. I reluctantly just headed all the way to Union Station—my body didn’t really have the energy to keep moving forward, but my mind had even less energy for identifying an alternative strategy. I finally reached Union Station, boarded the Red Line, and relaxed all the way to North Hollywood Station.

I switched over to the Orange Line, but for the second time in a single weekend got on the one Orange Line bus that was headed to Warner Center rather than to Chatsworth. Of course, the day before I’d ended up in Warner Center, exhausted and confused, but on Sunday I knew better. Get off at the Orange Line Desoto stop and I’d be free to bike it on home from there. Just 3 more miles.

By the end of the day, I’m sure I logged at least 60 miles on the bicycle. And I hadn’t put on sunscreen, so the next day my cheeks and the tops of my hands were definitely feeling it. And I won’t even mention how it feels to sit on a bicycle seat for 60 miles after having not had a bicycle for roughly 6 months.

The weekend after the 20-mile turned 10-mile run and the not-really-anticipated 60-mile bike ride, the Nike store at The Grove offered a free half marathon. Free race t-shirt and the promise of a free swag bag at the finish line? Sign me up. Sure, I’m doing 26.2 next weekend, but why not go ahead and do 13.1 this weekend, too?

That was another example of what I thought was potentially a big mistake. And yet, as we reached mile 8 and the heat was starting to bear down, I passed by a water station with free bottles of coconut water. Why not? I nursed that coconut water for the rest of the run, and began slacking off on my walking breaks after mile 10, opting instead to just keep running. I crossed the finish line feeling pretty refreshed. And they had free French toast and berries at the finish, too!

The swag bag they gave out at the finish line was pretty boring—but they did include a nice big container of coconut water. Immediately on returning home, I put the coconut water in the fridge. I knew already that it was going to make a good addition to my marathon toolkit. I’d just need to figure out how best to incorporate it.

I took my bicycle to the shop for a tune-up to make sure I’m completely road-ready. On Wednesday evening, after work, I decided to go for a nice little ride to see how long it would take me to get to work and back. But I only got to do the “to work” part, because I got a flat tire.

I left my bike at the office and ran home at a nice 9:30/mile pace. The next day I took the bike to the shop for another repair, and rather than putting in a heavy-duty innertube (which was the only solution that had lasting results for my persistent flat-tire issues on my previous bike last year) they suggested putting in a rim liner/tube tape sort of thing form TreadHunter to help out. I’ll report back later on whether that does the trick.

While I was there, I picked up a couple add-on water bottles for my running belt, so now in addition to the one main water bottle, I have a couple 10-oz bottles on the sides. Coconut water conundrum solved.

Even though the marathon was taking place Sunday, I still went down to Santa Monica on Saturday morning to run because I’d agreed to test out a shirt for the board member who is compiling information to make sure we pick good shirts for the coming season. I wondered how far it was okay to run on a morning before doing a marathon—or was it okay at all?? The running buddy I met in Santa Monica wanted to go four miles, so that’s what we did, and we came in at an 11:40 pace. A nice, leisurely Saturday morning run.

I went to a film fest in downtown LA for the afternoon. The nervousness about the upcoming race was building.

The vegan tofu place down the street from my office is run by a man named Kevin, who was introduced to me by my late great friend, Jeff G—who also ran marathons. Kevin has done something like 50 marathons in the last 5 years. He did the OC Marathon four times. He’s done at least one ironman triathlon. He told me to come by his shop the night before the race and he’d make me up something special. And that he did. It was a delicious plate of noodles, veggies, and tofu, and he told me I didn’t need to know what was in it, I just need to know it will make me run fast.

I went to bed between 8 and 9pm on Saturday and rolled out of bed at about 2:30am. The race started in Newport Beach at 5:30am, and I was supposed to catch my shuttle to the start line around 4am. I was tired just thinking about it, and I hadn’t even started running yet.

I got started with the friends from my pace group, and we began with our typical 5 minute running, 1 minute walking strategy. Then, when the girls stopped at a porta-potty 2 or 3 miles in, me and the other guy continued on. Neither of us was wearing one of those fancy GPS watches that tells you when to stop and start, so we just winged it. We fell into a pattern of taking a brief walking break, 30-45 seconds or so, at every mile. I felt strong. When there were hills, we waited until we reached the top to take a walking break. When we ran downhill, we let the gravity carry us. Eventually, one of the girls rejoined us for a bit, and then left us in her dust. At some point, the other guy needed a walking break, but I wasn’t ready for it. I bid him farewell and went on my way.

w jaime

My hydration/nutrition plan was simple: take a brief walking break at each mile marker, and take either one drink of water (odd-numbered miles) or one drink of coconut water and a Clif Shot Block energy chew (even-numbered miles). I must have messed it up at some point, because by the math I should have run out of the energy chews before crossing the finish line, but I had two left over. Apparently I didn’t need them all that badly.

There was an overpass we had to cross at mile 14 or so, and seeing that loom in the distance for a while had the potential to be intimidating. But I just kept thinking to myself, “You can take a walking break when you get to the top of that thing. That will be really nice. And then you’ll get to let gravity carry you down the other side.”

When I got to the other side, I made a deal with myself: “You can despair if you want, but you can’t do it until mile 20.”

When I reached mile 19, I revised my deal: “You can despair if you want, but you can’t do it until mile 24.”

When I reached mile 23, I thought, “What good would it do you to despair at mile 24? That’s just 2.2 miles from the finish line. Less than half an hour of exertion. So no sense bothering with this whole despair business.”

When I reached mile 25, the course pacer holding the 5:00 sign was catching up to me. Was she really on pace? If I stayed ahead of her, could I really finish in under 5 hours?? Might as well give it a shot. I stayed with her and the group around her until about the last water station before mile 26. They took walking breaks through the water stations, but by that time I was pretty much done with walking breaks. I left the 5:00 pacer behind and never saw her again.

In those last few miles, I called upon the memory of my mother, and the memory of Jeff G. I summoned their faces in my mind’s eye. I heard Mom’s laugh as she played with her silly grandsons. I heard Jeff G’s voice as he told stories about the good old days. I felt lighter as I pushed ahead.

Between mile 26 and the finish line, I asked myself, “How can 0.2 miles really be this damn far??” I wanted to stop running. I wanted to lay in the grass on the side of the road, my sweaty face to the sky, my eyes closed to let the sunshine splash colors on the inside of my eyelids.

And I could do that

I just needed to do it on the other side of the finish line. That’s all.

And so I did. I crossed through the finish line, I collected my finisher’s medal, and I collapsed on the ground.

OG Marathon

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