Fail Better

Group photo of LA Leggers 12 min/mile pace group

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. Enough.

As of last week on Sunday, I had raised a whopping total of $330 for Camp Kesem, the charity I set out to raise $2000 for. I wrote the previous blog post, emailed its text to a targeted list of friends, and posted a link to the post on facebook.

Throughout the week, I received emails from the donation site each time a friend or family member sent money. The steady stream of generosity wore me down to the point that each new email was like seeing a new set of ducks swim for the first time ever. My cold heart was melting a little bit! By Friday afternoon I was just $305 short of my goal, so I promised on Facebook that I would jump in the ocean if I made it to $2k by Sunday morning.

Mid-afternoon on Saturday, I surpassed the goal by $30!

And then the time came to be ready for the next big challenge: 26.2 miles.

One of the things I’ve heard quite frequently in my training with the LA Leggers is that you shouldn’t do anything new or different on the day of the race. While that advice sounds great, the simple fact of the matter is that I didn’t get up at 3am for a single training run throughout the entire training season. Not once during all of my training did I park my car at 3:30am, walk a half mile to the Doubletree hotel, drink a cup of coffee, eat a banana and an orange, and then catch a shuttle bus across town to Dodger Stadium. There was no training run – long or short – before which I ate a bagel and sat in the third base seats buzzing with nervous anticipation for over 2.5 hours before lining up to run.

In all of my training to be a distance runner, I typically climbed out of bed precisely 45 minutes before the run was set to begin, ate no food (except a gulp of caffeine-infused protein shake on occasion, earlier in the season), and showed up to the starting point just minutes before the run began. I drank nothing during my training runs over than one squirt from my water bottle every five minutes. The one time I added a splash of gatorade to my water at mile 13 of an 18-mile run, I found that I felt much more thirsty at the finish than usual.

On the morning of the LA Marathon, I did so many things different. But I felt confident, and I showed up at the starting line with a plan in mind to perform better on race day than my training had prepared me for. I knew that my projected finishing time if I stayed with my Leggers pace group through the end of the race would be 5 hours 15 minutes. This would mean remaining disciplined with a 1-minute walking break at the end of every 5-minute running segment. I was confident I could do this, as I had done it twice for 20-mile runs with the the group. It was old hat for me by now.

Mile 7

If we could do 5:15, why not try to shave a measly 15 minutes off and break the 5 hour mark? I knew it would be incredibly foolish to try to shave those 15 minutes off the front end of the race by going faster than I’m trained to do. Doing so would carry a huge risk of burning myself out and being unable to finish the race at all. But the last half of the race is a different story. With the enthusiasm of the crowds, the buzz of endorphins, maybe a little adrenaline, it seemed like a realistic possibility to stop talking walking breaks around mile 17 or 18 (based on my math) and shave off that pesky 15 minutes. The beautiful thing about this ambitious plan is that if I discovered along the way that it was just not possible, I could resume taking walking breaks at any given point and still finish in 5:15 or less.

At race time, things turned out differently than expected.

In addition to the dietary things venus factor review I did differently, I had chosen to carry my phone and a few other essentials in the pocket of my running shorts. I quickly discovered that the weight of it was incredibly cumbersome for a running shorts pocket. Not a huge deal, but a minor annoyance. For the past couple of months I’ve been running with my phone in an armband wrapped around my hand-held water bottle (the type that straps to your hand so you don’t have to work hard to hold onto it). Knowing there would be water stations at every mile, I decided not to carry that water bottle, so that doing something different with my phone, too. Like carrying it in my pocket. Where it could swing around in my shorts with every stride. How convenient.

I drank a small cup of water at every mile, which was quite possibly more water than I was used to in my training runs. I also grabbed electrolyte drinks at the odd miles. Yes, it’s true: I had not seen success with electrolyte beverages in the past. But it’s a long race, right? My body needs those replenishers, right?

By mile 12 or 13 I was beginning to realize it wouldn’t be wise to break from my pack at mile 17 or 18 as previously planned. I was feeling some fatigue, a bit water-logged, and much worse, my mind was getting really good at telling me this might have been a mistake.

And then something worse happened. I started experiencing some gastric distress. My digestive system was not happy with the unusual food regimen I’d practiced in the wee hours of the morning as I nervously waited to start the race, and not long after mile 13 each stride included a threat of disaster. Around mile 14, I reluctantly dropped away from my group to stand in a long line at the porta-potties. After getting through the line, I made an attempt to relieve myself of any burdens that might weigh me down for the remainder of the race.

My efforts were unsuccessful.

I left the porta-potty behind and ran without a walking break for another mile or 2, trying to catch up with my pace group. If I kept running, I thought, I should be able to get to them during a walking break. But I couldn’t see them anywhere in the never-ending succession of people running, walking, sprinting, limping their way toward the ocean. And between mile 16 and 17, my digestive system began threatening to rebel again.

I let myself walk for a while to get some relief. And then a while longer. And then someone who saw my name written on my bib yelled out encouragement, “Go Corndog! You got this!” So I started running again.

It didn’t take long at all for the problem to resume. I couldn’t keep running, and I knew it. I walked through Beverly Hills and into Westwood debating whether I could call my roommate, who had agreed to meet me at the finish line, and ask him to pick me up short of the finish line. I could keep walking, sure, but the finishing time would be so much slower than I had hoped for it would be nearly humiliating. I wondered if I would even manage to finish in under 6 hours.

As I passed through the VA area, an area spoken of by all who had done this route as the most difficult part of the course, I met up with a random stranger who asked if I was hurting too. He was limping along with a locked muscle in his calf and couldn’t run. We commiserated with each other and encouraged each other to keep moving forward. Just 5 miles left. Just 4.5 miles left. Just 4.25 miles left.

The JavaJunkee at Mile 23 of the LA Marathon

I passed my last Leggers tent at mile 23, and my friend Siel who had talked me into running the marathon in the first place was there to cheer me on. I tried to stop and start explaining why I was walking. “It’s okay,” she said, “just keep going!”

Joey from New York and I walked together through mile 26, asking each other periodically if we felt up to the task of running through the finish. Finally, with about a quarter mile left to go, I started running again, fighting back the abdominal pain to just push through the finish line. I looked to my left and my right in the final stretch, amazed at thousands of spectators cramped together against the barricades that kept them off the race path. I heard at least one or two yell out “Corndog” in encouragement.

And then I finished.

Between mile 17 and 25, I was pretty certain that deciding to run the marathon had been a mistake, and one I would not repeat. After I crossed the finish line, a volunteer (just one of the hundreds I had seen all day) placed a finisher’s medal around my neck. I walked through the area that was limited to racers only, enjoying a new sense of camaraderie with the others who wore medals around their necks, many of them swaddling themselves with mylar blankets. We walked like zombies, but our eyes were full of life. We smiled and nodded at each other. We had done it. We were finishers.

Soon after I made my way out of the course and onto the open street, my roommate found me and held up the motivational poster my sister made: “Do it for the kids pizza!” He accompanied me to the ocean, where I kept my promise. Well, sort of; technically, I said I would jump in the ocean. I was still feeling pretty lousy, so I really just walked out far enough to get water up to the knees. Good enough, right??

I slowly and carefully walked back to the Doubletree, barefoot most of the way, to reunite with my friend Sandro, who’d also finished. We socialized with other runners there for a bit before finally leaving to make the trek back down to the parking area to fetch my car. We stopped at a restaurant along the way, and my friend Tiffany who’d planned on meeting up with me at mile 15 and “crashing the course” joined us. She’d missed me passing by, apparently, but ended up jumping in and running the last 11 miles anyway. She ate with us, we shared stories and laughs, and then we limped back to my car so I could drive them both home.

Friends celebrating after the race.

It was only as we made our way across town on the 10, getting off in Hollywood, passing through intersections that I’d seen just a few hours earlier, and then jumping back on the 101 to get back to Sandro’s house just on the other side of Dodger Stadium that it occurred to me what we’d really done that day.

Using no vehicle other than my own two feet, I traveled from Dodger Stadium through Chinatown, through downtown Los Angeles, through Hollywood, into Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Westwood, and then Santa Monica, and finally down to the ocean. Using no vehicle other than my own two feet.

I didn’t want to keep going, but I did. I encountered unexpected obstacles, but I kept moving forward.

I am a finisher. My official time is 5:55.54 – just one second too fast for numerologists, but not a second too soon for me.

Until next year, of course. I’m still eyeing that sub-five finishing time. I’ll let you know when I get there.

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