At the LA Marathon in 2013, I surprised the hell out of myself by running 3:36:01, which was 72 minute PR, and 61 seconds from a BQ. Then for one year I thought about those 61 seconds and couldn’t wait for redemption and a chance to run Boston, something I was certain I would never be able to do. So I committed to my goal and dove into training for the 2014 LA Marathon. Little did I know, however, that this would be a horrifyingly awful winter for training (specifically running outside) resulting in almost all my runs being done on the treadmill. I had a brief respite from the snow and cold during 10 days in Maui in Feb but other that that, the treadmill and I were best friends, or not so much.
I arrived in LA feeling ready to race. The day before the race I had to pick up my race package and my new Newtons that I hunted down online that how been discontinued (the pink Newton Distance U, 4 lugs). I had a short shake out run to do as well which was awesome along my favourite beach path between Venice and Santa Monica. But I was actually able to relax more than usual.
Race morning arrived earlier than normal because of the time change. But who sleeps well the night before a race anyway? I had ordered a cab to pick me up at 4:45am to take me to the buses in Santa Monica. In a weird twist of fate, as soon as I stepped in the cab and told the driver where I was going he said “didn’t I pick you up last year for this race? You’re from Canada and you were trying to qualify for the Boston marathon.” What an amazing coincidence! Out of ALL the cabs in all of LA, the same guy picks me up two years in a row. I could only interpret that as a good omen! And then on the bus to Dodger Stadium I happened to sit beside a girl who was from Calgary, although she lives in LA now.
From my result last year I was able to start in the B corral which means there was only 300 people in A corral and 1500 people in B. Last year I was in the general population start which meant a lot of weaving because LA is a huge marathon with 25,000 people! There was about 30 minutes to wait from the time we had to be in the corral to the race start and the one thing that really struck me was how warm it was. I came prepared this year with foil safety blankets and a sweater I could throw on the side as we started because last year I was a little cold at the start but it turned out I didn’t really need the extra warmth! The sunrise was gorgeous, especially because I don’t see many sunrises (I’m not a morning person) and the excitement from all the runners was so contagious. I love big races!
My goal was to run 3:30 (8:00 min/mile). There was no 3:30 pace group so I positioned myself between the 3:25 and 3:35 groups. I was wearing my Garmin 610 and I also had a pace band for an even split 3:30 race. Within the first mile, the 3:25 group was gone, like totally out of sight. Each mile is marked with a big banner-type deal and right from the first mile, my garmin (and everyone else’s) was beeping about 300m before the mile marker. I ignored it at mile 1 since I was at exactly 8:00 min pace and just thought that first mile marker was a little off and it would be corrected down the road. But at mile 2, the 3:35 group was passing me and our garmins were all still ticking off the miles before the course markers. 300m may not seem like a lot but over 26 miles that stuff adds up! And I started to freak out a little bit. My garmin said I ran the second mile in 7:44, so how was the 3:35 group passing me?! I sped up to get in front of them and tried my best to ignore them while I figured out what was happening. “Run your own race, stick to the plan.” I know. But having a slower pace group pass you at mile 2 and mile markers that don’t seem to be corresponding with your garmin make it hard to convince yourself to stick to the plan. It was also hard to ignore that pace group because at each corner the leader was yelling “right turn coming up! We’re going right! Everyone go right!” Like, YELLING that. Every corner.
By mile 3 I had made the decision to ignore the garmin (easier to ignore it than the pace group) and just use the timer and my pace band to stay on pace. Afterall, the LA marathon results and the Boston marathon committee are going to use the mile markers and finish line as the official time (obviously), not my garmin. Even though that seems like a easy conclusion to come to when you’re sitting on the couch, in the midst of a marathon it took quite a bit of thinking.
It turns out I actually quite enjoyed following the pace band. As I went under one mile marker I would look at my band for the time I was supposed to be at the next mile marker and pretty much repeat that number in my head for the next mile. It was like a mini celebration every mile when I made it there at my goal pace.
I remember things starting to get tough at mile 9. Not like really struggling tough, but just that I had to concentrate more to hold my pace. I was a little worried about that, not gonna lie, because it didn’t start feeling like that last year until about mile 16. But I was focused and determined and I really wanted that BQ. This is evident in my race photos because I’m hardly smiling in any of them. I knew the photographers were there, I’ve become really good at spotting them, and usually I smile and dance around or give them the thumbs up, but for the most part this year, I was all business. (Quite the contrast to last years’ race photos, where as well as wearing a green tutu and shamrock headband, I’m making faces at the photographers until about mile 23).
I knew the weather forecast called for a hot day so I was very diligent all day about drinking enough water at the aid stations and keeping myself cool enough my pouring water on my head. The aid stations are every mile and sometimes in between those miles some people have set up their own aid stations giving out water or oranges. So I took water every mile and water every time I saw it in between. I was also taking Salt Stick pills and Hammer gels on a specific schedule. At some point, maybe in Beverly Hills, I remember the heat really starting to crank up. I love the warm weather and I prefer warm/hot over cold so I wasn’t too concerned or bothered, but I just made sure to keep as cool as possible.
I ran down Santa Monica Blvd and continued to pass under the mile markers at my goal pace. I made it past the right hand turn off Santa Monica where things went off the rails last year. At the entrance to the VA I grabbed some ice and stuffed in down my top. This is about mile 20 or 21, which is a tough point in any marathon, and in LA, we get to go uphill! yay! It’s not that big of an incline, and I used to work at the VA and run around the grounds, so I’m familiar with the area. But at mile 20/21 this little incline seems like freaking Mt Everest. I knew I was losing some time but I had a little bit in the bank and I knew after mile 23 it was downhill to the finish. So I just kept saying to myself “hold your pace, hold your pace”. My head was ready to fight. And out of anything, that was awesome for me because it’s always been my head that holds me back and that tells me to stop or walk but that day, my head was telling me to keep running.
Until about mile 22/23 when my legs decided to stop working and I came to a crashing halt. Just out of no where, my quads cramped like never before and stopped me in my tracks. I felt like my muscles had been replaced with bricks. My quad muscle was bulging out of my leg and it was as hard as a rock. I stood, unable to move, in the middle on San Vicente, wavering in the wind trying not to fall over. Catastrophic body failure. Some spectators on my left screamed “oh my god! Are you ok? What can we do?! You need lemonade!” And in a few seconds a little girl was at my side handing my a cup of lemonade. I downed that and tried to move. I couldn’t even move my legs an inch forward. It’s like they weren’t even my legs. After a few more minutes I got them moving again and tried to run but my legs just screamed NO WAY back. So I resigned myself to a slow walk. The 3:35 group passed me. Then I came upon my ex-boyfriend now friend Dave, who was somewhere around mile 23. He was immediately worried but just said “let’s go, I’ll walk with you.” So we walked and he kept trying to get me to run, which just ended up with him holding me up, and trying to stretch my legs and massage my quads. It was a sad sight I’m sure! When we passed under the 25 mile marker, he said “you’re running now, run to the finish” and that’s what I did. I’m not sure how I was able to run and I was so worried about the cramping I would face at the finish. He ran with me as far as he could and I crossed the finish line, running. Not even close to my goal or a BQ, 3:48:09, but I finished, and that’s always better than a DNF.
Clearly, I am disappointed with my result because I didn’t reach my goal which I’m capable of doing but there’s always a silver lining. This put miles in the bank, a deposit to be used another day. Every marathon is an experience to get you further down the road next time. My head didn’t give up, it was my body. I didn’t cry. (I cried after, but not during the race) When my body quit on me, there was no reason to cry because there was nothing I could do. In Ironman I cry because my body is fully capable of running but part of my head just wants to walk while the other part wants to run. So I start having this big argument that gets too tiring, I melt down and cry, then I’m fine and I start running again. That didn’t happen this time and I’m so proud! Boston will still be there the next time I get to try and if anything, this is just adding fuel to the fire so when I actually do qualify (because I will) it will be that much sweeter. For me, it seems that treadmill running doesn’t transfer well to road running. I think that was my downfall this year. I managed the heat well, I kept up my calorie intake, took salt pills but in the end I was dealt the coldest winter in Calgary and the hottest LA marathon in 10 years and it was the treadmill that did me in. But I did the best I could with what I was given, and I never gave up.
Although next time I’ll run a fall marathon so I can actually train outside 🙂
For now, triathlon and Ironman training take over so as much as I want to use the fitness I’ve gained over the winter for another marathon attempt, I need to get back in the pool and on my bike and focus on IM Boulder.
Finally, if you ever get the chance to run the LA marathon, DO IT. It’s an amazing race.