Running Is Like a Box of Chocolates

I Forrest-Gumped the L.A. Marathon last weekend.  Not exactly in a “Run Forrest Run!” kinda way more like in a “When I felt like running, I ran. When I felt like walking, I walked. When I had to go….well…I went.” sort of way.

Let me explain…

Last year I did L.A. Marathon.  Despite coming off an illness I wasn’t in bad shape, tuning up for Ironman Texas, and had high hopes for not only a new personal record (PR) but I planned to destroy my old PR. L.A. Marathon is a generally fast course, I was in shape, motivated, ready.

But mother nature had other plans.

The first 4 miles last year went very well. Other than an unplanned porta-potty stop that cost me some time I was running pretty well. Then around mile 4 the skies opened up. As one friend described it…it started off torrential and escalated to biblical.  For the next 22.2 miles it got steadily worse. Cold. Wet. Pouring rain. Ankle-deep water in some places. You’ve heard the story.

Despite the weather I really liked the course so I wanted to give it another go. At my first opportunity I signed up for the 2012 L.A. Marathon. I figured in good weather I’d finally be able to rip off a fast (for me) race.

Last May I did Ironman Texas.  In November I did Ironman Arizona. Somewhere between those two my enthusiasm for endurance sport decided to try a new training method by walking a mile every day…by September I had no idea where it was.

The winter didn’t bring much improvement and by a month before L.A. Marathon I realized that there was no way I was going to race it.  I just wasn’t in shape for that. At that point I decided I’d just Gump it.  I debated whether I’d even bother wearing a watch (Ultimately I did, but never calculated my pace).  Run for fun, enjoy it, take in the sights, thank the volunteers…and, BONUS, my girl was going to do her first marathon that day too!

Déjà vu

In the days before the race I was checking the weather forecast, like ya do, and saw something that sent a chill down my spine and an unpleasant word out of my mouth: Rain. In fact the forecast called for rain in L.A. all weekend. Not again!

I checked it again every day as the race got closer and every day the same…rain forecast for the weekend. Sad Ben.

Travellin’ Man (and Woman)

So the first issue we had to deal with was how to get to the race – or more to the point – how to get home.  Unfortunately the race is held on a Sunday and even more unfortunately Carrie had to teach the next morning. If she was teaching at USC that wouldn’t have been a problem but since she teaches at Northern Arizona University…it meant we were going to have to head for home directly after the race.

That would be bad enough on a plane but since we were driving to and from the race it meant a 7-hour car ride immediately after finishing a marathon. Hmm. O.k., I’ve done Ironman I can do this.

But mother nature again had other ideas…as the days went on the forecasts were calling for a pretty big snowstorm to arrive in Northern Arizona…just before we were supposed to. We were starting to worry about if we’d be able to get home at all on Sunday. Contingencies like “Stopping at a hotel in Kingman Sunday night then pressing on very early Monday morning and hoping the roads are open” came into play.

The drive to L.A. was uneventful enough – other than having to pass my beloved In-n-Out Burger because I wasn’t going to eat that in the days before a race.

The Lead Up

Thursday night we got into L.A. and met friends for dinner at Buca Di Beppo – a little nice pasta and a bit of a reunion. My high school buddy Jeff Holt joined us for dinner.  He was taller, far more more athletic and handsome than I was in high school and…I’m chagrined to report…he still is.  Nice guy anyhow and it was good to see him.

Friday we went to the expo at Dodger Stadium – a rare outdoor expo – and we got there just ahead of the weather. L.A. has a pretty good expo. Packet pickup is painless and quick and they have quite a few booths.  Not sure the people who went on Saturday felt that way though as the promised rain storm arrived and dumped all over the city.

In the car on Saturday one radio news weather guy said of Sunday’s Marathon that it was going to be “Cold, wet and generally unpleasant for everybody.”  Great.

E-mails started to arrive from the race organizers detailing their cold/wet contingency plans. Warming buses, heat blankets, towels for drying off. All signs were point to a repeat of the year before.

There was one bit of good news though…the anticipated winter storm had in fact started to arrive in Flagstaff and Northern Arizona University, knowing that faculty and students would be returning from Spring Break, wisely decided to cancel classes for Monday so that people wouldn’t be trying to rush back to Flagstaff in the middle of a dangerous winter storm. Smart move. And it meant we didn’t have to drive back Sunday night.  Carrie’s next classes wouldn’t be until Wednesday so though we’d like to try and get back sometime Monday, we could hold out until Tuesday if we had to.

Race Morning

Woke up on the morning of the race, got dressed and gathered our stuff. We opted to take the freeways to our reserved parking at the finish line in Santa Monica rather than the canyon route. Bad weather makes the canyon route unpredictable (and a little treacherous) so even though the freeways were a bit more circuitous (and not as scenic) they were safer and probably faster.

So far, no rain.

Got the car parked, found a porta-potty and our shuttle bus. The ride to Dodger Stadium was interesting in two respects:

1. No rain (so far)

2. When we got off the freeway near Dodger Stadium the bus we were following apparently had no idea how to actually get to Dodger Stadium.  We got a nice tour of the surrounding neighborhoods and one false alarm when we tried to enter Dodger Stadium through the wrong gate. Eventually…we got there.

Where’s Vin?

I’ve said before…L.A. Marathon has one of the nicest pre-race waiting facilities around. Dodger Stadium is open for us and we can plop ourselves down in some prime seats on the 3rd base side of home plate!  Comfortable, covered, and the stadium restrooms are open too!

TIP: (Just for you fellas, sorry ladies) The lines for the stadium restrooms look epic. But in the Men’s Room the lines are ONLY for the stalls.  If you just need a urinal walk right past the line and on into the bathroom. Every bathroom I went into had dozens of unoccupied urinals waiting to be used. We tried to pass word down the line that guys who only needed a urinal should head on in but still…I’m sure many waited in line needlessly.

At 7AM we all started to make our way out to the parking lot where the race start was.  The skies were grey and overcast but so far…no rain.  I wasn’t getting too excited though – that’s exactly how it started last year too and 4 miles later we were drenched.

TIP: (for everybody, this time) When you exit the stadium the start line queue is directly in front of you. The pods to drop off your gear bags are to the right and beyond those pods are rows of porta-potties.  At 7:15AM there are NO lines for those portas. You’ll be able to walk over, and walk right into one no problem and no waiting.

They sang the National Anthem (quite well) and at 7:24 we were off! Well…that’s not exactly true. At 7:24AM the gun went off, Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” started blaring through the speakers and we moved forward several inches.  It turns out that “I Love L.A.” is about a 3 minute song. I know this because about 3 minutes after it started, it finished…and started again. We, on the other hand, really hadn’t started yet…still waiting for the crowd to move.

We actually got to hear “I Love L.A.” no fewer than FIVE times before we finally were able to make our move to the starting line.

And Away We Go!

I kissed my girl one last time and took off running.  For the next 23 miles I Gump’d it.  When I felt like running, I ran. Sometimes I ran pretty fast. Other times I ran pretty slow. Occasionally I walked (mostly at aid stations). If I felt like stopping at a porta potty, I did. Otherwise it was basically just one big fartlek run for me.

Seen on the Course: A sign that read “Who Fartlek’d?”

And I was having a grand time!  I chatted with other runners, thanked lots of volunteers, looked at the trees, looked at the buildings, listened to the bands and music, high-fived lots of little kids.

My nutrition plan was working pretty well, I was taking in fluids at the aid stations and I was basically cruising. I could feel my lack of training in my legs, but since I wasn’t pushing too hard it was fine.  I came through the halfway mark in just over 3 hours. I was vaguely disappointed in that, had thought I might be a little faster, but my liberal use of the porta-potties along the way and lack of a definite pacing plan had taken its toll.

Turns out I was fine with that.

Hollywood Blvd. Sunset Boulevard. The course was a tad hillier than I remembered it being but still….through Beverly Hills, enjoying the crowds, through Century City and feeling more comfortable than last year. Best of all…not a drop of rain.

Through the VA Hospital grounds and still feeling pretty good I settled in for the last 10K on the long residential street down to Ocean Blvd. My plan of just doing what I wanted and having fun was working well. At mile 23 I decided that what would be really fun would be finishing with my girl. So…

…I stopped.  Just stepped off the course onto the grassy median, and turned into a spectator for a while. I had the tracking on my phone to tell me that she’d passed the 30K mark about 15 minutes before that so I figured I had an hour or so to wait. No problem. I chatted with some spectators, cheered on passing runners and anxiously scanned the crowd for pretty girls in purple shirts with beige visors on.

And then right about when I expected her…there she was!  Walking along at a nice clip with another lady (whose name was Bryn I learned). I ran out to greet her and took up pace right alongside. She seemed happy to see me.


We never did get a drop of rain but at some point in that last hour or so the winds came up so fiercely that the course marshals had to start dismantling some of the mile arches. In fact the arch for mile 24 blew down (pulling several 50 gallon water barrels with it) right in front of us. 20 seconds later and it would have come down on our heads.  We opted to go around it while course officials ran into the street and tried to wrestle it under control.

Bryn eventually excused herself and went on to finish and my girl and I did the last 5K of the race together, holding hands most of the way.

Our final time was 7:52 something I thinkCorrection: My beautiful wife has informed me that our actual time was 7:37:51.  The slowest marathon I’ve ever done as it turns out. And also one of the most enjoyable.

It was Carrie’s first marathon and though she said she prefers half-marathons she hasn’t ruled out maybe doing another one some day. She really did great and I’m so proud of her!

Last notes….

  • As always thanks to the many folks who offered support and encouragement including:
    • Jay, Lisa and their kids
    • Lora who looked after our kittens while we were away
    • Jana
    • Jeff
  • Thanks to my parents for their wonderful hospitality as always!
  • L.A. was my 14th marathon (not counting the two Ironmans). I don’t think it will be my last.
  • Yes, as is the tradition, we did get In-n-Out Burger after the race.
  • Jeff crushed it…finishing in 4-low.  Nice!
  • Yes, I’m back to running and training a bit more consistently now. Actually giving some thought to what my next race might be…
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