It's not like I didn't have a plate full of excuses, beginning with excessively scorching heat this summer and ending with the termination of a key employee in the restaurant 3 weeks prior to the race. Throw in a couple of injuries along the way and I rest my case.
I have to admit that I briefly considered cancelling this trip, particularly after a few unnecessary google searches. After months of planning and mediocre training, along with the fact that I'm not one to pass up a plane trip, I decided to give it a shot, no matter how great the chance of death.
Well, since I am writing this, you can all rest easy. I didn't die. And, at no point did I really want to die, outside of a few moments where, in my mind, I thought death might be preferable to the embarrassment I thought was imminent.
To recap... I flew to LA last Friday, I turned 39 last Saturday, and what else? Oh yeah,
I completed my first full marathon last Sunday!
Notice I said I completed a marathon. I did not say, nor do I mean to imply that I ran 26.2 miles. What I did do though was make the most of the situation. After all, if you find yourself in the middle of a marathon course, with a race number, in a beautiful setting, at 8 in the morning? You might as well knock it out, right?
Jumping back, I should have known the cards were stacking up against me. I completed the Murfreesboro Half 5 weeks ago. Sure it was a PR and also a very nice negative split. It was also a positive sign that my knee issues were a thing of the past. I ran the 13.1 without any sign of injury. And then I stretched and tried to stand up...
Anyway, in an effort to distance myself from this recurring case if self-diagnosed runner's knee, I knocked out a couple weeks of much lighter training than I had intended. I had planned an 18 and a 20 miler after the half, but the knee decided that wasn't going to happen. So, I did a few 10s, a 12, and a whole lot of 6s...
I also tried to incorporate some cross training. Note: do not change your routine, however one dimensional, right before you are trying something new like a marathon. Bad.idea.
I am quite certain I strengthened my upper legs. Too bad there wasn't time for that to be of assistance. In fact, I would venture to guess that it threw off my form, leaving my legs with nothing other than: WTF do you want us to do???
Point of the story? I was not prepared.
I should have know this on Thursday of last week when the signs started appearing all around me.
I got a call on Thursday morning: "Hello, this is Delta Airlines calling to inform you that one of your flights has been cancelled on November 12th." Yes, that was fun. I ended up spending 2 hours of my day trying to rebuild an itinerary similar to the one that was completely blown apart at the last minute. Well, it was not so much blown apart; I'm just very particular about my flight choices. This is clearly the result of being spoiled by growing up in an airline family.
Next sign? My room at the LAX Hilton on Friday night was located on the 13th floor. Granted, I didn't even notice this omen until I checked out; still though, 13 is 13.
I probably didn't take notice of the 13th floor business because I was so excited about my room facing the runways at the airport. While most would probably find this annoying, I could sit and watch planes take off and land all day long. Yes, I am a dork. I admit it. So much so that I was even excited to get this shot of the new United/Continental paint job.
So, after a morning of coffee and plane watching, I headed off to the expo. I found my way to the PCH fairly easily and made good time to Zuma Beach in Malibu to pick up my packet.
For such a small race, 600 full marathon runners, everything at the expo took forever. I had to wait for my packet, I had to wait for my shirt (which I also had to pay for), and I had to wait to buy my parking ticket. I had not planned to drive to the beach the next morning, as I was staying by the start, but I had happened to inquire about buses from the finish. No buses, despite the website's promise of transport. There were only buses in the morning TO the start line. Oh.OK...
Standing in the middle of a very crowded parking lot, I had to quickly change my hotel plans for the night and find a place to stay that would be convenient to the bus pickup. Thank you, Mr Jobs and iPhone.
Still up to speed? Sign number 3...
From expo, I drove back through Malibu and Santa Monica to make my way to my newly booked destination of Agoura Hills (think Agrestic from Showtime's Weeds) I checked into the Hampton Inn, double checked my directions for the morning, and then began my google search for dinner.
Do you have any idea how depressing it is to eat dinner at the Macaroni Grill alone, on your birthday, at 4pm, at the bartender-less bar, in suburbia? Yes, that will be a memory I treasure always. 2 entrees later, I made it back to the hotel, stopping for water and OJ, along with a PowerAid for the run.
In bed by 7, asleep by 7:30. My plan to stay in the central time zone seemed to work out OK. Getting up at 3 wasn't that difficult. I woke up, had a Clif Bar and some OJ, made coffee, and applied sunscreen THREE TIMES. As I never got a sunburn, I assume this plan worked. Or, perhaps I sealed the sunscreen in after using Body Glide everywhere...
I was checked out of the hotel and on my way by 4:15. The only disappointment of the drive was that it was still pitch black outside and I couldn't see what was beyond all of the residential gates on Kanan Rd. I was probably one of the first 20 cars in the parking lot. I gathered up my gear, decided to leave my phone in the car, and made my way to finish some other business. Note to Zuma Beach management: if you are going to rake in $8 per car at 4am, please unlock the public restrooms. It is very difficult to use a port-a-john in the dead of night...
Stretching on the fence, waiting for the buses with everyone else, I noticed how amazing the sky was over the Pacific. Apparently, CA does have a lot of stars and I could have counted all of them in the time we all waited for the shuttles. Because they were parked up the street.
One might have thought that someone would have noticed no runners present for the bus ride to the race. Apparently not. Once we spotted them, we made our way up the road, loaded up, and my bus was the first to head off to the start line. Oddly, it was the last to arrive, as our driver got lost. Poor guy. I am quite sure that getting yelled at by 30 anxious runners is no way to begin your day.
Getting lost on the way to the race? That would be sign number 4...
On the upside, staying on the bus allowed a tiny nap, time for another Clif Bar, and a bit of heat. It was in the low 50s until sunrise, and I had left my sweater in the car. Spending over an hour at the start would have been a bit chilly. On arrival, I spent 20 minutes stretching and wandered about, listening in on everyone's conversations, found a water station. I felt rested. I felt confident. I felt ready.
The race was pretty small, as said, 600 registered for the full. After the start, which consisted of a lady yelling "GO!" I was off at a very conservative pace. My plan was to run with the 4:30 pace group, but there were no pace groups, despite having been told otherwise. Meh. I just tried to hold a steady 9:15-9:30 pace. That was tough and would catch myself falling below 9:00 quite a bit over the first few miles. By about mile 4, I had it down.
It was smooth sailing from there. The miles and miles of farmland. The sun rising over the California hills. All quite nice. As the scenery grew a bit tiresome, I knew I had the coastline to look forward to. As I ran those first 5 to seven miles, however, I began to notice some discrepancies with the elevation chart I had been studying all the months prior. I should have noticed a 2 mile uphill start, followed by a 2 mile gentle downhill. Nope. Never saw that. In fact, it just seemed as if I had been running up the natural, uphilly, flat that I am used to at the greenway. Hummm...
I would say it was somewhere around mile 7 that I first noticed it. It was a familiar sort of spasm in my right calf. Nothing painful. And It went right away. Didn't even hurt really, but I knew. I knew it was coming.
And, as expected, by mile 8, my knee was beginning to get stiff. Again, nothing too painful. Just enough to get me nervous. I started thinking about the fact that I was almost a third the way done. I started trying to imagine the pain, if it multiplied itself by three over the next 18 miles. No problem. After all, I didn't travel 3000 miles to quit a marathon.
This line of thinking should have been adequate. The only problem with it was that by mile 9 the pain was four times worse than it had been. Quickly realizing that I could be looking at pain 72 times as bad by the finish, I began to think through my exit strategy. What would I say if I quit? Who would I tell? Could I just tell Jay to contact everyone I know and explain that we would NEVER speak of the marathon again? Maybe I could just post "Knee pain. Quit." as my status update on Facebook.
Yes. One of these options will be my plan. So, I just had to find someone to quit to. Having never quit a race before, I had no idea what to do. Should I flag down a passing police car? Should I tell the water station volunteers? Either way, probably fine. Apparently, as I decided this at about mile 10, I was heading into an unmanned stretch of race, leading up to the half marathon start. I didn't see anyone to quit to. For miles...
Just keep running. Just keep running. Just keep running. It was like Ellen DeGeneres was on infinity loop in my head. Quite annoying, but I shuffled my way to the half. And then, along the way, my iPod caught my attention.
I never would have thought that Nine Inch Nails would prove to be an inspiring running selection. I had put it in my playlist at 5am on departure day, just feeling like I needed it. I opted out of the JC version, as it makes me sad. Thinking back, had I gone with Cash, I might have quit. But, as things were, I decided I was going to finish. I might be walking the next 13.1 miles, but I was getting that damned medal and my beach towel. And I wasn't going to quit and I wasn't going to worry about how to play that off. I was just going to walk.
The decision not to quit was huge for me. Aside from the fact that I am not generally a quitter, I am also not one to handle embarrassment with grace. I was relieved to avoid these two horrors. I was still a bit stressed though. I had told Brian and Stacey to be at the finish around 11, as I expected to run 4:00-4:30. I had no phone. I had no way to let them know I was going to be a tad bit late. I was freaking out, as I also don't tend to handle being perceived as an inconvenience.
Finally, after much race stalking, I happened upon a stranger with her phone out. I don't think I could have asked to borrow it any more nicely. I guess she was just taken back by my charm, or the fact that I was basically grabbing it out of her hand as I asked. Oh well. I said please. I sent Jay a text, from a stranger's phone, explaining that he needed to text another stranger that the race wasn't going well and I would be 5+ hours but that I would be finishing. I thanked the lady and I walked on. Jay apparently forgot it wasn't my phone that texted him. He told the lady he loved her...
Now that I had handled all of my obligations, I set out to enjoy myself. Being in the back half of the pack, I found myself enjoying the company of the other shufflers, as we passed one another repeatedly over the next few hours.
"We're going to finish. We getting a damned medal! That's right! A medal and a sunburn will be ours in a few short hours!"
"You know, this hill would really be pissing me off right now if I was running. Glad I don't have to do that!"
Yes, apparently I am quite the conversationalist when I have given up and thrown my arms in the air.
And, it was Malibu. It was ridiculously pretty. I saw whales, dolphins, surfer boys. Really? If you are going to walk the second half of a 26 miles race, you could pick a worse place to do it.
I tried to run the uphills. I tried to run the flats. I knew better than to try the downhills. I had no idea what to do fuel-wise on my walk. I just stayed with the plan. One GU every 7-8 miles. Water at every other stop. Stayed with the plan until I got bored again, that is.
I'd never tried a Lava Gel before. I had never tried coconut water while training (just before and after). I probably should have opted out of trying them at mile 20-22. Meh. Why not?
Well, I will tell you why not. Because something caused cramping. Because by mile 24, when I thought I could pull a sub 5:00 finish out of this comedy of errors, I was no longer hindered by my knee. It was my entire abdomen. I would try to run and then I would promptly feel like John Hurt in Alien.
I couldn't maintain a jog to save my life. Too.much.pain. The good news though? I was still sweating. Dehydration was certainly not going to take me out. No sir. Not me. Cause I'm the idiot who failed to realize that he was going to have to knock out a run to the finish line, regardless of what his knee felt about it.
I would venture to guess that the last mile of the course was the most painful 10 minutes of running I have ever experienced. And it was not for any of the reasons I would have expected. It wasn't the knee, it wasn't "the wall," it wasn't the fact that the 2.5 mile downhill finish that was advertised had a series of tiny uphills hidden in it.
It was painful because I felt the need to finish with a bit of dignity. I felt like I had to finish like I started.
I felt like I had to pass everyone that I saw for the next 10 minutes. And I certainly had to pass EVERYONE I saw in the chute.
And I did...
There was no clock at the finish. Well, I am sure there was, but I didn't see it. And, I forgot to stop Garmin as I crossed the finish (always forget that one!) I had no idea what my time was and I really didn't care!
And again, I reiterate, I finished in one of the most picturesque settings in the world...