Hey, did I tell you guys I was running the LA Marathon? Probably not, since I actually did it on a whim (read: with NO training, not even a long run of anything more than 12 miles) after getting a bib from a friend who was too injured to run – but I did! And it was absolutely fantastic.
Some background: LA was my fifth marathon, and the 30th running of the marathon overall, so an anniversary of sorts for both me and the city. I’ve run Surf City (Huntington Beach), the NIKE Women’s (San Francisco), Rock N Roll Las Vegas (at night), Boston (in 2013, so ’nuff said about that unique experience) and now Los Angeles.
I always vowed not to run LA because it was “too familiar” – these are the streets I train on day in and day out; the streets I live on; the streets I commute and curse upon.
How could running a marathon in L.A. feel like anything but drudgery?
But friends, I was so wrong. If you are a 16-year Angeleno (and fierce defender of the city’s greatness) like me, you need to run this race. You will see LA in a whole new light – not only the promising and hopeful light of dawn but also the striking and illuminating “light” of a city untouched, somehow cleaner and prettier and less crowded than it’s ever been. I loved every step.
That said, no marathon is without its downfalls – and this race still had some, despite my best efforts to stay calm and focused. Here’s a quick play-by-play of what was going on in my head, mile-by-mile:
MILE 1 – “it’s just another perfect day…I loooove L.A….” Randy Newman’s voice booms loud at the starting gun – and we’re off. I’m feeling good. It’s sorta crowded but no one’s elbowing me yet. I keep reminding myself to keep the pace steady and slow.
MILE 2 – where was the mile 1 sign? Didn’t they say they’d have a sign for each mile? Oh well, whatevs. This muscular dude is running a nice pace. I’ll follow him awkwardly closely until he runs away.
MILE 3 – hey look, a 5K! Isn’t that sweet? Muscular dude has been upgraded to official Pace Buddy, despite that we haven’t yet exchanged verbal words. It’s just a runner “thing,” you know?
MILE 4 – downtown looks nice, at least this part. Pace Buddy (now known as PB) smiled at me and handed me a water from the aid station; still no words but officially my PB. Resisting urge to look at the clock as I keep telling myself, slow and steady.
MILE 5 – so THIS is what Echo Park is! Wow! There’s a lake here and things. Supes nice. Feelin’ gangsta as “Not Butter” comes on my running mix and I audibly laugh. PB probably thinks I’m insane but is too committed to our pacing to run away.
MILE 6 – PB speaks! He pulls out one earbud and tells me he’s going to grab water at the next aid station and hit a gel. Scintillating. I agree with him and play “gel roulette” with what’s in my pack; end up with a vanilla bean w/caffeine. Hyped up on that and Beyonce.
MILE 7 – Blisters are starting to form, and this early it’s annoying – but I don’t have time to care. Gotta stay on the 9-minute flat with PB, and gotta pretend like this isn’t the most boring scenery of the entire course (sorry to those who live here, but it sucks).
MILE 8 – Deep into Hollywood now and prepping to see my friend Melinda at mile 9. I tell PB, “I have friends at mile 9!” He throws me an exhausted-looking thumbs up. I feel like a douche.
MILE 9 – DAMMIT. DAMN. IT. Where is my friend? I know she’s here! She made me a sign! I know she did! “Maybe she didn’t wake up,” says PB, and I want to punch him for a second. I KNOW SHE IS UP. Are we running too fast?
MILE 10 – DOUBLE DIGITS! I throw up a “deuces” to PB and he laughs. We are running too fast for him; I can tell he’s struggling, but I refuse to slow down when I feel this good – plus we’re in Hollywood reppin’ the Pantages, Grauman’s Chinese, and all the “cool” things about this part of town – without the annoying tourists up in our grills.
MILE 11 – PB tells me he’s going to drop off at the next mile to meet his wife and son and change shoes; secretly I am a little relieved because I want to maintain. “0 to 100” comes on the mix and I know I’ve made the right choice because I go 0 to 100 real quick; real f*cking quick.
MILE 12 – As promised, PB peels off with the fam and we exchange a heartfelt (if momentary) goodbye. For a second I am sad. Then I realize he is a total stranger and I go on running.
MILE 13 – Did I make it halfway already? Are those drag queens dressed as high school cheerleaders? Do I have time to stop and poop? The answer to all of these is, of course, yes.
MILE 14 – OHMYGAH the greatest downhill of the course is about to hit and I didn’t even see it coming. I wave my arms like a stupid lunatic and almost take somebody’s eye out (sorry bro). My baller “LA Woman” remix comes on and I realize that this is the city I was born to run. Tears well up in my eyes. Sentimental Manda = getting tired….
MILE 15 – But not too tired! The promise of seeing my family in a few miles perks me up again and I power through WeHo and Beverly Hills like it’s no big (and hey, this is getting close to my neighborhood – it is no big; I run these streets all the time!).
MILE 16 – 10 MILES TO GO! In some races that has felt like an eternity, but here it feels doable. I realize I am on pace for a sub-four marathon after screaming at a volunteer, “WHAT TIME IS IT!??!” Someone shoves an ice cold coconut water into my and I am almost brought to tears again with how happy I am to drink that delicious beverage.
MILE 17 – OMG, family is so close! How’s my hair look? Oh wait, it looks like the rest of me – a soggy, sad sack after being sprayed down with hoses, pouring water on my head and back, nearly losing my stretched-elastic shorts (note to self: toss these shorts when you get home), and squinting out one eye after one is rendered useless due to sunscreen drip. I’m a hot mess.
MILE 18 – There’s my house. WHERE MY BED IS. And I’ve been up since 4:45. Would anyone notice if I just diverted off course for a moment? Sigh. Another mile, another orange slice.
MILE 19 – FAMILY!!! HI MOM & DAD! HI BROTHER!!! My “official” first spectators since I missed my mile 9 support and dropped my PB. I feel like a massive baller, despite the fact that I just grabbed a handful of Vaseline off a posterboard carried by a complete stranger (hey, I refuse to suffer armpit chaffing if I don’t have to).
MILE 20 – There is something amazing about mile 20 – it’s where you truly start to believe the finish line is attainable. It’s more amazing when “Move B*tch” by Ludacris comes on your playlist and you start dominating some b*tches (and by “dominating” I mean “hobbling past someone that stopped to walk at a water stop, then getting caught by them 200 yards later”).
MILE 21 – I see two runners help a handcycle athlete get up a steep hill, and my eyes are again filled with tears. I let one spill. I AM NOT MADE OF STONE DAMMIT.
MILE 22 – Four miles left? Steady downhill grade? Let’s do this. “Turn Down for What” guides me through a “high five station” where I literally slap about 24 hands in a row. Ow. And now I’m sticky. Ew.
MILE 23 – It’s just a 5K now – and yet the blisters on my feet are beginning to revolt against the 90-degree weather – and did I mention I’m also COMPLETELY blind in one eye from sunscreen damage? Note to self: sun protection is one thing, but temporary blindness is quite another. Remember to pack the powder protection next time.
MILE 24 – OMG, two miles left. I scream out for the time again and when the volunteer tells me 10:33, I realize I am fully going to break 4 hours on thiz beetch. I prepare to rip my bib (because I told the friend whose bib I was running on that I would, so she wouldn’t get some rando time) and accidentally rip the bib. Now I’m carrying a bib. STUPID.
MILE 25 – Finally, the spectators who have been screaming “you’re almost there!” since mile 2 are vindicated: we are, in fact, almost there. They say the last mile is the longest. Whoever “they” are, they’re right. I can see the ocean; shouldn’t the finish line BE HERE ALREADY?!?!? WHY AM I STILL RUNNING?!?
MILE 26.2 – Crossing the finish, I suddenly feel at peace, like the scenes in movies where all the sounds fade away and you are moving through silence, colors intensified, time almost simultaneously fast and slow. I feel completely inside my own head yet utterly connected to everyone around me. It is a glorious sense of achievement and relief, compounded with an intense bowel cramp and crazy craving for cold pizza.
My finish time was 3:57 (net 9:02/mile pace), including poop break – making this my slowest marathon ever. That said, it was one of my favorites ever – the one where I got to relive all the memories I’ve made over the past 16 years in this amazing city. I am honored to have given some intense love to the city that has watched me grow up and made me who I am today.
Have you ever run a marathon? What goes through your head when you run?