It absolutely blows my mind that the LA marathon was already a week ago, but even more that it was only a week ago. The world has changed so much in the last seven days it’s difficult to believe that this time last week I was on a plane coming home from one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had. I am incredibly thankful that the race was last week and was able to be run. I’m grateful for the love and support of the running community in a time filled with so much unease and judgement for differing opinions.
So despite all the chaos erupting in the world, I thought I’d share my LA marathon, a day I will truly never forget for being such a beautiful, transformative experience.
Back in October/November I started to flirt with the idea of training for the LA marathon. I knew I wanted to do my next marathon in the near future, but was thinking of training for a late spring marathon in Colorado. That would give me another few months to take it easy, do more strength training, and have less of the training time in the middle of winter. After one of my friends recommended the LA marathon though, I couldn’t help but think this might be the one. The LA marathon would be on March 8th, meaning I would need to start training pretty soon, and that my training would be in cold weather, but still it seemed enticing.
My goal was to qualify to run the Boston Marathon(BQ) during my 2nd marathon, a goal which would require cutting only 7 minutes off of the first marathon time, a pretty realistic goal. By choosing to run LA, I would be gaining the advantage of running at sea level after training at altitude, a net course elevation loss, and a downhill finish, which would all assist in that BQ. I’ve been wanting to go to LA for the past three years to check out the health and wellness scene there: eat at the Instagrammable restaurants, take class at the amazing yoga studios, and visit the most talked about healthy grocery store, Erewhon. I also found out that Natural Products Expo West, an expo I’ve been wanting to go to in Anaheim, would be happening the same week (even though in the end it was cancelled).
Everything seemed perfect, so I called up my mom who I’d been talking about the wellness LA trip with, and she was immediately interested. I signed up for the race, started training and the rest is history.
Everyone was on edge the week leading up to the race due to the Coronavirus. Many other events and races were being cancelled, but the race director assured us that the race would take place as planned. Between taper-madness, nerves, and worries about last minute cancellations, everyone was ready to run.
Race morning arrived and regardless of losing an hour of sleep from the Spring time change, I was up and energized, following my morning run routine, complete with a full dance party 🙂
The race started at Dodger’s Stadium and ran point-to-point to Santa Monica Pier through many of the most famous neighborhoods of the city. There were several options to get to Dodger’s Stadium on race morning, but one of the most popular were to take the runners buses from downtown Santa Monica which was how I got to the start. My mom dropped me off amid a sea of buses, hundreds of them. It took me over ten minutes just to walk to the end of the line to get on the buses, and another 20 minutes to actually get on a bus.
Once on the bus I chatted with the woman next to me, a nice lady from LA who’s part of a local running group, running her upteenth marathon as a pacer for some other members of her group. Once near the stadium we reached horrible traffic of other buses and cars trying to make it to the start line. Unfortunately our bus driver was very nice and extremely unaggressive and let car after car move in front of us. We started nervously glancing at our watches as more and more time began to pass. The race started at 6:55am, but my coral, which would help me be with the right pace group, would close at 6:40am, and bag check closed at 6:30am. I was worried I wouldn’t make it into my coral in time and wouldn’t have time to use the restroom and get settled.
Our bus finally pulled up at 6:29am. I was told bag check was at the opposite end of the stadium and I knew I wouldn’t have time to check anything. I adjusted strategies. I would have to throw out my new Disney sweatshirt, phone case, and some fuel, and have to run with my phone and earphones which I was planning on checking. I had no time to let this throw me off, it was game time. I made it to the bathroom (well port-a-potty) and slid into my coral with a minute to spare. The next 15 minutes were a blur of excitement and nerves, and before I knew it the gun fired and we were running.
My strategy was to stay with the 3:30 pace group for most of the race, then pick it up in the later miles to come in under 3:30 to qualify with enough margin to be able to run Boston (More people qualify than can register, so you have to run a few minutes under your qualifier to actually be accepted to run the race). The race started with some rolling hills as we left the stadium, followed by a big downhill. By the bottom of the hill I had already surged ahead of the 3:30 pace group and adjusted my goal to stay just slightly ahead of them.
The mile marker appeared and I was shocked. I felt like I had only been running for 30 seconds, but mile number 1 was already behind me. I felt loose, I felt confident, and I was so excited to be running this marathon. The next few miles all passed by quickly. We ran through Korea town then past the Disney Concert Hall. I knew this is when we would hit some uphills, but they never felt too hard. I had fun running up the hills and let myself enjoy running fast on the downhills. I felt like I was floating and simply just exploring the city. There was so much energy among runners and spectators. It was the perfect morning for a run.
Around mile 8 I noticed I was catching up to the next pace group, which I assumed was the 3:25 or maybe the 3:20 pace group. I figured if I caught up with them I could just run with them as long as I could to help ensure I was on goal pace. That way I wouldn’t have to focus on pace and could just run. As I got closer I realized it was actually the 3:15 pace group, 15 minutes faster than I intended to be running with. The idea of this pace scared me. I didn’t want to go out too fast and risk losing too much time in the later miles to meet my goal. I checked in with myself physiologically. I wasn’t breathing very hard. Nothing on my body hurt. I didn’t feel tired or lethargic— I still felt like I was flying. So I decided to stick with them and see what I could do!
At first I didn’t like running in the pack. It felt stuffier and more confined. A lot of the people running with the pace group were members of the LA Road Runners who organize the race, and were cheering for and checking in with each other. There were far more men in the pack than women, and everyone looked like tough, experienced runners. Like many runners, I often struggle with imposter syndrome, that I’m not a “real” runner or that I can’t keep up with these people who live their whole lives around the sport.
Soon I just started having fun with this pack mentality. The leaders would offer insight, like telling us about the big downhill around the corner, or where to push and hold back. It started to thin a little as some fell back and everyone found their pace so we weren’t running on top of eachother.
I told myself I should stay with them until the half. We ran by Hollywood and grinned when I saw the Dolby Theater and bright colors of the Ghirardelli store. I had been excited to run along the Walk of Fame, but didn’t recognize that I would be running on the street, not the sidewalk where the stars are.
We reached the halfway point which was marked by the start line of the Charity Challenge which joins the marathon course for a ½ marathon. It made me laugh to see their start line and reframed my mind into thinking that we were just starting out. I gained energy from the corals full of Charity Challengers and was proud of myself for a great first half.
This was the point where I could have settled back and conserved energy for the later miles. Once again I check in physiologically. The pace was no longer effortless and I no longer felt like I was floating, but the pace was doable. I looked around at others in the group and several were breathing much harder and some looked like they were already feeling the toll of the miles. I told myself that if they’re staying with the pace group, then I could too.
I came to a revelation: Why not me? Why not today?
I had read so many books about elite runners, I had heard so many stories from fellow runners through podcasts, my online running community, and in my local community, about those days where everything comes together and you accomplish more than you could have ever imagined. Where you accomplish your goals and prove that all of the training, all of the pain and sacrifice paid off.
I thought: Why not me? Why not today?
I thought back to an episode from one of my favorite running podcasts, that mentioned that personal records and accomplishing goals never comes without a little bit of risk. When you set out at that fast pace, there’s not guarantee you’ll be able to keep it. All you can do is trust in the training and believe in yourself, and well, just run.
So I kept running, ticking off the miles. Certain parts of the course gave me new bursts of energy. There was one stretch around mile 15 that reminded me of the last mile of my favorite 10k race, the Bolder Boulder. The street narrows and the crowds gather around screaming and cheering, and holding up ridiculous signs. I used this stretch the same way I use the similar stretch in the Bolder Boulder, to revive my effort and just keep going. I felt a similar way when we passed through Rodeo Drive. It was fun to see all of the architecture and expensive shops.
Around mile 18 I finally fell back from the 3:15 pace group. I was happy that I had stayed with them for so long, but also knew I had 8 miles to go and that this pace was significantly faster than I had trained at. I worried my miles were slowing significantly. I started noticing hints of GI distress, but focused my mind on anything and everything else. In reality, my pace was actually staying pretty consistent, so I settled in and just ran.
To be completely honest, the last 6 miles were rough. As much as I told myself that hitting the wall was mostly mental, and that I didn’t have to give into it, my body was telling me otherwise. I had secured enough time and stayed on pace enough to know that if I just kept running I would accomplish all of my goals.
I started to pass runners who were hurting. I heard one spectator talking to a guy walking that he should pick it up, that he had been in the same situation the year before and regretted it after. I don’t think that encouraged the guy, but it encouraged me. I said “good job” to another runner who was walking, which encouraged him enough to start running again, which made me so delighted. I ended up running alongside another guy as we finished mile 21 as a spectator cheered us on, telling us we were almost there! We looked at each other and laughed, it was a little too early for that one.
The last few miles hurt. I knew I wasn’t going to let myself walk, but I felt all of my motivation to finish melting away. I fantasized about stopping right then and there. I was so nauseous I struggled to even take water. I started feeling very emotional, like I could break down in tears at any moment. It felt as if I was running 20 minute miles and kept looking down at my watch scared that fear would be validated, but somehow the pace was still very much on track to exceed my goals. So I just kept running thinking about every cold and windy training run, every difficult strength workout, every minor injury and pain, every morning when I visualized crossing the finish line sub 3:30 and telling myself how proud I was of myself that I was a sub 3:30 marathoner so I could feel what it would feel like when it actually happened. If I just kept placing one foot in front of the other, everything that I worked so hard for would be accomplished.
I don’t know if it was the slight downhill, the roar of the crowds, or just pure strong-willed determination, but finally the finish line was in sight. I kept trying to pick up the pace, but my body didn’t want to respond for more than a few steps. I’m always the type of runner to finish strong, but today would be the first time it would be enough to just finish. The crowds cheered me on, and I tried to enjoy the beautiful palm trees lining Santa Monica Boulevard as I counted down the steps.
I’ll never forget how happy I was when I realized the finish was the end and not the 26th mile marker. Something about being that little .2 of a mile closer than I thought fueled me. I could see the finish clock and realized that I would most likely be sub 3:20. I gave it everything I had and ran through the finish line.
3:18:48. I did it!
I Boston Qualified by 11 minutes and 12 seconds, and had a personal record of almost 20 minutes. I exceeded any and every goal I had set for myself, and given everything I had to give. Going into the race I had the idea that my next marathon in June with a huge elevation loss I could maybe try to go sub 3:20, but I never imagined it would be possible at this race. Even though my last few miles were my slowest, I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s only my second marathon. With practice I’ll get better at pacing, and hopefully be able to sustain a faster pace the entire time.
At the finish line I saw the 3:15 pacers who congratulated me with big hugs and were so proud when I told them my goal had just been sub 3:30. I was greeted by several runners I had run with throughout the course, introducing themselves and celebrating all of our hard work.
The minute I started walking I started feeling new sensations in my feet. My leg muscles which had begun to feel heavy and stiff during the last few miles now just felt like lead. The nausea was here to stay. I was lucky to have so many other runners and volunteers walk with me to make sure I was okay as I took the long walk down Santa Monica Boulevard to get my metal, water, picture, heat sheet, past gear check and food neither of which I utilized, then to the family reunion area to meet my mom.
I was grinning ear to ear when I found her and so was she. She ran up and gave me a huge hug and was so proud of what I had just accomplished. She helped me walk over to the medical tent where I hung out until my low blood pressure could stabilize and my body temperature could reregulate. I was so grateful for all of the medical volunteers, and that I was in much better shape than some of the other runners I was seeing around me.
I hobbled around LA the rest of the day, metal displayed on my neck, and literally glowing with all of the excitement I felt. This is a day that I will never forget, a fun race, a supportive community, and most importantly proving to myself “why not me? Why not today?”