Race Report: Los Angeles Marathon

    I was certain I hated Los Angeles.

    My wife and I briefly visited the California metropolis last year on our honeymoon. Everywhere we went had the feeling of a Steely Dan song: creepy and weird. Looking back, I have no idea why I felt the need to sign up for the Los Angeles Marathon. I remember reading that Halle Berry once volunteered at an aid station and Sean Astin ran the 26.2 mile distance in around four hours. It seemed like the perfect race for a pop culture obsessive such as myself.

    I woke up early on Valentine’s Day ready to run into the actor who played Rudy or have an Oscar winning actress hand me a Gatorade. Before I could, I had to walk a few miles to catch a shuttle at the Bonaventure Hotel, where the 80’s sitcom It’s A Living and the horse chase scene in True Lies took place, to take me to the start line at Dodger Stadium. After four months of training, I was finally here. I took in the moment and then headed straight for the restrooms in the hope of avoiding a bathroom stop during the race. Seeing Samwise would have to wait. 

    Looking inside the stadium was calming. The familiar sounds of Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” filled my ears as I approached the starting line a few hours later. I hunkered down in the back of the line with my people: the amateurs and those society considers ‘bigger.’ I had lost over 10 pounds training for this race, yet seeing athletes who are genetically made for endurance sports still intimidate me. I’ve finished four marathons before this race and I still feel like I’ll never belong at events like these.

     It didn’t help that I was standing at the starting line essentially alone. I’d look around for the one person not wearing their headphones in the hopes of starting a conversation, but he or she proved themselves elusive. I was supposed to run the marathon with my wife, but she pulled out due to pregnancy. At least I had her face to look forward to during the race.

    The timing mat beeped as I walked over the start. My first instinct is to go fast out of the gate, but I learned weeks before that this was not a good strategy. This was the first race I trained for where I had a coach. She helped me be a more efficient runner by working on my cadence. As much as I wanted to break away from those who decided to walk out their race start, I had to remember to calm down and relax. 

    Knowing this would be my last big race for awhile, I wanted to take in the sights of the City of Angeles. There was a dragon dancing through Chinatown. I saw the memorial to Elliott Smith on Sunset Boulevard where he posed for the cover of his Figure 8 album. Clubs and music venues I had read about were filling my eyes. Marriages were taking place at mile 10 with the Hollywood sign providing an amazing backdrop. Crowds were shouting encouragement in front of the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and men dressed in cheerleading outfits were shaking their pom-pons as we entered West Hollywood. I was grinning from ear to ear. This all seemed so surreal, like a scene from a David Lynch movie.

    After exiting the immaculate streets of Beverly Hills and heading toward mile 19, the higher than normal temperatures for the area were starting to take their toll on me. This was the time I wanted to speed up and yet my body began to slow down. Things were starting to look dire when I saw my friend Josh. What an amazing and welcome surprise! His appearance was just what I needed to power through the heat and pain. A couple miles later as things were starting to look dire again, my wife was waiting for me around mile 22.5. I gave her a hug.

    “You’re still smiling,” she said.

    “I’m in so much pain right now,” I responded. 

    As I entered Brentwood, the former residence of O.J. Simpson, I found relief in the shaded streets. As the course began its descent toward the ocean, I let gravity take over and kept my cadence steady. The playlist I had created was only five hours long, yet I was still over two miles away from the finish. My solution: keep playing the last track over and over. I let the trumpets of the Rocky fanfare motivate me for the last twenty minutes until I crossed the finish line. 

    I knew I looked a mess when crossing that finish by the Santa Monica Pier. I was chafed in places I didn’t know you could be chafed. One of the bandaids protecting my nipples had fallen off mid-race. As a result, I looked like Bruce Willis jumping off Nakatomi Plaza in Die Hard. My dad called as soon as I crossed the finish. I couldn’t muster a complete sentence. After picking up my medal, I hobbled another mile to meet up with my wife. She hugged me despite my haggard appearance, and we walked to a nearby McDonalds to get some pancakes. I’d never been so grateful for All-Day Breakfast.

    We shared our experiences with other runners on the shuttle that returned us to our downtown hotel. It was on this ride that I was able to really take in the enormity of the distance I had covered on my own two feet. I was amazed. The hours I spent pounding the streets of Los Angeles allowed me to gaze upon the city with a different set of eyes. While the city may have transportation issues, a water shortage, and Kobe Bryant, it managed to find its way into my heart. Randy Newman and I were finally in agreement.