Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The L.A. Marathon

This weekend I ran the L.A. Marathon. My time 4:04 was pretty good a few minutes off my personal record, but much better than I expected. Beyond getting a good time this one of the best race day experiences that I have, it was just a wonderful event. At the same time my wife ran her first 5K I think part of what made the whole event special was sharing it with her.

They day got off to an interesting start when I rode the L.A. subway to the starting line at Universal Studies. I have been to L.A. dozens of times to visit my in-laws but until last Sunday the only thing that I knew about the subway in L.A. was this quote about it from Futurama: "Leela: Its some kind of hollow tube, devoid of human life. Gasp. The Los Angeles Subway." Well at least on this morning it was packed full of runners, because when I got the starting line I saw a larger crowd than I have ever seen at a race before.

24,175 people competed in the marathon, that is truly a massive number of people to cram on to a narrow street. I manged to a place about a quarter of mile from the starting line and from where I stood, I could not see the end of the line of people. Unfortunately for these 24,175 people there was approximately 250 port-a-potties. Most people before they run a marathon tend over hydrate. So the situation at the starting line that morning was about 24,000 people trying to use 250 port-a-potties at the same time. The lines for them were unreal, I stood in line for about 50 minutes before I got a chance to pee, but I had nothing better to do as I got their early.
Many are as not as patient as I was. The only time I have seen a level of public urination that even came close to what I saw that morning were parties in college where hundreds of drunks were at house with one bathroom. Only this time people were even more brazen about, and they were sober. A bunch of guys decided to piss behind a large dumpster, something that does not seem so bad until you realize that they were standing with dicks out in full view in front of a major freeway. Odd.

While waiting for the race to start I ran into someone who had also graduated from Bradley University. This is the first time I have run into someone, other than my wife, who had graduate from Bradley since we moved to the West.

I also wound up standing next to guy,and another barefooted runner how can you not respect someone who runs marathons barefooted. I love running and I love being barefooted but I don't think I will combining the two any time soon. Oddly I at all three marathons that I have run in California I have seen this guy and beat him. So at least I can say that I am faster than the barefooted old dude.

Finlay the starting gun went off, however because of the large crowd it would take me another 8:00 to get to and cross the starting line. One my biggest racing related pet peeves are the very slow runner/walkers who line up at the start of a race. This is such a breech of good racing etiquette. I spent the first mile and a half of the race weaving my through thousands of walkers.

Once I was able to make it to some relatively open road, I began to fly. My original goal was to try run 9:30 miles, but I just could not keep it that slow, no matter what I tried I kept coming back to an 8:45 pace. Finlay I just gave in and settled into this pace and the miles began to fly by.

It helps that the course was such an interesting one, despite my dozens of previous trips to the L.A. area, all 26.2 miles of this course ran through areas that I had never been before. Hollywood was interesting in that it is neat to see an area that you see on TV all the time, but otherwise was not super interesting. The stars in the sidewalk are not very impressive in person.

The course than entered Koreatown, an area that I found to be fascinating. One of the great things about this marathon is lively crowds and street entertainment that turns out for it. One of favorite site of the entire race was the guy rapping on stage while traditional Korean dancers danced in front of him. A very off juxtaposition.

One of the fascinating things about races this large are the water stops. People usually take a sip or two and then toss the rest of the water on them selves, then throw the cup on the ground. In the areas where they have water stop it always looks there was a paper cup blizzard. Also all the spilled water on the asphalt creates a just rained smell. The funniest water stop at this race is one where they were handing out bananas, the ground was littered with hundreds of banana peels, which seem a little dangerous to me.

There is phenomena is running know as hitting the wall. For long winded explanations of it look here or here basicaly it is when your body runs out of gas. It shocking how sudden and total this experience is. One minute running along, everything fine, then just like someone pulled a plug your legs become almost impossibly heavy to lift. Typically I hit the wall around mile 19 of a marathon. This time I got miles 19, and everything felt good, same with miles 20 and 21. At this point I started to get excited. I once ran a marathon were I did not hit the wall, I started to think that this was going to be a day like that, that I would break my personal record by 15 minutes or more. Then in flash at about 21.5 miles I hit the wall.

I felt like some all the sudden attached 50 pound weights to my legs. My speed nosed dived and what been a pleasant run on a beautiful day became a grueling slog. The last 5.5 miles were pure unadulterated misery, everything on body hurt and was screaming for me to stop. The real challenge to running a marathon are the miles you run after hitting wall. I shuffled along the last couple of miles dreaming of the finish line.

A marathon is 26.2 miles, that last .2 miles is without a doubt the cruelest. While I am running the marathon I tend to think of it being a 26 mile race, and when I think how far I have to go I subtract how far I have gone from 26. The problem is when reaching mile I feel like I should be done, but there is another couple of hundred yards to go. I finally finished that last .2 miles and the race.

Nothing feels better than finishing a marathon. The first sensation is just one of pure relief that I can finally stop moving. Then comes the pride of accomplishment. Then a total fatigue. Finally hunger as the burning off of 3,200 calories hits home. I already can't wait until May and the Palos Verde Marathon.

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