2008 LA Marathon
It is 8 hours into the race and I am running on the course AGAINST the runners. I am somewhere in the 22 mile mark and they are starting to shut down the course to allow traffic back into the streets and there is the shuttle van picking up runners slowly riding opposite the runners waiting for any takers to get on to end their long day and get a DNF, did not finish. At this point there are only walkers, run/walkers and the injured doing everything they can to get to the finish line. And there I am running right next to the shuttle yelling at the runners “don’t even think about it, don’t even think about getting on this shuttle, you are there, dig deep, stay tough” This is my constant message over and over as the shuttle and I pass hundreds of runners.
That day at LA marathon was an amazing journey to say the least. I did run the race that year. I ran with my training partner Erika. That year I was pacing her to a beat a 4:30 marathon. We had worked hard with long training nights mostly due to work schedules. That year was the first year they changed the course from Universal City to downtown L.A. The race in the later miles turned into quite a hotter day than usual. I remember getting to the 18 mile mark and feeling the heat. That seems to be the problem for most marathons in Los Angeles. The weather out here is gorgeous. But for marathon running, this presents its challenges along with an unusual start time of 8am, it can get pretty hot out by the 15 mile mark. The race was pleasant and as Erika and I turned the corner at mile 26 to the finish it was clear we beat our goal time and this part of the race was a success. We crossed the line and it was all smiles.
For me the real work started after this point. After completing the race I quickly ran back into the course and started finding runners I knew and started running them in back to the finish line if they needed help. Some did and some didn’t. At mile 21 I ran into my first challenge that day. Michelle was a runner I had been training and coaching through the roadrunner program in Los Angeles. When I found her she wasn’t in such a good place. She was having bad cramps in her stomach from what appeared to be problems with the digestion of the sports gels and combinations of water and Gatorade intake. She was struggling badly and we were running and walking and she was grimacing. Soon we were stopping completely and she was doing everything she could to keep herself from throwing up. We would walk and she would stop. Things got worse as she started to feel very weak and before I knew it I was holding her by her waist. As we were standing in the middle of the course I was telling runners to go around. I was holding her hair from her face as she was really sick. She would muster enough determination to run a good 40 yards and then we would stop and repeat, holding her so she wouldn’t fall and holding her hair from her face telling runners to go around. This was our process for the next couple of miles to the finish. As we approached and got close to under the 26 mile mark I told her you made it and she was instantly out of her funk. I told her if she booked it she could beat 5 hours and she went into tears because all she wanted to do was beat her time from last year which was over 5 hours. At that moment Michelle put it in top speed and raced to the finish and that day despite our last miles of struggle and pure determination, Michelle got her time.
So I began my run against traffic once again from the finish line. I ran into a good number of friends and ran back and forth between the finish line and mile 21. I did this for a good three hours. It was quite an adrenaline rush. I also helped strangers besides the people I knew. My second challenge came with a stranger, a girl from the SRLA training program. I found her at mile 21 and she was in a really weak state with her arm around her Mom and her Mom carrying a lot of her weight. When I ran towards them it was pretty important for me to convince her Mom to let us sit her down so I could evaluate what kind of state she was in. The girl was not injured she was just really dehydrated and very weak. The girl barely had enough energy to look at me. I asked her Mom to wait for me and keep her there so I could get her some kind of salt in her body. Luckily I had put a $20 bill in my shorts that morning. I ran into one of the convenience stores along the course and grabbed a Gatorade and a little salt shaker and poured a healthy amount of salt into the Gatorade and ran back out to the girl and had her drink. Very quickly she was reacting to the salt going into her bloodstream and was starting to become very alert. Her Mom quickly wanted to get her up and get going and I advised pretty strongly that her daughter needed medical attention and she should wait for first aid to come help. The girl was in tears telling me she wanted to finish and her Mom was telling me she would be fine. I walked with them for about 100 yards just to make sure she was a tad better. Her Mom insisted they were fine. I told her she should go to first aid first chance she crossed the line. I told the girl to stay tough and she put smiled at me, put her hand out and grabbed mine and squeezed it really hard. She could barely talk and I knew she was trying to say thank you through her hand. I watched her until she turned the corner. That was a tough one to leave.
The road to the 2008 LA Marathon started at the end of August in 2007. I was a coach for the Roadrunner Program which was the official training program for the LA Marathon. Through this program beginners and seasoned marathoner’s are encouraged to run and train with full support for the 6 month program with coaching staff, clinics, pace leaders and water and bananas every Saturday. The program has a 99.9% finishing rate and prides itself on this. Every Saturday I stood on a stage prior to their long runs and talked and motivated them with different topics and ideas. Trying to inspire the inspired sometimes seems like a lot at times and often as I knew of an important training topic to bring up and educate I really had a lot of fun inspiring the troops Naturally every week I spoke from my heart and often went along with what I saw and observed from the questions of the runners. My goal was just to leave them with something inspiring and I think I did that week in and week out with stories of struggle and commitment and inspiration. Little did I know these stories would set the stage for what really was awaiting on race day several months later and I personally would have to draw everything I ever said and spoke about to complete that day in March.
After leaving the SRLA girl and her Mom I made my way back running towards runners. My goal was to find a run/walker in my training group who would be the last one coming in. I promised her I would come back for her at the start line at the beginning of the race that morning. Along the way as I kept running back I was inspired by the amazing stories out there. Runners who were injured holding their legs struggling to make it, runners in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. There was a man I ran into and he must have been in his late 70’s and he looked beat up, leaning to one side and walking with his daughter. I asked him if he was OK and he yelled at me as if I had insulted him, it was very clear he was determined and OK and had been here before. His daughter smiled at me and said he is good but thank you. I continued on and found a man on a wheel chair hunched over on his seat and stopped. His hands were taped up with the tape coming undone and blood on his fingers. I asked him of he was OK, he was just really tired and exhausted in this 10 hour day he had put in at this point. I told him to let me help him and I pushed him for about 5 minutes and asked him what was his story. Why was he here? He went on to tell me he was a war veteran in Iraq. He had lost his leg in combat and was here trying to do this marathon for the fallen soldiers who were his friends and doing this for them. As he told me this story we were both brought to tears and he continued to cry as I pushed him in the dusk of the downtown skyline. He asked me to stop and told me this was his struggle and he needed to continue on his own with his own power. I agreed and shook his hand and watched him as he wheeled away slowly with his little American flag taped to the back of his chair.. I was touched and saluted him before I turned around and headed back out for my runner. I am sure his men and friends were looking down at him from above with smiles and admiration.
I finally found my runner and we are walking/running but mostly walking on the sidewalks with other participants struggling to finish. At this point all mile markers were gone and there were no more water stations and it was a mess, we are in the dark now mingling with the homeless and its starting to get weird. As we are approaching runners I am telling them to stay with me, soon enough we have a little group of 9 or so runners/walkers. We are all sharing water just trying to get into the finish. I am about 50 plus miles in from running back and forth all day after my marathon and I am starting to feel a bit disoriented. My runner is hurting and is starting to lean to her left because her back is going out. Its been a long day for her and I start to think I may have to carry her in.
Eventually we made it to the final turn and this part of the race is closed off so we get to the middle of the street and we all come in, complete strangers all holding hands to the finish line. The camaraderie is apparent along with the mutual respect. I hunch over and my body is in pain, it’s fatigued, it’s done and the only thing I can think about for some reason is ice cream. I make my way to my car and find the nearest store on the way home and I get a frozen ice cream and sit on the curb near the front door of the store and this little boy is walking with his mom and as they pass me the little boy says “ Mommy, that man stinks” I laugh to myself, continue to eat my ice cream and think to myself, “ if he only knew how good this ice cream taste and yea, I do stink” I completed 68 miles in the City of Angels that day and everyone in my training group crossed the finish line. This was my 2008 LA Marathon.
As you can see, running is magic and running will inspire. The human spirit is strong. It was strong in each of those runners I ran into along the way back to my runner. Keep aspiring to be great and continue to push your human spirit!