I finished in 5:11, nearly a full 1.5 hours slower than I had hoped. Sickness and fatigue shut me down at mile 9, somewhere between the end of Los Angeles and beginning of West Hollywood. I don't quite remember where, but I remember when. I was running with my buddy Chris and we both were steadily maintaining a 9:00-mile pace after a quick opening sequence of 8:35-minute miles. However, as I monitored my heart-rate during the first hour of the run, I realized I was high in zone 5, around 166 bpm. Something was very wrong, considering I was running slower than anticipated and in a full two heart-rate zones higher. At that point, we came to the 10-mile water stop and I told Chris to continue ahead without me. I needed a break. He said he'd wait, but I knew better. The race was over for me.
Chris disappeared quickly into the sea of runners.
Even though I was surrounded by people, I felt totally alone. Dejected. Defeated.
I had trained so damn hard for this moment, nearly five months. And it was gone in an hour. Gone.
I tried to jog the next couple miles and watched as my pace slowly deterioriated. Even with more effort, my times were slowing. Ten-minute miles became 11. Eleven minutes became 12. With each step, I became angrier and more frustrated.
This wasn't fair! I didn't deserve this!
Then, I remembered those poor kids from the Starlight Foundation.
THAT wasn't fair.
I started to pull it together around mile 13. But then, I was rounding the corner onto La Cienega from Sunset when I ran into my Fortius teammate, Christina. She was off to the side, walking. I knew something terrible was wrong for her too. Sadly I was right. She pulled a quad muscle and was done for the day. She couldn't bend her leg. Tears in her eyes, we hugged. The day hadn't turned out the way either of has had imagined, and she's got an Ironman in six weeks! I did my best to console her, and then she was gone. Crossing the barricades to meet her husband for what must have been a sad ride home.
Again, I was alone. Strangely, I had come to peace with the race by then. I calmly resigned myself to two choices: Quit, or finish.
If I quit, nobody would blame me. I was sick. I was tired. I hurt. But, if I quit during the marathon, maybe I'd quit during the Ironman?
It's like cheating in a relationship. If you do it once, you are capable of doing it multiple times. That's not my style.
And there was more to it than that. Now that Stephanie and I are finally together, once and for all, I wanted to show her what I was made of. What I really was made of. That no matter how much the pain hurt. Now matter how tired I was. No matter how I felt, I wouldn't EVER quit on her. I would never quit on us.
From that moment on, at Santa Monica Boulevard and La Cienega, there was only one thing on my mind: Finish the damn marathon.
The next four miles were rough, but entertaining in a bizarre way. West Hollywood was festive to say the least. The crowds were boisterous and the street performances were lively. The cross-dressing cheerleaders were definitely the highlight.
Then it was onto Beverly Hills. Here I received a big boost from my friend and co-worker, Jason, and his wife, Jen. They waited extra long for me to hit Wilshire and Rodeo Drive even though their friends had long past that checkpoint. They walked a few blocks with me until I turned onto Santa Monica Boulevard again towards Westwood. Their support and positive encouragement really made me feel good. Despite my best efforts, I was still pretty dejected about my day. But they helped put it in perspective that I was still going to finish something special.
Unfortunately, as much of a mental boost as that was, it quickly dissipated. My body started to lock up and break down around mile 16. I was walking almost full miles at this point. I had no ability to run more than a few hundred yards before my heart rate would blow up again.
It was at this point that I saw the best familiar face possible: My longest-tenured friend, Kevin. I've known Kevin since damn near pre-school. We've played soccer together. We went to elementary school together. We went to high school together. We backpacked Europe together. We've run half-marathons together.
And now, we've run the LA Marathon together.
Out of 25,000 runners, I literally had run into my best friend!
Kevin was having problems too with his marathon. His knee was locking up. And it was at this point I realized what the true point of my first marathon would be: It was a race about friendship. Whether it was supporting my buddy Chris at the beginning, Christina in the middle, or Kevin in the end, this wasn't about performance. It was about perspective. About support. About friendship.
The rest of the marathon was painful. My feet felt broken. My calves were incredibly tight despite wearing compression socks. My IT band swelled. But it was OK. Friends such as Jennifer and Ryan showed their support near the Mormon Temple in Westwood. Jason and Jen drove down to Brentwood to cheer me on and offer some refreshing coconut water at mile 22. Stephanie kept me sane and motivated throughout the morning with text messages. Corey and Maggie texted me telling me they were waiting at the finish line.
How lucky am I?
The final few miles couldn't have progressed more slowly. My body was totally breaking down. I'd shuffle a few yards, stop, wait for Kevin, or vice versa, and we'd continue walking. Cursing, but walking. Questioning, but not quitting. Never quitting.
FINALLY, the finish line was in sight. Kevin and I tried to pick up the pace heroically, but all I was doing was searching for Stephanie, or listening for her. That's all I wanted. I just wanted to tell her that this race was for her. That there was no quit in this body. Not for the race, not for anything.
Kevin saw her first. He pointed her out and I stopped everything to run across the packed street to give her a huge hug behind the barricade, just 10 yards from the finish. Apparently my family and friends were right behind her, but honestly I only saw her. It was a special moment. All the pain and frustration was worth it.
I finished the LA Marathon, arm around Kevin. We did it.
I will run better marathons. I will set more personal bests. But I don't know if I'll ever have an experience as special as my first marathon. And I owe it to my friends. To my family, including my parents who woke up so early after flying across the country the evening before. To my sister and her boyfriend, who showed up just in time for the finish after having friends in town to entertain.
And, surprisingly, to the residents of Los Angeles, who lined the streets for nearly the entire route supporting us crazy marathoners. I may not have acknowledged all of them, but I sure did hear them and appreciate their presence. This city sure is beautiful when it wants to be.
Like the Randy Newman song, I love LA.
And today, I paid the price during recovery. I left work early due to exhaustion even though I slept nearly 10 hours last night. I'm still coughing up all sorts of stuff, and my legs are stiff and achey.
But it's a good kind of pain.
The kind associated with finishing something I started.
246 days and counting.