We couldn't find the marathon.
After getting up early, grabbing all of my race gear and helping Mrs. LB pack snacks, drinks, blankets, chairs and other odds and ends into our truck, five of us set out for the Diamond Valley Lake on Saturday for what would be my fourth marathon.
My brother Jesse had joined us on our early-morning trek, and as I'd never been to the DVL, I was unsure of how long it would take us to get there. We found it after about a 40-minute drive, but there were no signs of a marathon once we arrived.
Small race clue number one
After a few wrong turns and one dead-end, we found a street that eventually took us into a marina, and there it was. The start/finish line and a handful of runners and their respective supporters. This wasn't what I'd been used to when it came to marathons. My three other marathons had been big-city events, with throngs of runners and wave starts and a lot of pre-race excitement and anticipation.
Once out of the truck, Mrs. LB and the others went to find a spot to situate themselves and I got myself ready. I put my shoes on, pulled on my running sleeves, my gloves, filled up my fuel belt bottles with Gatorade and off I went to get my bib. There was only pre-race bib pickup available, and the line wasn't that long. About 600 runners ended up competing in the day's events - the full marathon, half marathon and the 5K. Not sure how many of those were in the full, but the crowd of marathoners seemed quite small.
I heard some of the pre-race chatter around me and realized I was in a somewhat hard-core group of marathoners.
"The Marathon Maniacs picture will be taken in about five minutes."
"When was your last marathon? LA, and it was brutal that day." (LA was 20 days prior to this race)
"See what I told you about small races. Love this sh**."
Marathon Maniac shirts abounded in the group as did shirts from other marathons, including races I'd done - Long Beach, San Francisco, Surf City. I kind of started feeling hard core myself.
Let's do this! Let's run number four!
The race began shortly after 8 a.m. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the course other than that it would go around the DVL. We started in one direction, went about two miles and then turned back and went to the start/finish area once more. We actually had to run through the finish line as part of the course. I went around the corner and there was my support crew. Mrs. LB asked me how I was feeling (great!) and Jesse shouted words of support (Go Luis!!) while the girls cheered from atop a small hill (Go Daddy!!!).
See you in 22 miles!
I felt great. Really did. I wanted to run steady at the beginning and have enough juice left to finish strong. I knew a PR was more than likely not going to happen but I didn't concern myself with that. My goals were to finish strong and compose myself mentally. I was a bit of a mental mess the last 6-7 miles at Surf City and I really wanted to get that under control this time. The only way you can work on your mental state at Miles 23-25 is to be at Miles 23-25, so my chances to work on this are obviously limited.
At about Mile 5 I started a long stretch across a dam. DVL is a man-made lake, barely 10 years old, and thus has several dams. This one was one long stretch, almost two miles worth, and I was enjoying the scenery. I was also enjoying the tranquility. I had my phone and had some music on there but I'd made myself not think about putting the music on until Mile 16 at least. So I didn't have the music on and was soaking in the sounds: the rhythmic tune of my steps and breath, birds chirping, fisherman casting their lines or carving the water on their boats.
It really is quiet out here.
There were no crowds. No supporters, aside from the volunteers at the water stops. No residents out with signs cheering on runners. No policemen/women stopping traffic to wave at. Nobody. And there weren't mass amounts of runners on the course either. On the long stretch across the first dam, there were three runners directly in front of me and another three off in the distance. It was lonely, quiet, peaceful...
This is so relaxing.
I like the big-city energy of the races I've done, when it seems portions of the town shuts down and makes way for us runners, but I was really liking this too. It was just me against the marathon.
Unfortunately, the marathon was about to land a few blows. Once off the dam, the course spilled us onto a dirt road, and on the dirt road were rocks. Lots of rocks. Big rocks. Small rocks. Rocks that moved easily as you scattered past. Immobile rocks that were jutting out from the ground. Rocks that you didn't realize you stepped on and others that made you wince in pain.
Just stay on the tire tracks.
This road had been used, but it looked like some of it was more traveled on than other parts. The part that looked like it got regular use was fine, if I just stayed on the tire tracks. But there were other parts where the rocks had taken over, and it took a good bit of focus to avoid the rocks.
A few landed direct hits on my and at one point I felt like I was thisclose to rolling my ankle. The rocks were trying to keep me from my goal.
Nothing can stop me today.
I was in a groove. Despite the potential obstacles the DVL Marathon was throwing my way - no crowd support, serenity and tranquility, rocks - I was determined to meet my goals. Miles 12, 13, 14 and 15 came and went, and I felt quite good, relatively good of course. I could feel twinges on my hamstrings, heard my shoulders and feet protesting and had to put up with the return of Bloody Nipple, but I felt good nevertheless, so good that I eschewed my plans of blaring my music at Mile 16. I wondered how long I could make it without music.
Mile 18 came and I raised my arms. I was on another dam at this point, could see two runners in front of me but neither were very close. I heard the water splashing gently down below and saw several fishermen. I saw more people fishing on the course than I did other marathoners.
By Mile 19, though, I knew music would help. I wasn't quite falling apart but the thought of Miles 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26 seemed more comforting having the soothing sounds of Metallica playing in my ear.
Still feeling strong!
Just before Mile 20, a volunteer told me I was nearing the 20-mile mark and I smiled at him and thanked him for the good news. I still felt like I had energy... not energy to burn, but enough energy to finish strong. This was in stark contrast to Surf City, where by Mile 20 I was a bit of a mess.
Mile 21 came and went, although it seemed to take a long time between the Mile 20 and 21 markers. Mile 22 was approaching next, and I felt strong mentally. At Surf City, I kept thinking "Another __ miles??" when I'd pass a sign at this stage of the race. But now, I thought "Four miles, I can get those done, no problem."
That last part may have been to help soothe me as running was becoming a problem. I was stuck in second gear. I tried to run fast but every time I did that, I quickly sputtered back to slow.
An eternity passed before Mile 23. I fought through the negative thoughts...
What the hell am I doing out here again?
... and focused on the positive.
You get to see your family soon.
After trudging along, I finally came up to Mile 25. I'd seen this marker very early in the race as I'd passed the part where we had our early turnaround. I'd run this stretch of the race already.
It sure is taking a helluva lot longer this time around than last.
Finally, after shuffling and slogging through the Miles 20-26, I saw the finish area. Volunteers and supporters cheered me along, and as I smiled and thanked them, I saw my brother with the girls. I waved at them and they saw me and waved back. I heard my wife cheering for me, and her friend had also come out to cheer me on.
Once I got to where the girls were, they ran with me. We finished this marathon together, the girls and I. They crossed the finish line with me as I put my hands to my face, closed my eyes and looked upward.
While they've helped get me to finish lines before, this time they literally helped me get across one.
After running around the entire DVL, I was bushed. Aching. Fatigued. Exhausted. My body had little left to give, save for a few grunts of course. I walked, stood and got that familiar post-marathon it-hurts-just-to-sit feeling.
But it was worth it. Every ache, every pain, every muscle that protested, every drop of blood... it was all worth it.
I'm a four-time marathoner now! I'll drink to that!