It was cold. So cold.
I was at Dodger Stadium, just getting off the shuttle bus from Santa Monica, carrying an armload of things and all I could think of was the temperature.
Wow. I'm shivering.
I hadn't taken anything with me because I did not want to check it in. I'd heard how the year before some runners had to stand in the rain for nearly an hour trying to get their bags back after the race and I did not want that to be me. It was supposed to rain on this day, the 2012 LA Marathon. The skies had been threatening for two days and the day before a storm had unloaded on Los Angeles but the morning was clear for the most part but very cold.
I rode over on the shuttle bus with Kuuipo, a runner from my pace group, and we soon were surrounded by a throng of fellow Lopers. Before too long, though, five of us had walked towards the start line of the LA Marathon. We were engulfed by a mass of humanity though and even after the horn blew to signal the start of the race, we barely moved. Eventually we walked past the corrals and towards the start line and with each passing step I got closer to the start.
Oh my God I'm actually doing this!
I excitedly threw my arms up in the air once I crossed the start, a wide grin taking over my face. After that, though, I was playing a game of human Frogger, trying to get around slower-moving runners without trying to get run over myself. We weaved out of Dodger Stadium, onto some side streets and eventually into the heart of downtown Los Angeles.
Gotta keep track of 'em.
My fellow runners - Dean, Tricia, Chris and Kuuipo - were also weaving around others. After about two miles, Dean took off. Dean's faster than the rest of us so this wasn't a surprise. In fact, I was glad he was gone because he could finish faster than us and I did not want to hold him back.
The rest of us tried to stay together and did so for the most part, even if we had to weave around packs of slower runners/walkers.
I'd seen some of the places we would run through or past but wasn't quite sure what was what. We'd past Chinatown, Olvera Street, LA City Hall, Little Tokyo and the Walt Disney Concert Hall but I'd barely seen any of it. I heard some church bells fairly closely and figured we were near the Cathedral Of Our Lady Of The Angels.
We came upon one of our toughetst early challenges - a large hill. For about two city blocks, the street went up. We were on 1st Street and Chris joked that at least we weren't on Hill Street, as Hill and 1st intersected. A quick glance up Hill and I agreed.
Still, at the top of our hill, we were all relieved and my legs rejoiced.
Time to GU.
I'd wanted to stay close to my GU plan, and GU every 4-5 miles. We were at Mile 5 and I downed some GU. I'd drank Gatorade at Mile 4 so I felt I was fueling my body properly at this point, setting myself up for success.
Still, my legs felt strange. I had expected to feel strong early on but I just felt okay. Mabye I was overthinking it but I was not quite in my rhythm. We crossed the 10K mark in a little over an hour and I was a bit concerned.
I wondered if my "naked running" idea was wise. I opted not to use the miCoach running app I normally use for fear that my phone's battery would die, and I also ditched my Garmin, leaving it behind in my car in Santa Monica. I'd decided to rely on my running mates for time and distance and all that info, but I doubted myself somewhat then.
Just gotta pick up the pace.
We spilled onto Hollywood Boulevard and I quickly saw some familiar sights. First, the Hollywood sign greeted us from atop the hills. Then, the Pantages Theater was coming up and I stared in awe. We ran past Grauman's Chinese Theater and then the Kodak Theater and I said "Wow!" Even though I've lived all of my life in Southern California, I'd never seen these last two and I'd barely ever seen the Hollywood sign. I was a bit star struck.
We ran off Hollywood Boulevard and I saw Hollywood High School.
Crazy to have a high school right in the middle of all of this.
Eventually, we ran out of Hollywood and down onto the Sunset Strip. We passed the Whisky A Go-Go and the Troubador, and a guitar place with pictures of famous guitarist (Slash!) on the side of the building.
By this point, I was flying. Maybe I wasn't running super fast but I finally felt in control. I had energy to burn here, felt strong throughout and felt confident that I'd stay that way for a while. We were maybe around Mile 12 or so and I was in a groove.
Second 10K marker coming up!
Before the race, I'd signed up for both my Twitter and Facebook accounts to post automatic updates when I ran past certain markers. I saw the 20K marker coming up and I threw my arms up in the air. Even though I wasn't using my phone, I had it strapped on my arm and I felt it buzz whenever I got a text message or a Twitter/FB mention. It was tough to see every word but I could make out for the most part what buzzed on my arm and who had buzzed me. Each buzz was a bit of a lift, a virtual pat on the back.
Go Go Go! :)
Our quartet had done well to stick together too. At times, we'd split apart but we figured out how to get back to one another. We got to Mile 15 and I was doing grand. I'd been playing tricks with my mind, telling myself I was a few miles behind so when I'd see a mile marker I'd be surprised. In my mind, I was stuck on Mile 16 for a while but when we got to Mile 18 I was elated.
At this point, a city block full of cheerleaders appeared. Now, the course had been lined with well-wishers and kind-hearted folks who handed out oranges, pretzels and other goodies to runners out of the kindness of their hearts. I appreciated this and said thank you when I could. Many of the onlookers cheered loudly, but here suddenly were these cheerleaders cheering on the runners.
I had problems breathing suddenly. I guess the cheerleaders' cheers got to me and I felt a bit humbled that they were there supporting me. Of course, it wasn't just me but the 20,000-plus other runners too, but still, the message got across to me just fine.
We'd also spilled onto Beverly Hills, and as we raced down Rodeo Drive I wondered how expensive everything was inside each passing store. I saw names I recognized (Louis Vutton, Prada) and others I didn't (I'd list some examples but since I didn't recognize them I don't remember any).
We got to Mile 21 and had lost Chris. He said he wasn't feeling it and dropped back. Twice Kuuipo and I stopped but he was swallowed up by the crowd, so we trudged ahead. Tricia had run off ahead of us as well and then it was just Kuuipo and I.
As we got close to Mile 22, I worried. Although the pounding my feet and body had taken over the last three-plus hours was wearing on me, I still felt good. But it was at Mile 22 in my previous marathons that I had sort of slipped and let the mental monsters get to me. One of my goals for this race was to avoid that, to slay those monsters and run right past them.
Somewhere in Mile 22, Kuuipo needed a bathroom break badly.
"I'll stop and wait for you."
"Oh no, no, no. You go on ahead."
"No, I'm going..."
"Listen, if you stop then I'm just going to keep going instead."
I knew Kuuipo had needed to use the bathroom so I begrudgingly obliged and kept trudging ahead.
"I'll do my best to catch up."
Knowing the strong and determined runner she is, I was sure she would catch me.
I was on my own. Nothing now except the finish line ahead. Far ahead. I was nearing Mile 24 and needed two plus miles to finish, but this was no relief. Two miles seemed like an eternity.
Off to my right, a flash appeared. It was Kuuipo. She had kept her word and had caught up. Not sure how long she'd been in the bathroom but I was not surprised. She looked strong, had caught her second (or third, or fourth) wind and was flying. She encouraged me to do the same, so I did. I asked for more and my legs responded.
We were on Santa Monica Boulevard, nearing the ocean with each passing step, and I was finishing strong.
This is why you ran so much for so long.
I remembered then that I'd run nearly 200 miles in October, cracked that much in November, had just under 200 in December, had a personal-best 222 miles in January and had set a half PR in February. This was the challenge I'd prepared myself for, to finish strong.
We caught Tricia but just as quickly, we left her behind. It was Kuuipo and I now, blistering ahead towards the Mile 25 marker.
"We're at a nine-minute pace!"
I was excited but wondered if I could hold that until the finish. A stabbing pain had arisen on my side and I wanted to rid myself of it. But I figured then that the best way to do so would be to cross the finish.
Finally we saw the Pacific Ocean. We turned onto Ocean Boulevard, our final street, and far up ahead I saw the finish line.
Mrs. LB was there cheering for me. She'd graciously gotten up at 2:30 a.m. to head down to Santa Monica with me so I could board a shuttle bus and had slept in the car, then watched the race afterward. There she was, propelling me towards the finish.
I got choked up. I was breathing through a straw, making loud sucking sounds, but I couldn't help it. I was losing it emotionally but my legs refused to succumb.
"Go Luis!! Yeah!!"
I turned and saw Angelina, one of my greatest running inspirations, jumping and cheering and smiling. That straw got smaller, and my breathing was even more labored.
Kuuipo was just ahead of me, looking strong, and I refused to let her down, refused to let myself down. I asked for whatever my legs had left and they responded. I don't know what my pace was but if it wasn't my 5K pace I'd be surprised. The finish line approached and I raised my arms to the skies.
I'd done it. I'd finished my fifth marathon, setting a PR of 4:23:12. My stomach knew right away that I'd stopped and halted my celebration. It heaved. I looked around for a place to throw up. A volunteer had seen me and quickly walked up to me. He handed me a bag and walked with me for a bit. Kuuipo walked with me as well, and I stumbled ahead. I took more deep breaths and that moment passed, so I thanked the volunteer and told him I'd be fine.
I walked towards the medals and tears had welled up on my eyes. At that moment, it hit me.
Five marathons! I've now run five marathons!