"I need to lie down," I told my brother Danny, who'd agreed to run the last six miles with me. One way or another, I was going to onto the ground. Instead of fate choosing when I'd hit the ground, I opted for this method.
Danny grabbed my hand, helped ease my stiff body onto a slope of grass. As if it were a hammock on a beach, I lay down, closed my eyes, breathed audibly and wondered how I'd gotten to this point.
Much earlier that morning, I had my first ominous sign, although I didn't quite see it that way. I woke up in an unfamiliar room - Danny's living room - saw that it was still dark outside and checked the time. It was 5:40 a.m., a full 40 minutes after I'd intended to wake up. My alarm had failed me, but I was not worried. Close to the start line, I simply got up, got dressed and headed out towards Long Beach.
After parking and finding my way to the start area, I found my friend Kuuipo. We'd trained for this day together, had run 22 and 21 miles together and figured it would be fitting to at least start the race together.
Soon after 7 a.m., we took off. We started fast. I knew better, had warned myself not to, but we got caught up in the excitement of the day. And we were feeling quite strong. Our bodies had responded well in the early going. Our first four miles were each under nine minutes and I was surprised. My legs churned and responded while my body felt no worse for the wear.
We completed our first six miles in under an hour and shaved off some time from the LA Marathon, when Kuuipo and two other running friends had set out on our journey together in March. Kuuipo had wanted to PR and I was game.
The course had taken us out on a wide road, back up on a freeway, around some smaller side streets and out onto a paved beach path. Waves splashed quietly yet forcefully onto an empty beach and a pungent fish odor permeated our path.
Back on city streets at Mile 10, the course quickly split off. The half marathoners had gone in towards the finish line while the full marathoners were only started their path to glory. Around Mile 12, I started feeling something. I was not wearing a Garmin so I was not aware of our pace, but I didn't need a watch to tell me that I was getting tired. I tried to shake it off but my pace was slowing. I was starting to fade.
Worried, I hoped that more water or Gatorade would help, but any nutrients I put in my body were not able to combat that feeling.
Some of the pacers began to fly by. First, the 4:00 pacer, then the 4:15 pacer a little after. I was indeed fading but we were not quite yet at Mile 14 and I was confident that once I got to 20 and once I got to run with Danny that my mind would forget about the pain, mostly, and I'd be able to finish strong. Tiredness led to more tiredness, sore and fatigued muscles taking their toll on me. Soon, Kuuipo was far up ahead and was stopping in order to wait for me. After one corner, she continued and I stopped. I needed a break while she trudged along on her own.
I was at Mile 15 of a marathon, typically a point where I'm still feeling strong, still feeling energy, and yet I was out of gas. Sunny skies overhead and little breeze only added to my quandary but I was done.
I texted my brother, and told him I was fading. I sent the same message to Mrs. LB. Right away, the phone rang. I'd just started listening to music but a conversation was much more preferable. Mrs. LB talked me off the ledge. But my body was only getting worse, the sun overhead only growing more ominous. I walked more than I ran, had to, my body demanded it.
My head was light. I felt woozy. The thought of laying down was at first comforting, then a bit more than that. My body demanded that too, so when I finally met up with Danny, I succumbed.
After a couple of minutes of glorious rest, Danny helped me to my feet. I took a few deep breaths, and then we were off. I half-expected to fall face first onto the asphalt, but surprisingly I felt strong. Maybe not 100 percent but enough to move along the course at a decent rate of speed. More importantly, though, my body was okay with running long stretches of time. In the blink of an eye, we'd reached the Mile 21 marker. We walked a minute and then got right back at it. Between Mile 20 and 21 was the longest stretch I'd run since Mile 13. I took that as a good sign.
After Mile 22, we walked again, but I skipped the walk break at Mile 23. Once we got to Mile 24, my body started to protest once more. I took another break at Mile 25 and then tried to dig deep and find some juice for the last mile. Instead, I pulled out a potentially damaging feeling. My left calf sent a few shots of pain through my leg, and did so loud enough that I had to stop. I let the pain subside and ran again, but again had to stop. This time I stretched it out, at Danny's behest, and then got back on the course. The calf felt much better, but my mind was starting to ache. Mile 26 had to be somewhere up ahead. We'd been on this street far too long and had not been rewarded quite yet with the final mile marker.
With my body breaking down, my mind throbbing, my confidence and self-esteem strewn across Miles 15-20, I was finally rewarded with the final mile marker. Danny ran up ahead to snap some pictures of me as I trudged along the final steps of this marathon-turned-death-march.
I was not in the mood to celebrate, not in the mood to share this experience with anyone but I extended my arms to the side as I approached the finish line nevertheless. Whether it was an enjoyable experience or not, I'd done it. I'd run my eighth marathon. It had taken me 5 hours 10 minutes 34 seconds to do so, but it was done and I had a medal around my neck to prove it.
And one day, I thought, that medal might mean something to me.