Sunday, March 2, 2008

L.A. Marathon


In an act on a level of heretofore incomprehensible hubris, I decided to enter the L.A. Marathon. One of the final speakers at the TED conference said that sports are to war as pornography is to sex. I was never very good at those statements on the SAT, but I figured that one out. Today, 25,000 runners and I, went to war. I made it through to the other side. This places me in a very elite club that is limited to only a five figure number of people that includes kids under 12 and adults over 80. Many of whom finished before me. I am, however, proud to say that if I had entered the 90 and over class, I would have won my class.

Here is a summary of the race:

Start Line: I am crowded into a mass of flesh largely made up of people I would never otherwise see. Some, like the guy with the teardrop tattoos on his face and the elegant script on his neck, would not have crossed my path by conscious choice - on both our parts. But today, these are my comrades. We are staring a common enemy in the face, and we are one. Everyone is smiling and shaking hands.

Mile .5: Feeling great. I am glad I drank those seven 12 oz Red Bulls, three 16 oz Rockstars, 2 energy gel packs, muscle milk and six hour energy drink before the race. I feel great. I just wish I could turn the bass down on my iPod because the drum noise is over powering. Oh, that's my heart.

Mile 1: Are you fucking kidding me? It is only mile one? I take a swig of the super carb heavy replenishing juice. It should kick in soon.

Mile 3: I ran behind a tree and peed. Feel much better, but my ankle brace is too tight and my calf is starting to cramp. I wear the brace for an achilles tendon injury that happened a couple months ago. At about 40, my body went into debug mode, issuing regular fault warnings for parts of my body that never showed issues before. This ankle thing is one. I look around at my comrades running through the streets and see their various supports, band aids and implements. Their courage gives me strength.

Mile 7: There is someone holding up a board covered with gobs of vaseline and screaming "Vaseline, Vaseline." I don't know why he is there and doing this, but run on the other side of the street. Over the course of the race I will see many more of these guys. I think it is a cult.

Mile 12: MAN DOWN! Right before the medical tent a guy limps to the curb and sits down. He could not make it to the tent. Two men yell "Medic" - actually they yelled "Doctor" but it does not sound as dramatic. The doctor did not come to him, so two runners picked him up under his arms and helped him walk to the tent. He was put on a stretcher and evaced away. Over the course of the race there were a number of touching moments. I saw kids in school groups helping other kids with pats on the back and voices of encouragement, people pulling gels, and sprays out of secret pouches in their running gear to help other runners in need and even runners helping other runners to stretch. This war analogy makes sense.

Mile 13: Wow, I finished 13 miles. Shit, I have 13 to go.

Mile 15: Maybe I started out a bit fast. Not feeling so great. The drums aren't playing in my head anymore, but that only means they are no longer providing a cadence for my head. Hey, there's the Colosseum. I think about my wife and son standing at the end of the race and it takes me to the verge of tears. It is either exhaustion, or an unmitigated emotional connection. I think it is the latter. I trudge on.

Mile 18: The race starts at the foot of Universal Studios, goes up through Hollywood, moves through Korea Town and over to East L.A. At least I think so. In my myopic view, anything without a beach is East L.A. I am pretty sure this is the place though, as none of signs are in english and pinatas are hanging in front of the stores. People are lining the streets, handing out oranges, bananas and water. I reach into the pouch hanging on my back and pull out a scientifically balanced gel which amazingly, has the consistency and taste of Castor Oil even though it is made from nothing found in nature. Maybe an orange would have been a better choice.

Mile 20.5: I didn't know there was a combination Hoffbrau House and strip club in East L.A. Men and women are standing in front handing out little cups to the runners. Every other cup along the way is either water or gatorade. As I see every runner in front of me spit out contents, I realize it is beer. What a generous man that Sam is to give away all that beer.

Mile 22: Only four miles to go. I run more than that every day. Unfortunately for me, I don't run 22 miles before the four I run every day. I feel like those guys on the Discovery show about Everest. They only have 100 feet to go, but it can take hours, and even be too far to go. Four miles looks like a whole other marathon. I know running in the streets of L.A. is not summitting Everest, but dear reader, have you ever done either?

Mile 23: We are running up the sixth street bridge. Who in the right mind would think this is a good place to run up hill? My pace slows to very, very tiny steps. Very small people who cannot be more than 8 are passing me. Easily. My comrades are falling. Some are lying on the sidewalk. Others are slowing to a walk. More are stopped, bending over at the waste with hands on knees, resting in the manner my hockey coaches told us to never do on the ice. Young officers run by yelling encouraging words of support "less than a 5k left." You can do it.

Mile 24: I am approaching the banner for mile 24. My Nike + is way out of sync. It says I have already run 26 miles. I trust it. I love it, it supports me more than the city of L.A. It is telling me I have worked hard enough. "Enough is enough" it shouts. But war is hell. I can't let my comrades down. I must finish, even though they moved the finish line. I look up at the banner and fantasize it says "25" instead of "24." I am losing my mind. Shouldn't I care more about 26?

Mile 25: I push the power song button on the iPod. "What song do you want to hear?" comes from Skynyrd's live concert performance at Atlanta's famous Fox Theater. "Freebird" the audience responds. "I can't hear you." "Freebird" I could not agree more. The guitar refrain starts. This is no bullshit recording, it is the fifteen minute version. My feet start to move and my pace quickens to just under 7 minutes. I have no idea where that came from. Skynyrd is more energizing than exer gel. I fast forward because I have less than 15 minutes to go. I am crossing 6th Street on Los Angeles. I realize the race ends at 5th and Flower, so I am close. Wait, we are crossing 7th. Fellas, we are going the wrong way. What are you thinking. My feet are channeling Skynyrd and despite the exhaustion and golf ball in my calf, my feet are moving faster. The crowd is starting to build on the sidewalks and I am alone on the street, in my head. The cheers for the runners lifts my pace another notch. I am running at a six minute pace and quickly come up on the Mile 26 banner.

Mile 26: I would have kissed the banner if I could. Skynyrd gets into the hyper paced guitar riff near the end of the song. The crowd cheering and the music pumping drive me to a sprint. I look down at the iPod and I am sprinting at a pace in the mid 5's. Only two 10ths of a mile to go. I can stretch this kick to the end. Hubris alert, this time in my chest. It is going to explode. The debug sends an overload warning. Thoughts of this being a very bad place to have a heart attack at 42 run through my head. Skynyrd drowns them out. I take it down a notch, raise my arms, and cross the finish line.

The race is over. We made it through to the other side. My comrades' efforts encouraged me to make it through to the other side. They inspired me, they supported me, and now they are in my way, standing between me and my wife and son waiting in the family reunion area.




1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well Done! What an accomplishment and very inspiring!! Wish I were there!
Billy