In late 2010 I was in the worst physical condition of my life thanks to steady diet of whiskey and cake coupled with a lack of physical activity. That September I went to see my doctor; after a physical and some blood work she called me with the bad news I expected. In addition to being overweight my blood work indicated several early warning signs for future health problems. Since my father had passed away from heart failure at age 54 the previous year I decided that I was going to try to turn things around while there was still time.
My doctor had a few recommendations but the one that seemed most reasonable to me was getting regular exercise. I decided to try running even though I had not so much as jogged since childhood. I bought a pair of running shoes and track pants and then I headed out before dawn one morning and ran. I ran as fast and as long as I could and 23 seconds later I was out of breath on the sidewalk. Somehow, years of eating poorly and smoking had not prepared me for athletics.
Despite my lack of early success I stuck with it, eventually completing the Couch to 5K program (which I highly recommend). In early 2011 I ran my first official 5K and over the next year I continued to train ran several more races including 2 half marathons. I continued to train and run longer distances, then in March 2012 I took it even further and ran the LA Marathon.
My first marathon was tough, I had pulled a muscle late in my training that bothered me the entire race making it difficult and painful to run. After mile 19 I was unable to run at all but I kept going. Slowly and with my wife and friends walking beside me for the last 4 miles I finished. Sure it took me nearly 6 and a half hours but I finished a marathon. I was proud of what I had accomplished but for months afterward I wondered how the race would have gone had I not been hurt.
In late 2012 I started training for the 2013 LA Marathon with two goals in mind: Get in race shape and more importantly get to the starting line injury free. After training for several months I didn’t quite feel in race shape. Thanks to getting sick twice in the last month of training I missed several key training runs leaving me feeling less than confident but I was not hurt so I was already ahead of the previous year.
Yesterday I woke up at 3 AM, got dressed for running, parked my car at the finish line and then took a bus to the start of the race 26.2 Miles away. The LA Marathon starts at Dodger Stadium and ends at the Santa Monica Pier so imagine that you’re going to a Dodger game and you have the worst imaginable parking spot but you absolutely have to make it back to your car and you understand what the marathon is like.
If you’ve never run a big marathon the scene at the start is hard to imagine but picture 24,000 crazy people all looking for a bathroom at once before dawn and you’ll get the idea. Once all of those people get lined up it’s time to run but getting 24,000 people across the starting line takes time. The race began, then six minutes later I cross the start line and started to run at an easy pace out of the stadium complex, into the streets of LA and followed the crowd downtown. For the first five miles I took in easy, stopping to walk the steep hills and picking up the pace on the downhill and flat sections. Five miles in and no signs of pain or difficulty.
Many races allow runners to personalize race bibs so I chose to put the words “Likes Cake” on mine which let to spectators yelling “I like cake too!” as I went past.
At mile 13 another friend slowed me down long enough to take this picture.
After 13 miles I was getting tired; my right knee and both hips were tightening up but I kept moving as fast as I could taking only brief walk breaks for hydration and a quick protein bar until mile 16 when I stopped to stretch my legs to loosen up the tightness.
By mile 17 I had been running for more than three hours and my best running was behind me, I walked and jogged the 17th mile and this was the point where for me, the race became more of a mental challenge than a physical one. I knew that I could continue to move my body towards the finish line the only question was would I and at what speed. Up until this point in the race I had been listening to podcasts but at mile 18 I switched to a music playlist and adopted a walk one song, run one song strategy which kept me going through miles 19, 20 and 21. On the walk breaks I was checking in with my wife via text messages as she dealt with public transportation problems cause by road closures on her journey to meet me at the finish line. I also discovered that the updates that should have been going out as I crossed select mile markers weren’t happening. On a walk break I quickly tweeted: “Mile 22, beat but still moving.” and kept going.
On the next walk break I checked my phone and saw people encouraging me via Twitter and text message, this was a big help. I also saw messages from people who had been on the course to cheer me on. At mile 24 I got another boost of encouragement from a friend and her baby who were there to see me pass by.
At mile 25 I turned off the music, reached into whatever physical and mental reserve I had left and started to run; slowly at first but then a little faster. At about 25.5 miles I went around the last turn into the final stretch. I ran faster and soon I could see the finish line. The crowds along the sidelines got bigger and much louder as every runner pushed themselves towards the finish line. Someone on the sideline yelled “three minutes until cake” to me and I kept on running. I was going to make it.
Just before the finish line I heard my wife yell my name and saw her running down the sidewalk along with me. Then I lost her in the crowd. At 50 yards to go I looked up at the finish line and and ran as fast I was still able to until I finally crossed it, a little more than five hours after I started. I collected my finisher medal and went to find my wife.
So how do I feel today? Well I’m sore but not injured. I will never be the fastest runner but I am proud of the fact that I’ve gone from being unhealthy to being a two time marathon finisher in 2 and a half years. Cutting more than an hour off of my previous time also feels pretty good and my official time of 5:12 gives me a new goal of a sub five hour finish next time because there will be a next time. Only 365 more days until the 2014 marathon.
Thank you to everyone who supported and cheered me on yesterday. I could not have made it to the finish without you.