So, the last few weeks of Los Angeles Marathon training have proven to be frustrating for me. During our 18-mile run, I lost my cell phone which I mistakenly believed was safe and secure in my arm band, and I was forced to retrace my steps to where I had to abandon the run to find it. Thankfully, the police found my phone and took it to their station in Downtown Los Angeles where I recovered it. As for our 8-mile recovery run which took place the following week, those of us who bothered to show up (three or four people aside from the coaches) decided to cancel it as the rain and cold wind proved to be an unwelcome combination. Those of us who ran, or rather swam, the 2011 LA Marathon can attest to how rain and wind serves to make running a miserable experience as hypothermia becomes more of a problem than heat stroke.
The weather proved to be just as unforgiving this past weekend as rain blanketed much of Los Angeles on the morning of our longest run yet, 20 miles. As much as we would have liked to postpone it due to bad weather, we all knew we had to grin and bear it and go with the US Postal Service motto of how “neither rain nor snow” could keep us from doing our duty.
When my alarm went off at 4:30 a.m., it sounded so peaceful outside my window as I dragged myself out of bed and got my running gear on. But as I began applying anti-chafe cream over my body, I started to hear what sounded like water going through a pipe in my building which I assumed was the result of someone taking a shower next door. But no, the rain was coming down again, and it was coming down hard. I sighed as I put on an extra layer of clothing to combat the cold weather I knew I would be dealing with, and I showed no hesitation in putting on a poncho as well. Lord knows I was going to need it.
Once again, I was the first person to show up at the Pablove meeting site in Griffith Park, but I stayed in my car as the rain was still pouring down hard. The coaches and other runners showed up soon after, but even they were not in a hurry to exit their vehicles. Once Coach Joaquin got out of his, the rest of us followed suit, but I brought my umbrella with me to keep from getting doused before I started pounding the pavement. One of the runners asked if I was planning on taking my umbrella with me on this run, and I replied no. Granted, I think he meant what he said as a joke.
Just as we were about to start, I went back to my car and put my umbrella away. Once I did so, I noticed all the other Pablove runners had taken off without me. I was hoping they would wait, but considering we were starting this run an hour early due to its double-digit length, time was not about to wait for any Pablove runner. As I got underway, another runner arrived at Griffith Park a bit late and ran alongside me. However, it didn’t take long for him to leave me in the dust to where I started singing Eric Carmen’s “All by Myself” to myself.
Our route took us to the treacherous street known as Forest Lawn Drive which has a number of blind spots where cars race by at 45 miles an hour, and it also goes right by a cemetery which always feels like a bad omen. While we always run against traffic, it was decided we should run with it as the other side of the street was flooded to where we would be doused by cars looking to splash unsuspecting pedestrians even as they ran the risk of hydroplaning.
But the beauty of it all was that, as we made our way to Forest Lawn Drive, the rain suddenly stopped. Not only that, the sun began to break through the clouds. I would like to think the weather gods saw us running, recognized me and said, “Hey, you ran the 2011 LA Marathon. Okay, I’ll go easy on you. This weather must bring back bad memories.” As much as we need the rain in California, it was nice to have a break.
Once I made it to Barham Boulevard, I ran up a hill which, like any other, wiped me out very quickly to where my walk breaks lasted longer than they should have. From there, I made a left on Lake Hollywood and ran up to the reservoir, a place I have not run through or around before during marathon training. I was excited at the opportunity to run an unfamiliar place. My enthusiasm, however, was tempered a bit by a sign at the fence in front of me.
The “Keep Me Wild” sign piqued my interest, especially with the mountain lion pictured on it. I know I am not as fast as I used to be, so the chances of escaping an animal who sees me as little more than lunch are not very good to say the least. I kept thinking of the scene from “The Edge,” a terrific character drama starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, in which a character talks about how to avoid being attacked by a bear: put your hands up in the air, look it right in the eye and back away slowly. Of course, it was a bear he was talking about. I’m not sure the same applies to a mountain lion.
I decided to run at a pace of 3:1 as my plan was to finish this run without feeling completely fatigued. Aside from the coaches, there weren’t many familiar faces to pass by on this route. I thought about bringing one of my iPods with me so I could listen to music, but since this day started off with a lot of rain, I figured it was best to leave it behind.
Upon arriving back at Griffith Park, I ran into Coach Kerry who informed me I was running at a pace slower than 15 minutes a mile to where everyone else was now two miles ahead of me. As a result, he advised me to turn around as soon as I reached the other runners or at least when I passed the LA Zoo. I wanted to complete all 20 miles, but Coach Kerry said he didn’t have the resources to ensure my safety at this point, so I obliged him and promised to turn around sooner rather than later.
It was at this point my mood descended to a place of utter frustration. This was also complicated by me dwelling on traumatic events from the past which were suddenly reawakened in my conscious mind. I’m not going into the exact details, but they were driving me insane even as I went about the days acting like nothing was wrong. Furthermore, my knees were hurting more than usual. Granted, I should have expected many parts of my body to get sore on a long run like this, but it worsened my already pathetic mood. Once I passed the LA Zoo, I just gave up and started dragging myself back to the starting spot.
I couldn’t even get myself to run anymore as I wondered if I was really taking marathon training seriously anymore. Just because I am a veteran, does this mean I can wing it as if my body will always remember what is involved in this endurance event? How could I have fallen so far behind everyone else? This is not supposed to be a lonely time for me, is it? Soon after, I found myself crying. I was miserable and felt like I was letting everyone down.
Eventually, Coach Joaquin caught up to me, and as much as I tried to put on a happy face, I just couldn’t do it. I broke down in tears in front of him, and he encouraged me to let it all out. He also told me to “be a man,” but he didn’t mean that in the way most men do. It wasn’t about putting on a strong face and not crying. It was about acknowledging how I felt to where I could deal with my depressed feelings. Clearly I was having a bad day, let alone a bad week, and pretending like nothing was wrong would have been harmful more than anything else. Joaquin told me tomorrow was another day which I come into with a better mood, and that things will be better before I knew it.
Still, as I stood by my lonesome at Griffith Park, I couldn’t hide my sadness as it felt like my body was failing me in a way which was irreversible. Coach Kerry also took notice of my mood and reminded me of all the hard work I have done over these past nine years, and he even said he just started running again for the first time in two years and ended up injuring himself in the process. Also, he said I could always do the half-marathon instead of the full LA Marathon this March as he has yet to register everyone and encouraged me to take the day to think about it. He reminded me of how people have good and bad marathon seasons, and that there was no shame if I decided to do the half instead. I could still run on marathon day.
While I rewarded myself with Sausage McMuffin with Egg meal at my local McDonald’s, my mood had only brightened so much as I still felt kind of separate from the rest of the Pablove runners. It even made me wonder if all the marathons I had done previously meant much in the eyes of my fellow teammates and coaches. I know it helps to be humble, but I want my accomplishments to have more meaning than they already do.
Coach Kerry told me to take a day and think about if I wanted to run the half marathon instead of the full LA Marathon this March. As I tried to have a debate with myself on this, I realized I had already made up my mind. I got in touch with Kerry and told him I will be running the half marathon instead since I was falling behind constantly, and also because me knees were feeling the strain more than ever before (I spent most of Saturday with ice packs on them).
So, this will be the first time in years I won’t be running the full Los Angeles Marathon. While this feels a bit frustrating and disappointing, it is all for the best. I will still be there on March 24th pounding the pavement, and I will still be raising money for The Pablove Foundation as their fight against pediatric cancer rages on. To date, I have raised $652 dollars towards my fundraising goal of $1,500. Please only donate what you can.
And yes, there is no shame in a man crying. Trust me, I have been proving this to be the case for decades.