It’s March 18, the day of the Honda L.A. Marathon, and I’m about to do something foolish. Again.
I was remiss in my training. Instead of seeking professional advice, I devised a do-it-yourself plan to ensure I would finish the race in less than four hours and wound up pushing myself harder than my middle-aged body could tolerate. That led to a derailing injury. I’m just barely better on race day, but I still plan to push it to the wall.
Why? Because every runner dreams of finishing a marathon. And as Carl Weathers told Sylvester Stallone in “Rocky III,” “There is no tomorrow!”
After I was humbled by injury, I did get quality race-day advice from the pros. Among them was sports nutrition consultant Nancy Clark, who persuaded me to eat a lot and never let myself get hungry during the race. Accordingly, my day began at the Original Pantry on Figueroa Street with the cardiac bypass special at 4:30 a.m. This would allow ample time for digestion before the starting gun went off at 7:24 a.m.
I would have been suffering from sleep deprivation, but I had enough adrenaline and pre-race anxiety to overcome any drowsiness.
The race began outside Dodger Stadium. Although I’d never run farther than 16 miles in one outing, I managed to get included in the group for runners who could finish in less than four hours. The sun was peeking over the horizon as former Pussycat Doll Melody Thornton belted out a deafening “Star-Spangled Banner.”
Here’s how the 26.2 miles unfolded:
0 mile: Within 10 seconds, a man to my left goes down hard before even crossing the start line. I feel pangs of sympathy, but they are quickly overshadowed by waves of relief that it wasn’t me.
0.4 mile: I behold the largest display of public urination I have ever witnessed. These men didn’t heed the warning about drinking too much before the race.
1 mile: I’m running at a pace of 9 minutes per mile and trying to ignore all the people passing me. I resist the urge to bury these speed demons and repeat this mantra passed on to me by marathon veterans: “The race begins at Mile 20.”
2 miles: Goodbye green sweat shirt. It joins hundreds of discarded garments on the sidewalk that protected my fellow runners from the early-morning cold.
3 miles: A spectator serenades us with “Band on the Run.” We certainly are. My heart soars, and I sing along.
5 miles: I have never seen so much Vaseline in my life. People are offering up bowling ball-sized globs of it on chunks of cardboard. Runners dip in and start smearing, but I can’t bring myself to join them. Besides, I’d already spread Body Glide in every imaginable crevice at 4 a.m.
6 miles: I’m trying to minimize how much I weave around fellow runners. With 23,000 of us out here, this is a real challenge. But I’ve been advised that excessive weaving can add half a mile or more to one’s total distance.
6.5 miles: The tibial tendon I injured in training makes its presence known. It is not yet screaming, but the grumbling is certainly audible.
9 miles: I have never heard my name called so many times. I’m not famous; it’s on my bib and spectators are calling out encouragement.
13.1 miles: I assume this is the halfway point because relay racers are switching off. I’m under two hours and getting tired. A sub-four-hour finish is far from a certainty. Recalling Nancy’s advice, I combat negative thoughts with yet another SunRype FruitSource bar.
14.2 miles: Race director Nick Curl had described the route to me as “the greatest tour of L.A. you can hope for,” but as I pass the Viper Room in West Hollywood, I realize I’ve barely noticed the landmarks. All my focus has been on putting one foot in front of the other. Quickly.
15 miles: Hey, I’m like totally ahead of schedule and feelin’ all right. Far out, man. (Endorphins have transformed me into a hippie.)
19.5 miles: Thank you, banana man. I was getting sick of those processed fruit bars.
20 miles: The equivalent of a 10K race remains and I have 63 minutes before hitting the four-hour mark. Despite a blister the size of Texas on my left heel, I know I can do it.
21 miles: THE WALL! I’ve hit it. Spasms run through my thighs; they have become foot soldiers who balk at charging up a hill into a hail of gunfire.
21.5 miles: Attention legs, this is Sgt. Brain giving you a direct order to keep going!
23 miles: I strike up a conversation with fellow runners Angela and Chrystal. We forge a mutually beneficial relationship, chatting the rest of the way to distract ourselves from our misery. The fact that they are young and attractive helps motivate me.
25.4 miles: I reach Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica and glimpse the finish line. I try to imagine appropriate victory music, but all that occurs to me is the 1985 Wang Chung hit “To Live and Die in L.A.”
26.2 miles: Angela, Chrystal and I cross the finish together and share a group hug. I am elated with my time of 3:52:11 and proudly receive my medal. As I stagger to a water station, wobbling like a toddler, I’m relieved to see many others experiencing the same ambulatory challenges.
For a couple of days, every attempt to descend a staircase is a fresh hell and I’m destined to lose a toenail, but one truth shines through:
It was worth it.
Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, Canada.