revisiting the 2012 LA Marathon

Six months ago I completed the LA Marathon.

I say “completed” because I can’t say I ran it. I ran some of it. I can’t say I walked it, either. I walked some of it. I also stood still for durations of time during it. So, I completed it. In six hours and seventeen minutes.

This race was in no way competitive for me. Calling it a race doesn’t actually make sense for my purpose of the marathon. I had two goals.

1. Raise awareness and funds for Love Without Boundaries, an organization that is doing FANTASTIC work in the lives and families of the poor, impoverished, and orphaned children of China.
2. Start and finish within the timeframe allotted. Cross the finish line with a smile on my face.

The first goal was the reason I signed up for the marathon in the first place. The second goal was established upon realizing what exactly I had done by signing up to run a marathon. Being someone who’s only memory of running is that of loathing the presidential fitness tests in high school because it required running a mile, signing up for a marathon was quite the undertaking.

So, how did I do it?

I bought running shoes. In fact, I bought barefoot running shoes, and to this day I am exceptionally pleased with them. Perhaps a post on my barefoot shoes will come in the near future. I started training in September 2011. I remember managing to jog 3/4 of a mile and feeling fine for the duration of it. And that was actually a surprise. I’ve tried running on and off for the past few years and never could get a feel for it. And there I went jogging 3/4 of a mile with no problems. That’s when I realized that running could actually become something I did, if I wanted it to be.

I credit my consistent, healthy lifestyle: a sleeping pattern that rarely changes, with enough sleep for me to be rested for the next day and eating three healthy meals a day. I also specifically credit eating quinoa at some point every day, and also including chia seeds in a glass of water with my daily breakfast. I read the book “Born To Run,” and was incredibly encouraged by it.

I started following a training plan, and I stuck to it. For two months. I built up to regularly running 3 miles every other day, and my long runs got up to 8 miles before I “deviated” from the training plan. And I suppose that here “deviated” means “stopped.” Life got in the way- a 10 day trip to China, relocation to Florida almost immediately upon my arrival back to LA, visiting PA for Christmas and New Years, heading back to Florida where I didn’t want to be, and finally finding my way back to LA at the end of January. For three months I couldn’t make structure for my days, and without that structure, I was unable to make the time to run. Yes, I could have found a way to make it, but I didn’t have the mental energy to fit it in. And then from February until March 18th, I ran here and there, still enjoying it, but feeling very non-committal because I knew there was still no way I could be prepared for 26.2 miles.

I may not have been a runner at that point, but I was still a walker. I love to take walks- and speed walks at that- and my job offered me the benefit of pushing around two children in a double stroller every day. I did take full advantage of that. I just wasn’t running.

In the week leading up to the marathon, I started reading about other people’s experiences. There are a lot of us out there who have attempted long-distance running with minimal training. I do not condone it, but hey, it has been done. By plenty of people.

The things I learned in these articles and blogs I put into practice on the day of:

I drank water whenever it was offered. I walked up hills. I ate every banana and orange slice available to me. I carried and used Clif Bar Shot Bloks. I walked when I couldn’t run. When I could run, I took it easy. I didn’t allow myself to be competitive (which is VERY difficult for me). I listened to my body and didn’t push myself too hard.

A huge help was running the first half with Jeremy. His knee unfortunately started hurting very early on, and he had to really take it easy. I was dead-set on staying with him and so I went a lot more slowly than I felt I needed to for the first half of the race. He decided to not finish once we got to the half-way mark, and I was feeling so energized and normal that I took off at a decent jog. That decent jog lasted two miles and then my legs decided they didn’t like working anymore- this was something I have never experienced during running, as I usually wimp out because I am tired in the sense of my inner body, not my muscles. Of course, this was to be expected, as I was attempting a very large amount of miles without enough training. So I am incredibly thankful, I suppose, that Jeremy’s knee was bothering him as much as it was. If I had jogged the entire first half, like I wanted to, my legs probably would have given out much sooner than mile 15.

Of course, that still left me with 11 miles to go, and this time entirely “alone.” I alternated between jogging, walking, and stopping to stretch my cramped legs for most of those 11 miles. Towards mile 22 or so, my knee started becoming an issue, so I stopped jogging and walked, very slowly. I was on a stretch of road that had a wide grassy area for the duration of it, so I walked on the grass to lessen the impact to my joints. I started limping; whatever was happening with my knee was not something I was able to stretch out. So I just listened to my body and didn’t push it. After a painstaking two miles of limping, the pain in my knee disappeared, and so I started a slow jog once again. Upon the quicker pace, I somehow realized that if I went back down to a walk, my knee would act up again. So I jogged the last two miles of the marathon. I listened to Sigur Ros’s “Hoppipolla” on repeat. I watched the ocean get closer and closer. I gave random people high fives. And I crossed the finish line. With a smile on my face.

And as soon as I started walking after the finish line, that magical pain in my knee flared up again, and stuck with me until after the 11 hours of sleep I got that night.

Is there a life lesson involved in this? Sure: Be prepared for whatever it is you are trying to accomplish. And if you’re not prepared, at least be prepared to put effort into it.