The Monsoon Marathon

The HONDA LA Marathon 2011. My first marathon.

I’ve been running again for a couple years now, and last year I did the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon. This year I wanted to complete a marathon. I felt like joining a team would help keep me motivated during training, so I joined APLA’s Team 2 End AIDS, and their upcoming marathon event was the LA Marathon. They get together every Saturday to do long runs, and team members are responsible for their own maintenance runs during the week. Bonus maintenance runs were held in various areas in LA though, and training advice emails are sent out regularly, along with lots of motivational information. It’s a cause I believe in deeply and seemed absolutely perfect for my life, when I signed up.

When training began in early October I was recovering from pneumonia. But slowly I got healthier. Then life got incredibly busy and complicated, and for one reason or another, I wound up doing almost NONE of the team training on Saturdays. I think I made it to three Saturdays, total. I wound up training on my own for the most part, which was sometimes harder than other times. But I did manage to get it in. The fundraising minimum was $1600, which I managed to make happen. But I also realized that the time commitment was likely to make future marathons unlikely, and decided that half-marathons fit my schedule better. This would likely be the only marathon I would make time for, so I was motivated to make it a good one.

As the marathon got nearer, an old groin injury was starting to bug me, and about 5 weeks before the marathon I tweaked my knee getting out of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland. <— how ridiculous is that!?!?

Neither was serious enough to stop my training, though, and I kept on. The week before the marathon, I made sure I had absolutely NO commitments from the Thursday-before through to marathon day. I wanted to avoid all large groups of people as much as possible to avoid getting sick. Of course, this is impossible, and I had faire workshops all the weekend before and school the week of. On Thursday I woke up at 2 am, sick as a dog.

I kept saying to my husband: "It's not that bad, I think it'll be okay." He didn't believe me. But he also knew I wouldn't change my mind and didn't push too hard. But I could tell he had his doubts. I missed classes Thursday and Friday, which killed me. I worked so frickin' hard to GET the classes. But, it's a long term goal, a marathon. And I'd been working toward it for a long time. I kept thinking, Eyes on the Prize – just GET IT DONE, stay focused, then you can worry about the rest.

Friday night, my husband gave me a talking to. He was worried I'd push too hard and wind up permanently hurting myself. I promised I wouldn't, I had too much to do once the marathon was over. But in my head I'm thinking – it's a *marathon*, not a cake walk – of course you push yourself.

And if there's one thing I know, it's that somewhere deep inside, there's always more you can call on to give you strength. So I just said, "Honey, look – I'll be okay. My cold has stayed in my head, and as long as it stays throat-and-above, and doesn't settle down in my chest – as long as I don't cough – I'll be okay." He let it lie after that. It was probably my bad grammar. I packed my new inhaler, in case the cold went to my chest, and put my faith in modern pharmaceuticals and luck. I almost never need my inhaler, unless I have a chest cold, so this was just a precaution. Secretly, I worried more about my groin and my knee.

So, Saturday night, he treated me to a delicious dinner at his restaurant and we talked through how to deal with the logistics of the next day. He walked me the two blocks up to my hotel, helped me check in and gave me love and luck and then he went home to the kids.

A storm had been called for for a couple of days at this point, rains mostly. But the weather folk are so often wrong in LA, I decided to wait until morning to check one last time. I took a long hot bath at the hotel, took cold meds and tried to get to bed early. There were a lot of belated St. Patrick's day parties going on in Downtown LA that night, and I could hear them, even on the fifth floor of a hotel. But I did rest up. The alarm went off at 2:30 am, and it was time to fuel up, get ready, gear up, and get to the shuttle. I checked weather.com at 3 am – Heavy Rains, Winds 19/21 mph. O great.

I caught the shuttle at 4:45 and was at Dodger Stadium by 5:15. Our team gathered slowly under a tent, until we were a large, cold group of anxious runners. Finally, we all made our way to the starting line up, and we all settled into our places to wait for the "Go!" The sky was a slate gray, with winds starting up, but the ground was mostly dry. Everyone had their eyes on the sky. The clouds were moving fast, and more than once I heard runners hopefully say things like "maybe it will just pass us" or "maybe it will hold off until tonight".

The race got off to a late start. Handicapped racers go first, then elite women, then elite men. About 40 minutes later, about 8 am, we finally got started. Sprinkles had started to spatter the crowd, but nothing too bad.

Within a half hour, it was pouring. Not raining hard. POURING. By mile four, the winds started to gust in. I was having some trouble with my running belt, which I never have issues with, but as things got soaked, they got heavier, and my hands had gone numb at mile three – so it was likely that my fumbling attempts to fix things only made things worse. (It's always the little things that getcha.)

Somewhere between miles 6 and 7 one of my belt bags either fell off, or was accidentally knocked off. Unfortunately, it contained half my cash, half of my electrolyte chews…. and my inhaler. By mile 11 my chest started to hurt and I began to worry about my lungs holding up under the stress of the cold that I could feel rapidly moving down and taking hold of them, while we slogged through the wind and rain. At this point, the rain was torrential and often changing directions, with gusts of wind knocking down barriers and signs and tents and driving spectators and volunteers away by the droves. The wind would add insult to injury – as soon as a good sideways drenching subsided to just a downpour, the wind would hit you hard from a different direction, driving a biting cold into your bones as you ran.

At mile 13 I saw a friend of mine, a fellow asthmatic, but she didn't have an inhaler with her. So, we kept on going. By mile 15, I had the shakes so bad from being heavy with frigid water that poured off every inch of my body, I was no longer focusing on my lungs. It was at mile 15 that we saw the GoGo Dancers (male dancers in cheerleader drag) and also, Coach Jared, with his bright smile and encouraging words. I went to give the Go Go Dancer a dollar (which we'd been told to do as part of a motivational thing) and then ran onward, thinking my team was right with me… and when I looked they were gone. I thought, "maybe they got ahead of me" and surged ahead to see… but they were nowhere. "They must have stopped at 15," I thought. I looked behind me, a little mournfully – and didn't see them. I had lost my team. Or maybe they had lost me. We lost each other. The rest of the race, I knew, would be on my own.

I plodded forward doggedly, and about halfway between 16 and 17, I was focused again on my burning lungs. My chest was tightening down hard and a painful weight was settling in, but I didn't want to stop running because I didn't want to get MORE cold than I already was, so I took short breaks to walk fast instead of run, but tried to keep running so I could stay warmer. The rain had now been pouring steadily for a couple hours and a steady tremor was keeping my muscles constantly tense. I could no longer open my electrolyte packets, my hands were swollen and red and my fingers would barely bend – so I was trying to alternate gatorade and water to keep hydrated at least and get SOME electrolytes in me. Besides, I only had one packet left after the lost ones went and didn't want to waste it too soon. Then I saw Coach Kevin just as I was running along, trying to think through the next 9 miles logically.

I was so glad to see him I almost stopped moving. But he jogged up to me, told me I looked good, and asked me how I was doing. I explained that I was struggling a little bit with my lungs and that my inhaler had been lost by accident. He offered good advice, jogged with me a while, and I felt encouraged to refocus forward. At this point, I began to understand that I was no longer running for time, I was running to finish the fucking thing.

I made a deal with myself that I would give myself more walk breaks if it would save my lungs, and no matter what, I would keep moving forward. People I knew and loved were rooting for me to finish, not to fail. Many generous people gave money to my cause, and it is a cause I believe in – I SIGNED UP for this, I was going to finish.

Runners were dropping like flies. Essentially, it was exposure to really harsh elements. Although the still temperature wasn't too terrible, around 49/50 degrees, the closer we got to the beach the worse the elements got. And bodies were exhausted by the soaking wet downpours coupled with the freezing winds that came from a different direction every time, which meant the cold was felt much more keenly. Puddles were ankle deep at this point, so our shoes were soaked and heavy, blisters were slowing people down and many people were suffering from general exposure. Not only did the rain never let up as the day wore on, it just got worse and worse, rivers of water 4 feet wide rushed down the roads and were often unavoidable. (Afterward, I found out that they got record rain that day, 2 inches in Santa Monica.)

The last eight miles, I remember mostly thinking to myself – JUST KEEP MOVING FORWARD. The closer we got to the beach, the worse the weather got, the wind really got brutal, and that made the monsoon rain that much harder to take.

I can easily say that last eight miles were the hardest miles I've ever had to complete in my life. Every mile seemed longer. My constant tremors were now outright shakes, I was completely unable to generate body heat and my body was shuddering violently, trying to get warm.

It was about mile 23 that I literally laughed out loud and shocked the other miserable souls around me: I had just realized that my knee and groin hadn't bothered me at all. Small blessings. So, I continued to focus on trying to get oxygen to my burning, seizing asthmatic lungs and continued to move forward. At 25, as we hit Ocean Boulevard, Coach Kevin jogged up to me again. I was at a walk in that moment, and had just given up my latest attempt to get into my electrolyte packet with the frozen meat I called hands. I really could have screamed with joy to see his smiling, encouraging face.

He gave me pretzels. GOD BLESS THE MAN FOREVER FOR THAT.

He said, "You're there. This is it. This has to be the worst weather we've seen, and you made it. You're there."

The winds at this point were howling. As I looked down the course to the finish line, I saw devastation. Everything was blown down and torn up. I was somewhat amazed that spectators were there AT ALL. It was nasty. I jogged the last half mile, dodging all the debris in the road, crossed the finish line … and the storm immediately let loose with another freezing gale of winds and rain so violent that the whole crowd yelled in amazement. Someone put a medal around my neck, and someone else put a foil blanket around me and hollered something in my ear about food somewhere. I bypassed the finisher photo area (SRSLY?!?! FUCK RIGHT OFF.) and started to look for Matt. As I passed waiting family members and other runners, I noticed everyone looked mildly terrorized by the whole thing. I could tell who didn't have their runner in yet, because they all had the same look – shell-shocked worry.

I saw no one from my team after I came in, and I quietly hoped that everyone made it okay. At this point, I was shaking so violently that my jaw and teeth were sore from chattering and I could barely get out one syllable words. Matt and I finally connected and we walked to the truck a couple blocks away. In the parking garage, we had some high comedy trying to block me from view with Matt's jacket while getting me out of my sopping clothes and shoes and into dry clothes. My hands were totally worthless. Finally, (poor soaking wet & worried Matt!!), finally, we were in the truck, and I was eating and drinking the snacks I'd packed. I wrapped up in a blanket and on pillows in the back seat as we made our way out of Santa Monica… which was inundated by the demands of a huge marathon AND an unexpectedly severe thunder and lightning rainstorm and destructive winds.

It took us two hours and forty-five minutes to get home. I did NOT CARE. I shook for the first two. But I was dry. And going home. And warming up, slowly but surely. Feeling and movement came back to my hands after about an hour. My lungs finally stopped burning and my chest pain eased up, with the cessation of constant effort. I decided, and not for the first time in our long relationship, that Matt is totally my hero.

And now, the story of my first marathon, finally comes to a close. My knee decided it was unhappy in the middle of the night last night, and my muscles are about three times more sore than normal, due to the hours and hours of deep cold and shivering. But, those things will heal and now I'm moving on. In some ways, I wish I hadn't decided before the marathon that I wasn't going to do marathons anymore because they were such a big time commitment, because if THIS is my one marathon, I feel a little cheated, like there's plenty I didn't get to do because of circumstances beyond my control. Still, I made it across the finish line. And I can certainly be proud of the effort, I suppose.

It is officially behind me now and it's time for the next thing. Onward!

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2 Responses to The Monsoon Marathon

  1. Jerry “Fuzzy Bunny” Wheeler says:

    I am banking on this being only your first and most difficult marathon. Congratulations m’dear! Matt may be your hero (and rightly so) but you are one of mine.

  2. Katie & Jerry Howard says:

    What a story! You did it! We are awed, inspired and very happy for you. Ever since you said you were running a marathon I have been worried–not that you would finish it (there was never a doubt in my mind), but that you would hurt yourself in the process. We are truly proud of you. No one can ever take this accomplishment away from you. I’m only sorry that you didn’t get to celebrate as you deserved, but it is now a part of the many wonderful things that make you uniquely Myra! 🙂 Please take some time now for rest and recovery. We love you and are immensely proud of you! Mom & Dad

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