On March 18, I became a marathoner.
It’s been three weeks, and the marathon still feels like something that didn’t quite happen. It feels like a bit of a dream; six months of training boiled down to one day of my life, and then it was over. It’s a little bit like when I did theater in middle school. We’d rehearse for months, perform the show three times, and then we’d all be at the cast party, wondering if that had all been a mass hallucination.
And yet it did happen. If you had told me five years ago that I was going to run a marathon, I likely would never have believed you. I was completely inactive, stressed out, and it was never diagnosed, but I believe I had untreated depression. Running even 2 miles seemed like way too much.
I started running my last year of college, mostly because I was trying to forget about things. I ran my first half marathon in October of 2015. I wish I still had access to the blog where I chronicled my training journey, because I would probably read it back and laugh.
The high of crossing that first half marathon finish line never quite left me, and soon I had run a second, and then a third. I was researching half marathons in the Los Angeles area last summer, and I stumbled upon a running challenge where you would run a specific 5k or 10k, a specific half marathon, and the LA marathon. If you did all three, they would give you a special medal. If there is anything to know about me going into this, it’s that I really love challenges. But did I really want to run a marathon?
I always said that I would consider doing one, but I wanted it to be Boston (for which you need to be really, really fast, or join a charity team) or Dublin. LA had never been on my list. But what if I did it? There’s a couple of cheesy reasons that I felt like it was a little bit fated. The race date was exactly 2 weeks after my 25th birthday and 2 weeks before my one year anniversary of living here. The race finished at the same beach where I went to watch that first sunset.
I thought about it for a few days, I talked to some friends, and then I decided that I would never feel more ready. I signed up, and figured I’d figure it out on the way.
The lead up to the race.
In the weeks leading up to the race, I was checking the weather constantly. We were told not to, because we couldn’t do anything to change it, but I couldn’t help it. I spent a lot of time looking at the course map and visualizing what the race would be like. I was fortunate to be familiar with much of it, which is an advantage of doing a race where you live.
Because I don’t do things halfway, it was a super busy time in general. Immediately after my 18 miler, I had to go to my late-night work auction. The 20 miler was the day before my 25th birthday. The two days immediately before the race I was on my feet all day at a work conference. These were things I couldn’t control, so I had to work to accept them.
One thing I remember our pace leaders telling us is that we might be angry or irritable in the two weeks leading up to the race, as our running decreased and stress increased. I expected that I would be immune to this, and then of course I was not.
I trained with the LA Road Runners, and I only have good things to say about them. If/when I decide to run the LA Marathon again, I will absolutely train with them. I actually have lots to say about the training process, but this post is already shaping up to be really long and I haven’t written one word about the actual running.
Getting to the start.
The LA Marathon starts at Dodger Stadium and finishes in Santa Monica. I live pretty close to Dodger Stadium, but opted to park my car in Santa Monica and take a shuttle to Dodger Stadium. This way, my car would be waiting for me at the end. I also didn’t want to be concerned about road closures and finding the right gate at Dodger Stadium; I knew I’d be stressed enough as it was.
I hopped out of bed around 2:45 am, put on the clothes I’d laid out, and ate a toasted everything bagel with peanut butter and a banana. I prepped a second bagel to eat at Dodger Stadium, put on my sneakers, and was out the door.
It didn’t take long to drive to Santa Monica, and before I knew it I’d parked and was on the shuttle. I remember that the shuttle was SO QUIET. No one said a word, probably because it was 4:15 am. Before long, we were at Dodger Stadium.
One of the biggest perks of doing LA Road Runners is that we got to be inside the stadium before the race started. This meant warmth, not being outside in the dark, and clean BATHROOMS. I met up with my running group, and chatted a little bit. I honestly wasn’t particularly nervous; it still felt like a thing that wasn’t quite happening. I ate my bagel and banana, drank some water, and hung out.
I brought my bag to a UPS truck that served as gear check, we posed for photos as a pace group, and our coach gave us a last minute inspirational message. Then we headed off to the start.
Miles 0-5: Dodger Stadium to Downtown LA.
At the start line, I shed my cheap hoodie and (super comfy) sweatpants I’d bought at Goodwill to keep warm. Someone sang the National Anthem, and I started to get teary; I was about to run a marathon. All those months of training were going to pay off.
This emotion stuck wth me for the first few miles; I would get emotional looking at signs from spectators, or when we ran over a freeway overpass and cars started beeping at us, or when volunteers at the water stations cheered us on. I was really aware that this wasn’t something I could do alone, but rather with the help of a lot of people.
At one point, running over a different freeway overpass, my pace leader Julie pointed to the freeway and said, “Look, there’s your gear bags!” I looked to the left and there was a convoy of UPS trucks escorted by police cars. It was this tiny moment, but it was a reminder that I was part of something so big.
There was a really big hill after mile 4, and drummers were lined all the way up the hill. (Here’s a video from 2014.) I expected to listen to music the whole race, but at this point I was so overwhelmed by the crowds I just wanted to focus on that and commit as much as I could to memory, so I didn’t listen to music at all.
Miles 6-10: Echo Park to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
I lost some endurance when I took a few weeks off running, so I ended up switching to a pace group that did 3 minutes of running, 1 minute of walking. I felt pretty good at this point; it seemed like the group was going a little faster than I wanted to, but I felt like I was doing okay mentally. We ran by my house during this stage, and it was cool to see be running in a familiar area. I remember thinking that the next time I went home, it’d be as a marathoner.
I distinctly remember seeing three girls SCREAMING their friend’s name and running along side her for a minute or two, a massive sign in hand; it was one of those moments that produced a really big swell of emotion. Watching people support their friends in their crazy goals is one of my favorite things.
Miles 11-16: Chinese Theatre to Doheny Drive.
After 10 miles, I started to get pretty tired. I remember it coming in waves. One minute I’d feel fine and be convinced I could keep going, but then only a few minutes later I’d feel awful. I never wanted to stop, I just kind of didn’t want to still be running. I felt a little weak but not in a way that felt like a huge issue; my pace leader offered me some pretzel sticks and I ate those. I remember at one point someone from my pace group offered me a banana, which I took and ran with for like 5 miles before eventually tossing it to the side of the road.
I saw Liz, Bri, and Bert, some of my best LA friends, at exactly the halfway point, and I stopped to talk to them for a minute, getting hugs and a much needed water bottle. The weather had turned out to be about as good as you could ask for if you’re going to run a marathon, 60 degrees and sunny, but I still felt dehydrated. Looking back I should have been drinking more water in the days leading up to the race. I’d done my best, but I think I needed more.
I certainly had plenty of water on the morning itself though, because at the halfway point I really needed to use the bathroom. I spent two miles looking for a porta potty and when I finally found one, I had to wait about 10 minutes in a line for one. This is where things started to go downhill; I’d separated from my pace group to say hi to my friends, and after waiting in line for the bathroom, I never caught up with them again.
I put on my playlist and did my best to keep up with the 3 minutes of running, 1 minute of walking plan we’d been doing as a group.
Miles 17 to 22: Rodeo Drive to San Vincente & Bundy.
This was the hardest part of the race for me. I was alone, everything hurt, and I felt like it was so hot. My friend Julie gave me an ice pop just before mile 20 that was the best thing I’d had all morning (along with her hug). Someone gave me a plastic bag of ice chips, a few of which I chewed on, and the rest I rubbed on the back of my neck. I texted my mom and said “I knew this was going to be hard but this is REALLY HARD.”
It was at this point that my 3/1 running/walking fell out the window. I remember walking long chunks of this, trying to motivate myself to start running again. I knew that I wasn’t going to hit my estimated time of 5:45, but I still thought I could maybe get under six hours.
I saw someone else from my pace group and we ran together for a bit before she went ahead. I saw another person a few miles later and ended up getting ahead of her. I was basically just trying to hang on until the mile 22 water stop, when I knew I would see my friends from November Project.
Miles 23 to 26: San Vicente & 26th to Santa Monica.
It turns out the mile 22 water stop was really a lot closer to mile 23. But I made it there, and the wave of people I recognized from November Project, all of them yelling my name, was incredible. I I’d texted Molly and Rachel, who were in charge of the water station, and said that I’d lost my pace group and would love if someone could run with me for a mile or two.
They absolutely delivered. Melanie, Jeff, Kait, John, and Stassja (who got me to sign up for this thing in the first place) ran with me for nearly 4 miles. They encouraged me, got me water, and kept me going. I stopped to go to the bathroom again and they waited with me. They walked when I needed to walk, and pushed me to keep going. I remember Melanie saying “in two miles you’re going to be a marathoner!” I remember acknowledging that every step I took now was taking me further than I’d ever run before, and how f***ing cool that was. I am so thankful that those friends showed up for me like that; I genuinely couldn’t have made it without their support at the end.
The finish line.
I honestly felt like I was going to die at the end. That’s what I told Liz, Bri, and Bert when I saw them, with less than a quarter mile to go. “I think I might die.”
It seems silly looking back, but I was just so exhausted and so tired that I felt like I needed to walk so close to the end. So I did for a minute, and then I picked it back up again and crossed that goddamn finish line. It took me 6 hours and 12 minutes, and I did it.
I didn’t cry like I’d been expecting to; it was more like this massive sense of relief. I’d actually done it.
After that, there was a medal (actually two, the whole reason I’d signed up for this in the first place, and I found that I didn’t care much about the challenge one, too in awe that I’d just earned a marathon medal), and photographs, and a very, very long walk to meet my friends. When I picked up my bag from the gear check, I nearly cried thanking the volunteers. There was a bagel and a massage and tacos and a beer and a call from my mom and texts from friends.
And there was a medal, and the sense of accomplishment that hopefully will never go away.
“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Well, I did it.