LA Marathon Race Report 3-20-11: Misery Redefined

The LA Marathon for 2011 started very poorly. There was rain in the forecast for LA, but it hit SF first and 1/2 hour before my flight was supposed to take off, AA cancelled my flight due to weather, sunspots, whatever! I got on the phone with their special hotline but they told me everything was booked solid and I could arrive on Tuesday. Well, that works real well, don’t it? So they did give me a refund thankfully on Saturday’s leg BUT I was panicking on how to get down to LA in time to get to the expo at Dodger Stadium, which was closing at 5pm!
I literally ran over to the Southwest desk, at the end of the next building over, to see if they had something. There was a flight with space, but it was at 310p at Oakland airport! I took it on the chance that I could get to LA in time to get over to Dodger Stadium. It was supposed to arrive at 420p but I thought that the chance of me getting to LAX in time to get in a taxi and get over to Dodger Stadium before 5p was pretty slim if not even possible. But I have no other choice. I hop in a taxi and he huffs it to Oakland.
As I’m sitting in the taxi, I’m starting to panic. Thankfully I find someone in LA to go to pick up my race materials for me. I forward over my race confirmation email, a picture of my license which I amazingly had on my hard drive, and an authorization letter. I get on the Southwest flight and arrive at 430p which meant that I would have never gotten to the expo in time.
I arrive to cold and light drizzle. That was the first part of this miserable experience.
The next morning I got to the race start and it was relatively dry but very overcast. The wind had picked up but all of us were staying within Dodger Stadium to keep out of the cold and wind. I hoped that the weather would just stay overcast without rain. I was wrong.
The race started but it was a big blur due to the weather. Shortly after we start, the rain starts coming down. First it was a drizzle, and it was stopping and starting. I was doing OK, actually going pretty darn fast all things considering. It was probably a mistake to run at that speed though.
At mile 14, my right quad starts threatening to cramp. Up to that point, I had run through many instances of stopping and starting rain, with the rain getting more severe as the day went on, and the wind was picking up also. My hands and fingers were getting numb and I could barely open up my gel packets. I was running through rivers in the roads and my feet were getting numb from being cold and wet. I couldn’t tell how my feet were being placed on the ground; they felt like stumps.
My race clothes were getting totally wet and I knew that stopping would be a potentially fatal mistake. Wet clothing in cold weather will suck heat out of your body like nothing else. It could make me hypothermic. So I had to keep moving no matter what.
My quad doesn’t get better; it gets worse. I start walking when it seizes up until it calms down. I remember bringing some salt tablets and take those, but it helps not enough. This begins to repeat itself over and over again and I start slowing down considerably, especially when my left quad starts to do the same thing!
By mile 19, my quads were getting screwed and taking longer and longer to calm down. I start walking for longer periods of time until they calm down. By mile 21, I am only walking. And it’s raining hard. I start to shiver which is not a good thing. Thoughts of quitting enter my mind, even at mile 21 so close to the finish. I start looking for a medical tent to retreat to in order to quit. I ask around at aid stations where the heck is the next medical tent. They keep pointing down the marathon course. Wonderful. I’m walking, freezing my ass off, on the verge of going hyperthermic, and these guys tell me to keep going.
So I want to quit, but cannot quit. By this time, I start getting mad. I think about the crap I went through the day before. I think about my build to the Honolulu Marathon in December and couldn’t race because I sprained my ankle 3 weeks before. And even if I want to quit, I cannot!
At mile 22, I am at about Barrington and San Vincente which is near where a couple I know lives. As I pass through there, I start running because I don’t want my friends to see me walking. The things I do to maintain my tough guy illusion.
I get to mile 23 and see a medical tent there but keep walking. I get to mile 24 and figure out that if I walk for a 10 count, and then run for a 20 count, I can actually get my speed up. I reach the home stretch on Ocean Ave in Santa Monica and just start running to look good crossing the finish line. I cross at chip time of 4:15:00.
After crossing the line, I start shivering uncontrollably and I’m limping due to my quads being so tight. The wind at the beach on Ocean Ave is considerably greater than amongst the buildings. Now I’m walking and move quickly to grab a mylar blanket. But the wind is just whipping my blanket around. So it’s raining hard, the wind is dropping my body temperature, and I’m walking to my daughter and her mom who have come down in the raging rain to see me at the finish line. I finally find them and now I move/limp to where the expo is…and my race gear bag. After some miserable minutes, we get there and it’s a mess getting my race gear. The trucks are chaos and finally they find my bag. I move rapidly back to a tent where about 50 other people are huddled under in the whipping wind and rain. By now I can’t stop shivering. I take off my wet clothes and put on some dry stuff. Then it’s off to my car where I can barely grip my steering wheel because my hands are numb and get home to a hot shower where I finally can stop shivering.
Before this race, I thought that my most miserable race was Ironman CDA back in 2009. It, too, was a cold, drizzly day and after 12+ hours in that, it was sucked pretty bad. But after running in the whipping rain and wind in 40-50 degree weather, this has become my most miserable race. It’s too bad; the course is not bad and I’m sure in decent weather this is a great race. It’s easier than NYC Marathon and I think I can set my marathon PR here. But not when the weather is so cold and wet.
My new definition of misery is….LA Marathon 2011.
1. In thinking about what went wrong, I think my race prep was OK.
2. I think I went out too fast, even though I wanted to PR and didn’t feel all that bad.
3. Since it was very cold, I think my nutrition could have been better. I did not drink nearly as much fluid, limiting my intake of electrolytes and calories. I also decided to try not taking salt tablets which may have caused or enhanced my cramping.
4. I should have run with wool socks which would have helped even when wet. I also should have worn my gloves which could have helped my hands not be so numb.
5. Cramping hasn’t happened to me in a while. But I think I pushed too hard this race, too early. I think I will try some insight from Tim Ferriss’s Four Hour Body which was about how a coach first gets his athletes as strong as possible. I think that in general, I am not so strong and need to do this.
6. Maybe I should have just resigned myself to fate and not worked so hard to get to LA the day before and just not raced. Certainly I would have just sat here enjoying the warmth of my apartment while watching the wind and rain through my window.
But then I would have been disappointed to have done another training build to a race that I wasn’t able to run. That would have sucked.
All in all, I am glad I finished. It is said that Ironman elites have extreme mental toughness. I think that even though I felt miserable, I think that my fortitude in the face of overwhelming odds was trained significantly. I look forward to applying that in my next marathon.
Besides, I have to maintain the illusion of being an Ironman tough guy amongst my racing friends…