March 3 1996
I have been looking forward to this day. It's Sunday morning, March 3, 1996. I'm with about 25,000 other people in Downtown Los Angeles. The weather is cool and overcast. Everyone is talking about what we are about to do. Run 26.2 miles as fast as we could without breaking or doing major damage to our bodies.
How long have I looked forward to this day? I guess, as a runner about 3 years. It was that long ago that I put on some tennis shoes and left my door for my first run. As a person I guess I have been waiting for this day all of my 44 years. I have always been impressed by people that make a commitment to do something and then set about to do it. Running a marathon is a very big commitment.
I have a mixture of feelings. The feelings are like when you're getting married, only today the outcome will be known in less than 6 hours. I am happy to be here. Scared of what is ahead, and in love with the event itself .
The courtship with running that brought me here was filled with love and turbulence. I love to run. When I started to run I had no idea of how much I was going to fall in love with running. The turbulent times were brought about by running much too fast and having to stop running to let my body repair itself. Like any relationship you can't hold onto the thing you love too hard or you may lose it.
Wow, we are moving! Slowly walking at first then a little faster pace. "Beep" that was the chip on my shoe crossing the start line. The 1996 LA Marathon is the first race in the United States to use these new high-tech timing devices. They call it a "chip" It looks like a little black plastic model of the Star Ship Enterprise. The body is a small black tube and a pair of hoops for your shoe laces make a ring around the body. When you cross electronic sensing mats a computer hooked up to the mat records the unique electronic signature of your "chip". Your start to finish time is electronically calculated and recorded at the start the middle and the finish of the race. I electronically time myself by pushing the lap button on my Timex Ironman black plastic watch.
Walking, walking, slow running, running, I am here. "My first marathon".
Mile 1: Timex says 11:02 With water stops every mile and Gatorade every odd mile I plan to walk and drink a cup at each stop. I hold to my plan ( I pat myself on the back). Walk and drink a cup of water.
Mile 2: Hold to plan, Timex says 19:12. Running is still very crowded. I started the run with three friends from my running club. All of them have ran marathons before and are much faster than me. But running in the crowd has kept us together. Shelly and Dave are running beside me Sherrie stopped at a row of port-a-potty's. The race just started but there was a long line for these facilities.
Mile 3: Mix Gatorade with water and walk as planed. Don't look at Timex. Talk to guy next to me. He said, "my first". I answer, "mine to". We are passing the University Of California Campus. The students are out cheering us on. It seems most of LA is out cheering us on. To my left I see a flash of white. Yes, a white polyester jumpsuit. Three white polyester jumpsuits worn by guys with long wavy jet-black hair and long sideburns. It's the Running Elvi ( which is the plural of Elvis anyway). It's Elvis John, Elvis Randy, and Elvis Jeff. Elvis Rob (The roommate of Sherrie, the one we left back at the port-a-potty's) has yet to make an appearance. As they pass me we shake hands. We plan to meet for a tail-gate party after this little run.
Mile 4: Hold to plan. Forget about Timex. I have seen a few other people from my running club: Lou, Vern, Bob and a few more. It's great to run with people you know. However they are all passing me. I don't think it's wise to try to keep up. I know one of them would slow down to run with me but I keep telling them, "I will see you at the finish". As I am walking the water stop, Sherrie comes running by. Sherrie is my unofficial coach. She has sort of adopted me, or I have sort of adopted her. We rode up to the marathon together in my car. If I can't drive, I know she will get me home. Later, she told me, "when I saw you walking the Mile 4 water stop I knew you were going to do just fine". A coach like thing to say. She blushes (so cute) when I say she is my coach.
Mile 5: Gatorade and water mix. The crowds lining the street are fantastic. Many have been holding out their hands to give you a high-five as you pass. Some have set up folding tables in front of their homes and are passing out orange slices, cookies, soda, and all kinds of goodies to us runners. Sadly this part of LA is one of the hardest hit during the LA riots. It's an area of the city that suffers from the turbulence of all the common Inner-city problems. I am overwhelmed and thrilled with the support this neighborhood is giving to us runners. Along the marathon course many stages have been erected for entertainment for runners and spectators. As I am passing one I see another white jumpsuit, it's Elvis Rob running along the sidewalk. I hear an announcer yelling "It's Elvis, It's Elvis, Elvis is running the LA Marathon". I yell " Go Rob Go" Yes, everyone is running today. I feel good. It's starting to sink in. Yes, I also am running a marathon today.
Mile 6: Hold to plan. More water and a short walk while I drink it. We have just turned north onto Crenshaw Blvd. I have been fighting a chest cold all week with a bad cough. I have started to cough and start to think to myself how stupid I am running a marathon with pneumonia. "What am I doing here?" I guess thinking about running a marathon is sinking in too much. I have to stop coughing and stop this stupid negative thinking. I have only gone 10K. I run this distance 4 times a week.
Mile 7: More Gatorade. I am mixing it with water, In my very short racing life ( three races) I have found that straight Gatorade can be nasty stuff. It may be the way they mix it for the races. I could understand when you have to set up water and Gatorade stops by carting in water. Water may be in short supply so strong batches of Gatorade are brewed. I am still coughing but have a new mental outlook. I feel like the little engine that could. "I think I can, I think I can". I just have to shake this cough.
Mile 8: Oh, Timex! It says 1:22.02. More water. A little walk. Back to running. Nothing hurts, but this cough has to go. When I start to push and breath deep I start coughing. When I just cruise I am OK. So it's cruise mode for me. I have been looking at other runners. I am amazed by some of them. I think some of these people just thought " I guess I will run a marathon " and bought some good looking running outfits. Some are struggling. I hear them panting and breathing hard, sweat is pouring out of them and their brand new running attire looks trashed. I am starting to pass a few people who are walking or limping. I just don't want to be one of them today. Please body don't let me down. Only 18 more miles to go. I don't think this is the right way to look at it just now. So I set my mind on getting to the half marathon mark with no new pains.
Mile 9: I am having fun, I have my cough under control. I went from running to dancing at the last band. They were playing rap music and had the crowd clapping their hands over their head. I started clapping while running and noticed a few other runners doing the same. I am in a sea of runners. And the school I am running with have changed since the start. Near the beginning everyone was talking, Now there is much less talk. A lot less. It's very noticeable. Are these the same talkative enthusiastic people I was running with at mile two? I think they are but a mood swing is in progress. I guess it's staring to sink into everyone. We are running a marathon. I say, "how are you doing?" to the guy next to me and he grunts, "OK". That is about all I am going to get from this guy. I will find someone to talk to. I don't want to be alone in this sea of people.
Mile 10: It has sunk in. I am running my first marathon. I stick to my plan, more water. I wonder where all this water is going. I don't have any new pains and think I will make the goal I set at mile 8. No pain at ten miles. When I say no pain I am talking about running pain. Running pain is different from normal pain. When a runner says he or she has pain. They have pain. A torn or stretched muscle or ligament. Feet with more than 5 blisters, or so much lactic acid in their legs that they could be used as a car battery. A non-runner would think running is a pain (I was a non-runner three years ago, so I speak from experience.) I now think of running as meditation, bliss, being alive, and everything else that feels, "oh so good". I have 16.2 more miles to feel, "oh so good". It's worth the $45 entrance fee.
Mile 11: West on Wilshire Blvd. A little walk to mix Gatorade with water and back to running. The band here is rock and roll. I dance as I pass. I have outran my cough. I think I left it with a guy back around mile 9.5. I am seeing more people walking. Good for them! They are smart, listen to your body. I know they will make it. I don't know if I will. Hey, I sound like a coach!
Mile 12: I am looking forward to the half way point. It makes no sense since it's just another mile marker, one of twenty-six . But it is a milestone. I have never ran more than 13.1 miles. The longest I have ran doing what runners call training is 10 miles. I got into this racing thing by being at the right place at the right time. Back in January Sherrie my unofficial coach and Mona, another running partner, talked me into driving down with them to the San Diego Half Marathon. I ran it. I loved it. I have ran 2 more half marathons in the last 2 months. I did my best time at the Huntington Beach Half Marathon. I ran it in 1:57:15. The last half I ran was two weeks ago. While running it, I found how important it is to drink water. I wonder where all this Gatorade and water is going?
Mile 13.1: I see it. An arch of blue balloons. They have Honda cars on display. What does my time say? Do I have a chance to win one if I ran at light speed starting right now? 2:19:05 I don't think so. I bet someone already owns it. Maybe next year. This is the first year you can win a Honda by winning the LA Marathon. During the prior years you could win a Mercedes Benz. I think. If I train real hard maybe someday I may win and the winner by that time will receive a Yugo. But they will have to be awarding prizes to Master Clydesdales.
Mile 14: I am in new territory. I have never ran this far. I am thinking of what Coach Sherrie was saying about the need for at least one long run (over 20 miles) before a marathon attempt. I am OK. I guess this is my long run. I have been to busy racing half marathons to run a long run. In my running club I have been receiving advice on running this marathon. Most everyone has been running a lot longer than me and most of them are much faster than me. So I listen to the pearls of wisdom they give me. What I heard was two different stories. Some runners were telling me about marathon training. It all sounded so scientific. Building a base, building speed, building endurance. Each building period had it's special running tactics and timing is important. You can't work on speed till you build a base. You need to work on endurance with LSD (Say, What? Long Slow Distance. Oh!). The scientific people were warning me about not being prepared. I can see why! Looking around now, I see runners that are in major trouble. I am so glad I have at least ran for three years before getting out here today. I have the base. Lets see: Speed, - No! Endurance, - I will know soon! The other advice I was getting was from runners that ran most of their life and are super talented runners ( The Elvi are in this group). The advice they gave was, "just go out slow and have fun, You can always walk or wait for the bus. Have fun and enjoy the day".
Mile 15: Gatorade and water mix. I am OK but my feet and thighs are stating to get sore. I think I need to take a restroom break. The port-a-potties have such a long line. I'm doing fine. I can wait till the finish.
Mile 16: More water, and a walk. It is hard to start to run after the walk. No, I am going to run, so I do. My feet and thighs really do hurt. So this is a marathon. Looking at the line for the facilities. I keep running. I have joined the ranks of the people who grunt "OK" when someone says how are you doing. I don't want to talk just now. My mind is on other things.
Mile 17: Water, Gatorade and a walk. I am going to run, yes I am going to run. No, I guess I will just walk a little. Listen to your body. My body is yelling and I have been deaf. I hurts to walk. So I run. I have walked about half a mile. But I am back running again. I hope at mile eighteen I can start to run after my walk. I should have gotten in line for the restroom. "JOHN", Someone Is yelling my name. It's Mary, a friend, She says, "great job John! You're on a 4:54 pace" (oh yeah, that Timex thing, I gave up looking at it). "Would you like an orange?" Boy would I, Thanks Mary! I was running east on Hollywood Blvd. I had just passed The Chinese Theater. Mary was at the right place at the right time, with the right food. It is great seeing someone you know out here cheering you on. I am glad I was running when she saw me.
Mile 18: Walk and water. I should get in line for the facilities. The line is so long, so I run on. My feet and thighs hurt bad. I am thinking " I may be in trouble here. I don't feel good." So here I am thinking of how bad I hurt and just as I start to think I am in pain, real running pain, I begin to notice lots of people look far worse than me. Look at that guy. Wow, to make a face like that he must be in pain. I also think of some of the things I have herd or read about marathons like, " A marathon is run in the last 6 miles" and "You have to endure physical pain and push beyond it." I started to think all this hurting is just part of the process of what a marathon feels like. All I should worry about is real pain brought about by real physical damage to my body. What I am feeling is just a sore body and a part of the experience. I run on.
Mile 19: Water, Gatorade and a small walk, then back to the business of running. I am looking forward to mile 20. It is where I have read I will hit the wall. The wall, what will it be like? Is it real? Or is it like the sound barrier in the movie the Right Stuff? Something that you have to have the courage to go beyond. Oh- "Houston: we have a problem here!" I have pain, real pain. It's not where I excepted it. I should have stopped and used the facilities. Now I am going to make a big brown mess all over the middle of Hollywood Blvd. This is what all that Gatorade and water have done. It's in my gut bursting to get out. I make a pact with the gods of marathon. Let me make it to a restroom and I will never complain about my thighs and feet hurting a little. Just a little longer at mile 20, relief. I start thinking "were the port-a-potties every mile or every other?" I have a real problem. Up ahead a group of little green port-a-potties with a long line. I jump into the back of the line. If I stand real still I will have no problems. The guy in front of me turns and says, "I waited too long". I say, "me too". He looks to be in a bad way. Looks like he ran into the wall at sixty miles an hour. I hope I don't look like the train wreck he looks like. I don't think I do. These facilities have no mirror, so I will never know, Nor do I care. I dubbed this condition "Gator Trots". Yes, it had a green tint. I felt so relieved. I jumped up and started running. Thank the marathon gods for the little green houses by the road. I will not complain about my feet and thighs again.
Mile 20: The wall, No wall here. Drank half the water and did not stop to walk. The art of running a marathon is having a plan but being flexible.
p Mile 21: Beer near! Chalk marks on the street. Yes the Hash House Harries are here. Ran by the water tables, ran by the Gatorade tables, Oh boy a beer table. Grab a cup and take a big drink of my favorite training drink . I feel great. Yes I hurt, but I feel good. It hits me again, -- running my first marathon and I am beyond mile 21. My body is holding out and the people along the street are cheering for me. At this time more that ever I think I connected with the marathon gods. They are smiling upon me and I am having a blast. It's not the beer. I think it has a lot to do with sitting down and resting while drinking a beer with the Hashers. I feel rejuvenated. I also know I am going to make it all the way and armed with this knowledge my mind has given my tired old legs new life.
Mile 22: I am giving high-five's to everyone on the side of the road. I am yelling and having a great time. Many people around me are walking. I am running by them making all kinds of noise. I know they just want me to shut up. But I am back in love with the event. This is one marriage that will go the distance. We are on Sunset Blvd. Leaving Hollywood coming into Downtown LA. On the right there are some old guys in front of a broken down dive bar yelling free beer for runners. I have to stop. I drink a beer with these crusty old guys. They are asking me, "why do you run? What's it like to run a marathon? How much have you ran before? Have you won any races?" I was their hero for the moment and they seemed so pleased that I would sit and talk with them. They gave me a can of Miller Light for the road. I was running, drinking my beer and giving high-five's to everyone. The Motorcycle cops blocking traffic would not give me a high-five. Guess it was the beer in my hand. Coming around a corner I came upon Mount Everest (at least, that is what it seemed). It was a big hill, as far as you could see full of people. This was the last test. I have taken everything the marathon gods have thrown at me. I was not about to walk this hill, so I ran up. It seemed as if it was over a mile long. I will have to go back someday to see the scope of this hill while not running a marathon. In the light of a marathon it was Mount Everest. I could swear I saw people taking one step breathing in bottled oxygen and then taking another step.
Mile 23: It's just a 5K run to the finish. I am home free. A group of people are standing on an overpass, I yell up to them,. "Aren't we all crazy down here?" I guess they have been watching the marathon like a walking death march. People were really quiet by now and kept giving me funny looks as I was yelling and slapping hands with the people on the sidelines. The people on the overpass started cheering and yelling back at me. I felt like I was in the lead of this race. I felt like I was going to drive home in a new Honda.
Mile 24: Only two to go. The crowd is getting bigger. Many of the runners around me are coming out of their trance and have started to talk again. I guess they are acquiring the knowledge I had a few miles ago- We are going to finish this marathon in good shape!
Mile 25: It's going to end. I am happy for this to end but, I am thinking how strange time is. Near the start the mile markers were coming every 9 to 11 minutes. Now here near the end they are coming at the same pace, however now they seem to be so much farther apart. It has only been 5 hours of my life but during these last five hours I have lived years. I will be back for more marathons. Friday before the race I saw another runner in the hallway at work. "Vince", I said, "You doing LA?" He responded, "Yes." I told him I will look for him. However he felt that there won't be much of a chance since there will be over 20,000 runners. At mile 25 and a half I saw Vince. He was running just to my left. We finished together....
Yes I love this event. I love mile 26.2. and every mile before it...
Looking back at what I loved the most, it was the people. The great people along the side of the road. Total strangers who, as you run by, cheer you on as if you were family. I found something out about myself today. I also learned something unexpected. If I can carry a little bit of the positive energy from this marathon into my everyday life. Everything will work out fine. Life is a marathon and we are all one family. It's time we all started cheering for everyone running in this race we call life.
Author: John W. Meacham
Copyright (c) 1996
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