Wednesday, March 21, 2012

LA Marathon

Almost a year of training, countless injuries and hundreds of miles and I can check a marathon off my bucket list! I joined twenty three thousand or so other marathoners at the LA marathon on March 18th 2012. I had no doubt in my mind that I would finish up until two weeks before the race when I developed IT Band Syndrome shortly after my last 5k. I tried some training runs on it, but each time I had to cut them short. I didn’t want to risk irritating my knee any worse than it already was, so for two weeks I rested.

The Tuesday before the race I got quite the surprise. I went to sign my facebook up for run tracker, so my friends could know how I was doing, but when I entered my name on the site, two Hopwoods came up! My Dad had secretly signed up for the marathon and hadn’t told me! He wanted it to be a surprise and here I had gone and blown it. With the cat out of the bag, we were able to openly discuss race strategy and Daddio was able to openly complain about the rain in the forecast for race day.

The next day, my IT Band wrap came in the mail and I wanted to give it a try. I watched a couple of youtube videos on where to place the wrap and went out for an easy run. One mile in, my knee had had enough, so I limped on home. Things weren’t looking too good.

I made a quick call to my sister-in-law who is a physical therapist. As soon as she answered the phone I blurted out something along the lines of “So this IT Band Syndrome, can you cause damage if you run through it or is it just really painful.” The answer was painful, so the race was still on. I didn’t come this far to pull out just days before.

The day of the expo was wet and rainy, rain was still on the forecast for the race. We picked up our bibs, wandered around the various booths, got a free tech shirt from Santa to the Sea booth and I met with Team Mobility, the charity I raised money for. I have to say I was a little disappointed in the expo. I was envisioning something big with lots of running gear to browse, but there wasn’t much of anything. I imagine the rain played a part in that.

My name on the pace car!

Yep, my bib says Geek Girl!
That night I got very little sleep. I didn’t feel like I was nervous, but I tossed and turned for hours. At 4am the alarm went off and we all shuffled around the hotel room, slowly getting prepared for the day and then went off to Dodger stadium.

My one big complaint for race day…. traffic control! All instructions had us going to one gate in the morning and we had a heck of a time getting there. We were almost there when we got directed to go somewhere else and to make a long story short, we got there in time, but we spent much longer in the car than expected.

When lining up, Daddio and I joined the 11 minute pace group with the goal to finish under 5 hours. It was a little ambitious with the way my knee was, but I had set my sights on that goal weeks before and was having a hard time letting it go. The start was slow, but a lot of fun! Daddio was trying to pretend he wasn’t excited, but it was leaking through. They had “I love LA” blasting on the speakers and people around us were dancing. It took almost fifteen minutes to pass over the starting mats.

Daddio was prepared for rain!
I think I can see the start line up there somewhere...
 Maybe three hundred yards from the start there was a guy with a sign that said “Your almost there!” I couldn’t help but laugh. The exit to the stadium was downhill and instantly my knee was awake. It was going to be a long 26.2 miles.

We ran for about the first twenty minutes and then Daddio and I fell into our rhythm of running 8 minutes and walking two. A man on the sidewalk held out a chilidog in offering to oncoming runners and he had a sign at his feet that read “Maybe or maybe not.”  Around mile three my knee was really unhappy and I started to really worry about finishing, but I pushed the pain aside and continued on. Time flew by, the miles seemed to disappear. The pain was manageable and the sights and entertainment were a lot of fun. We ran under the dragon gate, ran through China Town with its dancing dragons and conquered the hill up to Disney concert hall.

video

 Around mile nine, I was trying my best to hide my pain and Dad was suffering from pain in his quads due to a race the previous weekend. He didn’t admit it till much later, but he was wondering at this point if he was going to be able to finish. We were both pretty quiet.

One surprise I really hadn’t expected… guys watering the plants along the course. I know the porta potty lines were ridicules, but seriously?!? Guys, if I could hold it the whole time, you can at least make it to mile 13! I was seriously like, “where’s that guy going…. Oh….”

The half way mark was a blessing and a curse. It was a moment of “Yay we just ran half a marathon!” and “Darn it, we’re only at the half marathon!” The wheelchair charity group was hanging out around this point and gave me quite the greeting as I ran by. I gave them a big smile and wave. I stopped at a Vaseline pit-stop and slathered up one of my big toes that was feeling hot. The volunteer with the Vaseline board seemed both shocked by the fact that someone was actually stopping for it and that I was pulling off my shoe as fast as I possibly could. I had no idea there were going to be Vaseline aid stations, but what a great idea!

A couple of my favorite signs along the way: “Run like you stole something”, “Marathoners, if you can read this you are running too slow”, “Go faster, the zombies are gaining on you”, “26.2 miles because 27 is just crazy!”. There were many, many more, but those really stood out.

What group is associated with these signs? They were everywhere!
This popped up on the big screen when I passed over one of the mats along the course. Thanks Risa!

Things started to slowly unravel around mile fifteen. Our pace started dropping, we’d completely lost sight of the five hour pacer and we finally admitted to each other that the goal at this point was to finish. My knee was screaming and I was trying my best to keep the pain masked, but it was getting harder and harder to hide. I made little whimpering noises when I had to sidestep anyone that cut into my path and each time we started our interval of running I was experiencing intense pain for about a minute as my knee adjusted. If Daddio stopped at an aid station, I would continue to run and force him to catch up because it was just too painful to stop and have to start again.

Still smiling!
The last six miles seemed to go on forever, but looking back on them, they seemed to be a blur. Overall, I was feeling good, tired but good and I was getting frustrated in my inability to run. We would walk till the walking motion was too painful for my knee and then we would run for as long as either of us could handle. I had a couple false starts when I would say, “Ok let’s run” and I’d make it two steps before calling it off. The pain was so intense, it was sometimes just too hard to push through even though I knew it would lessen after a minute. The streets were lined with volunteers and spectators, all there to support us and make sure we could push on.

We were having a great time!
I had people calling out “Go Geek Girl!” left and right. A couple times I got called “Greek Girl” but I still thanked them and smiled. People were holding out buckets of candy, pretzels and other random foods. It really felt like the whole city was out there to cheer us on. To make things even cooler, we were in pace with a girl named Kelly, so people were yelling out “Go Geek Girl” and “Go Kelly!” giving me a double boost. The first few times I heard my name called out, my fuddled mind was trying to figure out how they knew my name!

The last three miles people were hitting the wall all around us. I imagined that we looked like a mob of zombies, lumbering down the street looking slack faced and confused. Few were still running, although some were still mustering the strength to bust out a little jog here and there. People were collapsing on the grassy center divide, looks of intense pain on their faces as they clutched cramping muscles. Medical staff was abuzz all over this area and volunteers were offering ice.

With only one mile to go, I got a surge of energy, a small surge, but a surge none the less. It was at this point that Daddio admitted he needed to walk a little more and I realized that he really was hurting if he was willing to admit that. We set a point in the distance that we would walk to and then we started running. It probably didn’t look like much of a run, but it was the best either of us could do. We could see the finish but it felt like it was getting further and further away, I even told Dad so when he asked if we were even getting closer. And then suddenly we were crossing the finish. I threw my hands up in the air in victory, a big smile plastered on my face. It all still seems surreal to me.

Finished!!!
We fumbled around, getting our medals, blankets and having food and water pushed into our hands. I gave into the limp that had wanted to take over for the last 26 miles and felt for a guy further up, limping in the same fashion with an IT Band wrap around his leg. Dad called out for help, his foil blanket having blown over his head and his hands full of food. I laughed and rescued him from the man eating blanket. We’d done it!

Exhausted but proud!


The volunteers were wonderful, the aid stations were plentiful, the medical staff was everywhere and the course was captivating. So much to see! If you do plan on running it, the porta potty lines are insane and there was only two GU type of aid stations the whole course. Oranges and bananas on the other hand were abundant. It is a well staffed, well supported and a well organized race. The weather turned out to be perfect! Not a drop of rain, but a little wind in the end. Running in Hollywood and seeing a lot of the sights was a big plus for me. They don’t advertise it as a hilly course, but it is! There wasn’t many flat stretches which is what I had been expecting. Overall, a wonderful and painful experience. It already feels like a dream!