Friday, March 30, 2012

I finished a Marathon. 26.2 miles.

Even I can't believe that.

Before the race.
Before the race at Dodger Stadium.

To be clear, I didn't say I ran a marathon, because I didn't. Turns out, there are a few marathons that are really good for walking, and that is what we mostly did. My friend Susan, who has been my closest friend for almost 20 years (!) proposed this crazy idea over a year ago. I agreed, thinking it was a long way away and she would change her mind. When she told me last spring she was having a baby, I thought we we had a great excuse, but despite the fact that the marathon was only four months after he due date, she said we were still doing it.

So, a few months before the big day I downloaded a training schedule and bought some fancy shoes and socks, and got walking. At first, it was boring and awkward. Being out on the street, not sure where was best to walk or even really how. I soon learned I also need a pedometer and a running pack, which both made things much easier. Later, I realized I would need some arch supports. I also know that my ears really hurt when they are cold, so I was so glad to have my headband to keep them warm. My last purchase before leaving town for the race was some waterproof mascara, which I thought made total sense, but Susan and her husband agreed was not the norm. Well, I feel more confident with pretty lashes, so we gotta do what works for us, right? I took some great advice from my Dad, who has run a few marathons, which was not to train in a loop. It is too easy to quit early. Go half way in one direction, then turn around and go back. This advice was priceless, because I definitely wanted to turn around sometimes and if I had been doing loops past my house or car, that would have happened.

There are a few things I wish someone had told me, though. Just the logistics of the race were a bit intimidating. Where do I pee? (A: there are port a potties along the way). Where do I leave stuff? (A: at the LA marathon, PODS had a place to drop stuff off and then pick it up at the end.) What do I do with my sweatshirt when it gets warm and I no longer need it? (A: We bought some at a thrift store and then you can throw it to the side of the road where someone will pick it up to re-donate unless the homeless of downtown LA get it first, which is even better). Note on this last point - leaving your discarded sweaters, gloves, and other stuff in the middle of the road really sucks for those of us pulling up the rear. It was like hurdles at some points.

To be honest, I think a great way to prepare for your first marathon would be to volunteer at one. Susan and I were both so impressed with not only how nice all the other participants were (that's a lot of type A personalities gathered together) but how kind and encouraging the volunteers giving out water were as well as the people that came to watch. They yelled encouragement, held up funny signs (RUN! There are zombies behind you!), gave out oranges and granola bars, all with a smile. Volunteering would help you see how it all works, what people are wearing (plenty of waterproof mascara, I am sure) and what other things may be a challenge, so you can be prepared. Ignore the look of pain on the participant's faces, they will say it was worth it, I promise.

So, as far as the actual experience, doing it with a friend is great. Susan and I had a pretty similar pace, so we were able to encourage each other and stay together. We didn't talk as much as I thought we would, but having her next to me was so comforting. She says mile 15 was hardest for her. I did think she had a second wind toward the end. For me, before the marathon I thought after mile 18 I would feel relieved in knowing we were going to make it, but in truth it was an uphill battle for me. After mile 20 I really had to pull into my zen place inside and ignore the pain to keep going. If I had followed my training schedule, I am sure this would have been less painful. Another word of advice: cut your toenails very, very short. I did not get any blisters (those socks are great), but the last few miles the corners of my middle few toes began to cut into the toes next to them. I had not thought of this, so if you found this by searching "my first marathon experience" keep it in mind.

I would highly recommend the LA Marathon for a first marathon and for someone wanting to walk a marathon. The route was changed in the last few years to go past a lot of cool places, which made it difficult for me not to stop to take photos, but I managed not to. We went past downtown, where I had gone with my husband for our green card interview, we went through Hollywood, where Susan and I went to our first Tori Amos concert in high school at Pantages. We had amazing views of the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Observatory. We passed the tattoo shop where my mom and I got tattoos when I was 19 and the bar where we had a drink right before (with my fake ID, which she didn't know about until then). We walked down Rodeo Drive and through Brentwood (so many beautiful houses) to Santa Monica, where we have lots lots of great memories. Along the way we saw Batman and Jesus, which I thought was my imagination, but Susan saw him too. There was a man in front of us around mile 23 who looked about 80. He was faster than us and said he had done over 100 marathons.

When we got to about mile 24 I realized Lorelai would be at the end, and that really perked me up. There were hard, cold winds blowing in our faces the last few miles, but we were grateful the rain that had been forecast never showed up. We finished in 7 hours and 12 minutes. The average time was 5 and a half hours. Susan's husband Eric was there at the finish line with our girls. We didn't see them until later, but knowing they were there feels really good. He had bought flowers for our daughters to give us and kept them there despite the wind trying to blow them away, which made them pretty grumpy.

The end of the race, Santa Monica.
At the end of the race. My beloved Santa Monica!

Now that it has been a couple weeks, I think this experience was amazing. It reminded me that this body, which I have had negative feelings for my entire life, can do amazing things. The only other time I felt this way was when I was pregnant, but then it wore off. It reminded me that moving feels good and feeling healthy feels good. I am trying to convince Susan to run a 5k with me in the fall!

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