In the 8th grade I ran an 8 minute mile during PE class one time. That was my highlight as a runner up until my 30's. Running has long been a graceless exercise in frustration for me. When I ran I looked like a mythical Orc headed into battle. All I was missing was an axe. I never really enjoyed it and my weight and my frame did not lend itself to endurance running.
I have lots of friends and acquaintances who run marathons and I was starting to develop an interest in giving one a try. After the 2016 LA Marathon I gave Ed a message to see how he did.
Ed was the big bad marathon runner in our group of friends. He was experienced and eager to improve on his last marathon. I took it as an opportunity to train with an experienced runner. After this exchange it was final, I was committed to the 2017 LA Marathon. It was far enough away to make the goal seem attainable for me, but close enough to scare the hell out of me. First would be the LA River Century Ride, then the Trick of Tri Triathlon and finally the LA Marathon, my trifecta of crazy goals.
With the Century Ride and the Triathlon finished, it was time to train for the marathon. I dedicated myself to becoming a runner. It wasn't a whirlwind romance. I didn't have the same love for running as I did for riding my bike. Nonetheless, I was going to stay off of two wheels and get my runner's legs. This book was my bible.
It aligned perfectly with my eating strategy outlined in The Fat Loss Arsonist and was my go to read for the triathlon. I have already written about MAF training with a heart rate monitor but the basic idea is this:
180 minus Your Age = Your heart rate while training. Don't go above it.
Don't do it. Don't do it. Don't do it.
This shows an accurate picture of your aerobic system. If it means that you walk up hills and do 15 minute miles on the flats, that's what it is. Your aerobic system improves over time. You can't cheat your aerobic system, you can't muscle through a shitty cardiovascular system. Of course, many people do push beyond what their systems are capable of and usually wind up with injury, burnout, fatigue and illness.
I had 20 weeks from the triathlon to the marathon. My training strategy was to do three different courses every week. One three mile loop around my neighborhood, one four mile loop to the local college and back and a five miler with a big climb which went through Eagle Rock and Glendale. I would do longer runs with Ed on Sundays and increase mileage week by week.
I was in great condition after my triathlon. My goal was to train through the holidays to keep my conditioning into 2017. This is where I'm reminded of the saying, "We make plans and God laughs.."
Christmas 2016- My Little Companion
I had a lingering health crisis that needed attending to. I noticed a lump on my neck in April 2016. After CT scans, tests, and a biopsy, plus an education in how inefficient and broken our healthcare system is, I discovered that I had a rare but benign tumor on my neck called a Desmoid Tumor. I named him Hugo because he got huge.
I got the surgery to remove the tumor on December 22, 2016. Just before the holidays. I wanted it out of my life ASAP. After the operation, it was clear that I made the right choice. The tumor was the size of a lemon, what you see in the picture is the tip of the iceberg. It was close enough to the nerve in my neck to limit my shoulder mobility and cause a numbness on the left side of my cheek which persists today.
I was recovering from the surgery just fine. I felt good despite the numbness and shoulder pain. I resumed training as soon as I could.
We also had a vacation in Mexico in late November. I got a persistent cold from the trip and my weight loss stalled. I saw my run times and pace get worse and worse. I still ran at a strict heart rate of 143 and kept my runs consistent week by week. I wasn't going to do as good as I was hoping I would, but I would persist. I may not qualify for Boston, but I was going to finish the damn marathon.
My aerobic system was devastated. Despite all this I stayed the course. These are some of the numbers from Run C.
I was recovering slowly. I wanted badly for my pace to increase on a linear upward slope but it was what it was. My body was wrecked and my aerobic system was doing all it could to stay strong. My training volume was increasing and my legs had built up the suspension to stay resilient. No running injuries so far, due in part to this yoga video I would cool down with after all my runs.
Plus, no downward dog in the video. I was a fan.
Ed and I were doing consistent 5k, 10k and 15k runs at the Rose Bowl on Sundays. It was time to phase out of base building and move into performance based, higher intensity runs. Ed's training had it's ups and downs as well but he adopted the MAF method and was getting good results.
Thankfully, wonderfully, magically my running times began to improve a few weeks out from the marathon.
I still wasn't in the kind of condition I was in before the triathlon, but I wasn't in the gutter like I was at the beginning of the year.
After a couple of 14 mile runs later in February, we did our big 20 mile run two weeks out from the marathon on March 5th at 626 Golden Streets. A 17 mile stretch of road between Azusa and Pasadena was closed to traffic. I would typically be all over this event with a road bike but not this time. 10 miles out from Azusa and 10 miles back to the car. It was pretty intense.
It was the longest run I had ever done up until that point. I began to understand the mental element of endurance running. By mile 17 I was exhausted, but I had to keep going. I had to disconnect from my body and simply keep my legs moving. It was intriguing.
I only rode my bike a few times during my training period. I supplemented my running with kettlebell strength training. Just some kettlebell swings, goblet squats and Turkish get ups a few times per week. My diet was on point for a while but when I started consuming more and more calories to fuel the training my weight shot up to 185 and beyond. My body likes to stay in the mid 180's whenever I need to perform. So much for being the emaciated marathon runner.
Higher body weight meant more impact on my joints. Despite being a boy scout with stretching and recovery I was developing a mean case of patellar tendonitis in my left knee after longer runs. I purchased a knee strap from Amazon and it did wonders for alleviating pain during my runs. I was not about to get injured.
The week before the marathon I did a 9 miler with Ed. It was a farewell to this frustrating training cycle and a welcome to a taper week with daily yoga and stretching. I was preparing to put myself through hell.
Sunday March 19th, 2017
I had tried to sleep early the night before the marathon. I maybe slept a few hours before I got up at 2 AM. It was futile to try to get any more sleep and besides I had slept well the previous two nights. Breakfast was oatmeal and peanut butter, a huge cup of black coffee, a protein shake, two eggs and 60 oz. of water. The night before I had three bowls of spaghetti. It was on.
Ed picked me up at 4 AM and we made the trek down to Santa Monica to park the car. We lined up to the bus that would shuttle us up to Dodger Stadium where 24,000 people would attempt to run down to Santa Monica on the Stadium to the Sea course.
I had my knee strap, heart rate monitor, salt tabs and goos. I had band-aids on my nipples and used sunscreen as a makeshift anti-chaffing cream. We lined up as soon as rest room stops were handled. Ed had agreed to pace with me during the marathon but I urged him to move ahead if he thought he could PR (his record was 3:56). He said that he would see how things went.
As we moved into the open corral more and more people crowded in. I kept myself focused and intent on the task before me. This is what Henry Rollins was preparing me for. This is what it means when people attempt to test their mettle.
At 6:30 the wheelchair participants begin, then the handcycles and elite women begin the race. Then the general field lines up to the starting line and we move.
Out of the gate I have to pee. Being corralled at the starting line for forty minutes will do that to you. Any other time you could get arrested for peeing in the bushes outside Dodger Stadium, here it was almost a right of passage. Bladders emptied, we take off.
Running through south LA the frustrating crowds begin to break up little by little. There begins to be room to open up your pace and find your groove. Ed and I are right behind a woman who holds a sign that says "4:45" meaning that she's pacing for a 4:45 finish. I tell Ed, "Keep pace with 4:45." We keep pace for maybe a kilometer and then I tell Ed,
He says okay. I have made the decision to put everything out there. I won't settle for just finishing, I'm going to push my body beyond what I thought I was capable of.
Ed understands that I'm a little insane. He says, "We're at 8:30, is that ok?" I say that it's fine.
Form, form, form. Head up, core engaged, feet neutral, long strides. I see people all around me leaking energy from all sides with poor form. My efficiency will be my strength. All energy will be used for forward momentum, none of it wasted. If a footfall skids the ground, then I have fallen short of perfect form and I must course correct on the next rep. Form, form, form.
I adopt a "sidewalk strategy". When the streets becomes too crowded with inefficient zig-zaggers I jump on the sidewalk where the traffic is less congested. Ed and I are feeling good and finding a groove.
Ed had told me that all the hills are at the beginning. The first time I begin to suffer is when we hit a steep hill in Downtown LA. The killer pace from the first couple of miles left me desperately in need of recovery as we hit the first big hill.
Ed is right in front of me, leading me up the hill. I am so close to telling him to go on without me but I can't do it, I can't crack, I won't crack. Knees to chest, knees to chest. As soon as I crest the hill I can feel the relief. I catch up to Ed and we continue the run.
The route starts to open up into Echo Park and Silverlake, cities close to where I live in Glendale. Things ease up and I let Ed lead the pace. I have not looked at my phone, which is tracking the run. Ed is constantly checking his watch but I resist asking him what our pace is. I only want to focus on running. This is a mental game, no distractions.
We exchange few words, there is no need for useless banter. We are both aware at the task at hand and over the last few months Ed and I have developed a wordless form of communication based on running pace and head nods.
The crowds surrounding us are getting bigger and more enthusiastic. I take in the encouragement silently and stoically, not to be curt but to keep an unbroken focus. I finally speak up after a few more miles.
Ed looks at his watch and laughs.
All right then.
My head turns forward and we continue to let it rip. Our pace wound up being between 8-9 minute/mile on this stretch. In the moment it felt like gliding on concrete.
We begin to enter the Hollywood and Highland area and I am becoming aware that my ambitions outweigh my equipment.
Ed is a very good runner and I am less of a good runner. It starts to become clear that he is holding back for me. I do not want this and I won't allow it.
Ed nods, it's understood that we will part ways. He pulls ahead and I see his bright green running shirt get further and further away. I balance my capabilities with my ideals until I resign myself into running my own race.
I grin and silently cry "Farewell, sweet prince." He would get a kick out of that. Thanks for everything, now go kill it.
I am on my own running through Hollywood, down the streets where I hung out for years and played shows at places like the Viper Room and The Roxy. I played music here before and now I am giving an entirely different kind of performance. Less glamour, just about the same amount of sweat but far better parking.
At mile 14 I hear a voice over my shoulder, it's Ed coming up behind me.
And he was off. The animal dropped a deuce and still blew past me. What a beast.
Two more 10k's. Keep moving, keep moving.
Through Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. Property values above my pay grade. It's a beautiful day with plenty of downhills. The wear and tear on my body is starting to take it's toll. My right calf is beginning to feel the onset of a cramp. I have been religiously taking in a salt tab every 5K and I have been stopping by every gatorade/water station for miles.
The cramp is not going to manifest, I won't allow it. If my legs have something to say, I'll drown them out and tell them to shut the hell up.
I check in with a head to toe body scan. Some things are hurting, some things are fine. The left knee is busy voicing it's displeasure. My hips are sore, thighs are burning. Good, I'm alive. The body wants to stop, the emotions are telling me to stop. My mind will not.
The most important thing that needs to work is the central nervous system. How's the brain, the spine? Everything in that department is fine. Good, I'm a nail and I won't break.
Don't forget to smile, don't forget to breath. I break into my breathing triplets.
Inhaling on my right foot quarter note foot strike and exhaling on my left. I am doing what humans and human animals alone can do. Going long distances without stopping. Delaying fatigue mile after mile. I am getting into the rare territory, the territory that many people do not venture into. Modern man does not need to go into these places, we have evolved ourselves out of these boundary pushing experiences, but at what cost?
I am contemplating a quote:
As my legs tire and I renew my will to continue stride after stride, I feel like I am trying to find my own answer.
This is war.
This is a war against weakness, against distraction, against fatigue. Do not stop, do not walk, do not allow yourself to quit.
We are entering Brentwood, down San Vicente on a long descent to the beach. It's exciting and fast on a road bike, but it's hell on your feet. The crowds are getting large, their excitement and screams are getting more intense. They hold signs that say "You're almost there!" and "You're running better than the gov't!"
It's amusing, but I can't let them distract me from the goal. I form a bee line on the white lines of the pavement. I steer around people in my path and only glance to my right for gatorade and water. My hands are sticky from the gatorade. I have disconnected from the pain in the lower half of my body. My legs are simply moving along the worn path of my hips. My ankles and feet are simply taking in impact stride after stride.
It's an illusion to say that there are only six miles to go. Every mile is an eternity. Every water station can't come soon enough. I am held together by sheer grit. My will has to survive even if my body does not.
It doesn't look like an under 4 hour marathon is going to happen. Maybe 4:20? That would be interesting. I keep my goal for under 4:20, just keep the pace.
Don't quit now, finish the job. You can stop at any time, why stop now?
In front of me is a woman with a sign on her back that says "9ish". Okay, pace her. I can intuitively feel about a 10 minute/mile pace pretty well. She's going to push me just a little bit beyond what I'm comfortable with.
I hit 40k but I'm still not done. Fine, keep it going.
The route makes a left turn onto Ocean Avenue during the last mile of the race.
By far the best tool I have for this is meditation.
My mindfulness practice helps me to disconnect from distractions. Thoughts come into your mind during a meditation session and you simply allow them to pass like clouds in the sky. Don't allow yourself to focus on thoughts of past or the future. Simply be present and experience your mind as it is in this moment. All that matters is right now.
Everything hurts. distraction, just run.
You don't even like running. distraction, just run.
It doesn't matter how much farther the finish line is. See those crowds? Don't look at them. You want to look at your phone? Don't. Just run. Smile. Breathe. Move. Keep your chest high and shoulder blades down. Move your legs. Don't. Stop.
From the outside looking in I probably look like a madman. I have a fixed grin and I refuse to turn my head to look anywhere but straight ahead. People are literally screaming at me and I don't even give them a glance.
I know that if I stop running that my legs won't keep working. If I break stride before the finish line then they won't start up again. Keep. Running.
The finish comes closer and closer into view. The crowd roars are becoming a droning background of noise. Everything feels like a dream. Hold it together. You're getting closer and closer. Get there.
I cross the finish line in a daze. I decide that my legs can stop moving and it takes it my legs a few seconds to respond. The scene is a triage. People are on the floor wrapped in foil blankets. Medical tents are all around me.
I find that my legs won't work correctly. My left knee won't bend and my right leg is barely able to take a step. It feels like a bomb went off in both of my legs. It's a unique feeling, the closest I've come to it was when I tried walking for the first time in two weeks after my neck surgery. I stumble slowly forward to receive my finishers medal.
I call my wife, grab a bagel and a muscle milk and look for Ed.
We take a seat at the park and change out of our shoes and into our sandals. Ed had finished 4 minutes ahead of me. By all accounts, it was a good showing for my first marathon.
We make our way out of the scene and onto lunch with family and friends
A Retrospect On My First Marathon
This experience was an experiment in discipline and resolve. I set a goal and achieved it despite the odds and the hand that was dealt to me due to my tumor and subsequent surgery.
I can't help but to think that I could do better next year. I've already had friends who want to train with me for next year. At this point, it seems that my relationship with running has possibilities for future development.
I finished a marathon and like the triathlon and century ride, no one can take these things away from me. The feeling of accomplishment I have will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Thank you Ed. Your friendship, guidance and generosity helped to make this happen.
Thank you Monica for letting me do these crazy things to myself.
And thank you mom for being such a big support. Your enthusiasm and pride was hardly containable. I love you, this one is for you.