There’s something about training for a marathon that is both exciting and terrifying at the same time.
One of my friends and I decided to sign up for the 2018 LA Marathon. I remember date we registered; it was the night of November 8, 2017. It’ll be my fifth marathon, and his first one.
Three months later, I’m still asking myself how my friend actually convinced himself to sign up and train for a marathon. I think the short version of the story is that we were celebrating a mutual friend’s birthday at ESPN Zone in Downtown Disney. Life was getting to be kind of “meh” for my friend, and he felt that he was sliding into some sort of quarter-life crisis. He needed something to help inspire him and get out of his funk (or, at least, provide a distraction).
Friend: “Hey, Abe, when’s the next marathon?”
Me: “There are a lot throughout the year, especially in Southern California. LA’s coming up around February or March, I think.”
Friend: “Oh, shoot! That’s perfect! That’s enough time to train for a marathon, right?”
Me: “Come on, man. Stop trolling me right now. You ain’t down to run a marathon!”
Friend: “Let’s do it. What’s a good time [to complete the marathon in]? How fast did you run it?”
Me: “Well, I’ve run it four times and have had times all over the place. In my best year, I ran it a little under four hours. 3:58.”
Friend: “Alright, then let’s aim for sub-4!”
Me: “Wait, hold up. Shouldn’t you do a shorter race first? Like a 5K, 10K, or even a half marathon?”
Friend: “Nah… GO BIG OR GO HOME!”
At this point of the conversation, I know there’s no turning back on my friend’s part. I can’t say that there was literal fire in his eyes, but I’d never seen a man so inspired by the thought of running his first marathon. After a few more attempts of trying to talk some common sense into my friend and to make sure that he knew what he was getting himself into, we made a decision to register for the 2018 LA Marathon that night. And, so we did. And… I’m still asking myself why I registered. Why? Well, the original agreement is that I would train the fella. Not necessarily to toe the line with him on race day. As much as I’d previously run four marathons, there was a part of me that wanted to “semi-retire” from marathons and limit myself to half-marathons and shorter race distances. Around that time, I’d recently run in a couple of shorter races in other states (i.e., Oregon and Washington). Perhaps, I can write about those experiences in a separate post! Anyhow, I was starting to embrace the need for speed in the shorter races.
But, I reasoned that if I’m going to be coaching and training my friend (and running alongside him on some of his training runs), then I might as well run the marathon as well. I’ll have put the training in, so it’s kind of a waste to train and not run the race. At least, that’s how I reasoned with myself. Not that I’m in panic mode or anything, but…
I HAVE ABOUT A MONTH UNTIL RACE DAY?!
The past three months have been interesting, and I’d imagine the next month until the 2018 LA Marathon will be just as interesting.
Training has been up and down. My main objective has been to coach/train my friend, but even that’s had its major ups and downs. My friend was dealing with variations of foot/ankle injuries for most of December and a little into January, so I advised him to take it easy. I thought that would be a major setback, but some of the longer training runs we’ve had together (like a 10-miler last week) have restored my hope in him. I have a bit of a dilemma, though. I had wanted to train him to be able to do a 16-mile training run as his longest run, but we’re approaching the phase of training in which most runners would probably advise a “taper” period (or, a gradual reduction in miles so as to keep the legs/body relatively fresh and not overwork them before race day). My friend definitely has the raw speed to pull off a sub-4 (his longer training runs justify that instinct), but it’s just a matter of whether he can string together a solid 26.2 consecutive miles on race day.
Speaking of injuries, I had to deal with a sore left knee for about five days (since last Saturday’s 10-miler). I erred on the side of caution and decided to hold off on running until the knee got better. I think part of the problem has been running on the track (I’d say 95% of my runs are on the track). Because I’m always running in a counter-clockwise direction on the track, I feel like there’s some imbalance and favoring the left side of my body. I also think the injury could have come from a combination of weak hips, glutes, and core. I’m going to place more focus on strengthening those parts.
What’s It Like Running A First Marathon?
That’s a good question! The experience varies by individual, but I think most people would agree with me that there’s at least a little bit of excitement on race day! Especially for the bigger races (in terms of the number of participants), you might get an adrenaline rush just by noticing how many people will be toeing the start line for the same race. In fact, there are certain portions of a marathon where you might see hundreds of heads bobbing up and down. It’s actually somewhat soothing to see, and it really does look like a horde of fish swimming upstream. I don’t know how else to describe it other than the unified movement in one direction inspiring you to be a part of that swim (or, run) upstream.
Depending on how your day goes, it’s not uncommon to go through a range emotions for your first marathon. While I can’t speak for everyone, I can speak for myself. I remember the roller coaster of emotions for my first marathon (2012 LA Marathon).
Start line: Excitement! Excitement, I tell you! Music is blaring through the speakers, runners are abuzz with equals parts laughter and anticipation. Everybody’s feeling good, and I’m thinking, “Let’s get this show on the road!”
Miles 1-2: It’s the beginning of the race, and I’m still feeding off of the adrenaline rush from the start line. I feel like I’m flying. Body is feeling fresh, legs are feeling light, and I’m feeling GOOD! I feel like I’m part of an army of thousands that’s marching forward in battle.
Mile 3: This is where my focus start to set in. “OK, Abe. Lock in. Remember that your goal is under 4 hours.” Any remnants of a smile from the first couple of miles are now replaced with a face (and body) that has its eyes on the prize… namely, a good finish time.
Miles 4-9: I keep checking my GPS watch to see if I’m on track to hit my goal time. After a while, checking the time becomes a bit obsessive. Grab a cup of water. Sip. Toss the cup. Check the watch. Run a few tenths of a mile. Check the watch again. End of that mile. Repeat.
Mile 10: “Uh… are my legs already starting to feel some discomfort? What the heck? I’m going to blame it on the fact that I barely got three hours of sleep last night.”
Miles 11-12: “Alright, just make it to the halfway point. If I make it through Mile 13, then I’ll have run a half-marathon. Maybe I’ll catch a second wind there.”
Mile 13: “Hey, I just ran a half-marathon! Now, I have to repeat what I did for another 13.1 miles! Hey, I guess this isn’t so bad!”
Miles 14-17: “Just keep moving. Body’s feeling all sorts of aches, but I just gotta keep moving. One step at a time. Fight. FIGHT FOR IT!”
Mile 18: “OH NO. What’s that pain on the outside of my right knee? It hurts so much. Hold on. I’m going to stop, pull over to the side, and stretch it out. OK, let’s try to keep running.”
Mile 18.5: “Ah! Now my left knee hurts!”
Mile 18.75: “Ah! Now my calves are cramping. They’re seizing up! And, my goal time is toast. There’s no way I’m going to go under four hours. Time for Plan B.”
Miles 19-23: Run for about a minute. Calves keep cramping. Walk for another few minutes. Try running again. Calves keep cramping… again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Grind. Grind. Grind.
Mile 24: “Man, I’m in a lot of pain… but the finish isn’t too far away. Keep grinding, keep grinding. Fight. FIGHT, Abe. Come on!”
Mile 25: I can clearly hear the finish line crowds. I start to see the finish line. It’s a bit of a tease because although I can see the finish line, I know it’s a lot further away than it seems. I put one foot in front of the other, one slow step at a time.
Mile 26, 26.2, and the Finish Line: “No matter what happens, I’m running across the finish line. I’m not walking across the finish line. I want to look like a CHAMP.”
I’m in pain. A lot of pain. But, I make it across the finish line. I don’t remember if I raised my arms as I crossed the finish line, but a sense of pride overcomes me. I waddle my way to one of the volunteers to get my finishers medal. I find an area to lie down since I’m so exhausted. After what seems like a half-hour of rolling around on the ground and recovering just enough to regain some sense of sanity, it hits me that I was crazy (and stubborn) enough to finish my first marathon. I wouldn’t see my friends until about an hour later (they finished a little later than I did), but it was a joyful reunion. As much as we asked ourselves why we thought signing up for a marathon was a good idea in the first place, we also felt accomplished and knocked out what had been a bucket list item for all of us. After all, we could now say that we ran a marathon!
What’s It Like Running The LA Marathon?
Aside from what I shared in the previous section, there are certain things about the LA Marathon that I like. The “Stadium to the Sea” concept is fantastic. The LA Marathon starts at Dodger Stadium and ends in Santa Monica. As much as I’m not a Dodgers fan (I grew up in the Bay Area, so I’m all about them Giants!), I have to say that it’s pretty cool to start at the home of one of the more storied sports franchises in the world. The course takes you through some popular LA landmarks. I’m not sure if any other race takes you through (or near) Chinatown, Little Tokyo, the Pantages Theater, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Rodeo Drive, and a few other recognizable landmarks.
Compared to the reputations of other big/major U.S. marathons, I’d say that the LA Marathon attracts both a regional and first-timer crowd. A LOT of people (especially those who living in Southern California) make the LA Marathon their first marathon. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is obviously that it’s inspiring to see many people crossing something off of their bucket lists. The bad thing is that most (though, not all) first-timers don’t understand running/race etiquette. And, admittedly, I also didn’t really understand race etiquette too well for my first marathon. I think a common mistake first-timers make is wanting to line up towards the front of the pack at the start line. In some ways, this is understandable because of the excitement of the race. However, I’ve found out that this really clogs up the first half-mile or so of the race. Inevitably, it gets really hard to weave around people in the beginning. In some years, I’ve even walked a small portion of the beginning because I wasn’t even able to find a clear path to run. Things eventually thin out, but this clumping in the beginning has become an expectation (and, I guess it hasn’t bothered me as much over the years).
It’s pretty interesting seeing characters out there, too! There is some interesting entertainment and course support out there. For some reason, I always remember chili dogs being offered pretty early on in the race (I’d personally advise against eating one if you don’t want to clean up on Aisle 5, if you get my drift). You’ll see some humorous signs along the way. Some of the musical performances are hilarious. Even among the runners, you’re bound to see something interesting. I’ve seen people run in an all-out Gumby costume. “All-out” as in they’re fully covered by the Gumby costume. I think I’d pass out from heat exhaustion if I tried that! I’ve seen different superheroes run (e.g., Batman, Superman, etc.). I’ve seen someone bounce a basketball (presumbly) for all 26.2 miles. I’ve seen a handful of people run barefoot. And that’s just a small sampling. You’ll see clever/punny t-shirts. Interesting headwear. Tutus. It’s quite the sight, and honestly, these things sometimes keep you going during the late stages of the marathon. It’s the little things, you know? 🙂
So, would I say that the LA Marathon is worth the experience? If you live in Southern California, I’d say absolutely! As I previously suggested, this marathon has its strengths. I think the course, itself, is a huge win. Other marathons might have a better reputation in terms of organization and logistics, but it’s not like the LA Marathon completely whiffs on those fronts. In fact, I feel like the LA Marathon makes good adjustments every year to make things better. I love how there’s a “chill” vibe with the LA Marathon.
And, what if you’re from outside of Southern California? Hmm, that’s a good question. I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to run the LA Marathon, but I think the game-changer is if you’d want to make the LA Marathon part of a longer trip in which you vacation in Southern California. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that Southern California (and, especially, the greater Los Angeles area) can offer you a lot to see, eat, feel, and experience!
Mindset / What’s Ahead?
With about a month to go until the marathon, here are the questions I’m asking and thoughts I’m thinking:
1. Do I attempt a 16-mile run this weekend?
My original training plan has me running a 16-miler this weekend. This 16-miler would represent the longest training run for the duration of the training schedule. Since 16 miles is the peak mileage for a single run, my training would gradually “taper” down until race day. As I mentioned earlier, I finally just recovered from knee soreness. This means that I’ll have to exercise caution and reconsider whether I want to stick with the 16-miler, or adjust the mileage to avoid re-aggravating my left knee. Up to this point, my longest training run has been 13.1 miles (half-marathon distance).
2. I need to incorporate moves that will strengthen my legs, glutes, hips, and core.
After talking with other runners and doing some research online, I think it’s becoming apparent that the recent knee soreness I’ve experienced is at least partially due to weak legs, glutes, hips, and core. I recently bought a resistance band to assist with the weak glutes, and I know there are plenty of core exercises that I can incorporate. My overemphasis on running (at the expense of cross-training and strength training) resulted in neglecting certain body parts that needed attention. Hopefully, focusing on strengthening these body parts will make me less injury-prone.
3. How do I best guide my friend as his training gradually tapers down?
After all, the whole reason I’m training in the first place is because I want to support my friend’s marathon goal. Even though his goal of running the marathon in under four hours in his first attempt is ambitious (especially considering the injuries he’s gone through), I want to do everything I can to give him a chance to reach that goal. I’m really excited for him either way, and I can’t wait until he crosses that finish line and it sinks in that what he achieves on March 18 will be nothing short of spectacular! 🙂
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– Runner Investor