Running your First Los Angeles Marathon

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(Finish LA Marathon 2001)
By the summers end of 2000, I was not in good shape. In one summer I had been fired from my job, lost the love of my life, got seriously overweight, and hit emotional lows. In other words, I was a depressed mess.

One thing I remember is standing in the shower and not being able to see my feet because of my belly. For some reason, I just remember that image. And this spurred me to take some action.

I had always wanted to run a marathon. In fact, twice, once in high school, and once in 1999, I had tried preparing for a marathon only to injure myself on long runs. I had no idea what I was doing both times…running in old shoes, no hydration, no eating, no stretching, and certainly horrible power running form.

But in 2000, I was ready to change my life around by training for and running a marathon. I called up my buddy James, and used my considerable persuasive skills to convince him to train with me for the Los Angeles marathon. James was my mountain climbing partner so we both had the mentality to train for and accomplish a difficult athletic task.

Training for the Marathon

I’m not sure where I got my training program from but it was fairly standard…2 runs in the week followed by an increasing long run on the weekends.

In all the training went well with James. We trained on the strand linking Torrance beach to El Segundo. But the longest run we did was about 18 miles leading up to the marathon. Which I’ve learned is not enough.

The running helped my emotional situation. By getting out and running it took my mind off my troubles, my heartache, myself. Yet I still had a belly that was not shrinking despite the long runs. But I was getting a lot more endurance, feeling better about myself, and was deepening my friendship with James.

The crazy thing was….I was smoking at the time. Not a lot. But still a half pack a day. Insanely enough, I would finish a long run then smoke some cigarettes.

The night before the Los Angeles marathon, I was so nervous I smoked close to half a pack.

And I do remember one day about two weeks before the marathon simply freaking out from fear that I was not prepared enough. I was mortified that my body would break down on the course and I would have to explain to all my friends and family why I couldn’t finish the marathon despite all my best laid plans. I remember having to sit in my room in front of my closet, meditate, and pray to God for answers about what to do.

I was paralyzed with fear of not finishing. And the answer I received in that session has guided me through many marathons now…don’t worry about the results…just focus on what you can do today to prepare…today…not yesterday…not tomorrow…but today.

And I walked away from that closet that day. And went for a run on the cliffs of San Pedro…the same cliffs Beach Runners are now running…and saw pelicans riding the wind…and the ocean crashing on rocks…and the sun go down…and…
I let go. I let go.

I could only prepare for the marathon by going for a run that day. That’s all I knew. And that was enough. I would have to believe…have faith…that I would finish. Because that is what faith is…a hope in the unseen. I was scared. I felt underprepared. I felt my smoking would not allow me enough oxygen to finish. My higher power would have to give me the strength to finish because I didn’t feel strong enough.

And that’s all we can ever really do to prepare for a marathon. Do something today…right now…to prepare. Take 10 deep breaths. Go for a run. Stretch. Do yoga. Close your eyes and visualize crossing that finish line. Rest. Eat a salad. Plan a run.

Just do something. Because that was the answer to fear for me. Go running and pray or meditate. That’s all I could do. And through this develop some faith.

Running for Yourself

So the morning of the marathon I’m standing in line for the porto potties with about 1000 others (I’m not kidding) and guess who I see?
My ex girlfriend with her new guy. This was no coincidence. I loved that girl all through graduate school. But I was a mess at the time, didn’t have my act together, far too much partying, too immature, unable to make a commitment to anything, preferred the company of my buddies…and so… she moved on… while I was under the delusion that she’d sweep all my shortcomings under the rug…wait around for another few years…marry me…and we’d live happily ever after.

I spent many training runs obsessed with thoughts of her. Running up hills pissed off determined to finish this marathon to prove to her that…yes…I could actually finish something I started…that yes…I could make a commitment…that yes…I could live a healthy lifestyle.
And there she was.

We exchanged pleasantries like you would with an ex. Her new boyfriend was running the marathon also. She said she had to go…obviously trying to not be seen with me and she walked away with her new guy.

And I stood there. And it dawned on me how much time I had spent training…preparing for this marathon…for someone else other than me. I had really started training to get my thoughts off of this girl I had loved soooooo much. To heal my broken heart.

So in this crowd of 24,000 runners, thousands of spectators, I saw the one person I needed to see in order to close that chapter of my life. Right before I ran 🙂

James and I stood in the back of the largest line I’ve ever been in. The start of the marathon. First time LA marathon people will be amazed at the experience. James and I prayed. We joked with others. I prayed some more. Randy Newman’s “I love LA” blasted on the loudspeakers and we were off. God was going to have to guide me through this race because I had no idea how to.

Finishing The Marathon

The run went well. Up to about mile 16 or 17 when James began complaining about leg pain. His complaints and pain got worse mile my mile. I was hurting also. We only knew power running so of course we had started much too fast, had poor form, and ran pushing and pulling with our leg muscles, tiring them out much too early. The wall hit about mile 19, and James began walking. I was popping Advil like an addict trying to deal with the pain. And James started saying he would be unable to finish. I got pissed.

“There’s no way we did all that training to quit now,” I said. I suggested we stop and pray. Which we did. Not sure whether that helped him but it sure helped me. I had to ask for more strength to finish.

And in that prayer I heard an answer that still guides me today. “You will get the strength to finish by helping others”.
“You will get the strength you need by helping others.”

With that answer I started what has been a six year practice for me now. “James, you can do it.” He was cursing in words I can’t repeat here, but after words he told me my words were pissing him off so much, he found some energy to keep going.

I began saying motivational words to the other struggling runners around me, “Hey, great job.”. “You’re almost there.” “You’re my hero.” “You’re looking strong.” Anything to keep them going. Some looked surprised at me, but most were like, “Thanks”, “You’re looking great also.”
And the more I began to turn my attention to others, to helping them anyway I could, to using every cliched saying I’ve ever heard in the movies, the more…I forgot about how my legs were feeling…and trust me…they were killing me…the more I helped others…the more strength I was finding to finish.

James and I found our legs again at about mile 24. For first time marathoners this is very important, you will hit a wall, feel completely exhausted, like you cannot take another step, but you must, you find the strength somewhere, somehow, and then magically, between miles 21-26 your legs will gain a new energy out of nowhere, enough to power you to the finish.

So James and I crossed the finish line four hours and forty two long minutes after we started (4:42). We jumped up and down hugging one another and I cried. I cried for the lost girlfriend, I cried for my grandfather who had recently passed away, I cried for the family dog (my old running buddy) who also recently passed, I cried for all the times I had tried to accomplish something and failed, I cried for myself, that I had done something good for me. I had done the impossible. I had done the training. I had done the spiritual work. I had found some belief that “Yes, I can succeed.”

The Spiritual Journey

James and I could barely walk for days afterwards. James told me repeatedly out on the course that day, “I will never do this again.” And he hasn’t.

But I found something out there. Something about myself, about God, about helping others, about faith, in the training and the pain of mile 19. A seed was planted that day. A seed that has grown into doing the LA Marathon a total of four times, the Long Beach marathon twice, the Big Sur marathon, the Catalina marathon, and an ultramarathon. A seed that grew into ChiRunning and me becoming a marathon coach. A seed that grew into Yoga and teaching yoga on the grass to 100 runners at a time. A seed that grew into my current body…30 pounds lighter…stronger…more flexible…and smoke free.

A seed that grew into the tree of current running and coaching practice. It brings tears to my eyes to even think back to the origins of this journey that has led me to Beach Runners, Yoga, SoCalRunning.com, and writing this massively long blog entry.

Thank you for taking this journey into my past with me. And the journeys we take every Saturday. And I have faith that you will find something out there on the Los Angeles marathon on Sunday, something that will sprout into a beautiful tree in your life. Keep your heart, ears and eyes open that day.

Because that something special is waiting for you.

Good luck everyone,

Gary
gary@socalrunning.com

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