On Sunday, March 15, 2015 we ran the Los Angeles Marathon, something I never thought I would do.
I have to confess, LA isn't my favorite place. Just the thought of the town brings visions of traffic jams, smog and urban sprawl. When one of our buddies suggested we do a group weekend there and schedule it around the marathon, my vote was a solid "no way". I lost.
Fast forward six months and it was time to head to LA. We had rented a house near Venice Beach and bit by bit everyone turned up. To orient ourselves to LA (and have some fun before the marathon) we went to Universal Studios on Friday. The weather was warm (a harbinger of what was to come) but pleasant for the time of year. A good time was had by all, however, I would personally recommend that you stay off the Minion rollercoaster -- it made me turn green.
Saturday was the day to keep our feet up, rest and hydrate. First we had to hit the expo to pick up race packets and look for fun race shirts (sponsored by asics, so they had some good ones). We had been receiving email the last few days about the potential for hot weather but the news on Saturday took everything up a few notches. Suddenly we were all being blasted with "Be careful" and "plan ahead" email from the Race director. This freaked everyone out. By the afternoon, the announcement was made that the race would still have the same start time of 7am but they were eliminating the "wave" starts. This meant that we could start earlier (good) but that it would be a complete zoo at the start with a mix of runners and walkers, all moving at different speeds (bad).
Our Saturday night dinner was quiet instead of the usual rowdy "let's all get pumped up" vibe the group usually has during a pre-race meal. There was quite a bit of discussion about race strategy, should we run/not run and an overall feeling of ... well, impending doom. As the group got ready (you probably know this already, but never wait until the day of to prepare) we took an inventory - we had salt tablets (new for some us and I really don't like to try something new on race day), bandanas that hold ice (great for ultras apparently), plenty of fluids and a solid race plan.
The race is point to point, so we rose early, left the house at 4:30am and headed to Santa Monica to catch the bus to Dodger Stadium (as a Giants fan, I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to make this journey. Somewhere I was sure that I would see Kruk and Kuip there, scowling at us and yelling "We see you!")
The race started right on time at 7am and as advertised, there was only 1 wave -- everyone at once. The temperature was a warm 75F but the sun wasn't up yet. The first few miles of the course had some moderate hills but the main issue was watching your feet. Lots of people, all going at a different pace. At times, the runners in front would suddenly part like the Red Sea and you would have to quickly dodge a walker. A little crazy.
We hit Mile 7 about 8:30 and were very happy to see some of the group cheering us on with signs and words of encouragement. Funny but sometimes that makes all the difference. At this point, we were taking salt tablets once an hour and besides the initial GI feeling of ugh, everyone was feeling strong and on plan.
Miles 10 - 14 were fun - incredible crowd support, plenty of tourist attractions (Gruman's theater, Hollywood, Sunset Strip). All the while we were hitting a series of rollers; the course was never really flat. After Mile 14, we made our way down a series of hills to Beverly Hills. The sun was out in full force by this and the temperature was rising. The crowds were great, cheering everyone on and squirting the runners with water (the Fire Dept even opened some hydrants and had hoses going as well).
Mile 20 came and I hit the wall hard. The course crossed over the 405 freeway here and there are no trees or shade to speak of -- due to the street configuration, there weren't even crowds or hoses. It got really hot; all the ice in my bandana and the cubes under my hat had melted. Time to bust out some mental toughness!
We pushed on and ran through Brentwood, starting at Mile 22. The crowds returned, ready to keep the runners wet and cool. There were trees. The course even started to head downhill towards the Pacific Ocean. Life was good :-)
Soon we could see the final left turn onto Ocean Avenue/Highway 1. Santa Monica is such a beautiful sight and that day didn't disappoint. The coast was great, the rides on the pier were packed and the finish line half a mile ahead. At this point, your adrenaline takes over and before I knew it, I was across the finish line, standing in front of some seriously cool machines that quickly reduced my body temperature. Finishing temperature was almost 90F.
Overall, here's how the run rates in my book:
Organization – Well organized, marked course and great support. Grade: A
Course - Didn't think I'd like it, came away loving it. Great way to see lots of different neighborhoods in LA. Grade: A
Aid-stations - Many aid stations, fully stocked. This was a critical aspect of the race due to the heat. I understand they had issues in previous years but 2015 was very well done. Grade: A+
Swag – Nice medal and dri-fit short sleeve shirt. Grade: B+