“There are two kinds of pain. The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain. The sort of pain that’s only suffering.” – Francis Underwood, House of Cards
Anyone who has ever ran a marathon knows about pain. I like the quote above from the TV show House of Cards because it illustrates an important differentiation in a race between the kind of pain that serves a purpose and the kind that does not. Keep in mind I have tremendous respect for anyone that has completed a marathon regardless of time, but ultimately we all have a pace/time goal we set out for that we either achieve, plus or minus a duration, or for many fall way short of when the wheels come off and we are forced to endure horrible suffering. 5 out of 6 open marathons I’ve hobbled across the finish line after this has happened to me – my first when I was young and in college after assuming I could wing a marathon with no training and after a night of partying where clutching my legs I walked across the finish in a time of 4:25, my third when I was going through a tough time in my life and finished but was too embarrassed with my performance to cross the timing matt, my fourth and final shot for redemption at Fallsview Marathon where I distantly remember getting passed as I walked to the finish hearing “David Welby, I thought you were a fast runner??”, and Boston 2012 where I cramped up in both hamstrings after a kiss of death on Wellesley hill, just 13 miles in!
Needless to say I was feeling the pressure going into the LA marathon. I had only done one long run of 16 miles at 7:21 pace and a handful of 13 milers beyond that. But my 1:15 Surf City Half and training runs were suggesting I had a 2:45 in me (6:18 pace). To add to the stress I have been fortunate to make friends with multiple gifted athletes and pro’s since moving to LA and I wanted very much to post a time that would be somewhat respectable in their eyes, instead of having to explain another disaster. I was so focused on achieving a time goal, deflecting stress and adhering to a protocol that the true significance of the race didn’t appear to me until I was a couple miles in when everything changed. A year ago this city was barely even a thought in my mind. 8 months ago I made the cross country move out on my own and it’s been a long process adjusting, but not until Sunday did it become apparent how far I’ve come.
The race started in downtown LA by the house of my lifelong friend and his wife who in addition to hosting me the night before I had stayed with on my first trip out to see LA and visited many times since. It continued on Hollywood Blvd passing the location of my first apartment in Los Feliz where I lived temporarily when looking for a more permanent residence. I then passed through West Hollywood where I went out with a fun group of LA Tri members for the first time and into Beverly Hills where they had me over for multiple theme parties since. The race finished down San Vicente in Santa Monica where I now live and start all my rides/runs out of, finally ending at the ocean, a beautiful much welcomed sight. In addition to and considerably more significant than the scenes were the people I passed along the way. Just months ago I was a stranger. I remember competing in and winning a small road race in October, collecting my prize and leaving right away not knowing a single person. But it was so great to hear my name this time from the local tri community as I ran bye ( LA Tri, Tower 26, Wednesday Track and everyone else). Even had a local pro run out on the course and give me much needed words of encouragement that helped push me through the last miles. All of this made the morning into something much more meaningful than one of hundreds of races I had done before or just another PR. And as crippled as I was having friends to hang out with afterward to celebrate was the icing on the cake.
2014 LA Marathon Race Report
Leading up to the race was the same pattern I have practiced many times. Learning to sweat the details has shown it’s results – proper nutrition, staying off the feet and removing complication wherever possible. When things arise out of your control you learn how to deal with them. My Garmin died just a couple days prior, I discovered after replacing it that my HR strap was also defective, and in addition to moving furniture Friday night to allow my apartment to be re-carpeted woke up to cook big breakfast the next morning with this sight in my kitchen –
There’s an important saying from Ironman announcer Mike Reiley – ‘the only thing you can control is your attitude’, or in other words, don’t sweat the things out of your control. With experience you learn the significance of this phylisophy.
One major decision I made for myself this race was to use music throughout. I wouldn’t be eligible for prize money but wasn’t expecting to accidentally run a 2:10 so it wasn’t much of a concern. In races, especially Marathons, I find myself turning into a mathematician, with a specialty in fractions – “Ok, I’m two miles in,.. two more and then double that and I’m one third of the way done!! Or “25 miles to go, now 24 and a half, 24 and a quarter, 24 and an eighth…” The mental component can be daunting, alone with your thoughts and in pain for 3 hours. So I wanted to distract myself as best as possible, and was able to do this by developing a long playlist of club music, reminiscent to a night in Thirsty Buffalo. The mental escape worked perfectly and I was able to resist fractions for at least 5/6ths of an hour.
The plan for my race was 6:18’s across the board. This included power walking every aid station, even miles starting at 2, all thru the end. I had never done this before so I was a little nervous but it ended up being a great strategy! The power walking did not influence my pace or slow me down and allowed me to be sure to get at least 2 cups of Gatorade Endurance at each opportunity and down a Powerbar Gu every 4 miles. I didn’t worry about stopping, I worried about fueling, which was a great departure from my past efforts and likely the cause of all my meltdowns. I even stopped at mile marker 14 for a 1 minute pee break but didn’t stress one bit. I’ve learned from my failures that a minute or two in a marathon to make the right decisions VASTLY outweighs the hour or more you could spend suffering from the insignificant time savings by skipping a watercup, etc.
Muscle fatigue set in early and I mean EARLY! I could feel pain in my quads before the halfway point. I thought it was strange happening so fast but then again I hadn’t been running my long runs at that pace. I was fairly certain that my race was over around mile 15 when a local pro, Jim Lubinski, ran out in sweats and paced me for 100 yards offering words of encouragement. It reminded me that I had work still to do and I was very happy to see despite the escalating pain as the miles clicked past that I was maintaining pace. I told myself at 16 that the next 5 were all business then I could reevaluate for the last 5. At mile 24 muscle function had deteriorated to a point that I was no longer using my quads but the path along San Vicente had become so full of people cheering that the pain was worth it and I managed to hobble low 7’s to the finish. True happiness was the moment I could see the clock and there was a 2 at the start with plenty of cushion to get me across sub 3. At that moment all the 3’s and 4’s became irrelevant. I was one elated guy!
A couple funny take aways from the race –
Ice, Ice, baby – In Ironman’s I enjoy greatly stuffing ice down my compression shorts so that it will rest on my quads and hamstrings and delay muscle fatigue, or at least the pain from it. When my quads started screaming I went looking for ice on the course, yelling “ICE, ICE, ICE?!?” but all the crowd did was cheer louder like I was starting a chant. Finally someone with a cooler heard me and motioned to come closer. He reached in and pulled out an orange, handing it to me, clearly not speaking English, although I appreciated the sentiment. I also got close at a Med tent with ice packs but tossed them back to the EMT. Finally someone with real ice heard me and reached into their cooler. They asked “where do you want it?” I opened up my shorts and said “everywhere!” In hindsight it was a weird thing to do and I’m sure it looked as if I crapped my pants for a few miles but it might have saved my race, who knows.
Stud Muffin – I signed up for this race so far in advance it had completely slipped my mind that there was an option for a nickname on your race number and for no reason at all I had put Stud Muffin. This could have easily backfired had I blown up and had to walk however it ended up being a brilliant choice because I had forgotten about it completely until the last couple miles when people started cheering “go Stud Muffin!” It was pretty damn funny to me and put a smile on my face despite the pain. When I finished my legs gave out and I had to grab two female volunteers to help me walk. Apparently the sight of me having two girls in my arms and “Stud Muffin” on my bib was an attention grabber because everyone wanted to take a picture. Someone would take a photo,.. then another,.. and then someone would stop us and ask to move into where the light was better. I have a feeling this might catch up with me eventually.
I’d like to finish by just saying thank you to all the people who made this race possible. Those that sent me FB messages the day before, that cheered me along the course or that messaged me after for congratulations, to QT2 and my coach Vinny Johnson for continuing to get me faster, and a special thanks to my good friends Jon and Emily for supporting me in the race and since I arrived in LA. My results might not be ‘great’ in comparison to some others, but they mean a hell of a lot to me, and to surpass a milestone that has escaped me for 8 years now is something that can’t be taken away.
Onward with 2014!!