The 2014 Los Angeles Marathon

Marathon #3 is in the books and boy was it a doozy.

TL;DR version: I overloaded myself the day before the race, got sick the morning of and struggled in 80 degree heat for 26.2 miles. However I finished with a time of 4:53 mins, only 3 mins shy of my PR and in the top 1/3 of overall finishers and top 1/4 of women! I loved the course but didn’t think the marathon organizers did a good job of preparing for the heat. Just a warning: I basically clawed my way to the finish and it wasn’t pretty. Consider yourself warned.

Here is the long version:

The past week has been a whirlwind. The Monday before the marathon I started an awesome new attorney job that I am very happy about. Due to the timing, I had to work my final shift at Susie Cakes on the Saturday before the marathon. I was more than happy to do this (I will miss Susie Cakes a great deal even though I love my new position and am happy to be working as a full time attorney) but it made for a very draining week. I also packed looking at apartments with Joe and going to downtown to get my bib into Saturday. I had so much going on Saturday and I didn’t plan my eating well. When I overload myself with activity things usually fall through the cracks which is what happened. I also didn’t eat dinner until 9 pm Saturday night which was also probably not the best plan but since I worked until almost 8 it was somewhat unavoidable.

Speaking of things falling through the cracks, I woke up at 4:30 ready to roll for the race. I stayed at Joe’s the night before the race because he was graciously driving me (again! Best boyfriend/spectator ever!) and I realized as I was getting dressed that I forgot my sports bra. Total fail. I was upset with myself for forgetting such an integral element of my running ensemble. I went to go make our bagels instead. The smell of the bread made my stomach turn and before I knew it my dinner was making a reappearance. As this was happening I became terrified that I wouldn’t be able to finish the race. Throwing up your dinner the morning of a marathon is terrible for numerous reasons. Obviously, it leads to dehydration which isn’t ideal especially when you plan on running 26.2 miles in 80 degree heat. I also had no food in my tank as a result. This impacted my whole race. Obviously, I managed to get my hands on a sports bra and made my way to Dodger Stadium.

The sunrise, stolen from Gillian

I didn’t have too much time once I arrived at the start line. I was able to pop into the porta potty and tried to squeeze into a corral. I was unable to get into my seeded corral (based on my finish time in Long Beach) but I got into the open corrals between the 4:30 and 4:45 pacer which was where I wanted to be. After the national anthem (sung by a guy from the Voice who struggled and sang the wrong words) and some words from the mayor the race was underway. They played “I Love LA” after the gun was fired and I choked up like a total goober. LA may not be the city I was born in but moving to and living in LA has changed my life in immeasurable ways and I have strong feelings for this place.

The start from Dodger Stadium was very crowded which was annoying but downhill which felt nice.

Miles 1-5: Dodger Stadium, Downtown LA

Unsurprisingly I felt good for the first 5 miles. I knew that was I dehydrated and that the heat and sun were going to kick in eventually. I made sure to stop at every water station and was consistently monitoring the stomach situation. I took my first gels 30 mins in. Usually I hold off taking gels until I’ve been running for at least 45 mins but I had no gas in the tank food wise and knew I needed to fuel. I really enjoyed running through downtown. We got to run through Chinatown, by city hall and the concert hall. There were a decent amount of spectators out which was fun. I fed off the spectator energy and I loved seeing people out watching the race and having fun with it.

The LA Marathon course is billed as “25 landmarks over 26 miles” but this race could have easily been 50 places Katherine has been since she moved to LA. I distracted myself throughout the race by trying to spot all the places I’d been before and remembering fun memories from them. Downtown reminded me of going there for work; countless times I’ve been there for dinner/drinks with friends, and seeing The Glass Menagerie at the Ahmanson Theater with my mom’s cousin. Downtown features many rolling hills, the worst of which is a two part beast as you go into Echo Park (I believe? Parts of the experience are hazy). I allowed myself some hill walk breaks and spent a lot of time monitoring my health.

Miles 5-9: Echo Park, Silverlake, Los Feliz

The course continued into some of my favorite LA neighborhoods: Echo Park, Silver Lake, and Los Feliz. I have a TON of memories in this part of the city and the spectators were out in full force so it was a fun part of the course. We ran by the Echo Park and saw plenty of bands and people out cheering. I egged on the crowd in Echo Park yelling: “I can’t hear you ECHO PARK” and the spectators responded which is always fun. There were also a lot of fun signs in this part of the course. My favorite was: “If marathons were easy they would be called your mom” and “you run faster than the 405”. I ran by Mohawk Bend in Echo Park and wished I was drinking IPA. I ran by Thirsty Crow in Silverlake and remembered fun nights there.

When I got to the Vista Theater I spotted Joe! I was so happy I was able to catch him. I gave him a high 5 and kept moving.

There was still a decent amount of cloud cover at this point and I was more or less happy. I started to feel a bit of soreness in my legs at mile 8 which I knew was going to start up eventually. I continued to monitor my stomach. There were a few moments where it felt sloshy and I was burning through my Gu’s fast but overall I still felt OK. I didn’t feel bad burning through my Gus so quickly because I knew that there were more on the course and I was seeing tons of spectators with orange slices, pretzels, and twizzlers. Also, there were a randomly large number of girl scouts on the course selling cookies. NOT FAIR. I wanted cookies but had no money to buy them with and also, how would I carry a box 18 or so more miles?

Miles 9- 15: Hollywood, West Hollywood: The Struggle Begins

I continued on my merry way into Hollywood. Hollywood is a fun part of the course because there were many spectators and also you get to run down Hollywood Blvd. Usually I avoid Hollywood and Highland if I can but it was fun to run down the street with no one else there. There were some Michael Jackson impersonators on the course which was a welcome distraction and there were some AWESOME bands.

As I reached the halfway point, the clouds opened up and the sun came streaming through. This is where things started to really go downhill. If I’m being totally honest, I never felt great during this race but I felt good enough for the first half. My stomach was alternating between cramping and hunger the whole time and I was definitely at a major disadvantage having thrown up and being dehydrated. I was able to handle the stomach struggles until the sun came out and the temps went up. I held a sub 10 min mile pace for the first 10k and it felt easy. I kept a 10:30 pace through 20k. After the sun came out at the midway point all bets were off. There was no official timing mat at 13.1 but I was there at 2:15 or so which was right on par with my goal of running sub 4:45 (maybe 4:30 if the stars aligned).

I made it to West Hollywood, which ended up being my favorite part of the course. The whole time I was running down the sunset strip I was thinking of old memories with my friends (3L Hollywood Bar Review and our epic walk down Sunset Blvd for hot dogs after the party?) and smiling. The course cut down to Santa Monica Blvd. and there were lots of spectators and drag queens out cheering. This part of the course did a great job of distracting me from the fact that I was getting hotter and hotter and starting to feel awful. I was drenching myself with water at every opportunity and trying to stay positive. I stopped worrying about time goals and just tried to soak in the experience and stay positive.

Miles 15-20: Beverly Hills, Century City

The course left West Hollywood and went into Beverly Hills. The most exciting part of Beverly Hills was running down Rodeo Dr. Other than the course was pretty dull. Again, there was a strong spectator turn out.

By the time I reached Beverly Hills I could no longer ignore how bad I felt. I actually grabbed a full water bottle from a spectator because I was in need of hydration. I got Vaseline from the medical tent for my arms and legs. At one point I looked down at my hands and they looked as swollen as they had at the end of Long Beach (if you don’t recall, I took advil before that race and had to make a trip to the medical tent because my hands were so swollen post race). I knew I needed salt because I was developing symptoms consistent with a mild case of Hyponatremia. Hyponatremia occurs when sodium levels dip. Your fingers will swell and you generally feel a little cloudy which was consistent with how I was feeling physically. I tried to get salt tablets from the medical tent but they didn’t have any which was annoying. Instead I started taking pretzels from whomever I could grab them from. I didn’t even want to eat the pretzels. I was sucking the salt off of them and then spitting them back onto the course. I realize how gross this sounds in retrospect but in the moment I felt like I had no other choice.

Here is an example of me being OVER IT

Also in Beverly Hills, I realized I was down to my last pack of Gu. I decided to take pretzels/orange slices as needed from spectators and save my Gu for the VA when there would be fewer people on the course with snacks.

The spectators in Beverly Hills were great. I was sad to miss seeing Cindy because I read all of her LA Marathon race recaps to psych myself up for the race, knew she would have pretzels (which I was desperate for) and her adorable son with her. The spectators at the beginning of Century City were awesome and out in full force along several nice down hills which boosted my mood. By the end of Century City there were fewer people and I was gearing up for big hills in the VA.

Miles 20-26.2

I had been warned that the VA was the most challenging part of the course. There aren’t many people around and the hills can be daunting. I’ve run 5ks and 10ks on the property before so I knew exactly what to expect. In fact, as I turned into the VA I knew that the rest of the course traveled down roads I’d run many times before. There were a handful of injured vets out which was heartening. I ate my last Gu and started to amp up the walk breaks. I knew that when I hit Brentwood I would want to run more.

Sure enough, we left the VA ground and entered Brentwood, my old stomping grounds during law school and where I started running 4 years ago. There were more spectators out than I remembered cheering with in past years. My eyes started to well up and I outstretched my arms. The whole race I had been telling myself “just get to Brentwood“. I knew once I was there I’d be able to feel the finish line pulling me in. I felt like I was home. I saw my friend Gwen by the Coffee Bean where she and I first met. I pretty much threw myself into her arms for a hug and yelling something about feeling like shit as I hugged her before running off. I saw some spectators not cheering and I bellowed “I RAN 22 MILES TO GET HERE I CAN’T HEAR YOU BRENTWOOD!”

I continued down my old running path from Brentwood into Santa Monica. Physically, I felt terrible: it was hot, my fingers were swelling, my stomach hadn’t settled, my head felt light, and everything hurt. However, after I reached Brentwood it was like I was running outside my body. I didn’t feel like I was inside myself if that makes sense. It was a weird disconnect I’ve never felt before. I started to cry after I got into Santa Monica. I was counting down the blocks, from 26th to Ocean, and listening to “Shake it Out” by Florence and the Machine thinking off all the time long runs I’d gone on down this road and how they healed me and helped me process life. Distance running is therapeutic for me. Distance running on San Vicente taught me that I was capable of awesome things when I doubted myself through law school. Distance running let me drain out my feelings during many tough personal times. Distance running reminds me of the type of person I aspire to be: one who resiliently tackles challenges and never gives up. Running is a catalyst for my life and San Vicente is where I realized this truth a couple years ago. To finish such a hard race on that strip of earth meant the world to me.

Just after mile 25 I saw Joe again which lifted my spirits. I was happy knowing he was nearby and that the end of the race was coming. I started to catch some glimpses of the beautiful Pacific Ocean. I turned onto Ocean and knew I only had 8 blocks left to run.

I had checked my watch at mile 24 and realized that a PR was out of the question but that I could still come in under 5 hours. I was unable to run the whole final mile. I just didn’t have it in me physically. My body felt awful, the swelling fingers scared me, the sun was draining me and I was afraid I would push only to end up falling over 50 feet from the finish. The year I ran the Chicago Marathon in similar hot weather, a man died 50 feet from the finish line so my fear wasn’t totally unfounded. Once I was a block away I started booking it towards the finish line. Finishing was one of the greatest releases I’ve ever felt in my life.

You can watch me finish if you’d like.

Side note: There was a man who crossed the finish line just before me. He then gave his cell phone to a race volunteer, ran back onto the course, grabbed his baby from his wife who was watching at the finish line, and ran BACK across the finish line with his kid while the volunteer took a photo. Just ridiculous.

The Finish Line

I staggered across the finish line, checked my watch and realized I missed my PR by three minutes and I was totally OK with it. From the beginning I knew I had to dial down my expectations and reassess my goals. I was happy to cross the finish line so close to my PR and not require any trips to the medical tents. I will never take being able to finish a race for granted, that’s for sure. When I got my results I realized I finished in the top 1/3 of runners overall and in the top 1/4 of women. Typically I finish middle of the pack so it was kind of cool to see I did so well against the rest of the field.

I had a few complaints about the race organizers lack of preparation for the race. One of my main ones was that we had to walk several blocks to get water after the finish. I could have used water and electrolytes immediately. There was a runner being carried by volunteers to the water after the finish line, no wheel chairs in sight. This is completely unacceptable. I also read later that Gatorade ran out along the course. The aid stations were looking thin when I rolled through and I finished in the top 1/3 of runners. I ran Chicago in comparable heat and LA was much more miserable because the organizers were NOT prepared. In Chicago there were sponges and ice available on the course in about 10 different spots. In Chicago there were fire hoses every mile spraying down runners who wanted it. I only saw 2 fire hydrants open on Sunday. I was pretty ticked off at race organizers on Sunday and I feel strongly that they should have been better prepared.

I managed to get my medal, grab water and food and reunite with Joe. It means so much to me that he is supportive of my hobby and helpful although I promised him no more 4 am race wake up calls for a while.

This race was, without a doubt, the toughest marathon I’ve ever run. I am so proud of myself for finishing even though I didn’t break my PR. Had my stomach cooperated and the weather been nicer I would have been able to bust a big PR. Such is the marathon. You never know what is going to happen on race day. Much like life, you cannot control circumstances. All you can do is prepare as best you can, remain positive and resilient, adjust expectations when necessary and treasure the course you are privileged to travel.


10 thoughts on “The 2014 Los Angeles Marathon

  1. Wow, you are my hero. I don’t know if I would have finished (or even started!) after being sick the morning of the race. You are so strong! Congrats!

    PS… the guy with the baby. HAHAHAHA

  2. Katherine. You are AMAZING. I know you were hurting but I had no idea it was this intense. You’re a rock star! And I didn’t realize the race directors were so unprepared (but now that you mention it, I didn’t see a single open fire hydrant). Hope you’re feeling almost back to normal!

  3. “epic walk down Sunset Blvd for hot dogs” was the furthest i’ve ever gone on foot, and there weren’t even any hot dogs

  4. Congrats on finishing and toughing it out. Part of the reason I love the LA course so much is that it’s familiar and that can help you get through those tough miles. I hadn’t heard of any of the issues with race organizers not being prepared enough. I think there were issues with the rain too, especially at the finish line.

    Sorry I missed you! I wasn’t out there very long when I saw the 5 hr pace group go by. Xavi might’ve given you a boost with his Nelson sign and pretzels. With the time change I think we had more time that morning to get out on the course than we really did. We thought about going to cheer at Westwood/Santa Monica, but it didn’t seem like a good idea since there’s no shade there.

  5. Kudos to you lady; you made it to the finish swollen hands and all .I get that all the time, so I know the feeling. You did an amazing job considering the circumstances though. I wish I could have been there to cheer you on instead of just driving by on my way from my parents to work in T.O.!

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