Positivity can come from the strangest places. I will explain, but first let me give you a rundown of the day and then I’ll get to the good stuff. Today I competed in the Los Angeles Marathon, a race from the Stadium to the Sea, which also served as the 2015 USA Marathon Championships.
The day started at 3:25am. Yes, you read that correctly… three twenty-five in the morning. The moon, that celestial being, was just barely past the halfway mark on its journey across the sky. My alarm went off what seemed like just moments after I found deep sleep. I had tossed and turned for a few hours prior, coughing most of the night. I managed to pick up a cold on Wednesday leading up to the race. I rolled out of bed, put on some clothes and went up to the athlete hospitality suite for breakfast. It was so early in the morning my body's digestion felt completely out of whack. I wasn’t hungry, but I forced myself to eat some oatmeal, two hard-boiled eggs and some coffee. I prayed out loud for the coffee to kick in quickly. Please, please, please help me wake up!
Breakfast begrudgingly completed, I went back to my room and jumped in the shower both for the purpose of waking up and so that my hair would be soaking wet for the race. The forecast for the race was beginning temps around 66˚F and it would be in the 70s by the time I finished. While these temps are not astronomically hot, they are not ideal conditions for a marathon and wet hair would help me stay cooler. Afterwards, I put on my new Saucony Racing kit, braided my hair, and collected everything I needed for the day – racing flats, warm-ups, “vanity” timing bib, water bottle, Generation UCAN shaker bottle, and photo ID in case I was selected for testing by the US Anti-doping agency. The packing list alone was enough to put me in a tizzy!
I had dropped off my “special fluids” the day prior, so at least that was one less thing to worry about. There really wasn’t anything that special about the contents. I alternated my drinks between GU packets mixed with water and Nuun (water and electrolytes were important today). I find it’s easier to consume GU if it’s already pre-mixed with water. None of that fooling around with ripping open the packet and choking down the GU, unable to breathe for what feels like an eternity. Anyways, they are referred to as special fluids because they are not available to everyone. If you qualify to get “special fluids” you get to have your own bottles placed out on the course at 6 different locations. These are in addition to all the other fluids stations available to everyone else.
We loaded the bus to depart for Dodger Stadium, where the race was to begin at 4:20am. The next hour and a half passed by unremarkably. I checked my watch every 5 minutes, watching the time count down to when it would be time to warm up and ran to the bathroom every 10 minutes due to good hydration.
FINALLY, 6am and it was time to warm up. Several of the other women and myself banded together to run in small circles around the parking lot for 10 minutes to get our legs ready to go. That was followed by stretching, drills, and the switching of my shoes from my Kinvara training shoes to my Type A racing flats. At 6:25 we were escorted to the starting corral, a small pen akin to one you might find at a Concentrated Feeding Operation (You know those detestable farms that force their animals to live in such close quarters that can’t even turn around, and they are pumped full of antibiotics because of their unhealthy diets and lack of room to roam……oops tangent, sorry!)
At 6:45am the race finally began! The group went out conservatively – it wasn’t a day to press the pace right from the gun. My original plan was to try and run the Olympic Trails A standard time 2:37 or better. I went out conservatively the first 10K because of the major hills in that section of the course as we wound our way through downtown LA. At this point in the race I kept repeating to myself “I am enough”. I’m good enough, fit enough, tough enough. A powerful phrase that I had just learned from a book given to me by one of best friends, Jamie Cheever (The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown). But, these power phrases only give you strength for so long before your mind's fatigue makes you start to question the chant's validity. Right when this began to happen I passed by a huge sign referring to the strength found in God. And my mind just clicked, I prayed to God to help give me strength I would need to believe in myself. This carried me through Hollywood Boulevard and down Rodeo Drive.
But then the next distraction came. I NEEDED TO GO TO THE BATHROOM, AND THERE WAS NOT A PORTA-JOHN IN SIGHT!! I tried to put it out of my mind as waves of anxiety passed though my head. What was I going to do? There were people lining every part of the street, I couldn’t just pull over to the side of the road. Visions of Paula Radcliff flashed in my head…I didn’t think I would have the strength to be like her. 3 miles later and still not a single bathroom, I was beginning to panic and decided that the next gas station I saw that I would run in and use the bathroom. A few hundred meters more, just after the 14 mile mark, and finally salvation!!! Three porta-johns! I veered off the road, leaving the company of one of my competitors who I had just worked so hard to catch and relieved myself. I jumped back out and got moving again, scanning the road ahead for the girl I had been running with. I spotted her about 200m up the road and rejoiced – she hadn’t gotten too far away! And just beyond her I saw another competitor who was obviously struggling. I set my eyes on them and told myself I would catch them both.
Soon enough we were approaching the 16 mile mark, which is also where I would find my 4th special fluids bottle. I was table 2, position 3. A position that gave me ample opportunity to see who had taken their bottles and who had not. I had noticed as I passed through the previous three fluid stations, that each time there were a few more bottles still present on the table. This meant one of two things: 1) People were skipping their bottles – which seemed like a suicidal idea on a day like today or 2) they had dropped out of the race. As I approached the 4th fluid station, once again there were more bottles still present compared to the previous station. And this was served as my new inspiration. My coach's words rang though my head “you just need to keep going, you never know who might drop out of the race”. And these fluids stations were confirming that. I had no earthly idea what place I was in, but I knew I had the strength to finish the race.
Mile 20 – 10K to go! Only 10K! I was catching people quickly now. When I passed them it felt like I was flying by. If I could just get to the 5K-to-go mark the rest of the race was all downhill.
Mile 23 – 5K to go! 5K is so short! Over the last 5K I caught two more people, and my tempo was quickening with the help of the downhill finish.
Mile 25 – Just over 1 mile along Ocean Ave. on the way into Santa Monica. Oh my gosh – how long is this mile! I could see the finish line looming, but each step forward felt like it was not getting me any closer to my destination. There were no competitors around me, no one to chase. I just had to stare at the huge finish banner.
400m to go! I could see someone just ahead – It was a male competitor and it wasn't going to make any difference if I caught him, but I decided I was going to do it anyways. The crowd got louder with anticipation of a potential battle. It helped carry me past him and into the finish chute.
I staggered a few steps and a woman caught me. “You were 8th!” In my mind, I say “What?!?” I had initially been disappointed because I knew my finishing time wasn’t that good. But once I heard that I had finished 8th, my highest finish in the US Marathon Championships, it all felt alright. I hobbled off, my body aching with achievement, to go get a massage.
Reflecting back it just makes me realize how important it is to stay in the moment when you are racing, and to be armed with an arsenal of positive thoughts! Because you never know what you are going to see along the way that will inspire your next mile, your next stride, your next race.