For those of you waiting patiently to hear, here is the lowdown on my experience running the Long Beach half marathon. The experience actually started the night before at the LLS Team in Training inspiration dinner. As I prepared to head down to the hotel that Saturday, I had been feeling dread and anxiety the whole day. But all my doubts were wiped away at the inspiration dinner when we heard the story of one honored teammate who had been battling Lymphoma since 2000. After battling the disease and literally being on the verge of death (his body was resistant to chemotherapy), he was eventually given a new lease on life with a bone marrow transplant and today manages his cancer by taking one pill a day – a pill whose research was funded by the Leukemia and Lymphoma society. Wow! Talk about inspiration. We left the dinner knowing that the greater Los Angeles chapter had raised over $185,000 for this incredible cause and headed off to try to sleep.
Not much sleep was had but I was prepared for this. I woke up at 5 am, geared up with shoes, toe tags, running bra, fuel belt and of course my purple TNT jersey and headed down to meet the team. We walked over to the Start line together. Thank goodness for the support of TNT or I think I would have been a bloody wreck by this point. We made it to the start line by 6:30 and were greeted by masses of runners all nervously awaiting the start gun. I am told that 18,000 runners participated in the marathon and half marathon. The race officially began at 7 am but my wave didn’t leave until 7:25 so there was a lot of standing around in the beginning. One hour of standing and waiting was probably not the best thing for my nerves. My low back was aching and standing around was making the sciatic pain awful. My stomach was churning with fear that my back would give out during the race because it had been bothering me all week. I once again began to question why on earth I had committed to this and was looking forward to getting it over with, swearing up and down I would never do it again.
With all the elite and fast-paced runners on their way, our gunshot was heard and my wave took off at 7:25. Though the crowds were not as bad as I thought, it still took a while to get into a comfortable pace as we shuffled along in the sea of runners. I kept hearing Coach Gail’s advice in my head, start slow, don’t worry about the people passing you, go at your own pace – if you keep consistent you will pass them later on when they are walking. The first mile was sort of surreal. It didn’t quite hit me that we were actually doing this. It just felt like we were off for another training run. Everyone was so focused and quiet that it almost felt boring. As a matter of fact, before we even hit mile 1 I turned to my running partner Laura and said “this is boring”. We laughed and before I knew it, we had already hit Mile marker 1. Miles 2 through 4 are kind of a blur. I just remember keeping slow and steady and was not too aware of all the people around me. I did get a kick of watching how far ahead the sea of runners was. We could see the earlier waves pass us as they looped around Shoreline Dr. and headed up to the Queen Mary. At Mile 2 I also remember seeing a huge line of people waiting at the porta-potties and thanking God that I didn’t have to pee.
At Mile 4 we passed an aid station and I grabbed a cup of blue gatorade from a volunteer and chugged it down. That was when I knew I was really in this race. At around Mile 5 or so we were already at the bike path along the ocean. The weather was a cool 60 degrees and overcast and couldn’t have been more perfect. The course was scenic and flat and made for ideal running conditions. By this point it occurred to me that my back didn’t hurt at all and everything was going so smoothly and I started to really enjoy it. There were way more spectators and with them rooting us on, I reached Mile 6 and realized I was almost half way there. I didn’t feel hungry at all but decided I should probably take out my gatorade gel bursts before I ran out of energy. We were told to fuel up every hour or so.
Miles 6 through 9 we coasted along the beach and still felt good but I started to notice that the running intervals in between our walk breaks were feeling longer. My toes were numb and the blisters between my toes started to hurt. At that point we got a brief visit from Coaches Dave and Gail which gave us a nice little boost. This is also when I noticed not only how many people were in front of me, but how many were behind me. I never had a time goal for myself, it wast just about accomplishing the goal. But I must admit it felt good to know that I wasn’t anywhere near the back of the pack. Just before Mile 10 my legs started to feel like lead. Knowing that I had just over 3 miles to go, I willed them forward until I saw a railing and stopped to stretch. This was just what I needed. Somewhere between Mile 10 and 11 there was an aid station with a guy who gave us a nice spray of biofreeze all over our legs which helped do away with the little aches and pains in my achilles and calf that were creeping in. At this point I started to notice there were way more walkers than runners. I suppose there were many that sprinted out too fast early on. Even though I was tired, there was never a single point where I felt I had to stop my intervals. I was consistent with my pace and still feeling good. Mile 10 is when we turned off the beach and back onto the street. I think this helped because the spectators really picked up and were cheering us on. The signs from the survivors saying “thank you for running” and “you’re my hero” made me teary.
Then we hit Mile 11 and I felt like I was starting to drag so I slowed down a little. Nonetheless, knowing that I was keeping consistent and passing all the walkers and limpers (just as Coach Gail said we would), made me realize just how prepared I was for this race. At that point the full marathon course was reconnecting to our course and watching these elite runners go by (on their Mile 25), I was in awe and just kept on chugging knowing I was almost there. Before I knew it we were at Mile 12 and people were cheering and shouting “you’re almost there” and that’s when the adrenalin finally kicked in. There were plenty of TNT people shouting “Go Team” along the way as well. This is when it really helps to be part of a greater cause. I think I skipped through my walk interval during the last mile, I didn’t even hear my watch beeping anymore. All of a sudden we made a left turn and there was the finish line. That last part was a complete blur, getting from the corner to the finish line. There were thousands of people on the sidelines cheering, the MC on the microphone, a band playing – just a sea of noise and people. I only remember desperately searching the crowds to see if I could see Dany and the kids and without even noticing, the finish line was in front of me. The only thing I remember is that I ran that whole last part almost in a sprint, feeling strong and amazed that I was about to complete this race and felt incredible. I also remember Coach Gail jumping out at one point and running me and Laura across the finish line but I was in such a complete daze that the reality of the moment didn’t even hit me.
And then it was over. I was awarded my medal and went in search of my family (who I never did spot during the race but they saw me cross the finish line which is all that really matters). This part was somewhat anti-climactic I have to admit. What I will remember most about this race was how important the mental aspect of it is. I have really proved to myself that you can achieve anything you put your mind to. I always believed that I could finish the 13.1 miles, but I never dreamed I would do it with such ease. It’s a big deal and I’m immensely proud of myself. And for those of you wondering, yes, I do think this is something I will do again (sorry Dany).