Yesterday I survived the Los Angeles Marathon. I walked it and I finished it and I didn't die. Though it was touch and go at some points.
Mandy picked me up early and drove me the the start -- thanks girl -- and in her car I babbled nervously about skipping out and going to TJ for the day instead. I babbled about how I was going to mosey to the front next to elite foreign runners; how I was going to put my fingers on the start line, lift my butt in the air and tell them It Was On. But when it was time to get out of the car, I did, still nervous. While waiting alone in the starting pack among a sea of people, I was ready, but I felt out-classed. Next to me were lean runners stretching in micro shorts and wearing large black trash bags, apparently running outer wear that they discard later when their body temp is just right. My friend Tara called as I waited and I babbled among the sea of real runners telling her not to park along the course to cheer me on. There was a good chance I'd just walk directly to her and say, "Let's get out of here." I imagined myself speed walking past her yelling, "Come on, where's your car?" I told her I saw a group of guys with top hats, clearly undertakers, I said. I didn't want to stop babbling, but that fucking start gun was about to go off.
"I Love LA" blared over large speakers and I felt a jolt. Resignation, maybe. When the gun did go off, I flowed with the sea, caught in the current, and an increasing electricity built. Suddenly I was thrilled to be apart of it all. I stepped with the pack carried almost entirely by the mass energy and I gulped down tiny yelps. My face flushed.
The first seven miles was, I can easily say, one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. The walking part was a breeze --I was booking -- and every time a crowd of people on the street cheered loud enough, I choked up. When musical bands played loudly and encouragingly on the abandoned corners of Hollywood I nearly burst into tears. I felt so emotional about going from one L.A. neighborhood to the next, traversing between our multiculturalness. Wherever we went, residents stood out and cheered. From the ritzy neighborhoods to the so-called 'hoods, the support was no different. The signs were the same, the orange slices were the same. I waved and said thank you fifty thousand times to the bystanders and the Gatorade handlers. I would've hugged them all too if it wouldn't have added a few hours to my time. Outside of a run-down house with barred windows, the residents blared reggae from inside and danced outside and clapped. On another corner, a mariachi band played, trumpets blasted, and gorgeous girls with braids swirled their sequined skirts and smiled broadly. A gospel group on 39th sang that we could do it, we could do it. A grandma on the next block yelled to us, "Si, se puede." A line of five older Korean ladies dressed in vibrant traditional dresses of hot pink and turquoise with bows tied below the breast high fived us as we came by. I'm tearing up now remembering all of that. I can't tell you the restraint it took not to break down and bawl my eyes out on the road.
A ton of runners patting my shoulder and gave me thumbs up or yelled "I like your shirt!" which read Walking to Prevent Animal Cruelty. At mile 8 I was interviewed by what seemed like an indie cable show about how I was preventing animal cruelty. I told him about the Cali farms initiative and that we just collected 800,000 signatures -- YES WE DID! -- and I encouraged people to vote in November for the initiative. I walked the next mile on a cloud having had that opportunity.
At mile 13, the half way point, I had walked three hours exactly. I was kicking ass! But I knew the hardest part was ahead. We were entering more industrial areas of LA leaving the residential kindness behind. It was like drifting off to sea on our own. Runners and walkers around me were starting to look worried. At mile 15, I felt good still, but an uh-oh factor was rearing its head. I pushed it down and ignored runners that sidelined themselves with severe leg cramps or other ailments. At mile 17, I had this conversation with myself: "Ok, mile 17. You are only . . .what's 26 minus 17? I can't really tell right now. I don't know simple math right now!" My legs were stiff and I could feel my hip nagging. I swore I'd never walk as exercise again. I cursed this stupid idea. Miles 17 to 20 were so hard because it seemed like I had so much more to go. For the first time in the race I listened to the iPod for distraction. I checked my phone for texts and emails of encouragement. I text Husband: "Holy shit, mile 17.5. help." Husband and Maya sent me a few back telling me to keep going, that they loved me, they were waiting for me. The street we were on was so wide and the sun was hot by then. It was like an impossible desert. By mile 21, I felt stronger, but not better. I knew my hip was going to kick my living ass later, but in that moment I knew I had to muscle through it. I knew this was the mental test, the part where I had to dig as deeply as I could. I put my head down and only looked at the few feet ahead of me. Nothing else mattered but putting one foot in front of the other. I powered through on sheer determination. There was no way I would stop or whine; I realized that would be something I couldn't recover from. I saw walkers leaning on each other and more sidelined people with their shoes off. I knew something like that would be my end. So, I walked on and swung my arms, and pushed. Coming down over the 6th Street Bridge I could see the Mile 24 banner. I was overcome with emotion. Not really at the sight of the banner, but because this was the hardest thing I've done physically in almost 23 years. I welled up and could hardly keep it back. I felt a tremendous amount of pride for being able to still push myself in this way. I felt strong and invincible. I held back the emotions -- I wasn't finished for gods sake -- and pushed forward, passing limping and struggling walkers. At mile 25, I heard the boom of the Japanese Tiko Drum Ensemble and that floated me around the corner.
The fact that I finished so strongly is a mystery considering once I crossed the finish line, I wasn't sure I'd be able to walk another step. In the last couple miles I could feel various blisters swelling, two of which were on the balls of my feet and once I stepped over the line, they screamed. Firefighters giving out high fives pulled me passed the finish. Their GOOD JOB's pulled me the few yards to where my family waited for me with flowers and snacks. My voice cracked when hugging them. I was so damn glad it was over. I finished the race in 6 hours 16 minutes, just over 14 minutes a mile.
I was high from finishing in these photos, but in the back of my mind I was honestly wondering how I'd get to the car.
Husband got this one of me trying to stretch it out a little. I was playing it off like I was rummaging through the box of snacks.
Husband took this one of the bodies on the street after the race. It was like a disaster scene.
Looking back at the finish line. Peace, Finish Line!
Today I feel like a truck struck my hip. Every time I hobble about, Husband and the girls pop out their bottom lip and say, "Aahhh, Mami!" The blisters feel better and other soreness is not so bad. I have this bad rash from where my loose wet shirt rubbed under my arms. That's weird. That smarts pretty good. There have been a few times where I thought, "Holy shit, I walked a marathon. What a crazy thing to do." I conjure the first 13 miles often and keep that in a treasure box of my memories. The mental toughness part is bittersweet. It was so hard for a while there, but so soul satisfying in many ways especially when this was all for a cause. Muscling through for something other than yourself ends up being an act absolutely for yourself. I think of those people selflessly giving their time to cheer on strangers, exposing their kindness and humanity, and it reveals the core beauty of people. We give more than we think we do, and once you give a little, you can give a lot. It's not hard.
Thanks so much to all of you who supported me with words and thoughts and cash money for the fund raising.