Saturday, March 8, 2014

My First Marathon

I am running my first Marathon tomorrow, March 9, 2014. I will join 24,999 other runners and walkers at Dodger Stadium for the 29th Annual Los Angeles Marathon. I’m excited, nervous, and extremely unsure of whether I will make it to the finish line. After all, I am no Phidippides. 

He ran the first Marathon from the town by the same name to the city of Athens in 490 BC. He was carrying a message from the battlefield where the Greeks had defeated the Persians. “Nike (victory)!” he is said to have famously shouted at the end of a 24.85 mile run. Then he lay down and died. 

Phidippides was a soldier, probably not more than 20 years old, and ran like the wind because, of course, no one could send a text back then. “Hey, we won! Break out the champagne, LOL!” He ran like his life depended on it and alas, it did.

I am old enough, at 45, to be Phidippides' mother! As many of my friends have seen fit to inform me over the last six weeks there is absolutely no reason for me to be running the modern equivalent of his race, 26.2 miles, and worrying about fueling, hydration, long runs, hills, chafed arms, sore muscles, horrendous blisters and blood in my urine. No reason at all. Until very recently I have never even been tempted. Marathons are for other people. Times, PRS (personal records), speed intervals mean nothing to me. I just run because I like it. 

Let me backtrack a bit. As a child I tried to escape exercise. I would rather have read about the history of marathons than contemplate running one. And yet, when I had to run for Phys Ed class, I was quite fast. I could have been a sprinter. But I was not. I was a couch explorer, traveling to new worlds and living other people’s lives until I was about 21 and decided to start exercising, first taking a step aerobics class, then swimming laps every morning with my husband before we diverged to our separate work days. 

I discovered chi gung and cardio kick boxing when I was 28. Chi gung was dance like and the way it grounded me to the earth gave me an energy I could feel coursing through my body, unlike my native yoga which left me cold. 

I still kick box once a week but when I was about 38, I discovered an exercise I could do on my own, with very little equipment and no gym membership required. I started running short distances on the tread mill and I can still remember the morning I completed ONE mile. That was exciting. 

Of course, being a journalist, I try not to approach anything sketchily informed. So I borrowed books on running from the library and my friend Alexis, who had competed in several triathlons, gave me a book which I read and took to heart. Danny Dreyer's Chi Running appealed to me and has enabled me to run injury free for years. 

Still, the longest distance I attempted was a 5-K run in honor of my friend Stacy's mother-in-law who died of pancreatic cancer. I do the pancreatic cancer run every year (see pic below), sometimes running a 5-K, sometimes a 10. 

Then the year I was going to turn 40, 2008, I thought that a half marathon might be a good challenge. I still thought marathons were too much so 13.2 miles was a good distance to progress from a 10-K. I trained with a team for four months and ran the Surf City down in Huntington Beach early that February.

It rained from 2 am and I was a squelching cold mess right from the start line! I was amused when the wind and rain lashed at me, as I ran along the shore, that the elite runners were passing me on their way to the marathon finish line and I was only halfway through the half! Still, at the end of it all, with Sanjiv, my friend Irene, and Keya to cheer me on, I felt like I had accomplished something. And I felt that if I could run in that weather, I could run in anything!

And then I went back to my regular runs, two-three miles, with an occasional longer run thrown in. But this January thinking about my cousin, Pramodan who was diagnosed with ALS and could no longer walk, let alone run, I decided to run for him. So I signed up for the LA Marathon. 

I have questioned my decision endlessly, especially when I look at a course map and it strikes me that I will be running past all the parts of town I usually must drive to reach: downtown LA where I take Keya to dance class; Hollywood where her school is; Beverly Hills where some of my clients live; and Santa Monica which is as far west as one can go in LA County and somewhere I try to avoid going because it is so far to drive. 

My friend, Anita, a world class swimmer, said to me, "Training is a full time job." I get it but I haven't been able to treat it as such this time around. What I have done is my best to eat well, read my Runner's World magazine, run some hills even though I abhor them, and be regular about my exercise. 

I smiled when my daughter naively asked me if I would medal. The only medal I will get is the satisfaction of having met a challenge. With that, I am content. 

I get to run through my beautiful city and admire the skies, the weather, the energy, the happiness everywhere. And knowing that people I love are cheering me on, with notes and phone calls from all over the world (from my parents and Sanjiv to Sameera, Libby, Carrie and Aimee and my whole Facebook community), offers of acupuncture (Stacy) and playlists (Vanessa), the belief that I can do it (too many dear ones to list by name), and an actual presence at the finish line (Keya & Irene again along with Julien, Manon & Dean), I feel like I have the best training team ever. Thank you all! Whether I run 24.85 like Phidippides or 26.2 like modern runners, whether I decide to stop off and get coffee in WeHo or run to the finish line on Ocean Ave, I am happy to be alive and in this race. 

Pramodan died in early February at age 45. I am running tomorrow because I still can, because my legs work and because life is short to waste.

Here's to Pramodan, to Toni, and to everyone who has met a challenge head on. 

More after tomorrow….. I plan to keep mental notes!