Sunday, 3:17am: my alarm goes off
That alarm was three years in the making.
Will ran the LA Marathon for the first time in 2012. He was injured, and my friend Corrie and I walked up the course to bring him in the last four miles. She had run the marathon before. I hadn't. and I told her that under no circumstances did I ever plan to.
The next year, Will was feeling better. I still wasn't going to run the marathon.
A few months ago, Will and I moved to the West Side. Now I could do a long run without checking Twitter to see if had to change my route because someone was being mugged. Now would be a good time to train for the marathon, I thought.
I still didn't do anything about it.
My friend Chris ran his first marathon last year after training with the LA Leggers, a running group that met early Saturday mornings about seven months before the marathon. I'm not a joiner. I don't like being told when and where I have to be, and I certainly don't like not being in charge. It seemed like a perfect storm of things that should not work.
Four weeks into the Legger's training season, I joined.
I quickly took to the training: the 4 minute run/1 minute walk, the route, the idea that I just needed to follow the person ahead of me. I didn't have to think about anything but showing up and putting one foot in front of the other.
We did 14, 16 mile training runs. We did multiple 18 milers, two 20-miler, and a 22-miler that had me running the last full mile partially uphill (I needed to find a bathroom.)
I was ready for the marathon.
Will and I were up and out of the house by 4:45am. Traffic on the 10 was already backing up, but we managed to park and walk down to the shuttle by 5:25am. We were at Dodger Stadium by 6:15am. We met up with my Leggers pace group and waited.
The sun came up but downtown was still overcast and a little breezy. If the weather held, we'd be great.
SPOILER: The weather did not hold.
Nothing prepares you for the sheer wall of people at the beginning of a marathon, of the discarded piles of clothes (worn to keep warm before you start running) that look like people have been Rapture'd.
I didn't wear warmups: the fact that it was comfortable in my tank top and running skirt at 5:30am should have been my first clue that the day would be a scorcher.
We crossed the starting line, I said goodbye to Will (who is faster than I am) and set off with my pace group. Run four minutes, walk one, for an overall pace of 13 minutes per mile. The goal was to finish in 5:40:00, although with possible pee breaks and aid station breaks, my personal goal was to finish under six hours.
Miles 1-3: I felt stiff, but it was pretty normal. My first few miles are always the hardest, whether I take walk breaks or not (if I run fewer than seven miles I don't stop to walk.)
Miles 4-7: I run into my friend Gillian, who I might have missed if she hadn't brought perfection in dog form Annie. I run over, exclaim "ANNIE!" hug her and catch up with my pace group. We run the Walt Disney Concert Hall hill, I'm feeling strong. Hills bring out the best in me.
Miles 8-10: I'm feeling short of breath, like I can't get enough air in. I remind myself that I'm okay, I know how to breathe. That I've trained for this. My legs feel heavy and I'm having trouble turning them over.
Mile 11: It feels like something is sitting on my chest. Thanks to the Leggers, I've had scores of 14 mile training runs. My pace group likes to refer to these runs as "only 13 miles" because at a certain point in your training, anything under 15 seems easy. I know. Something is wrong. I've been taking my salt and fueling like I trained. I shouldn't be feeling this way. I struggle to keep up with my pace group. I want to run a sub-six hour marathon. But I also want to be able to finish. I suck up my pride and tell them I'm going to drop back. I wish everyone well.
Mile 12-14: I half-heartedly walk/run, walking more than running. I blame everything: myself for being so weak., my body for choosing this morning to get my period, my genetics for not being programmed to run, my brain for telling me this was a good idea. I look around for spectators. I miss most of the friends who came out to cheer, but I see my friends Shana, Jamie, Kris, Leslie and Steve. They're out also to cheer on Jessica who's doing the half relay. I wave and try to run.
I go from feeling sorry for myself to feeling angry. I'm barely through half the race. I can't be in this headspace for the next 13 miles. I have to turn it around. I Tweet that I'm having problems.
This is not the marathon I wanted to run but I'm getting to the finish if I have to crawl. #LAMarathon— Nina Bargiel (@slackmistress) March 9, 2014
Twitter responds. Now I have a virtual crew cheering me on.
Miles 15-16: I stick to my intervals. Four minutes running, one minute walking. I hit the Leggers aid station - they have a cooling spray and they hose me down. I pick up my Gatorade, which is boiling hot, and my peanut butter and honey sandwich which is similarly warm. The sandwich is like a glob of hot putty in my mouth. I take two bites and throw the rest away. I find a water station where I get a volunteer to pour some cold water in my Gatorade, cooling it down.
Mile 17: Everything hurts. I realize while I've been taking my salt pills, I forgot to take my Motrin at mile 13. I take the sleeve of Motrin out of my bag. I cut it open before packing my bag, but realize that I didn't cut it open all the way so now the pills are trapped in the foil. I start to cry. Shana and her crew text me to let me know that they're just past the mile 17 marker. I know that Steve will be able to get my foil packet open. I run.
Mile 17.2: I spot Shana and the crew. I run straight up to Steve like a five-year-old, crying I CAN'T GET THIS OPEN CAN YOU HELP ME? He tears the packet open with his teeth and hands me some water. I thank him. Shana hands me a banana. I think I told them I love them. I hope I did. I run into my friend Chris who is having a tough marathon due to injury and the heat. I run.
Mile 18-19: I run. I walk. I take every water cup offered, soaking myself in the cold. Firefighters have opened up a hydrant and have a hose to spray down runners. I run through the waterfall. I run.
Mile 20 motherfuckers. #LAMarathon— Nina Bargiel (@slackmistress) March 9, 2014
Mile 20: We turn into the VA. In every race, there's a point where you start to doubt yourself, where you begin to wonder not only if you can finish, but why you started in the first place. I call this the Dark Night of the Soul. For most marathoners, this happens at the VA. For me, it began at mile 11. Now, at the VA, I was on Leggers turf. We had run to the VA and back as part of our 13-mile training run. I knew the terrain, I knew there was a tough hill and a photographer at the top. I passed people left and right up the hill. A video from my friend Corrie greeted me around one of the bends, propelling me forward. Everything hurt, but I felt stronger at mile 20 than I did at mile 11. Less than a 10k.
Miles 20-24: Run. Walk. Run. Two boys were out with their parents, offering ziploc bags full of ice for the runners. I took a handful and thanked them. When I was out of eyesight, I shoved the ice down my bra. Spectators had orange slices and water and hooked up extensions to their hoses to cool us down. I kept moving forward.
Mile 25: I could mentally see the last two miles of the race. I knew I wasn't going to make my sub-six hour marathon, but I wanted to make it as close to six as I could. I had a little left in the tank. I started to run. I passed people left and right, I ignored the pain in my feet, my hips, I turned the corner onto Ocean--
--I couldn't even see the finish line. I remembered that it would be farther than I thought it was, because it's always farther than you think it is even when you know where it is. I turned on music for the first time in my race, I let M.I.A. propel me forward, faster, faster--
--I wove around people, passing some from my pace group. I gave high fives and smiled for the photographers. My sunburned cheeks hurt from smiling and I couldn't feel my legs, but I saw the finish line looming ahead. I put on a last burst of speed and crossed.
I found Will, and together we hobbled to the car.
Looking at my stats, my last two miles were the fastest of my race.
I want to thank everyone who encouraged me and donated to Angel City Pit Bulls as part of this race. A special shout-out to the 13' mentors, my friend Stewart who was part of my inspiration for doing this and finally Will, who even took today off I wouldn't worry about taking care of Daisy.
I'm sore this morning, but not terribly so. Which means it's time to start thinking about Chicago...