Monday, March 28, 2011

Los Angeles Marathon 2011 - AKA "Monsoon Marathon" - Race Report

Well, we did it - About 17,000 of us finished the Los Angeles AKA "Monsoon Marathon" of 2011. We, the dedicated, passionate, finish-line-focused, who walked, ran and swam through sharp winds, blistering cold, rain, hail and hell. We battled aches, pains, clothes drenched, gloves soaked, minds numbed. Looking back on it, I am awestruck. A new PR was even established for this race. Yes, it was miserable at times. But we all pulled together. Around mile 5, while standing in a non-moving line for a port-a-potty, the rain picked up, my clothes got wetter, my joints ached, and I wondered if it was all worth it. I looked at the other faces around me for some confirmation of my doubt, but found none. I wasn't about to be the only one dissenter. Yes, together, we can do it!

From the beginning...

The day starts very early. I arrive at the Doubletree Hotel in Santa Monica at 4:00am where the LA Leggers have reserved the ballroom. I drop off my post-marathon bag which amongst other necessities, includes dry clothes, as well as a ZipLock bag of dry socks, dry insoles and food which will be sent to the 16 mile Legger support station. I check in with the front desk, and wait for Legger Julio so we can walk together to the 4:30am shuttle together just across the street.

I had hoped that Paulselth & Associates would be here to tape up my calf, but I am told they ended up not coming. I consider taping up myself, but this may produce more harm than good.

Julio arrives, and we board the 4:30am shuttle which leaves promptly for Dodger's Stadium - Highly recommended mode of marathon transportation!

We arrive and I am very excited. But as we start walking toward the green field and bright lights, I feel a discomforting pinch on the side of my right knee. This is a new ache. Although I am not thinking about it at the time, I later realize that my joints are forecasting the cold wet weather to come. Hopefully, not a sign of bad joints in the future.

We make our first porta-a-potty stop and then head out in search of beautiful Legger faces atop third base. It is thrilling to be here - all us marathon walkers and runners pack a stadium which is usually occupied by quite a different crowd of hot dog and beer guzzling baseball fans. I don't usually like to battle the mayhem of Dodger games , but today - I am thrilled to be here, in this bleacher seat.

With Julio at Dodger's Stadium:

I am loving hanging out at Dodger's Stadium so early in the morning, with the roving camera catching everyone's excitement on the big screen. There is a fierce wind tunnel directed at us, so I take multiple opportunities to warm up by standing in the restroom line and hanging out where it is warmer.

Note the Hot Dogs sign in the background. Dodger dog anyone?

Here's a picture of Rene and Glen near a really long line for the men's restroom.

I see Chicrunner sitting with her friend looking cold and unhappy. I love her blog! My only pseudo-marathon-celebrity sighting (sorry no pic - but she has plenty on her site).

Since we arrive so early, we must now wait for about two hours. Around 7:00am, a large Legger 12 crowd heads out. In my head, I hope to run about a 13 minute/mile. Of course Rene thinks that I am fine, my aches and pains are normal, and insists that I run with the group. He is so persuasive! So I start with them - happily.

Here are Jim, Jenn and Rene uber-excited about the start. Jim and Rene are extra pumped to get our watches synchronized.

Before we even cross the start line, I feel the expectant droplets of rain. I am quick to put my garbage bag pancho back on as my temporary shield.

I break off from the group early - around mile 2 or 3 around the Music Center. My calf still bothers me, and I am on the lookout for the first medic tent I can spot. There is one steep downhill around this area - so I take a long walk down. I love running through Downtown though, and this is followed by the prettiest sight along the course - the lake in Echo Park!

Around mile 5, I stop and stand in line for the port-a-potty. It is really pouring now. Rene calls me and asks where the group is - I tell him I have fallen behind, and give him Julio's number. I use the port-a-potty, and chuck my garbage bag - I feel it is weighing me down.

Around mile 6, I spot a medic tent. I am suspicious of the training of the volunteers here, but I am happy to sit down and receive some rest. A nice volunteer wraps my calf in two ACE bandages, and then tightens that up with Saran wrap. Another volunteer tells me not to push it if it hurts, and that I can always do the OC Marathon in May. I surprise myself with my answer - not so much the content but the tone. I am in good humor and laugh when I tell them that there is no way I am not finishing, since I missed out on the marathon last year. I sound so upbeat! I get up about 10 minutes later. My newly packaged calf is highly constrictive, and I eventually pull over and remove the excess layers and keep one of the bandages. It doesn't feel so bad. I make it to mile 7 where I see plenty of friendly faces.

Below are pictures that Legger extraordinaire John Flynn took from the mile 7 Legger support station:

GO 12's!

After John takes this picture, I tell him "I'm not doing too good." The act of simply telling this to someone must have been enough to get me over my hurdle. Soon I start to regroup. The support of the Leggers station really helps. I start setting goals. First goal? Get to mile 13! No whining until then!

Soon after I broke from the group, I changed my regular 5:1 interval (running to walking) to 6:1. If I feel good, I skip a walk break, and if I need it, I walk longer. The walking is good, but not when it is pouring. I notice a lot of people walking very early on. I hear Legger Mentor and Board Member Rosa give some good advice to someone from Students Run LA - Keep running as much as you can since it warms the body up. Good advice! Later, I find out many people are diagnosed with hypothermia.

The trek through Hollywood is sooo wet. I am very cognizant of how wet my clothes are, especially when I stop and stretch. The tops of feet hurt. I stop multiple times to loosen my shoelaces. I have a strange stinging in my lower back but I choose to ignore it. My knees bother me, even more than my calf at this point.

There are many puddles on Hollywood boulevard and my shoes get soaked. I am glad John recommended we have a pair of dry socks waiting for us along the course!

There is a climb up to Sunset Boulevard and it is around here that I find Legger 12 Melissa, and we run together for about a mile. She's in a good mood - even though she is hurting too. Good to know we are all in this together.

Because of the weather, there is very little of the expected entertainment. So I am VERY PLEASED to see the drag queen cheerleaders in West Hollywood - YOU ARE AWESOME!

I soon reach my mile 13 goal. Next goal is mile 16! The mile 16 Legger support station is like an oasis in the desert. I pull over and hang out here for 5-10 minutes. I change my socks and my insoles. I remove my wet arm warmers and the ACE bandage, and spray my leg with Kool-Fit. I eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwich I had prepared. I also take another Tylenol. I check my cell phone - A lot of people have been trying to reach me, especially my mother. I am worried about this - if she sees how drenched I am, she will insist I stop. The plan was to meet her around Wilshire near Neiman Marcus. Part of me is worried, but a larger part of me is looking forward to a loving face.

Here I am running along Rodeo:

Once I arrive at Wilshire, I try and reach my mom, but she is not here. Now, I start trying to get in touch with my aunt and cousin - They are waiting for me in Brentwood. My aunt tells me that I am going to catch hypothermia - I tell her, "Me and 25,000 of other people!" I should also mention that around mile 16 is when my iPOD stops working. No worries - Over the course of my training, I have strengthened my mental stamina and it is all I need to finish.

It is around here that I run into Leila - This is her first marathon, and she is walking now because of her knee problems. I feel for her. She is a trooper! I also run into Legger Mentor Glenn numerous times along the course, as well as Legger Mentor Saeed and his brave band of 14's, and Legger Mentor Jennifer and the 13's. It's good to see their familiar faces and I feed off their energy.

There are many volunteers along this area with cooling sprays for sore muscles and joints - and I get sprayed as often as I can.

It's a long way on Santa Monica Blvd until we finally reach the VA, which is muddy and flooded in several areas. There is a narrow path where we run along the sidewalk to bypass all of the water. Someone behind me says that we should get two medals for this. I tell them, we should get our registration free for next year!

Here I am running in the VA:

Coming out of the VA, we head into beautiful Brentwood. I now look out for my aunt and cousin - they are at San Vicente and Bundy around mile 21.

When I reach them, I break down in my aunt's arms crying. She says I can go home with them. No way! I feel like I am in a pit stop at a NASCAR race. I take off a wet layer of clothes and replace it with a nice dry one, and put on a new garbage bag . I lighten my load, and with a hug and a lot of love, they send me off - with a ton of energy. I really pick up the pace now. It's only 5 miles to the finish - no problem!

The last 5 miles feel easier than the first 5. All I need now is heart and determination. I whiz past people, and have my goal firmly in place. If anyone is around me at this point between mile 23-26, they would hear me talking to myself repeatedly - I know that I can do this. I have done it before. ....And I do...

Marathon 4 is in the books! At 6:10, I am happy with my accomplishment. By the time I get to the finish, it is really windy now, and feels like it is hailing. The finish line area is in shambles. I grab a banana and start heading back to the Doubletree ballroom where my aunt and cousin are waiting for me.

The walk back is long, but it's nice to see my loved ones and Legger family there. Of course, post-marathon, I catch a horrible cold, which I am now recovering from.

However…now that we are approaching a heatwave in L.A., I have to say I would take cold and rainy over hot and sunny.

Thank you to all the Legger and LA Marathon volunteers and everyone else who cheered us on along the course. It was hard enough running in that weather, let alone standing in the crowd. Thank you.

Happy running!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Safari Park Half-Marathon Race Recap

After Sunday’s half-marathon, I now know why Kenyans are such amazing runners - Running through a quintessential African country landscape must be beautiful. San Diego is no Africa, but it came close in the Safari Park on Sunday. The morning haze, the mountains, the greenery, the lakes, the animals...It is all very Gorillas in the Mist. While running on a muddied trail, I look twice - no three times - at the postcard imagery to my left - a small vaporous lake, a beautiful sunrise, birds floating along, a mountainous backdrop – this is definitely a drop in the runner’s high bucket – this is why we run.

Let me start at the beginning. My friend Salome and I drive down to San Diego Saturday - My goal is to arrive at the Roadrunners store for packet pick-up by 3:00pm. I drove to San Diego last year for a race too –rock and roll – but the memory of the long drive was lost along the way or in my cramping haze. With my desire to get there, I deny Salome any food detours (except for a 7/11). We ran our first marathon together in 2009 – so if anyone understands a runner’s "crazy", she would (and my cousin Alex, who I drove much crazier last year).

Roadrunners is a monolith of a running store - somehow both large and empty-feeling. Here, there is a lot of show – large ads of happy runners and their signature brightly punctuated Dalmatian, several mannequins in runners clothes. There are a few treadmill stations hooked up to monitors for foot/gait determination and proper shoe selection. There is also a long line. I buy a new hand-held bottle since the strap on the one I raved about a few posts below, broke.

After my purchase and acquiring of bib and bright orange (favorite color!) tech tee, Salome and I forage(drive) in search of food, shelter and rest. After dinner amidst drunken St. Patrick’s day party-goers in Pacific Beach, we head back to the hotel. That night, I set two alarms (three including the front desk wake up call), and mentally prepare to wake up an hour early (thanks daylight savings). I end up waking up every 15 minutes or so - hotel alarms can be oh so confusing.

Sunday morning, I board a shuttle from our hotel at 5 AM. It is packed. We are at the Radisson - the official hotel for the half-marathon - occupancy of about 180 rooms - 170 of which are occupied by crazy people like me. The hotel is out of the way, nestled on the top of a hill in an office park area up the street from a Hooters.

The shuttle slowly enters the Safari Park (formerly Wild Animal Park) compound around 5:45am. I am a little worried. The race doesn't start until 7:00am. And it is cold. Shivering cold. Why didn't I bring my arm warmers? Or a disposable long-sleeved anything? I have one pair of gloves I rub together waiting for that fire to spark. I hope I can stay in the shuttle until the last possible minute. But the shuttle driver has no intention of hanging out. I deplane and go in search of warmer ground.

Insert Naz shivering for an hour here

This is the inaugural Safari Park Half-Marathon and the uniqueness of the course draws a sold out crowd – for both the half and the 5K. As I wait around listening to the announcers, I am thrilled by the sight of a happy looking group of Legger gals, including Board Member Rose and 11 mentor Michelle (who just ran the Napa Marathon last week!). It’s good to see some familiar faces, and I see more along the course.

The race soon starts, and I take it extra slow. I couldn’t find my Garmin charger the night before, so I count 5 minute intervals on my wrist watch. Whenever I feel like I want to turn up the motor, I hold back. I am not here to show off to anyone. I take extra walk breaks, especially on the downhills.

This course is beautiful, and rather hilly - steep hills, rolling hills – I remind myself that Naz love hills and this is good training. I pass a family of horses who are very curious as to what we are all running from. Is there a cheetah back there? Actually there is. The cows don’t seem as troubled.

My first 8 miles goes pretty well. I am surprised to see a large crowd of spectators cheer us on – unexpected and delightful. The course then proceeds to pass through the same areas, so the novelty wears out. I think we passed the yellow hot air balloon three times. I am re-energized by the end and finish at 2:51. It is my slowest time by 21 minutes, but I am fine with it. I have been having a lot of calf cramping since my 24.5 miler at the end of January, and my confidence had been shaky. My goal today was to finish, and to prepare my mind for next week. Mission accomplished.

After I receive my medal, I weave through the maze to get back to the front of the park and board the shuttle back to the hotel. Later, Salome and I return and spend the afternoon there. My registration fee included a free entry and her spectator ticket was $15 (down from $40). The Safari Park is a lot of fun. Especially for families – there was a bar and patio area around every corner!

Now I am getting ready for LA – the Safari park was beautiful, but the LA Marathon route will be a whole other level. The scenery is largely predictable - a lot of roads and buildings, but I am looking forward to the people. This is one of those few moments where Angelenos come out en masse as advocates for each other – That alone will propel me through Downtown, along Sunset blvd, and Hollywood, past the Walk of Fame, down Wilshire and Santa Monica, through the VA, down San Vicente and to the ocean. I hope I see your face amongst the cheering crowd. I can’t wait.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Weeks before the marathon and the doubt begins…

I am sitting in my primary care physician's office one early evening as he looks over my chart on a hand held computer. My feet dangle over the paper covered examination bed. I have just shared my most recent health worry. On an otherwise relaxed stroll that afternoon, my heart pumps briefly a rapid succession of baseballs that thump on my chest wall. I am not unaccustomed to strange flutterings. I went through a small battery of tests last year when these first started – (was told one of my heart flaps is a little loose – but later found out this is pretty common). But what I felt today left me momentarily winded. I come for an immediate visit. That is why I see this doctor – He can always see me right away.

My doctor’s office is in what is known as the “Iranian building” on Ventura Boulevard in Encino. Iranian doctors, dentists, businesses, TV stations, and other occupants reside here like it is downtown Tehran. When I enter, the nice man behind the desk (I wish I knew his name) asks me how my mom is doing. He knows I haven't been here in a while since I’ve been seeing another doctor across town. I cover up my ethnic guilt with an excuse based on geographic accessibility.

My doctor reminds me that I came in last year around the same time with the same complaint. Is it because I'm excited about Nowrooz - the upcoming Iranian New Year? This now reminds me of another time when another Iranian doctor remarked to another complaint by inquiring whether I was in love.

No, it's not Nowrooz, I tell him now, and I wasn't in love then. But I am about to participate in the LA Marathon. This all sounds very familiar since last year he suggested not run in the marathon. He had also told me not to run much at all in fact. What is wrong with me? Days away from the marathon and here I am, again, thinking there is no way I can do this .

Long story short – I am hooked up with a 24 hour heart monitor. Like a robot with multicolor electric veins, some sneaking out, others taped securely to my chest peaking out from the top of my shirt, I eat, sleep and work in this manner. I return to the doctor next day, same time. I know I didn’t have any symptoms - there were no strange flutterings, no missed beats, no baseball thumping moments, no moments that took my breath away. I am disappointed.

The amicable ambiance at my doctor’s office at night is like a small Iranian cocktail party, but with thermometers, blood pressure machines, and disposable needles instead of a cold drink. I sit in the waiting room while I hear a patient talk and laugh about how the best medicine is a serving of good kabab.

Finally, after the 24 hour stream of information from my heart box has been digitized into an electronic file, the doctor goes through the pages and pages of results. Apart from a less than 1% high heart rate (what was I doing around midnight, he asks?), I am within normal limits. There are some areas where my heart beats a touch too soon – but there is nothing he sees that I should worry about. Great? Great!

I guess I can run the marathon after all.

Now I just have to wait on the verdict next week regarding treatment of my too too pained shin. There is always something.