April 6, 2011

Los Angeles Marathon: The Full Report

I knew the LA Marathon wasn't going to be my most outstanding race performance due to a recent injury and less-than-tip-top health week, but I had no idea it would be my most challenging race yet. The forecast leading up to race day was grim - first a chance of showers, then rain, then heavy rain plus wind. The percent chance inched up from 30% to 100% and the temp wasn't predicted to break 54. Yet Michelle - the friend I was staying with and racing with - and I remained optimistic. They're always wrong about the weather, right?

Wrong. Not only were they right, but they were actually fairly generous with the forecast. The really bad stuff was initially predicted to start around 10 and get incredibly bad around noon. We hoped we'd be well into the course by the time it got ugly, but instead the rain started at .60 miles on my watch and sprinkled until mile 7, where it quickly transformed into a torrential downpour. My first thought was that while it sucked, it would likely be a blip and go back to light showers. It was only 9am after all. But instead it continued to pour and the more soaked I became, the colder it seemed. Rivers were forming in the streets and forced us to run through ankle deep currents at times. But we pressed on.

Michelle and I pre-race, we had such high hopes!

All was going according to plan pace-wise for most of the first half. I started with the 3:50 pace team, but hung back a bit knowing it was a bit aggressive for me. After the first big hill they pulled away and were a distant memory. The 4:00 pace team showed up shortly after so I joined them for a few miles. I was running comfortably and hitting sub-9s consistently. I was forced to take a pee break around mile 7 due to the cold temps and lack of sweating. I ran ahead of the group thinking I could stop quickly and catch up, but unfortunately lost them. It was ok though, I was still clipping along nicely.

But things took a turn for the worse around the half point. My stomach had been cramping and my shoes felt like soaked bricks. Even the steep downhills were rough. I was on a very meticulous nutrition schedule and had done everything right - how could this be? It was the kind of thing I've heard endless stories about, runners suffering full GI meltdowns and surviving a race dashing from porta potty to porta potty. That became my fate somewhere around 14 miles. The weather had worsened and just about the time the big, puffy 14-mile blow up fell down on us, my entire system shut down. Every sip of anything I took, or even a minuscule drop of gel, sent me racing for a bathroom. I felt weak, feverish. My legs got heavier. I wanted to cry. This all went down in Beverly Hills, a part of the course I should have been loving every downhill moment of.

The look on my face says it all

I hoped it would pass, but instead it continued to worsen so I stopped all hydration and nutrition and kept moving forward. The frequent stopping made my body temperature plummet so I grabbed a heat sheet from Medical around Mile 17 or 18. I continued to run. Thoughts of a voluntary DNF were on my mind, but I was staying with friends and the cell phone number of my post-race ride was saved on my phone, which was checked in baggage at the finish. I had no one to call and feared being stuck shivering roadside while waiting forever for an official ride to the finish. So I kept going.

I hit rock bottom around Mile 20 and was forced to walk. I felt lifeless and started to worry about things like kidney damage or dangerously low electrolytes and honestly didn't know what to do. Should I keep running and try to get this over with as quickly as possible? Or should I go slow and easy and risk hypothermia? After slogging through a couple areas of shin-deep water and walking up a hill, I decided to try running on the downhill. My stomach ached and my legs were dead. I cried.

How do you like that fake smile?

While walking at a glacial pace, another runner joined me and tried to cheer me up. She was having a rough day, too, but hers was due to typical late-marathon leg pain. She couldn't seem to get going again. I had a hard time finding energy for small talk and couldn't lift my eyes from the soaking wet pavement. I saw Mile 24 ahead and thought: If I can get there, I'll run the rest. It's almost over. Then the 4:30 pace team went jogging by and I had this awful sinking feeling about just how long I would be on this course. So I started running.

My pace was slow, but improving, and I ended up passing the 4:30 group and just running on my own. As I approached Santa Monica the wind became unbearable, heavy gusts blowing head on that made it difficult to move forward at times. This was supposed to be the magical part of the course, the Pacific Ocean off to your right as you run down Ocean Boulevard. There were tons of cheering spectators and I could see the finish ahead, even though it was still a mile away. It was all downhill and should have been spectacular. I finish many races in tears because I'm overwhelmed by the experience, the support, the accomplishment. I finished this race in tears because I was hurting so much and was so thankful it was over. I crossed the line in 4:33:35, far short of my sub-4 goal but a huge accomplishment given the conditions.

Happy to be finished! Check out the water on the camera lens

I ran nearly 11 miles without any fluids or nutrition and my race splits painted a picture of my gradual decline. After the finish my body temp rapidly dropped and I was shaking violently. My plan was to hit the medical tent for an IV and have them retrieve my bag so I could call for my ride, but the walk was so long I couldn't make it. I was directed into a warming room set up at a local hotel and sat there for over an hour shivering by myself. I felt so lost. When I finally mustered up the courage to go back outside, I fought the wind and rain to retrieve my bag and call Michelle's husband to pick me up. It was then I learned she had DNFd at the halfway point. I was so relieved. Michelle has lupus and the cold could have caused serious issues.

Five hours after my last sip of fluid on the course I had my first sip of Gatorade and it didn't sit well. I waited another hour and had a hot chocolate (not just any hot chocolate, but a venti salted caramel hot chocolate from Starbucks!) on the ride home, it felt so good to have something warm. That didn't sit well either. By 6pm I was starving and decided to ignore my stomach and finally eat: In-N-Out Double Double and Neapolitan shake, with champagne, of course!

Somehow that did sit well and at 10pm we went out for Mexican food. We didn't just snack either, we had a full on meal with tableside guacamole, handmade corn tortillas and a giant platter of enchiladas. After not eating or drinking all day I was a bottomless pit.

My coach believes I suffered digestion issues due to the cold and extreme conditions. It's never happened to me before and I hope it never does again, but at least I know I can deal with it if it does. We ask our bodies to do so much, it's not surprising they sometimes say "no."

I may never reflect on this as a "good" race by any definition, but I'm proud of what I accomplished. I dealt with a difficult situation, made decisions and found a way to get to the finish line safely. I also had a great weekend with a good friend and that made it more worthwhile than any medal or PR ever could.


  1. What a crazy weather day that was. I just don't see LA and rain, EVER. I am sure this marathon will make any other seem easy----er.

  2. You're a trooper - way to tough it out!

    We all have one of these races from time to time. Chalk it up as experience, you are a winner just for toe'ing the line. Be proud of your accomplishment.

    Hey, at least you made it to the porta-pottys! lol

  3. What a nightmare of a race. I've had tough races with bad conditions, but this one takes the cake. I'm impressed you were still able to smile for the camera. Congratulations for seeing it through to the end.

  4. Wow - that is a race about mental toughness for sure! I agree with John, the next one will have to feel easy...er. Great work!

  5. Wow! That has to be about the worst weather I have ever seen for race. You are totally hardcore for making to the finish line!

  6. wow, i had no idea LA was such a nightmare! running in the rain is one thing, but running a marathon in monsoon-like conditions with GI problems is on a whole other planet.

    reading everything you experienced during LA makes your finish that much more impressive! and if anything, at least it was a memorable one!

    btw, hilarious that your tummy was happy with in-n-out! in-n-out is always a good idea : )

  7. Ugh Kristin - super big kudos to you for toughing this one out. Sounds like it gave you a run for your money, but as always... you finished strong! :)

  8. OMGosh
    what an experience
    rock bottom at mi20 didnt sound good

    good job muddling thru this one, ugh!




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