I'd just stepped out of the can, a little past Mile 16, and turned left onto Pico from Robertson, when this big Asian guy - he must have been six foot two - started to wobble in front of me, like a spun down top. I could see his brain was still trying make some residual forward movement, but the legs weren't cooperating, and he twisted around on his calves, slowly crumpling, quite softly, actually, towards the pavement. Nonetheless, I couldn't see letting him hit his head on the ground (after all, I am a doctor, and have never dropped a baby yet), so I rushed forward (somehow, my legs appeared to still be working), and spotted his fall by easing his shoulders down and away from the curb. Luckily, we were near a tree, and I was able to maneuver him into the shade. Runners all around us swirled away; none stopped, but they all did a double take, wondering why this Pieta like scene was being played out in the middle of a marathon.
Someone appeared with water, which I suggested should go under his arms, across his chest, and near his groin (cool the big vessels first). An officious and quite energetic younger woman asked me what was going on. "I think he's getting heat stroke" I said. "We've got to keep him cool." The guy tried to get up and start running again. I think he was Japanese. "No, that's OK. You just sit here. Get some rest. You need to stand down now, and get cooled off". Turning to my lone helper, I said, "Somebody should call for the Paramedics, or something." She said evenly, "I'm an EMT". Then I noticed she had no race bib, and was looking towards the van slowly beating against the constant tide of runners - a lime yellow FD emergency vehicle.
With that, I was up, trying to get back into my race. "OK, I'll keep on going then."
"Thanks" she said.
But I'd lost my will. My time of 1:48+ at the 13.1 mile mark, the heat rippling up from all the concrete, being passed by the pack of runners following a big "3'40" banner on the hill (actually an overpass at Robertson and the Santa Monica), stopping to pee a mile later, then the Asian guy falling in my arms - by the time I was ready to turn left onto Fairfax from Pico, I stopped to let some promo guy rub analgesic balm into my legs. After that, walking seemed to make a lot more sense. But I wouldn't give in. Not along San Vicente, where teenagers hired by Sprint did just that - ran along beside us, throwing telephone at us, urging us to make a call for free. All around me, people were saying "Hi - guess where I am?"
Nor did I walk along the Miracle Mile at Wilshire, because, when Cheryl and I had scouted the last half of the course, I'd noticed the three mile cruise between 19 1/2 and 22 1/2 would be thru a tree-speckled neighborhood along 6th Avenue. There, I'd hoped, I would find relief from the noon-time sun - for noon it would surely be - and could rejuvenate for the last 6K home.
Before I got to the trees, I let my 9 minute per mile pace get the better of me. I finally gave in to "What's the point, you're not going to qualify for Boston anyway." I gave up and started walking. And not even the quick walk of someone who's legs just won't run, but who wants to finish quickly anyway, but the dejected, broken jaunt of someone who'd given up. Here I was, over six miles and, at this pace, an hour and a half, from the finish. How did I get here, anyway?
It had all seemed so easy, at the time. I mean, I'd run a marathon before, after biking 112 miles, and swimming 2.4, in Ironman California. Sure, it took me 4 hours and 22 minutes, but I ran the whole way. I'd tried a 1/2 marathon four months earlier, in 1 hour and 40 minutes, and a 10 K a month later, in 44 minutes. Both times would indicate I was capable of going around 3 hours, 30 minutes. So I kept at the long runs, the mile repeats, the weight lifting. And then ... and then ... I ran up the excuses. My shoulder hurt (so I can't run); I'm going skiing for a week (so I can't run); it's raining (so I can't run); I need to taper (so I can't run). It all added up to several weeks lost out of the training plan, weeks I needed to go long, to go fast, to go at all.
It didn't help that I arrived at the start line 30 minutes early, decided I had enough time to pee, and barely made it back in time to get crushed near the front, amongst the "7:30 -8 minute mile pace" crowd. I mean, I could barely stand up, we were packed in so tight. And it didn't help that they delayed the start of the race by 30 minutes, waiting to clear "something" (a demonstration? an accident? a domestic hostage situation?) from the course. I sat down. All I could see were the restless legs of my little section of over 15,000 would-be marathoners.
Finally, somewhere, after all the political back slapping and corporate self-congratulation, a whistle blew, and the crowd became agitated. People started jogging in place. Up ahead, a thousand birds chirped as the runners passed over the timing mat, their magnetic chips setting of an electronic beep with each passage. And we were off, down hill from the Civic Center, through downtown canyons, our mass filling all six lanes of the blocked off streets. Spectators crowded overpasses. I waved; they seemed indifferent.
LA is a BIG city. I used to live there, but I only drove, never walked or ran around. I knew the route, but it seemed to take forever. I kept my spirits up for 10-12 miles, drawing from the ethnic crowds, the bands playing every mile or so, the people all around me, running more or less at my pace. I slapped hands with every kid who offered from the road side. I listened to conversations among the groups of runners around me.
About mile twelve, somewhere along Venice Boulevard, I broke out into the sun, and started to flag, I paced behind a woman going my speed for a mile or so. Passing over the timing mat at the half-way point, I saw that my time was 1:48 + . At the 10K point, about an hour earlier, my pace was 8 minutes, 20 seconds; now it was down to 8 minutes, 15 seconds. But that had been at the expense of me raising my heart rate too high for the long haul for that last two miles, trying to get back towards a 3'30" finish. I'd spent my endurance too early, I was to learn, and paid for it with that dejected walk along 6th Ave.
By the time I passed the hills in Korea Town, south of Wilshire, I determined that, at some point, I would have to run again. Thousands of runners had passed me while I walked; I must have re-passed half of them in the last 2-3 miles. I ran with my head up, hurting a bit (but not nearly enough to say I'd suffered in the marathon). I pulled into the finish chute near the Convention Center in just under 4 and a half hours. I felt like a complete failure.
A race, especially a marathon, is a simple investment. I'd played this one like a stock, not a money market CD. Not only did I invest in a poor bet by undertraining, I then compounded my problem by trying to cash in what little principle I had way too early. I lost my shirt, and my pride. Just like last year, when I walked in the sun at Ironman Canada, and gave up after a flat tire at Xterra Worlds in Hawaii, I developed some issues with this race. But never again in LA; next time, fewer people nearer the ocean, and nearer the winter solstice. Maybe the new San Diego Marathon, in North County by the beach, January 20, 2003. I could qualify for Boston as a 55 year old, even though I'd still be 53. I'd get an extra five minutes to finish in. This time, I'd actually train through to then end, and go skiing afterwards.