The day before the Los Angeles Marathon – a different kind of visualization


Like the old ketchup commercial or Tom Petty, the anticipation or the waiting is the hardest part. Sitting in a Los Angeles hotel room 22 hours before the start of The 2015 Los Angeles Marathon, I find myself oddly at peace, oddly introspective. This will be my 25th marathon and my tenth here in Los Angeles. I’ve had good races and lousy races. In 2013, I stepped off of an airplane on Friday night, after a 30-hour flight from India, and ran a 4:09 on Sunday morning – a good day.


2013 LA Marathon

Last year, I ran to mile 16 and was done, walking in the next 10 miles in 80F temperatures. I crossed the finish line in more than five and a half hours, wondering why I ever started the race knowing in advance how hot it was going to be.

2014 marathon finish facebook post

Tomorrow, it’s supposed to be worse with record temperatures expected and highs into the low 90F’s. But my mindset is slightly different. I’ve never gone into a race not to run as fast as I can on that day, but in this case, I am going to try NOT to run faster than a 4:30 marathon, because I have no interest in repeating last year’s death march and I don’t want to end up looking like this guy here.

2014  la marathon peson needing emt

So here’s my plan and my thoughts on this day before the 30th running of the Los Angeles Marathon:

1. Stay on East Coast time – this helps me to stay loose and do what I need to do, but keep my bodily functions and sleep patterns aligned to what I need to do to wake up and be out of the house by 2am PT to get to my parking spot in Santa Monica, get on the shuttle and head to the start.

2. Organize what I need and get it done – I picked up my bib yesterday; I avoid going to a marathon expo the day before the race because it is a taxing experience both physically and mentally. My bib is already attached to my race belt and as soon as I finish doing my laundry, I will have my clothes ready to go. Twenty five marathons later, I still get the yips the day before the race but knowing this is going to be more of a survival in the heat experience, I’m at peace with whatever happens tomorrow.

3. Stay relaxed – So what today is really about is just  staying off my feet, maybe doing a light 20-min shakeout run, maybe seeing a matinee movie at the local theater. Today would have been a perfect day to see McFarland, USA but I’ve already seen it, so I’ll find an alternative. My plan is to go to sleep right after it gets dark, probably around 7:30pm local time (10:30pm ET) so that I can get at least 5.5 hours of sleep before I have to wake up at 1am (4am ET). Then it’s simple, I shower, drive to the parking lot, walk to the shuttles and head to Dodger Stadium where I put on some music, lay down and wait for the marathon to begin.

 4. Accept that tomorrow is what it is – It’s going to be hot, I am not going to PR, and this is just one step in a much longer journey of what I want to accomplish this year and I ma blessed to be healthy enough to be able to be out there covering these 26.2 miles.

5. Run in the moment and remember – For me, tomorrow is much more about the course than about the race. This course is a journey through my upbringing and the majority of my life. I know every mile. I know ever yard of every mile. While others may run this as a marathon course, I run this as a validation of who I am and where I came from. The race starts at Dodger Stadium where my parents used to take me as a child; it was probably my first public social experience, with my father yelling in Spanish to then rookie pitcher Fernando Valenzuela. I will remember how I worked downtown for years, just another ambitious suit trying to prove to some unknown entity of power and acknowledgment that I was worthy of being more than a glorified fitness trainer. At mile thirteen, my race and my journey really begins. I run through Sunset Plaza, past where Los Angeles monuments like Tower Records and Licorice Pizza used to stand, turn left down San Vicente and past the now shut down West Hollywood Post Office, my address since the early 1980′s. We run past Rage and everything that made West Hollywood the most energetic and crazy community in Los Angeles, long before anyone ever called it WeHo. With a quick glance to the right up the hill to where I grew up, we turn left down Doheny and run past Ralphs which used to be Hughes Market where I got shot at chasing a thug, and spent probably a thousand nights working night crew and stocking shelves during my four years in college. I remember that across the street was Chasen’s, my mother’s favorite restaurant, where you could get strawberries the size of your fist, and where I celebrated my college graduation with she and my sister. We run through Beverly Hills and past where Jacopo’s Pizza used to be, the place I first saw someone flip and spin pizza dough. We run past Versace, Polo and the other elite fashion stores on Rodeo Drive before turning down little Santa Monica that used to have a railroad track separating it from the larger street and iconic locations like Trader Vics, also now gone. We run past the ghost of Jimmy’s before passing Beverly Hills High School, where I learned to type and head into Century City, where I cut my teeth in the Entertainment practice of PwC. We run past the condo where John and I lived, Cindy and I first met, and where my mother took her last breath. We run the stretch of Santa Monica from Beverly Glen to Sepulveda, the same stretch I used to walk for eighteen months to walk to work at Sports Club/LA because I couldn’t afford a car after mine was stolen. We turn up through the VA Hospital, and exit the west gates that lead to the almost fictional and privileged world of Brentwood, where Teslas, Audi’s and Porsches outnumber Fords and Chevy’s 10:1. It’s at this point that I know I am really home. This is where my life as a runner and a coach really began. Passing Montana, I can reflect back on those first days coaching for APLA, when we had 500 runners coming out every Saturday for our group training runs while preparing for Honolulu. I can begin to smell the ocean breeze as I steadily make my way up the San Vicente grade to 26th Street, the the place I used to park my car and run what I thought back then was a really serious 4-mile run to Ocean and back. I will run those last 3 miles all downhill, knowing that one street over between 7th and 4th are the Santa Monica Stairs where I will likely be on Monday morning. Then we turn left down Ocean, passing the landmark wall where fellow S.M.U.T’s met every week to better our running and our lives. Trying to keep it together as best we can, we’ll head down Ocean, knowing that this last mile will feel like it lasts forever, watching the palm trees swaying and the blue ocean below and off to our right until we cross under the finish line just shy of the Santa Monica Pier and a few blocks over from the 3rd Street Promenade. I have taken this journey all of my life. I have run this course a million times before, and ten times on marathon day. It is both the most exhilarating and the saddest run I will ever do. And that’s why the time doesn’t matter, the heat doesn’t matter, and the medal doesn’t matter. Because even with so many of these Los Angeles landmarks gone, the course still remains, the memories remain; and for the moment, so do I. Good luck out there.


McFarland, USA – A Runner’s Review

Clearly I am not a movie reviewer. I’m just a guy who loves running, is a sucker for the underdog, and love to be inspired. As for McFarland, USA, in short, I loved it. Yes, it was predictable, and yes it was about Kevin Costner, but setting that aside, I really enjoyed the film. I wanted to see this film for the obvious reasons I’ve already mentioned, but I also wanted to see it because I have been bothered by the fake story about Hollister, CA. Unless you have been living under a rock, I like you, for the past ten years or more have seen hipsters and kids all over the country proudly wearing their Hollister hoodies and t-shirts, espousing the surf culture of that California beachside community. But like the restaurant chain, Noah’s NY Bagels, there is no such thing. Hollister is inland and landlocked. It is an agricultural community not that unlike McFarland, CA about three hours south, or its own neighbor Salinas, CA, the lettuce capital of the United States. There isn’t even a Hollister clothing store in Hollister, CA, but why let facts get in the way of a great story? So you can see why I was curious to see how Disney would portray McFarland, an agricultural town with a population somewhere around 13,000.
McFarland to Hollister
In reality, they did a great job. What I was most impressed with is that three of the seven runners in the film were actually from McFarland, giving them a chance to participate in the story of their own town and helping them to launch their own acting careers in a town that I would guess doesn’t have that many casting opportunities.
The running scenes were good but not amazing, the storyline was solid and the acting by novice and veterans alike was terrific and not overacted. It held my attention, entertained and inspired me for the entire length of the film.
All that said, there was one little thing that I couldn’t get past and the problem was that I kept seeing it in almost every scene. Carlos Pratts, who plays the character and fastest of the McFarland runners, Thomas Valles, is a thick, and I mean thick muscle bound athlete that looks nothing like a long distance runner.
McFarland to beach
Pratts’ character Valles is seen above, running at the front of the group amongst other thinner and more realistic running characters, except for character Danny Diez, who is purposefully overweight.
But here’s the real issue, Pratts’ character is timed by Coach White (Costner) early in the film, running through a farm while he commutes with a backpack on at a blistering 5:30 min/mile pace. Now anyone who runs, knows how hard it is to run with a backpack on, let alone run that fast. I mean, check out this guys arms and thighs in the photos above or below. There is no way that this guy is running that fast and winning the overall state championship against the legs and lungs of other more svelte runners – unless he’s running the 100 meter dash. If McFarland, USA was about wrestling or power lifting, Pratts would have been a great casting choice, but as an elite distance runner, he just didn’t physically fit the character’s needs and this oversight annoyed me greatly.
Pratts Valles
Here is what the real Thomas Valles looked like in 1987 when they won their first trophy:
McFarland Real Valles
McFarland Real Valles Trophy
Look at the size of Valles’ hips alone? Pratts’ thighs are larger. At a minimum, Pratts should have dieted down to portray Valles’ character more accurately. Yes Valles was ripped but he was lean and ripped, not yoked. Pratts is just thick, too thick for any of his running scenes to have been accurate or believable.  I will have to turn to my good friend Sandi to let me know how that type of a casting decision might have been made. Sylvester Stallone at 5’8″ and 159 lbs was more believable as heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Balboa. It would have been the equivalent to having Steve Prefontaine portrayed by actor Sean Astin (Rudy and Samwise Gamgee) in Without Limits. It just wouldn’t have worked, no matter how great the actor is.
But that’s it. And interesting for me, I read a number of reviews and comments in running blogs and online magazines and nobody else seemed to have picked up on this.
Now, what also intrigued me was the real story about the McFarland, CA cross country team and how that story was portrayed in the movie. And like so many stories, the truth is more impressive than even the film. In December of 1997, The Los Angeles Times published this article on McFarland after they won their 6th straight state title. I invite you to read it. It only made me feel more connected to the characters I had been introduced to in the film.
In short, I highly recommend the film, in the theaters or by watching it during your taper week before your next race. You’ll be better for having seen it.
Below are some other links worth checking out, after you see the film. Enjoy!