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.
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.
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.
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.