Those of you who know me are aware that I do not take advice well. So despite repeated warnings by marathon veterans during the past few months to not go too fast at the beginning of the race no matter how good I felt, when I felt good during the opening portion of Sunday’s Los Angeles Marathon, I went just about as fast as I could. By mile 15, my energy was gone. But somehow I was able to finish. And since it was my first marathon, that’s all that counted.
Thousands of participants lined up on Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles shortly before 8 a.m., waiting for the signal to begin the 26.2-mile adventure that is the L.A. Marathon. I stood with my friends from L.A. Leggers, a Santa Monica-based training group, where we discussed our excitement about finally getting to do what we had trained so many months for.
When Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” blasted over the speakers, it meant the race had begun. The opening steps of the marathon were not much of a run, but more of a careful walk, with everybody in the packed crowd almost falling on top of each other. It took about five minutes to even reach the starting line. When I did finally reach that point, I looked to my right and saw one of the greatest athletes of all time, Muhammad Ali, motioning to the crowd. That was inspiring. Mayor James Hahn standing next to him, giving a forced thumbs-up, did not have the same emotional impact. The Malibu Times went to print before the results came out for Tuesday’s mayoral election, so I don’t know whether Jimmy’s campaign for the athletic vote brought him over the top.
I ran the first mile with my L.A. Leggers sub-group, which had trained with a goal to run the marathon in 10 minutes, 30 seconds per mile. During our weekly practice runs, we did a rotation of running for five minutes and walking for one minute. The plan was to do that in the marathon as well. When it came time for the second walk break during the marathon, I decided to take things into my own hands. I kept running, leaving my friends behind.
For the next 10 miles or so, I felt fantastic. At each mile marker, there was a clock to show the running time. I could see that I was running each mile in about 9 minutes, 30 seconds, a blazing speed (for me, probably not for Kenyan Mark Saina, who won the race while averaging just under 5 minutes per mile). I was pleased with how well I was going, and foolishly assumed I could keep this pace for the next three hours.
But soon, as if a vacuum was turned on inside me, the energy was quickly sucked out of my body. I was not brought down by any cramps or uncontrollable pain, I had simply run out of fuel. And despite drinking and eating everything that the friendly fans and volunteers on the sidelines handed me (Except for the beer. I thought the people were joking when they yelled out, “ice cold beer,” and I grabbed a cup. When I discovered it actually was beer, I threw the cold liquid on my face, giving me a moment of relief), nothing was able to give me more than a quick jolt.
At about mile 20, my friends who I left behind so long ago finally caught up to me. One of the women said, “Jonathan, I thought you were way ahead?”
“I was,” I responded. “But I collapsed.”
I stayed with the group for a little while, deciding to do run/walk rotation I should have been doing from the start. But alas, I couldn’t even keep up with the group. And just as I had done to them at the beginning of the marathon, my group left me behind.
But I did not let this get me down. Sure I was not going to finish the marathon in some amazing time as I thought I would during the glorious opening miles, but just completing the 26.2-mile journey is a feat in itself. And even though I could not keep up with my sub-group, I saw other L.A. Leggers who were also struggling to the finish. I didn’t know their names, but I knew they were fellow Leggers because of their shirts. I encouraged them and they did the same for me. And of course, there were the thousands of people on the sidelines cheering on all the participants. That gave me the extra push I needed to cross the finish line.
I have completed my first marathon, and now I am hooked. Next year, I will be sure not to try to go out on my own, and stay with my group. We have listed all the Malibu residents who finished the marathon on Sunday. Congratulations to all of you. A special Mazel Tov goes to Rick Wallace, The Malibu Times real estate reporter, who has run in every L.A. Marathon since the event began in 1986.
See the list of Malibu marathon finishers on page B12