Thursday, March 29, 2012

Prequel Sequel: LA Marathon 2012

See, it's a Prequel, because it's out of order.  I ran the LA Marathon 5 days before Old Goats 50.  You know... as a fine taper.  But it's a Sequel, because this was something that began long, long ago...

How did I get started running, you ask?  Well, it's very simple.  Growing up, I was thoroughly convinced that my dad was pretty much the most awesome guy ever.  He knew the answers to basically everything, he teased my mom, which was funny, he made excellent pancakes and by golly, he was fast.  My pops liked to tour the local 5k/10k scene in the slow-pitch softball off season*, and I distinctly remember going to watch him run around St. Louis, thoroughly impressed by the insane distances he was covering.  SIX MILES?!!  Holy shit.  My dad is incredible.

Told you.  I had to be exactly like The Kev.
Of course, eventually I got it in my head that if running was something my dad did, then it was something I needed to be doing as well.  And so I inquired about the possibility of me participating in one of these races at some point.  Next thing I knew, we were signed up for the St. Charles Flat Five and my dad was going to run the whole thing with me!  All I needed was my Umbros and my sweet suede Lanzeras and I was ready to rock.
That was 1994, so needless to say, I don't remember a ton of details from the day.  Most likely it was humid and I had the best time ever.  Those are the only things I can say with any confidence.  Also, apparently I came in 4th overall woman which I guess was pretty good considering I was 11 and wearing soccer shoes.  Unfortunately, a 'real runner' neighborhood lady didn't really like the fact that I'd beaten her, so she found it necessary to point out that the rules clearly stated that you must be 16 years of age to participate in the 5k.  Not even out of grade school and stripped of my medal.  Such a disgrace to my country.

I love that I corrected it in red pen.

400/800 meter track star - finally faster than the old man.
My dad and I continued to run 5k/10ks together for the next few years and eventually I went on to run in high school.  (Our soccer team sucked.)  Around this time, he stopped challenging me to 100 meter dashes at the track, which I now understand was so he may forever say that he is the champion.  Congratulations. Throughout the rest of my running career, however, my pops was always present, reminding me to "open my stride" or "play hard, have fun."  I always thought it strange that in huge crowds of screaming people lining the course or hugging the fence, including my mother's impressive two-finger whistle, I could clearly make out my dad's soft-spoken advice and nothing else.  
Collapsing into dad's arms after winning
the MSHSA XC State Championships.

My senior year of college, I decided to run a marathon.  Again, my dad made the treck up to Chicago and again, I could hear him cheering me on, now through literally millions of people lining the streets of a huge skyscraper-filled city.  It was pretty awful, considering I was wearing a men's cotton undershirt, some volleyball shorts and knew nothing of gel or the concept of drinking water, but hey - I made it.  When I found my old man after the race, the first thing he told me was that he was proud of me.  But the second was that he would NEVER run a marathon because the body was just not made to go over 20 miles and that's why I couldn't even step off a curb.  The third was a riotous bout of silent laughter, recalling a couple he saw at the beginning of the race with perfect hair and full make-up, clearly running to be seen, who looked quite a bit different and well... melted by mile 20.  We have a very similar sense of humor.

The marathoner and the guy who will never
run a marathon.

Fast forward a bit to my foray into ultrarunning.  That's a story I should probably tell at some point, but we'll save that for a later date, as it has nothing to do with this post.  On a related note, I know I have not once mentioned the 2012 LA Marathon yet, which is the title, but trust me - this exposition is entirely necessary.  To this day, I'm not quite sure what my dad first thought of the whole thing, but all I can remember is honestly feeling like for the first time in my life, he really wasn't very interested in my running.  The 50k was one thing, but when I first mentioned 50 miles, I recall some questions into the safety and logic of doing such a thing.  Make no mistake, he told me he was proud of me, but the concept was entirely foreign, and unlike me, he was not surrounded by a group of people who thought it all perfectly normal and worthwhile.  He was surrounded by no one who had ever even heard of "ultrarunning."

Parents highly pleased with themselves. Me diagraming
how I'd basically had them foiled, but threw all notions
aside when he'd called me the previous day from work,
i.e. Dana Point, CA.
(photo:  Kevin Chan)
Dad's first experience with my ultra career came in 2010 when he agreed to crew me at the Ozark Trail 100 in Missouri.  The day ended with him all but carrying me back to the mile 70 aid station, body wrecked with hypothermia, and resulting in my first ever DNF.  "Great," I thought.  "I had one shot, and now I've ruined it for him." Imagine my surprise when he showed up in Wrightwood last year, the day before AC100.  And imagine how scared I was that I'd fuck it up again, considering I couldn't bend my knee.  Nope, dad.  This time you're going to see how amazing it is to finish one of these things.  

I don't know exactly how long after finishing AC it was, but at some point last year, I heard the first mention of it out of his mouth.  My dad, who believed that 20 miles was out of control, thought he might run a marathon one of these days.  There was no poking and no prodding and no guilt-tripping.  And at any rate, he just wanted to know what it might take and what kind of training he might need to do.  The half marathons and various trail races were becoming a little easier, and like I always suspected, eventually it just gets to you that there's something a little crazy out there that other people are doing and goddammit, you should be able to do it too.  I didn't get these genes from a donor, people.

Ah yes... it's going to be an excellent day.
(1400 & 890 -in Mizzou colors-
if you're wondering)
Eventually, the questions turned to training plans, and the training turned to 16 and 18 mile runs.  He called me in January to tell me he was registering for the LA Marathon, conveniently in my hometown and awesomely on my birthday.  He said I didn't have to run with him, though I'd promised to do any marathon he signed up for, and I told him he was out of his mind.  This was my chance to finally repay my dad for what he did for me 18 years ago and I was now more excited to run the LA Marathon than any other race thus far in life.  Did I mention I got into Western States this year?  Yeah... that excited.

Dominic dropped us off at Dodger Stadium race morning, and we stood packed in a tent, praying it wouldn't rain, as forecast.  Pops was clearly excited - and man, how couldn't you be?  He'd knocked out all of his training, trimmed down to a quite svelte version of himself and now was about to run farther than he'd ever run before.  After three rounds of Randy Newman, we were off.

Perfect form and all smiles through mile 6 - hills
officially crushed.
The sun came out, the day warmed up and through mile 6, we were easily averaging about a 10 minute pace.  Dad felt great, and though we both had to pee, life was enjoyable.  We marveled at the scenery... and by scenery I don't mean the city; I mean the participants.  Fuck airports, man.  Marathons are some of the best people watching opportunities around.  We laughed as dad crushed the hills and soon were joined by Dom, spectating at Echo Park and graciously playing tour guide to my grandparents who'd come out to LA to watch their 56-year-old son run his first marathon.  I felt like the luckiest in-the-process-of-turning-29-year-old ever, as all of these important people shared this perfect day with me.  If the streets of LA had suddenly turned to single track trail, I might have died of happiness right then and there.

Somewhere around mile 9, I realized that dad was no longer talking to me, but I remembered that he said he always seemed to have a low point around 9 miles into any run.  OK, I thought.  We'll shake this.  A few miles later, I took this photo around the halfway point and posted on Facebook on the run for our family keeping tabs back in MO.  Subsequently I was confused to see the LOL comments popping up on my screen - but couldn't really see the details of the photo, as I was running and there was a glare.  On second thought, I now see why.
Look at it this way.  At least you aren't heel striking, man.
Apparently, Pops-o-Matic's stomach was not liking his gels any longer, and this was really pissing him off.  He'd never had a single issue with the gel, salt and water plan, and now, on race day, he suddenly felt like he was going to puke every time he ingested anything.  Soon thereafter he started cramping and he later admitted to thoughts that he might not finish this thing.  Fortunately, I also started cramping extremely bad and realized that if I did not urinate, my kidneys were going to explode and I too, would not finish the marathon.  I wondered out loud if the need to pee might be the reason for the internal body anger.  Without a legal place to grab a bush or alley, we agreed to stop at the next line of porta-potties, no matter how long the line.  

Post pee-apocalypse.
Glory glory hallelujah, folks.  We have been saved.  You want to talk about a second wind - check out my dad at mile 14.5.  NEW. MAN.  The cramping released, the next gel went down without wretch and our pace dropped back down to a reasonable experience.  We left Hollywood, cruised down Rodeo and made our way towards Century City, where we'd be joined by Dom, Grams and Grandpa once again - and dad would officially begin taking steps into the unknown.  The beautiful place where every inch is one further than you've ever gone before.  Goddamn that shit is magical.

We got there, we high fived Team DeSplinter and we saddled up for the last difficult section of the course - the hills of the VA.  Dad was worked, but we were moving right along, and I didn't doubt for one second that we'd be at the finish line soon.  I reminded him that it was going to hurt now... probably really bad... but that it would soon be over and it would all be worth it. But he already knew that. My dad is wise beyond his miles.

Does this look like that sleepy-time photo above, or what?
(photo: Dom)

The last few miles were rough.  Dad was hurting and I tried to encourage him with the fact that we were passing people who were completely dejected and walking, yet he remained focused forward and in stride.  His legs cramped and hurt all over, and after a little convincing, he eventually concluded that it would not hurt any worse to run than walk and it would all be over sooner.  We called my mom with a little over a mile to go, back at home, recovering from a knee replacement and super disappointed that her operation would not allow her to be waiting at the finish line in that moment.  Even better - you get to talk to us during the race AND I am forever haunted by online photos of me "racing" talking on a cell phone.  Go ahead and look it up, people.  I don't care.

As we turned off San Vicente for the final stretch on Ocean Avenue, an absolutely amazing shot of the Pacific came into sight.  Possibly one of the more beautiful I've ever seen.  The wind was seriously out of control, creating perfect white caps on the sea and the ability to see for miles, including the crisp lines of Catalina in the distance.  The palm trees whipped in the wind, and through any amount of pain, one couldn't help but smile.  Victory lap.

Dad picked up the pace as the finish line came into view and I let out a few war whoops.  I was so filled with pride for my dad - in fully committing to doing something he said he'd never do, and completing it all with such a positive attitude, despite the fact that I know he was in some serious pain.  I can't quite describe the feeling, but it was pretty freaking amazing.  I always kind of feared that point where you realized the roles were switched between you and the parents you idolized, and now you were leading the way for them - but I've got to tell you, it was all quite wonderful.  Right before the finish line, my dad, still the most awesome guy I've ever known - now even awesomer, grabbed my hand and we stepped victoriously across the finish line.  I will never, EVER forget that moment as long as I shall live.  It meant more to me than I could ever fully explain for reasons I probably don't even fully understand.

But I am sure that one of those reasons is to say I told you so.

Mile 26 - smiling because we're almost done, or because a huge timing clock
is currently being rammed into Dom's head?  You decide.
(photo: the part of Dom that was not being attacked)
Plural this time.
(photo: Dom)

END NOTE:  Turns out that dad ran the whole marathon with the flu, and was sick for a full week prior.  This from the man who passed kidney stones running his first half marathon.  If you've ever found a better candidate for an ultramarathon, I'd find it hard to believe.

Hiking Temescal the next day.  Grandpa offers a ride.
At age 76, Grams murders us all up the climb.  New life goal: getting
Grandma to run that half marathon she casually mentioned...


  1. Loved every minute, every word, and every picture of this post.
    Thank you for sharing.

  2. This is such a wonderful story! So happy for you and your dad - that he ran his first marathon and that you inspired him to do it! Just so you know, he's not the only one you've inspired. :)