Today was the big one, 23 miles. This is the longest run of the Team to End AIDS marathon training program, and the runners (both the newbies and the veterans) approach this one with a lot of trepidation. It’s just three miles shorter than the actual Los Angeles Marathon, and we need to learn from any mistakes we make here so that we don’t make them on March 17th. We’ve come this far, so there’s no stopping us now. Everyone came prepared with their water bottles, energy chews and gels, and whole lot of anti-chaffing cream because we need it to prevent a large assortment of blisters. Now blisters don’t take forever to heal, but they sure as hell feel like they do.
With all the constant construction and repairs going on at Griffith Park, we were forced to abandon our usual meeting spot and relocate to the parking lot of the Los Angeles Zoo. It’s been years since I’ve been inside that zoo, but I remember my last visit very well; never again will I visit that frightening snake exhibit. Anyway, I adjusted my morning schedule accordingly as we were forced to take a different route into Griffith Park as our usual entrance was now closed off. I didn’t want to be late for the 6:30 a.m. start, so I left my apartment around 5:30 a.m. so I wouldn’t encounter any problems on my way there. For once, I made it there much earlier than I usually do.
The runners all arrived at the parking lot with plenty of time to spare, and you could tell that everyone was more than prepared. I could smell the suntan lotion on their skin from a mile away. Was it Coppertone or Tropicana? I don’t know, but it doesn’t really matter. There was also some coffee for us to drink, but I’ve never really acquired a taste for it. Besides, I cut out all the caffeine in my daily diet because I wanted to savor that first burst of it when I consume the first of the dozen energy gels I brought with me. Those things have 35 to 40 milligrams of caffeine in them, and that sudden surge of energy from caffeine comes in handy during a run like this.
Coach JC reminded us to take it easy at the start of this run. We have a tendency to get off to a fast start, but since we were running 23 miles it was in our best interest to keep it slow. He also informed us that there is a hill for us to run up, and he quickly apologized for that. Regardless, we owe it to ourselves to run any hill the coaches inflict on us as there will be a few in the Los Angeles Marathon. In fact, I’m surprised we haven’t run up more of them during this training session. While we may be thankful for that, we may owe it to ourselves to run up one or two more before the training comes to an end.
My pace group, Lucky 13, got off to our usual slow start as we walked for the first four minutes, but after that we were running faster than our pace allowed. We didn’t find out until after the first few miles that we were running a little too fast. It’s a good thing we passed by those beautiful homes near Kenneth Village because looking at them forced us to slow down. We’ve been around this area before, joking with one another that we owned a house just up the street and that we would let runners inside to use the bathroom if only we could remember the code to the gate.
This run had us going around in circles and going by the same park two or three times. It’s a good thing I had that extra map on me because I was starting to lose track of which direction we were all supposed to run in. It was great as always to run into the Boliver family who are always making those peanut butter and pickle covered Ritz crackers for us to eat, although this time they were really pushing us to try the banana bread.
JC actually left us a number of other signs on the road for us to keep our spirits high. One said “THREE WORDS: Perpetual Bragging Rights,” and we were certainly going to earn them once we finished this run. Another sign said “staying up all night making these signs is hard too!” Granted, I don’t think typing these signs out on the computer and then printing them out is as hard on your body as running 23 miles is, but I’ll give JC the benefit of the doubt.
There was one more left out for us towards the end which said “Pheidippedes almost died at this point,” and that had all the runners who passed by it in hysterics. Pheidippedes, for the uninitiated, was a hero of Ancient Greece and the central figure in a story that became the inspiration for the marathon as we know it. He was a courier who ran from Marathon, a town in Greece, to announce to the people of the Greek victory over Persia in the Battle of Marathon. Once Pheidippedes delivered the good news, he collapsed and died. Not exactly an encouraging way to start a modern sporting event, but it worked. In fact, Pheidippedes journey could be described in another way: he went and he came.
The Lucky 13 pace group members talked with one another about pressing issues such as the infuriating state of medical insurance in America, and Drea wanted to see if I knew the title of a movie starring Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters and Montgomery Cliff. The first one that came to mind was “Judgment at Nuremberg,” but while Cliff was in that, Taylor was not. Another runner said it was “A Place in the Sun,” and it all served as a reminder of how I am at a loss when it comes to older movies. I still got a lot of movie watching to do.
Other than that, the women got to talking about their sports bra and which ones felt like a better fit. Now I came a little late into that conversation, and the women jokingly asking me if I heard all that was said. Looks like I have got to work on my not paying attention face a little bit more. You know, the facial expression that looks like you’re not listening when you actually are? It takes years to perfect.
Drea did however say to me that I looked like I had lost weight. YES!!! HALLELUJAH!!! IT SHOWS!!! Best comment of the day by far. While I’m not back to svelte self yet (and I haven’t been for years to be honest), it’s nice to know that I am making some progress. WOO-HOO!!!
Actually, there is one thing I am very thankful for on this 23-mile run: Advil. Now for some stupid reason I have been avoiding taking painkillers as many contain ingredients which apparently don’t do my liver any favors, and I’m already doing enough damage to it as it is with the occasional cocktail. But after running 20 miles a couple of weeks ago and remembering how painful it was to limp into Ralphs Supermarket to buy a 20 pound bag of ice, I figured it was time to indulge in some liquid gel relief. The only question is, does taking Advil qualify as doping?
I took a couple Advil around mile 15 or 16 as I could already feel my feet getting sore, and they never hesitate in voicing their disapproval when I’ve been pounding the pavement for way too long by saying “what the hell did we ever do to you?” But once the Advil kicked in, any pain or soreness I was experiencing went away, and I finished the 23 miles with what seemed like relative ease. I can only imagine what my feet were saying on those last few miles:
“Hey, we’re getting slammed on the concrete but we feel fine. This feels good.”
For all I know they were tripping the life fantastic and singing Beatles songs. Seriously, I’m not making this up!
“Picture yourself in a boat on the river…”
When we got to the end, all the volunteers and coaches that were helping us out today were there to cheers us as we crossed the finish line, and there was a ribbon for us to break through and everything. Now in the past we got Team to End AIDS medals for completing the 23 mile run, but this time we got dog tags. This seemed appropriate as this was a run that we survived more than we completed. On the back of the dog tags was a quote from the late and still missed Coach Scott Boliver:
“Keep going. Go as slow as you need to go, but keep going.”
We also got a card from AIDS Project Los Angeles which had a statement from a woman named Lisa, and it said the following:
“I’m a fighter. I’m an Air Force veteran with two college degrees. But by the time I realized I was HIV-positive, I was too sick to work and was forced to move onto the streets-and I was devastated when I was forced to give up my children to the foster care system.
“But APLA’s Housing Support Services helped find me safe, affordable housing, helped me cover the deposit, and allowed me to get my son back.
“APLA helped me get my life back and reminded me that my life is worth fighting for.”
This was a strong reminder of why we are all raising money for AIDS Project Los Angeles, why we are running this marathon, and who we are fighting for. Every once in a while we need to put a face to whom is benefitting from these programs, and hearing about how APLA helped one person out of their dire predicament makes us realize something important: we are heroes. We are fighting for those who cannot help themselves, and that is something we should be very proud of.
Week 18 of 2013 Los Angeles Marathon Training
Week 17 of 2013 Los Angeles Marathon Training
Day 19 of 2012 Los Angeles Marathon Training