I had a fantastic time in L.A. this past weekend, albeit short. From spectating the Olympic Marathon Trials, to running the L.A. Marathon, to spending time with my dear friend Ashley, this was most definitely a weekend to remember.
I flew out to L.A. on Friday to meet up with Ashley, who I haven’t seen since August 2014. I had to wake up at 3:00 a.m. to catch my early flight out of Dulles. After a brief layover in San Francisco, I landed at LAX around noon and met up with Ashley, who was coming in from Phoenix, at baggage claim.
Only in California! A sign at the airport in San Fran.
We knew we were in L.A. when we stepped outside and the first person we saw was a little girl (maybe 5 years old) wearing sunglasses and Beats by Dre. L.A. oozes cool.
Ashley and I took a cab downtown and checked into our hotel – the Sheraton Downtown. Between waking up so early and the 3-hour time difference, I was starving, so the first order of business was getting some food. After enjoying some very yummy Asian food, we headed to the race expo to pick up our bibs. We somehow turned what should have been a short walk (the expo was just a few blocks from the hotel) into an adventure (we got a little turned around and ended up at the place where people were picking up their tickets for the Grammy Awards), but we eventually found our way. The expo was huge and we walked around briefly to scope everything out. After the expo, we hit the hotel gym (the Sheraton has super nice gym, by the way) for a brief, post-travel shake-out jog. We grabbed dinner and then – Type A personalities that we are – figured out logistics for the rest of the weekend. We decided where we would stand to spectate the Olympic Marathon Trials on Saturday, we thought-through our plan for race morning on Sunday, I figured out my coffee plan for the trip (priorities!), etc.
On Saturday morning, we went for a brief shake-out run around downtown and then grabbed breakfast at the Whole Foods just a couple of blocks away from the Sheraton (another plus for the Sheraton). We showered and I put on my most patriotic outfit and off we went to watch the Trials!
Spectating! USA, USA!
Spectating the Trials was incredible. There was a palpable buzz in the air. Ashley and I were actually nervous for the runners! We found a great spot to watch them walking to their warm-ups, which was awesome. They are all SO teeny in person – even the men. These runners have thighs the size of my arms!
I took a ton of photos during the race, but here are a few of my favorites.
Meb and Galen Rupp
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a great shot of Meb at the finish, but he was waving the American flag with one hand and pumping his fist/giving high fives with the other – it was awesome! He’s just the best!
I am so thrilled with our women’s team. We couldn’t ask for three more fabulous women to represent us in Rio.
The winner of the women’s race, Amy Cragg, looking super strong and fresh at the finish.
Desi finished in second.
Shalane fought hard to hang on for third.
Spectating the Trials in person was even more amazing than I hoped it would be. It’s something I will never forget.
The races ended in the early afternoon and Ashley and I took it easy for the rest of the day. We reviewed our logistics for the next day and laid out our clothes. We wanted to be ready to go in the morning. We had noticed the day before that the Sheraton’s gym had foam rollers and massage sticks (how awesome is that?), so we put in a solid foam rolling session before bed.
On race morning, we woke up at 4:00 a.m., had our breakfasts, got dressed, and walked to the shuttle buses. For those of us staying at the Sheraton and other downtown hotels, free shuttle service was provided to the race start at Dodger Stadium and back from the finish in Santa Monica. It was so convenient that we only had to walk a couple of blocks to get on our shuttle. The whole process went very smoothly. It really made race morning a breeze.
We were able to hang out inside Dodger Stadium before the race, which was pretty cool. We took a couple of photos and hung out for a few minutes and then I headed out for my warm-up. It was actually a bit cold, so I was glad to get my body moving. In addition to the bathrooms inside the stadium, there were more than enough porta potties outside, so there wasn’t a long wait at all to use the bathroom before the race. Ashley and I went to the bathroom one more time, gave each other a hug, and off we went to our respective corrals.
Inside the stadium on race morning.
I had some trouble getting into my corral. I couldn’t figure out where to enter the lettered corrals and had to slowly work my way through the very crowded general corral to find my place with the 4:15 pace group in corral D (there were five lettered corrals, seeded based on prior marathon finish times, and then a large general corral).
Even though this was a large race, the start was much smoother and quicker than the other large marathons I’ve done (Chicago and NYC). I crossed the line just a few minutes after the start of the race.
I wasn’t wearing a Garmin for this race, but my plan was to stick with the 4:15 pace group. The last time I tried to run with a pace group, I lost them at the very first water stop, so this time, I made a point of staying right with Jo, our pacer, even if it meant jostling a little in the crowds at the start of the race. I stuck like glue to that pacer for the first few miles, even though the pace felt really fast.
While the elevation profile really doesn’t seem bad at all, the course was quite hilly, particularly over the first six miles or so. Between the hills and what felt like a quick pace, I was starting to struggle. I knew it was WAY too early to be feeling that way and I had in the back of my mind the time I tried to run the Chicago Marathon in the heat and ended up walking to the finish in 5:20-something.
This elevation chart doesn’t do the course justice!
At one point, we ran past a clock and I realized we were way ahead of where we should have been to run 4:15 pace (I was wearing a pace band that listed all of the splits for a 4:15 marathon). I wasn’t sure what pace we were running, but this was confirmation for me that it was too fast. Knowing it was going to warm up throughout the day, I decided to let the pacer go a little after mile 5.
This was not the start I was hoping for. I tried not to get upset and to just relax and settle in to a comfortable pace, which is easier said than done when you’re in a race, knowing you’ve already abandoned the plan at less than 1/4 of the way through!
In an effort to take my mind off of the pacing issues, I told myself to just do what I did in Chattanooga – just put one foot in front of the other until the finish.
The course was just incredible. Looking up at the mountains and the palm trees, the fancy shops and restaurants – I actually liked this course more than New York. Maybe that’s just because I grew up near NYC and went to law school there, so the sights there aren’t new to me. In any case, this course was spectacular.
At around mile 10-ish, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see my friend Cassie who also coaches at M3. I was so thrilled to see her, especially since I wasn’t feeling great. She reiterated what I already knew, which is that I really needed to calm down and settle in. We chatted briefly and then she ran ahead.
It was definitely warming up and I was trying to take in fluids at every aid station and stay on top of my gels and salt to ensure I was giving my body everything it would need to get to Santa Monica. The aid stations were just about every mile, which was fabulous. It really helps you count down the miles and gives you something to look forward to.
The crowds were amazing along the entire course. Their support was incredible. The volunteers were great, too – there were lots of kids volunteering, which was really cool to see. Everyone had words of encouragement. I loved looking at the crowds and volunteer groups as we went along. There were cheerleaders and drag queens and people who looked straight out of magazines – you just never knew what you were going to see next.
I think this was the most diverse race I have ever done in terms of both runners and spectators. So many people of different ages and sizes and colors. It was awesome! L.A. has an amazing program called Students Run L.A. (“SRLA”). From the SRLA website:
The mission of Students Run LA is to challenge at-risk secondary students to experience the benefits of goal-setting, character development, adult mentoring and improved health by providing them with a truly life-changing experience: The training for and completion of the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon.
There were hundreds of students on the course. These kids were so fabulous. I was just so darn impressed with them.
The miles were ticking by and I had no idea where I was time-wise, but I knew I was going slow. I kept telling myself “only X miles left,” but I was hurting. Everything hurt – even things that haven’t ever hurt me on runs before. My toes were hurting, which was a first for me. I took some Ibuprofen, hoping that would help, and just tried to keep moving. When I got to the last few miles, I could finally do the math and see that I still had a chance of finishing in less than 4:30, but it was going to be close (heading into the race I thought I would be happy with anything better than a 4:30 finish time). That was good motivation for me to keep moving as fast as I could, despite the pain.
As we approached the finish in Santa Monica, there was a drastic weather change – it was noticeably cooler, with a fog that really helped cool things down. At this point, unfortunately, I was in too much pain to really capitalize on the improved weather. My hamstrings, quads, feet, hips, low back – basically, everything – was hurting so bad that I was running with a bit of a limp. I knew I was SO close and tried to push, but just couldn’t. I’ve actually never been hurting so bad that I couldn’t give a final push in a race, but there is a first for everything, I suppose. Several people passed me in the final stretch as they surged to the finish and I was just hobbling along.
As I crossed a few volunteers asked if I was okay because I was stumbling a bit, and I said I was. I was just in pain. There were tons of volunteers at the finish, which was great.
I got my medal, which is gorgeous. It’s two-sided and one of the heaviest medals I’ve ever gotten.
I knew I finished in just under 4:30, even though I wasn’t sure of my exact time. As I mentioned, I had said prior to the race that in light of the heat I would be happy with anything under 4:30, but in the moment, it can be hard to accept anything less than what you know you can do (and I know I have a faster marathon in me somewhere). I was tired and in a lot of pain, and disappointed in my time and I got a little emotional at the finish. But I was able to pull it together after I drank some water and ate a banana and recovery bar.
I found Cassie and we were able to chat for a bit post-race, which was great. She had a good day, even though her training had not gone as she had hoped, and I was very happy for her.
#Twinning with Cassie in Lululemon at the finish.
I met up with Ashley and unfortunately she did not have the day she was hoping for. I was super bummed for her, but she seemed to be in good spirits.
We found the shuttle back to the hotel. The Sheraton offered a late (3:00 p.m.) checkout option for $80, which we decided was worth the money so that we could shower before getting on our planes. After showering and checking-out of the hotel, we grabbed lunch at The Counter, which was right by the Sheraton. They had great vegan burgers and fries – the perfect post-marathon meal.
We had enough time to grab a drink at the airport and then Ashley was off on her way back to Phoenix.
I was definitely sad to say goodbye to her, but I am so glad we did this. It was out of character for both of us to decide on a whim to register for a race across the country, but I am so glad we did!
My final race time was 4:28:06, which is less than 5 minutes slower than my marathon PR. All things considered, I’ll take it!
Final Thoughts on the Race:
I can’t say enough about this race. I’d love to do it again one day and would definitely recommend it to others. It has all of the benefits of a big city race without the negatives that usually come along with it. For example, when I did New York in 2013, I didn’t check a bag, but leaving the race was still a nightmare. We were directed through what seemed like at least a half mile walk, if not more, before we could exit Central Park and meet-up with our families. Here, the finish process was very easy and smooth. Similarly, pre-race in New York is nuts. You have to get on a motor coach super early in the morning and then sit outside on Staten Island for hours before you can start the race – in my case at 11:00 a.m. Here, walking to our shuttle bus at 5:00 in the morning was a breeze, and we could hang out in Dodger Stadium before the race and use real bathrooms. And, L.A. started at 7:00 a.m., so you didn’t need to make special plans for nutrition because of a late start. I actually even think the crowd support was better in L.A. in terms of crowds being spread out throughout the entire course. I will definitely do L.A. again someday. I loved it!
If you’re thinking about doing this race, I would recommend staying at the Sheraton. It was affordable, within walking distance to the expo, restaurants, Whole Foods, etc., and included the free shuttle service to the start and from the finish on race day. A taxi from LAX to the hotel was about $60 with tip. As I mentioned above, they also allowed for late check-out (for a fee) after the race.
I do wish they would have opened their coffee shop at 4:00 a.m. on race day to provide runners with the option to purchase coffee, bagels, bananas, etc. before boarding the shuttles to Dodger Stadium. I’ve never understood why hotels don’t do this for races. It would make race morning logistics so much easier for the runners (and families) and surely would bring-in enough revenue to cover the cost of paying employees to work.
Ashley booked our room as soon as hotel options were posted on the L.A. Marathon website, shortly after we registered for the race. I’m not sure how quickly it sold out, but if you want to stay there, I would try to book early.
I wouldn’t recommend taking a red eye home on the night of the marathon 😉
I’m so glad I went on this adventure to L.A. and I look forward to going back again soon!