I was two weeks short of my 25th birthday on a bright March day in Los Angeles when I ran my first marathon. I was long in confidence and short in experience. I thought that running 25 laps in college on the track meant that I was tough enough for anything. I was wrong.
The first hitch wasn't really my fault. Somebody called in a bomb threat - so, I stood around with 20,000+ people as the sun steadily warmed the air for 45 minutes. I probably should have taken that as a sign that someone was telling me to reconsider my plans for the race - that maybe I should take it easy, given that I hadn't really run over 16 miles during training.
Once the gun went off I felt the exhilaration of running with thousands of people. I was only a few years out of college - and I hadn't really run a race with this many people. There is a release of energy that occurs at the start of a race this large - unfortunately I would need that energy later.
In the first few miles I just floated along - we started to enter South Central LA and I can remember slapping hands with kids - thinking how easy it was. Then I saw the lead female pack - I moved up to them pretty easily and then stayed in the pack for a little while. It was fun to think I might be on TV. Then for some reason I decided they were going too slowly - so, I opened up a gap on them. This was at about 10 miles and I still felt great.
Things changed soon - at around 14 miles I remember coming up over a rise from a bridge. I spit to my left only to realize that I had spit on the lead woman - who was overtaking me. I mumbled an apology - but, all I was thinking about is "I'm starting to hurt and I still have 12 miles to go - crap."
The wheels really started coming off around mile 16. I was completely overheated. The temp was around 70 degrees and the California sun was relentless. I don't remember what my water stop strategy was - but, I think it was probably the potentially life threatening "drink when you're thirsty."
I remember finally seeing a water stop like an oasis in the desert around mile 17. I was so thirsty that I stopped completely - I drank water and poured it all over myself for several minutes. I heard sirens in the distance - I was sure they were coming for me.
When I started up again I realized that stopping probably wasn't the best idea. Most of the muscles that I need for forward locomotion were completely cramped up. It was like learning to run all over again. My brain knew what my legs should do - but, they had other ideas.
There was one thought that kept spooling around in my head - "I really want to quit - but, I don't know how else to get to the finish line."
A few other memories stand out in my head - trying and failing to catch a guy who looked like he was pushing 200lbs; saluting an American flag (which was rather uncharacteristic of me); and generally cursing my own existence. It's amazing how quickly one can go from slapping hands with strangers - to feeling like a cripple. That's what the marathon does to you.
I finally did finish. Thank goodness that my parents were there - my mom had agreed to drive me back to San Diego. I'm glad she did - because I was in the back seat curled up in the fetal position for the 2 hours back to SD.
So, again - why am I doing this?