Thursday, April 25, 2013

Triumphs and Tragedies

It's been almost two weeks now that I completed the inaugural Griffith Park Trail Marathon in Los Angeles. It was a great day, a great event and I wanted to share my thoughts on why I did it, how it went, etc., etc. But two days after the race, runners and their family and friends, the people of Boston, as well as the entire country, were attacked at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It's taken me this long to be able to process what happened into words (relatively speaking); I can't imagine how someone that was there or has been directly affected by the events feels.

I'll start with my race.

Around the time of my girls' 2nd birthday (March 18th), I was talking to my nephew, who lives in LA, about going up to visit him. I am a closet celebrity stalker and I have been itching to make a trip up to LA. But, in the 18 months we've been here, it had yet to materialize. Once it was decided I would go up there, I figured I'd look to see if there were any races going on that weekend. Lo and behold, I found the Griffith Park Trail Marathon's website. I certainly wasn't marathon ready by any means, but I figured since it was on a trail and I'd be running slower anyway, I'd give it a try. The race had a very generous time limit (8 hours) and I felt that, even if I walked/crawled the entire time, I'd be able to finish in 8 hours. So I registered. But I didn't tell anyone (aside from my husband, of course).

Why didn't I tell anyone? Well, if I'm being completely honest, I was worried I wouldn't do very well. While I run the trails around my house a lot, it had been a while since I'd run that long on a trail. And I thought I'd fall off the mountain. Trust me, I know how irrational it sounds. As a coach, I tell people almost on a daily basis how important it is to be positive, to believe in oneself, you don't know how well you can do something unless you try, blah blah blah. But it's one thing to help others, and it's another beast to help yourself. Even we coaches can use some coaching at times. Anyway, I kept the goal to myself, but the goal was there. I was about to run 26.2 over tough terrain, 3000+ elevation gain and more.

I made my way up to LA on Friday, April 12. I got there about 1:00pm or so, had lunch and then set off to find celebrities. I drove around town, getting lost every 5 minutes, getting frustrated at the traffic (yelling to the air, "why do people live here?") and generally just wasting time. I did find the running store to get my race packet, but not before getting lost about 4 times. At one moment, I found myself in the driveway of some ridiculously rich house in Hollywood Hills and couldn't get out of the driveway because there was only about 3 inches of space for me to turn around. I texted John to tell him I was going to be arrested for trespassing. Thankfully, after about a 100-point-turn, I was able to get out of the driveway and back out onto a main road. Don't ask me how I ended up there in the first place, because I don't know. I blame the GPS app I use. By the way, I never did see any celebrities. Bitches.

Fast forward to race morning. We arrived at about 6:00am to the sun rising in Griffith Park. It definitely an interesting mix of folks in the parking lot. The organizers announced that they would allow people to start a half-hour earlier than the 7:00am start time if you wanted to get going. So at 6:30am, I took off. I figured, I was there, I didn't feel like waiting around, so off I went.

The general rule of thumb for any trail run/race is to walk the steep inclines early on so that you can conserve energy for later miles. Trail running is a lot different than road running in a number of ways, one being that you use a lot more energy due to the addition of lateral movement to the normal vertical/forward motion of running on the roads. Therefore, if it would take more energy to run up an incline than it would to walk/hike, than you should walk or hike. And I was hiking before mile 2. Seriously, the first real incline was just about vertical. Can you say nuts?

Basically, the course took us from the sort-of-bottom of the park to about halfway up a mountain, back down to the bottom, out of the park around the LA Zoo and then back into the park. Once we entered back into the park, it was time for real climbing. We climbed to highest peaks of the park and then ran down back to the bottom. The first 8 miles of the course were the climb halfway up and back down. It was all on single-track trail and pretty manageable. Everyone was in a great mood and the aid stations were pretty awesome. Strawberries while on the run are heavenly. After the second aid station and a hug from Batman, I ran out of the park and towards the LA Zoo. This was the flattest part of the race with about a 10-mile out-and-back route. Most of this section was sand, which ripped up my feet. I usually get a blister on the ball of my right foot but I could tell this one was going to be a doozy.

An interesting aspect to this race was the participants. One type of runner I have never encountered along a race route is a horse. Yes, there were freaking horses along the route. People were horseback riding in the park while the race was going on. I love horses. I think they're wonderful, beautiful animals. But I also respect them and know they will kill me if I get too close. There was a moment as we entered back into Griffith Park that we had to stop running because the trail was too tight and there were horses coming and going in both directions. I was freaked out and didn't want to try and run between them for fear of provoking a stampede. Or a swift kick to the head. After they passed, I was able to get started again. My new friend Carlos also documented my love/fear of horses in his write-up about the race. But we did have more horses to run around later in the race. Oh and let's not forget the plethora of horse crap we had to dodge throughout the route. After a while, you just kind of get tired of jumping over piles of poop or running around them and you just don't care if you run through it.

Once we got to the highest peaks of the park, the views were spectacular. It was an overcast day so the views weren't as spectacular as they could have been, but they were still pretty freaking spectacular. I was amazed and excited to be running in such a great place. Honestly, I felt pretty freaking good the whole race. I took my time, stopped at the aid stations to refuel and walked the vertical climbs. I didn't care about my time, and no one knew I was there, so I didn't have any pressure. It was a very freeing race for me. I know this is going to sound super hokey but I felt like a kid running through the woods having an absolute blast. Trail running is by far my favorite form of running because you really can't have a bad run when running trails. It's pretty much impossible. Even on the most difficult trails I've run, those runs still rate higher than a great run on the road. Well, maybe not along the beach. I digress. Anyway, since I felt no pressure about this race, I was just having the time of my life. Everything was great. I felt great, the race organizer was great, the other runners were awesome and the trails/views were just amazing. I was so happy I did this race.

The final miles were just so fun. They were all downhill, which was just as painful as the original climb uphill. My quads were screaming but I ignored them. There was one last climb before the finish, that I do not remember in the beginning of the race. It was enough of an incline to be a real bitch, considering it was at mile 25.5 of the race. After that, it was smooth sailing to the finish.

After the race, I had to get back to San Diego since I was coaching Sunday morning. My group did great that morning. Afterward, I just cuddled with my family and ate a lot of food for the rest of the day.

Then came Marathon Monday. Since the Boston Marathon started at 9:30am, 6:30am Pacific time, we were up early watching. I had a blast watching it with my kids, though my oldest couldn't see the elite finish since he had to go to school. After the elites had finished, I needed to get started on work. Our nanny arrived and I was off. I feel like such an asshole as I look back on it now. Going about my day not knowing what happened until later in the day. I didn't believe it at first, that someone bombed the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Why? Why would they do that?

The finish line of a race has got to be one of the most inspirational, happy places on earth. It symbolizes triumph, pride, accomplishment, and so much more. No one that crosses a finish line, regardless of the distance, is the same person as the one that started the race. Something happens to a person when they run a race. It's life-altering. Sometimes it's a big change that takes place, sometimes it's a little one. But there are changes to a person as they run a race. And running the Boston Marathon is even more important and life-altering because the majority of runners have already put in so much work to qualify and then train for Boston. And to have that triumph and celebration taken away so tragically, it's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking that so many of those hurt were the ones that support us: the family and friends and spectators that cheer us on. It's not fair. This one just hit too close to home.

Seeing how this all unfolded on the news as the week went on was numbing. I just was appalled that this happened, at the hands of kids, and disgusted that people died and were badly hurt. My heart just aches for everyone involved. I am thankful that those responsible have been identified and the one suspect that is still alive is in custody.

What has helped me deal with this stupid, senseless act is seeing the tremendous amount of support for the victims and those affected by the explosions. Whether it's from the millions of dollars that have already been donated, the runs that have been organized in honor of the disaster or the blood donations and supplies being sent to the area, seeing complete strangers band together in support of those who need it is truly inspiring. And it's that unity and support that gives me hope that there is more good than evil in the world and together, we can get through anything. Through this tragedy, there will be triumph.

1 comment:

  1. What a great write-up of your adventure! Sounds like one of the best times of your (running) life. I had to laugh at your "100 point turn" and getting lost in LA, though--I wish I could have seen that. I know you're proud that you rose to and conquered this challenge!