My soggy shoes are about dry from Sunday’s LA Marathon-in-a-monsoon, my mom returned to Ohio after her (too short) week-long visit, and I’m back to work with business as usual… Except it seems I may be suffering from running’s version of postpartum depression. I just googled “post-marathon blues” and it’s legit. I’m not making this up, I swear! While my Google search produced some articles with suggestions for overcoming the blues, I’ve got my own plan:
- I’m taking this week to recover (which, so far, includes lots of food because I have a monstrous appetite).
- I’ve signed up for the OC Marathon on May 1st, which is less than six weeks away!
- I’m compulsively looking at race photos, which make me laugh, because, gosh, I ran a marathon in a monsoon!
Saturday night, I was a bundle of nerves and anxious energy. I have yet to get a good night’s sleep the night before a marathon, but I have the best husband in the world, who rubbed my back until his arms were about to fall off and soon after he drifted to sleep, I slipped into dreamland myself. Naturally, I dreamt about the race and rain and woke up to my alarm at 3:00am. Weather.com reported a 100% chance of “Heavy Rain/Wind” for LA, but I was still hoping it’d be wrong, so I didn’t think much about my race gear other than to throw on my new Halo visor to keep the rain out of my eyes. We all packed dry clothes to change into, made sure there were a couple umbrellas in the car and took off for LA.
The drive went fast (Jared has heavy feet) and we were approaching the Stadium exit by 5:30am, where the traffic brought us to a dead stop. I dozed on-and-off as we sat in the mess. At 6:30am, Jared commented that we’d moved three tenths of a mile in the past hour, at which point I started to freak out. The race was scheduled to start at 7:20am and we couldn’t even get off the highway! Runners started jumping out of their cars and jogging up the shoulder of the highway. I estimated it was still two, maybe three miles to the start and was really reluctant to follow suit. A three mile jog up a hill before running 26.2 miles? No thanks!
At 6:50am, the police came along, directing runners to get back in their cars and ushering traffic through the stop lights and up to the stadium, where mom and Jared were able to drop me off at about 7:30am. I hustled over to the Start Line, where the race announcer was gabbing away, informing us that the start had been delayed. I huddled in with the 9:00 minute/mile group, eyeing the other runners decked out in plastic bags and rain gear. It was cool and windy. The skies were overcast and looked ominous, but it wasn’t raining and I was foolishly hopeful.
Finally, the race started (my guess is it was close to 7:50am) and slowly I made my way across the Start Line, pressed the Start button on my Garmin and as though it has been on a timer, the clouds opened up, pelting giant rain drops on the mass of runners below. Everyone around me groaned and complained, but I had to smile.
The first mile was a crowded mess. Runners were peeling off their trash bags and plastic ponchos, dropping them in the street for other runners to dodge, trample or trip over. The rain continued to spill from the sky and my long-sleeved cotton throw away shirt absorbed each drop, but I was reluctant to ditch it because I wasn’t warmed up yet.
I passed under the giant, inflatable arch-way marking Mile 1 with 10:38 on my Garmin and knew I wanted to pick up the pace; however, the crowd wasn’t thinning out and so many people were walking. During my pre-race hysteria, I’d decided to steal my friend, Kimberly’s idea of dedicating each mile to someone and Mile 1 was dedicated to my dad, who is also a runner and marathoner. Instead of being frustrated by having to dodge walkers, I thought about my dad. I reminisced about the runs and races we’ve done together and I knew he’d be thinking about me from 2000 miles away. The throw away shirt I was wearing was from the Miller Lite Lope 5k we ran together in 2007 and I thought I’d take it off and chuck it when I got to Mile 2, but I was still really cold and kept it on.
Mile 2 was dedicated to my awesome in-laws, affectionately known as “Moo” and “Poo,” who braved the rain to watch Jared and me run the Flying Pig Marathon last year, which is the only other time I’ve run in the rain. I was growing increasingly nervous about the fact that it was much, much colder in LA, not to mention windier.
At Mile 3, I was completely surprised to spot my mom and Jared as I came around a bend and we hollered and cheered for each other. Despite the nasty weather, there were a lot of spectators along the course and I thought of Unkey with a great big smile, certain that he would’ve been there in a heartbeat. I kept thinking: who’s crazier? Us for running a marathon in the rain? Or them for spectating a marathon in the rain? I’d managed to pick up the pace despite the fact that I was still waiting to warm-up, but I had yet to hit a good groove and lock into “cruise control” for the long haul. I was already starting to feel nervous.
Mile 4 brought a steep incline that slowed me down and forced several runners to a walk, which felt demoralizing so early in the race. I thought of my niece, Clara, who still allows me to call her by her childhood nickname of “Peanut” and I ran that hill. I just kept going and going, not allowing the option of walking to creep into my brain, but by the time I hit Mile 5, it was pouring and I was beat. I peeled off my drenched throw away shirt and ran with it in my arms for a few minutes, absorbing some final bits of strength from my dad, then chucked it at a trash can.
I shifted my thoughts to my San Diego “family.” I remembered seeing Amanda during last year’s San Diego Marathon and thought of the nine month marathon she just went through bringing along the newest addition to our little family, Zoe, who is nearly 2 months old now. I smiled at the thought of my own future mini-humans holding signs at races that say: “Run, mommy, run!“ Those signs always melt my heart.
And then things started to unravel. I started to panic at the thought of having 21 miles to go. The rain was coming down harder and harder. I was drenched to the bone and painfully cold. Growing up in Ohio, I used to complain that I was “allergic to winter” because when my hands get cold, my joints ache. Not only were my hands wet and pruney, but they were throbbing from the cold. I was only five miles in and thinking of exit strategies: Just keep going until you see mom and Jared again, then you can bail. And then I’d cut myself short, thinking: Focus on the song that’s playing. Think about what you’re going to have for dinner. Think about how great your feeling! There’s no pain in your IT band! No pain! Think about anything but quitting.
Mile 1: 10:35
Mile 2: 9:22
Mile 3: 9:24
Mile 4: 9:04
Mile 5: 10:04
Mile 6: 10:00
When I crossed under the marker for Mile 6, I thought of Jared and felt a wave of energy and optimism. And I thought of a quote I’d just read from my friend, Amie’s Facebook profile: “We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same” (Carlos Casteneda). At that point, I decided not to give in to the suffering. No matter how difficult it got, I was going to smile and sure enough, I churned out a great mile.
Mile 7 was dedicated to my brother, Ryan, and even though he probably had absolutely no idea that the marathon was going on, I felt his support. It was only appropriate that I would pass by a runner dressed as a Ninja Turtle during Ryan’s mile (he was dressed as Raphael, if you were curious). Again, to my surprise, I spotted my mom and Jared, waving wildly and smiling happily.
When I reached Mile 8, I thought of Pasha, who’s one of the best friends I’ve ever had (that I’m not married to). We have a bond that’s beyond words, so I won’t even try to go there, but I spent this mile thinking about our tiny, matching tattoos. It was just over eight years ago that we walked uptown from our dorm room, in the snow and slush, wearing flip-flops, of course, to have those stars carved on our feet for life. When people have asked about it since then, I like to say it’s a reminder to keep my head up. And so I spent that mile with my eyes focused straight ahead, splashing through puddles and choosing to remember only the good parts of college.
It was about this time that I realized I hadn’t taken any of my Clif Shots yet and I fumbled with frozen hands to get my Spibelt unzipped and the gel packet opened. I had the Double Espresso flavor that I received from Clif in the mail and I think that double dose of caffeine really helped me finally find the “groove” I’d been looking for since Mile 3. The pouring rain tapered off to a drizzle and I was in cruise control-mode, trucking along on what I consider a runner’s auto-pilot. Sadly, I forgot to think about my Mile 9 dedication to Sully. As I crossed under the Mile 10 marker, I heard my mom and Jared calling for me for a third time! I am so my mother’s daughter because we were both smiling so big we had tears in our eyes and could do little more than smile and wave at each other, while Jared jumped up and down yelling: “GO, CHUCK!!!! I LOVE YOU, CHUCK!!!!” He ran alongside me, snapping photos while I choked up, blew him kisses and then, ran on.
Almost as soon as we parted ways, I spotted a couple dogs and immediately thought of Sully. Then I realized Mile 10 was for Amy and Jeff, so I ran along thinking of all three of them and laying down my fastest, most effortless mile of the day.
Mile 7: 9:07
Mile 8: 9:29
Mile 9: 9:30
Mile 10: 8:59
Mile 11: 8:57
The rain picked up again for Mile 11, but I was thinking about Ali and grooving along to Lady Gaga. I splashed through puddles and smiled for the cameramen, who looked like swamp monsters covered in plastic from head to toe. Mile 12 was dedicated to my college friends of “Taj,” who will be gathering for a long weekend reunion in Colorado in just 12 short weeks. And before I knew it I was at Mile 13, where some oblivious moron was demoralizing us runners by shouting: “HALFWAY THERE!” Yes, technically, the dude was correct. He has a brain, passed his elementary math and is aware that half of 26 is 13, but when you’ve been running for more than two hours in miserable conditions, halfway there is daunting.
Luckily, I shifted my focus to my curly-haired hero: my mom! Having (unexpectedly) seen her and Jared at Miles 3, 7, and 10, I found myself scanning the crowds of spectators for them. While I didn’t spot them, this seemed to encourage more people to cheer for me and every time I heard someone yell “GO CHUCK!” I threw my numb, waterlogged fist in the air. I recalled a quote my mom emailed me once upon a time: “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about dancing in the rain,” so I did my best to “dance” through the rain, listening to Beach Boys and looking forward to the massive bowl of Yogurtland I planned on enjoying with my mom (who blessed me with this sweet tooth–or sweet teeth, as I like to call them).
Mile 14 was for Kimberly, who ran her first full marathon last December, where I was moved to tears cheering for her as she rounded the bend for that final 800 yard stretch to the finish line. There’s something magical about those first steps past Mile 13–magical and courageous and overflowing with possibility.
It was about here that I felt like I had to pee. Portopotties were dispersed along the course, but they seemed few and far between and each time I approached a cluster of pots, there were lines with a half dozen runners waiting their turns. I did not want to have to stop and I certainly didn’t want to stop and wait in a line just to tinkle. So it was at that point that I decided if it came down to it, I would just pee myself. I was soaked to the bone, running through flooded streets and rivers of water from overflowing sewers, so it’s not like I wasn’t already filthy and disgusting. Peeing myself certainly wouldn’t be that big of a deal. I used to think having a black toenail was a sign that you’re a true runner. I laughed to myself, realizing that the willingness to pee yourself to save a couple minutes probably qualifies too. Jared was outrageously disappointed that I never had to resort to this plan.
Mile 15 was my “mile in memory,” which I dedicated to loved ones lost. I thought of my Nana, who was undoubtedly the strongest lady I’ve ever known. She was also teeny-tiny, as in, four-foot-ten-tiny. When you asked her for a snack, she’d give you a Pringle. Yes, just one Pringle. She’d eat one banana over the course of three days. And she always had the nicest, self-manicured nails. She’d probably shake her head at me for running marathons, but then again, I inherited a huge dose of my independence, stubbornness, guts and grit from her. I thought of Jared’s Nana, which is pronounced “Nonna.” My Nana was Nana, like (ba)nana. Anyhow, Nana (Nonna) was an awesome lady and still lives on with her beautiful artwork hanging on the walls in our house. We would’ve been good friends and I bet she would’ve given me as many Pringles as I wanted. The third person I thought of was my “Auntie Sis,” who was my great aunt. Auntie Sis would’ve been 100 years old last year and she would’ve LOVED to be a race spectator. She was the cool old lady who loved going to airports just to people watch. The smallest things in life were her greatest joys (like the basket of “buns” they serve at O’Charley’s) and she gave awesome, weird gifts she found in those catalogs most people just throw in recycling. I’m pretty sure she gave my brother and I cat toys for Christmas one year and we didn’t have any pets.
Mile 12: 9:11
Mile 13: 9:20
Mile 14: 9:26
Mile 15: 9:14
Mile 16: 9:27
I was relieved when I got to Mile 16. So many people argue the last six miles are the hardest, but I find the first 16 to be a mental rollercoaster of: Can I do this? Once I get to 16, I know there’s only 10 miles left and somehow, no matter how tired my body is, that’s reassurance that I’m on the downhill stretch. I will make it. For this marathon, I’d dedicated these final 10 miles to my 16 year old niece, Jessie, who has been battling cancer since 2001. She’s had more surgeries, treatments, and recurrences than I can remember, but I definitely remember that autumn day in 2001 when I first learned of her diagnosis. I remember how she miraculously survived that first brain surgery and how she’s beaten the odds time and time again with each new tumor. I wondered what she was doing at that very moment that I was thinking of her, marveling at her strength and resilience, her courage and wisdom. Running 26.2 miles is such a miniscule feat compared to what that child has been through.
As I crossed Mile 17, I heard my mom and Jared cheering for me and spotted them as I approached a bend in the road. I ran toward them, smiling, though I didn’t have the energy to wave wildly or pick up my pace like I had at the past three sightings. I thought about running over to them and asking Jared for the shirt off his back. I was so unbelievably cold. But I was afraid if I stopped, I’d have a hard time getting going again or that I’d beg them to just let me quit. So I ran on, trying to ignore the fact that I was starting to struggle.
A short while later it dawned on me that I needed fuel, so I slowed to an awkward hobble/jog while I fumbled with my Spibelt zipper. I needed a gel, but my hands weren’t working at all. They were useless numb stumps and maneuvering that zipper was almost a mission impossible. It took several minutes, but I managed to grasp one of the gel packets in my frozen claws and used my teeth to rip the tab off. I did my best to squeeze the gel out, but it was so cold that it had an abnormally thick consistency that I had to chew like cold, thick frosting. I managed to consume about half of the packet before chucking it in a trash can on the side of the road.
I was relieved to hit Mile 18 because I’d gotten some fuel in me and felt confident that it would kick in and give me some oomph. I cruised along thinking: Only eight more miles. Only eight more miles.
I must’ve been in la-la land when I passed Mile 19, because this is where the Salonpas stations were set-up. I had planned on saying hi to the rep I’d met at the expo, but I didn’t remember until I was long past their station. At this point, I realized I wasn’t having any pains in my IT band, or anywhere else, for that matter. It also dawned on me that this was the longest distance I’d run since the Long Beach Marathon on 10/17/2010, over five months ago. If I hadn’t just run 19 miles, I would’ve jumped up in the air and clicked my heels together. Instead, I just kept smiling like a big ol’ idiot, cheesing for every camera I spotted.
Mile 17: 9:41
Mile 18: 9:44
Mile 19: 9:24
Mile 20: 9:32
When I hit Mile 20, my brain started playing tricks on me. It told me I’d gone far enough and that I should take a break. I walked a bit, promising myself it’d just be for a second. I started running again as I approached a crowd of spectators and fist pumped the air as a few people cheered: “GO CHUCK!” But as soon as I passed the crowd, I slowed back to a walk. I played this back-and-forth game through Mile 21 and then Mile 22, clocking my first miles over ten minutes since the beginning of the race. I was frustrated with myself and knew a PR (personal record) was slipping from my grasp if I didn’t pull it together. I took my third of four gels that I had planned on taking and again, only managed to bully about half the junk out of the packet before giving up in frustration.
And just like a gift from heaven, the 4:15 pace group came shuffling along. Just stick with them, I told myself. They’ll be running 9:40 per mile and if you can just hang on to them, you can finish this puppy at (or close to) your goal. Just stick with them.
I hung onto their heels and passed them as they slowed to a walk at the next water station. I shuffled ahead knowing they’d catch up to me again and I just kept going. I was relieved to cross Mile 23 in under 10 minutes and continued to give myself pep talks. Three miles. That’s it. You can do it. Hang on.
I didn’t look at my Garmin at all as I crossed Mile 24. I was 100% focused on staying with the 4:15 pacers. I had a permanent grin plastered across my face, which felt a little more genuine every time I heard someone yell: “CHUCK!” And finally I was at Mile 25. I’ve heard Jillian Michaels say: “Don’t quit when you can see the finish line” and although you can’t actually see the finish line from a mile away (at least not in monsoon-like conditions), that finish is there. And it’s just a matter of minutes until you get there. Jared and I always try to run that last mile without stopping. Just give it all you got. And so I did.
I can’t say it enough: it was so cold. I was more motivated by the promise of the heat sheet than I was by the thought of crossing the finish line and being able to stop running. If they put the heat sheets one mile past the finish line, I was going to keep running. I just wanted to be warm. I pulled ahead of the 4:15 pacers, thinking of nothing but that cheap piece of mylar.
Mile 21: 10:23
Mile 22: 10:13
Mile 23: 9:53
Mile 24: 9:41
Mile 25: 9:41
Mile 26: 9:19
I heard my Garmin whistle and tweet, alerting me that I’d hit Mile 26 and thought: This is it. The chute was lined with hundreds, maybe thousands, of spectators screaming, waving signs, clapping, taking pictures and cheering their hearts out. I wondered if mom and Jared were somewhere in that mess, but couldn’t tear my eyes away from the finish line that seemed to be inching closer and closer in slow motion. With just a few yards to go, I glanced at my Garmin and realized I would beat my PR by a matter of seconds. And I crossed over that finish line overflowing with joy, stretching my arms in the air and choking on the eight billion emotions bubbling up inside of me.
Last 0.45 mile: 9:14
Garmin Results: 26.45 miles, 4:13:03 (9:34/mile)
Official Results: 26.2 miles, 4:12:58 (9:38/mile)
I hit the Stop button on my Garmin, locked eyes on a girl wrapping runners in heat sheets and made a beeline to her, shuddering and shivering as I let her drape the silvery cape around my shoulders. I told her: “Thank you, thank you. I’ve been looking forward to this sheet for over 20 miles.” She laughed and pointed for me to go pick up my medal. A young girl, about my niece’s age, draped a medal around my neck and quietly said: “Congratulations!”
I don’t know if it was just me, but it felt like the finisher’s area was eight miles long. I hobbled through the crowd of silver-caped runners as the rain started coming down harder and the wind picked up. I watched the palm trees blowing sideways and thanked my lucky stars I was finished. Later, I read there were 30 mile-per-hour winds throughout the steady downpour with temperatures hovering at 50 degrees. 25 runners were taken to the hospital to be treated for hypothermia.
Although my knee felt completely fine, I had promised my mom I’d pick up some ice from the medical tent before heading to the Family Reunion Area, where we planned to meet. And so I stopped at what looked like a very tiny medical station. A nice woman ran over to me and asked if I was okay. I assured her I was fine, then asked if she had any ice and she pointed past a mob of spectators, saying: “The official medical tent is way down there. Good luck! Do you need any water?” She ran to grab a bottle of water for me, which I had her open because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get the cap off myself. And so I wandered into that insane mob of spectators, sipping water, and wondering how in world I’d ever find my fan club.
And again, just like a gift from heaven, I heard my name: “Chuck! Chuck! CHUCK!” I scanned the crowd, peering through hundreds of umbrellas and finally spotted Jared, crammed in with the masses of family members and friends, anxiously waiting for their runners to leave the finisher’s area. I squeezed my way through the crowd, hugging him, while everyone around us cheered. I felt like a hero.
We muscled our way through that wall of umbrellas and soggy bodies to find mom, huddled on the other side. We hugged, then hustled off to the car. I had mapped out directions to have them park in one of the cheap beach lots, but I’m so grateful they opted to pay a little extra for an underground garage space closer to the finish. Not only was it warmer underground, but it was dark and deserted enough that I was able to strip off my sopping clothes and shoes and cozy up in some dry sweats. We hightailed it out of LA, heading 50 miles south to the Maggiano’s in Costa Mesa, where we swapped stories and filled our bellies, before finishing the trek back to San Diego.
Five days later, I’m warm and dry. The post-run soreness is just a memory. And I’m still relishing my shiny new PR. As I recount the horrendous conditions to family, friends and colleagues, I always sum up the experience with: “It was awesome.” I’m in no hurry to lace up my kicks for another four-hour parade through a monsoon, but nasty weather, post-marathon blues and all, it was worth it. And very awesome.