Marathons are notorious for homemade posters — bearing names of participants or offer encouragement for anyone crazy enough to trek 26.2 miles. Others aim to lighten the mood or momentarily divert runners’ attention to the grueling moments deep into the race.
Along the Los Angeles Marathon course, from Dodger Stadium to the Santa Monica Pier, thousands of spectators lined the streets to cheer on family and friends. There were drummers and cheer teams. Costume-clad supporters offering hugs and super hero powers.
But most signs aren’t all that creative or memorable.
However, there are some stand out, like the posters encouraging runners to press a button on a poster to “power up.”
In Los Angeles, though, there were some great signs. Focused on the moment, and the journey, I hoped to remember some of them.
There’s only two that stuck in my memory.
About 2 miles into the race, on a gradual downhill stretch, someone held a Star Wars-themed poster: “May the course be with you.”
Perhaps the sign bearer knew what awaited runners: a steady diet of hills — gradual inclines stretching for blocks and enough steep ascents to elicit swear words from those destined to climb them — and accompanying downhills.
In mile 4, back-to-back climbs offer a brutal challenge to anyone attempting to run even mile splits for the duration. A few miles later, runners face more inclines, enough to tenderize the muscles to make the legs feel heavy even on gentle slopes.
Still, after 9 miles, my legs managed to keep me on a pace for a solid finishing time, if only I could maintain it for another 17 miles. Many runners, I suspect, went out fast — too fast — in an attempt to beat predicted heat on an unseasonably warm Valentine’s Day.
That was not my goal.
By mile 10, the sun drenched runners as the temperature climbed. Memories of shivering at the start had long been forgotten. It took only a few more miles to conclude this marathon would turn into a long run with a medal awaiting me at the finish. An upset stomach, a factor I had never faced in a long race, made life a bit uncomfortable as I debated whether to make a pit stop.
Finally, after losing 20-30 seconds per mile, I made the stop at mile 18. This long run would be a success if I could simply get back on track.
Well-trained aid station volunteers offered plenty of drinks so every couple of miles I grabbed several cups, using half of it to douse my chest and head. Each time, I caught my breath from the shock to my skin.
This year, Los Angeles moved up its marathon to coincide with the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, a move expected to alleviate concerns about the heat from previous years. In a dose of cruel irony, the Trials on Saturday proved to be the warmest on record (eclipsing the 2000 Trials in Pittsburgh), and the forecast for Sunday called for even hotter temps.
Most marathons are scheduled to take advantage of ideal running conditions in their locale. This one was no different. But no one can control the heat, cold, sun or rain.
My personal philosophy has always been to run my race according to plan, without making adjustments for the weather. Sometimes Mother Nature is overpowering, though, and imposes her will.
After the pit stop at mile 18, my pace improved. More grueling climbs — at least grueling once you’ve put in a 20 miles — awaited, with the final big test coming in mile 23.
Relief came, though, while approaching mile 24, where runners encountered a long gradual descent to the finish line. All around, runners were walking and hobbling. Others stood off to the side and stretched, hoping to relieve cramping muscles and coax them to the end. “Weights Before Dates,” read one poster promoting a fitness app.
Now in Santa Monica, fog blocked the sky, providing runners an umbrella from the sun. An ocean breeze soothed my overheated body as I stretched out my arms as though I had wings, trying to catch every bit of air to take flight.
Though cognizant it might look strange, I did not care.
As others around me suffered and wobbled those final 2 miles, my spirit was renewed by the approaching finish line. My cadence quickened as I found my pace from the early miles in my search for the final timing mat. The thick, misty fog blocked it from view until the last 300 yards.
Afterward, I had planned to walk to the beach, walk in and cool down. But here the fog and breeze enveloped my singlet, soaked from those miles of heat and hills, as a volunteer wrapped me in a heat blanket.
My finishing time didn’t matter. The event’s troubled didn’t matter. A heavy medal hung by a ribbon around my neck, and I had finished marathon No. 18. All that mattered was a hot shower and clean clothes. An hour later, I walked into the Cabo Cantina, ordered fajitas and a super-sized margarita, to celebrate, reflect and ponder the next race.