Friday, March 11, 2016

Race Report: Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon

It's mah birfday weekend!
To run 26.2 miles in temps reaching 79° is not easy.

To do it on your birthday... a bit masochistic.

On Valentine's Day, I did just that, running and finishing the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon, my fifth lifetime marathon in my fifth state.  Many months earlier, my good friends Josh and Meg decided that they were going to get married on February 13 in California, and lo and behold, the LA Marathon (then, sponsored by ASICS), had announced their 2016 race date as being on Valentine's Day - my 32nd Birthday.  So I decided to "kill two birds with one stone" and run the marathon the day after my friends' wedding.

Filipino food with Ben and Xaris!
Back in September when I ran the Maui Half Marathon, I befriended a couple folks at the finish line who were wearing Pasadena Pacers apparel.  I kept in regular touch with one of them, Julie, in the months after that race.  As February neared, Skechers was announced as the new sponsor, and through some online friends who were ambassadors for the race, I registered for the LA Marathon using their discount.  Since I was going to be staying in Pasadena near the wedding venue, I needed to figure out how I was going to get to Dodger Stadium (where the startline of the race is), tentatively planning to get myself to Union Station for a shuttle.  Julie contacted me and told me that the Pacers were arranging a shuttle, and so I decided to take that option.

Touristing around WeHo
I flew into Los Angeles on the Wednesday after work, flying out of JFK on a direct flight landing at LAX around 10PM.  I ended up on the same flight as my friend Brad and his wife Courtney, who were going to the wedding and heading out early, as well.  I stayed with my high school friend Ben and his wife Xaris in Encino, and on Thursday, took the bus into Studio City to catch the Metro to spend the day in Hollywood and West Hollywood, before heading to Westwood to meet up with Ben (and getting some Diddy Riese cookies!), getting off of work to head back to Encino for the evening (for Filipino food, YUM!).  The next day, I left their home early in the morning to take the Orange Line Busway from Reseda to North Hollywood; then the Metro, taking the Red Line from one end to the other, and then transferring to the Gold Line to take me to Pasadena to drop my bags off at the Sheraton, where I was staying for the remainder of the trip.  Public transportation in LA is horrendous, because it's so HUGE - it took me two hours to get to Pasadena.

Diddy Riese in Westwood!  The most amazing ice cream cookie sandwiches!
LA Marathon bib!
After dropping off my bags, I headed back to downtown LA, and to the Los Angeles Convention Center, where the LA Marathon's expo was being held.  I spent several hours there, meeting up with various friends - Black Sheep, Front Runners, and NYRR folks (in town for a conference and for the US Olympic Trials, happening on Saturday), before heading back to Pasadena to get ready for evening festivities, primarily the rehearsal dinner for the wedding, and to meet up with friends Anna and Brian, who were sharing the hotel room with me.  For whatever reason, the hotel room was not ready when I arrived (it was 5PM!?), so I bided my time by having a drink at the hotel bar, compliments of the front desk for the delay in having the room ready.  After quickly getting ready, I met up with my friend Mayra, who I met at Rock 'n' Roll Chicago last summer, for a quick drink, before heading out for the rehearsal dinner with Anna and Brian.  Afterward, I called it an early night, as I was exhausted from all the travel of the day.

Expo shenanigans with fellow FRNYers, Zander and Richard

I'm at the expo!

with Aidin and Jessica at the expo!
Hangin' out in Pasadena on my last
day as a 31 year old...

The next day was the day of the wedding, which wasn't till 4pm, so I woke up a little late, had some breakfast, then caught the US Olympic Trials, being televised for the first time on NBC Sports.  Afterward, I ran a few errands along Pasadena's Colorado Boulevard only a few blocks away (including a pedicure, and getting a "birthday back bib" with "Keep calm, today is my birthday" on it, laminated at Office Max), and got a couple miles of running in, as well.  I returned to the hotel and got ready for the wedding; the ceremony and reception were held at the beautiful Athenaeum on the campus of CalTech.  It was a beautiful occasion - my a cappella group, Restated, where the bride and groom are both members and met, sang for them during the ceremony. We sang Josh's a cappella arrangement of "Moon River," which was initially sung at Meg's surprise proposal in 2015.  The cocktail hour and reception were quite festive as well, and I kept my alcohol consumption low, as I planned to peace out by 9PM to get some sleep before the early morning alarm clock.

Posted by Restated on Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Restated singing "Moon River" at Meg and Josh's wedding!

Pre-dawn in Dodger Stadium
w/ Felix, Julie, and Long
I woke up at 3:30am, and changed into my running gear in the bathroom (where I had pre-set it, as to not wake up Anna and Brian, who were waking up about an hour later to catch a flight back to New York).  I had packed all my bags with me, as the plan was to bring everything with me to the Pacers shuttle pick up spot, and store it all in Julie's car, and then upon return after the race, grab everything and then head off to where I was staying Sunday night.  I left the Sheraton and got an Uber to take me to the Rose Bowl, met up with Julie, and at 4:30am, our shuttle was off to Dodger Stadium.  Upon arrival, we had a bit of time to kill, so after meeting up with Julie's friends Felix (a fellow New Yorker who she introduced to me at the expo on Friday) and Long, we took a few photos inside the moonlit baseball stadium, and took care of pre-race necessities before things got too crowded.  As the start grew near, we headed outside - and I have to note, it was rather chilly - much different weather than initially predicted.  En route to the gear check area, where I was to meet up with some Black Sheep friends, I ended up running into friends Cristina (a friend from college at Michigan) and Brianne (an a cappella friend running her first marathon, as well as her boyfriend Ted, another a cappella friend of mine, there for moral support) by chance, which was nice as I hadn't seen them in years! I finally met up for a quick motivational pump-up with Black Sheepers Almi (also running her first marathon), Adrian, and Aidin, near the rather pungent portapotties.

Ready for my birthday run!

With Brianne before the start of the race

Black Sheepers united before the LA Marathon!
The startline

I said my goodbyes, and headed off alone to the E corrals (they were starting in the open corrals), and soon, we were off.  The race took off from Dodger Stadium, and almost immediately, we began to go through the steep downhills out of the parking lot, down Elysian Park Avenue, and onto Sunset Boulevard/Cesar Chavez Avenue.  Over the next two miles, we would descend from a height of 553 feet above sea level, to 272 feet.  At the two mile mark, we turned onto N. Broadway, passing through the Chinatown gate, and running for a few blocks through Chinatown, curving around to Spring Street, and then onto Main Street, passing LA's City Hall.  Immediately, we began to run into LA's Little Tokyo, as we made a left turn onto 1st Street, curving around Central Avenue to 2nd Street.

Chinatown Dragon Gate

Taiko Drummers on 1st Street
Then, here's where the race began to be a little hairy.  2nd Street, and then back onto 1st Street, heading in a northwesterly direction, were both rather annoying hills.  Over the course of a mile, we went from the low of 272 feet back up to 405 feet, as we ran through LA's Civic Center area.  This was my first real test of the race, and sadly, I failed, walking up most of this section.  Taiko drummers on the right side of the road were a great deal of help, bringing me a nice cadence as I trudged up 1st, but I was so intent on getting over this nasty hill, that I neglected to notice the massive Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall on the left side of the street, its sail-like stainless steel panels glistening under the sun.

Echo Park Lake
We turned right onto S. Grand Ave., and passed the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Mark Taper Forum/Ahmanson Theatre which amassed a city block on our left. By this point, we were about 4.5 miles in, and then we turned left onto Temple Street.  We proceeded up Temple, then crossed the bridge over the chronically back-up 101 freeway onto Bellevue Avenue.  Along the left side of the street was the chili cheese dog stand, apparently a "tradition" in the last few years of the marathon.  I decided not to partake because of the impending heat, and how early on we were in the race, and kept going.

We ran along Bellevue all the way to Echo Park Lake, turning right onto Glendale Blvd, and skirting the west side of the lake.  Around this part of the race is where I spotted a fellow runner with incredibly long dreadlocks that I could imagine were drenched it sweat - or were about to be.  As we passed the sixth mile, we continued on through Echo Park, then turned back onto Sunset Boulevard as we proceeded westward, into Silver Lake.

Dreads for days.

The Hollywood sign in the distance
Known as one of LA's gayborhoods, Silver Lake marked the 7th mile of the race, and where LA Front Runners staffed a water stop.  I got a few high fives and cheers as they saw my Front Runners New York singlet, and I continued on, then finally needed to make a quick stop around the 7.75 mile mark to use a port-a-potty.  I then proceeded on, taking Sunset Boulevard into Hollywood Boulevard, as we skirted then boundary between the neighborhoods of East Hollywood and Los Feliz.  The stretch along Hollywood Boulevard (which overall would stretch roughly 3 miles), was pretty boring at least in the eastern reaches, as we passed through Little Armenia which gradually gave way to Thai Town and the many Thai restaurants with signage in Thai script.  Other than the Hollywood sign, viewable in the distance, which we began to see while we were in Silver Lake, it was pretty blah. We began to near two hours into the race as we passed miles 9 and 10, finally reaching the FAR more touristy parts of Hollywood.  Around here, I heard my name yelled out, and there was Ted with Brianne's mom, cheering us on after having been at the startline! We continued on, past Hollywood and Vine, and passing familiar landmarks such as the Pantages Theatre, Capitol Records Building, the Walk of Fame along the famed boulevard's sidewalks, and then Hollywood and Highland and the El Capitan Theatre (where Jimmy Kimmel Live! is filmed, and where I found out later, they had Jimmy's "Cousin Sal" making mischief out front with an unofficial aid station complete with practical joke water bottles glued down to the table, a limbo station, deodorant refreshment station, and strange food offerings like cocktail shrimp, creamed corn from a ladle, and chocolate covered sardines... LOL!)

Hollywood and Vine

Sweltering in the sun in front
of Grauman's Chinese Theatre
As we approached the Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the course took a left turn onto Orange Drive, where we finally had our first downhill in quite some time (after being on a superbly flat Hollywood Blvd) - a matter of 50 feet of drop in elevation over 0.5 miles, enough so you could notice it.  The course proceeded westward on Sunset Boulevard, exiting tourist-trap Hollywood, and entering trendy West Hollywood.  We reached the halfway point at Sunset and Fairfax, and then I realized I was starting to tire out much easier.  I began to hit the wall VERY early, but you know me... I trudge on through.  We got to Chateau Marmont, then followed the famed Sunset Strip through West Hollywood. At La Cienega, the course went strongly downhill for the next two miles (over 200 feet of elevation lost), which was awesome, and I got to get back a little speed, as we turned left onto San Vicente Blvd, and made our way to Santa Monica Blvd.

Fun signs along Sunset Boulevard

Beverly Hills
At Santa Monica Blvd and Doheny Drive, we reached the border with Beverly Hills, and the famed signage separating West Hollywood from its toney counterpart.  We turned right from Doheny Drive onto Burton Way, following a medianed thoroughfare into Beverly Hills, and curved into Beverly Hills' city centre, then left into the palm tree landscapes and whitewashed architecture of stylish Rodeo Drive.  By the time we got to Wilshire and Rodeo Drive, we had reached mile 17 of the race.

We stayed on Wilshire heading westward for half a mile, before turning left onto Santa Monica Boulevard, where would stay for an agonizing 2.5 miles.  Agonizing, because the boulevard is completely exposed to the elements, with no shade whatsoever, and the hot asphalt radiating the heat from the sun, which at this point, 3.5 hours into the race, was blazing.  I had anticipated this, though, as Century City was always known as the hottest part of the race.  Over half an hour, I blew past the Los Angeles Country Club and the LDS Church, making may way into Westwood, and trying to forget the awful boredom of running on Santa Monica Blvd -- other than when I ran into a sandal-wearing, coffee carrying Jesus (complete with white robes and shades) on the race course.

Jesus runs marathons!  Or at least walks them.
Fun signs in Brentwood...

We hit mile 20 as we turned onto Sepulveda Blvd, where we ran on the "new" part of the LA Marathon course, a change from the previous year(s)' courses.  Instead of skirting the VA Hospital, the course headed northward on Sepulveda, running through a rather unattractive wasteland of cement and overhead freeway (the 405), then emerging back onto Wilshire Blvd.  Then we got to San Vicente Boulevard, where we would run for FOUR miles (!!!) through affluent Brentwood and into Santa Monica, before the last 3/4 miles along Ocean Avenue right to the finish line.

The race was BRUTAL, with the second half being a total strugglebus for me. Thankfully, the temps didn't get any higher into the 80s (as the weather reports were predicting), and only topped out at maybe 79, but it was still a scorcher nonetheless.  As we got to Santa Monica, and got closer and closer to the Pacific, the weather definitely began to cool off, and we finished in the mid-to-high 60s.  I hit the wall pretty early on, and finished in my worst marathon time, 5:30:21, a time about 53 minutes slower than my PR in San Antonio two months earlier.


Birthday Victory Headstand in Pasadena
But, all in all, the time didn't matter to me at all. I got hundreds of "happy birthday" greetings from fellow runners during the race. I also got to see a TON of Los Angeles and its different neighborhoods.  And most of all, I got another marathon under my belt. Coming back to Facebook and my iPhone after the race - all the wall posts, FB messages, and text messages - it warmed my heart to be loved by so many! After the race, I headed back to Pasadena, to grab my stuff, and then took public transportation all the way back toward the coast, to stay with my friend Jessica in Marina del Rey.  Jessica managed the whole Skechers Performance team at the expo and then ran the marathon, herself.  And still did work the next day.  I spent the day resting up, and then met up with fellow Black Sheepers Adrian, Almi, and her son Nate, where we had some great seafood at Santa Monica Pier (to celebrate my birthday), before they dropped me off at LAX for my return flight home!  It was a wonderful birthday weekend :)

Peace out, California...

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