This will end sooner, rather than later. And still, it’s a long story.
Mom & Dad’s Blessings
We ate our pasta dish at my mom and dad’s as expected Saturday afternoon. The noodles and marinara were great, as was the conversation. My parents are deeply religious and promised to pray for me. They even got their friend Vicky, whom I’ve never met, to put in a good word on my behalf. My mom was not well enough to drive up to Long Beach the next day. But they gave me a great send-off (and six ice-cold bottles of Arrowhead water for the trip).
We reached the Long Beach Convention Center mid-afternoon and the number, chip and T-shirt pickup went off without a hitch. I bought new socks that I hope keep my feet blister-free in the months ahead. Then we walked around downtown Long Beach before checking in at our motel in time to watch the final quarter of the USC-Notre Dame game, which will go down in history as one of college football’s greatest games (even if the results didn’t go as I’d hoped for The Irish). Afterward, we walked down the block to a pizza/pasta place that, judging from the rock ‘n’ roll paraphernalia and stage, is a college hangout. It was all middle-aged and elderly patrons when we hit at 5. I ordered baked ziti, but when it arrived, I wasn’t that hungry. I did manage half the plate.
That night I dreamt off and on about missing the shuttle to the start.
Sunshine on My Shoulder
All the forecasts predicted 50s and overcast skies, with sporadic rain likely. Perfect marathon weather, if you ask me. But that wasn’t the case at 6, when I caught the motel’s shuttle to the start. It was at least 15 degrees warmer. And clear. By then I’d gotten down 16 ounces of bottled water and a banana, but nausea I attributed to nerves prevented me eating anything more. I kept gagging and I prayed the pasta from yesterday would get me through. Just in case, I brought a bottle of Gatorade.
I learned on the shuttle from a French pair doing the inline marathon that this was a huge race because there are few marathons for rollerbladers in the U.S. The woman next to me was walking her first half marathon and I gladly gave her tips. We hung out after we got to Shoreline Village and watched the various races start (marathon walkers, different stages of inline skaters). I hit the portable toilets twice. I felt fine, even as I watched the sun come up and knew it was going to warm quickly. While with the walker Sue, from the Redlands area, I met some Inland Empire race walkers and got an earful about rude runners. This was set off by Sue, brand new to racing, asking if she should start in the very back and a veteran teller her to start anywhere she damn well liked.
I lined up 10 minutes ahead of time somewhere in the 10-minute miler range. It was hard to tell. The 11.5-minute, 10.5-minute and 8.5-minute pacers had congregated in one area and no one knew which actually belonged there. I wanted to average at most 10-minute miles, and so did the half-marathoner next to me, so I felt I was OK. I remember feeling choked up as the gun went off and attributed it to PMS and not a gag reflex.
This is a beautiful course. Definitely one of the best I’ve ever run. You are running near water almost the entire time, be in an inlet, a harbor, or the beach. Long Beach knows how to sell its city. The other plus is the size: the marathon’s large enough that you are never alone, yet small enough to keep weaving at a minimal. It’s also quite flat, which felt fine to me. However, my stomach didn’t. I tried to ignore it and sip from my Gatorade as I took in the waterfront parks, Queen Mary, even the tugboat spouting fountain-like water and blasting its horn for us. Around Mile 6 we were back in Shoreline Village and enjoying lots of love from the spectators. I stopped to use a portable toilet, but it just confirmed what I’d felt earlier: I’d peed my shorts instead.
From downtown we headed onto the beach boardwalk, with sand on both sides. I thought this stretch might get hairy, but the crowds were steady but shallow enough that no one was at risk of falling off the path and into the sand. As we approached a water stop after Mile 8, I decided the answer to my stomach ache was some Gu, especially since the electrolytes weren’t cutting it. I really, really wanted to take in all the sites. I would also have liked to talk to some folks, but most of the marathoners wore headphones or conversed in another language. I started wondering about the loss of socialization during races due to the iPod. Someone needs to hear about this.
I lost the laminated pace chart that also was color-coded to tell me when to drink. There’s water about every mile, which is too much, so I’d planned out where to take water, where to take Gatorade and when to take a gel if needed. Jeff would be working the Mile 20 water stop, which I knew would give me a boost, and Gilbert and my sister were a mile after that with fresh Gatorade and Gummy bears. I ended up grabbing the wrong cup and washed the gel down with Ultima, the official race replenishment drink. I can’t stomach Ultima, even 2 ounces’ worth.
What was I thinking?! Actually, I know: I’m doomed.
‘First Paula, Now Me.’
We were no sooner off the beach boardwalk and onto a stretch of road at Belmont Shores when it happened. First came the sour bile taste; then, the contents in my stomach. Given all the liquids I’d ingested, my vomit splatted everywhere. I heaved again. And again. Then I thought I’d be OK.
But I wasn’t and I knew it. We were nearing the turn off for the half-marathon and I started to see DNF next to my name. Though I have absolutely nothing in common with this woman, I saw myself as Paula Radcliffe, sitting in her soiled running shorts and crying during the final stretch of the Summer Olympics. I’d peed on myself; I’d puked and grossed out everyone. I’d poop for sure if this kept up. And I couldn’t. I fell further and further back and realized I did not have another 15 or 16 miles in me. So I filed in with the half-marathoners and eventually pulled over on Ocean Blvd, next to what would have been Mile 24 for me in better times, and turned my number inside out so the announcers would understand I was not officially entered in this race. There were other marathoners, some limping or showing other signs of injury, deciding a half marathon medal would do this day.
I ran my ‘walk of shame.’ I didn’t look at a single runner, spectator or aid station volunteer. I kept my head low, eyes fixed on the asphalt in front of me instead of the gorgeous palm-lined street framing the skyscrapers of downtown. I wondered if I smelled. I looked down at my watch just as the finish line came into sight. Not only would I bail out of my big race, but this would be the slowest half marathon I’d ever run (and I’ve run dozens). By the time I crossed the finish, the first marathoner was coming into view and the crowd erupted into applause.
The Walking Wounded
On the way back to meet the shuttle, I got lost and had to climb over this concrete-and-steel fence. While hoisting myself up, I pulled my hamstring and/or hip flexor. It hurt like hell but I ignored the pain. I couldn’t drink more water; Gatorade was grossing me out. I did suck on an orange wedge, and that staved off another vomit attack. I called my mom and dad, who were sympathetic. My mom asked if maybe I should stop running marathons. My sister couldn’t make it, and I told her that must have been the sign God had given off my parents’ praying. He spared her an hour of traffic for nothing. I called my daughters back in San Diego to make sure everything was OK at home. And then I called Gilbert but hung up as soon as my voice began to crack. By then a crowd had formed. All jubilant half marathoners and inline skaters. Needless to say, the shuttle ride back sucked.
I made it to our motel in time to shower again. We were heading out of town 30 minutes later. I ran through the race in my head, trying to discern what went wrong. Gilbert said his stomach had hurt too. I suspect ‘sympathetic’ pains. Heading to the freeway, I saw hordes of runners on an overpass at the Mile 18 marker. By then the air had turned cooler and it was starting to rain. Soon as we hit the 405, I start to cry hard. My husband asked what was going on. All I could blubber through the wails was how I wished I hadn’t seen all those marathoners just a minute ago, and how I hoped they all made it to the finish in time. Then I stopped crying almost as quickly as I’d started. Because if I didn’t, I was going to throw up all over again.