Sunday, March 9, 2008

Irish Cream's Super Detailed 2008 L.A. Marathon Race Report

First things first. For some reason, a group of my college friends and I all have gotten really into running . . . specifically, marathoning. My friends Brent, Jon (who, for some reason, I insist on calling Jonny) and I agreed to run the L.A. Marathon on March 2nd. I was lucky enough to have quite a fan club with me in L.A. First of all, my boyfriend (Wilson) made the trip out to L.A. with me. Then there was my best childhood friend, Anna. Anna lives in Pasadena and had actually completed a marathon herself back in the fall. In addition to Wilson and Anna, nearly my entire family came out for the event. My parents were there, as well as my older sister (Mallory), her husband (Demetri), and my two year-old niece (Iris). The only person missing was my younger sister, Mo. Apparently, in all the craziness of planning the trip, we managed to overlook the fact that Mo was never actually invited to come out for the big race (oops! We're really sorry, Mo!)

On Saturday afternoon, Brent and Jon came to check into the Westin Bonaventure, where Wilson and I were staying (apparently they saw some logic in my bourgeois lodging plan). While they were checking in and getting settled, my family decided to check out the goods in the lobby gift shop. While we were in there, my mother somehow managed to chuck a snow globe across the shop, sending it shattering to the ground. A small child then proceeded to nearly die when he stepped right into the mess of blue, oily snow globe juice. My family was immediately thereafter kicked out of said gift shop. Luckily, there were about 30 other gift shops throughout the hotel (this place was a fricking metropolis -- it was like the Mall of America on crack) So, considering our little fiasco, we decided it might be best to put some distance between us and the hotel for a while. My parents, Wilson, Jonny, Brent, Kate (Brent's g/f) and Kate's friend Beth all met up and walked the mile or so over to the Convention Center for the expo. As one might predict, it was a complete zoo. The freebies were mediocre at best (maybe we arrived too late and missed all of the good stuff?), so after grabbing our bibs, t-shirts, goodie bags, etc. and doing a little obligatory wandering, we headed out. Jonny, Brent, Kate and Beth all headed to Mass; my parents, Wilson and I set off in search of bagels and bananas. Apparently you can't get such exotic items as bagels and bananas in downtown L.A. Who knew? After giving up on the idea of providing my own race morning breakfast, we stopped at a Rite Aid so I could stock up on a totally normal array of items--blue gatorade, aspirin, $6.99 throw-away pants, hair bands, sun block and big fat sharpies. We returned to the hotel with these provisions, I obsessively read every piece of information I could get my hands on regarding the race, and finally, I showered up for dinner. Brent, Jon, Wilson, Kate, Beth and I (and another one of Kate's friends--can't remember her name now) all went to eat at this Italian place a few blocks from the hotel. Although we had reservations, we stood waiting for a table for, I believe, like a half-hour. The poor people there seemed so flustered. It was like they couldn't figure out why their random little Italian restaurant in downtown L.A. was suddenly so crowded on a Saturday night! Anyway, they DID have a "special" 3-item menu for the marathoners, which actually sucked since those of us running felt like we were obligated to order from it (and we did). I got this whole-grain spaghetti with salmon, capers and roasted peppers in a garlic-olive oil sauce. It was pretty tasty, but I couldn't help but have a little food envy over Kate's friend's farfalle dish! I totally would have ordered it if I hadn't been suffering from runner's guilt! I also must mention that they also had some crazy good garlic knots at that place. We finished up, got the check and realized they'd forgotten to put Jonny's entree on it (sweet! Marathon special, indeed!) So, being the honest people that we are, we threw down some cash and busted out of there. On the walk back to the hotel, we walked right past the finish line. This prompted a very enlightening conversation about how it's probably a pretty good idea to just take off your shoe (with chip attached) and throw it over the finish line at the end of the race, in order to shave a few seconds off your time. We also discussed getting up in the middle of the night and pushing the finish line back towards mile-26, in an attempt to minimize the difficulty of the final .2. Sadly, it looked like there was some kind of security person posted at the finish line for the night (have people actually attempted to move the finish line in the past?!) We got back to the hotel, dared one another to jump into the crazy lobby fountains for $50 (no one accepted said dare--which is most likely for the best, considering my mother's earlier incident), and at last, we headed up to our respective rooms (or, well--Wilson, Jonny, Brent & I headed up to our rooms--Kate & Beth left to go out--HOLY JEALOUSY). I stopped by my parents' room on the way up to my own room, as my mother had informed me my father had a big pep talk planned for me (he ran the Chicago Marathon twenty-some years ago). I was actually kind of excited to hear what he had to say--my dad is quite the motivational speaker. So I got to their room, my mother opened the door, and . . . my dad was sound asleep in bed, despite the fact that it was only 9:00 p.m. (in all fairness, he was still on central time and had been sick with the flu for a while)! Ha. My poor mother looked like she felt really badly about it, and she actually went so far as to attempt to give me an awkward pep talk herself. It involved her pointing to my father and repeating over and over, "Look at him! If he can do it, you can do it! You two have the same mental makeup, but you're WAY more athletic!" She would then interrupt herself and be all like, "But, of course, don't be afraid to stop . . . that is, if you have to stop. There's absolutely no shame in stopping!" Ha, her spontaneous pep-talk was pretty inspiring, let me tell you (and by inspiring I mean hilarious . . . thanks for trying, Mom!). So with that, I went back to my room and laid everything out for the next morning. For the first time all day, I realized I was actually nervous. REALLY nervous, to be honest. As can probably be predicted, I did not sleep a WINK.

The positive thing about not sleeping is that it was pretty easy to roll out of bed at 5 a.m. I got dressed, drank some gatorade and attempted to force down an ($8) room service bagel (Damn you and your lack of suitable pre-marathon breakfast food, downtown L.A.!). Ha, it was the most expensive bagel I'd ever eaten, and also by far the most unpleasant! I was seriously just a nervous wreck. I finally gave up on the bagel with like 3 bites to go, and opted to just watch the news and listen to some power songs on my ipod (I'm sure our next door neighbors appreciated my early-morning rendition of "Here Come the Irish"--and yes, "Here Come the Irish" is one of my power songs! I'm a Notre Dame grad--what do you expect?!). I applied some body glide (but not the sun block I'd made a point of buying the previous day--brilliant), covered my feet in moleskin, threw my socks and shoes on, then my $6 throw-away sweats, took one last inventory of my gear . . . and was out the door!

Trying to get down to the lobby was a bit of an adventure, as there were runners trying to get on at literally every floor (I was up on the 22nd floor). Right as we got on, this older runner made a joke like, "Gee, there sure are a lot of people up early this morning!" This resulted in nothing more than a little nervous laughter. Ha, you could cut the tension in that elevator with a knife! Some other dude in our elevator car was complaining about how the elevator didn't stop at the 4th floor (you had to get off at 3 and walk up a flight of stairs to get to 4). It was kind of hilarious. One of the runners was like, "So I'm guessing you're not running the marathon today then?!" And the guy was like, "Me? Hell no! You're all crazy! I've never seen so many thin, fit people in my entire life!" So when we finally made it down to the lobby, Wilson and I met Jonny and Brent, and we headed to the start together on the metro (it was free all day for marathon runners). I tried to force down a banana (compliments of Jonny; not downtown L.A.) . . . and a little water. The metro ride was probably around 20 minutes or so . . . not too bad. Of course, there were those people who were just way too obnoxious and giddy for how early it was (and they all happened to be in the same car as us--very convenient). But Jonny, Brent, Wilson and I were all pretty silent during the trip over to Universal Studios. I made a point of sitting in a handicapped seat and suggesting that, while I wasn't yet handicapped, I most definitely would be in 4- 5 hours. Once we got to our final destination, we were emptied out into a scene that can only be described as mass chaos. We stopped by gear check, took a "before" photo of the three of us, and then attempted to get on line to use the porta-potties . . . ugh, what a disaster! They'd lined the things up on either side of this bridge, facing one another. There were too many people and not enough porta-potties; thus, the lines were totally indistinguishable. The best part of it was that everyone had to make their way through the porta-potty area to get down to the start. It was just a huge, messy traffic jam. We all managed to use the (seriously disgusting) facilities--Jonny and Brent were very impressed with my bring-your-own-tp to the start idea. After hitting up the potties, we parted ways with Wilson and attempted the crazy walk to the start. We arrived at the start line with about 5-10 mins. to spare. However, after looking around us, we realized there were a bunch of slower-looking individuals surrounding us. Thus, we jumped the barricades and headed a ways up toward the start line. Thank goodness we did this, because there was no organization whatsoever in place at the start--no pace corrals, no signs, and certainly no common sense being used! Even after jumping up a bit, we still had to deal with dodging some walkers at the start (why do people not seem to understand that if they are walking the entire race, they probably shouldn't be way up in front at the start of a race with 25,000+ people?)

So anyway, after maybe ten minutes worth of waiting (which seemed like FOREVER), the gun finally went off (or well, I'm assuming it went off--ha, we couldn't hear it where we were lined up). We were over the start line within about 8-9 minutes to the sound of Randy Newman's "I love LA." I remember thinking, "this is it!" as I crossed over the timing mat. I immediately let Jonny and Brent go, as they were FLYING (yay, fast boys!). The start of the race went uphill for a bit, and then the next few miles were a seriously steep downhill. I tried to keep my pace down as much as possible on the downhill (I'm sure my quads thanked me for this later), even though I really just wanted to fly. Luckily, it was pretty damn crowded and there was a lot of dodging walkers going on--this, although a little annoying, helped to keep my pace down. I stopped at the first water stop (even though everything I've ever read says not to), because I'd eaten a cliff bar shortly before the start and my mouth was D-R-Y! After I got the water in my system and got into a little bit of a rhythm, I felt my nerves calm a bit. I skipped the mile-3 water stop and coasted right through to mile-4 without much of a problem. Around mile-4, however, I started to notice goose bumps up and down my arms and legs . . . not good. I've suffered from severe heat exhaustion quite a few times in the past, and as a result, I think I tend to be a bit more susceptible to it than other people. In all honesty, I was freaked out when I started getting the goose bumps. I began stopping at all of the water stops and pouring full cups of water over my head, trying to keep myself cool. By mile-6, I was really beginning to struggle. I had full out chills, but I wasn't quite ready to give in and walk. I kept telling myself I just had to make it to mile-8 (Koreatown) and Wilson would be there with my gatorade. I figured I'd try to keep running until that point, then talk to him and gauge how dangerous it was for me to keep going. Well, I didn't quite make it. I'd been walking through all of the aid stations, and after the mile-7 aid station, I just kept on walking for probably a quarter of a mile or so. I was pissed at myself, but also seriously worried that my condition was so bad so early on. Luckily, after I cooled down a bit, I started running again, having only lost a few minutes. I made it to where Wilson was right after the mile-8 marker, and pulled over to talk to him. I told him how badly the heat was killing me and asked him what I should do. After seeing/talking to him, I decided that I should at least try to make it to mile-13, where my friend Anna would be, but that I should probably slow down and walk anytime my body felt like it was really overheating. I checked my Garmin, realized that I was only about five minutes behind schedule and suddenly felt a little bit better about the current situation. Wilson offered me some sun block, but I (stupidly) declined in an effort to save myself time. After taking a moment to drink some gatorade and take in the crazy Korean martial arts acts all around us, I continued on my way, telling Wilson to give my family a heads up that I'd probably be walking a lot more than I'd originally planned. I tried to keep my walking to a minimum, but man, was it hot! I totally cursed myself for training in the NYC cold all winter long and then throwing myself into a warm-weather marathon!

At any rate, miles 8-11 were kind of a blur . . . I ran when I could, walked when I had to. It was at some point during this time that I first noticed spectators handing out oranges. Thank God for that. The oranges seriously tasted AWESOME and provided me with a much-needed boost for a while. But again, shortly thereafter, I seriously started questioning whether it was smart for me to keep going. I really wanted to see my friend Anna . . . and I figured if I could make it to her somewhere near the half-way point, I could again gauge my situation. If I needed to drop out, I could . . . and we could use her phone to call my fam and Wilson to let them know. So I kept on with the goal of just making it to mile-13. Around mile-12, I began walking . . . a lot. I was just PISSED. I knew my goal time of 4:15-4:30 was so far gone, it wasn't even funny. I was having this crazy mental battle with myself. I would think, "This seriously sucks. My time is already shot. What's the point? I seriously don't want to have to tell people my time even if I DO make it to the finish! I am so embarrassed!" Then I'd pretty much yell at myself for thinking so negatively. I'd be like, "Bailey, you just have to finish. You could walk the rest of the race if you had to and still say you are a marathoner. You can do this!" Then it'd be like, "But they start opening the streets back up at a 13:00 pace. What if they kick me off the streets and I have to walk on the freaking sidewalk? That would be so humiliating! I'm totally going to have to drop out if that happens!" Then I'd start trying to do the math to figure out how long it would be until I'd get kicked to the sidewalk . . . which didn't go well, because I was in no state to be doing complicated mathematical calculations! Luckily, a couple of dudes dressed up like Elvis and pushing carts blasting Elvis music came up and passed me by. This made me laugh a little bit, despite the fact that I was so down. I realized that time didn't matter to them . . . they were just out there to have fun (I later learned that Wilson saw these guys near the start, pounding Miller Lites--haha--he took a pic of them). Shortly after my rather amusing Elvis sighting, we got to USC's campus. I can't believe I'm about to say this, but holy sh*t, was I happy to step foot onto USC's campus! I knew that mile-13 was somewhere inside, and I knew that Anna would be around there. I grabbed another orange from an awesome spectator, sucked it down, and then started running again. After about a half-mile, I crossed the half-way point. I was somewhere around 2:35, which was almost a half hour later than I'd expected, so I was just praying that Anna was still around! I kept running for a while, a little worried that she'd moved on, figuring she'd missed me. Finally, somewhere around mile-14, I saw her, Rob (her fiance), and her adorable puggle, Oliver. I stopped and chatted with them for a while. I played a little bit with Oliver and let him lick the orange juice off of my hands. Then after a minute or so, I continued on, with a new goal . . . this time, I just wanted to make it to mile-19, where Wilson and the rest of my fam would be waiting.

Miles 14-15 are again a bit of a blur . . . I'm sure I ran some and walked some more. At some point along this stretch, I witnessed a male spectator asking a female runner for her digits--and, much to my surprise, she actually obliged! The only other thing I really remember from these miles is a short exchange I had with a young girl. There were a ton of these tiny kids running with the Students Run L.A. (SRLA) program--we're talking like even 10-12 year olds. I was seriously amazed and inspired by the fact that these kids were out there, running the same course I was. I can remember thinking, "Wow. That's pretty impressive. I mean, I'm an adult! I knew what I was signing up for! These poor kids probably had no clue what they were getting themselves into!" And yet, these were some of the most focused, determined little kids I've ever seen in my life. There was one adorable little girl--she was probably 13 years old--who always seemed to wind up right around where I was. I'd seen her near the start with a couple of her friends who were also doing the SRLA program. At one point around mile 14-15 (long after she'd lost her two friends), she stopped to walk. At the time, I'd just started to run again. I moved past her and heard this tiny voice say, "Good job!" as I passed. I turned and thanked her and told her she looked great and that she was doing a seriously awesome job . . . but you could tell from the look in her eyes that she was really hurting. I have no doubt that she finished--the last time I saw her was somewhere around mile-24, and she was still fighting. It was pretty inspiring, to say the least. Around mile-16, I had some kind of a break-through, in that I finally decided to let myself have some fun with the race! I started slapping every kid's hand I could. I started paying more attention to the people/environments around me. I came up to a water stop and a young volunteer yelled out, "Hey Bailey (my name was on my bib)! You want some water in your face?" Ha, this really made me laugh. "Yeah, bring it!" I responded. I stopped and he threw the cup of water on my face and just cracked up like it was the funniest thing ever. As humorous as it was, it felt SO GOOD! This silly exchange gave me some energy to keep going. I made it to around mile-17, and started to get REALLY hot again. I slowed to a walk, and not too long thereafter, an older man--maybe in his early-mid sixties--came up and started talking to me. We walked together and chatted for a while. His name was Alan, and he normally finished marathons in 3:00-3:30. Apparently he'd run a half-marathon the weekend before, which he hadn't trained enough for. Then, he somehow let one of his friends talk him into registering for the marathon on Friday, despite the fact that he still hadn't recovered from the half he'd under trained for! So anyway, he'd started getting leg cramps around miles 3-4 . . . we commiserated for a while about the fact that we'd both started struggling so early on. We shared our game plans/goals for the remainder of the race. He mentioned how interesting it was for him to be more towards the back of the pack . . . and some of his observations about how there were so many people just having fun back there. We ultimately decided we were both just going to try to enjoy the rest of the race and to take everything in that we could. We chatted for about a mile--I kept thinking the whole time that I should start running again--but it was the first time I'd had company all race, and I was actually somewhat enjoying chatting with him and getting his perspective about the race. Around mile-18, he stopped at a medical tent to get some painkillers for his legs, and I took off running again. We encouraged each other to finish strong, and with that, we went our separate ways. Excited that I had just one mile to go before I'd get to see my family and Wilson, I tried to pick it up a bit, but by now, my own legs were starting to get pretty sore. I made my way to an area just before mile-19, where they had numbing spray, and decided I'd give that a try. The station was VERY popular, and it took a couple minutes before I actually got sprayed. Sadly, I don't think it even made a difference. Ha, in all honesty, the only thing it seemed to affect was my lungs! The volunteers were all wearing masks to avoid inhaling that crap, and although I tried to turn my head away, I still got some of that junk in my lungs. It was seriously gross! I managed to recover, continued on, and began searching for my fan club who was stationed just past mile-19. I stayed toward the left of the road, as Wilson had told me they'd try to plant themselves on the left-hand side.

As we got up around the Staples Center at mile-19, though, the crowds were REALLY thick. They had pushed up from the side of the road to the center island, so there wasn't much room for the runners to pass through. Complicating things further was the fact that there were a TON of people walking by this point. Thus, I was focusing so hard on trying to weave in and out of people within the small area we had to run, and on trying to find my family in the huge crowd of people lining the road, that I was probably using way more energy than I should have been. I didn't see them, but I heard my father's voice yell out, "Go Bailey!!" right as I passed them. I immediately stopped and doubled back, making sure not to crash into anyone. When I got back to them, everyone was there . . . Mallory, Demetri, Iris, Wilson, my Mom, my Dad. It was so overwhelming, and I was in such bad shape, that I just doubled over and began bawling. I tried to explain to my family and Wilson about the heat exhaustion, but I could hardly even speak at that point. Poor Demetri seemed so uncomfortable. He backed way up to try and give my family better access to me. And little Iris looked so confused! There was a moment of excitement/confusion as she saw me come running up out of the huge crowd, but then she looked absolutely terrified about the fact that her aunty B-B was bawling and doubled over in pain/exhaustion. As I'd made it to mile-19, there was no doubt in my mind that I'd finish, even if I had to walk the rest, but it was hard to leave my family and move onward. In addition, it was such a tease, knowing the downtown finish line was so close (it was within about a mile of mile-19--but we still had to go out over the L.A. River and back--ugh)! Luckily, Wilson (God bless him!) had changed into running clothes and dumped his backpack back at the hotel on his way to mile-19. When he asked me if I wanted him to run/walk with me for a while, I could not have been happier! We walked for a bit, and then ran for a bit. I tried really hard to remain positive, but my legs and hips were hurting pretty badly by this point, and I had started to get this awful pain in my middle back--it felt like someone was literally reaching into my back and crushing my vertebrae in their hands. It was awesome, to say the least! Around mile 20-21, this dude came out of nowhere, and just had the most incredible energy I've ever seen! There were people with hula-hoops on the side of the road, and damned if he didn't grab a hoop from them and start hula-hooping! He was having such a good time . . . I seriously just wanted to punch him! I was just like, "Why the hell are you so damn happy, buddy?!" Also around this point, Wilson questioned me about when the last time was that I'd taken a gel. When I responded that I hadn't taken one since mile-15, he suggested I try taking one for a little energy boost. For some reason, though, I decided it would take far too much work to open up my dorky fanny pack belt (yes, I wore a fanny pack--I'm bringing sexy back, baby!), remove a gel, tear off the top and suck it down. I pretty much decided that I was just done with gels--and never did take another one! Wilson let it go and we continued on, running when I could run, walking when I couldn't. I think the most I could run at one time by that point was a mile or so. Wilson convinced me to try running from mile 21 to 22, where we'd hit a steep uphill as we crossed a bridge over the L.A. River. I made it, we slowed to a walk, and as I looked around at people around me on the bridge, I noticed that EVERYONE was walking (except for these 2 dumb people who were running intervals, and decided to try to start running right as we hit the bridge--needless to say, that didn't last long!). Thinking I wanted to finish as soon as possible, I decided that for the rest of the race, if I was walking, I'd be speed-walking. I started focusing on trying to pass other walking people during my walk-breaks. When we finally made it over the bridge, we entered into a really industrial area. There weren't a whole lot of fans, and there was very little shade in the area (there was very little shade at all on the course . . . but for some reason, I really noticed the sun at this point). I started checking myself out to see whether I was sun burnt, and much to my surprise, I didn't see much (if any) sunburn going on! I was, however, REALLY starting to notice some nasty inner thigh chafing. I had body glide on at the start, but as the race progressed on (and I continued to run through fire hose spray to stay cool--thank you, L.A.F.D.!!), the body glide washed off and I was left with some not so nice thigh chafing. Bummer. I first noticed it around mile-18, but by mile-23, it was . . . uh, really noticeable. Luckily, since I was in so much pain otherwise, it wasn't quite as noticeable as it normally would have been. How's that for looking on the bright side? At any rate, around mile-23, I started to see a lot of runners on the side of the road, trying to stretch cramps out. I thanked God I wasn't cramping. I was in pain, but I wasn't cramping, and for that I was seriously grateful. Wilson let me make the calls as to when we'd run/walk, and for the most part, I think I had a pretty good system going. About halfway through mile-23, it was time to cross back over the L.A. River and head for downtown. Although I'd run quite a bit between 22 and 23, I suddenly realized this second bridge wasn't nearly as uphill as I'd expected it to be. In fact, it was pretty much flat. I also noticed there was an AWESOME breeze sweeping over the bridge. Thus, despite plans to walk the bridge, I told Wilson, "I want to run now." And with that, we took off. That bridge was honestly one of my favorite parts of the entire marathon. The breeze was such a welcome change from constant heat, and it felt SO great to be passing people again (for some reason, most people chose to walk this oh-so-magical bridge). Best of all, you couldn't beat the fact that downtown was back in sight! That was DEFINITELY a plus. So Wilson and I continued on, running some, walking some. I made the decision that I REALLY wanted to run the last 1.2 miles. Thus, I walked a decent part of mile-24, but once we hit mile-25, I took off, determined not to stop until I crossed the finish line. I made it probably 3/4 of a mile before I let myself slow to a walk again. I was just in so much pain, I felt like I wasn't getting anywhere, and I couldn't even SEE the finish line yet. In response, Wilson tried his hardest to encourage me to start running again. He kept on repeating, "You're almost there! You just have to make it to that white building, then you'll turn right at the Mile-26 sign, and you'll see the finish line! You can do it!" I think I asked him like five times, "Wait, which f***ing white building are you even talking about?" (haha, poor Wilson!) So finally, after maybe 20-30 seconds of walking, Wilson successfully talked me into running again. Once I got going, he asked if I was okay to finish on my own, and I confirmed that I was. He then ducked out just before the last turn onto Flower St. Although I was seriously tired, I just kept telling myself that the faster I ran, the sooner it'd be over. Finally, I made it to the "white building" (and the 26-mile marker). We turned right onto Flower St., and FINALLY, I could see the finish line with just .2 to go. Ha, once I saw that finish line, it was like somebody lit my ass on fire. I was SO excited for the race to be over with, I set off in an all-out sprint. I looked down at my Garmin at one point, and it was reading around a 7:35 pace--ha. My dead legs were flying! I must have passed 40-50 people in the last several hundred yards . . . it was ridiculous! The night before, I had thought a lot about what I wanted to do as I crossed the finish line . . . but now that the moment had arrived, I didn't even care anymore! I just put my head down and sprinted until I was across that finish line! Official finish time? 5:26:49.

Once I'd finished, I then followed the guy in front of me, in some kind of exhausted stupor. An adorable kid--probably only 8 years old or so--put my medal around my neck and said, "Great job!" Then I set off in search of some water. After what seemed like a lifetime, I finally found a volunteer with a case of water, and grabbed a bottle from him. I then grabbed a huge, ice cold cup of gatorade and chugged it. I blindly grabbed at various unknown food items as I passed them--a baggie of sliced apples, a few bags of animal crackers, a couple of boxes of raisins. Then, I attempted to make my way out of the finishers area. It was damn near impossible. After probably 20 minutes of wandering, I finally found a path through the spectators and just cut right out of the finisher area. I headed to the family meet up area, where Jonny, Brent and I had agreed to meet at letter "Q." I figured they'd probably headed back to the hotel, considering how fricking long I'd taken to finish, but I figured I'd check it out just in case. When I got to the area, I realized there was no letter "Q," just an area for letters "O-R." I headed up the street that was labeled as such. There were people EVERYWHERE. I walked all the way along the street (up a hill--totally awesome), until there were no more people. Then, just as I was about to turn back and try to figure out which direction the hotel was in (I seriously just had no clue at this point), I saw Mallory running at me. Ha, it actually startled me a bit! As it turned out, she, Iris and Demetri had randomly planted themselves at the very end of the "O-R" area (without knowing anything about the boys' and my plan)! Ha, it was so random that we just found each other in the crazy crowds! I gave Mallory and Demetri hugs (I'm sure they were super excited about this, as I was BEYOND disgusting), and then plopped down and pulled out the food. I was STARVING! Iris and I shared some apples and raisins--ha, we had a little picnic on the grass! So yeah, I pretty much sat there, and didn't move for quite some time. Eventually, my parents found us and congratulated me . . . then my mom set off to find Wilson (who had no room key, phone, etc., since he'd run with me--oops). Luckily, we'd made a backup plan to meet in the lobby of the hotel if we couldn't find each other in the family meet up area, so she was able to find him pretty easily. On her way into the hotel, she passed Jonny, and told him where we were . . . so before too long, along came Jonny, already showered! We exchanged stories, and decided that it was seriously the hardest effing marathon ever! While I'm sad to hear that Jonny suffered as much as I did, I have to say, it really made me feel a lot better! He and Brent both finished much later than they'd planned as well. It felt nice to know I wasn't alone in my misery! Ha, and speaking of Brent--apparently he just left pretty much immediately after he finished to drive to San Diego. He was going to go kayaking on Monday! I'd imagine he was probably on the road to San Diego before I even finished! Pretty impressive!

After we soaked up some rays for a bit (bad idea) and watched a finisher on crack attempt to climb a tree barefoot; Jonny, Mallory, Demetri, Iris and I headed back to the hotel. I was SO glad they were with me! It was totally ridiculous--I'd been back and forth between the finish line and the hotel at least ten times in the previous couple of days (the finish line was only a couple of blocks from the hotel)--but I just had no concept of where I was! When we got back into the hotel, we found my parents and Wilson sitting at a table in the hotel bar area. My parents had ordered some appetizers, and when they extended the offer of food to Jonny, Wilson and I, we jumped right on it! We all got huge bacon cheeseburgers and fries. Food has never tasted so good in my entire life! In fact, just the prospect of food was so exciting, that I completely forgot to call Anna, who was going to meet up with us after the race! Luckily, she knew which hotel we were in, so she stopped in and, after checking the place out a little bit, noticed my family was sitting in the bar area! It actually worked out really well, despite my own screw-up! We hung out, talked and ate. It was so nice to have everyone there together. I came to realize during our meal that I was actually pretty badly sun burnt--oops--I probably should have taken Wilson up on that sun block offer back at mile-8! Ha, Jonny and Wilson kept commenting on how slowly I eat . . . I think both of them had finished eating before I'd taken even three bites of my burger! Although I'm usually a really slow eater, I was extra slow because I was just so tired. I got too tired to continue eating long before my stomach filled up, so I passed my (cold) fries over to Jonny to finish up for me! Ha, I think he probably could have eaten another entree, he was so hungry! Finally, after we'd all eaten and hung out for a bit, we went our separate ways. Anna, Rob and Jonny headed back to their respective homes, and the fam and I headed up to our rooms. I took a cold shower and lounged in the hotel bath robe for a while before putting my pajamas on and climbing into bed. Wilson and I plopped down on the oh-so-comfy king-sized bed and turned on that "World Trade Center" movie (random, I know). I fell asleep before the end, woke up as the credits were rolling and begged Wilson to go buy me some aloe vera, as my sunburn was KILLING ME (My shoulders and back were BRIGHT red)! He brought back some aloe lotion and assorted goodies--Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookies, strawberry frozen fruit bars, gatorade, orange juice, apple juice . . . even a PBR tall boy! We chowed down and then finally gave in to our exhaustion and went to bed.

In retrospect, I am really proud of my accomplishment. I think I am so much of a competitor, that it was difficult for me to deal with the fact that I was SO far off of my goal time. But luckily, there were a few people along the way who really helped me to keep things in perspective. I think there were a lot of lessons learned that day . . . and I'm glad that one of those lessons was the idea that you can't take a marathon for granted. That's what's so exciting about the sport. You never really know what to expect come race day. As much as you train and dedicate your life to the sport, it can really catch you off guard at times! I think it was important for me to learn that early on in my marathon-running career (ha, look at me planning a whole "marathon-running career!"). Given the conditions and the difficulties I had with heat exhaustion that day, I'm really glad I persevered and crossed that finish line (and didn't die!). The time doesn't matter. I know I'll forever have the memories of sharing that first marathon with so many people who are so important to me, and that's pretty cool to think about. Plus, there's always next time. I'm only 25 (or well, almost 26 now) . . . there are plenty of marathons left to run!

Additional photos to follow . . . whenever Mallory gets around to sending them to me!