Thursday, March 21, 2013

Finding My Joy Part 2: LA MARATHON

"Begin at the beginning..."
I’m having a really rough time writing this.  I just have SO many emotions regarding finishing my first full marathon that I’m not sure where to start. 
So, I apologize for the length of this post, but I feel like I have to listen to the King from Alice in Wonderland and “Begin at the beginning…and go on until I come to the end: then stop”   Funnily enough, that’s just what we do when we run…we go until we come to the end…

I’m not sure when I decided I was truly going to do a marathon. Apparently, I’m the catalyst for my friends signing up. (I remember this as a group decision, but I’m sure that’s not the case.)
I wrote a blog somewhere in the first year of my journey to lose weight and one of the goals was:
“I want to run a marathon (in theory)”
When that turned in to a reality, I’m not entirely sure.
But it did. 
Ditto and I decided we would sign up for the LA Marathon. It’s one of the premier marathons in the US and it showcases Los Angeles and the cities beautifully with its “Stadium to the Sea” course.  The race begins at Dodger Stadium runs through famous cities and landmarks like Hollywood Blvd., The Sunset Strip and Rodeo Drive and ends at the Beach.
So, when registration opened in October of last year we signed up and committed to a training plan.  Very soon the third member of Team Ditto, Sue, joined us.
I had some rough runs that I documented in some pretty frank blog posts, but overall I loved training. There were a couple of days where I was 100% positive I was going to be picked up by the sweepers for going too slow. But my team raised me up.  We met, we ran, we talked about nutrition and how we were feeling.
You spend a lot of time with your training partners.   I don’t run at the same pace as Ditto and Sue, but they always waited for me at the end. They would have snacks after the long runs and be stretching.
We trained for about 3 months. We sacrificed going out on Saturday nights. We woke up early on weekends. We spent time on like it was our job. We researched the right supplements and sought advice from friends! (Thanks JOEL!!!)
You build a bond with people that only those with a like experience can understand. It’s pretty powerful.
Team Ditto: Heather S., Heather K. and Sue

Almost Famous
Around this time I also answered an email I received from the folks at the LA Marathon (LAM).  They wanted to know my marathon story. This email goes out to every runner, but I decided to answer it.  I wrote my weight loss story. I wrote about the sense of accomplishment, confidence and pride that running has given me. I wrote about friendships. 
And they picked me.  My story was made into a one-page sheet complete with pictures and sent out in the press packets.
A few weeks before the story was picked up by the local TV channel that was also airing the marathon (and any other channels that aired it) and the Daily News. 
I feel honored to have a living record of this moment in my life…and super proud too.
Pre-Marathon Days
And then suddenly it was here:  Marathon week.  Which also happened to coincide Grad School Finals week, yeah…I wasn’t busy or anything.
I couldn’t concentrate on work or pretty much anything else. I compared it to falling in love. It was ALL I could think about. I was writing “LAM” surrounded by a heart in my Trapper Keeper. ;)
The LAM’s title sponsor is Asics, so when they chose me to be interviewed on camera they offered me shoes and asked me to wear them.  I did so, happily, but they weren’t the right shoes for my feet. (To be clear, Asics are awesome.  Just don’t wear a new pair of shoes that you have not been fitted for a mere two weeks before your first full marathon.)
I got broken.
I had some form a small tear or strain in the tendons on my right foot, plus I was having severe pain in my left bun (aka pirformis?).  During this time, I sought a lot of advice, though none from a physician. 
(I DO NOT CONDONE THIS!).  I was terrified that a doctor would tell me not to run. I trained too hard and too long and decided (for myself) that I would go to the doctor on March 18th if I needed to.
I was lucky. I found a couple of great chiropractors, one who helped my body be relaxed and more prepared for the race and another who focused on getting my foot back in working order. 
I made it through the crazy week and got my foot taped up on Friday.  I have had NO pain in my foot since I did this. There is power in taking care of your body.
I made it through my Saturday morning class and Ditto and Sue picked me up and we were on our way…
Bib Pick Up and Expo
For those of you who know me, you know how organized I can be. I have lists for my lists.
Of course I made a list for this race. I had to pack everything on Friday night and get it to Sue since they were picking me up straight from school.
But I was so sure of my obsession with having little everything I forgot a couple key items.
My sports bra
My dry wick hat
My running belt
Runners know you train in what you’re going to wear.  I probably ran about 40 miles in full marathon outfit and now I was missing some KEY components.  And I didn’t even realize they were all gone at the same time.
The bra was first.  I had a sick, sinking feeling during school, so the first thing I did in the hotel room was look for it….it’s not there.  I decide I’ll find something at the Expo and then vaguely remember there is a Target close to us.  That’s where I get all my sports bras…CRISIS AVERTED!
We arrive at the expo,  pick up our bibs and start shopping.  We all want something to commemorate so we pick up some cute tee-shirts and at the register they tell us, “Everything having to do with the marathon is 30% off.” SCORE!  Then as we’re leaving we overhear, “Okay guys, we’re going to 50% off.”
UHHHH, WHAT?! We decided to go back through at the end and buy more (maybe it would get to 70% off?)
Moral of that story…go to the expo LATE!

As we’re walking through the expo, I see the stand for Flip Belts.  These are great items, if you run they’re great for men and women and I love mine.  But that’s when it occurs to me that I don’t have mine.  Okay, I’ll just buy one. I decide to get a different color than the one I have at home, at least now I have a variety!
We go back through the Asics area, spend more money and make our way back to the hotel via Target to get my new bra!
As we walked back into the hotel room I realized I didn’t have my hat either. I wear a Nike brand ball cap when I run to keep the sun off my face and the sweat out of my eyes.  Luckily, I saw a Ladies Foot Locker in the mall attached to our hotel. I went straight down and lo and behold, the last white hat (a color I don’t have yet) was available.
So, I spent more money than anticipated, but I got what I needed.
I was as ready as I’ll ever be!
Race Day: Before the Race
Our mantra all weekend was, “It’s just another race.”
We’ve all run so much in the past year, if we could just get past the distance and look at it as just another race, we felt comfortable.
But telling yourself that and believing it isn’t the same thing.
I think we all knew something bigger was happening.  This was a big deal.
As we got onto the crowded Shuttle Bus I said to my friends, “I can’t believe I let you b_ _ _ _es talk me into this!”
That broke the morning nervous tension.  They both laughed at me OUT LOUD. 
Ditto said, “Excuse me, but I think it’s the other way around!”
It probably was, but it was fun to say.
We arrived at Dodger Stadium, found bag check, situated ourselves and got in the long bathroom line.

Then we headed to our corral!
It was so cool to stand there with 24, 000 runners, listening to the National Anthem and then Randy Newman’s “I Love LA” over and over again.
As we moved forward in the corrals, we made jokes, took a little video and gave one another hugs.  I knew once we went over the start line, I wouldn’t see them for another 6 hours or so.
And we were off….
The LAM is a wonderful tribute to the diversity and beauty of Los Angeles. 
As I ran out of Dodger Stadium and into Chinatown, I really felt proud to be an Angeleno.  Even though I live about 35 miles north of the city, I can honestly say that LA is my hometown and I was thrilled to be running in it with my fellow runners.
This is the first time I ran a race with a phone, but I wanted to be able to keep in contact with Ditto and Sue if needed and be able to figure out where my peeps on the course were.
I ran through Chinatown and Downtown LA, past the diverse architecture like the Disney Music Hall.  It was so awesome.  I was running at a great pace and feeling awesome. I made sure I took water at every table and I yelled, “Thanks Volunteers” every time I ran by them. 
I loved seeing the sites of LA but also the people who came out to cheer, watch or help.  People stood on their front lawns handing out pretzels and orange slices.
Strangers read your bib and encouraged runners personally! It was awesome!
Around Echo Park, I tried to find my sister.  But it was difficult because I wasn’t sure when I’d be there.  We texted back and forth but it just didn’t work out.  However, she told me how proud she was of me and called my mom and said, “This is all so exciting!”
I’m glad she caught a little bit of the spirit!
At Mile 7, I couldn’t ignore nature any longer. This is ALWAYS where I have to pee. So I found a bathroom line and got in it…for 10 minutes. 
Around this time I got a text from my friend Christine, she was only about a mile away!
As I turned the corner and saw the sign for the Autozone in the SilverLake neighborhood I began looking for my friends Christine and Niko and there they were! I started smiling and waving my arms and I ran to them.  I was so happy to have cheerleaders on the course. It was so wonderful to see them and feel their support!  I hung out for about 90 seconds taking a picture and letting Christine take some as well.

Me, Christine and Niko around Mile 7.5
And I was off again.
I was still feeling good. Walking through water tables and some of the hills (they weren’t enormous, but it helps me keep pace) and flying down the hills.  I got to Hollywood (Miles 10-12) and tried to find Sue’s hubby but alas, I missed them.  No biggie… I just kept right on running.
Meanwhile, I was getting texts from people who saw my segment on TV and other well wishes.  It was so fantastic!
About mile 15, I started to slow down and then I got a text from my friend, Adam. Adam and I worked together for about 5 months back in 2010, but we clicked. We have hung out a couple of times, but kept in touch through Social Media…encouraging one another along the way.
He is now a manager at the L’Emeritage Hotel in Beverly Hills (swanky!) and the LAM runs right by it.  He told me where he’d be and it gave me something to be excited about!
I could see Adam in the distance and start waving my arms to get his attention.  I ran up to him and gave him a sweaty hug and he says the 3 most perfect words:
Seriously, is there anything better than hearing that at Mile 16.5 of a marathon?  And even cooler?  He walked with me for about .2 miles, in a suit and tie.  People ran by and said, “Dude, are you running in that?”
I loved seeing him and it was exactly the boost I needed.
What was awesome was where my friends were along the course.
They chose later miles because they knew that’s where we would need the support the most and it worked!
I texted my mom and asked where she was. 
She said, “Mile 18 arch, left side.” So I was off again.
What was great about these miles was running down Rodeo Drive and seeing the messages of support that people had texted me.  (Asics had a way for people to leave you a message and it was connected to the timing chip in your bib so when you went over a pad on the street your messages came up!)
It was here that I heard the first “Go Team Ditto” cheer from a stranger.  A teeny part of me wishes my name was on my bib and not the back of my shirt BUT…I loved that they had probably cheered for Sue and Ditto as they ran by too.  It made me feel like I was running with them.
As I approached the arch, I started looking to the left.  My mom had come down with my friends Angela, Joel and their little one,  Izzy.  Joel had been our “Marathon God” during training, offering us tips and tricks.
All of a sudden I heard my name and there was Joel and Izzy, I stopped to hug them and he said, “Keep going! Up there!”
At this point, I could see my mom, but she couldn’t see me…again I started waving my arms…she saw me, yelled to Angela and was beaming! It was so cool! As I got closer I realized she was holding a sign…
1. My Mom is Fantastic.
2. This Sign is Fantastic
3. I look FANTASTIC for Mile 18!

She apparently insisted on holding this one! I love what a good sport she is!  I said my “Hellos” and gave my hugs and took some pictures and then my mom walked about a hundred yards with me before I gave her another kiss and hit the road.

Only two more miles and I would meet Team Ditto’s Support Crew. As you know, I call my RBF (Running Best Friend), Heather, Ditto since we have the same name. We decided to put Team Ditto on our bibs and when Sue signed up so did she! So we became Team Ditto.  Ditto’s hubby and our friend Neil came out to cheer us on at Mile 20 complete with oranges, pretzels and BEER!
I got to them, had some snacks and Cody, Ditto’s husband, asked how I felt and I said, “Tired, like I’ve just run 20 miles, but good.”
Team Ditto Support Crew:  Cody and Neil
Then I got on my way again…they told me that our friends Ryan (the girl) and Vinson and the kids were in the next couple of miles and my friend Jan was volunteering at a water table at Mile 22, so I had more to look forward to.
I tried to look for Ryan and Vinson along the way but didn’t see them. I went up the last big hill in the Veteran’s Administration and ran out into Brentwood hoping to see them sooner rather than later.  I passed Mile 21 and the water table there….nothing.
I passed Mile 22 and the water table there…No Jan, No Ryan, No Vinson, No kids.
I started to think I had missed them and then out of the corner of my eye I see my name on a sign… I do a double take and there they are… I was so happy I almost started to cry. 

Ryan caught all three of us by surprise and made us all so happy! PLUS, she took awesome pictures!

But I also had some momentum…So I simply hugged and kissed all of them as I went passed.  I just couldn’t stop because there was Mile 23 and that meant only 3.2 miles left.
At this point, I had never run this far. In training we only got to 20 miles. I thought I would get emotional, but it seemed really normal. The last few miles I was eerily calm, albeit slow.
My body was feeling the strain of the distance I had gone and the length of time I had been out there. 
But suddenly I was at Mile 24. I decided to take out one ear bud at this point.  I wanted to hear the finish line and feel the crowd even more than I already had.  I decided to check my phone one more time.
There was a text from my Mom.
“How are you?”
I sent back, “Good, Mile 24”
And she sent back, “I’m at the finish line.  Ocean and Washington on your left.”
I think I started to go a little faster at this point.  I didn’t know she would be there too.
The LAM ends in Santa Monica and the last ¾ of a mile are on Ocean Avenue. You can see the finish line in the distance. It’s so cool because people are out cheering and offering high fives. They read your bib and yell for you personally.
I’m so glad I took one earbud out so I could enjoy the energy!
 Right as I was coming up on Washington, “We Come Running” by Youngblood Hawke came onto my iPod.  It was so fitting I turned it up and as I did I saw my Mom, Angela and Izzy again.  They were screaming and cheering and I yelled, “I love you guys!” as I picked up the pace a little bit more.
I could taste the finish line and suddenly there it was; that fire I get at every finish line that says SPRINT and I did.  I flew through the finish line like I was on a mission.
I did it.
6 hours, 9  minutes, 25 seconds.
I kept thinking I was going to lose it and become emotional, but I was okay.
I got my medal, my mylar and some snacks and water.
I made my way to gear check and had a message from Ditto, “We’re at the end of Gear Check.”
I picked up my bag and turned around. I could see the end of Gear Check.
There was Ditto, back to me, sitting on the ground changing her shoes. Sue was standing up facing me. We made eye contact and I lost it.

Next thing you know we’re all crying and hugging and smiling and laughing.
It was awesome.
Everyone I talked to said this would be a “Life Changing Experience” and I knew it. But it wasn’t when I crossed the finish line that it changed.
My life has slowly been changing since October when I hit the “submit” button on my online registration form.
Every day, every mile a little bit of me became stronger, more confident and more joyful.
My life is changed. I’m part of the .5% of Americans who have completed a marathon.
And I will do it again.
Why wouldn’t I, when this is how I feel when I run?
 (For those of you who don't know, I posted the picture of the little girl on roller skates in my blog, "Finding My Joy".  After the marathon I made her my profile picture on Facebook, because that's how I felt. The next day, my friend Christine sent me this split screen.  She took this picture at Mile 7...I was feeling the joy then and I still feel it now!!!)

I had #Run3rd on my back and your dedications in my pocket when I rocked the LA Marathon on St. Patrick's Day 2013!

“It’s just another race!” Sue, 5:18:51
“Uh, excuse me? Who talked who into this?” Ditto, 5:33:54
“I found my joy!” Heather, 6:09:25


  1. Oh. I. loved this. WTG Team Ditto! Heather- you rocked it. And your mom... LOVE LOVE LOVE!

  2. Great read, Heather. Super impressed and excited for you to find the joy in running. See you on the trails :)