Running

My first marathon went a little like this…

I raced and finished the L.A. Marathon this past Sunday. My first marathon, ever.

Can you believe that? I still can’t. But I did that.

Too many waves of emotion for this emotional woman. I woke up at 3:15 in the morning with minor abdominal pain, which freaked me out like my nightmare from several nights before. This pain’s been coming and going often since graduating from college, and I personally attribute it to my constant stress. I told myself Not today, Satan and calmly made myself my traditional long run breakfast: oatmeal with bananas, honey, and a spoonful of almond butter.

My brother, dad, and I arrived to Dodgers Stadium, the starting point, at 5:00. I rested in the car with them for a while until my bladder was about to explode and I really had to get out. When I parted with my family and headed toward the stadium, I imagined this was probably what Katniss Everdeen felt when she parted with her little sister for the Hunger Games, scared and all. The only difference was that I knew I would come out of this challenge alive and safe.

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Runs a marathon once.

My anxiety exacerbated as I observed my surroundings at the stadium: People in large groups stretching together, people looking like they already ran 10 other marathons with their defined calf muscles and biceps, people covering themselves with disposable thermal blankets as they curled up against the wall for warmth, way too many people in one place. Needless to say, being surrounded by all the super-athletic prowess intimidated me. I almost forgot to mention I took way too long to find an accessible restroom. (Good news: I found it in time.)

I met up with my brother and dad just before the race started. I’m glad I did because being with them calmed me down. I jumped into the open corral with the rest of the 20,000+ runners eager to start. The crowd started moving forward, and the next thing I knew, I went from walking to jogging. The adrenaline kicked in.

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A selfie to commemorate the start of the race.

For once, I let go of all my nerves and let myself be in the present with everyone else. For once, I kept up that mentality all the way through. Unlike all my other runs during training, I quickly recognized and shut down any burdensome, worrisome thoughts. I don’t recall thinking hard about anything, if at all. A lot of the times they were short bursts of positive reminders like this:

Erika! Look around you!

Look at all the people cheering for you and feeding you water and Gatorade and orange slices!

I didn’t care for orange slices before but now I love orange slices!!!

Let the love flow through you! 

And don’t forget the electrolytes so you don’t cramp later!

Wow I love water. Mmm. Water really is life.

Did you feel that breeze? Thank you, breeze!

As a lifelong SoCal resident who has visited a good amount of the landmarks along the course, I enjoyed the scenery. It allowed me to reminisce fond memories associated with those places. Little Tokyo (aka my favorite hang-out spot), where I carbo-loaded on ramen and fried rice at Daikokuya two nights before the race; Silverlake, where I celebrated a birthday brunch for a dear friend; Pantages Theater, where I saw Wicked with my mom when I was 13; TCL Chinese Theater, where I’ve taken many of my family and friends visiting from Japan… and so on. It brought a smile to my face.

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Taken at Silverlake, around Mile 7

Weird thing is, I ran a lot faster than usual. By the time I reached mile 13, I felt confident to finish my race in a timely manner. Another one of my biggest fears for race day: not finishing by the 6 hour 30 minute mark set by the race officials. Even weirder, aside from pain in my small toenail and a dull lower back ache, I felt totally okay. I must have nourished myself well and ran at a good pace.

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2017 L.A. Marathon course map, courtesy of the L.A. Marathon website

There were many times within the last 10 miles when I planned to walk after a song ended. Then a new song started and got my energy up, so I continued my stride.

I fought myself mentally for the three miles before the left turn on Ocean Avenue. It doesn’t help that I’m nearsighted and the last several miles seemed like there would be no end in sight. Though, actually, a dense fog crept up along the shores of Santa Monica so I really couldn’t see far away. Hah.

The final stretch on Ocean Avenue was surreal. I don’t know how else to describe it.

Of course I was ecstatic to make it to the end. By the last 100 meters, with spectators lined up along the finish line, I gave it my all and pumped my arms and carried my legs in a sprint. As strange at it seems, when I crossed the finish line in Santa Monica, I couldn’t help but think, Wait, that’s it? How did I end up here?

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A lesson learned: trust my heart and the rest will follow.

But I did that. And so did the tens of thousands of runners around me. All the blood, sweat, and tears from training paid off. I proved to myself that I can do anything with a full and intentional heart into it. While I was the only one being harsh and doubtful on myself for skipping a run or workout during training, my family and friends always believed in me. I can’t imagine a more steadfast love than that.

After the race and all throughout today, I’ve been resting my mind and my body. I went to a spa near my house today. When I gave my thighs a little squeeze after a relaxing bath, I thought to myself Wow, my muscles are f-cking strong. My thighs, my calves, my feet, my arms, my lungs, my whole body, my mind, my spirit carried me all the way. Thank you muscles and blood vessels for doing your thing. For keeping me alive and healthy.

It’s getting late and I need sleep (almost 2 AM). You bet I’ll sign up for another marathon 😉 Good night.

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Erika's Weird Dreams, Running

The nightmare before my race

At the starting line, I carried a big black bag and a fanny pack I decided not to use for my race. I saw an acquaintance in the crowd and asked her to carry it for me. She said no.

Meanwhile I saw another friend take off with someone else. To be more specific, this is the same friend who ran the half-marathon with me in 2014.

From a distance, I saw my dad walking away from the starting line. Feeling weighed down by all the bags I carried, I dragged myself toward him and asked him to hold onto my bags until I finished my race. He said no.

In between me and my dad, a seemingly friendly stranger interjected and offered to carry my bags. This stranger was a big white dude, undoubtedly a weeaboo, who gushed to me about his obsession with Japanese culture and anime. Gross. But I had no choice.

He handed me his smartphone so that I can input my contact information. I noticed his keyboard was in Japanese, enabled with the handwriting recognition.

 

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In case you’re wondering what’s a handwriting recognition?

 

I was already rushing to get going with my race, yet the smartphone wouldn’t recognize the characters for my name no matter how many times I wrote my name in Japanese. At this point everyone already started racing… except me.

And then I woke up.

The sun’s about to set over here in Pacific Standard Time and I’m still thrown off by this silly dream. I’m gonna go on a walk, blast 24K Magic into my ears, and embrace my anxiety (compounded by other life things, but that’s another story).

And stay hydrated. Can’t forget that, either. *chugs water from my 40oz hydroflask*

I trust myself and I know that I have what it takes to run a full marathon!!

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Running

A running advice for those who get distracted and/or discouraged easily

Passed on by my good friend Jessica, who did cross country in high school, here’s my favorite long-distance running advice:

While running, keep your eyes and mind focused on an immovable object 30-50 feet away from you. Once you pass that landmark, pick a new focus point. And repeat.

For example, you’re running on a road with multiple lamps lined up alongside it. You can randomly pick a lamp that’s 50 feet away and run toward that lamp. Say there’s six lamps spread out between you and that said lamp, you can also count down the number of lamps you pass from your starting point to your landmark.

I like setting small, mental landmarks like this because I get distracted easily in my own thoughts. Oftentimes my mind becomes clouded with negative thoughts, like not being able to see a clear end in sight and thus feeling discouraged from completing my distance for that day. So picking a random object within reasonable distance and running toward it keeps me focused and motivated.

This advice is probably more helpful for runners who are training on their own, as I have been training solo this entire time. Pray for me as I attempt 18-20 miles tomorrow.

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Running

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

The most impulsive decision I’ve made since moving back to my hometown suburbia after graduating college? Signing up for the L.A. Marathon.

When I signed up, I was in no physical or mental shape to handle a full marathon, let alone a 5K. I usually put a lot of thought into my decision-making process, even going as far as carefully brainstorming a pros and cons list. During my last year of college, I neglected my physical health, often eating compulsively as a coping mechanism for my stress.

I was a mess.

But there’s several factors that compelled me to go for it…

  • The early bird registration rate was about to end on the day I signed up, so I wanted to take advantage of the discount.
  • In 2014 I raced and completed a half-marathon with my best friend who I lived and trained with during that time.
  • I dug myself into a destructive black hole since moving back to my old home.
  • The little voice inside me, which I pushed away for the longest time, insisted I had to get out of said black hole before it was too late.

Plus, my friend Megan inspired me. Funny enough, I was rolling around on my couch while mindlessly sifting through my social media newsfeed. Amid the endless images and texts, Megan’s post caught my attention. She wrote about her commitment to train for the L.A. Marathon, which was about five months away at the time she posted about it. I thought, “Wow she’s so bad-ass!!!” Until that point, my only exercise consisted of walking to and from my fridge and taking frequent naps.

I knew I had to do something. I knew I could do better, be better than this. A Gemini can’t sit still for too long.

Since the beginning of November I’ve been training. It’s empowering yet frustrating. As I started adding mileage and gaining confident with my physical endurance, my lower back started hurting to the point where I had to hold off training for about a month. I’ve had lower back problems since 2013 so I anticipated it at some point. After much-needed rest and recovery, I got back into running and working out regularly. I’m not sticking to my original plan, but when do I ever?

I’m still battling my personal demons that have existed long before I signed up for the marathon. One positive result so far is reclaiming my self-control. When I hit the pavement or dirt trail, I tune out everything around me. I focus on my breathing, making sure I’m breathing in and breathing out in a 4-count rhythm, always starting with my left foot. (Thank you, marching band, for ingraining rhythm and physical motion in me. No, I don’t run in an 8-to-5 stride.)

The L.A. Marathon is in 30 days (!!!). I’m nervous from thinking about the stretch from Dodgers Stadium to Santa Monica Pier. I think I can do it.

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