The combination of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials and the LA Marathon, both slated for the President’s Day holiday weekend, made choosing the date and destination for my first runcation an easy decision. With Southern California set to become the temporary epicenter of the distance running world, I had high hopes for an inspiring February getaway.
I landed in Los Angeles on Friday afternoon and couldn’t help but channel my inner Miley Cyrus, “I hopped off the plane at LAX with fresh legs and my blue Brooks. Welcome to the land of Meb, Desi, whoa, am I gonna see them? Jumped in the van, here I am for the first time.”
There had been a number of “official race” hotel options to choose from, but since this was to be a runcation, I opted to support the only brand that employs its own running concierge, Westin. It was perfectly situated downtown, only a short walk to the expo at the Convention Center. After picking up my bib and a some official Sketchers Performance gear (very reasonably priced), I quickly moved through the expansive vendor area- the day’s travels were taking their toll.
I’d signed up for a Fitbit-sponsored shakeout run with Ryan Hall, but leaving the expo I was having second, third and fourth thoughts about attending. Back at the hotel I decided to put on my running clothes, and only after tying my shoes committed myself to following through. I rationalized that It was a good opportunity to run a bit of the city, and this was a runcation, after all.
It probably shouldn’t be a surprise, but along the short sunset walk over to the run I began feeling rejuvenated. The meet-up at Grand Park, just across from the LA County Building, had already attracted a good sized crowd by the time I arrived shortly after 6 p.m. Amid the mass of glowing runners, thanks to the free neon lighted bracelets provided. I couldn’t help but marvel at what a beautiful evening it was. Was it really the middle of February?!
Soon the guest of honor arrived, and more than a hundred shorts-clad runners gathered around some tables where Hall jumped up on a chair to provide us with some last minute marathon advice, focused mostly on nutrition and the mental aspects inherent to the distance. Since recently announcing his retirement, he said he’d begun weight lifting. It certainly showed, as he’d noticeably packed on considerable muscle mass.
It was a nice 3 mile shakeout run at an easy pace, with enough just effort to work up a modest sweat with the temperature still hovering in the mid-60s. The mostly flat terrain interrupted by a challenging hill toward the end served its intended purpose of waking up the legs a bit ahead of Sunday’s race.
As Angelenos headed to happy hour to conclude their work weeks, many cheered and offered high fives as we ran by. While we were warned to be cautious of uneven the sidewalks, the most obvious obstacle didn’t have anything to do
with the city’s infrastructure. Rather, it was the numerous makeshift homeless camps. I don’t think I crossed paths with as many homeless persons in the more than 1,000 miles I ran in New York last year as I did in those few miles in downtown LA. It was a poignant reminder of the unique perspective that running a city offers.
After a truly satisfying shakeout run, it was time to head back to my hotel. While Olympic hopefuls were surely preparing to dream of punching their ticket to Rio the next day, I had my own winning visions of inhaling a big, arb-filled pancake breakfast before cheering them on.
An hour before nearly 400 of the fastest U.S. marathoners would toe the line at the Olympic Trials, downtown LA’s Figueroa Street was eerily empty. A few who would be running Sunday’s LA Marathon were taking advantage of the barren roads for one last shakeout run. With anticipation building, I headed toward the start area to fully immerse myself in the festive atmosphere.
When I had stopped by the Brooks booth at the expo, exhibit ambassadors were inviting trials-goers to cheer on the athletes at the company’s cheer zone. Brooks is, after all, my shoe brand of choice, so I was excited to join their crowd. With bleachers, food trucks and television screens tuned into the race, they really set the bar high for brand support.
Inside the Brooks cheer zone, I nestled myself up next to the fence that separated the area from the sidewalk. I imagine it was akin to standing backstage of the Grammy’s if one was an avid singer. Here, everyone seemed to have an equally close connection to the sport of running. Just an arms length away was Desi Linden’s father anxiously awaiting his daughter’s start. Hansons-Brooks Distance Project Coach Keith Hanson was there with his son, admitting that he was more nervous than Desi. A number of elite athlete coaches stopped to catch-up with others, sharing anecdotes about their athlete’s training progress. Ryan Hall bounded down the sidewalk to get in position to offer encouragement to his wife, Sara. If Eugene, Oregon was TrackTown, U.S.A., today this was MarathonTown, U.S.A.
After watching much of the race from inside the Brooks cheer zone, I noticed some open space along the adjacent sidewalk, so I staked out a position alongside the “800M to go” signage. I was struck at how many spectators were there with a purpose, to cheer on their competing loved ones- nephews,cousins and the like. As the temperatures rose and many runners were visibly wearing, this family support was also making a visible impact – responding to the sound of a familiar voice, strides adjusted, parched lips curled and tightened faces momentarily relaxed.
If there was any doubt as to what a special sport this is, one needs only look to the back of the pack for inspiration. Granted, there’s something oxymoronic about referring to the back of the pack at the Olympic trials. Nonetheless, the crowd was acutely aware of the struggling runner at the back of the men’s race, and they responded with cheers of encouragement fitting for a frontrunner. As Kathrine Switzer once observed, “If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.” On this day, the Road to Rio was certainly paved in spirit.
Less than 24 hours since arriving in Los Angeles, my runcation had already exceeded all expectations. But the hard part was yet to come. Soaked in both perspiration and inspiration, it was time to make final preparations for my own marathon journey.