If there’s one thing I knew about Los Angeles, it’s that Southern California is typically sunny and dry. After a brutal 10 weeks of winter marathon training in upstate New York, which included a 20-miler in 6 inches of snow and sub-zero wind chills, I was ready to run amongst palm trees and blue skies.
Forecasters predicted rain for the Los Angeles Marathon. 100% chance of rain.
“I know it says its going to rain tomorrow, but it never does,” said my dear friend and hostess Kelly. “It just doesn’t happen here. And if it does, it’ll be nothing.”
Famous last words.
You know this if you ran LA in 2011. It was the year of the monsoon marathon.
I ran the Stadium-to-Sea course with my good friend Emily that spring. We had trained together and would run together. And we were both aiming to break 4:30. A lofty goal since we’d each only run one marathon at a far slower pace.
On our way to LA, we picked up a celebrity fan, Richard Simmons.
Richard sat by Emily and me as we waited to board our flight. He was rather excited to learn we were running in LA and promised to cheer for us at the tail end of the course. Here, he dragged me onto his lap for a photo.
The night before our race, we stayed at a Wyndham hotel downtown. We knew we’d be a short drive to Dodger Stadium, where the race would begin. Emily’s boyfriend planned to ferry us there, but we ultimately hopped a complimentary race shuttle shortly after 5:30 am.
We arrived with plenty of time to use the bathrooms, eat and stretch. We waited with the 4:30 pace leader until it was our turn to begin, chatting about race strategy. (It was simple – keep pace with the group.) Soon enough, we ditched our throwaway clothes and we were off.
That first mile was rough. We ran through the stadium’s lackluster parking lot, dodging and weaving around other runners as we struggled to keep up with our pace group. The pace leader had warned us that the first few miles would be the hardest. She was right! It was difficult to navigate the crowd, especially since less than a mile in, many people in the middle of the pack were already walking.
And then it started to rain.
It began as a drizzle, but steadily gained momentum. By the time we reached mile 5, we were drenched. But honestly, we didn’t mind because it was far better than running in the snow!
We ran up an incredibly steep hill near the Walt Disney Music Hall downtown, and were rewarded with a concert from musicians at the top before we rounded the bend. We ran past Echo Lake, where I recall spotting big, fat raindrops splash into the water.
Soon enough, we turned into Sunset Boulevard (the less-than-exciting stretch.) A few miles later we turned onto Hollywood Boulevard where – about mile 10 – we passed the Columbia Records Tower, Hollywood & Vine, Pantages Theater and Mann’s Chinese Theater.
We were soaked. We splashed through puddles as we rounded a turn off Hollywood toward Sunset. We were headed toward our designated West Hollywood meetup spot with Kelly. Her home was a block off the marathon route, so we planned to meet her at the corner.
We approached familiar landmarks – Bristol Farms gourmet grocery and the Coffee Bean, my lifeblood when in town. Then I saw my Kelly, huddled under an umbrella at the corner. She spotted me, lit up, waved and passed me some GU gels. Seeing her at the halfway point really energized me. I knew she’d waited in the chilly rain for quite some time, so it meant a lot that we were able to find each other.
Through mile 15, we ran down Sunset, past the Laugh Factory, Chateau Marmont and the hotel I’d stayed the previous year when bestie Meridith and I traveled west for Kelly’s baby shower.
I knew this area. Familiar landmarks kept me going. That and the rain!
We turned off Sunset and ran down a hill, splashing through more puddles as we moved.
“Is it raining?” Emily yelled. “This is all you got? Bring it LA!”
Most runners around us ignored our antics as we chanted that a rainy run was far better than running in snow or ice.
It was also around the point in our waterlogged race that we realized we could go to the bathroom while still running, and no one would be the wiser. (We didn’t, for the record, but were jazzed to know we could!)
We also didn’t bother to slow down or walk at water stops. We were already wet, so what did it matter if we sloshed water all over our faces and clothes.
Multiple times we found and lost our pace leader. As we approached Beverly Hills, we located her again and stuck with the group for several more miles.
At mile 17, we turned onto Rodeo Drive. We window-shopped as we passed those designer stores. And here, there was also a huge crowd of spectators, braving the elements to encourage friends, family and strangers. And believe me when I say they were nearly as wet as the runners! We were so appreciative.
We never did spot Richard Simmons in the rain, but knew he was there, handing out water and cheering runners along.
We left Beverly Hills and within a few miles approached the VA Hospital grounds, arriving around mile 21. Within the next mile, we trampled a muddy, narrow path and I lost Emily on a hill. A short time later, I lost the pace group too. I cursed those hospital grounds.
I had 4 miles to go – about 40 more minutes. I could do that. Miles 22-24 were a slow low-grade uphill. I repeatedly cursed that hill, but didn’t stop to walk even as the downpour continued. I knew gravity would carry me home once I hit the other side.
Soon enough, I was headed downhill and picked up the pace. I needed to regain any time I lost trudging up that hill.
Around mile 25, I spotted the 4:30 pace group, looked at my watch and realized they were ahead of pace. I grinned ear-to-ear as I passed by.
I heard some lovely volunteers cheer my name and tell me how great I looked. I loved them all. I was almost done.
The finish line was just ahead. I sped up and my quads screamed, so I dialed it back a smidge. I managed to maintain a 9:20 pace for that last mile.
Soon enough I spotted the Pacific Ocean! I rounded a turn onto ocean avenue in Santa Monica, where a wall on wind knocked me backward. Oh, right. With rain comes wind. Fantastic.
I pushed through the whipping winds and rain and crossed the finish with a huge smile on my face. I saw Emily immediately as she’d crossed seconds before me. She promptly burst into tears after crossing the line, turned around to locate me and voila!
We hugged, laughed and cried – and shivered. We surpassed our goal and were thrilled. I ran 4:27:21, a personal record by 18 minutes.
As easily as we found each other at the finish, we also lost one another in the post-race crowd. Everyone was soaked and searching for disoriented runners. I finally exited the claustrophobic chute and walked toward a predetermined meeting spot. I tripped into Emily’s boyfriend, who handed me my drenched bag of clothes from the hotel. I told him I lost Emily when I stopped for a bottle of Gatorade. He assured me it was all right.
The mass of people at the finish.
A short time later, I found Kelly and together we walked to her car. She tried to shelter me with her umbrella, since I was shivering and my teeth were chattering. I assured her I was fine. I was soaked to the bone and there was no saving me at that point. Save yourself Kelly!
Once at the car, Kelly helped me change into dry clothes and wrapped me in a towel. She tucked me into the front seat and blasted the heat the whole way home.
It was later that the reality truly set in. I ran my best marathon in a monsoon. And this time remains my fastest marathon, even though I’ve completed two marathons since my soggy journey.
How do you cope when the weather is undesirable?