Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Running Up Mount F.U.

Well, the weather in Griffith Park was a little cooler than last week, but winter still seems a bit shy about coming out in Southern California. We should be feeling relatively frozen by now as we are approaching the middle of November, but some of us are still getting away with wearing shorts during the week. Perhaps by next week we will start living the lives of ice cubes for once. Everybody in the news keeps talking about the polar vortex, so the chilly weather has got to be around the corner.

This week’s Team to End AIDS run comes one day after National Pickle Day. Darn! I should have celebrated by buying a jar of Claussen pickles from my local Ralphs Supermarket. Then again, they probably weren’t on sale as is usually the case. But being that the Bolivars had made their annual trek from West Covina to deliver us a wealth of snacks including those highly addictive peanut butter and pickle covered Ritz crackers, many of us were going to have a celebration even if it was a day late.

I made it to Griffith Park at a little later than usual as I allowed myself to get caught up in watching To Live and Die in L.A. on cable. Just be happy that I didn’t wait for that car chase on the wrong side of the freeway because then I would have been really late. When I arrived, Coach JC was there doing something different for his morning speech: he had us doing a group warm up. There was the rolling of the head, the shaking out of our legs and we also rolled our feet both clockwise and counterclockwise. Then there were the high knees which almost always has me falling over. I can never get my knees to touch my hands because God decided I had no right to be that flexible. Still, the warm up helped.

Coach JC announced to us with a wicked smile on his face that this run would have us running up our first hill in this training season. This announcement was met with a couple of audible groans, but many others applauded the news because they were either up for the challenge or they just knew that this had to happen at some point. Coach JC once again reminded us that the Los Angeles Marathon is as flat as the planet Earth, which is to say not at all. Even though it has us running down to the beach in Santa Monica, there are some hills for us to ascend along the way. After we finish the LA Marathon next March, we will all be thankful that we ran up any hills during training. To all of you who are running your first marathon ever, please trust me on this.

Coach JC would later refer to this particular hill as “Mt. Elfi” and “Mt. F.U.,” and both descriptions proved to be very appropriate (especially the second one). 

Today’s run kept us inside Griffith Park for a change as we kept traveling down Zoo Road and past the Gene Autry Museum. After all these years in Los Angeles, I still have yet to visit that museum. What’s wrong with me?

On this run, I found myself getting stuck in my own head to where I ran a bit faster than my pace should allow. Life has thrown me a number of curveballs in the last few years, and I still find myself trying to climb over them in the hopes of becoming completely self-sufficient once again. It has not been easy to put it mildly.

When it came to conversations I had with my fellow runners, I got to tell Drea that I interviewed Tommy Lee Jones this past week for his movie The Homesman.  In some ways, interviewing him and getting him to chuckle a little felt like a bigger victory than any marathon I’ve ever ran because he’s a notoriously intimidating and difficult interviewee. The realization of that made this 6 mile run seem easier than it usually is. Of course, I may just be exaggerating.

When we did get to the hill, I finally came to realize how ridiculously fast I was running. Usually I’m on pace, but I guess I got lost in my own thoughts more often than I usually do. By the time I started ascending the hill, I was already out of breath and reduced to speed walking my way up. Now usually at this point I have Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” or Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” going through my head, but this time I had Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away” playing at a reasonable volume in my own head. This probably has to do with the fact that I got the “Houses of the Holy” remastered deluxe edition this past week on CD, and the music still sounds as sweet as ever.

“Hey lady--you got the love I need
Maybe more than enough.
Oh Darling... walk a while with me
You've got so much...
Many have I loved - Many times been bitten
Many times I've gazed along the open road.”

When I look at these lyrics, I’m reminded of how timeless Led Zeppelin’s music is, and also of how these lyrics have little to do with running or training for a marathon. Because the word “hills” was in the song title, it just had to pop in my head. Go figure. Still, it made more sense than hearing The Beatles’ “Fool on the Hill” in my head because that song has too slow a tempo for me to run to.
On our voyage through the hilly areas of Griffith Park, we came across Robin Russell who once again was pounding away at his drums. That’s right, after all these years I finally learned his name, and it’s always nice to put a name to a face. The beat he was drumming to was the same one I saw him drumming from a distance during the 2009 LA Marathon, a couple of years before I ran my first. It’s that beat of his that gets me through the tougher parts of a long run. Keep on drumming Robin!

Despite my challenges running (or speed-walking) up that hill, I managed to keep up with my pace group. I even had a nice conversation with Floyd who kept wondering when those endorphins were going to kick in. That’s the great thing about running; it’s a great way to get high, and it’s a lot less expensive than the hard stuff. Robin Williams said it best, “It only costs you a pair of fucking shoes!” I started reciting Williams’ take on marathon running to Floyd, and we both had a lot of laughs over it.

And as always, the Bolivars were on hand with a ton of snacks, facial tissue, red vines, sour gummy worms and of course those delectable peanut butter and pickle covered Ritz crackers. These crackers are the kind Coach JC loves to death (no not really, he hates pickles). I ended up overdosing more than I usually do to the point where I expect someone to yell at me, “STOP HOGGING ALL THE CRACKERS BEN!!!” Not to worry, there’s more than enough to go around.

On the way down the hill, I kept myself in check to make sure I didn’t go at warp speed. It’s always tempting to let yourself go and race down the hill, but that’s how injuries happen. Plus, Scotty from Star Trek will be yelling at you and saying, “You can’t do it Captain! You don’t have the power!”
To keep my mind from wandering, I kept checking on my running form throughout. I made mental notes to keep my chest open so that I could get more oxygen and to not allow myself to slouch forward. Doing that certainly keeps me alert, and I refer to it as meditating while running. I don’t care what the naysayers say, such a thing is humanly possible.

So that concludes week five of 2015 LA Marathon training. Regardless of what I have just written about this hill, we’re still going through the easy stuff. I know it freaks people out that I just implied running 6 miles is easy, but for us marathon veterans it’s nothing. Next week our mileage will again increase and we will face new challenges that will include, but are not limited to, watching out for cars and bikes coming at us from the opposite direction. We need stay closer to the side of the road next Saturday.

FUNDRAISING UPDATE: I have to date raised $711 for AIDS Project Los Angeles, and that puts me at 71% towards my fundraising goal of $1,000. The progress we have made so far is astonishing as I usually find myself struggling at this point in training. Let’s keep it going and get those tax deductible donations taken care of before the year is out!

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