Tuesday, 25 March 2014

"That was the week that was"...

I don't think I'll ever have a week in my life quite like the week commencing Monday 3rd March 2014.

On the Monday afternoon I secured a title sponsorship deal for Aberlour's corporate fundraising event taking place in September. I was so overwhelmed I was shaking with excitement. I came out of the meeting and went straight into House of Fraser to buy myself a Radley travel thingy that I'd had my eye on for weeks. The spirit of Karen McMurrich lives on, fundraisers...

But, no time to celebrate, for that evening I had to get home and prepare for a presentation and interview the following morning...one which would secure a promotion if it all went well. It did. I got a killer promotion. But again, the wine was going to have to wait.

By the Tuesday evening, my head was lodged so thoroughly up my own ass I didn't know what was going on. I was surprised, excited, tired, inspired, grateful and nervous all at the same time. And this was before I'd even packed for going to LA...the following day.

So yes, I took my lovely man for a birthday dinner at Sushiya (along with Kan Pai, best sushi in Edinburgh) and tried my best to stay awake throughout Monuments Men. It was an entertaining little ditty and it distracted me from all the many butterflies I was experiencing. Meh.

That night, at 3am, I bid Handsome Man farewell and left for Los Angeles on my lonesome.

Needless to say, LA is amazing. Not only was it immediately 25degrees warmer than Scotland is in March, but it was big, new and brimming with incredibly beautiful people. My first port of call was Marmalade Cafe for a kale-tastic lunch so I was happy already. I arrived at my gorgeous apartment and by the Saturday I had been joined by my two best friends who both live on a different continent. I rarely get to see them, so this was an emotional and wonderful treat.

Then we got down to business...to the Race Expo! We piled into Tully's car (affectionately known as "Sugarmama" - and honestly, that baby bounces) on Saturday morning and headed to the Exhibition Centre in Downtown LA. Asics did an amazing job of kitting out the space and the DJ was churning out some tunes to get everyone pumped. It was working, because the atmosphere was just awesome. They had a lot of discounted stock too...ahem...

After buying about $300 worth of running gear (everyone knows it's easier to run when you're wearing a marathon t-shirt, right?) we went to Abbot Kinney in Venice for lunch. This is where the true ridiculousness of LA came to light for me. Obviously I was running a marathon in less than 24hrs time so it was definitely carbs-o'clock. No doubt. But getting carbs in a place like Abbot Kinney is a challenge not to be sniffed at. When I asked for a portion of bread with my spinach salad you'd have thought I'd asked for a human head with my spinach salad. Confusion abounds. But I took what I could get...two tiny pieces of toasted "bread" that had likely never seen wheat in their life. But don't get me wrong; it was all delicious and to be honest I was perfectly happy watching all the beautiful people walk past the window. :) Shame you can't carb load from doing that.

So then I went to Ralph's and bought a box of wholewheat pasta which I promptly cooked and devoured.

And then I set up my gear for race day...

The clocks went forward an hour, just to piss us all off and keep things really interesting, and at 4am my alarm chimed and I kitted myself up for the awesome drive through LA in Sugarmama to the Dodgers Stadium. The Rocky soundtrack was blaring away in full force, and the girls dropped me at the stadium feeling PUMPED UUUPPP. They then went to Target and drove a mobility scooter around the place, stocking up on flourescent card and helium balloons. But that is a story for another day...

Needless to say, the start line was also amazing. What an atmosphere and I was part of it. Sap, sap...yes, I know...

A whopping sixteen minutes after the gun went off, I crossed the startline with some other 25,000 runners, but having said that, the corrals worked really well for feeding runners in to the start line. At this point it wasn't too hot and I was just enjoying the route (perhaps not enjoying some of the very curious smells in Chinatown at 8am, I'll admit) and soaking up the sound of rubber vs tarmac. Now, within the first 3miles we'd encountered four preachers with megaphones - I was nervous about how much of a theme that was going to become, but by Mile 6 they'd made way for some absolutely incredible crowd support that just wouldn't quit, right up to the finish line.

I can't believe I'd never heard the phrase "You got this!" before. It was a bit of a mantra by the time Mile 10 approached.

I'd expected a wall at Mile 22ish...so I was devastated when I had to walk through an aid station at Mile 15. All that hard work in training and I was walking already?! I can't describe that disheartening feeling, knowing I still had 11miles to run and the sun was getting higher in the sky with every step I took. Walking. I mean I'd pick up a run for the most of each mile, but it's the mental punishment that you serve yourself when you walk that is tough to shake. By Westwood and Century City, it was a toasty 28degrees and there was barely a sliver of shade. Breeze? You must be joking. It was hot. I was feeling quite sad and wanted to have done better.

So thank God for my cheering squad at Mile 19! I spotted Maya with balloons and banners and we all jumped around making a variety of shouty/screamy noises, not unlike how I imagine teenagers sound when they get Prom Queen...or whatever. I was pep-talked, hugged, doused in water, blinded by the salt that ran into my eyes with said water, and sent off on my merry way again...but not before a quick photo op:

The Support Crew at Mile "Nineteen for Nikki"...

After that, the miles flew by and I really settled into the race and my slower than usual pace of about 12mins per mile. But I barely cared at this point and I concentrated on just enjoying it all. I got into a routine of walking through the aid stations to refill my water bottle (let me tell you, best thing I ever did was take that with me...nothing worse than needing water and having to wait for an aid station) then as soon as I passed the last water table I picked it back up into a run to the next mile marker, and so on.

Arrowhead had provided water at every mile, and I couldn't fault the nutrition that was available. I took my own gels and tabs, but it was great to see Gatorade, CLIF and Arrowhead all out there along the route to keep runners fuelled up on such a hot day. Those volunteers were all amazing and everyone was so friendly and polite - they did a fantastic job and should be so proud of themselves. We couldn't have done it without those hundreds and hundreds of generous volunteers. 

The last 5miles were a joy and with the finish line in sight I ran as fast as I could (well, it felt like sprinting) and crossed it in a reasonably respectable 5hrs 31mins. A good 40mins slower than I really wanted, but pretty good for a first attempt in SURFACE OF THE SUN style weather. 

I was given a space blanket immediately (Seriously? I was ON. FIRE. by this point. Why?!), and offered bagels (I went with the blueberry one, seemed interesting) along with a range of intriguing salty, cheesy, salty, salty biscuity fish shaped things in bags and loads of bottles of water (THANK YOU AGAIN, ARROWHEAD). My girls were all there waiting for me and then it was "feet up a palm tree" time. NB: waaaaay better than "feet-up-a-wall" or "feet-up-the-side-of-the-fridge" time. 

Alongside the personal achievement I ran to raise some awareness and funds for SA-YES, an international befriending organisation. This is my sponsorship page and tells you a bit more about why. It was great to hear people shouting "SA-YES, YOU GOT THIS!!" along the route, all thanks to my super running vest made by Kustom Clothing. Although I'm short of target with the fundraising, I'm not disappointed or deterred and I'm grateful for the kind support shown to me by friends of SA-YES and Julie in the events team. Here's to your great organisation crossing the finish line of the 2014 LA Marathon - I'm proud I could be the one to carry it those 26.2miles...

Trotting past Whisky a Go-Go

AWFUL finish line shot - thanks for that terrible angle, Marathon-foto!

With my prized bling and Santa Monica Pier in the background. 

What else can I say about the LA Marathon? The route takes in all the LA hitlist including Dodgers Stadium, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Hollywood and Vine, the Hollywood sign, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, House of Blues, WeHo and Santa Monica, finishing with the Pacific Ocean, eyes right. After looking at a lot of international marathons, it's a tough one to top. As I mentioned, the Asics expo was great and the branded running gear on offer was of equal high standards. The volunteers and aid stations were amazing, and the crowd support was unlike anything I've ever, ever experienced before. I'm wondering if I can hire people to cheer me on while I walk to work in the mornings..? I GOT THIS!

I didn't see the post-race village, I was too busy with my feet in the air to get there. But I'm sure it was all sorts of aces.

Crossing the finish line of a marathon is a surreal experience. I never thought I'd be the person to do it, but here we are. And today is the first time I've felt a twinge of the famous post-race come-down. In the space of a week I got a major sponsorship deal, a promotion and I ran a marathon on the other side of the world; that kind of emotional high definitely leaves you susceptible to a pretty major come-down.

People are asking me if I'll run another marathon. I don't know yet. Maybe. But nothing will ever feel like that week felt. Having my best girls around me, cheering me on and having total faith in me, was something I'm not going to forget. I wonder what I can ever do to thank them for being part of the best day in my life so far.

But GO to LA. Seriously. It's good fun...

All my love and thanks to everyone who has listened to my endless running chat, encouraged me when I was tired, comforted me when I was stressed and celebrated with me when I got back home to Edinburgh. It's been the journey of a lifetime and I hope at least one person reading this is inspired to go out and live their dream too. 

If you work hard, it'll come. 

TN. xxx

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