The world was quiet at 5:30 a.m. with the typically empty streets of Long Beach filled with sleepy athletes jogging back and forth in the middle of of Ocean Blvd. in efforts to get pumped up for the Long Beach marathon.
This was the last place I had expected to unintentionally complete a 13.1 mile race in four and a half hours.
Official stopwatches went off at 6 a.m., commencing the first wave of the 32nd annual marathon.
I joined a wave of 25,000 people including students, expectant mothers, athletes and others running in the 26.2 mile marathon and 13.1 mile half marathon. The marathon is the third biggest event in Long Beach, right behind the Toyota Grand Prix and Long Beach Pride.
According to Running Club and Event Coordinator for Run Racing Gisele Schaaf, the marathon draws people from across the country.
“They go to restaurants, hotels, they’re visiting downtown Long Beach and hopefully falling in love with it … it really introduces people to the Port City and gets them wanting to come back.”
Which is true.
I actually came to cover the race for the Daily 49er and thought I could jog along and take some photos to capture the image of runners by the beach.
But that’s not what happened.
The first two miles, I found myself running along some sites I had never visited before. I saw the Queen Mary, the Long Beach Lighthouse bathed in the rising sun. We ran over the famous Long Beach bridge cleansed of cars and covered with thousands of runners. After trekking through the sandy beach paths, I realized I was already at mile eight.
As I ran I texted my colleagues at the paper: “You guys, I accidentally ended up running in the marathon. I’m at mile eight, pray for me.”
I do run sometimes. I ran cross country in community college and high school. But I wasn’t in shape for this. Not 13 miles.
But there was no turning back.
The encouragement the runners and spectators gave each other subconsciously had kept me motivated.
“You’re almost there! Halfway to the next mile!”
The excitement pushed me forward. So did the stories I heard around me.
Sarah Johnson, a seven months pregnant Yorba Linda resident was running despite protest from her husband. She said he disapproved of her doing a half-marathon in her condition.
But this was the last race she needed to complete to earn her the Beach City Challenge medal.
“I’m completing the race at my own pace and I’ve done many half-marathons before, maybe 10,” Johnson said.
The Beach City Challenge medal signifies the completion of three consecutive races during the year, which begins with the Surf City Marathon in February, continues to the Orange County Marathon in May and ends with the Long Beach Marathon.
Linda Hodjson, a 62-year old marathoner from San Dimas, said age was no setback — in fact, it motivated her.
“My first marathon was here in Long Beach in the year 2000, so it has been 16 years,” she said. “I didn’t run my first competitive race until I was 46-years old and I’m now 62 and I’m slowing down a bit.”
Mile 11 was when my feet started to hurt, and I have to admit I started to walk a little. It was then when I started to look to the sidelines and see excited family members, friends, community members and local businesses all holding signs in support. There were smiling people handing me water cups. Bands were playing at multiple hydration stops along the route — rock, Jamaican jams, ‘80s covers, you name it.
I looked around and saw I wasn’t the only bandit runner (an unregistered participant). Sideline supporters were running alongside the course, encouraging their loved ones. I couldn’t help but think of my own family, who had always supported me during my cross country years.
Richard Schweppe, a Santa Ana resident, was holding a sign for his daughter while waiting for her on the sidelines.
“I’m here to support my daughter,” he said. “[Before her races] what I try to do is look at the map of the race and then see how many places I can see her … I just want to give her encouragement.”
Many other runners ran with running clubs, in honor of loved ones no longer with them, for a new personal record or just for fun –or not.
“About mile 9 my friends and I start[ed] saying ‘We’re never doing this again! This is terrible, it sucks!’ But then, when we cross that finish line, we’re like, ‘Oh, that wasn’t so bad.’ The accomplishment of finishing is what keeps me going, I like being able to say I’ve done it,” said Huntington Beach resident Gloria Marshall.
I can wholeheartedly agree it’s the thrill of the finish that makes it all worth the struggle. Had I stopped at mile 8, I would have regretted it forever. Although I only unofficially did the half-marathon, I was so surprised at myself that I even did a whole 13.1 miles. A majority of the run is all mental, but once you realize you’re getting a beautiful tour of Long Beach, it takes your mind off the pain.
The Finish Line Festival probably saved my life since it was buzzing with food trucks, live performances, leg massage tents – and most importantly: COLD WATER.
As I gulped my water, I looked over at the Queen Mary and the start line where I started taking pictures four hours before.
Of course, it was a little anticlimactic since I didn’t receive a medal and there was no one there to cheer for me. Only the top competitors race alone. What gives marathoners the true drive to continue are the supporters and family along the way.
My feet were hurting. I was sunburnt. I just wanted to lie down. Once I had composed myself I texted my dad, a former cross country runner, with the last of my two percent phone battery to tell him how I accidently ended up doing the half-marathon.
I know I’ll definitely come back next year. But next time I’ll run with my dad and have my mom and brother cheering me on at the finish line.