How I Almost Ran A Marathon

SDSU Aztec toga party

Me during my college years at San Diego State University (1998-2002). Great abs, but no marathon


The Los Angeles Marathon would be tomorrow. It was 10pm, raining heavily and I was still in San Diego. The year was 1999 and I was 18 years old.

My friend Eric D asked me:

“What do you want to do?”

He was my only friend who had run a marathon (or two). His accomplishment impressed me, but the task scared me. Being scared made me angry, so fear of running a marathon made me angry. I wanted to impress myself by running a marathon.

The distance seemed absurd. 20 miles is a long distance to run, why another 6.2 miles? Why not 25 miles or 30 miles? Now I try to think in metric units, but even 42.2 kilometres does not make sense. Why not 40 kilometres or 50 kilometres?

Could I run a marathon?

People run marathons, and I am a person… so I should be able to run a marathon. I didn’t like running. It hurt my legs, it hurt my lungs, and it was boring. Maybe I could learn to like running if I ran more. I decided to do the 1999 Los Angeles Marathon. My plan was simply to increase my distance endurance over the next 2 months. I did all my training on a treadmill at the gym to measure distance and regulate speed.

My training plan was based on adding 2 miles to my long run on Sundays:

Monday: 60% of upcoming long run distance run

Tuesday: 40% of upcoming long run distance run

Wednesday: 80% of upcoming long distance run

Thursday: 20% of upcoming long run distance run

Friday: rest

Saturday: long run (increase by 2 miles every week)

Sunday: rest

My long run started at 6 miles and would build to 20 miles before “tapering” down 50% for the final week before the actual marathon (26.2 miles). Overall this would be a 9 week program, a short training time for a first marathon. I set an easy pace on the treadmill and made it slower as the distances increased. My goal was to finish the race. It didn’t matter how slow I finished. Just do the miles, just get the distance up. I was also lifting weights 5 days per week (usually after the runs). I was in the gym a lot. Probably too much.

My understanding of nutrition was terrible. I ate whatever I felt like and I was hungry most of the time.

I remained sober during my marathon training. This was difficult to do while living in a fraternity house. I avoided peer pressure at parties (most nights), by emptying a single green or brown bottle of beer down the kitchen sink. Then I quietly refilled the beer bottle with water all night. It looked like I was drinking beer, but I was just staying very hydrated.

This was my first period of sobriety at university, and I noticed how much better I felt the day after a party. I could function and be productive. During the parties I was fully coherent and aware. Speaking with drunk people when I was sober was  sometimes fun, but usually it was just annoying. This made me realize I was probably more annoying when I was drunk. Not only did I feel better, I was looking better too. My early stage beer-belly disappeared while I gain more lean muscle, and my skin looked healthier. I felt more confident and this helped me stick to my training plan.

Day by day, week by week, I was grinding through the training runs. Running was becoming easier and my confidence to complete the marathon was growing. Then I received a phone call from Eric D. I been depending on Eric D for race tips (“eat Snickers bars, apply Vaseline to your crotch”) and travel logistics.  I figured he had a solid handle on this. Wrong.

Eric D: “Hey, the marathon is actually tomorrow.”

Me: “What? I thought the race was in 2 weeks?”

Eric D: “Yeah… me too. But it’s tomorrow, starts at 6:30am but we need to show up earlier to register… What do you want to do?”

It was 10pm. It was pouring rain. I had run 18 miles that day for my long run. Even if we jumped in a car right now, we would arrive in Los Angeles just past midnight. We still had to pack. We still had to find somewhere to stay. The reasons NOT to do the marathon were flooding my mind and dissolving the confidence I had built up over the last 7 weeks.

We could have jumped in a car, drove to Los Angeles, slept a few hours in the car and grinded out the marathon. I might have walked some of the race, but I could have reached the finish line. It would have been messy, but it would have been a great learning experience to build on. That would be a story I wish I could tell people, but I didn’t have the confidence to do it.

Me: “Forget it. Let’s not go.”

Eric: “Ok.”

Despite the disappointing result, the 7 weeks of regular training and sobriety was an incredible experience in itself. I immediately celebrated my sobriety by getting very drunk. Considering my lack of booze for 2 months, it was not hard to accomplish.

Whenever someone asked me if I had run a marathon, or mentioned their own marathon accomplishment, I had this lame story about the time I trained for the 1999 Los Angeles Marathon.

It was becoming more annoying to me every time I told it. I wanted a better story.