A week and a half before this race, I looked up the course time limit.
Coming off the marathon, running felt hard and I wasn’t sure how much of the race I might need to walk. I was seriously concerned I would be dangerously close to a 3 hour limit, but the official limit was 3:30.
In the end, I shouldn’t have spent a single brain cell even remotely worrying. My official finish time, 2:20:34, was nearly three minutes faster than my time in Philly three weeks before the marathon.
I signed up for this race in April, when I scored a sweet $236 round-trip ticket from D.C. to L.A. By that time, I’d already completed RNR San Francisco and was signed up for RNR San Diego — and that Cali Combo medal was incredibly tempting. I mean there’s a bear with sneakers on its feet that moves up and down the coast of California on the medal — how can you pass that up!?
Adding to the temptation: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios.
Fast forward seven months and while I was looking forward to the race, Harry Potter and Hollywood, the thought of another long distance travel race was not exactly appealing. Truth be told, I could really use a break.
But there’s nothing wrong with my legs, and I really do love to travel, so off to LA I went.
I took a morning flight out of Dulles that got delayed by nearly two hours. Two movies — X-Men: Apocalypse and London Has Fallen — and about 5 hours later I touched down. At least I’m finally realizing how valuable long flights are for seeing movies that I didn’t get to at the theaters. (I watched Batman v Superman on the flight back.)
Then it was off to the expo.
The convention center was also hosting Stan Lee’s Comic Con, so it was crowded x 100. I don’t typically spend much time at expos. I check out the official extra race gear options, then make my way to the exit.
I could definitely tell this expo appeared smaller than the other Rock ‘n’ Roll ones I’d been to this year, but it still contained all the usual suspects in terms of companies represented.
I dashed back to the hotel, got a shower and headed over to see Hollywood. I’m not sure what I expected, but I didn’t think the Walk of Fame would be so incredibly crowded with street performers. I immediately was not impressed and ready to get out of there. Too many people dressed in costumes trying to get money from tourists.
I walked around for a bit, then headed for the Griffith Observatory, which runs a 50-cent shuttle on weekends from the Vermont/Sunset metro stop. There, crowds also got in the way, this time via the insane number of cars trying to carve up the two-lane road to get to the observatory.
The wait was well worth it for the views.
Next up: Bedtime. At 8:45. That’s the great thing about West Coast races. Even if I need to get up super early — 5:15 a.m. in this case — my body is still on East Coast time, making it easy to get to bed early.
I woke up a little early race day after tossing and turning a bit. I ate, got dressed and made it to the We Run Social meetup at 6:15 at Staples Center. I met two other runners there — Melanie and Summer. We all needed to use the porta potties, but the lines were long. Summer mentioned her apartment was about a 5-minute walk away and asked if we want to just go there instead. Indoor bathroom pre-race? Yeah!
I arrived at my corral 5-7 minutes before the start. The first wave was released a couple minutes after the official wheelchairs, and I waited for the usual break up of Corral 2 and 3 and so on and so forth. Instead, I found myself walking quickly to the start line only a few minutes later, with no break in corrals despite being in the 5th one.
I’m guessing this was a result of road closures for the course, which wasn’t finalized until the last few weeks before the race because of all the road construction going on in the area. In fact, we did get an email emphasizing you needed to be in your corral by 6:55 or you wouldn’t be allowed across the start line!
In any event, we were off. I’d chatted very briefly with a husband and wife running duo before the start after they noticed my Chicago Marathon T-shirt and commented that they’d also done the race. Less than a quarter of a mile in, the husband found me, and we ran together through the first water stop.
Turns out, he’s run more than 500 marathons. I made him repeat that number three times. Surely, I’d misheard. The journalist in me kicked in. What is your favorite? Paris. Why? Because it’s Paris. Have you done London? No. When did you run your first marathon? 1994 … I ran 20-25 marathons a year for 20 years. How many half marathons? More than 125. Have you run New York? Yes, three times.
I would have liked to run with John for the entire race, but he surely got tired of my questions. Because of some vertigo issues, his wife usually runs slower than him, and they meet on the right hand side at the end of every water stop so she knows he’s OK. He patted me on the back when we reached the end of the first stop and wished me luck.
The course this year was essentially two out-and-backs. I saw on the course map ahead of time that there was some sort of circular pattern we went around a bit after mile 3, but I never looked at the course more closely. Turns out, we were set to run right around the Coliseum — and not just on the outside. They actually opened the gate and we ran right around the building, to the point that you could use the real restrooms inside the gates if you needed them.
After that, the race got a little boring for a while. There were still spectators and bands, but the run back to where we started seemed to drag a bit for me. I saw the first male finishers rushing toward the finish line as I passed by with half the race still to go. There was a slight uphill, but I saw a turn ahead.
I knew from looking at the elevation profile that there were some rolling hills on the course, but I wasn’t anticipating what I saw when I turned that corner. It ended up being the steepest hill of the race, but at that point I didn’t know that.
I walked for a good 2-3 minutes or so up most of the hill to save my legs. At that point, they were actually feeling great, but I knew there were still a lot of miles to go and I hadn’t run more than 6 miles since Chicago.
I was surprised when my time for that mile clocked in around 11:50. I figured it’d be much slower since I walked so long, but I must have picked up the pace enough on downhill to counter that.
The good news about turning that corner? The wind. Where it’d felt stagnant the first half of the race, there was a rather lovely breeze on the second half.
I never really struggled in the second half despite the continuous ups and downs. I focused on keeping a comfortable pace, not worrying about the watch. I walked a couple more times on some of the other steeper uphills — in addition to all the water stops as planned — to conserve my energy and legs.
Somewhere after mile 11, a spectator noticed my shirt and screamed “Chicago Marathon finisher!” shortly after I passed. I held my fist in the air and immediately heard the later part of his chant — “Fuck Yeah!”
It was pretty much the highlight of my race because despite being only 3 weeks off the marathon and struggling through runs two weeks earlier, I felt good.
I knew there was a gradual, decent uphill until about a half mile before the finish, but I never felt it — even though it’d seemed so apparent on the way out. The downhill finish, though, I definitely felt, and I cruised to the line passing lots of runners along the way.
The finish line didn’t have the usual horizontal banner, so it was harder to see. I knew from looking at my watch that I was super close to the finish, but I didn’t see it until less than a tenth of a mile away.
After the finish line, it was a bit of a walk to the L.A. Live stage area where I picked up my heavy medals. I’ve never seen a line for those medals before, but more and more folks must be earning them as it gets later and later in the season because I had to stand in a decent line.
The music from the stage was blaring and the heavy medal handout desk was way too close to it, especially when you need to shout and potentially spell your name. In addition to the Cali Combo medal, I got the super awesome, super heavy Stairway to Seven Medal.
I walked back to the hotel feeling great and super excited because Harry Potter was next!
THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER
Let me be the millionth person to tell you this: Harry Potter world is amazing. Totally, utterly amazing. The detail in every little thing is done to the max, and it’s just so incredible. You feel like you’ve left Universal Studios and really entered Hogwarts and Hogsmeade.
The bathrooms have Moaning Myrtle moaning through the speakers. The credit card machines have Gringot-inspired overlays. You can buy an interactive wand and cast spells to make items in windows of “closed” shops move. P.S. Butterbeer is way too sweet.
A smile plastered my face the entire time.
First stop: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. I’d heard how long the lines for this ride could get — 1-2 hours — and I was pleased when it took me less than a half hour to reach the front.
While this ride has a single rider line, you absolutely MUST go through the normal, longer line at least once. This takes you through all the additional rooms set up just the way the books described them and the movies looked, including the Defense of the Dark Arts classroom, Dumbledore’s office and more.
Seriously, did I mention smile plastered on my face the entire time??
After exploring Harry Potter world for a couple hours (and purchasing a wand and some chocolate frogs), I took the Universal Studios tour, which ended up taking a total of two hours between the hour standing in line and the hour on the tour itself, but it was amazing to see where so many movies and TV shows have been filmed.
Next up: the Jurassic Park ride, where I got completely soaked because I sat in the absolute worst seat on a ride that normally doesn’t soak you. I ended up needing to buy leggings to change into immediately after.
While both rides are great, they could be a bit longer, especially the Hippogriff coaster, though I understand they had to deal with limited space and wanted to make it kid friendly.
I ended my trip with one night in Santa Monica, where I got another room upgrade (ocean view!) and walking around Monday morning on the pier and beach. It was great to see the Pacific Ocean again — for the third time this year … and ever, in fact.
The view made me reflect on this year. I’ve been so blessed to experience so many different places, many of them through half marathons + the Chicago Marathon, and I’ve met so many people along the way, some of whom I’m sure will be lifelong friends.
I keep trying to add up the cities I’ve visited this year, and I never quite get there — I’m trying to do it in my head, afterall. In the end, I know that when the year is over, I will have lived my 30th year of life to the fullest — no excuses, no regrets.