Hurts So Good

On Monday I finished what I started with this blog back in September of 2008.

I ran a marathon.

It was the first and only such endeavor of my life and momentarily I will impart, in glorious detail, the day's soaring highs and near-death lows.

But first, a word to my sponsors, meaning those of you who forked over the cash to help people with AIDS and HIV, and so I could get the training I needed to do this thing.

Thank you.

If you're a faithful follower of Run On, you know that my marathon journey began with a diminutive brochure packed with big promises.

Run a marathon even if you've never run before!, it said, and raise money for people with AIDS and HIV while you're at it.

I did, and I did.

In fact I outdid. I ran longer and faster than I ever have in my life and I raised plenty more than I was asked to.

Plus I blogged about it, providing a fleeting weekly diversion for lots of people who may have never run an inch in their lives (not unlike myself, before September) but who read blogs because you can do that without moving.

Which brings me back to the sponsor part. Because if you didn't sponsor me, guess what? You can still help people with AIDS and HIV. Lucky, lucky you.

AIDS Project Los Angeles, the beneficiary of my marathon run, is a key source of care and services for thousands of Los Angeles residents living with AIDS and HIV, many of whom subsist on $10,000 a year. Imagine what your life would be like living on $833.33 a month. Now imagine what it would be like to live on that and have AIDS.

And now our governor, in his infinite wisdom, is planning to eliminate funding for medication for 35,000 indigent Californians with AIDS and HIV. Yes, we're in a budget crisis, but really? Really?

APLA does great work. They're helping folks who are being hit hardest by our current economic meltdown. They might even send a contingent up to Sacramento to talk some sense into the governor. If they could afford it. But their funding is shrinking like everyone else's. That's where you come in.

Think of the diversion from real-life concerns this blog has provided you, the vicarious armchair thrill lo these many months. How much is that worth to you? A hundred bucks? Fifty?

Click here and give it directly to APLA.

Do it now. I'll wait for you. Go on. You'll be glad you did.


Hey, thanks for doing that.

Now we can get on to the marathon part, titled "My Marathon in Neurochemistry: The Brain Candy that Fueled Me, Nearly Killed Me and Then Sent Me Over the Moon, A Completely Unscientific Account of What I Experienced and Why Based on Cursory Web Research (mostly from the Runner's World website), Inference and Intuition."

Thursday, May 28 2009 • Link • RSS feed
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I am Marathon

I crossed the finish line ahead of pace.


On my own two feet.

Just like coach promised.

And I feel very, very, very good.

And I really need a shower.

More later.

Monday, May 25 2009 • Link • RSS feed
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Week 34: The Scott Boliver Experience

With the long-awaited marathon just three days away I could spend this final pre-event blog in numerous ways.

I could continue my weeks-long whining about my punk knee, for which I got a cortisone shot this morning from a fine orthopedist named David B. Golden, whose very name rings with promise, and whose impressive credentials include a stint as assistant team physician for the 2001 World Champion New England Patriots.

Dr. Golden is an expert in sports-related injuries, and while he didn't write the book on knee pain he did co-write a chapter - in the second edition of the Manual of Pain Management (chapter 17, between scroiliitis and foot pain).

He was reluctant to give me the shot. He warned me that it probably won't be all that effective in staving off the debilitating pain in my illiotibial band that has been causing me so much woe.

But I explained that this is a one-time deal, that I've been training since September, for fool's sake, and that I can't throw all that away because of some dang-blasted last-minute knee flare-up.

In a word, I begged.

He relented and administered the five minute procedure (a simple prick of a needle --less painful than getting your ears pierced) and I have the Band-Aid on my right knee to prove it.

Whether it will do the trick or not, I don't know. But I'm not going to spend this last pre-marathon blog posting going on about that.

I could go on about last-minute jitters, which one reader calls PMS--pre-marathon stress. Symptoms include sleeplessness, over sleeping, loss of appetite, overeating, and a vague sense of dread. But why dwell on the negative?

I could wax poetic about my final pre-marathon run, on the trail around the Silver Lake Reservoir. I was up and out by 5:30 a.m. - my LA Times hadn't even arrived (or maybe, I worried, they've gone so broke they've discontinued home delivery?) -- and the air smelled strangely, delightfully, of citronella and graham crackers.

The morning was cool and overcast, my legs and lungs were cooperating and I had the trail all to myself. Runner's nirvana.

I've been feeling a sense of calm all week - a type of calm that has come over me only three times in my life, once before I was married and then again in the days before the births of my two children.

It's a calm you have to talk yourself into after talking yourself down from a heightened sense of anxiety and fear. The choice is either to stay fearful and anxious or to remind yourself that you're heading toward something absolutely marvelous and completely of your own choosing and embrace a detached bliss.

But why go on about me? None of this would have been remotely possible without the superlative guidance of one Coach Scott Boliver, who made the 80-mile round-trip trek from his home in Brea to the training site in Griffith Park every Saturday morning from October to nearly June.

Scott is a prison psychologist who seems to spend every non-working moment of his life training marathoner wannna-bes. Our start time was 8 a.m., but Scott would routinely arrive two hours early to stake out our route, setting up mile markers for us along the way to help keep us from getting lost. He'd try to vary the route as much as possible and he'd hand out both maps and written directions. On the week of the pre-marathon 26-mile run, he got to the park so early that police took him for a hustler and bore down on him with bright lights and amplified commands.

As the runs got longer, he organized games like the Amazing Race and Runner's Poker to keep the runners engaged. Sometimes runners would groan about the games or choose not to participate, but they'd come around when they saw Scott (who paid out of his own pocket) taking the winning groups out to breakfast or bringing them special treats like popsicles and ice (which, like all cold things, are highly coveted on long runs).

He kept our brains occupied while pushing our bodies to do what we thought they could not. He once sent us up a very steep hill without any advance warning, but he heaped on the praise after we'd accomplished the task.

Each week he brought his posse with him. That included son Alec, a competitive swimmer on his high school team who refilled the runner's water bottles on the course, and his mom and dad, Pat and Ray Boliver, who every week spent their own money to stock a snack table halfway through the run loaded with pickles, peanut butter-coated crackers, peanuts, pretzels, Gatorade and the occasional home-made banana bread. On Easter weekend they brought coconut macaroons and mini brownie cupcakes topped with Jordan almonds.

Coach Scott exudes empathy. When runners would ask him about every little pinch and blister he'd take it all as seriously as the questioner required. He never talked about his own aches and woes. When the wildfires last fall came within a few feet of his home, he didn't mention it to the group and didn't miss a training.

The training for the LA marathon was supposed to end in March (and then February). According to that schedule, Scott and the other APLA coaches would have had a month or two off before they started training a new group of runners for the Disney Half Marathon this summer and the Maui Marathon in the fall.

When the LA Marathon got put off until Memorial Day, Coach Scott stayed on as our trainer, even though it meant he would be training three separate groups of runners for three separate marathons at once -- hundreds of whining, high-injury non-athletes just like me -- which he's been doing and which would have driven any normal person out of his mind my now. That's where being a psychologist comes in handy.

Scott is in his mid-40's and came to marathoning less than ten years ago -- fairly late in life. When he first started running he was morbidly obese - it took him more than nine hours to complete his first marathon. After losing more than 100 pounds he ran it in under five hours, and decided to start coaching.

When I first started training - and blogging about it - last fall, I got numerous emails from readers who told me how lucky I was to have Scott as my coach. Yeah right, I thought. Like I really need somebody to tell me how to run.

I've never had a coach before. Not a sports coach anyway. I've had writing coaches, and a friend's wife worked for a while as a life coach.

I never had any kind of organized P.E. at my inner-city elementary school, and I got enough flak from my meager attempts to learn double-dutch that I had no interest in ever attempting to join a team of any kind. I taught myself to ride a bike, my mother taught me to water ski and a girl named Donna who lived down the street showed me how to hula-hoop.

I weaseled my way out of all physical exercise in high school by playing flute in the band. In college we were all encouraged to coach one another (pity anyone who might have relied on me) and after that I pursued exercise of the non-coached variety (swimming, bicycling, yoga).

Before the marathon training, the closest I'd come to the coach experience was having an editor. The relationship is somewhat similar. You have to trust your editor completely, to follow his or her guidance and advice, even when you can't see how it's going to work. You do it because you share a common goal and because-- if you're lucky -- you like them.

I've had many editors, most of them adequate, some of them awful, a very few of them great. The makings of a great editor include smarts, empathy, wisdom, good judgment and the ability to manage people. A great editor, like a great coach, extracts from you your best possible self and your best possible work.

In a thousand small ways, Coach Scott has managed to do that. When I signed up to train I was a little grumpy and a little skeptical, an outsider observing and commenting on the process. Somewhere along the way I became a booster, a pace group leader, a true believer in the method.

This is my one and only marathon, and, as I've said before, the closest I'll ever get to a team sport. Scott Boliver is the one and only coach I'll ever have. Lucky me, I got the best.

Sure I'm still grumpy --and of late also gimpy -- but I'm in it to the end. Thanks, Coach.

Friday, May 22 2009 • Link • RSS feed
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Week 33: Nine days and counting

For nearly all of what has turned out to be an eight-month training gestation, the marathon has seemed a remote happening. An abstraction somewhere in the ever-distant future.

For weeks, if not months, I've been wishing for the whole thing to get here already. As Coach Scott put it last Saturday: "You're trained longer than any group in AIDS Marathon history."

Yet now that it is finally about to arrive - a week from Monday, no less-- I feel completely unprepared.

The fear that worked so well for so long in motivating me to get out of bed every weekday morning at 5:30 to squeeze in a quick run ("If I don't get out of bed and get running, I'll never be able to run the marathon") has been overcome by a debilitating, fatalistic malaise.

"If I'm meant to run the marathon, I will run it," I tell myself as I turn off the alarm and pull the covers up to my chin. So my regular running routine is, um, a little off.

This circumstance has been brought on in no small part by the knee ailment I've been battling for the past few weeks, a common -- albeit uncommonly painful--condition caused by swelling of the illiotibial or IT band.

Last Saturday I ran ten miles with my pace group. I was running and chatting and feeling fine when the pain hit somewhere around mile nine. The last mile left me wondering how I am ever going to drag myself through the full 26.2.

To combat the (literally) crippling pain, I've been dutifully undertaking the stretches and exercises recommended to me by my orthopedist, which are pretty much the same old boring stretches you do in P.E. (Arms against the wall, feet flat, lean. Cross legs, bend at waist, hold. One leg back, one leg forward, lean. Yawn. Repeat.)

Just for fun, I've thrown in the stretches recommended by my co-runner (and co-IT band pain suffer), Rachel. Her physical therapist recommended that she position herself lengthwise atop a foam cylinder (like a hair roller on steroids) and move across the pained area multiple times daily.

Which I have, and which results in unnerving crunching sounds emanating from somewhere deep within the knee-thigh-hip region accompanied by evermore pain. But pain is weakness leaving the body, at least according to the Marines. If that's so, then weakness sounds like potato chips.

And which, look here, really are potato chips! Of which I've been eating more than I should as a palliative for what ails me, and which seem to have fallen under the roller. My chip consumption would horrify any serious runner (Ack! The saturated fat!) and will certainly only exacerbate my sluggish pace.

My co-runner Dwayne thinks all this roller/stretching stuff is nonsense and I should just get a cortisone shot and be done with it. "Get the shot and get back out there," he whispered as I limped toward the finish line. "That's what the pros do."

I'm calling the doc now.

Friday, May 15 2009 • Link • RSS feed
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Week 32: The last of the German Silvas

When Coach Scott announced last Saturday that many of the pace groups, including the one to which I belong, were undergoing name changes I immediately invented my own explanation for the switch.

You may recall that last fall I wrote about our my pace group's namesake, an Olympic marathoner from rural Mexico named German Silva whose claim to fame was his navigational confusion during a New York marathon.

While in the lead he strayed from the designated course, was forced to retrace his steps, and still managed to win. For at least the past decade and possibly longer, Silva's name has graced the pace group to which I was assigned last fall.

As the name "pace group" suggests, one is technically assigned based on one's running pace.

But over the course of these many months of training, I've come to believe that my running mates and I were assigned to the German Silvas we embodied the Silva spirit of stick-to-it-iveness.

Thus my invented explanation last weekend for the switch: as is customary in competitive sports when a team retires the number of a player so superlative that no other player can wear that number, so the trainers at AIDS Marathon deemed our pace group so exemplary that it was time to give the German Silva name a much-deserved rest.

The truth is not nearly as flattering to us. "The organization just thought it was time to honor some of the more recent runners," Coach Scott explained.

Oh. You mean it's not because of our extra months of training? It's not about our remarkable development as runners, and as a pace group?


I'll stick with my modified reality. Whatever the reason, our group is the last of the German Silvas, which means we have a legacy to uphold, or create.

There's no way I'll have the chance to get lost during the marathon by running so far ahead of everyone else, but it's not outside the realm of possibility that, with my bum knee, I may be so far behind the other 25,000-odd runners that I'll stray from the designated route. (Note to self: bring a map.)

Speaking of my bum knee, when I described my injury (searing pain that appeared around mile ten, originated on the outside of my right knee and traveled up to my hip, becoming progressively worse until it caused my knee to buckle), everyone I spoke to identified it as an inflamed illiotibial, or IT band.

It's one of the most common running injuries and there are numerous websites with suggestions for stretches and strengthening exercises to combat it.

But, just to be on the safe side, I went to see an orthopedist. The first thing I noticed in the doctor's office is that everyone who worked there looked like an athlete. I guess it makes sense that if you're active in sports you might get interested in sports medicine.

A nurse who looked like a basketball player took me to see an X-Ray technician (football) who took me to see a doctor (golf). When he saw my X-Ray he got very excited. "Take a look at this," he said to the internist at his side (swimming). He walked over to the examining table, picked up my leg as if it were a treasured nine iron. "Feel this," he said to the intern as he handed her my bent knee.

"The fibblabla and the tibblabla are mortocorturalbla and extendo malto bla bla bla," he said. That's not really what he said, but I hadn't thought to bring my notebook and that's what I remember.

"What does that mean?" I asked.

"It means everything is perfect," he said. "Your joints are in perfect shape."


The doctor assured me that running 26.2 miles in the excruciating pain caused by the inflammation of my IT band would do no permanent damage.

"So when my knee buckles that doesn't mean there's something terribly wrong?" I asked.

"Nope," he said. "That's just your body responding to the pain."

Oh, is that all?

"There is one thing to keep in mind," he said. "That buckling might cause you to fall down, and then you really could injure yourself."

Lovely. But now that I have the Silva legacy to uphold I'm going to have to stick it out, collapsing knee and all. Even if I wind up not only the last of the German Silvas, but the last of the LA marathoners.

Friday, May 8 2009 • Link • RSS feed
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Week 31: Injury

All that whining and complaining and dissing of running I did last week? I take it all back.

No sooner had I turned off my laptop and laced up my track shoes but the running gods turned the full force of their considerable wrath upon me.

As you might recall, I was heading off for a 26-mile run last Saturday morning.

But at mile ten, a mighty, searing pain did strike my right knee and all but smote me as I jogged with my running crew down Burbank's shady lanes.

Here I'd been thinking I was immune to injury. I'd followed all the rules, getting (almost enough) sleep, eating (sort of) right, sticking to the prescribed running schedule. I was a textbook example of the hubris of the uninjured: injury wasn't possible.

To be fair, I'd suffered a similar debilitating ache during the 23-mile run. Not knowing any better, I continued, mile upon mile, barley limping across the finish line. But within hours after the run, the awful, raw feeling of a knee made of grated skin and bone disappeared and I experienced complete pain amnesia, not unlike what one encounters after childbirth (as the mother of two children, I know if what I speak).

So when the pain revisited me on Saturday I was taken completely by surprise. Once it settled in, however, the memory of the 23-mile run came back to me with alarming clarity and force.

I knew I would not drag myself through miles of pain again. And so I did something I have never once done during this entire epic six-month training. I stopped.

Before setting off without me, my running crew hugged me goodbye. "Don't feel bad," they told me. "Take care of yourself." Off they ran, feet in motion, while I stood there, feeling strange to be standing still.

To console myself I imagined how annoying it must have been to all the other runners that I never tripped or ached or quit. Finally I was getting my comeuppance.

Serves me right, I thought, as I sat in the shade at a water stop, waiting for Linda Francisco, the fundraising coach, to haul me back to the start line. You gripe, you pay. I thought back on what I wrote last week and realized I hadn't quit on running. Running had quit on me. It was like deciding to dump someone, only to have them beat you to the breakup.

Linda was happily photographing volunteers who had set up special themed water stops in celebration of this 26-mile lunacy. At one stop, moms in sombreros served shots of Gatorade. At another, with a car wash theme, several young ladies in cutoffs lounged around an authentically massive 70's-era boom box.

Back at the start line, still more volunteers were setting up the finish line, complete with a red carpet and balloon arc. Linda encouraged me to stick around and collect my medallion, but it seemed silly to take credit for a 26-mile run when I'd only made it to mile 11.

It was all of 10 a.m., giving me plenty of time to do all sorts of things I hadn't thought I'd have time for. I went to my son's soccer game, helped my daughter wrap a birthday present for a sleepover party and shopped for curtains for our living room.

I thought about running the entire time.

I'd look at the clock and think: "11 a.m. - they're at mile 18 by now--I hope Rachel's knee is holding up. Noon - it's still pretty cool out - I bet everyone is cruising right along. 12:30 - hmm - did Sandy bring sunscreen?" And on and on.

The degree of my disappointment surprised me. I had no idea how much I'd been looking forward to subjecting myself to endless hours of repetitive, high-impact motion. But I had.

So what of this mysterious pain? Both times it showed up around mile ten, a searing ache that grew in intensity as the miles mounted. I'm assured by many running veterans that I'm suffering the symptoms of an injured IT band, one of the most common running ailments and eminently treatable.

But when I showed up for my appointment with an orthopedist this morning, it turned out that an error had been made (those damn running gods!) and my appointment isn't until next week.

Good thing tomorrow's run is only eight miles.

Friday, May 1 2009 • Link • RSS feed
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Week 30: The thrill is gone

It was just one of those things
Just one of those crazy flings
One of those bells that now and then rings
It was one of those things

I'm sick of running.

Sick of thinking about running, talking about running, writing about running.

I'm sick of Saturdays sunk into mile upon mile of concrete and searing knee pain followed by headaches and fatigue.

I'm sick of being an enthusiast and a booster and a jock. I want my lazy, lethargic self-absorbed life back. I want to drink beer on Friday nights and sleep in on Saturdays. A girl can only suck in her gut for so long.

In a little more than 12 hours I'm supposed to be setting off on my longest run yet--a 26.2-mile pre-marathon marathon. It makes sense, training-wise. For non-athletic, completely non-elite runners like me, running a full-on marathon-length run before the actual marathon helps build confidence and condition the body for the real marathon.

It also makes me exhausted just thinking about it.

It was just one of those nights
Just one of those fabulous flights
A trip to the moon on gossamer wings
It was one of those things

Today I went to my local running store and geared up for the big run. I bought some body glide to prevent chafing, some gooey goo to down for energy every hour or so and a "fuel belt" to transport the goo for the long haul.

I thought that being in the running store, with its walls covered in shirts and medals from runs conquered, would shake me out of my anti-run blahs. I even ran into another marathoner who was cheerfully chatting with the sales girl about various optimal clothing options.

"Getting ready for tomorrow," she asked me giddily

"Yeah," I said, trying not to look sulky.

"We're so slow we need a lot of fuel," she said, grabbing twenty or so packs of goo.

We are slow, aren't we? I thought to myself as I realized that tomorrow I am going to be running for six, maybe seven hours.

Why hadn't I thought this through from the start? I have a month to go until the actual marathon and it would be ridiculous to quit now, but somehow it also seems ridiculous to continue with this seemingly endless training when there are so many other things that need to be done, that I could be doing during those six hours.

I could be playing Legos with my son, or taking my daughter to the mall to buy earrings for her friend's birthday. Or organizing my desk. Or working in the garden. Or working on my book. Or having an actual conversation with my husband that isn't rushed by work or bed time or chores. Isn't that what weekends are for? Why am I spending all this time running around in the streets of greater Los Angeles?

I've already run 23 miles. Isn't that close enough?

If we'd thought a bit about the end of it
When we started jumpin' town
We'd have been aware that our love affair
Was too hot not to cool down

The two-month delay in the date of the marathon hasn't helped. I started training in late September, and I've kept my momentum up fairly well. It's only been in the past couple of weeks that I've begun to feel enough already.

If the marathon had happened in early March, as it has most years in the past, I'd already have slung my medallion over my bulletin board and moved on. A sweet October-to-March dalliance with the world of organized sports, or as close to it as I'll ever get.

Instead I'm feeling the weight of a million obligations as I set aside yet another Saturday for, um, running. My husband, who treated me like an Olympic hero for the first few months of my training and wanted to know the mileage I'd traversed on each long run, is now mainly interested in knowing what time I'll be home.

So good-bye, dear, good-bye and amen
Here's hopin' we'll meet now and then
It was great fun
But it was just one of those things

With apologies to Cole Porter

Friday, April 24 2009 • Link • RSS feed
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Week 29: Your running or your life

Before I started training for the marathon last fall my life was full. I have two young kids. I teach journalism to college students. I'm writing a book. I blog. I freelance. I also do all the shopping and most of the cooking.

So when in the world am I supposed to run?

I've talked to runners who extol the virtues of running at odd hours. They dash out for a run during lunch, or right after work, or between dinner and bed time. But whenever I try to do that the run winds up getting squeezed out of my life by the need to do an interview or grade papers or meet a deadline or run to the market or pick up the kids. Before I know it two or three days have gone by and no running has happened.

The only way for me to get my daily run is to steal it from sleep, before dawn, when no one wants or needs anything from me. I'm up at 5:30 a.m. and on the track around the reservoir in Silver Lake by 5:45 - 6 at the latest.

It's quiet, the perfect time to meditate and work through story ideas and thorny book concepts, before the confining tightness of the day emerges. I've seen raccoons and egrets and heard woodpeckers. I've seen the entire basin socked in by fog, invisible just a few feet away. I've seen pinks and yellows in the sky, which hangs low and heavy before the sun pushes everything away.

By 6:30 I'm home and ready for the communal day, already having accomplished something and seen some things and had some peace.

That's the idealized version and it is a true account of my experience nearly all of the time. The other version, which comes upon me as suddenly as a stranger approaching in the dark, is one in which a stranger approaches in the dark, sending my heart racing and leaving me wondering about this foolhardy notion of running alone in the dark in Los Angeles.

So far, for me, strangers approaching in the dark are only on the way to their cars, or heading down the path, like me. But each time it happens I wonder.

What in the world makes me think this is safe? In my normal, non-running life I would never think of setting out on foot, alone, in the middle of the city, in the dark. I've somehow persuaded my brain that by donning running shoes and an AIDS Marathon cap I've created a protective bubble around myself, impermeable by unsavory types on the prowl.

It reminds me of the notion people get when they step into one of those crosswalks that don't have an accompanying traffic signal. A crosswalk is just a few lines painted on the asphalt, and yet pedestrians believe that those lines will protect them from the massive blocks of metal hurtling toward them. Sometimes people who walk in those crosswalks are hit by cars.

And sometimes women who run alone in the dark are attacked.

A Daily News story by Sue Doyle earlier this month described the ordeal of Emily McDivitt, a 33-year-old computer analyst who was out for a pre-dawn jog in the Valley when a stranger approached her in the dark, wrestled her to the ground and covered her mouth.

McDivitt recounted the attack for the Daily News:

"He clasped my mouth shut to the point of where I couldn't breathe. He had my nose," she said. "I thought I was going to die."

It was 5:45 a.m., and the blinds were still closed on the windows of tidy homes lining the 6200 block of Blucher Avenue.

Knowing attackers feed on fear, McDivitt tried to defuse the frenzy. She threw her hands up and stopped fighting him.

He took his hands off her mouth and said, "No scream," McDivitt recalled.

Then she threw a curveball... McDivitt began talking to her attacker, asking what his name was several times. The man never responded to McDivitt's questions. She was unsure if he understood English. He continued to grope her. And that's when she punched him across his face and grabbed his groin.

After he walked away, McDivitt scrambled to her feet and dashed home. She flung open her front door, screamed out for her husband David, 40, a retired Marine, and collapsed in the doorway from the draining surge of adrenaline. They called the police.

It turns out McDivitt had some martial arts training, which helped her fend off her attacker. She escaped with nothing more serious than a bruised hip. Still, she told the reporter, she felt lucky.

The story continues:

In 2007, there were 477 rapes reported in Los Angeles, 50 more than in New York that year despite its much bigger population, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report.

McDivitt reflects on that disturbing day and wonders if there was more she could have done. She thinks about what could have happened if her attacker had weapons or if wasn't alone.

"They tell you to run from your attacker," McDivitt said. "But I was running. He was running with me."

How often have I had that same thought? If I'm running already, how do I run away? So I continue worrying, and continue running.

Friday, April 17 2009 • Link • RSS feed
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Week 28: Return to Sunday

Guest blogger Andrea Cavanaugh is my personal savior during this busy Easter week, filling in with a post about the possible return to a Sunday marathon -- though not until next year. I wrote an LA Times op-ed on the subject in March, and Andrea adds a whole 'nother perspective:

Three Los Angeles City Council members made a motion this week to return the LA Marathon to a Sunday in March in 2010.

As those who have followed the soap opera "As the LA Marathon Turns" over the past two years know, the race was moved to a holiday Monday this year after the City Council caved in to a coalition of religious leaders. The church leaders complained that holding the race on Sunday - the day marathons are held in cities around the country - disrupted their services.

The drama continued to unfold as the organizers abruptly changed the date from mid-February to Memorial Day - May 25. A day that's far more likely to be blazingly hot than any day in February or March.

The City Council members who introduced the motion to return the race to a Sunday in March were responding to pleas from runners but also, more practically, to greatly reduced participation and the absence of network television coverage - both of which run counter to the city's interests in developing the race into a world-class marathon.

So religious leaders be damned - the City Council has finally come to its senses. I'm glad that City Council members Tom LaBonge and Janice Hahn introduced their motion - complete with comments about What Would Jesus Do if faced with a Sunday marathon - because I think they're acting in the best interests of the city and the race.

However, they aren't doing a thing for me. I'm not one of those dedicated souls who run the marathon year after year. This is it for me. This is my year. I won't be doing this again. I think running a marathon is insane. This belief, which was fairly fuzzy when I embarked on this adventure, became far more concrete on the day I completed my first 20-mile run. That was the day that my running bra and my skin melded together in the heat into a new substance that was neither animal nor vegetable.

I'm terrified about the prospect of running a marathon on a hot, smoggy day. Fortunately, future participants in the LA Marathon will be less likely to face this prospect if the race is held in March in years to come.

I know the city's religious leaders probably aren't happy about the bid to move the marathon back to a Sunday in March, but I hope they will turn the other cheek and pray for cool weather on Memorial Day. I think that's what Jesus would do.

Saturday, April 11 2009 • Link • RSS feed
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Week 27: The missing link

Shortly after Gaby Vergara turned 18, she went to her mother with some weighty news.

Gaby grew up in Watts and she'd seen more than a few of her girlfriends get pregnant or fall prey to drug addiction. Her mother waited anxiously for the youngest of her six children to continue.

"Mom," Gaby told her solemnly, "I want to join the AIDS Walk."

Gaby's mom was delighted --and more than a little relieved. "She was like, 'Whew,'" Gaby recalled.

Nine years and as many AIDS walks later, Gaby is more committed than ever to fighting the spread of HIV and AIDS. She's run one marathon benefiting AIDS services and is now training for her second, which is where I met her last October when we were assigned to the same pace group to train for the LA Marathon on May 25.

In the months since I've been training with the AIDS Marathon program to raise money for AIDS Project Los Angeles I've been struck by the socioeconomic distance between those who run to raise money to help people with AIDS and those who are helped. Talking with Gaby reminded me of that distance.

In recent years the spread of AIDS has been relegated largely to poor communities of color. While there's a fair amount of ethnic diversity among the people training alongside me, most of us are either solidly middle class or members of the "privileged poor" - highly educated with limited financial means at least in part by choice (given access to college and grad school I chose to pursue journalism rather than some more lucrative profession, which would have been just about anything else).

Most of us have never been to Watts, let alone lived there. Gaby has never been on an airplane and works as the office manager at a company that sells corporate promotional products like pens and visors. She stopped her education after graduating from high school, though she's beginning to think about getting a college degree so she can become a counselor or social worker.

Appearance-wise, Gaby fits in easily with the rest of the Saturday morning crew --- tall and fit, with her long, dark hair pulled back in a braid for the run. But her sunglasses give her away-- "Watts" is inscribed in glittery gothic script across the arm. "My aunt gave me these," she said. "She told me, never be ashamed of where you're from. Be proud, and I am."

I knew someone close to Gaby had died of AIDS, but I didn't realize how deeply she identified with the cause until last month, when she showed up with an AIDS ribbon tattooed on the inside of her right forearm and her runner numbers - for the past marathon and the one coming up in May - permanently stenciled on her right wrist.

"I mainly did this for myself because I want to show what I feel," she said. "But also it's because when I'm out there trying to raise money, some people still look at me like this punk kid from Watts, like 'Sure, I know you're just gonna use this to pay rent.' View me as you want, but this is what I'm doing. I'm serious."

Fundraising is a serious issue. For the AIDS Walks, participants raise what they can - sometimes as little as a hundred dollars. Gaby usually manages to pull in $1,000 or so. But the marathon requirement is higher. Each participant must raise a minimum of $1,600 or pay it themselves. Today is the cutoff date to reach the minimum requirement.

Gaby has tapped all her usual contributors and has come up $600 short. Today she's transferring that sum to the AIDS Marathon program out of her savings to make up the difference. "It's going to tough," she said. "But we'll get through it."

If she can manage to raise it through pledges in the coming weeks, the program will return her savings to her.

Gaby is particularly pleased that APLA funds the Watts Health Foundation and a clinic at her alma mater, David Starr Jordan High School. "So many people rely on those services," she said. "I can see the benefit of it."

On Saturday, as we embarked on our 23-mile run -- our longest yet - I asked her to tell me her story. I wanted to know how this young woman from Watts became so attached to fighting the spread of AIDS.

"It might take a while," she said. We both laughed because we knew that in the context of a 23-mile run - which is what we were facing --the longer the story the better. Miles fall away and before you know it you're standing at Pat and Ray's snack table, downing banana bread, popsicles and pickle-topped peanut butter crackers.

Gaby first learned about AIDS when she was 7 or 8 years old. She'd heard the Queen song "We Will Rock You," and asked her older sister if she would take her to see the band in concert. Her sister told her she couldn't because Queen didn't exist any more -- Freddie Mercury had died of AIDS. "I asked her what caused AIDS and she said no one knew, but that if you got it you died," Gaby said. "That scared me, but then she told me kids didn't get it."

A couple of years later, Gaby's family learned that her uncle, Jesús Muro, had AIDS. Some members of the family worried that the illness might be contagious and they wanted Jesús to eat with different plates and utensils. But Gaby's mother would have none of it. "She told everybody to stop all that," Gaby said. "She told us to give him all of our love and support, to be positive with him." And so they did.

As Jesús' health deteriorated, the family moved him to a hospice nearby. Gaby would go and visit him with her mother, using her allowance to buy him chocolate or a card or some special treat. She was not allowed inside, but she would stand on the porch and peer in, staring at the other patients, many of whom were much worse off than her uncle, their bodies contorted and covered with lesions. "I would just stare at them," Gaby said. "I'd never seen anything like that."

One morning, the hospice informed Gaby's family that Jesús had only a couple more weeks to live. The news so upset Gaby's mother that she packed Jesus and her children into her car and drove eight hours to her sister's home in the town of San Luis in Sonora, Mexico, where she helped Jesus get settled. "Everybody agreed that we needed to have my uncle with the family," Gaby said. "He liked it there - he got to eat whatever he wanted and he was comfortable."

Nearly every weekend for the next two years, Gaby's family would travel to San Luis to visit Jesús. "It was like a big family reunion all the time," Gaby said. "I got to see people I otherwise wouldn't see, and we would all be there together, spending time, being a part of each other's lives."

For Gaby, her dying uncle became a symbol of family. When he died --peacefully, in his sleep - Gaby vowed to keep his memory alive.

She does it with the AIDS walks and with the marathons, and by telling the story of her uncle to her 11 nieces and nephews, especially the younger ones, whom she baby sits regularly. On a recent trip to the supermarket, one of her nephews rejected a product with a pink ribbon, telling her they "needed to find stuff with a red ribbon, to fight AIDS."

That's the end of the tale. I'm going to Gaby's pledge page on the AIDS Marathon website to make a donation right now. Won't you join me? Grab a credit card and click here.

I'll give Gaby the last word: "You don't have to be rich to help people. You just have to want to do it."

Friday, April 3 2009 • Link • RSS feed
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