My first week

I have never run an inch in my life (except under duress), let alone 26.2 miles, but I have decided to do this most insane thing. I've signed up with AIDS Project LA, which promises to train you -- even if you are a complete novice -- so that in four and a half months you can cross the finish line of the Los Angeles Marathon. Not walking, not staggering, but running. I also have to raise a minimum of $1,600. The kick-off party was today. Training begins next weekend.

I can give you many reasons for why I'm doing this, like my friend and mentor Marlon Riggs, a documentary filmmaker who died of AIDS in 1994. Like Dorothy Travis, whose last few months I chronicled and whose young children were orphaned when she succumbed to AIDS in 2001. Like that incredible moment in the Cheney/Edwards vp debate in 2004 when both professed ignorance of the spread of AIDS among African American women in the U.S. Like the fact that even though many Americans continue to be infected with HIV and AIDS, it has migrated in our minds to so-called “developing countries” in Africa. Today Los Angeles has the nation's second-largest population of people living with AIDS, yet it has fallen off the radar of our collective concern.

There are other reasons, unrelated to the cause. Having turned 40 this year it would be nice to have something to show for it. “I ran a
marathon” works for me. I'm also pushing hard to finish a book, which has engendered in me a new respect for marathons of all sorts. One might argue that running a marathon is yet another distraction from completing that daunting task. But the idea is that I will tether my training to my book progress -- each week I will cover more ground in both realms.

I'm sure there will be many opportunities for conflict along the way. Already I'm annoyed that fully half of the money I'm raising goes to administrative costs (I learned this after asking lots of questions at an orientation meeting). And then there's the running shoes scam-- I've been scared by the AIDS marathon fundraising people into buying $120 running shoes because I was told that if I didn't my feet would really hurt. But I bought the shoes and in my pitiful first attempts to “run” my feet still hurt! Would they hurt that much more if the shoes cost $100? And even more if they cost $50? The truth is, when you buy your shoes from certain recommended outlets, the AIDS marathon people get a kickback. So the more you spend, the more they get. Hmmm.

But the truth is there is no way I would do this on my own. With two small kids and a work life that is a constant scramble I find it impossible to justify taking time to exercise. I need the excuse and pressure of a cause to get me off my butt. The other truth I’ve come to learn, in my vast two weeks or so experience now as a pre-runner, is that runners treat shoes with deep reverence. It’s not just the organizers who want you to spend big money on shoes. One veteran runner gave me two pieces of advice: 1) get the best shoes you can afford and 2) take it slow. I’ve managed the first, and as for going slow, I don’t think I’ll have much choice. I’ve been attempting to run around the Silver Lake Reservoir near my house – a whopping 2.2 miles. The first day I was winded after all of two minutes. Each subsequent run I’ve added a few minutes, but it takes me more than half an hour and a lot of walking breaks to make the loop. Let’s see, that means at the very least I have to improve my stamina a mere 1,200 percent by marathon day, February 16. I hope the APLA marathon trainers are good.

The way the program works, you do two runs a week on your own and a third, major run in Griffith Park with your “pace group” and a coach on the weekend. Next Saturday, October 4, will be our first group run. This is where they’ll decide what pace group I belong to. The only hitch is that I have to run three miles in order for them to make this determination. It’s hard for me to imagine, with less than a week left to prepare, that I’ll be able to make it.

9:11 PM Saturday, September 27 2008 • Link •  
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