Keith Walsh on Running the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon for Dummies.

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You’ve been offered the chance of a lifetime. Skechers have asked you to run the marathon in LA and tell people about your experience. You’ve been training hard for 3 months, you’re flying, you’ve been telling everybody that listens to you on Breakfast Republic on 2fm about this marathon, in fact you haven’t shut up about it. With two months to go, you get injured. You have a scan—it’s a bulging disc in your neck and it’s hitting off your spinal cord. That’s it, it’s all over. No marathon for you son, crawl back into your box, it’s all over! Or is it?

I have memories of watching John Treacy win the silver medal in Los Angeles in 1984, so it’s always been an iconic race in my mind. That doesn’t mean it’s always been a dream of mine to run it. Up until 2016 I had no intentions of ever running a marathon. But I think once you’ve done one you want to do more. Then when Skechers asked me if I’d run it, memories of ’84 came flooding back and I jumped at the chance. To be honest it’s a cool thing to brag about…I’ve run the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon!

But now that I had this bulging disc, there would be no bragging, there would be no running. My brand new Skechers GOmeb Razor footwear would remain untouched, untried and untested. What to do? I tried acupuncture, physical therapy, physiotherapy, more acupuncture and then some more physio and in the end, I was sent for a new scan. Bulging disc confirmed, but how could get it resolved in time for the marathon? ‘You should probably forget about running it at this stage,’ I was told. ‘But what chance have I got of making it, doc?’ ‘About 30%?’ I’ll take it! What do I have to do? No running? No running with 2 months to go before the big day? Rest? Complete rest. Resting is great, if you can lie down. But with this bulging disc in my neck, lying down was very painful, so I wasn’t getting much sleep. No running. No sleep. Not ideal. Very not ideal at all.

If you’ve ever run a marathon, you’ll know that the last couple of months are crucial. That’s when you’ll be doing your longest of long runs, getting up to 20 miles. That’s when you’ll reach the peak of your speed work and your hill work. That’s when you’ll test out your fuel. What gels work best. When should you take them. How many should you take. How much water do you need and on and on. Then there’s the gear. Obviously, I’d be wearing Skechers Performance running shoes, but which shorts will give me no chaffing? Which t-shirt is kindest to my nipples? So much crucial information gathered in those last few months gone.

I made a decision. I would generally rest for the 2 months–besides walking as much as I could. I would make it to the start line and I would start the marathon. If I had to pull out at some stage so be it, but I would at least start. The one thing I had going for me was that fact that this was my second marathon. My first was literally a couch to marathon situation. Before that I had done very little running, nothing of significance anyway. But since running my first marathon I had kept it up, so I told myself that I had basically been training for this marathon since Dublin 2016! I also had previous experience of which fuel worked best for me, how much I needed and when to take it. I also, most importantly, knew how difficult it is to run a marathon.

So off I went to Los Angeles. I mad Irish man about to tackle 26 miles—26 miles and 385 yards to be precise. Thankfully the complete rest worked, the bulge had settled down, the pain in my neck was almost completely gone, and I was getting some sleep. So I was trying to work how best to tackle this task ahead of me. I could run 5k, walk 1k, run 5k, walk 1k and so on and so forth. I could run for 20 minutes, walk for 2 and so on. In the end my plan was to run as slowly as I could and keep it up for as long as I could!

The day before the race I visited the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon Expo to pick up some gear. I picked out gear that was as close to the gear I wore for my first marathon. Skechers Performance shorts with the built-in nix, a Skechers Performance tee and I stuck with my trusty Skechers GOrun Ride 6 trainers that I’d been training in up until my injury. I’ve heard many horror stories of runners changing their footwear close to or on the day of the race, and I wasn’t going to make that mistake. Obviously, I’m writing this blog for Skechers, but I can honestly say that I hadn’t run in a more comfortable shoe before wearing Skechers. The Skechers GOrun Ride 6 are lightweight and seriously comfortable. Great arch support, and they don’t stick up at the back so there’s no rubbing on the Achilles area.  I like to be able to tighten my runners at the ankle, but I like it to be loose in the foot, some people like to tighten the laces on the foot so they feel the support, either way works with this style. My kit wasn’t going to run the marathon for me but it would certainly make it as comfortable as possible.

So there I was, 7am on the 18th of March at the start of the 2018 Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon in the iconic Dodgers Stadium. The race started at the stadium and all I had to do was make it to the sea, the finish line at Santa Monica pier. Simple! I noticed a few of the pacers at the start. The 4-hour pace, the 4-and-a-half-hour pacer, the 5-hour pacer. I made a note of the 5-hour pacer. If I could keep up with her for a while it might help me get to the finish line. As the sun came up on this clear crisp Cali morning the man on the speaker started the race. We were off. I was doing it. I was running the Los Angeles Marathon! I was doing it very slowly, but I was doing it. I was encouraged by the fact that I wasn’t the only one running at this slightly faster than walking pace. How slow was I running? My first 5k took me almost 40 minutes! My next 5k was slightly faster at almost 35 minutes, I was into my stride. I tried not to look at the time, this was not about a time, this was about getting to the finish. I had heard that there was a cut off point of 6 and a half hours, hopefully I would make the cut!

Everything about this race and this place is Iconic. Every street name you see along the route is so evocative, Sunset Boulevard, Santa Monica, Downtown, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive. It’s Hollywood Baby! The crowds that gather to cheer you on are amazing, very similar to the Dublin crowd. So warm and enthusiastic and a little bit crazy. People handing out fruit, snacks drinks, I saw one guy handing out hot dogs. I was keeping myself nicely topped up with water, Gatorade and jelly’s. Alternating between them every couple of miles. I also gratefully accepted the odd half a banana. The first 13 miles seemed to fly by. I was using my surroundings to keep me distracted. Looking at the famous street names. I was feeding off the energy of the crowd. I had made it to the half way mark and I felt okay. I was starting to get the off twinge in some of my leg muscles it was freaking me out a bit. Yes, I was half way but that just meant that I had to do what I’d just done, all over again. At this point I began to talk to myself. Reminding myself if what I was doing. Congratulating myself for getting this far and urging myself on to complete each mile taking it mile by mile, one at a time. No pressure Keith, you’ve done well to get this far even if you had to walk the rest of the way it’s still some achievement. I might have started to walk but for some reason I thought walking might be more difficult! I kept running…jogging.

At about 18 miles I was suffering. I was arguing with myself at this point, walk for a bit I’d say to myself, you deserve it! No! I’m okay, I’ll keep running thanks, now shut up! I was telling myself to shut up. Rodeo Drive was looking well, all polished and gleaming, Lots of nice shops. My wife would love this I was thinking. Then I heard it. A voice from beyond, well maybe not from beyond but it certainly sounded other worldly. I looked around. It was the 5-hour pacer. I remembered her name from the Expo the day before, it was Star. She was my guiding Star. I was elated. If I could keep up with this group, I’d finish in under 5 hours! I cried a little. Star was pacing a group of about 20 people. Talking to them and encouraging them as she ran. I joined in and just as I did she shouted ‘WALK’ I walked, for the first time. She was talking all the time. This was how it was going to work for the last 8 miles. We would run for a mile and walk for 2 minutes, using the 2 minutes to get our breathing right and to take some fluids on board. This was music to my ears. I was running with a group, we would feed of Stars energy and she has a plan! For the first time I began to believe that I was going to finish this marathon. The next 3 miles flew by. Run a mile, walk for 2 minutes. I was at 21 miles. Only 5 to go.

‘I want you to take it mile by mile’, shouted Star. ‘I do not want you to think about the 5 miles you have left, only think of each mile and how you’re going to finish that mile. You will start each mile and you will finish each mile and that is all you should be thinking’.

I stopped thinking about the 5 miles. Whatever you say Star, you are the boss. You are my savior. You have saved my marathon. We started, and we finished another 2 miles. That’s when the tears started. I was going to get to the finish, I was going to do it. It was overwhelming. I wanted to shout out, I wanted to tell everyone about my ‘Journey’ about my neck about my 2 months of rest, about how I looked this marathon in the eye and face it down, slowly. But I just carried on running and crying. It didn’t help that Star encouraged us to run mile 25 for someone special. I thought of my wife and I thought about my children, I thought about my sisters and my Mam and Dad, I thought about my cousin John who had run across the finish line with me in Dublin, I thought about friends. I thought about all the special people and I cried some more. Mile 25, see you later. We walked for the last time.

‘The is mile 26! This is your mile’, shouted Star, above the crowds that lined the street. ‘This is for all the hard work you put in, all the training (rest in my case), all the sacrifices, early mornings, late nights. Run this mile for yourself’.

I thanked Star and I took off, I felt like I was sprinting. This was possibly my fastest mile. The tears flowed, and my legs felt light. I was doing it. I was going to finish the Skechers Performance LA Marathon and I was going to do it in under 5 hours. 40 minutes slower than my fastest time, slower but better. As I crossed the finish line I held my arms aloft as if I was the winner. I was the winner. I won my own battle. I won many battles along the way. You see the hardest part of running a marathon is getting to the start line. There will be obstacles and there will be plenty of legitimate reasons for you to pack it all in, to back out to call it a day. But if you can persevere, if you can keep plugging away and stay focused, then you too can get to the start line, whatever happens after that is a bonus. 25,000 athletes started the marathon that day, that’s 25,000 winners in my book.

So, thank you Skechers. I can now say I ran the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon. Thanks for the gear, no chaffing, no blisters, you did your job. I’ve since acquired two more pairs of the Skechers GOmeb Razor and as soon as this bulging disc settles down again I’ll be back on the road, so watch this space.

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