On a day of record-shattering rain and unscrupulous cold, I was one of 25,000 people who decided they should run from a drizzly Dodger Stadium to a wind-whipped Santa Monica beach. Nervous enough about how my body would react to 26.2 miles of physical punishment, I now had to endure torrential rains that bored burning pellets into my face, flash flooding that turned some of the course into fordable creeks, and winds that blew leaves and branches into the closed streets like cruel confetti.
It was awesome.
The soggy neon parade that swished through LA’s streets Sunday morning was easily the most diverse group I’d ever found myself a part of; a crosscultural divide you don’t often see here in Los Angeles. The rain—the great leveler—rendered us even more alike than you’d expect. Nearly everyone wore garbage bags that covered their Lululemon or dollar-store gear; later, we became an army of marching, foil-wrapped hot dogs in the marathon-branded space blankets handed out at the higher miles. (Some of these, rather ironically, read “Who’s ready for a swim?,” a message clearly conceived at some ad agency brainstorm during drier days.)
Together, we pushed towards the finish line, trampling a sea of spent Gatorade cups into a pulpy white trail behind us.
Watching Los Angeles from this perspective was a main reason I wanted to do the marathon. But due to the storm, the crowds cheering us on were much smaller this year. Which made those people who did come out that much more incredible.
The volunteers were, of course, great, holding out cups of water that soon were overflowing with rainfall. The musicians, god bless them, powered on even as they had to compete with the thunder. But what almost brought me and my running partner, Sonja, to tears were the random people who had set up relief stations along the side of the road.
The family who were using their feet to hold down a pop-up tent that billowed in the wind like an ascending hot air balloon over a spread of candy. The guy in the bright orange turban who smiled as he sliced navel oranges into segments. The kids who’d made signs for no one in particular, their magic marker letters bleeding into type more befitting a horror film. The man slowly waving an American flag out of his East Hollywood apartment. These were people who you could tell didn’t have much to spare themselves, but had made sure to park themselves on the curb with a cooler of bottled water and a giant bag of pretzels that would inevitably turn to mush.
Even though the spectator numbers were low, it still felt like the whole city was rooting for us (made easier by the fact that our bibs were custom-printed to include the name of our choice). As I neared the end of the race, and the residents of Brentwood passed out whole Clif bars and words of encouragement from beneath their blown-inside-out umbrellas, I realized that they were the people I really should have been congratulating. We were busy and self-absorbed, we had our races to finish, our physical challenges to surmount; they sacrificed a day when the city had ordered its citizens to stay inside, just to make us feel like it had been worthwhile.
It’s been a weird week for the world, and I was looking forward to the marathon so I could put one foot before the other, zone out, and ignore its mounting problems. Little did I know that there would be so many hints along the way about what was going right. In fact, it was spelled out for me right there on the window of CB2 at Mile 13 as we headed into the Sunset Strip: “If you are losing faith in human nature, watch a marathon.”