There are 2,518 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They are spaced six feet apart. At the corner of Hollywood and Vine, I departed the main Hollywood Boulevard route that 25,000 others took and ran on the sidewalk, running over as many stars as possible. I did this for a handful of blocks, right through the Mile 11 arch, dodging a few tourists. I looked down at every star and thought about my life, what it was like to watch them, to hear them, to marvel at them, knowing how my Mom would love this.
I was parallel to the runners, just wide right. I ran behind a fluid station. I was not constantly thinking about the 5:00 pace group, which would run a mile and walk a minute, run a mile and walk a minute. I occasionally glanced over and their red and white balloons were still there. So I kept looking down at the stars and running on them. Ann-Margret. Vincent Price. Fay Wray. John Belushi. Bob Hope. They moved rapidly beneath my charging ASICS Gel-Kayano 20 Lite-Shows like life itself, shooting stars on the sidewalk. If everyone did this, we would be in trouble. But it was the defining part of the race for me.
"HOLLYWOOD: WHERE DREAMS COME TRUE." I have a story to tell you about 11 runners who just lived that famous slogan. We were the first ASICS LA Marathon Blogger Challenge Team. ASICS was Warner Bros and we were Humphrey Bogart, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, James Cagney, Barbara Stanwyck, Paul Newman, Robert Redford et al. We were Anne Mauney, Beth Risdon, Ryan Falkenrath, Jess Underhill, Mark Newman, Michele Gonzalez, Monica Olivas, Rachel Steffan, Brian Kelley, Kristin Stehly and Jamie Walker. ASICS is on a mission to reach out to the social running community and they emailed us and asked us to run for them.
So we did. Just because we blog about running -- an opportunity waiting for you.
Andrew Kastor, elite coach with the Mammoth Track Club, administered a 12-week training plan and coached us throughout. His wife, legendary runner Deena Kastor, also spent the weekend with us and gave us invaluable race advice. I ran a solid mile with Ryan Hall in Santa Monica during a Saturday shakeout 5K, each of us trading our wedding-proposal stories (ask him about the lighthouse). Michelle Lovitt, the ASICS Fitness Expert and supermodel, was available for nutrition and strength guidance. ASICS shipped training gear throughout the winter; flew us to LAX; put us up at the fabulous Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, site of the finish line in Santa Monica (ocean view); had boxes of the new ASICS LA Marathon shoes & hoody waiting at the front desk; shuttled us to the Nutribullet Health & Fitness Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center for bib pickup and any extra race items needed; brought us to the ASICS VIP Party on Friday with their retailers and others at Greystone Manor Supperclub in West Hollywood; hosted a group run and brunch Saturday (Andy Potts and Alysia Montano participated along with Hall and the Kastors); shuttled us Sunday morning to Dodger Stadium and put us up in the Stadium Club suite before the race; cared for us after the race in the Fairmont's Starlight Ballroom VIP area; gave us Nutribullets (!) to ship home; then treated us to a post-race dinner at the BOA Steakhouse across from Santa Monica Pier, with our own ASICS LA Marathon Bloggers Menu. ASICS even gave us each a pair of $150 asicsamerica.com gift codes to give away to our followers as a way of saying thanks for your support.
I have many people to thank, from the person who handed me the Mile 13 ice that I poured down my shorts (a Kona trick that Andy Potts offered us, and it worked!), to English Bulldogs Lola and Bam Bam who inspired me on Rodeo Drive, to whoever handed me a cup of PBR on the 21st mile. But I give the greatest thanks to Melinda of ASICS. She and her amazing team did everything but run the race for us and keep the clouds comfortably overhead after I ran over my last Hollywood star -- when I was on a PR pace.
What made it most special to me was the fact that this was very natural. I am at the other end of the race field from the elite, yet I am a real ASICS runner. I started running when I traded a box of KOOLS for a box of ASICS on Dec. 1, 2006, joining the New York Road Runners and changing my life, leading to marriage and so many remarkable journeys like this one. I have been a regular customer through the years, my drawers and closet filled with ASICS, not exclusively but mostly. ASICS is running.
So here I am now, on a Virgin American nonstop from LAX to JFK, blogging across the country. Lisa and Rachel accompanied me on the trip, so supportive and partaking in so much fun. My finish time was 5:43:43, far away from my goal time of 5:12 or maybe even a sub-5. I won't bemoan the heat because one week earlier, it was torrential rains. Would I have been whining about slogging through puddles and downpours? I finished. And not only that, I ran my fastest mile in the final mile, running 80% strides side-by-side with a bawling stranger as we picked each other up. When others say it was 80 at the finish, I say yeah, 80 percent strides. ASICS gave me my medal and I put an arm around Coach K's awesome wife and smiled for a camera with a medal around my neck. I will always remember Where Dreams Came True. Here is a recap of the festivities, long but hopefully worth your while to make it to the Comments!
FRIDAY, MARCH 7: ARRIVING IN TINSELTOWN
We checked into the famous Fairmont, where Marilyn Monroe stayed.
If Lisa's happy, I'm happy. . . .
If Rachel's happy, Lisa's happy . . . .
See those shoe boxes behind the front desk at registration?
Well, here is what's inside . . .
Look, flying shoes! Actually there are some twigs on the balcony. These shoes are so cushiony and light, but I think I will put them away in a box for generations of Newmans to remember and tell the tales of Hollywood's 2014 golden age, when a man broke from the pack and ran over the Walk of Fame to glory.
Now it was off to the Nutribullet Health & Fitness Expo. Here's Ryan in our shuttle, getting into the good stuff, even before the VIP Party. That's how they roll in KC . . .
Oh, hi Anne and Michele! They are super fast and great bloggers. . . .
The Expo, only as LA can do it. Right next to Staples Center. . .
Talk about great timing! We got off the ASICS shuttle bus (which was complete with disco lights and a stripper pole) and lo and behold, there is Deena. She was on the ASICS LA Marathon Treadmill Challenge, which is set at the defending winner's pace. She stayed in the harness forever, it seemed. What a beautiful running gait, something we are all so familiar with after watching her in the Olympics and on so many podiums. Later she would joke that it was one of the few times you'll see her running with her hair down. I am really waiting to long here to regale you with great stories about her husband but please read on . ..
Inside the Expo, I picked up my bib, spent most of my time in the ASICS Store, picking up an LAM PR Lyte Short Sleeve, wristbands and LAM Run Cap for me, along with shorts for Rachel and a top for Lisa. Thank you again to ASICS. (Have you asked them about doing this in 2015 yet?) And I can't forget to mention the awesome LAM Words Short Sleeve tee that came in our registration bags for all runners. I wore it for the Saturday group run!
It was great to be able to customize the name on our bibs. This being a social occasion for the ASICS Blogger Challenge Team, I of course went with my Twitter handle @Marathoner. So many people have asked me how I managed to acquire that account. Along with creating MLB's first presence on Twitter and starting and growing the official account there, I also began maintaining my own running account in my spare time. That was 2008, early in Twitter history. At least 95% of my followers on @Marathoner are runners around the world. If a corporation or anyone else thinks @Marathoner would be valuable to them, I would definitely listen to offers. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me there or comment here.
When you walk into the ASICS Store, you have a great vibe courtesy of the ASICS DJ! Watch:
I don't know about you, but I would love an ASICS gear bag. I think that is next on my list. How about you? What do you want most at an ASICS Store? If you're running the NYC Marathon this fall, what will you load up on at the ASICS Store? Here's a quickie tour of one section.
You know how someone always finds something they love at an Expo? Speaking for Lisa, I think I can safely say we really, really liked the Harvest Snaps booth. Last I looked, Lisa was still eating some of these on the flight back to New York. YES, PEAS!
Back at the hotel, a panorama of our hotel scene . . .
Then time to get dressed up. At 7 we boarded a huge bus with strobe lights inside, packing in with lots of ASICS execs and retailers from their various stores. It was time to party. West Hollywood, please.
A little pillow talk in our own corner of the couch. . .
OK, I may have posed for this pic a little longer than necessary. "Oh, wait, did the flash go off?" "Oh, wait, my eyes were closed!" "Can you take another?"
Andy, Ryan, Alysia and Deena. I'm no paparazzi but the iPhone was out.
We at spinach Ravioli, crabcake appetizers and so forth. . . .
SATURDAY, MARCH 8
We had a shakeout run with Coach Kastor and ASICS elites Deena, Ryan, Alysia and Andy. We walked out front of the Fairmont across Ocean Ave and proceeded up Palisades Park toward Malibu for a 5K. It was longer than I was expecting. I was slightly nervous, because let's face it, I'm the least fast of the bunch. My marathon goal time is Ryan's typical pace. Would I wear myself out Not gonna lie, it was a little scary. The marathon wasn't scary to me; this was. Coach Kastor had told me at the VIP Party not to worry. So I didn't. We found a dreamy location for a group pic, and I'm the nut as usual.
Off and running. That's me in the grey Expo giveaway tee. Ryans are on both side of me, Hall to the left and Falkenrath to the right. Little did I know that I would be living a dream in this very moment. "Hollywood: Where Dreams Come True." I ran that entire mile with America's most famous male runner, telling him how I proposed to Lisa at the 2009 NJ Marathon finish line, and him telling me how he proposed to Sarah, with a little luck from someone who had a lighthouse key so they could go inside. This was funny: I spoke between lots of hard breaths, and he spoke as if he was standing still or sitting in a chair. LOL.
That first mile in the 5K, my split was 9:53. That was fast for me. The pack was all together. Then we got to to the totem pole turnaround point and started running back, and the pack reorganized. I was now running with Rachel. Her marathon time is in the 4s. The main pack was starting to pick up the pace, and we were in back, running together, talking our way through that mile. I was astounded to see on her watch later that our second mile was 9:12! I've never done that in a 5K, just in a mile. Then we got to Santa Monica Pier and turned around, meeting up with the pack near the hotel. 10:05 final mile. So happy!
Still, I was a little concerned. I had really just pushed myself hard, the morning before a big marathon. We proceeded to the ASICS brunch at the Starlight Ballroom in front of the Fairmont. Deena assured me it might shake some things out and have a good effect. I was optimistic. We then lined up for food, and as I was hovering over the bangers and the bacon, Coach K said, "Fuel up. Fill your plate." Awesome.
After my food had barely digested, Rachel and Lisa were ready for lunch, so I went with the flow. We wound up going to True Food Kitchen, a must-stop in Santa Monica. Great discovery, Rachel! I had shaved turkey on a pita and kale salad. With a cucumber & lemonade drink. It was good fuel!
Back to the hotel for some chill time . . .
For the pasta dinner that night, it was a special occasion. We celebrated Rachel's 19th birthday a week early, letting her pick out the restaurant. She talked to the Fairmont concierge and made a reservation at Via Veneto, a favorite of Gwyneth Paltrow and many other stars. It is authentic Italian cuisine, and that's Lisa's side of the family as her dad is from Bari. The Fairmont took us in a BMW house car, and then picked us up there when we were finished. We got there at 6, just as they opened the doors.
Rachmo looks awesome!
Like mother, like daughter . . .
I had to avoid anything new and unusual, so just went for the ravioli alla pomodoro. No wine. That was tough! I usually have one beer at a pre-marathon dinner, figured I did that on Friday.
Back at the hotel, it was time for the Ceremonial Presentation of the Race Gear. I have to laugh because this is now becoming all the rage on the Internet. I like to compare how my gear shots stack up with others. We all have our own styles. I do this really dumb thing where I make a person, so it's like a ghost is inside the clothes. Lisa was like, "Your blues don't match!" I was like, "Those are compression shorts and the string on the shorts is tucked in so don't worry!" Dude, you can't outdress ASICS @Marathoner ever, ever.
SUNDAY, MARCH 9 - RACE DAY
The big thing we all had to know was that clocks were to be moved forward one hour at midnight. That was crazy, because the day before my previous marathon in New York last November, we were cautioned to set our clocks back one hour. So I had just ridden the calendar with running. It was not a problem, either. The iPhone pretty much does it all. But I got a wakeup call just in case. Melinda told us to meet in the lobby for a 4:30 bus to Dodger Stadium and the start of my 13th marathon.
As much of the world sleeps, Beth is doing Anne's ponytail up right. . . .
I tried to take some bus shots of the dramatic LA downtown skyline twinkling in the dark, but naturally the iPhone had no chance. The bus whisked us there and pulled up to the right field pavilion area, where we walked up some stairs and right inside the posh Stadium Club.
Look, I've been to at least 60 or 70 Dodger home games in my sportswriting career, covered a ton of playoff games there as well as ordinary regular season games when I was a Giants beat writer for the San Jose Mercury News, might even head back there for this fall's World Series, who knows. So the Dodger Stadium scene is nothing new for me. But going there as an athlete is. It's like, well, night and day.
Breakfast was laid out for us. I stayed with raceday routine. Never do anything different. That is the law. I had a cup or two of coffee, some water, banana for potassium, and some kind of bread. Not much, but you never want to start a marathon on a completely empty stomach.
One of the coolest moments of my ASICS LA Marathon experience was looking up from my seat in the Stadium Club and seeing Michele doing a Facetime chat with her little boys. It was so inspiring and heartwarming. @nycrunningmama really is a great running mama. I asked her about it later, and she said her youngest one was showing her how he had just colored something. That's awesome. Pretty sure that's Melinda from ASICS right behind her, too!
That's my man Brian aka Pavement Runner hitting the floor for a stretch . . .
That's right, time to head for the open corral . . .
It was the most beautiful sunrise . . . .
The 2014 ASICS LA Marathon
I held nothing back the first half. I was supposed to. Coach K said he told his elites, Gabe and Lauren, to hold back, hold back, keep holding back even at Mile 15. I stared at that "5:12" post-it on my bathroom mirror ever since Jan. 1, taking Deena's advice on looking at a goal constantly. And then I went out and latched onto the 5:00 pace group from the start, feeling strong. I was so much better prepared for this marathon than for any other, at least since 2008. I felt a 4:59 was in me. It was cloudy. Almost ideal.
For the first 11 miles, I had cloud cover and that made it pretty easy. I kept hearing the voices inside my head from the ASICS team leaders. I constantly repeated Coach K's mantra: "Feel yourself falling forward to the Pacific Ocean, let it pull you like a giant magnet." Over and over. I kept repeating to myself what Andy Potts had said at our brunch, pointing to his head: "You will go through tough times. Keep strong mentally." I kept thinking what Ryan Hall had told us: "I never let myself say it is too hot. Once I do that, I will say it over and over." And Deena's words of wisdom: "Visualize yourself crossing the finish line now."
The first four miles seemed like they were all about Jesus. I would normally be in my Episcopal church back home, where I am a Vestry member and Treasurer. How unique this was. "Jesus Saves" was really the only thing you heard, it seemed to me, and I decided not to run with music this race. I was amazed how many disciples there were the first four miles, and man they made sure you were their audience.
Just after being offered hot dogs near a Freeway entrance, I glimpsed something amazing. It was the "HOLLYWOOD" sign. It was far in the distance, but it was framed perfectly, like a postcard. It came and went quickly, and I never saw it again on the course. Where Dreams Come True.
Chinatown. City Hall. Echo Lake. The miles passed and I was in a groove, so strong. We made it to Hollywood Boulevard, and that's when I took the way-outside lane. Here was the first star I photographed:
Fay Wray's acting career spanned 57 years? She passed away in 2004 at the age of 96. I looked down at her star and it hit me that it was about 80 years since she was in King Kong. In front of Grauman's Chinese Theater, we turned 90 degrees left onto orange, straight downhill, then right on Sunset.
I sprinted that entire downhill, not advisable, but so I could catch up with the 5:00 group again. I was OK. Everything was fine. Then I was on Sunset, and for me that was basically Sunrise. The clouds said goodbye, went away with the Hollywood stars. Now it was just me and the sun for the last 14 miles. Everything after that was survival, and I really don't want the heat to be my focus here, although I remember the point where I had to bite the bullet and actually tell myself that I was leaving Ryan Hall's advice, and succumbing.
How did I cope after 16 miles? By taking out my camera and relaxing. I tweeted that Rodeo Drive pic.
mile 17 rodeo drive #asics #lamarathon http://t.co/ugBG6OXeSi
— ASICS Marathoner (@marathoner) March 9, 2014
You probably know my English Bulldog King Bingley. He was back home, waiting for us to get back. I have this strange tradition where I encounter an English Bulldog in every marathon I run. Without fail. At Rodeo Drive, I found two. I walked over and asked to pet them. The couple actually asked me if I would pose with them, and the woman took a picture of me with her dogs. She told her bullies to pose, so she took a second picture where they were looking at her this time. I had to ask if she would actually take one with my camera! So, I proudly introduce you to LOLA and BAM BAM! I am trying to act like bending over doesn't hurt.
OK, that's it. Everything that happened after that, you can go read one of the faster ASICS LA Marathon Blogger Challenge posts. I was all about finding fluid. Bless the guy who gave me the world's coldest little cup of water in a Starbucks cup at Mile 17. Bless the woman who poured me a Pabst Blue Ribbon at Mile 21. Bless Andy Potts for his great Ironman advice of putting ice down your shorts to cool off the groin area when the situation calls for it (done). Bless anyone who shouted encouragement to me along the way.
Thanks to my wife Lisa for always being there, and to Rachel for watching one of my marathons! They met up with me at Mile 25, and that gave me a big surge of hope when I needed it. The funniest part was when I was explaining to them how they had big orange balloon arches for mile markers, babbling on, and then all of a sudden I realized we were walking and Lisa was holding a cold bottle of water, and here I was a man crawling in a desert. "Ohmygod you had water all this time?" Ha. Now we are laughing about it.
Mile 25: Where Dreams Come True
Nothing I ever did in running can compare to what happened in the last mile of the ASICS LA Marathon. Maybe nothing ever will. I told Rachel and Lisa, "OK, gotta fly!" Energized, I started running fast. I kept running fast. Then I passed a runner who was . . . sobbing. I wasn't in PR mode anyway, so I circled back and ran alongside him and said, "We got this, buddy." I don't know who he was. I hope there is a photo somewhere. But I started running 80% and then he started running with me, and now suddenly I am pacing someone to a fast finish. I started slowing and he ran faster, and then I stayed with him. Then I'm pulling him. We did this almost all the way to the finish. I ran the last mile faster than any mile.
That's all that mattered to me. That, and this victory photo:
. . . and this medal . . .
Deena was doing TV commentary during the race, seeing much of the heat carnage out there. She came into the postrace VIP area at the Fairmont and here she is telling stories with ASICS Bloggers Jess, Michele, Kristin, Beth and (I think) Monica. I had just come in and someone said I lost a lot of weight. Ha.
Back in the hotel room, with a view of the finish line . . .
Here's the NutriBullet gift I told you about, a postrace gift. It's being shipped.
I had room service bring a big tub of ice, filled up the bath, got in and screamed. An icebath makes all the difference in the world. To me it is one of the most important things you can do in running.
POSTRACE DINNER: BOA STEAKHOUSE
It was cool to see our own ASICS LA Marathon Blogger Menu! My appetizer: jumbo prawns . . .
. . . followed by a scrumptuous, medium-cook New York Strip, complete with family-style fixins . . .
COACH ANDREW KASTOR
There could not be a more appropriate choice for the head of our table!
More than anything, it was wonderful to know the Kastors, because they are nice, inspiring and very impressive people to be around. I consider that an honor. But the amount of insight you can gain on not just running, but also life, is substantial. If ASICS offered only one thing to bloggers and that was the ability to be coached by Andrew Kastor, it would be a golden opportunity. I encourage other runners to get the Pear Sports app, which is mobile training intelligence, and it includes the Kastors' expertise and guidance.
That's me in the backwards red Cardinals cap . . .
We are pretty far into this flight across America now, and it has come to the part where I have to show you the incredible magic of a Cotton Candy Sparkler Show, BOA Steakhouse-style:
I just ran a marathon, I'm the oldest and slowest in the room, and I feel like a kid again . . .
Alysia is famous for the signature flower in her hair, and here she is with Michelle and Deena after our dinner. Guests inside were buzzing and trying to see who was being photographed. Oh, just American superstars.
We all went outside, and it felt like a big finish.
MONDAY, MARCH 10 - GETAWAY DAY
We picked the latest flight out, 3:55 Virgin America from LAX to NYC, so we could soak in some final sun and scenery. Rachel took a Core Fusion class in the Fairmont's awesome Exhale spa, Lisa went for a walk on the bluffs, and I did some MLB work. Then we had a traditional English breakfast at Ye Olde King's Head by the hotel. We have a lot of British roots and this was heaven for us. I had the King Size order: a big plate of eggs, grilled tomatoes, bangers, 2 bacon, fried bread (yes!), baked beans, sauteed mushrooms, HP sauce and tea. Lisa had the vegetarian version of that, and Rachel had two eggs and grilled tomatoes.
So in keeping with my bulldog theme of this post, I have to tell you about The Bulldog Bar. It is attached to Ye Olde King's Head, and it features bulldog photos and memorabilia on all the walls.
The manager told me to send a photo of King Bingley and he will be displayed on their wall!
We then headed for world-famous Santa Monica Pier. The blue and yellow tents are Cirque de Soleil.
Did you know: Santa Monica is "the birthplace of the physical fitness boom" . . .
We walked into Bubba Gump Shrimp and immediately asked the question they are asked constantly. The movie came out first. After Forrest Gump, the restaurant chain was created. This one features Jen-nay's 1969 flower-power outfit in a framed display. "Run Forrest Run" is everywhere.
"Never Give Up, Never Give In."
We walked past the roller coaster, and at the very end of the pier I took in the crashing waves below and the gorgeous panorama scenery of Malibu and the coast. Then I heard the most beautiful melody and lyrics. It was a regular pier singer, and those six words above were the first words out of his mouth. The song was so gorgeous, and in that moment it meant the world. I was going to put a $10 in the singer's basket after his song, but then I saw it was $10 for his CD so I just bought one. We met and shook hands and he told me his name was Terry Prince, and I told him how much that song had touched me. Apparently he has been playing there a long time, because I found this youtube clip of him playing there in 2007. He signed the CD that you see here.
Then we finally had a chance to put our feet into the Pacific Ocean. It was freezing. It would have been even better than an ice bath, and I hear that some runners actually did that after the race. You can see Malibu behind Lisa. We are appreciating the unique California atmosphere, and especially grateful to walk on the soft sand of this gorgeous beach after our brutal NYC winter. All three of us were in agreement: We got everything out of this trip and couldn't wish for more.
In the hour before checkout, I had one last pina colada and my feet in the jacuzzi. . . .
ASICS arranged for a car service to take us from the Fairmont to LAX, as they had done from the airport on Friday. The driver was so cool. First he stopped at True Food Kitchen, where Rachel wanted to get us all salads on the flight (because Virgin America food is not appetizing whatsoever, sorry Richard). Then get this: Right before LAX, as I was musing over how great an IN-N-OUT burger would taste, he happily pulled onto the last exit and parked a few moments in the lot so we could grab some famous LA exit food.
And now I am here, in the sky, looking at my nation from coast to coast, looking down at Breckenridge and Vail and the snow-capped Rockies, and thinking about the time, courtesy of ASICS, when I went to Hollywood, Where Dreams Come True.