Last night I watched a Law and Order marathon. I learned a lot more about Elliot and Olivia. Elliot’s mom was bipolar. This explained his perceptions, his conflicts. I needed to write new pages. Couldn’t think what to write. Crossed this out. Tore that up. Bad Example for the writers I’d be working with day after tomorrow.
I went to sleep about two a.m. At four a.m. I woke up. Legs cramped. Slathered them with horse lineament. Tried to sleep. A bit later I heard — no, felt, more than heard, a kind of dense hum, not too far away. Not traffic, really, but a looming spirit sound — like when I was a kid and I’d lie on the lawn in the summer and hear the grass purring the sound of land under my ears.
Yes! I sit up. I’ll bet it’s the L.A. marathon runners. This year, they’re blocking off Sepulveda at Ohio. So they’ll be coming down exactly where I live.
For us a marathon involves a casing of maps, texting times and directions so we know where we can’t go. I mean it’s so L.A. — Running. The first guy who did the 26 mile dash we call the Marathon, legged it in Greece long before running shoes, and jock straps. (Can you imagine running 26 miles in a white mini toga?) Well, he died. Finished the race. But died.
A lot of centuries later we’re still doing his race. I’d like to know they’ll be making my grandma’s chicken soup on Mars.
All the wonder of the Greek myths we learned comes over me: you have to see what it is. I guess there’ll be a lot of young people waving banners; serious faces. ‘Someone should be out there,’ I tell myself. It’s five a.m. The street’s lavender with early morning light. I pull on jeans, sweatshirt; walk fast up the street.
There’s still this distant hum. Is it really the sound of running, are they almost here? I see a guy in a blue shirt running the wrong way. A man in a white robe is walking a small dog.
The barricades are up. Two big cops sit in big cop cars behind the long set of Sepulveda barricades. On the other side of the street, above a grassy knoll there’s a pair of white pagoda shaped tents; tables inside, folded canvas cots leaning by. It’s a First Aid center set up by USC.
Grassy Knoll. Those two words set forever on the brain of those who remembered John Kennedy’s assassination. The grassy knoll was where the assassin hid; a memory; connections set forever in a writer’s Thesaurus, a mind guide far firmer than hard drive. I plan to sit on this grassy knoll near this duet of red tents here.
Pasadena Pacer’s Running Club. there’s a small cheerful man, Paolo, says his name badge, “Hi, may the course be with you!” We laugh. He explains this club was set up in 1996; “We meet every Saturday at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center; they have a great pool,” he says. How does he know I’m wild for great swimming pools?
Dave McCarthy, also friendly, also in a red Pasadena Pacers t-shirt, is setting up tables. “Our club was started by Steve Smith 13 years ago.” He’s a smart chiropractor. His book “Run Healthy. Run Strong,” will be out next year. Dr. Steve wants his patients to run. “If you move your joints, you will be healthier.” Yeah. When I sit working all day.
“Steve’s wife Robin is here, you have to meet her,” Paolo introduces me to a tall blond woman who reminds me of my roommate from Stanford. You’d trust her with your life.
“Our first group started at 7 a.m. June 6 1997,” Robin says. “No one was there. But then 35 people came. Sixteen did a full marathon. Everyone else cheer-leaded that year. The marathon changes your life forever. Once you cross that finish line your spirit changes forever.”
They’re kind of like the L.A. good guys I liked in school, long ago — not dreamboats, jocks or big deals, but smart, reliable, gentle, basically happy. Archaic type. I’m immediately at home. “Do you need anything?” I ask — “Cookies?”
“Food is great.” they laugh, “always welcome.”
“I have Girl Scout cookies! I’ll come back.” I walk home fast. Faster than usual. Do not pretend you are running. Maybe this is something to write about. I need three pages — why does it even occur to me to write. Because you tell other writers there’s always something to write.
I shove a yellow pad and some pens into a Trader Joe’s ‘Save Planet’ bag with a lot of Girl Scout cookie boxes, trail mix and nuts and walk even faster back to the corner.
Dave catches on that I don’t understand why people run. Or what it has to do with anything I know about.
He explains: “There are three principles.” like steps. I get that. First, exercise below your ability level. Second, train in a shallow gradient. Third, do it in a group. Even two people together. “You do what you can do. And it’s okay.” Sounds like Writing. Cooking. Swimming. I get this.
He talks about the preconditioning program. The first Saturday; walk four minutes, run two. Then the next Saturday. Walk three. Run two. Then the third Saturday, walk three, run three. The fourth, you walk two, run four. By the fifth Saturday you’ll running for five minutes.
Dave speaks with the mellow understanding of a good teacher. “We have many programs for people who have never run a marathon.”
There are many other people here now. I am sitting under a scarlet fold-it tent from Wal-mart. Have finished helping Paolo set up a tray of pretzels perched on dabs of peanut butter. There are big aluminum foil trays of banana chunks, wedges of orange Reeses chocolate peanut butter cups. (They’re very good.) Someone brought plastic gloves for food handling.
There’s a young woman with green feather palm tree in her headband. “May the course be with you,” she says. There’s an eight-year-old Sophie with her family and Hilda Xiciara, the Marathon Coach. She’s been running for 12 years.
Now there are at least a hundred people watching gathered here at this pivotal corner. You’ve made the first twenty miles. Only six to go! Only six. The first “runners” we see are cheered. However they are not exactly running: they whiz by on recumbent bikes, lying back, peddling with arms or legs. Some of these bikes have two people: one has no legs, so pedals with arms; the other who has no arms, pedals with legs. No matter what you’re missing, you can do the Marathon.
Everyone watching here now has cowbells, horns and there are signs: It’s Saint Patrick’s Day, and it is L.A., so some woman has a beer mug hat, and beer mug shades.
There are special runners with small fans who run out to greet some of the runners. I run (really) over to Sepulveda to watch the vast waves of runners coming up the street, cheering, sweating, grinning, frowning, waving arms, gripping fists, jaws. To say a crowd of runners doesn’t begin to define the motion magic of watching the marathon head-on. I click/phone pictures on my cell, jogging towards them. Then breathless, I return to the Pacers H.Q.
A woman trots by with a sign “Show me your nipple guards!” It’s not just to make people laugh, Robin tells me, “It’s because if women don’t wear them, their nipples can bleed from fabric rubbing against them.” The Ronnie North Band is here now; Ronnie on drums with his two guitars — and down the road a bit the South Bay Running Team in Royal Blue t-shirts has set up their silver and blue tent. Wende has brought more food. “This is the best egg salad sandwich ever,” she gives one to me. She’s right.
Janet is this year’s young president, “You realize once you put in the dedication, motivation to put a plan in place, there’s nothing you cannot do. this becomes an extension of family.” This is like writers. How we are now with each other.”
Janet tells me, “My dad is 74. He got inspired, and now he’s starting a group in South America. The first Marathon will be Epic.”
One woman tells me her husband never talked when he came home from work. “Now that he runs, he turns off the TV at night. And really talks to me.”
“Cholesterol lowers. You pop out of your body, you’re out there watching your body run.”
Now as people of all ages, all types, all conditions come running by, waves of people, panting, charging, sweating, running in waves, swells of the splendor of action, faces glowing, charged up by this cheering corner. Like all great spiritual healing programs, this has less to do with the winning; the gift is knowing you can DO this.
Will is not running this year, he’s sitting next to me now. “I was in a motorcycle accident. But I’ll run next year, I learned here that there’s more to life than nine to five,” he says, “I want to be here, to give my energy, the excitement, our presence drives the pace. So they know I’m grateful for the inspiration.
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