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Of Vaseline and port-o-potties: Rhymer, this marathon is for you

Chris Erskine runs L.A. course on St. Patrick's Day to honor his late buddy by raising money to fight cancer. The five-plus-hour trip on foot from the stadium to the sea brings pain and pleasure.

March 19, 2013|Chris Erskine
  • Columnist Chris Erskine runs in the L.A. Marathon on St. Patrick's Day.
Columnist Chris Erskine runs in the L.A. Marathon on St. Patrick's… (Rick Oliver )

Lots of good reasons I shouldn't be doing this. I'm not even a little bit Kenyan. I've undertrained. After an hour, we haven't really even left downtown and appear to be circling back to where we started, Dodger Stadium.

This is my first marathon. And my last. I was intrigued by the idea of running from the "stadium to the sea," and charmed that it was to happen on St. Patrick's Day, a convergence of pain and pleasure that only the Irish could admire.

Ninety minutes in, my legs feel like Roman candles and I still don't have a beer in hand. I am with 24,000 other silly souls, dressed in our underwear, through a part of town so tough they even tattoo the cars.

There are port-o-potties everywhere, but never enough, and the lines are 10 deep. Thwack-thwack-thwack go the plastic doors. Thwack-thwack-thwaaaack. And the lines get no shorter.

At one point, I duck into a bar that hasn't even opened (Thanks, Oscar). I consider spending the day there, locked in the loo, which is a better fate than what awaits me back on the streets.

Yet, onward I go.

I have run a lot of races, but never one this far, 26.2 miles, an average of 40,000 steps, they say.

If you've never run such a race, let me give you a little perspective: Imagine running a 5K, which takes a fit runner 15 to 20 minutes and leaves him or her pretty gassed. Now add five hours to that.

That's a marathon.

How the winners complete this in a little more than two hours boggles the mind — that's just showing off. A two-hour marathon is, to me, the equivalent of dunking on a 15-foot basket. Of sprinting the 40 in 2.3 seconds.

I'm doing this impossible task in honor of my late buddy Rhymer, raising money to fight the cancer that consumed him, sponsored by a bunch of our knucklehead friends who miss him — like me — more than even an Irish poet could describe.

Miss the guy for a hundred reasons, but especially on days like this, when I want to call him from the course and describe the running Elvises, or the drag queens lining Sunset, or that wonder woman, Julie Weiss, who has run 52 marathons in the last year to honor her dad.

No way am I running 52 marathons, buddy, not even for you. Chances are I might not even finish this one.

Yet, onward I go.

Miss my buddy Rhymer because of the yuks he would get over the communal Vaseline boards. As they go, the runners high-five a piece of scrap cardboard smeared with Vaseline, then apply it to the private parts prone to chafing.

This includes, I assure you, the male nipple, normally so forgotten and alone, some sort of mammalian remnant that — like a vestigial tail, or the show "Two and a Half Men" — has outlived its usefulness.

Let me tell you that after 26.2 miles, the male nipple is very much not forgotten.

My threshold of pain, by the way, turns out to be somewhere between that of Dorothy of Oz (a wandering princess) and Andrew Bynum (also a wandering princess).

I am sustained, fortunately, by the thousands of good folks lining the route, with signs: WHINE NOW, BEER LATER, or the existential KEEP RUNNING RANDOM STRANGER!

By Mile 14, I think I might've sucked down some bad tuna, for I'm not really paying close attention to what volunteers are handing me. I'm mostly just "in the zone" and focusing on staying clear of the Vaseline boards, upon which I fear I might become permanently slogged.

Splaaaaaaaaaaaat. Take that, random stranger.

There is some sort of mitzvah going on in my intestines, but as I said, the port-o-potty lines are 10 deep. I would pay a million bucks for a porcelain toilet. OK, a million-five, but that's as high as I'm going.

By the way, this was all made possible by my running coach, Shannon Farar-Griefer, legendary in the world of ultra-marathons, who said one day after a seven-mile jog: "Sure, you can do this. We'll just scoop you up with a spoon when it's over."

With stories of 100-mile races so hot they melted her shoes, Farar-Griefer is an inspiring sort, though no real judge of character, obviously.

Because, after finishing in five hours and 20 minutes, I realize that there's only one way for a guy like me to run this race.

And that's to take a taxi.

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