Updated: May 7, 2020
By Catherine Zhang
COVID-19 tales from Yorba Linda, CA
For marathon runners, participating in all six Grand Slam events is a massive achievement, but also requires a lot of good luck. All six races admit runners via lottery. Among the six is the Tokyo Marathon. This year’s race was scheduled for Mar 1st, but it scaled back in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Only 200 elite runners and wheelchair athletes were chosen to compete out of 38,000 registrants. A friend of mine entered for the lottery for seven years straight before finally being selected in 2020, but he lost his chance to run.
The LA Marathon is scheduled for March 8th. Due to the mass cancellation at the Tokyo event, this year’s LA Marathon was flooded with applications. Though it is not one of the six Grand Slam events, its reputation is on the rise. More importantly, those who had prepared for Tokyo didn’t want to throw away months of training. The LA Marathon’s 27,000 tickets sold out a week before the event for the first time in its 35-year history.
As of March 4th, California had 26 cases of the virus. Although most are in Northern California, many in LA called public health officials asking for the cancellation of the LA Marathon. It was uncertain whether or not the marathon would occur.
I’ve been running for several years and finished the San Diego Marathon in 2018. I’d planned to run the LA Marathon in 2019, but my training was suspended because of a spine T12 fracture. The treatment took almost six months. It wasn’t until January of 2020 that I fully recovered. I immediately signed up for the 2020 LA Marathon. By then, I had only two months left to train. During those two months, I mostly ran 5km and 10km, but I also finished two longer runs: one was 20km, and the other was 41 km. I felt ready for battle.
When the event was right around the corner, more people expressed their concerns. Most of the people against the LA Marathon were Chinese. It’s their right to voice their opinions through official channels as long as the city doesn’t cancel it.
Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by concerned friends. People I hadn’t seen in years contacted me out of blue. All of them asked me not to run. They said they cared about me, which sounded ridiculous. Had they known anything about me, they would have known that I hadn’t caught a cold in the past year. Their begging almost became harassment. I didn’t understand how it was their business.
I was never worried about the virus. The only thing that concerned me was managing my life after the marathon. From past experience, I knew I wouldn’t be good for anything for a week after the event. If I were a professional athlete, I could do nothing but eat and sleep for a week, but I’m not. I’m taking classes at a community college. I had exams and a large project to turn in. I’m also a wife and mother of two, so I have a family to run.
On the evening before the event, March 7th, I was occupied with all chores that I had to finish, and I didn’t get to bed until midnight. I forgot that daylight saving begins on March 8th North America. When my alarm went off at 5 am, I couldn’t wake up. My husband dragged me out of bed. He had to drive an hour to drop me off at
the marathon’s starting point, and drive home to pick up my son to take him to a basketball event.
When we were finally in the car, he yelled at me for running late. I felt so hurt. To refrain from arguing, I nibbled on a loaf of bread. I ate more than I should have. After I started running, I felt stomach pain and had to slow down. I wouldn't be breaking any records that day, so I ran at a relaxed pace while taking pictures.
For the last 15km of the race, I concentrated on the race and refrained from taking photos. I had been worried about my right knee, but it was my left knee that hurt. I changed to the right side of the road and the pain lessened after a while.
LA Marathon starts from LA downtown and ends at the beach in Santa Barbara. The final miles were more picturesque. Last year, I was at the finishing point, waiting for friends. This year I was charging toward it myself.
This year, medals weren’t handed out by volunteers but picked up by the runners themselves. You needed to line up for hand sanitizer before lining up to get your medal.
There are usually a lot of handshakes, high-fives, and hugs after a marathon, but not this year. I stood at the finishing line, holding my medal, crying like a baby. Only those who have met the extreme challenges can understand why I couldn’t control myself.
I didn’t care what people thought. I just wanted to cry without restraint.
Catherine Zhang (尤其开心) was born and raised in China. She came to the U.S. to start a second life in 2011. She is now living in Orange County, California as a community organizer and mother of two.