Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How I Got Hypothermia on a 50 Degree Day in Los Angeles or My First Road Marathon

Ethiopian runner, Markos Geneti, shattered the Los Angeles Marathon course record by two minutes on Sunday. Joeseph D’Amico ate only McDonalds for 30 days before the race and set a personal record of 2:36:14. Heck, a 400-pound Sumo wrestler set the record for being the heaviest person to complete the LA Marathon—ever. It’s like no one cared it was the stormiest day in the city’s history with 2.54 inches of rain pummeling downtown L.A.—an inch more than the previous record set in 1943—and wind gusts of up to 40 miles per hour. Except the reported thousands of runners evaluated for hypothermia and the 26 runners taken to the hospital.
I was one of those 26 runners.

Oh my God. I’m going to pass out. I can’t feel my arms!

I’m walking down San Vicente Boulevard in the pouring rain, drenched and holding my arms up to my chest.

“Don’t slow down or you’ll freeze!” a runner yells to me as he passes by, chugging through the last two-and-a-half miles of the Los Angeles Marathon on Sunday.

Too late.

Another runner stops to walk with me. “You can do this!”

“I’m pretty frozen. Don’t walk because of me!” I say. He jogs off.

There’s no way in hell I’ll be able to walk two more miles. I’m going to pass out.

Just then a lady in scrubs signals for me to come over to her. I hobble across the newly formed river that was once the eastbound lane of San Vicente.

The lady takes one look at me, then opens up the back doors to an ambulance to reveal a teenage boy covered in blankets on a gurney and two pretty EMTs. One of them strips off my shirt, socks and shoes, puts a blanket around me then tries to take my temperature with a disposable thermometer. It doesn’t register.

“Can you get in the front seat? It’s a lot warmer up there,” she says.

I try to stand up but my legs don’t work. My quads have gone rogue. I drag myself into the driver’s seat with my arms, then rest my head on the steering wheel directly in front of the heater vent. I have company; a man who looks about my age sits in the passenger seat, contemplating running the final 2.2 miles. He looks at me, then jumps out of the ambulance. We’re at mile 24.

The EMTs hand me heat packs and more blankets. I’m not shivering. I’m trying to control my heart rate by breathing against pursed lips.

I’m going to pass out.

Another plastic thermometer gets shoved into my mouth. Again, nothing registers.

“We’re going to take you to the hospital to get you warmed up, OK?” someone says. I start to cry.

“It’s OK. You’ll run another marathon.”

I don’t care about the marathon—I’ve run four before. I can’t feel my arms.

A gorgeous man opens the ambulance door and puts me on a gurney. I wish I had put cover up on the giant forehead zit that my visor is no longer hiding.

I’m lifted into the back of another ambulance. Hottie EMT and his buddies say how crazy it is—how so many people are “dropping” at mile 24. The EMTs can’t keep up. They’ve already taken half a dozen people to the hospital and more are pouring in. Hottie EMT and the ambulance driver try to get my vitals. They can’t get my pulse. They ask for my social security number and I spit out nine numbers—I’m clearly coherent. Oh well, they’ll get my pulse at the hospital.

I begin to shake like a spaz.

The doors slam shut, the siren starts, and Hottie EMT stares at me, failed marathoner number seven. So embarrassing.


I wanted to run a 3:30. The only other marathons I had ever run were at the end of Ironmans or on Catalina Island and my only strategy was to not walk. That worked well. But for a stand-alone marathon, I wanted to run. I put my 10K time from February’s Redondo Beach 10K into an online calculator that told me I could run a 3:23 marathon. I decided 3:30 would be a good goal. I didn’t wear a Garmin and decided I’d rely on a pace group to get me to the finish. I was in the back of the chute with the masses at the start, not seeded, so when I finally crossed the start line, I was over two minutes behind the pace group. I ran to catch up.

I zig zagged around walkers and joggers, passing the 3:50 pace group early on. I ran a few more miles and saw a little flag up ahead. That had to be the 3:30 group. I got closer and read the sign: 3:40. It began to rain. I pressed on, concentrating on a man in a tutu up ahead. When I got closer, I realized it was my friend, Guillaume.

“Where the hell is the 3:30 pace group?” I said.

“They’re going way too fast,” said Guillaume.

I kept going. The wind blew. It rained harder. Then I saw Jason. Just the weekend before, Jason and I had decided we’d run together since we both had the same goal. I blew by him looking for the pacer.

I finally caught up around 10K. I thought I’d settle in with the 3:30 group, and I did for about another 10K. Then they started to slip away. I couldn’t let that happen. I wanted to run this race for my Grandpa—I spoke at his funeral six days ago. I wanted to qualify for Boston for him. For me. I kept the 3:30 group in my sights until about mile 18, then I started to slow down. The rain poured relentlessly. The wind picked up. My muscles screamed. I never paid any attention to the scenery, noting for a split second when we ran by Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. I noticed when we crossed under the 10. We were so close to Santa Monica. So close to the finish. Jason ran by me.

I slogged through Veteran’s Park, soaking my shoes in a stream I didn’t have the springiness to jump across. My orthotics absorbed the water like diapers. I got colder. The rain picked up. The wind blew. My muscles throbbed. I slowed down. I got colder.

As I passed under the 23 mile banner, I stopped running. My legs stopped running. I couldn’t move my legs to run. Guillaume ran by me. I began to walk along the grassy median. I got colder.


My watch is still running when I arrive at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica. If I were crossing the finish line right now, instead of  moving into a hospital bed, I’d clock a 4:15. Instead, I’m learning that Hottie EMT’s name is Robbie—right after the ER nurse takes off all of my clothes in front of him and asks when my last menstrual period was in front of him. Robbie leaves to rescue more waterlogged damsels in distress while the ER nurse covers me in human bubble wrap—a plastic, air-filled blanket that blows up full of hot air. I shiver. My heart rate shows on a screen, hovering around 100. My normal resting heart rate is around 40.

The ER nurse turns on March Madness and lets me hang in my cocoon. She comes back to take my temperature. It’s now an unshocking 96.9 degrees.

“Who’s going to pick you up?” she says.

“I only know two phone numbers by heart,” I say. Coachubby’s and my mom’s. My mom lives in Arizona and Coachubby is most likely waiting for me by the meet up letter Z, like we had planned, because how many people’s names start with Z? His phone is at home. I call mom.

“Hi mom. I got hypothermia.”
“I’m fine. I need you to go on Facebook and look up our housemate. Go to his Facebook page. In the upper right hand side it says ‘send message’. Tell him I’m at the hospital. He has a smartphone. He’ll get the message.”

Duke sinks several more baskets while Michigan tries to catch up. I call my mom back.

“I think I poked your friend Mo,” she says. “What’s a poke?”
“Oh my God.”
“Let me know when you get home.”

I try to sleep. Then the nurse comes in.

“Your husband is here to see you. Do you want to see him?”
Do I want to see him? Nah, I’ll just stay here naked in my bubble wrap all afternoon.

Coachubby walks in. Our housemate got the message and dropped him off. Coachubby died late in the race too, he says. He wanted to run 2:50. He ran 3:05. He qualified for Boston. Jason ran a 3:30.

I am an idiot.
“Not fair,” I say. “Now I have to run another one so we can run Boston together.”

The nurse drops off a pair of hideous gray sweat pants for me to change into. My other clothes are wet and my favorite blue shirt with my race number didn’t make it into my “patient belongings” bag. I look like a homeless crackhead. Coachubby gives me a piggyback ride through the rain and puts me in the back seat of our housemate’s Prius.

Back at home, the rain still pours. The trees shake like the wind will uproot them. I imagine we’re in a hurricane. I lie on the couch and decide to check the race results for my splits. The Los Angeles Marathon website says I ran a 3:36.

Now I wonder who has my shirt.


  1. I love you, and you are totally my hero. You will easily qualify for Boston when the weather is reasonable. I'm so sorry that you had this experience, but it made for a great blog! And, in case you didn't know, you are absolutely awesome!

  2. Ha! I really enjoyed this Erin. I'm sorry about your marathon, but you'll do another and kick butt. Thanks for making me laugh out loud in a busy coffee shop. "What's a poke?"

  3. I am so glad you're okay; marathon hypothermia, who knew? Hope to see you Boston again soon!

  4. THat is one heck of a story... Absolutely love your writing!

  5. Amazing story! I found your blog through today's Runner's World Daily. Wow. I love your writing & the line: "Now I have to run another one so we can run Boston together." Haha! Which one's it going to be? Also, good luck!

  6. Thank you to the prettiest Chuck I've ever e-met! :) I signed up for Rock n Roll San Diego. I'm pretty sure there's no chance I'll get hypothermia in San Diego in June...

  7. Oh this sounds soooooo like Florence last Nov (28th) it was a beautiful day on the Sat, sunny and about 7C which is fine for time of year, Sun morning rain started at 0630, Race at 0830, rain stopped 2030!! Max temp 3C I have never been so cold and so wet in a race, thank goodness they serve hot sweet tea in Europe at the aid stations!
    Good Luck for your next marathon and in Boston :-)

  8. A marathon in Florence sounds like the greatest thing ever even if the weather didn't cooperate! I'm so jealous! And thank you very much :)