Going the Distance, Part 5

By Shawnn Slaughter

Originally published on Advocate.com April 26 2008 12:00 AM ET

After six months
of training, the Los Angeles Marathon had finally
arrived. I drove in from Las Vegas on Friday and checked
into the historic Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los
Angeles. As I entered the hotel, the excitement of the
race sent chills down my spine.

The next morning,
I boarded a Metro train and headed for the Los Angeles
Convention Center for the marathon expo. I met my pace
group, and we picked up our bibs and the timing chips
that track our time. After the expo, we all headed
over Papa Cristo’s for a delicious Greek lunch.

The night before
the marathon, the National AIDS Marathon had a pasta
party at the hotel. AIDS Project Los Angeles asked
me to give an interview to the local Fox station.
I talked about how I had commuted from Las Vegas for
the training and that being a 22-year survivor of HIV
was one of the motivations for my running the marathon.

Sunday, the
morning of the marathon, I met up with the rest of the AIDS
marathoners at Pershing Square across from the Biltmore at
5:45 a.m. We took the Metro subway to the starting
line in Universal City. The marathon started at 8:15
am., but with so many people ahead of us, it took our
group almost 10 minutes to get to the start line from where
we were standing, with Randy Newman’s "I Love
LA" blaring out of the speakers.

Shortly before I
hit mile 1, three running Elvises passed me, just
like the King imitators I encountered during the Las Vegas
Half Marathon in December. Coming out of the San
Fernando Valley and into Hollywood, my group waited in
line for 10 minutes for a for a restroom break. I called
my friend John in New Orleans as I turned onto Hollywood
Boulevard. He was found it amusing that I would make a
phone call in the middle of a marathon.

Somewhere around
mile 7, I became separated from my group. One member of
my group, Mel, was a short distance in front of me, and then
I lost her. I looked back and no longer saw the rest
of my group. I was then completely on my own. This
didn't bother me too much, as I had done the majority
of my training alone. The crowd along the course had to be
the most enthusiastic that I have ever seen. Outside
of the official water stops, there were a number of
generous people along the route giving out water,
Gatorade, oranges, bananas, and even marzipan! Several fire
hydrants were open along the route spraying the runners. I
mainly noticed the hot firemen working the hydrants a
few Los Angeles sheriffs dotting the route.

At mile 13, I
passed a cheering section made up of people from the
National AIDS Marathon and APLA. They were a reminder that I
was running this marathon to raise money for people
affected by and living with HIV. My motivation through
the entire marathon was how fortunate I was to be a
22-year survivor. Around mile 14, I passed the Los Angeles
Coliseum, conjuring memories of the time I had run the
Nike Remix Run from there in 2006. I also saw Coach
Jack, who was my coach for the San Francisco marathon
in 2006. I realized how much fun I was really having. Before
I knew it, I was at mile 20.

At 6:19:30
seconds I crossed the finish line! My parents, who had come
to cheer me on, stood on the sidelines holding a sign
saying, “Run, Shawnn, Run.” I was
completely oblivious to them, only hearing the entire crowd
and keeping my eye on the finish line.

A rush of
adrenaline filled my body. I became overwhelmed with emotion
and began to cry. In all of the five marathons I’ve
run, I have never cried. All of the frustrations,
injuries, depression, fatigue, and near-conceit were
all flushed away in a wash of tears. All I could
think is how only a few weeks earlier, I was struggling to
complete my training and had considered dropping out
of the marathon. Now I felt only joy and elation!

Why I had done
the training no longer mattered -- all I could think is
how great it was to finish the marathon and simply be alive
to tell about it. All this on a low t-cell count of
less than 200!

I have told
people this is my last marathon, but I've said this in the
past. Running is an addiction. I have been encouraged to
sign up for the San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Marathon
on June 1 and even the National AIDS Marathon in Rome
next year. So marathon number 6 may still be in the
works. As for Los Angeles, it was the greatest spiritual and
emotional journey I have ever taken.