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Going the
Distance, Part 5

Going the
Distance, Part 5


After months of training for the Los Angeles marathon, Shawnn Slaughter crosses the finish line and realizes a new level of self-appreciation.

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.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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Shawnn Slaughter