I think what I like about races is that it feels like a test. I do well in tests. Of course I panic prior to the big event, but once it's here I collect myself and just work in completing the damn thing as best I can.
Sunday's marathon was no different. I was extremely nervous and anxious the night before, so much so that I actually sat down and read Moby Dick before going to bed. That helped settle me down for a good night's sleep.
The following is my account, as best I remember, of the race. Considering I don't run with an iPod, I would expect to remember more of the race than I do. I remember flashes of every mile, but I can't pinpoint what I was thinking for most of the race. Most likely I was focused on the race. Heck, I missed the Golden Gate Bridge and the bison roaming the San Francisco Zoo. I did catch the large waves hurling themselves against the shore.
I placed myself in the back of the 9:00-10:00 min pack. I was going to force myself to slow down the first few miles for fear that I was going to hit the wall if I didn't. I wave at Darin, Anita, and Kate as I cross the start line and head off for a relaxing 26.2 mile run.
The start is always the worst part. It's so crowded and you can't establish a good rhythm. I resisted the urge to weave through the crowds. I maintained a steady pace and waited for others to clear a path before me. The start was slightly downhill and the runners were still giddy and gung-ho about the whole thing, but I was intent on staying calm and conserving my energy for when I needed it. I ran the first mile in about 10:30.
Gosh, I don't remember anything about the second mile. Where was it? I think it was before the Embarcadero. I remember hearing "Hot Hot Hot" but that's about it. It was probably still crowded, and by this time people were taking their walk breaks. I decided to not take a walk break until about four miles into the race, and with my 10 minute pace, I really wasn't going to need it for a while. I hate taking a walk break in crowded races because I worry someone's going to run into me and it takes too much effort to run over to the side and stop. As such, I skipped the first aid station as well. I carried a 20 oz. Gatorade with me, something I've been doing in my training runs, so it was little bother. In fact, I think it worked out perfectly. I only stopped at the aid station three times during the race to replenish my bottle. I took a couple of other breaks to Vaseline my chafed nipples, but I think I kept the breaks to a minimum. In all, I think the breaks only cost me a minute or so.
In mile 3 I run into Coach Katie. She runs with me for the better part of the mile. I tell her that I haven't taken a walk break yet and she suggests that I take one at least every mile just to keep my legs fresh. Following orders I take a break after four miles.
The race organizers messed up the mile 5 marker. At this point in the race I was running sub 10 minute miles, so I was shocked when I crossed the mile marker with a lap time of 12 minutes. There was no way that I ran that slow. As it turned out, I was right. The mile 5 marker was placed too far back. When I crossed the 6 mile marker my watch indicated a lap time of under six minutes. I wasn't slow, but I wasn't that fast neither.
Immediately after the mile 6 marker came the big hill of the course. This was the point where I could have seen the Golden Gate Bridge. I think the fog was too thick to see the bridge because I think I would have seen it otherwise. Oh well. I've seen it before. I'm sure it still looks the same.
The hill itself was challenging, but I think I had expected too much. It wasn't as bad as I expected. It wasn't exceedingly steep, nothing I hadn't done before in hill training. I maintained my pace and chugged the hill at about a 10:30 pace. I ran into Jimmy during the hill and he insisted I take a walk break. I had set my watch for a 3:1 interval, but I wasn't following it. I stuck with Coach Katie's suggestion of every mile, but since I was running up hill, it wouldn't hurt to take an additional walk break.
The best part about running uphill is that at some point you start going downhill. There was an oxygen bar up at the summit, but I didn't need it. That hill wasn't so tough. I recovered quickly from the exertion and ran up the next hill after mile 8 without a problem. Mile 9-11 were probably my favorite of the race. I was cruising at this point, weaving through beautiful neighborhoods, and catching a breathtaking view of the ocean just past mile 10. I grabbed a whole banana at the Jamba Juice stop (the Nike Women's Marathon is, if anything, well supplied) and I ate it as I ran. I was going to avoid the cramps as best I can.
By mile 12 I can feel my nipples starting to get raw. Coach Jimmy didn't have Nip-Gards this time and I didn't put on the Body Glide since I rarely need it, but I needed it then. I resolved to run shirtless should the chafing get worse. The heck with my flabby stomach. At the next medical station, I grab a stickful of Vaseline and lather it onto my sensitive nipples. They'll have to hold at least for a couple of miles until I can reapply.
Miles 12 through 16 are disheartening because you glimpse not only the frontrunners who are miles ahead of you, but you also get a glimpse of the finish at mile 16 only to realize that you have to run 8 more miles before you can properly cross it. By mile 16 my legs are feeling heavy. Then I feel it. A knot on my left calf. Remembering my problems from last time I worry that this will greatly slow me down. But I also learned my lesson. I don't stop. I keep moving. I vary my stride to lessen the impact on the calves. It worked. The cramps stay with me for most of the mile, but it goes away soon enough, not to come back for another 5 miles. It does slow me down, but I found a guy who was moving at a nice, even pace and I run with him for a bit so I don't fall too far behind my pace.
The four miles around Lake Merced are the worst of the race. It's mostly uphill, albeit gradual. In fact, I hated this part more than I did the big hill at mile 6. By this point my legs are dragging. The rest of my body felt fine, and my breathing was perfect. Yet the body was saying no. Lake Merced just felt like it wasn't going to end. My stride gets shorter and choppier and the mile markers felt so far away from each other. I didn't hit the wall during the race, but I came close around Lake Merced.
The run around the lake took so much out of me that the downhill trajectory of mile 23 to the finish did nothing to speed me up. In fact, I slowed down even more. In mile 23 my calf cramp returned and doesn't go away until I had crossed the finish. I take a third salt packet, but it doesn't help. I tried to tell myself that I just had a 5K left to run. One lap around the Rose Bowl. That's it. Much good positive thinking did me. I am hobbling and longed to stop running.
Then an angel came to guide me to the finish. Coach Katie emerged at mile 24 and ran with me. She took my Gatorade bottle from off my hand and paces me for the next two miles. She kept me from surrendering to my weaker senses. I follow her the rest of the way. I take a short walk break at the mile 25 marker and Katie has me moving once more. Kate joined in at this point and runs with me for a bit, pepping me up, telling me how proud she was of me. It was great seeing the support out there, and I felt like a prick that I couldn't say anthing back. I was just too damn tired and in pain to utter a reply. Jimmy met up with me somewhere near the end and tells me how many more stoplights I have to cross. Isn't that a Dylan lyric? How many stoplights must a man have to cross before you can call him a man?. If it's not then it ought to be. Kate pointed at the distance and tells me that the white tent in the distance is the finish. If I had the energy to talk I would have said, "God damn! That's far!" Sometimes people mean well when you're running. So when they tell you that "You're almost there" when there's still 10 miles to go, I'm sure they mean it in a good way. Sometimes, however, hearing "You're almost there" is the worst thing anyone can tell you, especially when you're dead tired. Yes, I may almost be there, but the fact is I'm not there yet. So telling me that I'm almost there isn't going to make me feel better when I'm feeling like crap.
Somehow or another, I make it past the 26 mile marker and fifty feet more I can finally see the finish. Seeing the finish was all the motivation I needed. Coach Katie leaves at this point and runs away with my Gatorade. I almost wanted to yell back at her that I'll need that for after the race. I sprint, or at least I run faster than I had been running. I pick out a couple of people way ahead of me and I start picking them off. As I cross the finish line, I throw my arms up in the air. I stop running. All I wanted to do for the last hour was to stop running and finally I did. I snatch a Tiffany box from a tuxedoed man and I am wrapped in Saran wrap, which I promptly take off when it makes me too hot. I grab a bagel and start eating, two Fig Newtons, and six shots of a green tea concoction from Jamba Juice and I'm good to go. Another marathon down. This one with a time of 4:21:02, 33 minutes faster than my first marathon.
I fully expected to break down after this marathon, but I think I was too tired. I sobbed in LA three different times. I don't know why, but it felt good to do so. It wasn't a couple of hours later, as I'm sitting two hundred yards from the finish taking pictures of fellow TnTers as they were finishing that I finally cried. I was watching Coach Katie and Jimmy run back and forth ushering my teammates to the finish and the magnitude of what I had done and what the coaches were doing hit me. I sobbed. I tried to hold it back, but it came out anyway. Again, there was no better feeling in the world than to let out all that pent up emotion. It's another triumph, and I deserve to let it go if only for a little while.
It's two days later and I'm surprisingly soreness-free. I ache a little, but not more so than after a 14 miler. I can run, even. I'm trying to pamper myself this week, but in the back of my mind I know that I have to turn around and start training for L.A. again.
It's official: I am hooked.