On October 17th, I completed the Nike Women’s Marathon. It was my first marathon. It was also day 504 (I think) of my running streak.
Race time was 7AM, starting in Union Square. My hotel was just off the square and I figured on a 6AM arrival. That worked well, giving me time to find the start and the bag drop off and mill around a little bit, but not too long, before the start. It was dark and the weather started out about as perfect as you can get for a marathon, in the low 50s.
From the get-go people were awesome. I overheard one woman ask another woman where something was. The second woman answered, then asked a question of her own. I forget what it was, but I knew the answer, so told her. Somehow, instantly, we three just started chatting. Exchanging the usual topics before a race, “Is this your first marathon?” “The weather is great” “Where are the portapotties”. We walked together to the bag drop off buses. Wished eachother good luck and went on our way.
While 20,000+ runners and walkers waited for the starting gun, a slight drizzle began to fall. Again, perfect for a marathon. The gun went off. I think. I don’t really know, my starting group was so far away, I never really heard it. But I heard cheering right around 7, so I’m assuming. It took about 20 minutes for me to even get to the start line. However, I did actually get to run across. I had heard you can spend the first mile or so walking, so I was very happy to start off running.
There was a collection point at mile 2 for jackets, gloves, etc. Anything you needed at the start while waiting, but wouldn’t need running 26.2 miles. Unfortunately, I couldn’t wait for the dropoff and tossed aside my fleece around mile 1.
It was a really great course, especially since I grew up outside of San Francisco, and spent a lot of time there. (Mom, you may want to skip ahead here). My best friend and I drove to San Francisco a lot in high school and the course went past many of the places we hung out. From Union Square down to Pier 39. Through the Presidio. In and out of Golden Gate park. I had one moment where the course turned and we were at the top of the hill turning onto the Great Highway. I burst into tears. I spent a lot of time at the beach here. Had a lot of fun. All those memories hit me as soon as I saw the water. Of course, it was pouring rain at that point, so no one could tell I was crying.
Oh yes, did I mention it had started raining? I was wearing a sleeveless running shirt (with my name in pink duct tape) and running shorts. Perfect for running in 55 degree weather. Not so perfect for running in 55 degree weather with pouring rain and wind.
I think it was somewhere in the Presidio when the race had posted signs. The theme this year was “I Run To Be”. The signs along this part of the route had reasons for running. Some were total tearjerkers like “I run to cure my son’s cancer” and others were fun, “I run for the massage”. I really enjoyed the signs. They were fun and inspiring and best of all, distracting.
I remember heading up one of the hills before the halfway point and talking to a runner who seemed to be struggling a bit. I told her that most of the hills were done. Which is sort of true, the hardest hills and the majority of hills were all in the first half. We joked a little and then went on our ways.
I can’t remember when it happened exactly, but I must say it is very disheartening to be thinking that you could finish the marathon in under five hours, and then see the five hour pacer run past you. It was also a bit depressing to hit the point at which the runners of the half marathon were diverted. Knowing they were almost done, and I still had to run another 13 miles was a killer.
Running along the Great Highway sucked. This was the only part of the course that was “out and back”. In other words as you are running, there are other runners on the opposite side of the road. NEARLY FINISHED. I was at mile 16 and they were at mile 25. It was also very cold, very rainy and very windy.
Possibly the worst part of the course for me, was when we topped the hill and could see Lake Merced. Knowing that we still had to run around that thing, and getting this view of it. And just seeing how fricking big it looked, was utterly demoralizing. I was no longer running, or even jogging. I was trudging. I swear those miles around that lake were the worst miles I have ever run in my entire life.
Finally, we were back on the Great Highway. Headed toward the finish. It is at this point I must say how awful I felt. I was frequently taking walk breaks. I told myself I had to run whenever someone cheered for me. Which happened a lot thanks to my name on my shirt. I really really hated running at this point. Someone said a marathon is a lot like childbirth. Except, with childbirth, you have no choice, you HAVE to finish. A marathon is so much harder in that with every single step, you have to choose to keep going. It would be so easy to sit down and say forget it. Except for you people. I knew I couldn’t come back here and blog about how I quit. I couldn’t tweet that I stopped. Or update my Facebook status with “DNF – Did Not Finish”. Damn you all.
There was a guy dressed like Pikachu (yes, men were allowed to run) with his girlfriend/wife/whatever. I had seen them around Lake Merced and they had both said words of encouragement to me. Like often happens in a race, you pass someone, they pass you, you go back and forth for a while. Along Great Highway, they saw me again. And Pikachu ran with me a bit. He talked with me, encouraged me. Honestly, I am tearing up a bit as I write this. He was in no way obligated to talk to me or help me. And yet he did. And it really did help. I know I ran just a bit more because he was nice enough to run with me. I have no idea who he is, but I’m so grateful.
I’m also grateful to many of the Team In Training coaches who asked me how I was doing. Or told me “You can do this, you got it”. It really did help. And I really did need it. As i passed by one of the last Red Cross tents, I had to look away. I was afraid I would stop and go in if I made eye contact. I was that miserable.
However, I didn’t go in. And I ran across that finish line. With the rain pouring down and tears streaming down my face, I crossed that finish line.