I did it!
The morning was perfect. Cool, overcast, no wind. My friend Beth and I arrived at the start area in the pre-dawn darkness with plenty of time to spare, thanks to Brian. After waiting for us to gear up and making sure we had everything, Brian gave me a good luck kiss, hugged Beth, and receded into the dark sea of spectators. Beth and I wormed our way towards the front of a crowd of 20,000, and congratulated ourselves on our first victory: not being stuck in the infamous clustermuck at the start line.
We wove steadily through the crowd for the first 2 miles, dutifully holding back our pace. We crested the Fort Mason “bump” with no trouble whatsoever. We high-fived. That put us at the Marina with 3 miles behind us. There I saw my first familiar face from the TNT crowd. Mark, a leukemia survivor and one of our team honorees, smiled handsomely and low-fived me. As we took in a view of the bay, Beth, a sailor, pointed out the calm waters. I gave her a thumbs-up, grateful for the confirmation that we would not have to battle the wind wall that often sweeps through the Marina Green and Crissy Field and stops runners dead in their tracks. Somewhere past mile 4, someone screamed my name. I turned and saw my friend Channie and her family, bundled up in down jackets, jumping excitedly for me. I blew her a kiss. A few minutes later, more shouting. It was our friend Kristen from my neighborhood running store who was running the half. She scooched up to us and gave us pats on the back. A few minutes after that, a TNT teammate who is a faster runner than me pulled up on my right and jocularly asked how I got ahead of her. I said I had no idea, patted her on the back and wished her luck on the run, which she was doing in honor of her dad who passed away from myelodysplasia last year. I felt like I was at a moving party with friends all around me.
Before we knew it, we had a 10K under our belt and were winding our way up the Presidio hill. We got this, we said to each other. At the top, we high-fived for scooting effortlessly up hill number one. I noticed how light and easy it all felt, as though we were on a training run and not running the race itself. But one look around and there was no mistaking this was the Real McCoy — with the cheering voices and ringing cowbells, the “Power Songs” being pumped out of giant magenta-colored speakers, big pink signs that said, “Don’t think, run,” and the army of high school- and college-age volunteers who had more energy than my six-year-old. Beth and I chatted and laughed our way through the curvy and scenic downhill of mile 8. I spotted my friend Mary Jane, a competitive marathoner back in her 20’s, on the sidewalk, and yelled out to her. She waved excitedly then ran up a few blocks to cheer us on again. Amazingly she ended up doing that about 4 times at different spots on the course, and these spots were not close to each other. Beth and I were convinced she had powers of teleportation.
At mile 9, I felt discomfort for the first time, brought on by having to climb our second consecutive big hill in 3 miles. But before I could grumble, I saw a group of men in Pink Panther-like unitards dancing to some disco tunes, cheering us on. They have no idea how much I loved them at that moment. Then came mile 11, downhill towards the ocean. Need I say more?
After that, it was Golden Gate Park. Our territory, Beth said. Two of us plus another running pal have run the length of that park so many times, we could do it in our sleep. The slow incline from the ocean to the DeYoung Museum made my hamstrings a little peeved but we got through it just fine. We saw MJ (again!), Coach Craig from our See Jane Run training, Beth’s girlfriend Stasha, and, at mile 13, my clan. The boys were so excited to see me, one tried to run alongside but ended up tripping, poor guy, and the other scootered along and managed to keep up for a while. At this point, I made my fatal error. I did not fuel up. The last thing I ate was an orange slice at the 8-mile mark, and I had one piece of Clif Blok left, which I tossed into my mouth as an afterthought at mile 15. I had been riding high on all the fun along the way that I did not pay attention to eating. By mile 16, the party all but ended. I saw Coach Gigi for a brief moment as we exited the park and that’s the last I remember of the party.
Around the 16-mile mark, I met “The Wall.” For those who don’t know what that is, this article sums it up nicely (http://bit.ly/dza2qt). For me, it was not just one wall, but many. I was painfully aware of my slow consistent decline every couple miles. It felt like running into a line of giant dominoes, each crash feeling more brutal than the last. My pace slowed until it was 2 minutes per mile slower by the end. Strange thing is, I could have saved myself had I just eaten when others encouraged me to. But the longer I drifted into this infamous sea of fatigue, the more I abhorred the idea of eating anything, particularly if it was sweet. Beth kept asking if I wanted something and I would politely decline. I just wanted to get the race over with. In truth, I desperately wanted to stop and sit down. But given the last 5 months of training and my commitment to everyone who supported me, that was simply not an option.
So from mile 17-23, I plodded along feeling annoyed by everything around me: the rain, the bumpy, cracked asphalt surface of the Great Highway, the wind coming off the ocean and brushing up against my already wet skin, and, in the last couple miles, even my husband’s harmless chatter. Poor guy had stood there waiting for me in the rain at mile 20 as promised, jumping in to run with me as promised, trying to keep my spirits up with lighthearted comments about the girls in front of us who must have been twins, what a scenic run Lake Merced is (I think he’s the only runner in San Francisco who thinks so), and how close we were to the end. But all I could think about was how I had no energy left in my legs (it’s amazing they even moved), how bad I felt for slowing Beth down, how much the bones in my feet hurt, how I didn’t want to talk or listen, and how I just wanted to stop.
At the 24-mile mark, Beth, who had stuck with me through thick and thin since the start, finally took off towards the finish line after getting over the last bump back onto Great Highway. What got me through the last two miles were my husband’s presence (even though I seemed to reject it at the time), Coach Geoff popping up and telling me my stride still looked good and to keep going, and the commitments I made to run mile 25 for Coach Don Womble, a cross-country coach who is battling leukemia and is currently being hospitalized for pneumonia, and mile 26 for Laurie’s mom, who is valiantly fighting against lymphoma at Sloan-Kettering. Given what they are going through right now, this minute, me putting one foot in front of the other was nothing.
My official time was 4:36:04. Not what I had hoped, but I gained a deep respect for the challenges of marathon running and none of it discolors the amazing experience this has all been. The fundraising, the training, even race day itself exceeded my expectation in every way. Post-race, my knees and ankles are really sore (immediately after the race, my feet were too). I am hobbling up and down stairs. My muscles feel fine by comparison and I am not particularly tired. Another couple weeks and I should be back in the saddle. Back to doing what I love and celebrating the runner I’ve become. There, I said it: the runner I’ve become.
Thank you all for being part of an unforgettable experience. And Heather: I’ve got a little blue Tiffany box for you!
Here’s a tally of the hills and bumps we ran. Beth thinks I’m nuts for wanting to do this marathon again. Let’s see if she’s right…
– 70 feet over 0.5 mile, Fort Mason (mile 3-4)
– 295 feet over 1 mile, Presidio hill (mile 6-7)
– 150 feet over 1.5 miles, Clement Street (mile 8-9.5)
– 170 feet over 2 miles, Golden Gate Park (mile 11-13)
– 40 feet over 0.75 mile, Golden Gate Park (mile 14-15)
– 100 feet over 0.75 mile, Lake Merced (mile 18-19)
– 30 feet over 2 miles, Lake Merced (mile 19.5-21.5)
– 70 feet from Lake Merced back to Great Highway (mile 22.5-24)