Running a marathon is sort of like giving birth. The process leading up to the blessed event is fraught with trials and tribulations. The prospective mother suffers anxiety and pain and requires endless preparation and education to get it all right. The process itself requires the skill and flexibility of a contortionist to pull off and all through the process one can’t help but think that maybe a detour to the dentist’s for a root canal would be more fun. And then when it is over we think, “hey – not so bad and look what I got out of it! The next time……”
Last time I ran a marathon (San Diego Rock n’ Roll in 1999) I felt Done with running when it was over (that’s Done with a capital “D”). It took me about 10 days to get up the nerve or gumption or interest to go out and run at all and then I was really just not interested. As I recall I did get back into running after the long hot summer ended and I even remember working up to a 10 mile run but then I just quit. I started swimming some time after that and I really enjoyed the swimming and just decided that I didn’t like running and would not do it anymore. The marathon itself didn’t seem like it was that big of a deal, though.
In 2004 I turned 50 and I decided I wasn’t going over to the other side of The Hill without putting up a good fight and running a marathon seemed like just the right ring to step into. I was going to run the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati in May but oops – I forgot to train. Then I decided that the sensible thing to do would be to run SF since I live in the area. On April 11, long after I had registered and paid the $91 fee I had a start – uh oh! better start training! I got out my old Team in Training calendar, wrote the current dates on top of the old dates and was very relieved when the SF Marathon date landed on the box marked Rock ‘n Roll Marathon! I had started training exactly on time.
With the exception of 1 run, I did this training all by myself. I was the only one paying attention to whether or not I showed up to put in my miles and I was really proud of that. I ran the marathon with a few thousand of somebody’s closest friends but none of mine. Although I didn’t make the time goal I had set for myself I did finish in a very respectable time.
I went out too fast and got in some trouble because of it. I took off with the 5:00 or 5:10 pace wave. My plan had been to try to stick with an 11:15 to 11:30 pace for this first half of the race and then to pick it up for the second half but oh no. Why stick with a plan when you can just wing it and see what happens?? First mile split 10:33 – too fast but I decide that I will naturally slow down when we hit hills so I just keep going at that pace. Second mile 10:19. Dang – still too fast but now we are running through Fisherman’s wharf and the tourists have come out to cheer us on even though it is 6 AM on a Sunday and I’m feeling good. Third mile split 11:10. Ah – finally hit the right pace and it feels pretty good so now I’m warmed up and enjoying myself. Of course I’ve neglected to note that we have just gone up our first hill and it was pretty steep and of course that slowed me down. It’s flat again now and we’re running along the waterfront which is beautiful. Mile 4 10:36. Mile 5 10:50 and we are heading up, up to the Golden Gate Bridge. Mile 6 11:50 and now I’m thinking I really should slow down and pace myself. I’m warm in spite of the dark and the fog and I notice that my head is soaked and think I’m sweating to death but then I notice that the guy in front of me is in nylon pants that are soaked – it is just the fog and we’re all wet. The temperature is perfect, though. I’m not hot and not cold and on I go with the sub 11 minute miles as I continue to guffaw in the face of a well constructed and sensible plan to make it through all 26.2 miles.
They shut down 1/2 the lanes on the Golden Gate Bridge to accommodate the runners which was very fun. Cars using the other half honked their horns in encouragement (at least I prefer to think that is what all the honking was about). The course across the bridge is an out and back so 1/2 the runners lanes are occupied by the fast runners coming back the other way. I envy them their speed. My side gets to the scenic vista point (not that scenic in the thick fog) and heads back the other way. Half way back there are almost no people coming the other direction so I know I’m pretty far back in the race but that’s okay. Off the bridge and its up, up, up for 2 loong painful miles. I decide to keep running and not walk. Finally we hit a steep downhill and there is euphoria in the air! I run mile 11 in 9:53 and I know I will pay for this but still I’m thinking that I’ll just slow down naturally and so it’s good that I’m making speed now. How prescient of me.. ha ha ha.
On into Golden Gate Park, past the bison (I wave at them!) and on I go. The first 1/2 Marathon runners are all excited that they are almost done and I’m happy to hit the 1/2 but something is happening – my left butt cheek is getting tight and sore – really sore. I make a porta-potty stop and take a little stretch but it still hurts. Crap! I haven’t even hit the proverbial “wall” at 20 miles and I’m sore and now I’m worried. “Buck up, you sissy and keep running!”, I tell myself and somehow manage to get my pace back to 10:44 for mile 14 but then I start to lose it. I cannot run UP another hill and yet there are plenty left to negotiate. This is when I totally puss out and start walking the hills. Mile 15 – 18 all 12:00 and over. I keep going on the strength of knowing that Sharffenburger, a local gourmet chocolate company will be handing out chocolate at the 18.75 mile mark. I’ve had a vision since I learned about the “wall of chocolate” that consuming these sweet balls of caffeinated sugar will give me a surge of power and I will pick up my pace and just fly through the last part of the marathon. Oh – such a dreamer!!! I get there and they hand out a Dixie cup with 3 little chocolate balls in it. I take 2 cups but it’s hard to swallow the chocolate and my stomach isn’t all that appreciative. Crap – whatever… just keep running, girl!
Finally we get out of the park and get to run through the Haight, a place that still capitalizes on the Summer of Love and is filled with hippie shops and lots of people cheering. There is a guy in a 2nd story window waving a red T-shirt and yelling “Thank you, good job, we’re all AWAKE NOW! I worked late last night” over and over. To him I say put some cotton in your ears and go back to bed, jackass! The best part about this section of the run is that it goes DOWNHILL! People are yelling “It’s all downhill now” which is what I also thought so I’m happy and I feel like I can run the rest of the race. Mile 21 – 11:22, mile 22 11:38 but now my left leg and glute are really killing me and my feet hurt. Out of the Haight and through the Mission and then into the industrial backwaters of Potrero hill and you guessed it – hills. I still need to walk the hills. In fact, I can’t really run for very long at all. I walk, jog, and run the last 4 miles as I have given up on making a 5 hour finish and I am in quite a lot of pain. Someone in a 5:20 pace shirt shoots by me and really kills any ability I had to make a 5 hour time. (It turns out this person is well ahead of plan and really shouldn’t have done that – grrr). I try to pep-talk myself into just running as walking doesn’t really feel that much better than running but I ‘m out of gas and hell, I’m no Lance Armstrong. If it really hurts I’m likely to give it up and try something else. I can only run for a couple hundred yards at a time and then I have to walk. I see a dentist’s office and engage in random musings about the comfort of the chair and the relative benefits of having a root canal but no… I must keep moving forward. My trusty Garmin Forerunner 201 says those last few miles were 14+ minutes and I believe it. Onward I go, looking forward to the 26 mile mark so I can run the rest of the way in and run I do. The last mile is round the back of PacBell Park and along the water which is very nice and when I get to the 26 mile marker I run, run, run to get Done, Done, Done!
My daughter is waiting for me at the finish line with gold pom poms but she isn’t shaking them and I miss her and she misses me. I get my HUGE freakin’ medal (with little pads on one side so you can use it as a coster) and my myalr blankie and ask someone if I can use her cell phone to call little Pookie (my daughter) so we can connect. I must say, people were ever so nice with the cell phones which was good because I didn’t take mine with me. I call Pookie who says she is right in front of the finish line. I try to walk back there to find her but I am on the wrong side of the road and I have to walk on COBBLESTONES and my ass and my leg hurt soooo much – I am dying. Finally I go into the Red Cross tent for ice, borrow yet another cell phone and call her. As we are going through our “Where are you?” “Where are YOU?” routine she says, “I’m looking at you right now!” I sit on the bag of ice and it feels sooo good! Pookie comes in pom poms blazing, all dressed in black like a Black Angel and I am so glad to see her and have someone to share my triumph with! I was sorry I had missed her coming across the line but I was so very glad to be finished.
Monday I was a hurting unit but today I feel pretty good. My thighs are a little sore but I am planning on swimming tomorrow and then going for a short run on Thursday. I can hardly wait to put my running shoes on and hit the road. I’m not exactly sure what the difference between my experience in 1999 and now is but I think it has to do with effort. I took longer to run this marathon but worked harder at it and I cared more about the results. I went beyond ‘just finishing’ and started to think about performance even though I’m not a performance athlete by any stretch of the imagination. Or maybe not. Maybe it is age which oddly enough has brought new found faith in myself. I don’t know. I just know that for my next marathon I’m sticking with the plan!