As I’ve contemplated this blog post over the past 48 hours, I’m struggling to keep it from being an excuse-laden dissertation on the 5,876 reasons why 2011 was not a good year to run a marathon. The excuse list is long and irrelevant. Let’s just say that training did not go well and my longest training run was a ten miler in August. For the three weeks prior to the race, I had written it off in my mind. We were going to go to San Fran and have a nice family vacation, but no race would be run. This worked until San Fran marathon partner Katie called to discuss trip details and I choked on the words “I’m not running”. The instant stomach ache told me I needed to gut this one out and get this crossed off the list. Yes those giant hills on the course map hanging in my office were going to hurt.
“A full?” *insert raised eyebrow / frown / look of general amusement*
“Yep. A full.”
By Saturday morning, I was climbing the bathroom walls in a full on panic attack. I barricaded Jason in the bathroom while I was getting ready and drilled him. I needed to do this race. I couldn’t NOT finish another race. I studied the map. I broke out the calculator for some pace calculations (always the numbers nerd!). We hatched the following strategy: 1) no matter what, keep moving 2) run on the downhills 3) pray on the uphills (walk if needed) and 4) do a run 2 minute / walk 1 minute combination for everything in between.
We spent Saturday afternoon on a family bike ride throughout Fisherman’s Wharf, across the Golden Gate Bridge, and through beautiful Sausalito. We climbed some of the very hills that were on the course and although they were difficult (one was steep enough that I walked the bike), it put my mind at ease to see parts of the course. We had the kids on tag-a-long bikes and Rylee’s little cheers as we were pushing uphill of “C’mon Mom, we can DO IT!!” echoed in my head the next day on the same hills. A ten-mile bike ride wasn’t the most relaxing prerace activity, but I’m glad we didn’t pass up the opportunity to see some of San Francisco’s most beautiful sights as a family.
START: 6:45am found Katie and I in a jam-packed Union Square. We separated to our respective pace zones and I joined my 12 minute mile peeps. Just like in Chicago, they are a fun bunch! 22,500 runners – a simultaneous start for the half and full marathons. During the Star Spangled Banner, I discovered yet another cry to add my cry repertoire. Marathon Cry now takes its place next to Parade Cry and Church Cry. The emotion of the moment caught up to me after the first few bars and I stood there with tears streaming down my face for the entire song. The girl next to me leaned over and offered a hug. Awwww… The 12 minuters sure are a great bunch! Despite the lack of an official sunrise, at 7am we were OFF! Dear God get me through this!
MILE 1 was a significant downhill. Not a bad way to start a race! “Don’t trip. Don’t trip” was my mantra as the crowd stampeded downhill. Since we were going downhill, I let the crowd set the pace and was careful to let up on the speed as soon as the elevation required some effort for forward direction.
MILES 2 AND 3 were a flat stretch along the Embarcadero (piers) and waterfront. I settled into my run two minutes / walk a minute routine and was happy to be settling into a good race rhythm.
MILE 3 brought me the first of four visits with Jason and the girls. We yelled out hellos and I love yous and I continued on my way. Rule #1 - Don’t Stop.
MILES 5-10 brought two sharp peaks – a long up followed by a long down and then repeat. Mentally this stretch was the easiest on me and may have set the mood for the race. The ups were difficult, however my strategy to speed walk and pray wasn’t hard to stick to. And then the downs. I could be a running downhill ultra-marathoner! Running has never felt so good! And the views were spectacular. The city, the Bay, the Bridge… (I’m not in these photos, just showing the lovely views!)
MILES 10 – 13 provided a ridiculously brutal four mile climb up. Thankfully the water/Gatorade/provisions stands were plentiful . I entertained myself during this stretch by realizing that I was doing the Grandma Bergeron and CJ Marathon by not missing a single snack stop. A gulp of Gatorade here. Some water there. Energy chews? Don’t mind if I do! Bananas. Oranges. Check and check. I was a true marathoner’s energy management nightmare, however it provided a welcome mental break between speed walking and praying uphill after speed walking and praying uphill chased by yet another speed walking and praying uphill. Additionally in the spirit of removing all potential obstacles to a finish, I’d be damned if I would fail because of dehydration or lack of energy. Control what you can control, right? If nothing else, this girl and eat and drink. I would slow down but never broke the cardinal rule – DON’T STOP MOVING FORWARD. Mile 12 provided another visit from Jason and the girls and there is no better spirit lifter!
HALFWAY – At the near 12 mile point, the half marathoners break off for their finish line. Hyped up on Gatorade and energy chews and oranges and bananas, there was no question in my mind. I was going the distance. To the left. To the left. (No idea who the peeps are in the pictures, I wasn’t going to stop moving to wait for them to move). Surprisingly enough, my first half time was consistent with my Chicago half time and on pace to allow for a finish before course close. I was happy and going the distance.
14 MILES brought about the realization that most of my pace group were half marathon participants and the crowd had thinned remarkably after the previous split. After yet another big climb, the pending 12+ miles started to gnaw at me. It was the perfect time for Jason and the girls to meet me again. There were “Song of the Mile” stands set up throughout the course and how appropriate for the mile 14 song to be a Bain Train Everyone Dance favorite Tonight I’m Loving You. The kids ran with me, I embarrassed them with my dance in the street antics, and I left with wind put back in my sails. Just in time for a two-mile downhill. Did I mention that I totally ROCK at running downhill???
MILE 16 began a three-mile long stretch out along the Pacific Coast Highway. In hindsight, this is where my overall lack of training, discipline, and conditioning took over. Mentally it was brutal as you are going out while the faster runners are returning AND they are less than three short miles from the finish line. Slow poke me still had ten miles ahead. Also, you are running AWAY from the finish line. AND two of the three miles are an annoying long slight climb up. It was flat enough that even I SHOULD have been able to do my jog/walk combination but enough of an up that you feel the climb. It was at this point that I started to realize how jacked my feet were. While I totally rock the downhill run, the pounding did nasty things to my feet. Some hill training would have reminded me of this and conditioned my feet accordingly. Oopsies. Slight burning turned into the unmistakable your-feet-are-f’d feeling of jogging on a water bed. I had a suspicion that looking at my feet in a medic tent would have influenced me to reason my way into withdrawing, so I passed medic tent after medic tent and tried to ignore the sloshing in my shoes.
Here’s a picture of Katie on the PCH stretch to the finish line!
MILE 18 provided some downhill relief as well as the fun realization that I was entering distance that I had never covered before. Funny how that mental milestone gave me some more energy. Or perhaps it was just the downhill. Blisters or no blisters, I love the downhill.
MILE 19 marks the beginning of a four and a half mile loop around Lake Merced. I understood that course regulations required runners to reach Lake Merced by a certain time or they would be removed from the course. Although I would later be proven wrong, I was thrilled to reach Mile 19 in a time that I thought would be sufficient to allow for a finish. I should provide some context around “thrilled”. I was happy to be still on the course. I was still moving forward. And with the exception of two quick potty stops, I hadn’t veered from the “Don’t Stop Moving Forward” rule. But the math was starting to catch up with me. Midway around the Lake Merced loop I started to realize that a regulation finish wasn’t going to be possible. The multiple “If I do x, y, and z” scenarios that would be necessary for an official finish were getting further and further from possibility. The funny thing was that I really didn’t care. Race time has never been too important for me. For years, I had been focused on the 26.2 marker and my strategy started to shift to be more conservative. It weighed heavily on my mind that I didn’t know what my upper limit was. I drank extra water and reduced my running time to almost nil. By this point, speedwalking was much less painful on my blistered feet and about as fast as my gimpy jog. Somewhere along Lake Merced my marathon became a stroll.
MILE 22: Speed caught up to me at Mile 22 when course officials pulled up in a car to let me know that the course was closing and that I would have to be bussed to the Pacific Coast Highway (the end of the Lake Merced loop). As it turns out, you didn’t have to make it TO Lake Merced, but you had to make it all the way AROUND Lake Merced. Crap – this miscue is perhaps my only regret of the race. I wish I had a video of my response. I whipped around and insisted that I WASN’T going to get on a bus and that I was going to finish the course. I was reminded that I wouldn’t get the finishers necklace and I shot back that I didn’t give a rat’s ass (exact quote) about the necklace, I just needed to cover the distance. We’re sorry, but the course is being opened up to traffic and all aid stations will be closed, so for your safety we require you to be off of the Lake Merced loop. I channelled my inner Norwegian and insisted again that I was feeling fine, had a cell phone, and a husband and friends on the course to assist, and that I wouldn’t be taking a bus ride thank you very much. He read me the official refusing aid waiver and I consented and stormed away before the tears started spilling. Somehow Just Do It turned into “OK you nutcase, do it if you must, but please release us from all legal liability in the process”. Whatever. Good thing I Grandma Bergeron and CJ’d my way through the course and didn’t need additional aid stations anyway. For the next mile, no fewer than three shuttle busses loaded with those behind me (YES – THERE were people BEHIND me) stopped to pick me up and each time I waved them on and refused. People in the busses were cheering and waving and giving me the thumbs up signs. I’m still shocked that so many people got to 20+ miles just to get picked up by a bus and driven further up the course for a fake finish.
MILE 23: Around the 23 mile point, Katie’s husband Kyle (who spent the day providing race support by racing around the course on a bike) found me and reported that I was indeed the last person on the course. In a matter of minutes, what had been a vibrant energy filled course literally folded up shop and disappeared. The Song of the Miles guys had shut off the music and were winding cords and loading amps into vans. The water and Gatorade tables were sweeping up cups. The cheer teams were putting on sweatpants and checking text messages. It was incredibly awkward – people avoided eye contact as if they weren’t sure if I knew that the course was closed. I literally was the only participant to be seen for miles. As pathetic as it sounds, in the moment I really didn’t care. The thought of NOT getting to 26.2 was UNTHINKABLE and I was furious that I had to beg to be a finisher. Get on a bus for a few miles to be dumped off for a final jog to the finish line?? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?? Seriously, it is the panic of NOT finishing and having to attempt one of these AGAIN that pushed me right up to that finish line.
MILES 24 – 26.2: As furious as I was, I was exhausted and my feet were in crazy shape. I still had the water bed sensation and was pretty sure that the blister on my left arch burst at mile 20. My slow finish allowed me to give to some thought as to how I wanted the story to end. Clearly, I needed my Garmin to hit 26.2, but I had mixed feelings about getting to the actual race finish line. (A marathon course is measured to the longest possible route – i.e. taking the outside of each turn when in reality you take the inside – so a typical marathon finish is longer than 26.2 miles) My Garmin was running about .35 miles ahead of the official course and I decided that I definitely wanted to stop for a quick picture at that point. Beyond that, I wasn’t sure. I have extreme admiration for the training that it takes to properly prepare for such a race, and clearly although I had covered the distance, it wasn’t going to be an official finish. Additionally, I didn’t need to see the finish line in partial tear down mode. I didn’t care about time, I just wanted to see the distance. At about 25.5 miles, Katie (who had finished in 5 hours – YEA!!) caught up to Kyle and I. At 26.2 we stopped to take a picture of the grand finish. I had made it. I looked up and Jason and the girls were approaching, and it was right there on the Pacific Coast Highway where I declared myself to be done. 26.2 Done. Unofficial time: 6:53. My mission accomplished.
(The course closed at 6:30. I’ve never cared less about 23 minutes in my life!)