The events leading up to the marathon were totally amazing. I’ve never been to such a wonderful and inspiring pre-event meal as the Team in Training pasta dinner. The coaches, staff, and mentors dressed like crazy people in green and purple and cheered us all into the convention hall. It was our own kind of Olympic opening ceremony and it absolutely defies description. Then, while noshing on some so-so pasta (everything couldn’t be perfect after all), we were treated to some marvelous speakers, the funniest of whom was John “The Penguin” Bingham. He warned us about some of the stages we’d hit during the run. The most pertinent to my run the following day were the Brain Melt stage (fairly self-explanatory) and the Bite Me stage (more about this later). We had a cancer survivor, who was also running, talk to us about her journey. This, combined with the tear-jerker pamphlets on every table loaded with stories both wonderful and terrible and applauding our part in helping to beat this thing, really drove home the import of what Team in Training does. My finishing the marathon had very little to do with it but the dollars raised towards beating blood cancers means everything. (And for those wondering if their donation was well spent—the answer is yes, and not only because I did indeed finish.)
Given the inspiring nature of the night before, I was a little surprised to find that I was feeling sort of blasé the next morning when I got to the race. Maybe this is because I’m slow enough that I was way, way, way back from the starting line. Maybe this was because I was still too sleepy to be jazzed up (we hit the race corrals at about 5:30am). Since the race didn’t start until 7 (and I didn’t hit the starting line for another 10-15 minutes), I stood around shivering in the cold and chatted with my fellow runners. I also ate my first gel of the day and true to ornery form, despite having been told to do nothing new the morning of the race, I tried a new flavor of gel. Bad choice! Fruit punch gel is officially as gross as lemon/lime Gu. Even better, I had one more of them pinned to my shirt for use later in the race. Yes, I looked like a running-ready bag lady with energy replacement stuff pinned all over my shirt (another thing I hadn’t tested out before the actual run). As a matter of fact, this became a problem later on as the flapping of the gels annoyed me and then several of them broke free and I had to circle back to get them (okay, only 5 yards or so, but still!). To solve my first stupid “shouldn’t have done it without trying it” thing, I ended up stuffing the rest of them, still attached to my shirt, into my shorts. Now I looked like a total nerd with the attractive eggplant purple shirt tucked in and lumps around my midriff (right where I need extra padding, don’t you know) where the gels were. Even better, I later discovered that the safety pins had torn slits in the shirt but I didn’t notice this until after I’d been trying to wrestle extremely warm and runny gels out of my shorts for ingestion every four or so miles. Yum-o. Not!
So aside from starting out very slowly, as we were advised to do (see, I do listen sometimes!), things were cooking along pretty well. I didn’t trip when I peeled off the sweatshirt I’d bought specifically to dump at the race (the piles of discarded clothing at races is mind boggling but at least the local women’s shelter got a lot of good stuff out of the discards). I felt relatively decent trotting down the Embarcadero, even if we could see very little of the wonderful views we were supposedly passing. I’m not great at looking up from the pavement when I run anyway but I did try to take my cousin’s advice to see the sights and was immediately sorry I had. Ahead of me I could see mile 6 looming. And I do mean looming. There was a huge snaking river of people flowing slowly up the largest hill I’d ever contemplated running. Now I had looked at this beast on the elevation map of the race so I knew it went on for a good mile plus. What I didn’t realize was just how steep something that goes from practically sea level to over 200 feet in that distance really is. And running towards it was not giving me any warm fuzzies. I got about half-way up it and decided that running the whole thing was ludicrous so promptly started walking, at which point, I am sorry to say, coach B. saw me, jogged out, and joined me to keep me running. Yes, I was guilted into running but I got my own back. I had obviously hit an early Bite Me stage like we’d heard about the night before. This is where you are completely irrational and nasty, even to your best friend in the world. So when B. told me I was doing great and asked how I was feeling, I f-bombed him. Yup. My charming and smiling (I kid you not, I was actually smiling as I gritted this out) response was “This f---ing sucks.” My mother would be so proud (and she’s probably horrified just reading about it—so no mom, even a creative person couldn’t have come up with a better or more appropriate word at that moment. I promise.). So B. got me back, telling me he wouldn’t lie to me and I was only about half way up. I wasn’t liking him too very much right at that moment. But him running beside me got me through it and I got to be angry instead of crying so I guess that was a good thing. (And apparently while I was the only one from Charlotte who cussed him out, I was small potatoes compared to a woman from another chapter who needed “encouragement” from him as well. Who knew the coaches took so much abuse during the run?)
The next time I felt a Bite Me moment was when I noticed that I was feeling completely irrational hatred towards the half marathoners at mile 11. This was the point where we full marathoners had to plug on out further than they did and then come back and join them again later in the race. I felt even more serious hatred towards these innocent folks when they peeled off the final time towards the finish and I had to turn my back on them and head out towards the farthest point from the finish in the entire race. Not a happy moment.
I eventually got over hating the half folks, or maybe I just forgot they were even around, and concentrated on running the second half of my own appallingly long race. While I was pleased to be finished with the most egregious hill of the race and knew that the second half of the course was about as flat as San Francisco gets, the early hill took its delayed revenge when my thigh muscles started to spasm at about mile 14. Now these muscles had never made a peep during all of my training. They hadn’t made their presence known even on my 20 mile run. So I was completely and totally disheartened to have this happen. And obviously I didn’t have the mental reserves to deal with it since I immediately started to feel sorry for myself that I couldn’t even make it 20 miles in the actual race without having problems. This, my friends, is where things went downhill for me (although not literally). Runners call it bonking or hitting the wall. I just wanted to cry (or quit, but since I can’t read a map, I had no idea where in heaven’s name I was or how to get back to where I wanted to be: my hotel bed). So I soldiered on in a combination of running and walking, reminding myself, way too frequently, “There’s no shame in walking. There’s no shame in walking.” I probably would have walked more but my legs hurt more walking than they did running plus I had just enough pride left that I wanted to run whenever I saw people lining the course. Heaven forbid they think I was a slacker!
I continued this rather sad mental breakdown version of a run/walk while throwing myself a huge pity party as I went along. The conversation in my head (and yes, it was an actual conversation since I was answering myself back) was not pretty. When we came to mile 17 or 18 and we had a long out and back run along Ocean Beach, I gave serious consideration to jumping the berm and heading back towards the finish line with all the people who had already run in my direction, circled Lake Merced, and were now within inches of the finish line (okay maybe not inches, maybe miles, but a lot fewer miles than I was). But then my inner greediness took over and reminded me that if I got caught, no Tiffany finisher’s necklace at the end. So I kept going, albeit in a state of high dudgeon.
The loop out to and around Lake Merced was dead boring. And by that hour of the day, we had to run alongside traffic, which is never the nicest of circumstances. The lake was problematic for me for another reason though too. It was at a point around the lake that I finally needed to hit the bathroom with a desperation bordering on comical. And without a first aid stop in sight, I actually considered popping down into the vegetation bordering the lake. Unfortunately it was very steep there and I figured my thigh muscles not only couldn’t handle a simple squat but that they’d never get me back up the steep-sided incline so I clenched hard and ran until I found a porta-potty nicely labeled “for staff only” at about mile 22. If someone had tried to stop me from using it, I might very well have strangled them (or shat on them). As it was, it was pretty unfit for anyone by the time I finished with it. The bathroom break also let me know which new and unsuspected body part was going to be in agony after the race was over. Suffice it to say that there are certain times each month when running long distances isn’t ideal for a woman’s body, especially if you keep in mind that anything and everything can cause raw rubs when against the body for that length of time. I valiantly decided that I’d forgo the Vaseline on a stick at the following first aid station because I didn’t think the volunteers would have been too impressed to have me jam it down my shorts for relief when most people were putting it on their toes or legs. I mean, what do you do with a stick once it’s been down your shorts? Hand it back to them to dispose of? Probably not. But I will say that that area is not a nice area to have rubbed raw. So while I disagree that running a marathon is like childbirth, some aspects of mine were unfortunately similar.
When I finally emerged from the seemingly endless loop around Merced, I was truly shocked to be coming from the direction I was. Apparently I’d hit Brain Melt, which combined with my natural tendencies towards directional dysfunction, made for an impressive confusion. When I first saw people running the opposite direction from me, I wanted to cry, thinking that I had to go up and back to wherever they were headed. But in the best moment of the whole run, I realized they were behind me and I didn’t have to go there again. Seems small, but seriously, this revelation almost inspired tears of gratitude. So I headed back down the long, flat, boring stretch of Ocean Beach before the finish. It was at this point that I saw Coach B. again, cheerfully jogging against the flow of the race. I put on my most imperious face and motioned him to come and run with me. No, I didn’t motion with one finger or even curse at him at all this time. I just needed company and wasn’t above demanding it. He ran with me for a short bit but after I asked him whose bright idea this marathon idea was anyway, he said he had to go back and check on a walker with a bad knee but that I was almost there. And with that he peeled away. I think he was afraid I was about to go psycho on him again and the injured walker was a ploy to escape me before the four letter words flew.
I was plugged into my iPod and paying zero attention to my surroundings since I’d been abandoned by B. when all of a sudden, I heard my name shouted, almost in my ear. It was my friend C. from Michigan. She’d spotted me as she walked along and finally caught my attention. Her knee was bothering her and she asked if I wanted to walk with her. Oh please don’t throw me in that briar patch! Of course, I immediately agreed and we decided we’d walk the last two full miles then run the final 0.2 mile over the finish line. So we had a rather nice chat and amble for the end of the race with a small burst of very slow jogging at the very end.
As we crossed the line, I didn’t even look at the tuxedo’ed firemen handing out the finisher’s necklaces but made sure to nab my Tiffany box as I dragged on past. Needless to say, I’ve worn the pretty shiny, silver necklace every day since then too. :-) We wandered a bit aimlessly but I managed to collect one of everything they were giving (t-shirt, smoothie, sandwich, apple, Doritos, water, etc.) and did find my way to D., who gallantly helped take off my truly nasty, sweaty socks so I could put my poor, abused feet into flip flops. My friends B. and K. had found us by this time too so they got to see the carnage first hand. How cool that they came out to see me run (and since they were at the finish, I was actually running at that point!) even if I did miss seeing them and the lovely sign they made as I finished. They took some pictures, even of my feet—although the true horror of the toes didn’t appear until the following morning when the foot swelling went down and the enormous blisters popped up. I thought I looked pretty good in the pictures until D. said that I only looked a little haggard in them. Huh! Of course, as a staff photographer himself, D. left quite a bit to be desired as the one time on the course that he managed to take pictures of me, I was at the very back edge of the frame and blurry. He claims it was because of my speed. ::snort:: I’m blaming user error, especially since I’m not racing *out* of the frame but into it. Thank goodness there are other pictures documenting the whole thing!
Immediately following the race, I told D. to tie me to a chair and beat me if I ever agreed to do another one but did say that I’d do one if MM does one in New Zealand. Now that I’ve gotten some distance from it, I think I might have to do another one someday just to prove I can run the whole thing (well, minus the water stops, which I had always planned to walk). I’ll be sure to pick a flatter one though! Oh and as if it matters: my official time was 5:01:07 (with the 5 being hours). I wasn’t very happy with that given how much I know I walked but it’ll do. Thanks to everyone supporting me along the way!