For months I pondered, chewed on, wondered about the San Francisco Marathon. I set a big target for this race and it finally arrived. On Sunday, I ran the San Francisco Marathon, my second marathon, and both have come in the last six months.
Here's how I conquered Marathon No. 2.
I'd set the alarm for 4:45 (our usual wake-up time) but beat it by about 20 minutes. I was nervous of course but I managed to sleep through it this time. I got up, got dressed, ate and took my time in doing so. After a bit, I headed out and followed a crowd of marathoners to the start line area.
I was in Wave 7, and since I got to the start right when Wave 1 was starting, I had to wait a little bit. Waves 2 and 3 went off, then 4 and 5 all roughly 10 minutes apart, but I wasn't feeling nervous or anything, just calm. I was right next to the water, close to the Bay Bridge and within throngs of runners. Eventually Wave 6 went off and Wave 7 was up next. After a brief mix-up (the last half of Wave 7 was mistakenly delayed), we were off. It was a little after 6:30, nearly 10 minutes after we were supposed to have left, but it didn't really matter. The prospects of heat were non-existent and even the sun itself seemed more like a rumor than anything.
The first few steps were a blur. There were some docks and piers off to the right and some businesses off to the left. I ran past signs for Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39 and a vast array of restaurants and businesses, but nothing topped Boudin. At Disney's California Adventure, there is a bakery and you can see how bread is made, sourdough bowls, and it's all Boudin products. At a little past 6:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, the sourdough smells wafting past runners on The Embarcadero were mouth-watering and enticing.
I got off The Embarcadero and started to make our way up to the Golden Gate Bridge. Beforehand, this was easily the highlight of the course, the most anticipated part of the race. But I wasn't quite there yet. I was winding through the Marina and through the edge of the Presidio, growing with anticipation for the bridge.
All along, I'd been running at a decent clip. Every mile I ran was under 10 minutes - after five miles I was under 50 minutes. After the second mile, I wondered if I should have slowed down but I figured I'd run at this comfortable pace while I still could.
Finally, we came up to the bridge area and the running path for us runners narrowed quite a bit. It was congested and it made for some slower-than-desired running. That was about the only drawback from the bridge. I was on the Golden Gate Bridge, for crying out loud! It was foggy but not enough to obstruct our views. I was able to see the water and the part of the course we'd just ran through. I had a smile on my face through this portion, and decided then it was a good time to toss my throwaway jacket I'd bought at the expo, a jacket that looked like a lab coat that had kept me very warm throughout the chilly morning.
It was also around this time my phone rang. Mrs. LB had just gotten up and called me. I didn't really feel any envy, with her having just woken up while I was around Mile 7... but she wished me good luck, asked me how I felt and told me she was headed down to the finish line area.
We got off the bridge on the far side, ran around a parking lot and went straight back onto it. I was just amazed that I was running on a national landmark. I mean, you can run past landmarks, like Mt. Rushmore or the Washington Monument but what other landmarks can you actually run on during a race?
Soon enough, the bridge was over and it was back to meandering through unfamiliar territory. Right after the bridge was perhaps the prettiest sight I saw during the race. We were running up a hill in the Presidio area. Off to the right was the ocean and on the hilly land above were houses surrounded by trees. It was a stunning view.
Now, earlier this week, blog buddy Tricia had given me a great tip. She said to break the race up into segments - a 10-mile run, a 10-mile run and a 10K. This worked wonders. I tried not to think about the entire course but rather just wanted to get to 10 miles. Once I hit 10 miles, I focused on getting through the next 10 miles. And then after that, it was just a 10K. I got through the first 10 miles and felt a bit rejuvenated with the start of the second third of my race, Miles 11-20.
I plowed through the course, still feeling good, still getting in miles around or under 10 minutes as the course took us up a long street through a residential area before entering Golden Gate Park. I'd actually run a little inside the park before I realized I was in Golden Gate Park. I was excited because after this park, we'd be around Mile 20, and as it was Mile 12, however, that meant a lot of running.
Golden Gate Park was tough. Quite tough. The half-marathoners that had started with us were split apart so the number of runners thinned out. It was just the marathoners, and it seemed several were already starting to feel the effects of the race. I was trying not to think about my throbbing feet, which had been protesting for about a mile or so.
The scenery was nice enough - the park was quite green and seemed inviting, parts of it anyway. It seemed like a decent place for a run or a bike ride. The most awe-inspiring sight was the Conservatory of Flowers. The colors of the flowers shined in the early-morning haze.
But the course here just kept on going and going and didn't give us marathoners many prospects of exiting it anytime soon. To add insult to injury, we had to run past the 1st Half Marathon finish line. We were at about 17 miles at this point, and all the marathoners trudged past the finish line, with jubilant half-marathoners reveling in their own 13.1 conquest, celebrating their feat and certainly not running. The only ones running now were the full marathoners.
I saw a runner up ahead who was probably in her late 30s. She had written "1st Full" on her left calf, so as I got past her I said "Great job" and gave her a thumbs up. She said "thank you" and the brief exchange gave me a boost. I remember how great it felt at Surf City to have people congratulate me when I wore my bib, and some of those feelings came back.
I had originally thought the 2nd Half Marathon runners would jump in along with the full marathoners but that did not happen until nearly the end of Golden Gate Park. The park had been nice enough but near the end, it seemed to fall apart. The path wasn't as well-kept as the rest of it, there seemed to be less of a welcoming feel to it and there wasn't really much scenery here. All that made me glad to get out of the park when the course finally did.
Worst part about the park, though, was the hills. There were many more hills here than I'd anticipated. It may not have been one giant hill but the inclines, for some reason, seemed to outnumber the declines. It took its toll on me as well - I'd later learn that my pace at the halfway mark was 10:11 per mile but had fallen to 10:30 by Mile 20.
I still had energy. I was on my 10K portion of the race. As I approached Mile 22, though, I wondered where the wall would rear its ugly head. Mrs. LB had been calling me often, checking up on me and giving me a boost each time she did, and I wondered if she would call me when I was at the wall.
I got to about Mile 23.5 and had to stop. I'd been taking walk breaks but this one was different. With almost no warning or no planning, I just stopped and walked. It seemed like a long time. I didn't feel comfortable but I didn't want to start running again, at least my legs didn't want to. But I just had to will my legs to get out there once more, and begrudgingly they complied.
That was my wall. It doesn't sound bad, and it wasn't. I never once asked why I was doing this, or whatever made me think I could run a marathon. In fact, around Mile 18 I pictured myself near the finish line and I started to get a little emotional. I knew that I would finish the race then, well, I knew I would finish the race all along I suppose but at that moment I felt it. Nothing was going to stop me from finishing, so I knew that I would get past whatever obstacles I needed to get past. And all that kept the wall tiny. However, there was one thought that kept going through my mind that helped: "Just get through this and you won't have to do this shit again until March." I might not run another marathon until LA, which is on March 20, 2011.
My legs were starting to scream at about Mile 24. I tried to pick up the pace but it didn't feel like I was going fast at all. We got to AT&T Park, home of the hated Giants, and ran past McCovey Cove. Even though I despise the Giants (go Dodgers) I still was happy with having run there, and pictured what it's like during games when someone hits a home run with the ball sailing into the water.
After the stadium, it was back up to the Bay Bridge and then the finish line. I had been scanning for Mrs. LB, who said she was somewhere between the stadium and the finish. I ran and ran and ran but didn't see her.
I crossed the finish line, and even though I was happy with what I'd done, I had to remember to smile. I had my arms outstretched on my side as I crossed the finish and smiled. I got my medal afterward, a big, hulking medal that will forever be a source of pride. About the only slight drawback was my time. I'd estimated my time to be around 4:45 and was a little disappointed since I was on pace for a better time for the first 10-13 miles of the race. But then I figured my time was still good given the difficulty of the course, and on another course that day I might have finished in under 4:30.
As soon as I stopped running, I felt queasy. Lightheaded almost. I grabbed a water bottle and sucked it down in a few gulps. Then I jammed a banana down my throat along with a smoothie. I posed for a picture and went along my path. I got out of the chutes and made it out to the street and sat down on a chair in front of a booth, but the lady in the booth didn't care and welcomed me. After a while, Mrs. LB found me, in pain, beaten down but proud and happy nevertheless.
I had been in contact with some blog buddies who were also there running either a half marathon or the full marathon, but the only one who I managed to meet was Amanda from Fat Wuz Here. Amanda's an inspiration, having lost more than 70 pounds on her own weight loss journey. This was her second half-marathon of the year and she's only scratching the surface of her own running story.
The only bad thing was that I was pretty ripe and I would at least like to smell good when meeting people, particularly blog buddies. But she didn't seem to mind. We chatted with her and her husband and then continued on to the hotel. I sat for a break and had gotten some texts congratulating me on my time. It seems my time wasn't 4:45 as I'd expected by rather 4:37:51.
And that meant a PR!!!!
That topped an amazing and unforgettable day.