Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The San Francisco Marathon - 2nd Half - 7/25/10

I have one word to describe my performance for this race. Slow. It didn't come as a surprise though that it was my slowest road half marathon to date. I could count the total number of times I'd run on two hands in the past 8 weeks. Granted, one of those was a trail half marathon, but my overuse injuries after the CDA marathon kept getting worse, and I knew my body was telling me I needed a break. As much as it pained me to do so, I knew I had to. I even debated whether I should run this, but about two weeks prior, I had to pass on the Los Gatos half so I was really itching to get out there and race again. Plus, I know if I stand any chance of running Park City in a month that I really need to start upping my mileage again, so on the Sunday prior to the race, I picked back up on my training. A five mile run felt like torture. It's been so incredibly discouraging knowing that I lost so much cardio, and with that, speed. I am essentially starting over yet again.

On Saturday I went to the expo to pick up my racing packet. At this point, I knew I was going to run it, and I knew that meant I would have to take it easy. The place was packed, which I expected given that there were over 25,000 runners from all of the world who had gathered to take part in one of the events the following day. Despite the crowd, I was like a kid in the candy store. Everywhere I looked, everything was dedicated to running. It was at the SF Design Center, and the entire place was filled with all sorts of booths specializing in clothes, health, nutrition, and future races. I left the expo after an hour with 3 new shirts, a water bottle, a couple of headbands, my racing packet, and a whole new level of excitement for the race.

Next up was a trip to lululemon. My good friend Maura was in town for two days last week and I'd met up with her and a coworker, who are both regional managers for lululemon. After her coworker found out that I was running the race on Sunday and that I run quite a bit of races, she asked if I wanted to be a product tester for them. Let's see, free lululemon clothes and all I have to do is wear them and tell you what I think. Yes, please! When I got to the store in Union Square, the store manager was waiting for me. She kept feeding me more and more clothes to try on. I think I tried on possibly every single style of running apparel they had in their store. I would be lying if I didn't say I felt somewhat special. After about an hour, I finally settled on an outfit I was going to test in the race the next day. It was pretty exciting seeing that I was getting close to $175 in merchandise at no cost. I promised to be completely honest with what I thought. I knew this wouldn't be a problem for me being I'm so picky about what I run it. Chafing is a bitch.

I had signed up for the second half marathon partly because I wanted the extra time to sleep in, but mostly because a large part of the first half course follows the path of my typical training runs (minus the GG bridge). I thought it would be fun to run a new route, and I knew there would be larger crowds out along the Haight and through the Mission. I woke up at 6:30a and was fairly dehydrated from going out drinking and dancing the afternoon before. Maybe not the wisest choice on my part, but my beer intake was limited and I wouldn't say I was hungover by any means. Regardless, it's not like it would have been the first race I've run hungover. I immediately started drinking fluids and once again fighting the stomach bug that I picked up from Ecuador that I just can't seem to shake. I also tended to some blisters that had returned now that soccer season has started up again. This time they were blood blisters though, which as I gross as this sounds, I must say, are a little more fun to pop. When I was confident I was ready to go, I called for a cab to take me to the start located at Spreckels Lake in Golden Gate Park.

Each race started in waves based on your estimated finishing time. I was in wave 2 and had a start time of 8:23a. The cab picked me up at 7:15a. I wanted to leave plenty of time given that I wasn't sure how the street closures would affect us. I told the cabbie 36th and Fulton, and I soon learned he must have thought I said 6th and Fulton, because once we hit a street closure in the park, he dropped me off there saying that was as close as we were going to get. Due to the combination of having my head down looking at my phone the entire trip there, not realizing where we were when he dropped me off, and assuming the music I was hearing was coming from the start, I blame myself. I watched the cab drive away as I realized we were near 7th Street. I was thankful I was there over 45 minutes early as I walked the 1.5+ miles to the starting line while convincing myself it was a good warmup. As I walked, I saw all the marathon leaders running up JFK Dr. I also passed the first half marathon finishing line. I remember as I passed it, the finishing clock was right at 2 hours. At that point, I believed that would be about the time I would be coming in and I was a bit jealous that they were all finishing and I hadn't even started yet.

Earlier in the week I had found out that two of my friends, Odi and Montina, were running the race as well. Odi, the first half, and Montina, the second half like myself. As soon as I got to Spreckels Lake, I saw Montina. I've found having someone to talk to pre-race really helps minimize the anxiety, so it was nice to see her. Since it had taken me over 20 minutes to walk to the starting line, I really didn't have a whole lot of time until my wave started. We checked in our bags, and I was a little frazzled, feeling the pressure to get to the start, and I completely forgot my runner's knee band. By the time I realized, it was too late, my bag would have already been buried in the moving van along with all the other black bags from the expo. Montina and I were in different waves, so I left her and went and huddled with all of the other runners in my wave under the portable heating lamps they had provided. It was not warm out, so those were a godsend considering I was only wearing shorts and tank.

In no time the first wave set off, and then shortly after, it was my waves turn. This was the first race I've run where they had pace groups. I saw the 1:50 pace group way out in front of me. Had I been training I would have loved to have had a pace group to run with it and I probably would have joined it, but I knew with my complete lack of running I was nowhere near that anymore. I was OK with that. I'd estimated I would probably finish somewhere between 2:00-2:05. I knew there was a 2 hour pace group but I didn't see it behind me. My goal was to stay in front of it for as long as I could.

The first 6 miles of our course were all throughout Golden Gate Park. Much of it I used to run a few years back when I would train there. We started at Spreckels Lake and headed towards the ocean on JFK Dr. Since we picked up the race with the full marathoners, at our mile 1 marker, there was an aid station with bacon and twizzlers for the full marathoners. I remember smelling that bacon from at least a quarter of a mile away. Even though I don't eat meat, it smelled pretty good. From there we turned on MLK Jr. Dr and headed east before diverting onto Middle Drive where we hit Stow Lake and did a loop around it. We came out of Stow Lake and followed JFK Dr. out of the park to Haight.

The part of the course through Golden Gate Park had a number of people out, and there were even bands playing at regular intervals throughout, but once we hit the Haight, the number of spectators easily doubled. The more races I run, the more I appreciate the spectators. I remember we passed an apartment building in the Haight, and there were 3 hipsters sitting on the steps watching everyone run by. They looked a bit hungover, and I had to laugh when one of the girls called out "You guys don't even look tired. You're all crazy!". I would have to say that running down the middle of Haight Street was probably the highlight of the course for me. I've never run through the Haight and you see it differently when you are running it with thousands of other people. And in true Haight fashion, there were definitely a few occasions where there was some wake and baking going on on the sides of the road.

The longest run I'd done since my last half marathon 4 weeks prior was 5 miles, so it was no surprise that when we turned onto Guerrero near mile 8 that I started to get a little winded. Shortly after they helped to spread out the runners by diverting half onto 15th Street, and half onto 16th like myself. I remember thinking how bizarre it was running in the middle of the street in places I traveled so frequently. We ran passed BART, then passed Franklin Square where I used to play soccer so frequently, and under the 101. My shorts were starting to drive me crazy. I was worried about chafing and I knew I was taking a risk wearing brand new shorts on a long distance run, something I never do. Despite my liberal application of body glide, I was definitely chafing and it was not feeling good. My tank on the other hand was amazing and I'll likely go get one in every color they have. Near mile 8.5, the 2:00 hour pace group passed me. I debated whether to stick with them, but I knew I didn't have enough juice. Instead of torturing myself for the last 4+ miles, I decided to just stick with my pace and finish the race knowing it would be in over 2 hours.

We made our way through Potrero Hill and at mile 10 the lululemon cheer crew was out. Having met a few of them the day before it was nice to see some familiar faces who shouted words of encouragement to me. After doing a few turns here and there, we ended up in the Dogpatch where there was a fantastic DJ spinning some house music. I was thinking that I really wanted to go out dancing to some house music like I used to back in my 20's, and immediately starting remembering my days at 1015 Folsom. From here on we were in the home stretch. Two miles down Terry A. Francois along Mission Bay, around AT&T park, and up The Embarcadero. A path I've followed countless times that I could probably do it blind folded, but none had been as hard as it was then. I ran up alongside a young girl who was running the full who looked like she was struggling. I told her to hang in there because she was almost at the finish, and held back and talked to her for a bit. She was from Philadelphia visiting friends in SF and this was her second marathon. She was commenting on what a hard, but beautiful course it was. I had to agree, it was beautiful despite the overcast weather. Earlier at the start, I had met two girls who were from Kansas City. It was only their second half marathon and they were more than concerned with the hill factor. I told them not to worry, that the hills weren't as crazy as they were probably thinking.

The entire Embarcadero was lined with hundreds of people cheering on their runners. As much as I wanted to walk, which I had for two very short stints previously, there was no way I could do it with all these people watching. So on I ran to the finish line, looking at all the spectators and the signs everyone had made. I'm convinced this is a big part of the reason why I run. There's nothing like coming to the end of a race with so many people around cheering you on. Our bibs had our names on them, so even if they didn't know you, they would cheer you on by name. The finish line was right outside my office. I had watched them setting up Friday at work. I sprinted the last tenth of a mile to the finish line and was so happy it was over. My time sucked. My GPS watch clocked me at 2:07 at 13.1 miles, but I ended up running an additional two tenths of mile longer due to the weaving, and my gun time was 2:09:14. I came in 241st out of 656 runners in my division. I'd like to say I didn't care, but it's really hard coming in at a time 20 minutes slower then your PR. Not to mention that it was the slowest I've ever run a half marathon. At the same time though, it just gave me more motivation to get back to where I was at.

This was the largest race I've ever taken part in. The end of the race was crazy. As we walked through the finishing chutes we were given our medals, posed for pictures, and my favorite part, walked down the snack aisles. There were bottles of water, cytomax, bananas, nuts, scones, chex mix, granola bars, Pirate's Booty, and even jamba juice had people there in banana suits handing out smoothies. I wasn't really hungry but grabbed a few things before heading to grab my bag from sweat check. My body held up pretty well. I felt the runners knee a little, but it wasn't too bad, and my hip flexors were hanging in there. I was very pleased with that.

Odi had run the first half marathon so she had already been shuttled back to The Embarcadero from her finish at GG park. We met up and soon after Montina finished in PR time. I exchanged my race t-shirt, which to my great surprise was an awesome turquoise color, for a different size, and then we headed to the beer garden for some free beer provided by Anchor Steam. From there it was off to Palomino's where a group of us sat on the patio, drinking more beer and eating some grub while watching the last of the runners finish. After that, it was home to take a much needed nap.

This was the first time I'd taken part in the San Francisco Marathon. I thought overall it was a great, well organized event, with lots of spectators, some really good music, a diverse group of runners from all over, and a really fun atmosphere. I will be back next year and perhaps I'll even do the full. It is my city after all.