Friday, August 27, 2010

San Francisco Marathon - Part 3

Everything starts to fade out for the second half of the race – I am noticing less and less of what is going on around me and can only focus on the rhythm on my feet. Haight street is lined with dread-locked people lazily watching us trickle by. I keep mentally repeating the same phrase:

Walking hurts way worse than continuing to run.

And it’s true. The few times I slowed to a walk, I started to feel the pain in all my joints and muscles and would quickly start shuffling forward again.

I never worry about being unable to finish- what I am concerned with is being unable to finish in time. The limit is 6 hours before they officially start opening up the street and forcing runners to the sidewalks. My goal was a 5 hour finish and I know I am behind schedule. Each refreshment table I pass has fewer and fewer people, runners that have already completed are sitting at cafes drinking beer, cleanup crews are already beginning to work the brooms.

A woman passing me must have seen my worried expression. She pats my shoulder, says “Remember, there’s only one speed. Forward!”, and takes off ahead.

Looking up, the Bay Bridge seems miles away – I tune into my headphones, look up again, and I am passing underneath it. Drums are playing in the distance, friends and relatives are snapping pictures, and I can see the finish line.

There is an elderly man directly in front of me and I think to myself, “If Wife is taking pictures right now, he is going to be in the way, but I can’t go faster or slower or veer at this point.”  Only one speed. Forward.

Crossing the finish line, I slow to a walk and my lower body cramps into a solid block. Eagerly grabbing all the supplies I see, I devour scones and energy drinks. A medal gets placed around my neck and I see Wife on the other side of the barrier. She begins the trip around to my side while I sit on the pavement and think.

The one emotion above everything else is relief. I am happy, but disappointed I didn’t make my time. I am excited but want to fall asleep. Above all I am relieved – that I made it, that all the training wasn’t wasted, that I can tell everyone that knew I was participating that I finished, and that I don’t have to have regret hanging over my head until I am 70.

The most frequent question I am asked is : “Will you do it again?”

Answer: Maybe. I need a break from the time commitment of that type of distance running, and the thought of something with obstacles really intrigues me. Regardless, whatever I decide to next, there’s one thing that I know :

I know I can do it – and that made it all worth it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

San Francisco Marathon - Part 2

In one of my running books it says that one of the most important things to remember, in preparing for race day, is to get a good night’s sleep. It notes immediately after that you probably will not be getting a good night’s sleep because of nerves, excitement and whatever else, so don’t worry about it too much – it happens to everyone.

My sleep is fitful and my dreams are erratic. Ireland, being chased by dogs, riding a trolley car, wandering around airports – a mish-mash of my experiences the past weeks and months. At two o’clock in the morning, I was awoke by a group of girls singing out on the street (incidentally, it was “California Gurls” by Snoop Dogg and Katy Perry. Not exactly what I wanted to be hearing and it’s forever imprinted on my memory now.)

Wakeup time came quickly and I gear up. Feeling strong, we walk toward the start. Slowly but surely we start to intersect others with the same destination. As we approach we see groups of hundreds stretching, slamming a muffin, or waiting for a porta-potty. I kiss Wife and get into the gate – there is definitely a cattle-like feeling to it.

The announcer’s shouts the start and, slowly but surely, the crowd piles through the starting gate. I try to recall words from various books and colleagues explaining that you need to conserve energy:

Run *your* race, not anyone else around you.

If you get to halfway and feel good, hold back; if you get to 15 miles and feel good; hold back; if you get to 18 miles and feel good, still hold back; when you get to 20 miles, you will be tired, then you can start to race.

The Boudin bakery smells fantastic and there are bakers watching us through the huge open windows. I look in and wave, a few bakers smile and wave back.

Familiar tourist attractions pass my peripheral vision : Pier 39, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, the spot where the silver painted guy stands,  the place where I once saw a guy running a three-card-monte game. I am broken out of my reverie by my first hill – it’s a monster.

As the incline steepens, the crowd backs up and some start walking. My legs scream at me , “go! GO! We LOVE this!” and I turn up the speed. Unable to contain the adrenalin inside, I weave in and out of people, huge smile on my face and my lungs starting to burn for the first time of the morning. About 20 minutes later a woman is running beside me and asks, “How are you feeling?”

“Good! How are you doing? You ok?”

“Yeah, I am great, I was in that group of people you passed back on that hill!”

If I wasn’t already red from exertion, I might have blushed. “Yeah, I am sure I’ll be paying for that later.”

“Well, you are looking good! Keep it up!’, and she picks up the pace and leaves me behind.

My iPod mix grabs my attention as a song I purposefully threw in at the last minute begins : Global Deejays “San Francisco”, where the lyrics are simply a reciting of various city names and then a sample from the song “If you’re going to San Francisco”. I listen and think about all the places on the list I have been fortunate enough to visit.

Shortly after, I begin the run across the Golden Gate Bridge – which continues to be the leading suicide destination for bridge jumpers. I see the Crisis Hotline phone which has a sign that reads “There is hope. Make the call.” Underneath the sign, someone had written in Sharpie “Life is good!” and drew a smiley face.

The road is narrow and I try to keep my own pace without bumping into others. I hear someone shout and look up to see my friends that encouraged me to sign up for the race coming the opposite direction – I hold my hand out and they high-five me (I realize at this point that, despite the hills, there is no way I am going to catch and run with them.) There are maybe three miles ahead of me and have a faster pace, so I settle into my own head for the rest of the run.

Finishing the bridge, I wind my way through to Golden Gate Park. People holding signs become more abundant, Harley Davidson riders controlling traffic hold out their hands for high-fives, and, now that it’s past breakfast time, there are actually people wandering around wondering what is going on. I see a sign that appears hastily made that reads, “Holy !@#$, you’re running a marathon! Will you be my daddy?” and wonder what sort of issues would make someone write that. It made me chuckle out of confusion.

Golden Gate Park is the halfway point and the fatigue is taking affect – I am not cramping up but my pace is definitely slowing and people pass me steadily. Slamming down some energy gel, my focus turns to my music as I attempt to tune out the burning in my hamstrings.

Monday, August 23, 2010

San Francisco Marathon - Part 1

Context: This happened in July of 2010.

Encouraged by some friends, and based on my experience in Holland, I signed up in January to run in the San Francisco Marathon. I viewed it as an opportunity to see my birth place in a way that I never had before.

I am not sure at which point between January and July I made the transition to calling myself a “runner”. It might be my tenth time I woke up before the sun rose to get my miles before starting my day. It might be when I recognized the same people along the trail and waved back when they raised their hands to me. It’s most likely when I looked down to realize I was going to lose a toenail – either I was dedicated or crazy -likely both.

There were ups and downs in my training schedule (missing a day, trying to make up for it the following week) and diet (I won’t even go into some of the binges to satisfy some of the strongest cravings I have ever felt.) As the big day approached, I felt ready, but daunted- mostly owing to my strict work schedule that included a lot of travel immediately preceding AND following the race.

The preceding Thursday, I fly out to Richmond, Virginia to participate in a round-table discussion on disaster preparation strategies for a particularly large customer’s environment. After geeking out all day Friday, I fly back to San Francisco and meet Wife at our room at around Midnight.

Saturday, I wake up early despite my wish to sleep (excitement and time zone changes had me bright-eyed at around 7 AM.) We walk to the expo, pick up my bib, and wander back through the city. To satisfy Wife’s hunger, as well as our constant addiction to Irish pubs, we stop in at Johnny Foley’s – where I make the most painful decision of the day : to drink or not to drink. Flashing back to the constant advertising plastered on the side’s of Irish buildings and ask the bartender, “Does Guinness really give you strength? I am supposed to run the San Francisco Marathon tomorrow.”

“Oh absolutely. It is in no way a marketing campaign and will certainly give you strength.”

“Pour me a pint, then.”

Our next stop was another one of our favorite pubs - The Irish Bank (on Bush Street). I order Bangers and Mash for lunch and another pint. The elderly man next to me is from the south of Ireland used to train boxers (he said he was a golden gloves champion, and I believe him.) I said that most runners are “carbo-loading” today, but I am “Irish Loading” which consists of drinking Guinness, eating pub grub, and working myself into an emotional frenzy.

He gets serious and asks “Are you confident in your training?”

“Yeah, I know I can physically do it, I mean I ran most the distance a couple of weeks ago.”

He taps his temple and says, “Then it’s all up here then. If you know you can do it, you need to commit now or not show up – or you’ll regret it for years. How old are you?”

“Thirty five.”

“Well, just remember that, when you are passing mile thirteen, that if you don’t finish now, you will be kicking yourself all the way until you are seventy. You’re at the halfway point in your life and you don’t want to have that on your conscience.”

I stare into my glass, “I’ll remember that.”

He smacks my ribs and say, “You’ve got HEART, lad, leave it all out on the track!”

“I will, sir, thanks for the words, enjoy your visit to San Francisco.”