It’s no surprise, really. I’m still terrible at finding the time to write posts. And while I have the hope that I will catch up one of these days, frankly, the number of half-written posts sitting in my draft box from race reports or things I found interesting or informative to write about is now staggering. Luckily, the strategy I employed for my recent marathon motivated me to find the time to write and so, for better or worse, here I am.
*Apologies in advance for this turning into a novel because of recounting every mile. Also, please forgive my lack of a writer’s flow and indulging my incessant need to instead keep it organized. (I’m a true Virgo and I really just can’t help it)
For every person that asked me post-race how the marathon was, my first word was consistent: SOGGY. Next came the asterisk remark of “but it went better than expected and I’m happy that I got out there and tried.” It was not shocking to me that everyone (especially my mom) questioned not only whether I was still going to run the marathon given the weather forecast for the day, but also my sanity when I answered, “Yes, of course I’m still running.”
My plan: if I made it through the San Francisco half marathon in July without aggravating a calf strain I’d nursed since the Big Sur marathon in April, to start in earnest immediately after and to train for a PR.
The reality: Fall quarter at work turned out to be very busy and, combined with looming life changes, training took a bit of a back seat and got off to a late start. I toyed with the idea of dropping the race, but I didn’t run it in 2011 because of a healing ankle injury and I was really looking forward to running it this year. So, with a now very compact training schedule, I focused a lot on mental training as well since we all know that it’s just as much, if not more so, a factor in marathon success. THEN, on a long run, I came up with an idea that made me want to toe the line even more and that I also thought would keep me motivated from that moment until race day. With that, I was recommitted.
With the exception of my last long run, which was extremely tough (hello, mental training!), the rest were strong and went really well. So well, in fact, that I started to worry that I was peaking too soon. I had already thrown away any “A” goals, so I had less pressure on myself and decided to not worry about it. Just finish, upright, with a smile. That was my new goal.
I slept fantastic on Friday — the all important night of pre-race sleep. This rarely happens for me, so I counted it as a good sign. After dropping my son at my Mom’s house for a sleepover on the way to Sacramento, I made my way up to the expo.
Sitting in traffic I realized that I’d forgotten a couple of key items, but also knew I could replace them at the expo. Bullet dodged, but somehow that also kicked in some race nerves. Fortunately they were nowhere to be found once I met up with everyone at dinner and started having some fun (that glass of wine didn’t hurt either). I was lucky enough to meet a whole group of twitter friends in real life for the first time and catch up with some old ones. The food was great, the company even better and it was just what I needed to relax before heading to the hotel to get settled.
Layla and I were sharing a hotel room so, after dinner, we headed off to check in and settled down. New friend Desiree was staying in the same hotel, so we all chatted for quite a bit before deciding it was time to try and sleep. The key word there was TRY. Layla and I were not the least bit tired, so we chatted some more and then got sucked into twitter banter that had us laughing ourselves to sleep. It was a fitful night of sleep for me, and definitely not enough rest, but I’d run marathons on less so I sucked it up and got myself out the door at 4:45 am to find this:
Making it to the start line was an adventure in itself. The rain and winds were atrocious, yet I stayed optimistic. I kept telling Layla, “We have plenty of time before the start, this could all very well die down.” And I honestly believed it might. (Optimistic is one thing — delusional is another.) It never did let up and we were basically standing in a storm at the start line. I wondered out loud to Layla “how many racers or volunteers do you think won’t show today?” — and I certainly wouldn’t have blamed them for staying dry indoors. Many, many times we looked at each other and asked, “WHAT are we doing??? We must be crazy…” By the time we made one last bathroom stop, bag checked and made it to the start line, we only had minutes to go and I was anxious to get moving so that I could warm up and feel my hands again.
Honestly, in my opinion, the course itself is not very pretty. Maybe I’m spoiled by being able to run in Marin and San Francisco almost exclusively, but I felt like I was seeing the same thing over and over again during the first 21-ish miles. There were small areas that I enjoyed but, otherwise, the streets looked alike, the intersections gave me deja vu and if it weren’t for all the people moving in the same direction and the mile markers changing, I’d have worried that I was running in circles. However… the support was fantastic and that definitely made up for it. From the volunteers at the many aid stations (there was even one at mile 25) to the friends/families/neighbors/dogs (bless you all) that were out cheering — especially considering the conditions — it was definitely in my top three for support and spectators. Add the rolling hills/net downhill that was easier on my legs to the fantastic organization of the race and I can certainly see why this race is a favorite among runners. In fact, I’m already looking forward to going back next year to see what I can do on a (hopefully) dry course.
I mentioned having hatched a plan to keep me motivated in the weeks before and through out the race… It turned into my sole reason for being there and it made this a memorable marathon for me. It went something like this:
All the miles were claimed come race morning and although I had the names/miles memorized, I also kept a backup list in a ziplock bag in my hydration belt should my memory fail me mid-race.
And so, here are my mile recaps for the people who claimed each one:
Quick preview: Although I had a wide variety of emotions over the miles, my overwhelming feeling was gratitude. I expected that running each mile for someone would help to distract me, but I wasn’t expecting it to cause me to focus so intently on who the person was to me and what impact they’ve had in my life.
(Although I typically take photos along the course, because of the downpour I didn’t dare take out my phone for photos. I know, you’re terribly disapponted ;-) )
Mile 1: I kept this mile for myself so I could get focused and mentally prepare for the miles ahead. I also took that time to briefly chat with Layla before we inevitably lost each other in the sea of runners. I felt really good and told myself that, barring hypothermia, as long as I was moving forward then all was well. I would eventually make it to the finish line and that was my only goal today. I relaxed and got excited about what the next 25+ miles had in store. However, as the first mile came to an end I had a moment of panic. I saw the mile one marker and thought that all the miles and names on my list were off by one. The next person had mile two and the marker said one! Oh, right… This is technically the second mile but I haven’t actually hit mile two yet. Whew! Mid-run thinking can quickly become confusing.
Mile 2: Peggie — I smiled immediately when I thought of you. I thought about how our relationship has grown over the years and I love that I feel like I have a friendship with you outside of my dad. I recalled your visit in 2002 when we went to Ocean Beach with my dad to watch the sunset.
Mile 3: Layne — Ok, I’ll admit, I started to cry during this mile. My initial thought was, “My sweet, sweet boy…” And that was enough to start the tears. I immediately focused on how much I love him, my deep desire for him to be genuinely happy under any circumstance, everything I’ve had to shield him from and how hard I work to teach him how to be a good person in this world. It was a lot for one mile.
Mile 4: Dennis — Luckily, mile four brought laughter as my first thoughts were, “Dennis you crazy MF” :) I thought about how absolutely insane you are for all your running adventures — the Tahoe Triple only being the most recent proof. But in that insanity I also find inspiration. I remembered the Oakland marathon and how much fun our brunch banter was.
Mile 5: Alex M. — You wanted the mile where I find my stride and felt invincible. This was my guess and, maybe it was because I projected that onto this mile, but this is where it happened. I thought a lot about how quickly seven years have passed, and how grateful I am that we’ve always reached out again and picked up where we left off. I remembered hiking the Sutro ruins and exploring the city when you first moved here. And I spent much of your mile appreciating that you always remind me of and bringing me back to the artistic side of myself.
Mile 6: My Mom — In one mile, much of my life flashed before my eyes and it all came back to one thing: you have never faltered. And because of the support, encouragement and belief you’ve shown me over the years, I know exactly how to now give that to Layne. That is a gift beyond words.
Mile 7: Jimmie — First thought: “Oh. Boy.” You have been the source of not just some of my best nights, but also some of my roughest hangovers :) I laughed thinking about your pop culture knowledge and how it rivals my own. You’ve always been a good friend to me and I appreciate that you always look out for me.
~ At this point I’m just over 25% of the way there and have run from Folsom through Orangevale and entered Citrus Heights — and realize that I never looked at the course map and had no idea how many cities we’d pass through or what I was in for on this course.
Mile 8: My first Dad — Since he passed away many years ago, I chose this mile for him. I reflected back to all of the simple times we shared. All the days on the sailboat, the nights of eating pizza and watching the same movies over and over. I remembered the moment you let me hold your “real” camera for the first time and how I fell in love with photography on that first frame I shot.
~ This was also the mile where it became undeniable that my shoes (and most of me, despite my trusty garbage bag) were soaked. EW.
Mile 9: Marisa — Your resolve and compassion are the first things to come to mind. So I wasn’t at all surprised that you chose the mile you equate with one of the hardest miles in the Nike half marathon. I came across a woman running in spirit of her sick son and focused on the picture pinned to her back for a bit. I shared your mile with them knowing that you wouldn’t mind :)
Mile 10: Oscar — The first double digit mile is a great time in a race to have a sense of peace, ease and support come over me. That is what you bring to our family and I feel so blessed to have you in our lives. I also thought about your relationship with Layne and how fun it has been to watch you two get to know each other.
~ I couldn’t believe it, but I was still wearing the garbage bag. I began to consider ditching it, but it still seemed to be keeping heat in and at least some water out, so I decided to keep it for the time being.
Mile 11: Kim — I passed through Old Town Fair Oaks on this mile and at the end of a long line of spectators, there was a group of girls jumping around cheering. I couldn’t help but laugh and see you in them. They held your same fun-loving energy and it made me feel like you were there.
Mile 12: The Perry Family — If it were not for Shelley talking me into trying a full marathon, I might never, ever, have run much more than 12 miles. I thought about your expanding family and, because of how strong, generous and loving you all are, how fitting it is that you are adopting. I shared part of your mile with a blind runner I ran next to for a stretch and felt so grateful for you having lead me into what has become one of the most challenging and rewarding things in my life.
Mile 13: Don, aka my second Dad :) — It was so appropriate to hear Hindu music playing for your last half mile. I reflected on that pivotal afternoon on Noe Street ten years ago and it brought me back, as always, to what a true example you are and how fortunate I am to have you as a dad. You have held me up and kept me encouraged during my darkest times. And you have celebrated with me during the brightest.
~ I was told by a handful of people that the first half of the race was hilly but the second was flat. Naturally I expected flat and fast from here on out but, alas, it wasn’t true — a mental game I was not prepared to play and so every hill after was met with a little disappointment. This is also where I finally ripped off the garbage bag but then carried it for two miles looking for a trash can because I couldn’t bear to throw it on the ground.
Mile 14: Chachi! — I wish I had met Chachi. Alyssa (his cat mom) was running CIM in his memory and I focused on the picture she had shown me. His eyes were so soulful and he looked like he’d already lived five lifetimes. I thought about how much she loves him and how lucky they were to have chosen each other and have 14 years together.
Mile 15: Alex A. — I remembered meeting and how unlikely it seemed at the time that we’d ever talk again :) Really, it turned out to be perfect timing for you to enter my life and I am so grateful to now have you as a best friend. I find comfort in knowing that, no matter what, we’ll always be a part of each other’s lives.
~ As I entered the city of Carmichael, I realize that my right calf and ankle are getting angry. I was also approaching a personal milestone. At my first two marathons, I started to have issues beginning at mile 16 which made for a long ten mile home stretch. Even though that hasn’t happened in my last four marathons, I always breathe a sigh of relief to get past it in one piece, still feeling good.
Mile 16: Gabby — The memories of my early 20’s all came back at once! From Friday night skate to Johnny Love’s, to going to your parents restaurant and study sessions, we’ve had so many good times. I hope to be running along side you through mile 16 one of these days :-)
Mile 17: George — Somehow, we bonded immediately :) I wondered how many impromptu coffee chats we’ve had, marveled at how much you’ve been through over the last few years and also at how much you’ve evolved since we met.
Mile 18: Renee — So much went through my head immediately and I didn’t even know where to start on your mile. So I began with rejoicing that there were only single digits left! I thought mostly about coffee at the marina and the afternoon at my dads house. And how happy I am to have met you this year!
~ Somewhere in this mile there was a group of guys in full rain gear cheering and giving high-fives. One of them said to me, “Alright! THERE’S a smiling face!” which made me realize that I was still smiling, despite my calf and feeling like a wet cat.
Mile 19: Vanessa — First thought: “one of these days I WILL, finally, run a race with her.” I thought back to seeing you on the Golden Gate Bridge at SFM in 2011 and how awesome it was to see your face and hear you yell “You’re kicking ass!” That not only made me laugh, but carried me through the next many miles that day. It’s also a moment that I have thought about at every race since then.
Mile 20: Aunt Donna — I scanned through the last ten years and appreciated how close we’ve gotten. I was also missing Uncle John’s rosy cheeks and contagious laugh. I am so grateful for your growing presence in my life .
Mile 21: Max — First it was, “Geez… Ten years and still counting!”. Then I thought back to all the long talks and great moments that I could only have had with you; one of the best being greeting you on the hill at my graduation party. Though I’ve never told you, you’ve been a catalyst for me at times over the years and I hope that in another ten years, I will still have the privilege of calling you a friend.
~ This mile takes us into Sacramento and to the H Street bridge which crosses the American River. It (finally!) flattens out into a pretty 10k home stretch with palm trees and some of the most enthusiastic spectators on the course. Also, the rain has finally stopped and the sun has come out!
Mile 22: Jason — I sighed because it’s been way too long since I’ve seen you. I remembered the fun we had when you were in California and how much I always appreciated your honesty. I also thought about how lucky everyone is at that hospital because you no doubt liven things up and make them smile every day.
Mile 23: “Little Maria” — I was taken back to very early memories of being with you and my mom on the Russian River, and an afternoon when you took me to pick out presents for my parents. I still remember the little bumble bee patch I chose for my dad and how much he loved it. It created a moment early in my life, teaching me that something so small could go so far.
~ One of the residents on this street had their sound system set up outside and I passed by while “Ice, Ice Baby” was playing. I had yet another reason to laugh and smile as I watched a dad and his two kids dance in the street :)
Mile 24: Gysel — At this point in the race, I would’ve given anything for one of your boa hugs :) I recalled our long talks and long hours in the darkroom at SFSU, as well as how privileged I have felt to share many running firsts — from your first race to your first full marathon — with you. I love seeing how far you’ve come and it’s been an awesome reminder for ME to just keep going.
~ Just before coming into downtown, I came across a second blind runner named Shelley Ann. As I passed her and her guide I called out to her, “Nice job, Shelley Ann!” She turned to the direction of my voice and gave me such a genuine, heartfelt “Thank you!” with one of the warmest smiles I’ve ever seen and it moved me. I was only trying to keep her spirits up but she lifted mine as well.
Mile 25: Nana — This was another emotional mile for me and not just because I was in the final stretch. I thought about how much she’s seen and overcome in her life — yet she always smiles, how much I am like her and how close we have always been. She is getting on in her years but I have hope that one day she will see me cross a finish line. This was also my fastest mile of the race (HUH?). “Make her proud” kept going through my mind and, as hard as it is to do while running (it made me feel like I was going to hyperventilate), I cried. At one point I had to put my hands behind my head to catch my breath because I refused to stop running for fear that I’d just breakdown.
~ Towards the end of this mile was one last water stop and someone standing in the middle of the street handing out red vines. Jackpot!
Mile 26: I saved this one for myself as well so that I could enjoy the last mile. Mile 26 is often the most gratifying because you know you’re right there and the spectators are usually going crazy watching their loved ones come in. I had mixed emotions: I couldn’t believe I was at the end of yet another marathon even though I knew all along that I’d fight the conditions to make it there; but I also felt like I had exceeded any expectations I had for the day. I was proud, I was happy, and I was in awe.
The Last .2: Layne — More emotions. It was mixed between knowing that the finish line was literally around the corner and acknowledging that I gave this last .2 to Layne because he always carries me through from training to the finish line. He is a large part of why I do this, even if he doesn’t quite understand that yet. My first marathon began as a new challenge for me, but quickly became another way to show Layne that anything is possible if you want it. I know he was too young to remember being at my first finish, but he does remember being there for one of my toughest races to date — SFM in 2011. It’s the only race I’ve ever considered a DNF and, as I struggled to make my legs do what I wanted, it became ALL about him in those final miles. Knowing that he was there waiting for me, I asked myself if I had a legitimate reason to quit; one that was good enough to look him in the eye and know it was the better choice. I didn’t. And so I kept going, however slowly, one foot in front of the other, so I could see his face when I finished. It remains my sweetest finish yet because all I heard, over all the noise, as I approached the finish line was, “There’s my mommy! That’s my mommy!”. And before I even collected my medal, my dad handed him over the barricade to me so I could hug him. THAT is a moment that we both remember and that he still talks about to this day. That’s what it was all about in those last miles and what it continues to be about for me, even when he’s not there waiting.
For a few minutes I enjoyed the afterglow, the sight of the Capitol and the gigantic Christmas tree. I collected my muddy bag from gear check and then high-tailed it to my car because I was quickly starting to shiver. Once at the hotel, I showered, packed and then Layla and I headed off to meet Chris (another twitter friend I met for the first time) for lunch. It was the perfect ending to the weekend as we three recounted our races (and struggles), laughed (and laughed some more), and talked about what we had coming up next. In an effort to bribe Layla into pacing him at American River 50 in April, Chris bought us lunch. I don’t know how I got lucky in that, maybe it was a goodwill gesture towards her friend since I happen to be there ;-)
The day after:
Other than some mild stiffness (a perk of running slowly?), my only other evidence of the marathon was a swollen ankle. I woke up the next morning looking for my ankle bones in my left foot and panicked a little. I couldn’t fully flex or point my foot, so I walked very slow that day and RICE’d the heck out of it. Thankfully it was significantly better the following day and my ART goddess, Darci, said it was just from overuse and no major injury. Whew!
Three years and seven marathons later, I’ve learned a lot — about distance running, but mostly about myself. Every training run and every race turns into an opportunity for me to learning more about who I am and what I’m capable of. Sometimes I lose sight of the accomplishment of finishing a marathon, but this race made that tangible for me once again. 26.2 miles is a long way to run no matter what and, with so many variables each time, there’s no way to know what will happen between the start and finish lines until I’m out there. Thankfully, this one went better than I could’ve hoped for and I crossed that finish line thinking, “When do I get to do it again?!” I laughed and I cried, I refocused, and I took a few unplanned walk breaks. But most importantly: I kept going, I kept smiling and I never wanted to quit. I can’t think of a better way to close out the year.