Tuesday, October 21, 2008

San Francisco Women's Marathon Race Report

I awoke at 5 am on Sunday, October 19th to a cold, foggy darkness. Just as predicted, the unusually warm and sunny weather had reverted overnight to typical San Fran chill. Anticipating cold weather, I pulled on my long-sleeved technical top, number 3325 carefully pinned in the center, shorts, gloves, and headband. I strapped on my FuelBelt, with 4 10-ounce bottles containing water+1 scoop of InfinIT each (~125 cals of simple carbs and a low amount of protein+electrolytes). My belt also had a pocket stuffed with a pack (200 cals) of Strawberry CliffBloks and an emergency baggie filled with Thermolytes, Advil, Immodium, GasX, and Tums. It was foggy so I could skip the sunglasses. I probably could skip the visor too but chose to don my Ironman Arizona finisher hat anyway, just for good luck. I poured baby powder into my anti-blister Wright running socks and slipped my feet into my freshly broken in Brooks Adrenaline running shoes, complete with customized orthotics. I forced myself to lace my shoes only once, resisting the urge to tie and re-tie them repeatedly. The first time is always best, I told myself.
By 5:30, I was eating breakfast. Right on schedule. Anticipating my nerves, I had selected several options for breakfast. I knew it would be easier to snack and nibble on several different types of foods with a nervous stomach, rather than force down a large amount of 1 thing. I got down about half of the Instant Maple Brown Sugar oatmeal, most of the lowfat yogurt, several swallows of an Odwalla Mango Tango smoothie, and 1/4 cup of coffee. I felt stuffed. Luckily, that was about 400 cals so I was spot-on. I stretched and then jumped-up-and-down vigorously to stimulate a good pre-race bathroom call. Unfortunately, my stomach overreacted and started spasming. Knowing my finicky stomach all-too-well, I decided to pop 1 Immodium and 1 Tums.
smiling nervously before the start
It was time to line up. It took forever to ride the elevator down to the lobby. The car was packed with women, ready to run. We spilled onto the streets, joining thousands and thousands of women, squishing into position around Union Square. At 6:45, I had to pee again, even though I had gone at least 4x already. Brent looked at me in disbelief and then led me to the Westin in pursuit of a bathroom with a short line. Tons of women were nestled inside the lobby, stretching and staying warm. The bathroom door was locked. Same thing on the 2nd floor. You're kidding me! We headed back to the first floor on the stairs to avoid the elevator wait, only we couldn't get back to the first floor. We were trapped inside some dark, damp alleyway. I was contemplating peeing there when 2 other girls stumbled upon us. "We can't get out!" they exclaimed. Great. I'm going to miss my marathon because I'm trapped inside the stairwell of the Westin. We finally found a door and pushed it open, unsure and not caring whether it was an emergency exit. It wasn't. We found ourselves mysteriously dumped out onto the street. Feeling a little befuddled, I wound my way back towards Union Square.
Don't worry! I still found an empty Port-a-Potty for my final pre-race pee!
By this time I had minutes to spare. I tried pushing my way up to the 10:00 min/mile slot to no avail. I showed other people in the crowd my gray bracelet, confirming that was where I was supposed to be. They looked at me unblinkingly. No one cared. They all had the same problem. Great idea, those bracelets. Worked swell. I realized I was stuck in the 15 min/mile chute. At first I panicked. Then I came to realize it didn't really matter. It was a marathon. I was supposed to start slow. I stripped off my warm-up pants and vest and handed it to Brent, my designated race caddie. He gave me a good-luck kiss and backed away. As the clock counted down, spectators generously made room for us athletes "stuck" on the sidewalk. The airhorn blew and the clock started ticking. Surprisingly, I was pushed forward fairly quickly. As thousands of bodies proceeded down the course, a gush of cold air hit me, making me realize how much we had been buffered by body heat in the chute.
nestled among the masses before the gun goes off

I crossed the timing mat and started running. I had begun my first official marathon. I focused on falling into a gentle rhythm for the first mile. I weaved carefully in-and-out of other runners and walkers, watching my footfalls and conservative with my pace. One woman leaped over me, landing on my foot, nearly tripping herself in the process. She apologized and continued onward. I kept my cool, pretending nothing had happened, eternally grateful that I had not fallen. I was terrified that I would trip and fall over one of the other thousands of pairs of feet on the course, taking myself out of the game. As the course turned onto the Embarcadero at Mile 1, I realized I had to pee again. This wasn't possible! Nasty side effect of the Immodium. Dammit! I veered off to the Port-a-Potties and had a quick go of it. Nope, I wasn't imagining things. I definitely had to pee. Unbe-freakin'-lievable. However, I felt much better afterwards, only adding 1 minute to my time.
The Embarcadero was flat and cool with serene views of the Bay. I was starting to enjoy myself. The miles were flying by. I was running conservatively. Effortlessly. A bit on the slow side but since it was my first marathon, I was trying not to become too obsessed with pace. We headed through Fisherman's Wharf and the tantalizing, warm smell of freshly baked sourdough bread enveloped me. This was juxtaposed sharply with an overpowering smell of fish. Luckily, my stomach was feeling okay; otherwise, I'm sure it would have turned. Then, we passed by Ghirardelli Square, and I was rescued by the sweet, rich aroma of dark chocolate.
The potpourri of scents abruptly ended with a sharp, steep hill, yanking me from my reverie. I tilted slightly forward, and focused on finding a slow running rhythm that didn't tax my breath. My breathing remained slow and even. We headed into the Presidio, and the real climbing began. Long and steep, the road snaked up and up and wound around until it disappeared from sight. I continued my slow, even running rhythm, making sure my breathing remained steady. I didn't realize how hard my legs were working, however. My hip flexors were being put to the test, along with my hamstrings and glutes. At the time, it only felt like a bit of a push. That bit of a push would come back later to bit me in the ass (no pun intended). As I climbed and climbed, my mantra was "What goes up must come down." I repeated this over and over to myself. I focused on staying relaxed and positive. At the top, I drank in the spectacular views of the fog, clinging mystically to the Golden Gate Bridge, and the clusters of San Francisco houses down below, brightly colored against the gray backdrop in a menagerie of colors.

Then, we began our wicked descent. Normally, I love running downhill. Normally, I'm really good at it. Not today. I don't know if it's because I had lost too much quad strength from backing off on the biking. Or because the hills in the marathon were more than I was used to. Maybe the downhills were simply too steep. Regardless, my knees began to ache and my hips cried out in protest as I began the descent. I shuffled from side to side to break up the steep downhill angle. Brent appeared at mile 9, cheering me on. I tried hard not to grimace. I had not expected to be in any pain this early in the game. I tried hard to push mounting thoughts of doubt away.
forcing a smile on the downhill

I reached the breakers by Golden Gate Park and relished in the recovery offered by the flat, straight road. The miles were flying by. I had to work hard on the hills but mentally, the climbs gave my brain something to occupy me with, allowing me to forget about the distance. Even though the hills were sucking the life force from me and draining all strength from my legs, I enjoyed what they did for my mental state of being. Running through Golden Gate Park was wonderful. I gazed at the bison, the tall trees, enveloped in mist, and the delicate orange flowers along the road. The view took my mind off my suffering a bit.
My nutrition was spot-on. I was taking in plenty of InfinIT. The liquid calories settled easily in my stomach in the cool weather. If anything I was ahead of the game. I had planned on drinking 1 bottle every 10K, and 1-2 CliffBloks. By mile 11, I had already downed 2 bottles of InfinIT and consumed 3 CliffBloks, 1/3 of a banana, and a large orange slice. Unfortunately, I was also taking in 1 cup of water at each aid station, as prescribed by my marathon nutrition plan. 1 shot of InfinIT plus 1 cup of water every mile. In the damp, low 50-degree weather, however, this was too much. I was overhydrating. I had to pee. Again. Ugh. I hated stopping because it broke my rhythm. Walking briskly through an aid station to grab a cup of water is one thing. Coming to a complete halt to sit down in a nasty Port-A-Potty is quite another. By mile 12, I couldn't take it anymore. I stopped to pee for the 2nd time.

I was becoming obsessed with my pace. I had spotted the 9:44 min/mile pacer in the Presidio and had delusions of grandeur of staying with him. Of course, I knew this was impossible. I was aiming for a 4:20-4:30 marathon, not a sub-4. But all rationale goes to shit once in race mode. I was trying to catch the pacer. Pretty stupid. After stopping to pee, I tried picking up the pace again. This would have been a suicide mission but luckily, my legs started to ache. This ended up being a blessing in disguise. I popped 1 salt tablet and 1 Advil to dull the screaming pain in my legs. The hills had taken more of a toll than I had anticipated. My legs quieted. I reasoned that if 1 salt tablet was good, 2 must be better, right? Wrong! I popped a 2nd Thermolyte, and my stomach mounted a mutiny to be reckoned with. It began churning, bloating and pouring out acid. It felt like little gremlins were setting off dynamite in my gut. The spasms rose up into my chest. I actually wondered for a moment if I was suffering a heart attack. Great. Now I have to take more crap to compensate for the crap I just took. I knew I couldn't keep going like this. I forced down a Tums and a GasX. I slowed my pace to allow the churning in my stomach to subside. Glancing at my watch, I promised myself if I could just wait it out 5 minutes, just 5, I would feel better. It worked. By mile 14, I had quelled the rebellion. By mile 16, my stomach was my obedient companion once again.

toughing it out at mile 16
My morale, however, was quite another beast. Realizing how much my pace had slowed, I felt the shadows of negativity cloud around me. I'm so slow. I thought I could go faster. This hurts way more than I thought it would. I suck. Why do I do this? Luckily, the thoughts dissipated as quickly as they arose. I pressed onward and tried to go numb. My mind went blank but my legs were screaming in pain. After the stomach-thing, I knew better than to try another Advil. I knew I didn't need salt in this weather as well (I had electrolytes in my InfinIT); salt would also just upset my stomach. I relinquished to have rebellious legs rather than a rebellious gut. It was a trade-off but one I eagerly agreed to. I headed out of Golden Gate Park and turned down the Great Highway. I listened to the gentle roar of the waves crashing on the beach. An icy damp breeze whistling off the ocean cut to my core. The sun refused to penetrate through the gray clouds overhead, and I was cruelly reminded of the typical cold weather San Francisco had brewed up for today. I regretted not having a vest.

one of the "costumes" Brent captured while spectating
Brent came out of nowhere at mile 16 at one of my darkest moments. Mile 16 is my mile 20. Mile 16 is the worst. I have run 16 damn miles. However, I still have 10 more to go. I feel pretty beat up and worn-out but I still have an unfathomable distance to cover. Anticipating this, Brent had strategically placed himself at my low point to faithfully dig me out. He ran next to me for 2 miles. I ranted bitterly about my stomach, my legs, the bumps in the road. "Are the miles getting longer?" I asked. "They should be at this point," he agreed, comforting me slightly. He let me complain and complain. I got it out of my system and fell quiet. Then, he began talking about the costumes he had seen in the race, the other runners he had seen, and the race from his point of view. I listened eagerly. It instantly took my mind off how much pain I was in. By the time I reached mile 18, I was a new woman. I had been rescued valiantly from my funk. He wished me luck and said he would see me at mile 24. Mile 24? Mile 24! That's only 2 miles from the finish, I thought. And I'm almost to mile 19 now. That's only 5 miles away. I can do that, I reasoned. The course broke off and headed towards the zoo and Lake Merced. Okay, I'm going to do a loop around the lake, and I'll see you soon!
reaching the 30K point in renewed spirits
I headed toward the lake in a good frame of mind. I climbed up yet another damn hill and then began the trek of drudgery around the vast lake. I had not realized how large Lake Merced was. "I don't understand," a girl complained worriedly. "We have to run around the whole thing?" Having studied the course map thoroughly and repeatedly, I knew gloomily that we did. I stared unblinkingly at the lake, searching in vain for a road, a bridge, a ferry, a line of evenly placed rocks, anything that might mean the course cut across the lake earlier. No such luck. I blocked it out of my mind and focused on putting one foot in front of the other. Mile 20, where is mile 20? I just kept looking for the next mile marker. Mile 20 came and went. This is where it gets hard, I thought.
I was running slowly now. So slowly. But I was running. I had a good rhythm, and the pain in my legs had subsided to a dull ache. I could do a dull ache. I had relinquished hopes of a speedy marathon. Instead, I had a quiet acceptance of my new-found agonizingly slow pace. At least I was running, I thought. I wasn't in pain, and I had a positive frame of mind. I did a mental check. I was ahead of the game nutrition-wise. I was confident I wasn't going to bonk. My energy levels felt good. I had passed mile 20, and I didn't feel that bad. The worst of it is over, I told myself. Every long race has its low point. In this race, it had occurred at mile 13. Knowing that was as bad as it was going to get bolstered my confidence. I felt blissful, almost euphoric, taking comfort in the fact that it was not going to anywhere near as hard as that GI bout at the halfway point.
Mile 21 passed and a spectator mentioned cheered me on. "Way to get up that hill!" Hill? I hadn't even realized I was climbing. The slope had been gradual but persistent and subtly evil for the past 2 miles. That explained my slow pace. The wicked false flat phenomenon had raised its ugly head yet again! The road curved to the left and was sharply slanted to the side. Maybe it wasn't sharply slanted but at this late stage of the game, it felt unfathomably steep. Stabbing pain shot through my right knee, and I limped a few steps, relieved when the pain subsided. Sharp pain like that would have stopped me dead in my tracks if it had persisted. Just when I thought I could take the tilt no longer, the road straightened out and flattened. I reveled in the straightaway, trying to allow my poor, abused legs recover.
Mile 22 had yet another hill. I couldn't believe it. Someone had sadistically put that hill here on purpose. I just knew it. The course director was probably sipping on a pina colada right, laughing sinisterly. However, I had completed traversing the never-ending Lake Merced. Somehow, I had circled its great impossible expanse. The aid station handed out Ghirardelli chocolates. I love chocolate. I took one greedily. However, there was no way I wanted one now. I think I took one more out of having something to do, to play with, to take my mind off things. I unwrapped and nibbled on a corner. Yuck. Clearly, that wasn't going to work. I stuck it in my FuelBelt for later.
At this point, I had my glorious moment of grandiose confusion. Everyone experiences this moment at some point on a long run. For me, on this course, on this day, it was at mile 22.5. I had finished circling the lake but hadn't realized it yet. All I cared about was getting to the top of that hill. It was the last hill on the course but that realization hadn't yet dawned on me. I saw other runners heading out to the lake as I wound my way back. It was the intersection point. I had been envious of the runners finishing their loop on my way out. Now, I couldn't recognize that the runners on the other side were where I had just come from. I thought it was where I was going. Some sort of unexpected out-and-back? Frantically, I tried to go over the course map again in my head. I had studied it intently, and I didn't remember an extra out-and-back. Had they changed the course on me at the last minute? Would I have to run up another hill? How much longer was this torture to go on? I was suddenly envious of the runners heading the other way, believing they were farther up ahead on the course than I.
All of a sudden, I shot out again on the Great Highway. I was heading downhill towards the final straightaway which led towards the finish line. In a flash, I knew exactly where I was, and I was exuberant. Extremely relieved. I was just where I wanted to be. I passed mile 23. I could run 3 more miles. I was going to finish this thing. I grabbed a final cup of water at the last aid station and some Luna Moons. They were delicious.
mile 26. almost there!
Brent rejoined me at mile 24. I felt great. My legs were numb, and I was in the homestretch. I could see the finish now. 3 more stoplights. "I think I got it from here," I assured him. I passed mile 25 and the excitement within me began to build. 1 more mile, only 1 more mile. I can run 1 more mile. I glanced at my watch. 4:30. I picked up the pace. It hurt but I knew I could run just a little faster for 1 more mile. I wanted to finish in 4:40. Running a 10 minute mile had never been so hard in my life! I felt like I was flying, chugging along at a 4-minute mile, not eking out a 10 minute one. I didn't care. I was happy to be finishing the thing in such good shape. I headed into the chute and ran as hard as I could across the finish line. Such sweet, sweet victory! 4:40:04. I'll take it.
about to cross the finish!
A really HAWT fireman in a tux handed me a Tiffany's box. I unwrapped it and put on the necklace. I haven't taken it off since.

proudly displaying my Tiffany's box
wearing my finisher's necklace

happy to be done, in front of the windmill. Brr! It's cold!

Course Map and Results:
Here are my splits:
5k 0:31:58; 10:17 min/mi
10k 1:03:39; 10:14 min/mi
15k 1:36:33; 10:21 min/mi
13.1 Miles 2:13:12; 10:10 min/mi
25k 2:43:19; 10:30 min/mi
30k 3:17:27; 10:35 min/mi
35k 3:52:04; 10:40 min/mi
40k 4:26:37; 10:43 min/mi
Finish 4:40:04
Pace: 10:41 min/mi avg


Sherry said...

As usual, I enjoyed every word of your race report. So sorry that you had to do a bit of battling with your gut, but at least you were able to get it under control. Congrats on finishing your first 'stand alone' marathon! Do you think you'll tackle another one in the future?

And that Tiffany necklace... totally worth the pain (at least I think)! Where do I sign up for next year??

Congrats again!

Don said...

Congratulations on your race. Way to tough it out!

bunnygirl said...

Good job! I love the pics!

Ordinarylife said...

Awesome race report - and well done on your "first" Marathon!

Diana said...

Big Congrats! I admire anyone who can run those big ones :-) I'm truly inspired.
Nice hunk of jewelry to boot!

Anonymous said...

Hi Rachel. I'm the guy in the pink dress! Congratulations on your first mary and a great race report. Sounds like you really toughed out some painful moments there. kudos to you.

Perhaps we will meet at IM Cal or IM Canada since I'm doing those as well next year! :)

Sara said...

Wow sounds like a tough race but that must make the finish that must sweeter!

Like usual the report was awesome, really felt like I was out there running it with you. Which to be honest will be the closest I ever get to running a marathon!

Marcy said...

YAY chica!!! Awesome job and a killer time considering how hard that course it! WHOOOO HOOOO!! CONGRATS! ;D

Wes said...

I'm glad you had enough life force left to write such a great race report :-) Well done chica!! That is one tough course, and you kicked its butt!!

Chad in the Arizona Desert said...

I didn't realize this was your first marathon. Awesome job! You really kept a consistent effort the whole way. I think if I ate and drank everything that you did I would have been laying on the side of the road at mile 12 waiting for a paramedic.

Get some rest and recover well...and great job!

Steph said...

Nice job and great report! And how cool you got a finisher's necklace? Practical AND swanky!

Leah said...

Congrats! Great race and great report.

RoadBunner said...

Great job! It definitely was a tough course and anyone who did the full marathon deserves a huge congratulations!!

Shan said...

Yeah!! Congrats, and welcome to your OFF SEASON!! :)

triguyjt said...

great race report ..photos...even of the dude in the dress..haha...

glad you tough it out despite the tummy issues...

you are one tough cookie...(whoops sorry about the food reference)!!!

TRi*Tawn said...

What a great race report...I was rooting for you as I read it!

I really like your blog... I used to live in SD, which is where I became addicted to triathlon (I'm now back in Orange County), so I like seeing what triathletes are up to down there!

Dan said...

Great race report, though, we wouldn't expect any less from you, Rachel :-)

Congrats on a completing a tough marathon, and thanks for letting us share in the experience!

Scott Ennis said...

"But all rationale goes to shit once in race mode." LMAO at that statement. So true. My mantra has become: "Stick to the plan!" I actually found myself chanting it at my last tri.
Your blog is awesome. Will return to read more.