Yesterday, I ran in the San Francisco Marathon. What an experience!
But I’ll start telling this story from the beginning, which was the end of 2012. This is when I signed up, marked my calendar and chose a training plan. February 11th was the first of many, many training days.
The training was pretty great. The first week didn’t feel hard, and this probably planted a big seed of confidence early on. The continuing weeks built up in the length of each training run, which in turn means longer duration… and soon enough, I was spending more than an hour running for practice. A few weeks later, it was going to even longer.
Important background detail of things also happening during this time: my BB love had a career change after realizing that some things are more important than others. She was in need of a student to practice teaching a new subject: Yoga. I sometimes became that student, and I’ve really been enjoying Yoga!
In some styles of Yoga, I find it possible to get a slice of something that I can best describe as ” inner enlightenment”; being in certain poses, focusing on my breathing and with my eyes closed, I become aware of things that can only be seen without seeing. Luckily for me, the Yoga that Kelly likes to teach does this for me, and frequently. However, it probably also helps me that I’m in love with this woman, and her smile alone makes me happy.
Anyway, I’ve been able to find that kind of trance-like state of mind during running. It seems that somewhere after 45 minutes of running, my brain finally lets my body be in auto-pilot to regulate my breath and effort, and maintain a decent form… and then BAM, there I am: a clear mind -and probably a creepy smile to all the people that see me run by.
I would often come home and talk to Kelly about all the things I thought about while I ran, with a catchphrase that I thought about myself: “You know… I was thinking… because I was running, right? And when I run, I think, right? ( wait for acknowledgement> So, I was thinking while I was running that…” and then something would come out. Good ideas, things to talk about, different points of view on things we’d already talked about… stuff that was interesting to talk about, and all of that talking would make me feel closer to her.
I started to love running. How could I not, right? It was an outlet of energy, an excuse to eat uncontrollably, a source of blocks to keep building the relationship that I hold dearest, and also time to be alone, outside and even unplugged at times.
I think that a big part of this training program -and probably that of any program- was that it was sort of a snowball and it builds momentum, and also kind of like an athletic version of How To Eat an Elephant. I made the commitment way ahead of time, and the strategy was simple: I would take 4 bites a week, and the last bite would be a big splash.
The last bite was indeed interesting.
I got to the start line with enough time to walk around and shake of the nervousness. I was about 30th in line for the porta-potties with 25 minutes to go, and I decided that the chance to get locked out of my corral was not worth the little pee I had to make.
The Marathon started, and things got going smoothly. Pretty soon I was feeling pretty good! I was sticking to the pace-keeper for a 3:45 finish along with about a hundred other hopefuls, with plenty of time to take in the gorgeous sights as the sun rose.
About 50 minutes into the whole thing, I ran past one of the aid stations, which had a line of 3 already for the porta-potties, and I thought to myself “If I could just pee already, this would all be even better!”. So it was without shame that I pulled over as soon as I saw a suitable tree to hide behind on the side of the rail, and emptied my bladder.
45 seconds later, I was a new man. I joined the human train of sweaty faces huffin’ and puffin’ into the first hills, and aimed to catch the 3:45 leader who was now out of sight.
The course was fun during the first hour, and running on the Golden Gate Bridge was pretty amazing. I enjoyed the view, the privilege of running on the bridge itself (fun fact: it’s the only time of year that this is legally possible!), the cool ocean breeze and the cheers of encouragement from people that drove by. I also really enjoyed the company of so many people that were doing the same as I was. Being one of thousands, felt kind of like a pack, or a herd. Men and women of all ages, sizes, shapes, religion and origins, all doing the same thing.
The first half of the San Francisco marathon is quite scenic. One of the last landmarks before going into Golden Gate Park is Baker Beach, and then something more than just the landscape changes: supporting locals come out. Some hold signs, some blast their stereos and dance on the sidewalk, some poke their head from behind their front door as they sip coffee in their bath robes.
To each and every one of those people being unofficial cheer volunteers: I noticed you, and I appreciate you!
The volunteers of the race were phenomenal. Most of them could be classified as either young kids at the water stations, or some sort of gnarly 50+ year old sportin’ leather and chillin’ next to their Harley which was blocking a street or two. At each water station, there were at least 2 super-enthusiastic volunteers who would go out of their way to make sure no one missed water/gatorade if they needed it. I hope these people were properly recognized with more than a souvenir T-shirt, because they were super-duper-cool.
Back to the running story now: that good feeling faded, and by mile 14 I was starting to feel worrying discomforts in my legs. Then reality sunk in: I hadn’t caught up to the 3:45 leader since that pee behind a tree, and there had been a few more pees behind trees since that, too!
Novice wisdom I’d read and already knew about says that you should make sure to not go too hard at the beginning, to pay no attention to all the endorphins and to slow down. Turns out, that’s kind of hard to do! Also and in retrospect, I wasn’t very good at going slower during training either.
So, in the last 10 miles of the Marathon, I worked on finding exactly where that gear is between “boring slow” and “building heat“. If I could re-do my training, I’d make a bigger conscious effort to run in that gear.
After running through the Haight as I listened to some trance music for motivation, I was in a mostly uncomfortable place. I took walk breaks when coming into water stations, to make sure I’d gulp everything down and stretch out calves and hamstrings.
This strategy got me to mile 23, and that’s when I felt like it was time to do as they say in the vernacular and dig deep. Another fascinating term about this practice that could also apply: HTFU.
I focused on my breath, my form, and put my headphones away. I knew I could run the last 3 miles, and after doing some fuzzy math I figured that I could still make a sub-4 hour finish… If I started going even a bit faster.
Luckily, there were tons of cheer stations along the south-east portion of the course, and they provided enough distraction from my body complaining and wanting to quit.
Quickly reviewing the recent events, I realized I wasn’t really enjoying myself. My inner dialogue became an argument about whether to finish under a time limit or to enjoy the thing that I’d been excited about for weeks.
That discussion came to an abrupt end when the finish line was within sight. It looked like I was going to finish under 4 hours, and that alone gave me a boost to also enjoy every second of that moment that lasted about 3 seconds.
After the finish line, I was quickly wrapped in a cool space blanket, accosted by paparazzi and eating and drinking whatever was within reach. It was probably during this time of of exhaustion, accomplishment and enjoyment of delicious snacks that I managed to do what I’ve just now discovered happened at some point: my activity was deleted from my Garmin GPS wristwatch.
But that’s ok, Garmin. You can’t take my marathon away, because I did it! Sure, I would have loved to see the pretty graphs that show my speed, heart rate and elevation gain over time, I don’t need them.
Yesterday, I ran the San Francisco Marathon.