Starting off with a crazy title for a blog entry—That did happen but, there’s a back story so read ahead, however before you do, please go here and vote it’ll only take 5 seconds.
I ran my 3rd marathon in December where I met a guy after mile 23 who was dancing in almost delirium. We sparked up a conversation, to my ability at the time, and I promised myself that I would work on making a marathon look that easy. I also promised myself that I would refrain from ever “hitting the wall” again. Since then, I had 2 ultra marathon races, 2 marathon training runs and a Ragnar relay. I had been focused, so focused that I was paying attention to nutrition, sleep, exercise, etc… Now, let’s throw all that away and talked about what REALLY happened in San Francisco.
How did I get here?
I texted Joe one morning while I was trying to fill my training calendar.
Me: I’m indecisive about whether or not to do another marathon in between to keep my endurance until NYC after the ultra. 11:43 AM
jomak_ny: San Francisco! 12:38 PM
I was entering 3:50 as my predicted finishing time, since I didn’t want to race it and Joe had entered the same months prior, my credit card was charged—there was no turning back. Joe said that we could all figure out lodging later but his family would be there and a good time would be had. I believed him.
Just like Joe, I’ve been having race vacations. It’s the most fun way for me to enjoy any location by foot. I’ve ran Miami Marathon, Space Coast Marathon, a half in Puerto Rico, a 200-mile relay race from Miami to Key West… now I’ve ran in San Francisco, a city I’ve never been to before.
This marathon, didn’t feel like a marathon but getting to San Francisco did. I sent a facebook message to Miguel (an alum who I actually never hung out with at College). I always admired his work. He lived there. We’ve shared some life stories with each other via the internet before and I wanted the 411 on San Fran (which apparently you never call San Fran). So, this trip was actually a great way to say that I got to know him and I’ll treasure that forever.
He actually had a great deal to do with my decision of going to San Francisco in the first place because the race was pricey and the flight were doubly as pricey. So when I said “So, looking at San Fran Marathon as reason to visit and see how the area is” on March 18th. He said, “Let me if you need a place to crash, I have a guest bedroom and I’m right by the muni & BART.” Yes, I wasn’t even asking! I tried to convince him to run it also, at least the half marathon but he was injured (he promised to look into it for next year—holding him to it).
On April 22, I was confirming that I was definitely going and registered and that no one was in the guestroom.
I flew into San Francisco that Friday (I can never get used to long plane trips over the country with a time change). I had been to the West Coast a few times before (around 4 times in Los Angeles and in Mexico) so that trip wasn’t unfamiliar. However, I’d only seen San Francisco through photos. Most of my classmates also seemed to have settled there in my program: New Media Design from RIT. I’m still surprised why it took this long to entertain a trip there. I was overjoyed when Miguel picked me up—Zip Car style. I was a little sleep deprived having stayed up to pack the night before (and I had been out drinking—more details of this later). He gave me an overview of the city. Again, my very first time hanging with him. However, I’m his self-proclaimed biggest fan on the east coast.
He does these which I find remarkably impressive! Make sure you check out his website.
After we dropped his things off at his apartment, we walked down the street while he gave me a quick rundown of what I needed to know. Then, I was off on my own when he went to work. I had basically been there for an hour and I was already doing handstands in the city and taking the bus to the Expo (wanted to get it out of the way). He was a little worried but trusted that I had cell phone juice, Google maps and cash. I kept assuring him that it was ok. I’m a city gal, I can do it!
A bit longer commute than I anticipated for 2-3 miles by bus, but I made friends along the way when an older man realized that I looked like a runner from what I was wearing and I discussed the upcoming marathon. As an adopted city gal, I decided not to get into details about where I was staying or further discussion of it being my first time in San Francisco. However, I observed how easy it was for random strangers to automatically sit next to each other and get into political discussions under the assumptions that they were both liberals. Almost immediately, I had realized that this city was super liberal (on the bus I was on anyway).
When I got off the bus, I started walking to the location on Google Maps. I wanted to make sure that I had gotten it right. I found a random guy along the way who was looking for the Expo as well and we noticed runners who had gotten their bibs coming towards us. We found stairs that led us down to the expo and I pointed out that I would have to walk back up. I hoped that none of those hills that we encountered would have looked like that—everywhere looked like there were hills.
Anyway, quick stop at the expo, I walked around, charged my phone and went on my way but not before someone else recognized my Dashing Whippets shirt and immediately brought up Kino. Kino’s reputation (Kino’s Fault) proceeds him (a 5 hour turned 3:15 marathon runner who has traveled the world running over 150 marathons / ultras, raising awareness and funding for various charitable causes while encouraging others to do the same). I also ran into a girl who runs happy everything cards, where I purchased a card for my buddy and talked to a woman (who looked at my sketchbook and will be hiring me as an illustrator) whose friends and family were running their first marathons.
Shortly after, I made my way back to Miguel’s job and learned about what his company does. I’m lucky to have had a one-on-one because I had no idea.
The night before
I remembered running the North Face Endurance Challenge 50k with Kat a month ago where she let me know that eats Chinese food for fueling her runs—”powered by rice,” she calls it. I had messaged Miguel days prior when he volunteered to pick me up my normal race fuel (bagels, banana, apple and bananas) and he asked if I needed anything so I asked if there was a Chinese restaurant near by. I was pleased that there was. We ate there and I was a bit nervous about the timing. I hoped that I wasn’t going to bed too late and I had chosen the right meals. I assured myself that it would be ok. The food was delicious and he considered going back.
I also got texts from Joe prior and he mentioned that he had forgotten his running gear and everything in L. A. (He drove to SF). I was really worried. However, he assured me that he had an emergency pair of shoes and he’d make do with everything else. I thought, “Wow, if this were me I’d probably have forgotten everything else BUT my running things.” I was happy that everything got resolved.
In retrospect, I should have gotten up earlier than I had to eat my ritual race breakfast, and shouldn’t have eaten so much. However, I thought that I had enough time getting up at least 3 hours prior. Miguel decided to wake up with me to get me to the start (what a great guy) and to also take the amazing following photos. Instead of catching the MUNI, he ubered and got us really close to the starting at The Embarcadero. I texted Joseph to let him know that I was there. It wasn’t surprising that he was running late. He’s gotta make friends along the way through social media for some reason (well, he was one of the first people to recognize me off Instagram and I’m happy for this).
Miguel and I, in the meantime took in the surrounding even recognizing someone off Instagram whose tattoo I had been checking out. We waited for Joseph who made it just in time for my quick potty stop and we met another guy in line: Andrew. Andrew chatted with Joseph right away because Joe was wearing a Pittsburgh marathon shirt. He was from the area. I said bye to Miguel when Joe and I got in our corral. I asked Andrew what he wanted to do for this run. Since he said he wanted to treat it like a long run, I said that’s perfect and we were going to do the same. We headed off just in time for our wave and I didn’t even think about it… We are just running right? This wasn’t my first marathon.
Only goal: slow, conversation pace and sub4.
Andrew, Joseph and I seemed to have a great pack going. We were cracking jokes and exchanging stories. Joseph was running, trying to hug the corners so he didn’t run more than 26.2 miles (I’m curious if that makes a difference but since I’m used to more than marathon distance I don’t think my body minds and in the end you’d realize maybe I did cover more distance than he had), and he continued making more friends along the course. He called out to a few signs and made some corny jokes along the way. Everyone loved it. It was before 6am only crazy people would be up this early so everyone welcomed the laughs.
I really loved that the run started off this way. It set the mood for everything. Andrew seemed familiar with the course and the areas we were running in so he talked of it and told me that the only hill we had to worry about was the incline at mile 15 that would gradually increase for a few miles. I was happy for the heads up until we reached an early hill and I retorted, is this not a hill to you? At least it wasn’t like the steep climb from the day prior.
I don’t hate hills (in Joe’s blog entry he suggested that I hated them). I’ve learned to tolerate them and I prefer downhill than uphill—everyone has their preference. I like the heads up so I read the course before but I wasn’t sure what to expect at all and that worried me. My constant calculating mind doesn’t allow me to deal well with unpredictable surfaces and matching my effort. However, I save the talking and extra breathing for downhill and flatter surfaces. I do HATE flat surfaces though, I’d take rolling hills over a flat surface any day. There were a few hills heading towards the Golden Gate Bridge but the test was worth it. I had scoped it the day before but running on foot was incredible.
Andrew and I paced along while Joe fell back a bit to chat with a German guy while we were on the bridge. He caught up again and explained what happened: He practiced his German until he ran out of things to say. Such a Joe thing, I also wondered how could anyone hold any sort of rational conversation running the way we were. Nonetheless we continued on looping the course along the bridge. A few moments later I was distracted by someone shouting, “Go! Go! Go!” I wondered what was going on but realized it was some guy screaming at his son. I felt bad because the kid really looked like he was struggling. I hoped that he was signed up for just the half marathon.
On the way back I recognized a fellow Dashing Whippet who was running his first marathon. His goal was sub 4, like Andrew, so we invited him to join our bandwagon. My future goals for half marathons are sub-2 and all marathons sub-4. Having ran ultra distances now, I feel like that’s always an attainable goal for my body. It’s fair and manageable at my current fitness level. I’m fortunate to no longer be in pain. It did take awhile for me to figure out how to run like this an uninjured. Joseph is so fit that he makes everything look easy.
We came to my favourite part when we got to the Presidio. I love descends. They are fun little speedplay if done correctly. Some people try to rush down the hills and end up injuring themselves but in my head they are just flat surfaces on a negative angle. DORK.
Unfortunately, we lost my teammate before half marathon distance so we realized that we couldn’t pace with him. When the checkpoint for the people running the first half (there were two half marathon races occurring sequentially with the marathon and a 52 miler) showed up Joseph joked about it being too late to change our minds about the distance now. We all laughed and as soon as we turned the corner we realized there were porta potties. They both needed to stop and I didn’t want to alert anyone prior but I knew that I would have had to stopped eventually.
Here’s the TMI
So, if you look at our splits for the marathon everything is ran around 8:06-9:30 (which is what I trained at) except at mile 13 where it shows 10:38. We all had to use the bathroom. However, I had to crap. I spent some time looking for the boys, who decided to wait for me across the street, so I blame them for losing a few seconds BUT, I did some superhero relieving stress of my bowels. THAT is all the detail that you need. The GoPro thankfully didn’t capture those moments (well, nothing visible anyway). That was the FIRST time EVER that I’ve had to stop and do a number 2 in the middle of a race. A number 1, sure. Later—my veteran running friends explained that it might’ve been how much I ate prior to running given the amount of time. I did come across an article in Runner’s World where they did mention this was normal for some people during marathons but I thought that would never happen to me if I relieved myself before the race. I should have eaten an hour more ahead of time. This was one (I had more than 1) of the uncomfortable moments in the race. I kept my mouth shut about it (mostly because it’ll make good blogging content). At least my experience wasn’t like CM Punk’s marathon on The Nerdist (there was toilet paper). We all ran the fastest mile after that stop, probably picking up on time or because we were carrying extra weight, who knows. I felt comfortable enough after to keep running.
In this together
We continued on for the rest of the way with me anticipating the hill at mile 15 that Andrew warned me about that didn’t come. When I think about hills, I think about Harlem Hill in Central Park (if you’re familiar with it) x3 at least. With Harlem Hill, I know that once I reach the top, it’s over, I’m used to it, I suck it up. The hills I’ve encountered while running in Bear Mountain were walked up stairmaster-style. I expected that. However, mile 15 was basically a gradual climb. The elevation grew without us really realizing it because we turned corners and of course it became annoying after awhile but it wasn’t a steep climb. I had been psyched out for no reason. We were putting some effort however—even if we all admit this was our easiest marathon (Joe and I). We weren’t talking much around mile 17. That’s usually the time when I’m in autopilot anyway so I accepted it. Which is what Joseph said, “You hear that?” I was puzzled for abit. “That’s the sound of acceptance,” he said this as I saw the same guy with the cool tattoos struggling abit. He had been way ahead of us but somehow we caught up. I called out some encouraging words to him. This is the part that is usually unpredictable in any marathon. I’m determined not to hit walls though. Later we realized that those hills weren’t what we were supposed to be worried about at all. It were the other large rolling ones… that made me hate the descends eventually. We lost Andrew around mile 18 or 19. He was hurting and we didn’t know him really well even if he was keeping up with us. He did look like a strong runner so I figured this wasn’t new to him. However, I knew that the pace that we were running at would be ok for Joseph and I—not used to Andrew’s training regime, we had no idea if he struggled because he hadn’t train consistently like we did or if our pace was too fast.
Joseph had family members who also came along to cheer him on so his sister was at a few stops. She mile 12 and later at mile 22. This was great because even if I was running this marathon, I hadn’t really planned on it so it wasn’t mine. I had came out only because I thought what he was doing was pretty special—running 4 marathons for his 40th year. I had no goals like that. I just hadn’t been to San Francisco and I was there to experience someone else’s day.
Running the last part with heart
My friend Carolyn told me that a marathon should be ran in thirds (I mentioned this in the last post about my 3rd marathon): “Run the first third with your mind, run the 2nd third with your legs and the last with your heart!”
The last few miles are where people usually race. I was getting ready for it. So ready that I saw a GU station, grabbed one and sucked it down immediately. The problem: THERE WAS NO WATER IN SIGHT! WHAT THE F!? Everyone knows that if you’re having GU you need water with it. It’s bad enough that I prefer a certain flavour and I had one that wasn’t it. I assumed that the water station would be near by… nope. So I was screwed for over a mile. I don’t carry water with me when racing a marathon. My throat just kept feeling tighter as my body wished and hoped for water. My discomfort came from overheating and even the residue of the sticky GU on my hands became annoying. I hate this part of running, where will power needs to be kicked in but my mind plays games with me insisting that I need to stop. Why am I running again? Joseph kept trying to give me words of encouragement but I insisted that he just focus because this was his marathon. It also didn’t help that we saw medics and some guy who looked like he fell really badly. Nonetheless, I knew I would finish but mentally I wasn’t able to think multiple things. I was too distracted to be coherent. I wasn’t about to explain what was going on with my body for him to be worried. My stomach feeling awful, stickiness on my hands, sweat pouring on my face, overheating, terrible berry flavour in my mouth… >.< BLAH. Even from the photos you can see that was the moment with the most discomfort.
I suffered more when our up hills and downhills became steeper. Distraction and agonies. My quads were on fire, my stomach hated me, and it was the last third of the marathon—happens. Shrug it off. Joseph tried to encourage me some more but I told him to continue. I would be easier for me to focus on myself running than finishing together. Once again, can’t explain to guys what things are going on with your body. I knew I’d be just behind of him on auto, if he didn’t push me. That’s how humans are naturally in packs so I knew if he didn’t talk I’d just pace him. My ultra training kicked in. Slow and Steady. I just aimed for sub 9s and I knew we’d make it before 4 hours. I was a little upset about the GU incident but that’s why you should have multiple goals for a marathon. I refocused on the most important part: Have fun with it. I already made a mental note to not pick up GU ever again. I had some in my belt so I don’t know why I even reached out for any. I could’ve just waited for a station to have it. Well, no use worrying about what already occurred. When I told Joseph to go, I was happy that I had. It’s so much easier to just focus on your own body alone. I picked up some watermelon from some stranger who was handing it out (I need to stop doing that I swear I’ll stop for beer at a stranger’s station one day also). That helped my body cool down abit.
When I looked at the splits later, I realized that even if my body was fighting with me at that time, I still managed to pike some pace at 6:27 at mile 24 and 6:30 at mile 25. Mile 10 was the last time we went sub-7s so that was pretty interesting (unless you want to blame satellites).
I didn’t know that Joseph was going to compare our times on his blog. However, even if my chip showed 15 seconds after him, our gun times were also 15 seconds apart with him starting before me. I also didn’t hug the corners, so the question is, did I run more? Haha, very puzzling. I didn’t know I was supposed to care about time. Oh well, maybe he had something going with the hugging the corners.
We made it under 4 hours and since he said along the course that he’s relying on me to make sure we are on pace. I felt like I did that! We high-fived each other after I did a kick ass finishing pic! I really wish our running buddy had made it near our finishing time also but we couldn’t find him. He arrived half hour later according to the results page.
Joe’s family came to meet him and I contacted Miguel while I went for our celebratory beer—which was AWFUL. Maybe I had waited too long to have it.
Then I reflected on what happened: I ENJOYED THIS MARATHON. It really might have been euphoric because of my surroundings, company, food, relaxed frame of mind, etc. but I LOVED IT. Let’s totally ignore the stomach problems though.
I’ve learned that:
- I can’t eat so much before the race, if I only have 2 hours from now on, I’ll opt for 1/2 the bagel instead of the full thing (you really don’t need that much to fuel since the rice the night before was going to be used up in less than 24 hours anyway).
- It’s ok to give myself some slack, like having a drink here or there—unless I’m trying to attempt a serious PR.
- Joseph is actually a great pacing partner, and he’s right it’s really about who you run with to do something like this. I did think of what we would have spoke about for 26 miles but it played out exactly like it had been intended. In other races it had been great having him nearby and I’ve seen him become a stronger runner since last fall. Happy Belated Birthday Joe and congrats on 3 out of 4 marathons!
Now, I wonder what NYC will look like. I hope that I have a good pacer and my training leaves me feeling as great.
By the way, I really enjoyed San Francisco. I’m forever indebted with the hospitality of Miguel and I’ll have fond memories of Dolores Park.