Missy and I talked about starting a blog many months before we actually got our act together and set it up. Our intentions were good in the fall, so I wrote about my first marathon experience while it was fresh in my mind. The blog stuff took a little longer than we expected, so this post has sat around for months. I wasn’t going to post it, but just re-reading it brings back so many amazing memories! I know as lottery registration draws near, people will be scouring the internet for reviews of this race again, so here it goes…
The marathon has always been on my “bucket list.” It was one of those “some day” ideas. But then one day, probably somewhere around mile 7-8 during a half marathon, I was offered the opportunity to run the Nike Women’s Marathon. The timing felt right and after some logistical help from family to make it work, I was all of a sudden running a marathon.
Once this started sinking in I realized this course had hills. I train outside of Chicago where we call it a hill if you have to go over a small bridge or overpass. This course would have hills…REAL hills. I set out to find any hills I could find here, including a manmade “garbage hill,” but we were quickly thrown out of there (private property). My training became hills on the treadmill and long runs outside on the flat, but I did not once have the opportunity to put the two elements together. Yay for race day surprises, right?!
So now that you have a little background info, here is my experience.
I LOVE running on the west coast. As long as I race in the first day or two out there my body clock has no time to adapt so waking up at 4am feels like no big deal. I actually woke up before my alarm for this race, took my time getting ready and headed down around 6 a.m. for the 6:30 a.m. start. After a really nervous “head case” sort of week, I felt oddly calm once I arrived in San Francisco (visiting with a good friend I hadn’t seen in years probably helped, too!) and even on race morning waiting in the corrals. It was slightly disconcerting to see bomb squad units and dogs on the street, but I am sensing this may be the new norm in big city racing.
I was off slightly after 6:30 and the first mile was a wonderful, gradual downhill. Like the kind you have to really remind yourself not to FLY down because it is mile 1 and you have 25 more to go. I imagine the first part of the course is scenic down by the Piers and Fisherman’s Warf, but it was dark and foggy when I ran by. The course was sailing along nicely (although I must say that even on this part of the course that was labeled flat, there were a few things that Midwesterners would call hills!) until we got near Golden Gate Park. There started the dreaded hills. I don’t think anything I could have done would have made me fully capable to run up the entirety of some of these hills. I decided to go with a strategy of picking a point to run to and then allowing myself to walk (quickly) to the top to recover and try to make up some time on the downhill. This worked out surprisingly well. However, the hills just kept coming. And coming. And coming. Like my worst running nightmare!
I would have to say that mile 12-14 were my toughest mental miles. Not only are you well into the hill stretch of the race (5-16 are marked as hilly on their course map), but you have to deal with the Half Marathoners splitting off the course. (Just checked and there were slightly over 4000 marathoners and over 26000 half marathoners!!) Your legs are screaming for mercy by this point and then you hear someone yell to you “You’re doing great – almost done!” NOT a fun time. This was the one point in the race that I started to question my ability to finish. My legs felt completely spent and I was hardly halfway done.
I decided to ease off the pace and try to regroup. I think these miles might have even gone better had there been more scenary. These were miles I looked forward to through Golden Gate Park, but the fog had not lifted which negated the wonderful distraction of the views! I was running with my phone as a camera, but I found during these challenging miles that it offered the added benefit of receiving texts from family and close friends. Those words of encouragement really helped me through some moments of wanting to quit.
By the time I made it to mile 16 (and out onto the Great Hwy) my legs were actually feeling better and there was a beautiful site up ahead – FLAT GROUND! It was somewhere around this point that I realized two things:
- I was going to finish. Things were starting to hurt, it was getting hard, but I was absolutely going to finish.
- I had a possibility of finishing in a significantly better time than I had expected.
The latter one of these realizations made me readjust my race goals a bit. I was feeling surprisingly well & going to keep running “hard” and see how far I could go before I crashed. I knew if I crashed I had plenty of time to walk the rest of it & still finish, so I decided to go for it and see what I had. I took a few one minute walk breaks in the high teen miles and then got another “second wind” to fully run until mile 23. I do not think I ever really “hit the wall” or crashed, but my legs didn’t want to move at that point. I had to remind myself to keep fueling exactly how I had done in training. You start to doubt your plan at times out there and overanalyze every little ache or pain. I did a couple miles of walk/run intervals, but got myself moving again at mile 25.
The finish line was one of the most amazing sites in my life. It was so much hard work and sacrifice all coming down to that one moment. I had several people tell (warn?) me that this would be a miserable experience. I would hate it. I would feel awful. But you know what? I felt completely spent, but at the same time I felt AMAZING. My body had actually cooperated for 26.2 miles and even got me to the finish line significantly faster than I had thought possible. I went into this thinking it was a “one and done” sort of deal with marathons. While I am NOT in any hurry to run another and would definitely still say the half is my “distance of choice,” I will likely one day want to see what I can do on a flat course.
In typical Nike Women’s Race fashion, after finishing you receive your little blue Tiffany box from a Bay Area fireman. (I have recently learned this is not even a real fireman. It’s an actor!) I have to say that I love my necklace far more than any finisher medal I have received. If you have a chance to do a Nike Women’s Race, it is worth it just for this. I am not a big jewelry wearer, but I wear this one several days a week. My only “gripe” about the necklace thing is that (I heard) the half marathon finishers get the exact same necklace. I know a half marathon is a huge accomplishment, but I had just run twice that distance! Would have loved for the necklace to somehow say “26.2″ in the design. The only “different” item you get from the half marathoners is the finisher’s t-shirt that says 26.2. As a side note, if you are a back-of-the-pack half marathoner, or a walker, this might be a great race for you. They actually allow the half marathoners to be out there just as long as the marathoners! There were people still finishing their half marathon when I crossed the finish line for the full.
If you have the opportunity to run this race, DO IT! Do not be scared away by the hills. Yes, they are tough (if you are not training in a hilly area), but honestly I think it made it that much more satisfying of an accomplishment. Even if it’s not a likely PR course, I felt that it was a well run event on a beautiful course. The event staff and volunteers were highly organized and helped to make the entire day a memorable experience.
If I run another full marathon I will likely pick a new destination to explore, but I highly recommend this race!
And now, one last picture for those fitbit users out there. Some numbers I don’t see everyday!