The day I'd been waiting for finally arrived. Last Sunday I ran my very first marathon. The journey began in late April when I received an email confirming my success in the Nike Women's Marathon random drawing. Now, seven months and many miles later, I was in San Francisco ready to fulfill my goal.
Checking out the Expo in Union Square
First stop was the "Expotique" in Union Square to pick up my packet and race number. Judging from the number of packet pick up lines dedicated to each event, there were way more people entered in the half marathon than the full. Someone told me out of 20,000 total participants, only about 4,300 were running the full marathon. I was surprised there were so few people attempting the full.
It was a thrill to get my race number!
I was excited to receive my race number. My first marathon bib! It finally seemed real now.
The wall of names on Niketown
The Niketown in downtown San Francisco had a large poster on the outside wall of their store displaying the name of every person registered for the race.
People looking for their name
There was a constant stream of women at the wall searching for their names.
Found my name!
Roger and I searched, and finally found my name near the bottom (the w's are always near the end of the list). I was happy my name was down low, easily accessible for viewing.
There I am!
I thought this was a cool thing for the race organizers to do.
This race is known for giving it's participants great swag. Instead of a finsher's medal, each person receives a Tiffany necklace. The necklaces are placed in little blue boxes, and these boxes are handed out by hunky firemen in tuxes at the finish line.
The starting line on race day
My right knee had been bothering me for a couple of weeks, and I took the last three days before my race completely off of running, hoping it would calm down. I iced my knee every night, and took a daily dose of ibuprofen, but was nervous how my body would hold up on race day. The night before the marathon, I slept poorly, tossing, turning, and fretting about everything. Did I train enough? Would my knee be okay? What would happen after mile 21? After two weeks of tapering, my body felt like a wire pulled tight that needed release.
Finally my alarm beeped. Showtime! After methodically prepping myself, Roger and I headed for Union Square - the starting line!
Approaching the starting line
The streets were closed for many blocks around Union Square. The area was swarming with runners and spectators. I found the corral for my designated pace group. Roger attempted to snap a couple of photos, but it was still dark. Before the start of the race, the runners received words of encouragement from Joan Benoit Samuelson. I was thrilled to hear Joan speak. She was one of my running heroes when I was in high school.
The weather was chilly, and I'd come prepared wearing gloves and a long sleeve t-shirt over my race shirt. I was sure glad to have them while I waited for the marathon to begin.
The gun went off, but it took awhile for my group to move. While waiting to reach the starting line, I chatted with a nice woman from Kentucky. Eighteen minutes later, we finally shuffled under the large yellow banner and crossed the timing mats. I hit my Garmin's "start" button, and the journey began.
Running past Pier 39
After three days of inactivity, it felt good to run! The race started out in the streets of downtown San Francisco. I ran through the financial district, turned onto the Embarcadero, and headed towards Fisherman's Wharf. I was surprised by the number of people who were already walking in the first mile. It didn't appear that some people were truthful about their pace, as there were lots of folks running/walking much slower than me. The sheer volume of slower participants meant I was doing a lot of dodging and weaving through the crowd.
After mile two, I shed my long sleeve shirt and gloves, and left them on the sidewalk. I had purposely bought an inexpensive t-shirt and gloves with the intention of ditching them on the course when I warmed up. The race organizers planned to pick up all the discarded clothing and donate it to charity. I made my donation that day.
Heading past Fisherman's Wharf
Happily, my knee was feeling fine. I was enjoying myself, running past Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf, taking in the sights. We climbed a small hill, and headed towards the Presidio. I heard one young lady trying to motivate her friend by telling her "think of the firemen!" There were also a couple of girls wearing t-shirts that read "we run for little blue boxes." A couple of times, I pulled over to the side of the street to snap a quick photo. I caught a brief glimpse of Roger at the mile 4 cheer zone, and slowed down so he could take a photo.
Golden Gate Bridge
Approaching the Presidio I was treated to a wonderful view of the Golden Gate Bridge. What a thrill! The nerdy engineer in me loves bridges, and the Golden Gate is spectacular. I stopped to take pictures.
I'm near the Golden Gate bridge!
I was attempting to take a self portrait of myself with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. Some nice lady saw me fumbling with my camera and offered to snap a couple of photos. Thank you kind person!
The beneficiary of the Nike Women's Marathon is the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The Team in Training is a big supporter of this cause. I saw tons of purple shirts amongst the racers. Many of the shirts had heartwarming messages, or names of people the runners were supporting. Very inspirational! The Team in Training had spectators spread out over the entire course. They mostly cheered for the Team in Training runners, but I got enjoyment and motivation from them too (even if they weren't cheering for me).
My first view of the ocean
Approaching the Presidio, the course hit its first major hill. A large number of people stopped and walked. It was frustrating as none of the walkers moved to the side, so the runners could pass. It became a game of "weave through the herd." I didn't have much time to dwell on the hill, I was too busy dodging walkers. The good news is it made the hill climb pass quickly!
After the big hill, I followed the runners through the streets and the beautiful homes of the Presidio. Lots of spectators lined the course, cheering the runners. An aid station at mile 8 was handing out yummy orange slices. But you had to watch where you stepped - the street was slippery with the discarded orange rinds.
After four miles of ups and downs, I came around a bend and there was the ocean! What a wonderful view! The runners started down a long descent towards Golden Gate Park. About this time, I started to feel wind and a couple of raindrops.
After mile 12, it was just us marathoners
Mile 11, sponsored by Safeway, was called the "Express Lane." There were lots of inspirational banners, tons of people cheering, Luna bar samples, and a video camera and big screen set up. The camera was capturing the runners as they came by, and displaying it live on the screen. The banners had some great messages. My favorite: "Jack and Jill ran up the hill. Jill won."
At mile 12, the half marathon herd split from the full marathoners. The course became quieter and - yay - there was actually space between runners! No passing problems anymore! I chugged up the gradual incline that was the road through Golden Gate Park. The park was green and peaceful, but I was concentrating on keeping up my pace so didn't sightsee as much as before. About this time, the rain began in earnest and I wanted to keep moving in order to stay warm.
Approaching the finish line
I reached the 13 mile mark, and thought to myself "you are only halfway done. You still have the distance you just ran to cover." What a sobering thought. However, I didn't dwell on this, and instead told myself to just keep going. Soon after, I reached the east end of Golden Gate Park and the turnaround point. Now it was downhill for awhile. A welcome change!
At mile 15, Roger surprised me when he showed up on the course. He was standing on the sideline, taking photos. It was nice to see him and his presence made me smile.
By mile 16 (or 17? I forget!) the course turned onto the Great Highway. This road parallels the beaches of the Pacific Ocean. The wind was blowing and rain coming down. I was getting cold and really wished I'd hung onto my long sleeve shirt and gloves.
What a welcome sight!
After a boring two miles on the Great Highway, I was happy to turn off for a loop around Lake Merced. The course climbed a highway ramp and at the bottom was a drumline playing their hearts out. Hearing the drumbeat really helped keep me going.
About this time, the course narrowed and I hit a ton of walkers. I couldn't figure out why all these walkers were ahead of me, when I'd ran the entire route. (I found out later that the walkers got an early start). The walkers were spread out across the entire path width leaving no room to pass. I really had to be aggressive, calling out loudly for them to make way, and pushing through. My pet peeve is people clogging up walking areas to the point that no one else can get by. I wasn't very patient.
Checking my Garmin at mile 20, I was surprised to see I was running a 9:30 pace. I didn't expect to still have such energy! I decided to ride the train as long as I could, knowing I'd probably tire out and slow down soon.
The little blue box! Woo-hoo!
Mile 21 came and went. I told myself I was now entering the "unknown zone." I'd never run this far before, and didn't know how my body would react. I kept expecting to hit the wall, and decided to run as fast as I could to bank some time before that happened.
Mile 22 was the "Chocolate Mile." I was greeted by volunteers handing out samples of Ghirardelli chocolate. I'd been looking forward to the Chocolate Mile from the beginning of the race. But by the time I reached it, I was in no mood to eat anything, especially chocolate. So I placed the squares in my fanny pack for later, and continued on.
Around mile 23, things started to hurt. My left achilles was complaining. I began to feel a couple of blisters on my left foot. My quads and glutes started to ache. I ran by an aid station manned by a bunch of very enthusiastic high school kids. The guys were high-fiving the runners as they came by. The kid's energy was a great pick-me-up and enabled me to ignore my hurting body and run on.
The theme of this year's race was "I run to be ___." You were supposed to fill in the blank with your reason to run (something like strong, healthy, empowered, etc). The race organizers posted signs with different "I run to be" slogans throughout the race course. A couple of these signs were posted near mile 23. Seeing these, I thought to myself "I run to be DONE!"
I looked at my watch, and was surprised to see that if I could maintain my pace, I might be able to finish in 4:30. Wow! A faster time than I expected. The course rounded the final turn around Lake Merced. I could hear the drumline again. That meant the Great Highway, and mile 24 weren't far away. I powered up an inclined highway on-ramp and coasted down the other side to my final leg - the Great Highway.
Back to the boredom of the Great Highway...... I trudged along, concentrating on keeping my pace and resisting the urge to look at my Garmin. The rain was coming down, and I was wet and cold. Everything from my waist down hurt. I wanted to be done so badly. Mile marker 25 came up. Just a little over a mile left! It was the longest mile of the entire race. I thought the finish line would never come. And then, up ahead, I saw the pink archway. It hit me. I was going to finish a marathon! That was all the inspiration I needed. I put the hammer down, and headed towards that archway. I raised my arms in triumph as I crossed the finish line.
My Tiffany finisher's necklace
I clicked off my watch, and gasped at my time. It read 4:31:52. Way better than I expected!
The tuxedo-clad firemen were stationed right next to the finish line holding platters of little blue boxes. As I grabbed my box, I told them "boy am I glad to see you guys!" The race organizers gave each runner a reusable bag. It was great, because right away I was handed tons of stuff to eat and drink. I placed all this and my finisher t-shirt in the bag, and went to try and find Roger. I was really cold, and wanted my jacket.
One of the things I looked forward to was getting one of those mylar space blankets that you see draped around finishers at every marathon. After running for two hours in the rain, I really needed one. However, when I asked where to get a blanket, I was told they had run out. That really made me mad, especially since I'd seen many spectators along the Great Highway wearing those blankets.
After 10 minutes and two phone calls, Roger and I reunited and I was able to don my fleece jacket. We walked around the finisher area. Nike had a huge tent full of clothing for sale emblazoned with the word "finisher." They sucked me in, and I ended up buying a long sleeve tech tee. Safeway had a food booth, and I asked for some hot soup, only to be told it was $2. What?? Since when do they SELL food at the finish line of races? But I was wet and cold, so I paid the price and got my soup.
Modeling the necklace I worked so hard for!
The race organizers provided shuttle buses to transport racers and spectators from the finish line back to Union Square. Roger and I had purchased bus tickets for the return trip (yes, even the racers had to buy tickets!) The rain was really coming down, so we decided to head back to our hotel. The line to board the buses was huge! It must've stretched at least a half mile. So we shuffled along in the pouring rain, waiting for our turn to board a bus. I was super-cold and my teeth were chattering. This was no fun at all! Finally, our turn came and we climbed into the welcoming warmth of a waiting bus. When the bus let us off near Union Square, my legs had stiffened up so much, I had to limp and shuffle the 8 blocks back to our hotel. Time for a hot shower and a nap!
Woo-hoo, I finished a marathon! This distance has forever intrigued me, from the days I ran track in high school, to the time I helped at the finish line of the Portland Marathon. I always wondered if I had it in me to run one. I now know I do.
This race had a lot of great things - the course was beautiful. The aid station support and spectators were wonderful. The swag was great. However, I was disappointed by the number of walkers that were clueless about race etiquette. Whoever was in charge of the finish line really dropped the ball - it's inexcusable not to provide blankets for finishers, especially on a cold, rainy day. I was also disappointed by the amount of commercialism at the finish line.
However, it was a memorable first marathon. I was very happy to see all my months of hard work finally come to fruition. There is nothing like the satisfaction of a goal achieved. I'd like to thank my sister, for providing me the inspiration to start running again (and for telling me about this race), my friend Cami, who accompanied me on most of my long runs and track workouts (even though she wasn't running a marathon), and most of all Roger, who put up with my crazy training schedule and supported me on race day.
And yes, there will be more marathons in my future...