Two years ago today I stood in Union Square on a cold and dark morning waiting for the Nike Women’s Marathon to begin. After 5 hours and 23 minutes of running the streets of San Francisco I crossed the finish line. It’s sounds very cliche to say that experience was so much more than crossing the finish line, that it was all about the journey, but it was. With that being said, crossing the finish line was still the best part of the experience. Even now, when I close my eyes and remember I can feel the surreal happiness of having completed a lifelong goal of mine.
The Nike Women’s Marathon is in partnership with Tiffany’s and gives the finishers a Tiffany’s necklace designed for each race. If you haven’t noticed I’m big on symbols, anniversaries, celebrations etc. The thought of getting a necklace to commemorate my first marathon told me this was the race for me. I signed up to run in 2008, but sold my bib because I was injured with IT band issues. In 2013 I started running again after spending most of 2012 hiking like a mad woman in training to hike Machu Picchu. I knew I was stronger. When I did my first 16 mile hike I thought – that was only 10 miles short of a marathon, and running is much faster than hiking!
I started running and was careful with my IT band. When it came time to sign up for the Marathon I realized it’s growing popularity made it so you have to enter a draw to get selected to run. I knew this was my year, I signed up and when they announced the runners I got an acceptance e-mail. Even more special was that this was it’s 10 year anniversary of the race, I was ecstatic. (No one knew this at the time, but 2013 ended up being the last year they offered the marathon, it is now only a half marathon race. I got to run the last Nike Women’s Marathon!!!)
This being a fall race, you train through summer. I hadn’t thought about what this would mean for me. I was working at a night club at the time, and the odd hours and late nights were not conducive to marathon training. Having gone to bed at 3 or 4 AM I couldn’t get up early and beat the sun for a long run. So I would try to sleep in, but couldn’t wait until evening to run as I had to be back at work. This meant running 10 or 13 miles in the middle of the 85+ degree weather. I still loved training. I wore a hat, had various belts and gadgets to carry water, energy bloks, music, sunblock and trained the best I could. I loved building up my miles. Before this, the longest I had ever run was 9 miles. I got to a point in my training when a 10 mile run was a “short run”.
About a month before the marathon due to my own fault, I didn’t run for about a week.I tried jumping back into my training with the run that was scheduled for that day – a 10 mile run. Of course this was a horrible mistake, and at about mile 4 I got an excruciating pain on the side of my knee – my IT band. If you’ve never experienced this, imagine a sharp knife scraping your bone, tendons and tissue over and over. With IT band issues you want to avoid over training, or adding too much mileage at a time. I had done such a good job until this point, I was extremely disappointed in myself. I didn’t have time to sulk, I needed to still run this marathon.
I iced, stretched, rolled and went to a physical therapist. He broke up the scar tissue and massaged my IT band leaving a trail of bruises down my leg. I swam, used the elliptical and bike to keep up with my training until I had enough sessions with him to clear me to run. Every time I saw him it was so painful, I didn’t have insurance so I was paying out of pocket for each visit. That didn’t stop me, I was going to do whatever it took to get me to that starting line. I started carefully running again, and before I knew it – it was time to fly up north.
When I was in college in San Francisco, I remember it was virtually the same distance to travel from Oakland airport or San Francisco airport, so you just booked whatever airport had a cheaper flight when you were traveling. I had gotten a ticket to Oakland months before, and that week the Bart (the train system which I planned on taking into the city) went on strike. In a panic I reached out to a friend living in Oakland, for advice to get into the city, as I had to make it to pick up my race packet the evening before by a certain time. Her wife and her happened to have the day off and so graciously volunteered to pick me up and drop me off at my hotel. I couldn’t be more grateful, the traffic was horrible, since everyone was commuting from city to city – I can’t begin to imagine how much a cab (if I was even able to get one) would have cost me.
I checked into my hotel, got my race packet and found a little shop nearby to get some stuff for breakfast. I took a cab to Little Italy, found a cute little restaurant & ordered a big bowl of pasta with pink sauce. I was so nervous and excited, that I ate really fast.
I barely slept. I know now for the future to try to get sleep the two nights prior because the actual night before the race I just felt like I was floating. Not sure if I ever truly fell asleep, but next thing I knew it was 5AM and time for me to get ready. I arrived at the streets where my time group would be and checked in. 30,000 thousand people at the starting line felt unreal, it was still dark. As soon as the guns went off my excitement multiplied. The beginning was awesome (besides the bad part of waiting for everyone in front of you to start). There were so many spectators with great signs, yelling and cheering you on. After Union Square you turn into the financial district, where I used to work in the hectic busy environment of people rushing to work, cars honking and everyone in suits. It was surreal to run through those streets with no cars or anyone in sight besides the runners and people cheering us on. It felt apocalyptic.
Once we were running next to the piers, I again felt such a once in a lifetime feeling. Usually filled with cable cars and tourists headed to Pier 39 for Clam Chowder bowls, our feet were the only ones on those made-for-cars streets. All along there were plenty of porta-potties, water, energy drinks, energy bars, ETC. Our first hill came at about mile 6. I had kept a steady pace up until here, trying not to go too fast because of my excitement, and not letting other runners passing me deter me from a steady pace. This is hill is where it first paid off. People started dropping like flies, walking, or stopping all together as I steadily went up the hill. After the uphill came a downhill that brought me to the moment I feared the most. An excruciating pain on my right leg on my IT band. I stretched it hoping that would help, it didn’t. I had 20 miles to go, and my body was more than excited to keep going, but my leg was not on board. I went to the aid station nearby, and asked for them to wrap it & for some pain medicine.
This was the moment of truth. Apparently they don’t want you to overdose on pain medicine, they only let you have one and mark it on your bib so you don’t get more at another station. I wasn’t sure how much that or the wrapping of my leg would help – but as I ran back into the race I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to stop unless I literally collapsed to the ground and wasn’t able to get up. I told myself that all those watching my chip from their computers were not going to understand if it just stopped moving. All of my work wasn’t going to end with me quitting at mile 6. I went into my mind and pulled the strongest parts of me I could find and just kept going.
After mile 8 or 9 there came a lot of dead parts in the run. I went through stretches of time without seeing or hearing anyone, music would have really helped. I played music in my head to get me through it, but I wish I hadn’t thought earphones were bad race etiquette and brought some music along.
Instead of music, I envisioned me finishing the marathon as I had so many times before. For weeks leading up to the race I would close my eyes and see myself on the carefully studied course and see myself at every mile. I was now doing this while running it. It was surreal. Inception-ish. Time moved so quickly, I thought about everyone I loved. I thought about my friend who made shirts for me and our friends to wear at work the night before I left, my Mom who was cheering me on from home with my niece and next thing I knew I was at mile 20.
I never hit a wall everyone talks about. My leg hurt the entire time, and I was so cold. I ran in my favorite running shorts and black running tank top which I had practiced many runs in. Having lived in San Francisco you think I would have known better, but I thought I would warm up & I hate running with leggings or long sleeve shirts once I’m hot. I never got warm, and the fog never burned up. The pain on my leg was excruciating but the cold sometimes trumped it. My sweat would turn to cold and rest on my body, making me shiver constantly. I never hit a wall – but I came to the biggest disappointment in my race at mile 20. It turned into a “there and back run.” I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. In the course map you see that in the end you turn and go back in the same direction, but it looks as though it is a few blocks away – making it so you don’t run in the same area more than once. I was wrong. You are literally running down the street and separated by only tied up string you are seeing other runners running the other direction towards the finish line.
This was painful for me. It baffled me how $200 race could be ok with creating a course that has you run “there and back” for 6 miles. Did you guys run out of space? Really? I kept searching for someone who I had seen ahead of me to come around the other way towards me, but they seemed to never return. These last 6 miles were in slow motion. I couldn’t wait to turn and head towards the finish line, but every time I saw a new sign it seemed as though I hadn’t covered much distance. The first 20 miles seemed like nothing compared to the last 6.
I finally saw the end. A mile left to go, and on the street next to the beach. (My favorite place) I was thrilled to be away from runners going the opposite direction of me. This last mile was like a war zone, the way it had been at the first hill, people yelling at other people to not quit, people crying, people breathing hard, people being picked up in stretchers and into ambulances. I was picking people off one by one, little by little – the same pace and determination from the starting line – I was coasting. I saw the red carpet and sprinted the end – I heard my name seconds before crossing the line – my friend whose wife picked me up the day prior awaited my finale.
I was smiling uncontrollably. I felt 20 lbs lighter, and as I walked the red carpet (yes a red carpet finish, haha) I started scanning for that Tiffany’s necklace. Fire fighters dressed in tuxes held the small boxes in silver platers (seriously), I received mine and held it in disbelief.
My life goal of running a marathon from start to finish without stopping was complete and it was all I had hoped it would be.