Sunday, August 3, 2008

San Francisco Marathon

I must say, the best thing that happened to me during the San Francisco marathon was that I didn't chafe. Not one bit. Oh, and I PR'd, by a lot, but I'll take the no chafing over PR'ing any day.

My buddy Erik chose San Francisco as his first marathon. I think it was between San Francisco and the Grandma's marathon in Duluth, Minn. I'm glad he chose San Francisco, I love this place, even though it did nothing to help my 'run a marathon in each state' goal, oh well. Erik's girlfriend Lilli came out as well as did our friend Josh and his girlfriend Lisa. Can anyone say fifth wheel? I can! Actually, it wasn't like that at all.

Because I heart Delta way too much I did my typical fly-to-the-East-coast-to-fly-to-the-West-coast thing and took a KC - Cinn flight to take a Cinn - SFO flight. It took me all day but I didn't have any super-annoying kids sitting in front of me testing my patience (see my Mt. Hood race report) so, I got a lot of work and reading done. That was good. I got in real late on Friday night, took BART to the hotel and crashed in short order.

On Saturday we went for an early morning jog, just to make sure the legs were working. I was a little nervous at first since Josh is kind of quick. By kind of quick I mean six minute miles are like a nice jog in the park to him. I didn't want to wear myself out keeping up with him. Being the super nice guy he is he ran a subtle 8:30 pace with Erik, Lilli and me. We were staying at Embarcadero and Market so we just ran down along the Bay to Pier 39 and back. It was a nice morning and a nice jog. I chafed a bit (again, I refer you to my Mt Hood report, the theme of which was: my crotch is on fire) but not too bad, I could manage.

We showered and ate, met Lisa, and headed down to packet pickup. As far as marathon expos go this one was pretty lame. It was in a tent on a pier and had the feel of a flea market to it. I spent most of the time collecting as much free food as I could and did pretty well if I do say so myself. I also got brain freeze a few times off of the free smoothies they were giving out. Thank you Smoothie King!

We went to get our packets which had our heat assignments in them. I got mine and was surprised to find I was in heat 3. This heat is reserved for the 3:30 - 3:45 marathoners. I did not fall into that category. My PR was 3:54 from LA in March. Josh was in the first heat, Erik was in the fifth.

I wasn't sure what to do. Part of me wanted to change my heat, part of me said "this is a good challenge, go for it". For some reason I felt like I could run a 3:45. I figured after running up Mt. Hood the week before a 26 mile, relatively flat race wouldn't be that tough. I was trying to calculate my pace...3:45 is 8:45 miles. That's fast for me over 26 miles. Most of my training runs, which are 5-8 miles are at an 8:30 pace.

After not much deliberating with myself I decided that I could run a 3:45. I tried to forget how much my legs hurt the last 5 miles of LA and how bad my second half was there, and told myself I had it in me to run a 3:45. Oh, if I only knew.

We didn't do much the rest of the day except eat, a lot. The hotel had a nice (albeit very expensive) pasta buffet that night which we all over-indulged in. Gluttony is fun.

I think Josh's alarm went off around 3:30 the morning of the race. His start was 5:30, mine was 5:35 and Erik's was 5:45 (I think). I was awake but had that "I don't want to get out of bed" feeling. I moved around a bit and found that I had ate so much the night before that I didn't feel like eating any breakfast. That's very odd for me. I forced some stolen-the-day-before breakfast bars down as well as a fair amount of water and Pedialyte as chasers.

Copious amounts of Vaseline were applied in the necessary spots while I was getting ready. I also managed to position my underwear in such a way that kept everything snug and hopefully chafe-free. Amazingly it worked - I didn't even feel the pain once during the entire race. What a relief that was.

We made it down to the start around 4:30, stretched, ran a bit, etc. After what seemed like not a very long time I moved into my corral and waited for the race to start. The way-too-cherry-for-5:15-in-the-morning announcer was telling us all sorts of stuff about the race. He introduced the race "host" Dean Karnazes to say a few words before the start. I used to really respect Dean but now I think he's kind of a tool. My issue with him is that he acts like he's the only person who runs ultras. Yeah, he's fast, but he's not the fastest, and he's tough, but not the toughest. He seems to forget what the sport is really about; the camaraderie, the peacefulness, and the personal challenges that you have to overcome during an ultra. Branding yourself the ultramarathon man is just lame and disrespectful to all the other ultra runners out there. I digress.

Before I knew it the 5:30 group was off, then heat 2 was off a minute later. We started at 5:35 and were herded up to the start in short order. I was pretty close to the front so it was odd to stand there, at the start, ready to take off when the horn sounded. I'm used to having a quarter mile jog to the start. Whatever. At 5:35 the announcer sent us off, down the Embarcadero in the darkness with a few fans scattered along the street, and lots of drunks driving by cheering us on. So pleasant.

The first four to five miles of the race are basically flat. There's some gradual uphills but nothing insane. After a few miles of running I started thinking I really need to pee. No biggie, I'll just pull over along the course and relieve myself. Thing was, nobody was peeing. WTF? Usually within the first few miles of a marathon everyone hops off the course at one point or another to take a leak. Hmm, what to do? I had to pee eventually. Well, we started to run through a small park and I decided I couldn't take it anymore. So I found a nice tree and went for it. I think I started a trend, as soon as I went other people came over and did the same. Oh, so satisfying to be a leader.

We hit the Golden Gate bridge around mile 6. Thing is, as you're running up to it, you realize it's really far up in the air and you're really low on the ground. I thought about this and tried to ignore the inevitable conclusion that we'd have to run up a extremely steep hill to get to it. I was holding a really fast pace at this point and didn't want to slow down much.

Then we got there, right after the second aid station. Man, it was a steep hill. I'm talking like 40 degrees steep. You could hear people wincing as we approached it. The only thing I could tell myself was to hold my pace up the hill, don't speed up, don't slow down, run through the hill. And I did. I kept my pace pretty much spot on for this climb. I was so surprised. Now, I was super winded at the top, but I wasn't hurting too bad. Actually, it was more like a hill, with a short plateau, with another hill that took us up onto 101. Whatever, I managed.

We merged onto the Golden Gate, running on the East side of the roadway. They had closed off three lanes of the bridge for the runners, one lane running North, one running South, and the third as a sort of buffer from the traffic.

Shortly after getting onto the bridge I saw the first Southbound runner approaching. He was, I assumed, leading the marathon. He was moving, fast. He passed me and I saw two more people coming. Hmm, one of them looked familiar. It was Josh! He was flying. I still can't believe how fast he was going. I managed a "Hey Josh!" as he flew by and he acknowledge me. I felt cool, looking around me and thinking "yeah, I know the guy in third place". (Actually, Josh was in second place at that point. The guy in front of him was actually running the half, not the full.)

I spent most of the bridge crossing simply enjoying the view. It was very foggy but you could still make stuff out, and the fog adds a nice touch to everything. We ran around the turnaround, the 7.5 mile marker, and headed back South on the bridge. I figured I'd see Erik at that point and I finally spotted him about halfway across. I told him Josh was in third and apparently this did a lot for his spirits. Well, it at least kept him from asking me how my crotch felt in front of 50 totally random people.

At this point I had done 7.5 miles in 1:04:05. That means I was holding an 8:32 pace. I felt good and I wanted to keep pushing it but I had a really bad feeling I'd pay for it later in the race. Screw it I figured, I'd keep at it and see what happened. I had only told one person my goal of finishing in 3:45, everyone else thought I just wanted to PR. I'd make it.

We meandered South to Golden Gate park after the bridge. It was hilly through here. Not those nasty San Francisco hills that you're probably thinking, but hills nonetheless. Hills that when you see them you start to hurt and worry about if you'll make it to the top.

In retrospect I realize that I really kicked butt on the hills, but I didn't think about it during the race. I passed tons of people on the hills, I never got passed on an uphill.

As we approached the half marathon mark I spotted Lilli with Erik's Dad and stepmom. I managed to say hi and say Erik was a few miles behind me. They told me I looked great (probably due to my awseome tan line from my bike shorts) and Lilli took some pictures.

I hit the half marathon point at 1:49:30. A PR for me. This also means my pace had dropped to an 8:21. A significant drop from the 8:32 I had held for the first 7.5 miles. Hmm, I thought to myself that I felt good, my legs felt strong, I wasn't breathing hard at all...was 3:40 within reach? Nah. Shoot for that 3:45, don't kill yourself. 3:40 would be nice though.

Golden Gate park was hilly, we ran downhill for a while after the halfway point and I knew that meant we'd have to fight a long uphill shortly. I was rewarded with a 2 mile uphill shortly after that thought. Yay. I pushed through it, passing folks, holding my pace, not slowing for the hills.

I took my first Tylenol in the park. I had left my Ibuprofen in KC on accident so Lisa spotted me three Tylenol for the run. I was hurting a bit and figured it would help. I also downed a couple of salt tablets. I'd end up taking 7 salt tablets and 3 Tylenol before the race was over.

Around mile 18 we hit the last major uphill. There were lots of fans there (well, lots for this race) telling us this and it was nice to hear. We were out of the park, which I was glad for because the roads we were running on winded throughout the park, I prefer the nice long straight roads of the city to those of the park, although the scenery was quite nice.

My pace was holding. Each passing mile made me feel like sub-3:45 was within reach. I wasn't ready to admit I was going to pull a 3:40 off, but my confidence in that was growing as well. I looked forward to the downhills on this part of the course, as I knew the end was mostly flat to downhill. Well, I looked forward to them until I actually saw them. These were brutal downhills. It would have been nice to run them, but they were just too steep. I had to slow myself down on them as they hurt too much to run hard down. It kind of ticked me off. I'd find later that most people agreed with me, they were just too steep.

Miles 20-24 weren't too scenic. You run East of 101 and South of Market which is a large industrial area. Fan support here was little to none which made this part of the race an exercise in mental motivation. I kept myself going by reminding myself that a week ago I wasn't even halfway through Mt. Hood. Reminding myself of the pain of that run and the despair I felt climbing up that pile of rubble. A few more miles of a marathon were nothing.

By the time I hit mile 24 I knew I'd beat 3:45, easily. Doing the math I also realized I could pull a sub 3:40 off if I kept a good pace. I think I needed to run 9:30's for the last 2 miles to hit 3:40 on the dot. I pushed it. I wanted sub-3:40. I knew I could. It was only 2 miles of running. 2 miles is nothing. 2 miles is a nice warmup. 2 miles of pain? Pfft, totally manageable.

This is the first time my ultra running has really affected me in a race. I'd ran 62 miles once. What was 2 miles? Nothing, really. It really provided me with the mental toughness to finish the marathon strong. I totally ignored how my legs felt. I just ran as fast as I could.

We ran past AT&T park (or whatever they've named it lately) and I noticed the plaques on the sidewalk celebrating various Giants accomplishments. I saw Bond's 500th, 600th, and 700th home runs. I ran cautiously by these, wondering if I'd get stuck by a used needle. Then I spotted the 755 plaque (or is it 756?). It was just too tempting to resist. I worked up a big lugie and let it rip right onto the plaque. Nailed it.

I was getting closer to the Bay Bridge, so I knew I was close to the finish. I don't really recall seeing the 25 mile mark so I can't say how I felt with a mile to go. I just kept running as fast as I could.

Shortly after that I hopped back onto the Embarcadero, the finish within sight. I pushed it. Sub 3:40 was almost certain. As I passed the 26 mile mark I knew I'd beat 3:40, heck, I'd beat 3:39, wow. I couldn't believe it. I crossed the finish, 3:38:32. Wow. WTF happened? How did I do that? I was still standing. This is kind of lame to admit but the first thing I thought when I finished was that I didn't run that race as fast or as hard as I could have. I scolded myself for being so arrogant. I should have been happy, I just PR'd by at least 16 minutes. Still, I couldn't help it. I could have run faster. That's ok, I will.

I got my medal which had a odd windmill on it that we couldn't figure out what it was. I also got as much food and drink as I could carry and headed off to where Josh and Lisa were standing. Josh had finished in 2:42, 8th place overall. I ate, I was hungry.

Erik crossed not too long after. He ran a 3:51. I hated him. It took me four marathons to run faster than that and he did it on his first. Actually, I was proud of him too.

We all sat around, I was a bit afraid to sit down as I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get back up. I made some phone calls, sent some text messages, and basked in my PR.

We meandered back to the hotel, put some non-sweaty clothes on and found a Mexican restaurant to gorge ourselves on. I took a nice long nap that afternoon. The rest of the day was filled with a lot of laying around and eating - perfect.

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