Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Nike Women's Marathon recap

The weekend:
So, as you can probably imagine, Nike goes to great lengths to make this a spectacular event for everyone involved. They're so good about catering to women runners! One of the cool things they did was put everyone's name on the side of the Niketown store.

If you look closely, you can see mine! (click to make it bigger)

Justine and me in front of the Niketown store in our lovely paceleader uniforms

I worked at the race expo on Friday and Saturday afternoons, which was a blast. It was great to talk to so many people from so many places who were so excited about the event! I was a little bit worried because I was assigned to a job that had me standing up all afternoon, but it was fun, so the time went by rather quickly and I had some rather funny experiences in helping people with their pace bracelets. Runners told me their projected finishing time or pace, and I would print out a bracelet that had their time-per-mile, taking into account all of the hills on the course. Most people had a finishing time in mind, and I printed out bracelets for anything from a 3 hour marathon to a 7.5 hour marathon. One girl though, decked out in heels and this really cute but ridiculously fashionable outfit, had NO idea. She couldn’t tell me how long it takes her to run a mile, she couldn’t tell me whether she was fast or slow...it was hilarious! I mean seriously, how do you decide to fly all the way across the country (she was from NY) to run a half marathon and have NO CLUE about your running abilities? Hilarious.

After the expo on Friday night, a big group of the Nike pace leaders went out for dinner in North Beach, and we had a great time getting to know each other better. It’s funny, I’d been running with all of them for the past 16 weeks, but I never really got to talk to most of them because we were in different pace groups...I’ll definitely be hanging out with these people again!

Saturday morning I got up early, got all of my triathlon gear together, and headed to Treasure Island with Anne for our run-through. It went very smoothly, and I’m feeling a lot better about the upcoming race. It was a beautiful day, and the City looked amazing from across the Bay, so it made for a great experience! We did a mini triathlon, with a swim in the Bay, a couple loops of the bike course and a (very) short run before heading back to the City to work at the expo again.

Fortunately, Saturday afternoon had me sitting in a nice little chair behind a table, so was at least able to stay off my feet. I answered lots of questions and handed out corral bracelets so that everyone would know where to line up on race morning. It was a gorgeous day, and it was an absolute treat to sit outside and enjoy it. The buzz from all the other race participants was great too, and it got me psyched for race morning!

Saturday night Paul took me to dinner at a really cute Italian place, and I felt kind of bad because he wanted to order all kinds of good stuff that I knew I just couldn’t eat. I stuck with my regular pre-race dinner of spaghetti with tomato sauce and salmon (which was particularly good at this restaurant), and I ate a little bit of Caprese salad...the cheese was so good, but I wasn’t about to take any chances! I was a little disappointed to find out that he was leaving early in the morning for a camping trip, so he wouldn’t be there for the race, but at least I knew that there would be some other friends out there to cheer me on. After dinner, I finished getting my stuff together and went to bed at about 9:30.

Race day:
I have never slept so well before a race! The downstairs neighbors decided to be considerate for once, so I made it through the night without having to break out the earplugs. Very nice. I got up at about 4:45, made a huge bowl of oatmeal, and tried desperately to decide what to wear for the race. The past few days had been so warm that I was concerned about what the race day temperature was going to be. I nixed the idea of wearing a long-sleeve shirt and opted for a sleeveless one, but stuck with the pants. I caught a cab and headed down to Union Square, and I was slightly worried when I noticed that it was 5:30am and I was uncomfortably warm in my jacket. More on that later.

I headed to the VIP tent, where I was scheduled to hold the 10 minute pace sign. There, I met up with some of the other pace leaders and the girls I was planning on running with.

Susan, me, Yvonne and Denise in the VIP tent before the race

Denise and Susan, among others, did every long run with me throughout the training series. We survived the Scott Street hill and the Lyon stairs, the heat and the cold and the long miles and the freezing cold water in the Bay, and we all got to know each other pretty well over the course of the training series. Since it was their first marathon, they hit all of their training goals with me, and they swore that they couldn’t have done it without me, but the truth is, they got me through it too! They were both super excited about the race, but I was feeling surprisingly calm. We finished getting ready (pinned on race numbers, stuffed our sports bras with packets of GU, and checked in our bags) and went to the bathroom three different times, and then lined up to watch the elite racers start. After a pep talk from Joanie Benoit Samuelson (the winner of the first Women’s Olympic Marathon in 1984 and inspiration for this race), we were ready to race.

First half: 2:06:06
We counted down the last 10 seconds and then took off through the dark streets of downtown San Francisco. Soon, the sub-8 runners started passing us from behind (the one downfall to being in the front of the pack), and we tried desperately to hang onto our own pace for the first couple miles. By the time we got to Fisherman’s Wharf, we had settled into our pace and started to prepare for our first hill. We made it up and over with no problem, passing all those out-of-towners along the way. Based on the first few miles of the race, we figured it was going to be a rather warm day, but we were pleasantly surprised to see a fair amount of fog sitting in the Bay and hanging underneath the Golden Gate. I wish I were one of those people who carries their camera with them, because I definitely would have taken a picture of it!

About that time, I also realized that I really had to go to the bathroom. I figured it was just nervousness in the first mile or two, but when the feeling hadn’t gone away by mile 4, I knew I needed to do something about it. I didn’t drink that much water, so I really don’t know what my deal was! I left Denise and Susan, and ran on ahead to find a port-a-potty. I found one about a half mile ahead, did my thing, and ran out just in time to see Denise and Susan approaching. I ate my first GU, and we headed out Crissy Field down toward the foot of the GGBridge to our killer hill. It’s not particularly steep, just extremely long. All of mile 7, to be exact. It was tough, but we made it, and we actually gained some time – I guess all those weeks training on the steepest hills in San Francisco paid off! At the top, we were greeted with massive amounts of thick fog, a very welcome sight on a day that we had expected to be too hot! We were rewarded with a very nice, long downhill, where we gained even more time and prepped for our last major uphill in the race. Somehow, with all the people around, the killer hills didn’t seem nearly as hard as they had been in training, and before we knew it, we were on our way down to the beach and into Golden Gate Park. Unfortunately, this was about the time when we started to regret our clothing choices. I would have killed for that long-sleeved shirt I had planned on wearing!

Upon entering the park I saw Kirk, Leslie, and a bunch of other San Francisco Road Runners, which was a great boost! We also stumbled upon Yvonne who we had lost in the chaos of the race start. She was looking strong, and feeling great! Denise and I pushed on ahead, and Susan and Yvonne ran together on the gradual uphill through the park. It was like being in the Twilight Zone running through the fog...the bison in the park were exceptionally close to the road, which was unusual, and they were about the only thing we could see! A few minutes later, the sun was desperately trying to break through the fog, and it was really bright, but my sunglasses were so fogged up that I felt like I was blind either way. The fog finally broke, and I was able to make use of my sunglasses on our first out-and-back, where I saw a lot of my friends from the Nike running group. Denise and I saw that Susan wasn’t far behind us, and we waited for her at the next water stop, but she never appeared. We found out later that she had decided to go to the bathroom right then, so it’s a good thing we didn’t wait for her to appear!

One very bad rendition of “Hey Ya” later (spectators were allowed to do Karaoke versions of their friends’ “power songs”), and we were taking a nice steady downhill out of the park and out to Ocean Beach. On what seemed like a never-ending straightaway, we saw Denise’s friend, her mom and her brother as well as some people from my tri club, so we had plenty of support. I only wish I could say that much about the loop around Lake Merced! The entrance to the lake loop is a decent hill for that late in the race, but the downhill afterward gave us a little break and the salsa band on the other side gave us a little burst of energy.

Mile 20: 3:14:17
Soon after that, we were really starting to feel it in our legs. We saw a couple more of Denise’s friends, but it help much because all we really wanted was some water. The sun had come out and it was pretty hot around the lake, and poor Denise had sticky hands from her last GU, which can be exponentially more annoying at mile 20 of a marathon. Mile 21 passed and still no water (my only complaint about the entire race). There was a huge cheering section, which is never a bad thing in a desolate place, but from far away we thought it was an aid station, so we weren’t nearly as pleased to see them as we should have been. Finally, about a quarter of a mile later we came upon an aid station. The water refreshed me, but it was too late for Denise, so she told me to go on ahead while she got herself back together. I checked on her a few more times to make sure that she was doing alright, and when I was sure that she was okay, I took off.

I was feeling a little bit stiff, but I had tons of energy from God knows where, so I took it and I went with it. I feel terrible for thinking it, but I passed one guy from our training group, and I was very pleased to see that he was walking – he was the guy who would join a pace group and then throw everyone off by running way too fast. I have a feeling he started out that way, and then just couldn’t keep up with it for the whole 26.2, so it kinda made me snicker, and only made me want to go faster (I found out later that he finished in 4:40)! I passed a couple other people that I knew, said “hi” and “good work”, and then proceeded to blow by them toward the finish. I’m sure I looked pretty darn determined at that point because I was getting lots of encouragement from the crowd and I was still feeling good, so I gave it everything I had. Miles 25-26.2 were the fastest of my entire race! I crossed in 4:11:49, feeling tired, but not totally wiped. I finally made it out of the 4:20’s (I had been stuck there for my last three marathons) – only 31 more minutes to Boston! On top of that, this is the first time I ran negative splits (my second half was 23 seconds faster than the first half!), and the first time I actually ran the whole race (Okay, I walked through a few water stops, but only because I didn’t want to spill Gatorade all over myself!)!

I collected my finisher’s medal (AKA Tiffany necklace) and shirt just in time to get back to the finish line and watch Denise cross in 4:21 – I was so proud of her!!!! We headed to the VIP tent to get some food and see how everyone else had done. Susan showed up about 20 minutes later to introduce us to her husband and three kids. What a cute family! She was so happy (she finished in 4:45), and I was beaming like a proud mother for both of my “girls.” I think I was actually happier for them than for myself! I gave them both a card and a little bottle of champagne so they could celebrate later when they were feeling up to it. We’ll definitely all be keeping in touch!

Me, Denise and Susan after the race - we ROCKED!

I hurried home, showered and then headed out again to the Bridge School Benefit Concert down near San Jose, where Jessica and I sat in the grass all day and saw some great performances – Death Cab For Cutie, Trent Reznor (acoustic, and very...interesting), Foo Fighters (awesome!), Brian Wilson (too freaking funny...especially considering that Jessica and I used to be obsessed with the Beach Boys back in elementary school), Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band (Dave was in rare form – very funny!) and Neil Young. Definitely a treat! Good friends, good times, good music – What a great weekend!

My (scary) race day photos can be seen HERE
Race results can be seen HERE

Next up: Treasure Island Olympic Distance Triathlon – November 4th!

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