Wednesday, July 28, 2010

the big day

other stuff

one of my favorite things to do in life is to stand amongst hundreds or even thousands of runners waiting for the starting gun to go off. with something as big as a marathon you can bet the nerves on most people are a little sensitive. i know my nerves were getting the best of me, i could hardly stand still while waiting for that life changing moment to happen. that moment when you begin your journey to test your body, test your will, and to explore the unknown. everyone seems to have a different way to deal with it. no matter what race i am at, there are always groups of people that somehow know each other. i can hear their conversations and laughter floating around the quite morning air, it sounds as if they are at a party. i just liked the noise, hearing other people talk when i'm nervous kind of helps me to relax. from looking around i could tell that there were a couple of us that had no poker face...we clearly looked nervous. i know i did, but i could spot others as well. one girl in particular. she was staring straight ahead into the distant starting gate sporting a glad garbage bag. quietly she stood alone, she wasn't looking around like me, she knew what she was there for...she already had on her race face.

i too had on my race face... in fact i think i woke up with it on. i hardly got any sleep that night. i woke up 30 minutes before my wake up call. before i went to bed i had all my race stuff laid out on the hotel table, so by the time i got the wake up call, i was dressed numbered and hydrated. all i needed was a ride to the starting line. that's when my wonderful supportive family stepped it up a notch. my wife was up at 4am (scheduled wake up call) and just before we left the hotel we drug my 19 year old out the door with us so he could help her navigate the streets of san francisco. he was all groggily with messed up hair and totally incomprehensible..."huh.. what?.... where are we going?" i told him to just get in the van he had to help his mom. i couldn't understand a word he said until he dropped me off and said, "good luck dad!"

i had them drop me off a little early so i could jog to the start. i felt ok, but my left calf was kind of hurting me. it wasn't an inflammation type of pain, it was a stiff nerve pinching kind of pain. i tried to ignore it but it had me worried. i got to the starting area and kind of just wandered around. the main thing i was looking for was the latrine. the lines were short, but they moved ever so slowly. i went from being early to almost being late just from standing in one line. i had no problem getting to my wave.

the race

the count down began, the gun went off and the crowd oozed across the starting line into the dimly lit street of the embarcadero. i had no idea how fast or slow i was running i just wanted the pain in my calf to go away. i had 16 weeks to plan this race, and 16 weeks to come up with a race strategy, but there i was in the first mile still trying to figure out how fast i should go. i finally decided to just let my body decide. so i continued on my slow pace.... there went the 3:20 girl, and soon the 3:30 guy was about to pass me. i didn't care too much, because at one point i wanted to run a 3:30 for this race and 3:30 is still a boston qualifying time for me. cold and stiff, and in some pain i shuffled along. my god i was only at mile 4! then finally something happened to me on the hill just before the golden gate bridge. i started feeling alive, i could tell everyone breathing extra hard and slowing down to get up the hill. i was hardly breathing, the sea level air was flowing in and out of my lungs with zero effort. memories of my lovely hills that i trained on day after day were entering my head. this hill felt trivial in comparison... i ran up this hill at a faster pace than i had been running the flats of the early miles. i had been warned about running the hills too quickly, but my body wanted to go.

funny, after this hill there was no more pain... i felt light, fast and more importantly it all felt effortless. i checked my pace and i was about 7:30/mile. it was a little fast but i promised myself i'd slow down soon.... as i crossed the bridge my brain was deep into race mode. i suddenly had a thought; here i was running one of the most beautiful marathons in the country, and i am only going to remember looking at the ground in front of me? i lifted up my head and looked around me, i stared up into the towers of the fog covered golden gate. it looked so beautiful from underneath. i even ran backwards for a brief moment so i could see the density of faces running across the bridge. it was truly beautiful. i think i recorded my slowest mile as i ran across the bridge, but i am so glad that i did, because this memory will be something i remember for the rest of my life.

i had the word DAD sharpied across the back of my right hand to remind me of my dad. my dad used to love watching me run and when i was a kid he drove me to almost all of my races. all except the san francisco marathon that i did when i was 17. he died from leukemia 20 years ago, but i wanted him here with me on this run, since he missed the first one. whenever i felt tired or unmotivated i looked at my hand and suddenly felt strong again.

when i crossed back over the bridge i met up with stephen. stephen was 45 years old and started up a conversation with me. just some random conversation about the race, the weather, where we were from ....pretty standard stuff. he was the only person i talked to outside my family the entire time i was in san francisco. i don't talk much i guess.... stephen finally said, "well you're a lot faster than me, so i'm going to let you go" ..we said our goodbyes and off i went.

at this point i was feeling better than any run i had done leading up to this race. around mile 10 my son alex came riding up next to me on his bike. he asked how i was feeling, i told him i was doing great so far but it was early. he said the rest of the family was up around the corner and then he drifted off. it was so cool to see him there and to have a semi-normal conversation with someone i am close to. as i turned the corner, the family was there armed with cameras... yelling "go!!!!" i had to control myself because it was still way too early to go all out. i told myself that mile 18 would be when i put the hammer down. i later changed it to mile 20, and i am glad that i did.

when mile 20 arrived i was still feeling good but fatigue was clearing getting the better of me. my pace was still fast enough but i could tell that i was losing form. i tried to correct it a little and i think i did. however the course turned into a downhill-hell and trying to keep form with a tired body is something for the gods. and speaking of god, oh my god these down hills sucked! i could not handle it.... i almost walked at one point, but just as i was about to i looked at my hand, and then chose to speed it up instead.

despite feeling like shit on my last four miles i managed to throw together some pretty fast miles. i did find myself looking at my hand almost every 100 meters. after what seemed like forever, i found myself in the last two tenths of a mile. stomp stomp stomp i could feel myself pounding the pavement as i approached the finish line. i couldn't adjust anything at this point, my body had evolved to this degenerative position and it was taking me home. i guess it wasn't broke so i didn't try to fix it.

as i crossed the finish line i could not believe my time. it was almost exactly the same as it was when i was 17 years old. 3:12:50. i still have a difficult time comprehending it. perhaps it's my inexperience with marathoning or perhaps it's my ignorance about running in general, but i had no idea i could run this fast. it was a difficult hilly course, and perhaps it was suited just for me.

1 comment:

Nicole Laughlin said...

Thanks for sharing your story. You are defiantly an inspiration. I'll share a little bit of my story. I started running in september of 2010. I joined the cross country team at my school just because i wanted to get in shape. Running started to become my passion. I did my first half marathon in March (placed 3rd in my age group) and I plan on doing the SF marathon as my first full this year. I'm 17, and when i read that you did this marathon when you were 17, I really connected with it. I don't have a job or anything so when my parents saw the price tag of this race they knew that they would be paying the $150. But last month I placed first female in a local 5k and won $100. I plan on using this to go towards my marathon entry fee. By your description of the course it sounded like a real winner and a perfect one to make my first full. Again thanks for sharing. You truly are an inspiration and you defiantly would make your dad proud.