"Va Por Ti Mamushka." This is for my mom.
The morning started uneventfully. My sister Cris, who was running the first half of The SF Marathon, stayed with me the night before and we both woke up around 3:30 AM, intending to leave around 4:30 AM (the first wave of the race starts at 5:30 AM). I had my usual breakfast of oatmeal, which I grudgingly forced in to my stomach even though I wasn't hungry (I learned to eat a good breakfast ever since I bonked badly at a 50 mile race which caused me to not make the 2nd cutoff at mile 36). We left around 4:30 AM, after I must have gone #2 almost four times (I ate pasta and plain tomato sauce the night before, but I did eat a big burger and fries for lunch, which I thankfully didn't pay for, in terms of stomach aches, during the race).
I was waiting for the next bus to arrive while looking at taxis and searching for rides at Uber to see which one is the quickest way to the start, which is a block away from Embarcadero. We missed the 4:30 bus by a few minutes, so we had to wait for about 15 minutes for the next one. Normally not a long wait for a bus, especially in the early morning, but it felt like an eternity after every taxi went by full of other runners and Uber kept on showing a map devoid of the signature black limousines dotted across it. We finally had the bus near 5:00 AM, a little crowded with other fellow runners, but not crowded enough not to ride it.
Hilary, a fellow pacer from Run 365 (the official training program for The SF Marathon) shouted for my name and joined us on the way to the start. She had been pacing for the full marathon distance at Run 365, but decided to just run the half distance, the first half, since it finishes near her home. We went to our exclusive Run 365 tent, but since I'm lucky enough to be an SFM Ambassador, I went to the SFM Ambassador and Pacer tent, which had exclusive porta potties as well, but less of a line. I did my customary business (only a #1, thankfully!) and then started mingling with my fellow ambassadors, but then came back to the Run 365 tent, with my intent to start with the pace group I had been running with for the past eight weeks.
We decided to drop in at Wave 6, to get an early start, and not Wave 8, which is the back of the pack. I started with my pace group, which included first time marathoners Mark, Paulina, Paola, Angie, Vyshalee and Shane; second time SF marathoners Mon and Christine; and first time first half SF marathoners Raven and my sister Cris. I took pictures like a papparazzi of fellow Run 365ers. It was nice to see my best friend Mindy, Coach Karen, volunteers Shannon, Lisa, Andrew, Kristel, and countless other Run 365ers. It was really a big reunion of sorts, old and new runners. Regardless, I was in race mode and planned to run my own race. While it would be fun to run with someone the whole way, it is always hard to do so, as you would have to either run quicker to accommodate their pace, or run slower to accommodate their pace.
Start to Mile 5 (Ferry Building to the Presidio)
As we crossed the start line, I burst into running, and at a fast clip. I still had the serious intent of doing a 4 minute run, 1 minute walk interval, but I planned to run at a good comfortable pace, but at a race pace and not my long run training pace. I heard Mon in the background shouting for the rest of the pace group to slow down since it is only mile 1 (rightly so, especially for first time marathoners). For good or bad at that point, I kept on running the first four minutes and never saw them again the entire race.
I saw Laura Bello, just a half mile from the start. I wouldn't miss her signature polo shirt, which I learned post race is made from wick material and is made by Marmot (she wears them to her 50 milers, emphasis on the s, and she rocks them and it's been a unique thing to see so far). I quickly say hi and bye as she is quite faster than I was.
Around mile 2, I saw fellow SFM Ambassador Taylor and her boyfriend Jesse. I was glad to see them both and had a chat for them, at least for a minute on my run interval. Taylor told me just the day before at the expo that Jesse just finished doing the AquaBike event at the Full Vineman (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride), and was going to join her to run the full marathon distance. Quite an accomplishment as that is pretty much the equivalent of a full fledged Ironman triathlon, but just over two days (which can actually be harder, due to the gap in between). It was interesting to hear someone do it, as I toyed with the idea of doing so when I was still dead set on doing the full Ironman Lake Tahoe triathlon. I'm glad to hear someone attempt to accomplish it. I said goodbye after my walk interval hit and went to the right side of the road for my one minute walk and forged on.
The first big hill was Fort Mason. I was planning to do a 4 minute run, 1 minute walk interval regardless of where I was at, but I quickly changed plans. I decided I would power walk this hill and the hill going up to the Golden Gate Bridge. The reason I switched strategies was the tightness on my achilles heel (both of them), which I had Dr Kris Blum work on. It was especially noticeable when I ran up hills the previous weeks leading to the race, so I made the snap judgement call to just walk the hills to prevent heel problems too early on the race. I think I made the right call.
Mile 5 to Mile 10 (Presidio to the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point and Back)
The second big hill came quickly. After running and walking through the nice million dollar houses along the Marina, the second big climb came shortly after a cheer squad from the Sports Basement Presidio. I walked again up the hill, up Lincoln Boulevard. It was amazing to see how many runners taking selfies while going up a hill. I even smiled for a second as someone offered to take another runner's picture of him trying to take a selfie with the bridge background and he declined, preferring the selfie. While I take selfies on occasion, I don't really like the resolution of the pictures taken, as most front facing smartphone cameras have one or two megapixels at the most for the front facing camera. At any rate, it was amazing to see how many runners taking pictures throughout the entire first half of the course (it is the more popular distance, given the chance to run the Golden Gate Bridge from end to end twice).
Weaving in and out of runners was especially harder when I got to the Golden Gate Bridge. Not only were runners taking selfies, posing in ones or twos along the bridge, but some opted to run or walk as twos or threes together. I had to weave in and out as I was running, but then move to the right (as most should do) when walking.
A woman with a black poncho with pink colored words "Va Por Ti Mamushka" was running on the bridge as well. Below her black poncho (I call it a poncho of sorts as it's almost like a blanket with a hole for her head or two capes, one for the front and one for the back) was a picture of a woman. I had seen her at the start and several times so far during the race. I kept on meaning to ask her what it meant and finally did when we crossed paths at the start of the run to the bridge. She said it meant "this is for my mom," and that her mom was a cancer survivor patient. I said that I was running too, and for my mom, and that she passed away. I ran past her for a while, but we've been overtaking each other and leapfrogging each other throughout the course, not competitively which I usually am, I might add, but just because of the way that we ran (especially me because of my run/walk interval).
At the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point, I heard volunteers shouting that they were out of water, and there is more water at the next stop. I was thankful I was wearing my hydration pack that day. I had been training with it on all the training runs, but even though it was an additional weight on race day, it was my security blanket. I wanted to be able to sip water whenever I want, and not when the aid stations came. This scenario validated my strategy (note that the water station could have eventually gotten more water again, but they were just out of water at the point of my passing).
I ran back to the San Francisco side of the bridge and it began to be a little roomier for the runners heading back. Part of it was because the runners going to the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point were now running on the pedestrian part of the bridge. I thought it was quite early for them to be moved to that point, but it was a smart decision I think given there were more runners now heading back to the San Francisco side than those going to the Sausalito side.
I saw Jay along the bridge going back to SF, and I was slightly surprised as he's a minute per mile faster than me. I briefly cheered him on and went my way.
Mile 10 to 16 (Presidio to Stow Lake)
Going up Lincoln Boulevard was another big hill, and I opted for another power walk, especially since I'll be rewarded with a big downhill right after. I heard a shout for my name from Coach Dan, who was pacing one of this trainees at the Half Full Run Club, and aiming to do a sub 5. I shouted I was in trouble since I saw them at this point, and I'm aiming for a 5:30. I breathed somewhat of a sigh of relief as they told me they were in an earlier wave than I was. Not sure if the sub 5 happened because of the heat (I don't know the trainee that Coach Dan was pacing), but finishing this race is a feat regardless (starting this race for that matter is already an accomplishment).
As I hit the downhill, I ran down to make up the time but not at an irresponsible pace, as I know I am only near the halfway point. Once we descend, go up and down a few rollers on 25th avenue, and go up the first hill after Fulton, the split happens. The first half marathoners keep to the left, the full half marathoners go to the right. This is when the crowd of runners start to thin out, and the marathoners are left to run by themselves. I was actually thankful for this as I had been running with quite a big crowd from the start of the race, and I would rather run with a little bit more room than running like a herd. I saw Alex, which normally runs faster but is choosing to run slower for his heart rate training. Very admirable as I think it's harder for a runner sometimes to slow down than it is to run faster.
I opted to skip the restroom at mile 13, as it still had a line for it. I was hoping to use one at Spreckels Lake or the one near the bison area, or even Stow Lake, but to my disappointment all of them were confusingly closed (I'm guessing they didn't want too much traffic for those and have all runners use the porta potties instead).
I was glad to see fellow SF Tri Club members Deirdre, who was volunteering as a bike course marshal, and Bret, who was running the opposite way, and then ran with me for a few minutes (he was too fast for me and I hit my walk interval). Seeing the two of them gave me a temporary boost. But by the time I hit mile 16, the struggle starts...
Mile 16 to Mile 22 (Stow Lake to Mission Bay)
The sun started to warm up (or appropriately heat up) Golden Gate Park around mile 16. This was as were rejoining the line of first half marathoners (who veered left at JFK Drive), and were now heading towards their finish line, while marathoners keep on going and make a right towards Stow Lake to run a one mile loop around it. Stow Lake didn't seem like the eternity that it seemed like on my first two times running The SF Marathon in 2012 and 2013. It seemed like a quarter of an eternity, which is a big difference in my opinion. At least I saw fellow Ambassador Carla towards the end of Stow Lake, a quick hi and bye, but it was always good to see someone you know during a race.
I still kept the run/walk interval all the way to the tunnel that goes under Kezar Dr and enters Haight Street. I smiled briefly as one volunteer mentioned how we were all doing this for fun. A fellow runner and I laughed as this is the point which realistically doesn't seem fun at this point, and we start questioning our sanity.
I had another laugh as I cheered a fellow Run 365er who was bubbly as she said hi and that it was all downhill from this point on. I waved my finger from side to side and smilingly said that "No, no, no it isn't." I had meant to say it to be honest with her, and not frighten her. I hope she made it through the race (I don't recall seeing her at the tent, but not all 365ers go to the tent, otherwise it would have been madness).
Along Haight Street, I saw fellow pacer Steve, who I was surprised to see, like others, due to his usual pace of 10:30 minutes per mile. I later learned he bonked at the time I saw him, but I still give him great credit for pushing through such an early bonk. I hadn't bonked yet, but I feel I was getting to that point.
I came down to Mission Street, and I saw the woman wearing the "Va Por Ti Mamushka" shirt. While I saw her several times since the bridge, it was the first time I talked to her again, saying "Great job." She smiled and told me "I'll see you at the finish line." We never did see each other but after the race I wondered if that was my mother channeling herself through her, talking about life rather than the race.
I only saw her once again, at the hill going up towards Bryant Street. She powered through and I never saw her again.
Mile 22 to 26.2 (Mission/Bryant to the Finish)
I power walked the hill up Bryant Street, but this was clearly when I start getting spent. I had used up all the salt stick pills that I had been consuming every hour. I still had several gu gels left, but I wish there was something else to consume at that point. I was hoping for even the Nuun electrolytes at the aid stations, but they were mysteriously non-existent at the whole race, as far as I can recall.
Mission and the Dogpatch were industrial neighborhoods, nothing too picturesque, but necessary towards the trek to the finish line. The reward was the eventual run to AT&T Park and to the finish. The only highlight during that run was seeing fellow runner Alina, fellow Ambassador Laura and the Lululemon Cheer Squad. For the last 4 miles though, I was clearly struggling and had not been able to sustain my 4 minute run, 1 minute walk interval. I maintained my target pace of a flat 12 minutes per mile throughout the race, but started crumbling on mile 22.
I decided at that point that I had enough cushion that I can still attain my goal of a 5:30 finish, even by going at a 15 minute mile pace for the rest of the race. My math may have been bad at the time (and I'm still fuzzy about it as of writing). I was debating how hard to push it as I walked up Terry Francois to AT&T Park (which I don't remember being such a big incline). I told myself I would start running again when it was flat, but I ran in very brief spurts, maybe a minute or so then walk when I was at the park.
As I exited out of the park and towards Embarcadero, I was hoping to see the finish line. Again, I thought of pushing to finish even way earlier than 5:30, but I didn't want to jinx it and not even attain a 5:30, so I played safe somewhere around the middle. I decided I would book it when I see the finish line.
I finally saw it at the mile 26 point. I started running. I briefly saw my best friend Mindy, who confusingly asked if I wanted gu gel this close to the finish. I snappily waved my hand and kept on running towards the finish. I was still running the last 100 meters, but not as strong as I felt on all my previous races. I sprinted what could be the last 25 meters at least and hopefully got a good picture out of it.
Official Finish Time: 5:25:52, 13 minutes and 36 seconds faster than my fastest SF Marathon (and any other marathon I ran for that matter). I was beaming at the finish. I was tired, but I was beaming.
Va Por Ti Mamushka. This is for my mom!