[Birthday cake, sliced, October 2010.]
Friends, I did it. And it was HARD. Rain and wind and fog and no sun at all the whole way, not even a flash of it, and we started in the dark. But if it was so hard (oh, Lake Merced, let me not see you again for a long, long time, please) it was also amazing: Around mile 10 the course swept out of the Presidio and down past the Cliff House and suddenly there was the Pacific Ocean spread out before us like a flag with the waves crashing and churning onto the beach. I have run a decent amount of road races in various cities and each has its own particular specialness; for me, to run 26 (.2) miles in San Francisco, was a sort of belated homecoming (and oh yeah: there are way more hills here than, say, Washington, DC — but then again, the Pacific Ocean.) and it felt so. good. So even during the absolute worst parts (the pouring rain out at the lake; mile 23; that last 1/2-mile) I kept thinking about how very, very fortunate I am to live here — and it eased the pain more than just a little bit.
This is what I did: Sunday morning woke up at about 5:30 after 7 hours or so of sleep, gulped a lot of water, ate a bagel-and-peanut-butter with delicious jam from Maine (thanks E+K), made sure I had all my ‘gu’ stowed away and my timing chip safely affixed, left the house in the pre-7a darkness — and then I ran 26.2 miles. I ran. 26.2. Miles. I look at the number, and my knees ache, and my muscles are tight and sore, and my stomach is still slightly unhappy with me, and I know that I did it, but I can hardly believe it. Every time I get up, it hurts. When I walk, it hurts. (Almost) everything hurts! Still, my belated runner’s high persists and I found myself this afternoon contemplating doing another one at some point (sorry, mom). I felt this after I ran the Marine Corps Marathon, too, which was not nearly as brutal as this one and so I think I must admit I am a crazy runner type. There are worse things.
It never ceases to amaze me how hours and hours of running can somehow pass by in a flash — I remember some moments particularly, like the girl in front of me wearing all orange (including an orange tutu) and a sign that read Next to Giants, this is Torture, and that first hill around mile 5 going up to the bridge when I thought god damn I got 21 more to go of this. And suddenly it was mile 8 and I ate orange slices, and then it was 11 and people were screaming and cheering as we went into Golden Gate Park and I picked up speed and let momentum carry me a ways, and then it was half-way and my personal cheering squad materialized, and then it was 15 and I put my ipod on (first time in a race ever) and my funky little mix was just perfect, and then it was 16 and there were only 10 left and I saw parts of the park I’d never seen before, and then it was pouring rain along the Great Ocean Highway and my hands were so cold and I ate a Clif protein bar (peanut butter), and then it was 22 and my calves started cramping up so badly I could barely walk, and then it was the chocolate mile and I said to myself OK, finish this b**ch. You got it. (you find you talk to yourself a lot on these long runs), and then it was 24 and back on the highway with the finish in sight.
I looked at the ocean, then, and said to myself Remember this. Take it in and savor it all. Because, god, this city is beautiful. This place is so beautiful, even in the fog and wind and rain (in a way, the weather was fitting, since I have always run and trained in all sorts of weather — even snow in Norway, once, and the heavy heat of DC summers), and I am so lucky that my body, even if slower than it used to be, can do this, when so many cannot. I guess this is one of the reasons we do this: Because we can, and it is a way to honor that. To honor life. I thought about my cousin and gave her the last two miles, because she will never get to and I wish she could’ve at least had the chance. I pushed those miles hard. A nice girl picked me up with about 100 yards to go when I started fading, and we ran the last bit together, sprinting almost, and then it was done DONE, with my support team right there to hug me at the end. It was awesome.
Thank you all, so much, for your support — virtual and otherwise. I swear it does help, to know you have a little cheering squad behind you.
I’ll leave you with a slice, by way of my own virtual thanks, of my delicious birthday cake (Alice Waters’ chocolate cake recipe, o’course; and please do make it, and as often as possible). Tonight I’ve put my running shoes away for little while and am stretching out my deliciously sore muscles and drinking lots of water and eating mom’s vegetable soup (and buttery little lemon-poppyseed shortbread cookies, homemade in Maine) resting my exhausted body and feeling grateful that I was able to run all that way. I am lucky, and I know it.
ps: Here is the Chronicle article about the race. It was the 2010 Nike Women’s Marathon and if you ever consider doing a marathon, I highly recommend this one. The support is amazing along the way (think happy and energized volunteers despite the rain, music every few miles, lots of food), and the course is absolutely beautiful, winding through a lot of gorgeous parts of San Francisco (and despite the early hills there are surprisingly a great deal of flat parts). The race also benefits the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, an extremely worthy cause. And while the run is open to both men and women, it’s really geared toward women — which is a pretty cool thing, not to mention you get a PINK finisher’s t-shirt and a pretty pretty necklace from Tiffany’s. (Though also to note: it’s very popular and you have to enter your name into a random drawing to gain entrance.)