Over a year and a half ago, when I signed up for my first half marathon, I was babysitting for a very nice family with two precious little boys. The oldest, Henry, was very interested in the fact that I was going to run a race. As the date neared, I grew more and more anxious, and Henry seemed to notice. "Why are you nervous, Erin?" Henry asked. "Are you scared you're not going to win?" In his mind, the only reason to run a race was to win. "No, Henry," I explained, "most people who run marathons don't win, they just run the race to finish it." Henry looked up at me with his big blue eyes and said, "But could you win? I really think you might win, Erin!"
The weekend started out with a bite to eat and big goodbye kiss from The Boyfriend. I then headed over to Running Buddy Selena's house to meet up with her around 3pm for our 5pm flight. Unfortunately, there was a massive back up on every freeway in all of Los Angeles, and Running Buddy Selena didn't get home until almost 4pm. I checked, and there was a later flight out that night, so I told her not to worry and we would just catch the later flight. She had printed our boarding passes out already, and so we just had to check our little bags, get through security and get on the plane.
We dropped my car off at the Parking Spot, the best place to park your car if you need to make a flight quick, and hopped on one of their buses, noting that it was, by this time, 4:37pm. We got to our terminal, went to the bag check, and the attendant says to us, "You might be able to make your flight, they still have 5 minutes before takeoff." 5 minutes? From bag check through security and ON TO THE PLANE? I'm not sure where this lady was from, but the procedure she described takes, oh I don't know, AT LEAST AN HOUR at LAX on any given day. Nonetheless, we ran. And when I say run, I mean had we kept that pace up, we would have broke 4 hours in the marathon FOR SURE. We made it to the gate by being THOSE GIRLS who cut through the security lines (READ: DID NOT MAKE ANY FRIENDS AT THE AIRPORT) and ran up to the counter and said, "We here! Can we get on the plane?" At this point, they were announcing, "Final Boarding Call for San Francisco! All ticketed passengers must be on the plane." The lady at the gate was very no-nonsense and told us, quite frankly, that we had given up our spots by being so late. She said, "Unless you have your boarding passes all ready printed out, we have given up your spot." BUT WAIT! Running Buddy Selena DID HAVE OUR BOARDING PASSES ALREADY PRINTED OUT! So we made the flight. But our bags, my friends, did not.
When we got to SFO, we had to wait for our bags. Luckily, we found a bar. Now I am honestly concerned that you might all be thinking right about now that I might be a bonafide marathon-running alcoholic. Not true. I do like a beer or two (or nine) over the course of a 4-day weekend, but I don't drink everyday and/or need it to perform like a human, so I'm clearly not an alcoholic. Just wanted to clear that up. Moving on...
We eventually got our bags, headed to our hotel, The Parc 55, and went out for a night on the town. We drank some $18 Red Bull Vodkas, a few more Bud Lights, and then went back to the hotel for a good night's sleep.
The next morning, on Saturday, we woke up and went to breakfast, hit up Starbucks, and did a little shopping. I bought a Nike Women's Marathon sweatshirt at Niketown, and we went to the expo. I had read in Runner's World that this marathon has the best swag of any race. WRONG. This was the worst expo I had ever been to. Aside from finding my name on the wall outside by Niketown.
I hate to sound so negative about it, but there was nothing to buy, almost nothing to try except questionable dairy-laden Safeway smoothies and Luna Moons, but knowing I was going to consume 6 packages of GU and Shot Bloks the very next day, the last thing I really wanted was a Luna Moon. Alas, I got my number and timing chip, and we turned back to the hotel for a girls night in, but not before I broke a fingernail, and in an attempt to make it look presentable, bit it with my teeth, and chipped my very front tooth in the process. I'll tell you another time how picky I am about my teeth, but they are perfect and I chip them frequently, so I'm always hitting up the dentist for a little bonding. They must be made of plaster instead of porcelain like teeth should be.
That night, the night before the race, we found an Italian restaurant that delivered, ordered rigatoni and Greek salads, and shared a loaf of garlic bread, all while watching our rented hotel movie, The Ugly Truth. I was asleep by nine-thirty, but not before I laid out all of our treats for the run (which I will explain in a later post, I've made an exact science out of this).
I slept like a baby. I slept so well, in fact, that it made me nervous. I was eerily calm the entire weekend.
Race day morning, we were out the door by 6:30am, and we followed all of the other women through the streets of San Francisco towards the start line.
I don't really remember the first few miles. We kept the same run/walk pace as we always have, of running for 4 minutes, and walking for 2 minutes. This was a bit challenging with the hills. I have to say while hilly, I have seen worse hills in my life, and they were all in the first half of the race.
By mile 12, I was feeling the effect of the marathon. What were we doing out here? Were we really serious all this time? Safeway grocery store, one of the event's few sponsors, had really cute signs that said things like, "You Gave Up Sleeping In For This!" and "You Nursed Numerous Blisters!" and "26.2 Miles? No Big Deal!" I thought they were really cute.
For a moment, when the half marathoners went to the right, and we were to go to the left to run 13 more miles, I have to say I thought about all of the half marathons I've run and what a lovely distance it is. But we kept going.
The snacks I had planned were working, we were drinking Gatorade at every other water stop and our spirits were high. The miles just flew by. 14 turned to 15, and 15 turned to 16. It was around this time I noticed this one relatively large woman in a bright yellow T-shirt and these neon printed arm warmer sleeves. She was kind of annoying and loud, which is why I noticed her in the first place. Anyways, miles 18-20 and 24-26 were a straight road, with a median in the center. This woman was right beside us for several miles, right up until 16 or 18 at least. Anyways, around mile 19 I noticed her on the other side of the road. She was suddenly at mile 23. I'm sure she jumped over the median. More power to her if she can sleep at night.
I have to say, the most challenging part of the race was the part around Lake Merced. If you read reviews of this race online, it seems that everyone complains about this part from miles 20-24. You'd think by now they would have changed it, but no, I guess not. It's hard because you see those other runners on the right hand side of the road, and then you see this gigantic lake that looks like it's ten miles around, not four. And you think, NO! No way do I have to run ALL AROUND this lake! But you do. And you get over it.
The last two miles were surreal. A volunteer said, "Just over this last hill you can see a blinking red light, that light is the finish line." We were looking for the light as if it were our beacon of hope. Eventually, I saw the light, and I stared at it and did not take my eyes off of it for the last two miles. We also stopped the walking, and ran in the last two miles with no walking. At that point, it hurt more to stop and start again than it did to just keep running, so that's what we did. I'm so lucky that Running Buddy Selena is on the same page as me when it comes to this running thing. With less than a mile to go, the last DJ played Journey's Don't Stop Believin' and it was so cheesy and perfect and truly an out-of-body experience.
As we crossed the finish line, all I could think about was calling my mom, who is the best runner I know, but hasn't been able to run for the last three months due to a terrible flare up of her Crohn's Disease. I just couldn't wait to call her and say, "I did it, Mom. I finished." I was getting choked up the last two miles just thinking about talking to her. It was her congratulations I wanted to hear the most.
Our total time? 6:37:40.
We weren't running this race to win. We were running it to finish, and that we did. Yes, that's a 15-minute mile, but we finished. I will never be a four-hour marathoner. But it's okay, because I get to brag about finishing the same race as those who run it in half the time.
We took our Tiffany finisher's necklaces from the nice firemen in tuxedos I barely even noticed, and headed towards the buses back to Union Square. We didn't stick around for massages or stretching or even snacks. We were all business. We needed a beer.
We got back to the room, and immediately showered and changed our clothes. My knees were so sore I couldn't bend my legs. Running Buddy Selena put my pants on for me. That's what friends are for. We went out, got dinner and some beer and at some point, I got the worst case of hiccups I've ever had. Which is when our waitress came over with a napkin-covered glass of water. "Drink the water through the napkin, pulling it tight around the top of the glass so you don't spill. Drink as much of the water as you can, and when you're done, the hiccups will be gone."
Guess what? They were gone. When they returned much later that night, I tried the trick again, and again, the napkin covered glass of water did the trick.
We went to bed happy, and woke up as 90 year-old women. I hurt in places I literally didn't know you even used when running, like my elbows and back and lower stomach. Upon close examination, one of my toenails is turning black. But I know this pain will fade, and I'll be able to brag forever about running a marathon. No one can ever take that away from me.
When we got back to L.A. last night, after our flight home was delayed three hours, we were exhausted and sore. The Parking Spot bus came right away, and as we were getting in my car, the parking attendant said to us, "Hey, did you guys run the marathon?" "We did!" I said, with as much energy as I could muster. "Those are pretty neat necklaces," he said. "Did you guys win?"
I looked at him, and with a straight face said, "Yes we did, actually. We did win."