“I’ve been injured since February, just started running again in June, not on asphalt, just dirt and grass and no hills at all, just flats, and my longest run since recovering has been 6 miles so YEAH! Let’s go ahead and run a hilly road half marathon completely and totally untrained! What a fabulous idea!!!” said no one. Ever.
Truth be told, I am totally biased when it comes to the San Francisco Marathon. I am a Bay Area native, lived here all my life, and have a personal goal to accomplish the SF full marathon AND the Oakland full. Plus, I am a proud ambassador for the SF Marathon this year so having downgraded from the full to the 2nd half as a result of my stupid knee, I was more than determined to cross that finish line, any way I could, despite my injury.
The SF Marathon is the only race, that I know of, that divides the full into 2 different half marathon races: the 1st half and the 2nd half. The 1st half starts when the full runners do around 5:30am in the morning, whereas the 2nd half starts a few hours later and I was in the very last wave of the race (since the time limit for the 2nd half is 3:30 and my goal was 3:29:59) with a reasonable 8:35am start.
Drove out to the city, parked, and walked over to the Embarcadero to pick up the shuttle that takes runners to the 2nd half start at Spreckel’s Lake in Golden Gate Park. As a race ambassador, I was lucky to take advantage of some perks including an ambassador tent, our own bag check, private porta potties, and an incredibly generous and delicious spread of food that I certainly needed to run 13 miles in order to earn!
Chatted with a few fellow ambassadors at the tent, then boarded the shuttle and anxiously awaited the race start. I had a plan to run one mile then walk for .25, run a mile, then walk .25 and on and on to the finish but once the race started, I was so happy to be running that I took off without looking at my pace, just listened to my body and constantly reminded myself that no matter what my final time may be that I will finish, I can do this, mind over matter.
Ran through Golden Gate Park and the sky was slightly overcast and cool, perfect running weather, and I tried to stop taking pictures in order to focus on the actual running but by mile 2.75 I realized… nope, I really don’t “got this”.
Told myself to stop taking pictures and video until mile 5 but around mile 3.5, I spied a beautiful waterfall so of course I had to stop and get a pic! People say that the 2nd half isn’t as pretty as the 1st half, but I beg to differ…
Hit mile 4, ran a loop around Stow Lake and OF COURSE had to take more photos to capture the natural beauty of Golden Gate Park! (Plus, the running was becoming harder and harder for me so I was constantly looking for good photo ops, very happy to take a brief break from the pavement to actually stand still and stretch for a moment!)
Right before mile 5, you pass the 1st half finish line and that felt pretty mentally debilitating given the way I was feeling at the moment.
Right before mile 6, just as we passed the Conservatory of Flowers, the sun decided to come on out and shine so brightly and directly in my face, I was temporarily blinded as my sunscreen mixed with sweat and started stinging my eyes like crazy. Used some water to wash it all away and as soon as I was able to see again, snapped a pic- really, who says the 2nd half isn’t pretty??? Really???
Out of Golden Gate Park at mile 6, the course then heads right through the infamous Haight-Ashbury district, now a very bohemian area of the city even with all the restored Victorian houses. There were tons of spectators, cheering and handing out water and candy and pretzels- HUGE thank you to the kind stranger who was handing out Red Vines, those were a perfect treat! And then, all of a sudden, bubbles EVERYWHERE! After the race, I learned that the Haight Bubble Stroller is actually like an SF “thing”, although anonymous, the bubble stroller appears at sundry San Fran races and events- here’s an article about it– so I will certainly be on the look out for The Bubble Guy again next time!)
At that point, I was really struggling. Last year, I ran the 1st half so I can now officially say that the 1st half is more of an uphill race whereas the 2nd half is all about the downhills. My knee did not enjoy the downhills. Not one bit. When the road would start to pitch down, I would turn to the side and awkwardly side shuffle down the hills in order to keep my right knee from going past my toes while keeping some momentum going, at least, but that just made my left IT band all kinds of upset and tight. A spectator yelled, “You’re looking good! You’re doing great!” and I said, “No, none of those things but thank you!”
The heat was rising, legs were failing, knee was hurting, and feet- ohmigosh my FEET WERE KILLING ME! It felt as if I was running in high heels! My ankles were seizing up, my calves were cramping, and I felt absolutely horrible. Then a bout of runner’s trots landed me in the porta potty for who knows how long at mile 7. When I emerged and tried to pull it together enough to prepare for yet another side-shuffle down yet another hill, I saw this:
And then I zoned out for the next 3 miles, trying to run as best I could only to walk again, then run, then walk- the running was happening less and less and the walking more and more but I just kept telling myself that it’s all okay. I’ve been injured, been off the road, I should really stop being so hard on myself, I knew the race was going to be difficult, I knew I wasn’t 100% healed enough to really run 13.1 but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to run it as best I could. I really tried, but my legs just screamed, “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO US!?!?!?!” as I kept on going…
Got to mile 10 and that was such a relief that I snapped out of it long enough to complain some more on video (LOVE the video bomber in this one!):
Tried to run again but I was feeling worse and worse, very nauseous and every single part of my body from head to toe- neck, upper back, arms, lower back, glutes, quads, knees, calves, ankles, feet- was in screaming in pain. I would start to run and everything would shout back, “NOOOOOO!!!” so by mile 11 I decided I would just walk as fast as I could until the finish line was in my sights.
“I may die. I’m gonna die. This feels like dying.” Pretty much sums it all up… I think the seagulls in that video could smell death.
So, I walked. Got to mile 12 and I was soooooooooo over it- even the walking. Hot, hurt and humbled, I just took in the sights as
we ran I walked past AT&T Park towards the home stretch.
The course rounded a corner and started approaching the Bay Bridge, and I was just shaking my head and making all kinds of unhappy, crazy faces, yelling to those with medals on, “Where IS THE FINISH LINE?!?!?!” Then I saw a very happy gaggle of already finished runners and they were cheering everyone on with high fives, forming a tunnel with arms raised over head for people to run through. I saw them, they saw me and my misery and started yelling, “You got this girl! You can do it! You’re so close now! You’ve come this far! You are awesome!” and even though I didn’t quite agree with all of that, they made me smile and totally motivated me to start running again… all the way to the finish line.
My happiness increased the closer I came to the finish, I was clapping and cheering for at least the last half mile, to no one in particular, and then- miraculously- was done! Half marathon #21 in the books!!!
I haven’t checked my official time yet because I honestly don’t want to know how badly I did. I figure that’s fine, it can remain a mystery in order to save my ego the bashing… I accomplished my goal of NOT receiving my first DNF so I suppose I should be okay with that whatever my time ended up being… but I guess I’m not. I finished without dying and that’s all I really need to know!
Hobbled back to the ambassador tent, considered getting my free beer at the beer garden but truly had zero energy left so I just headed back to the car, click clanking the medals around my neck the whole time, walking 5 of the most painful blocks I have EVER walked! Got home, fell into a heap on the floor and stayed there groaning for the next hour or so until finally finding enough willpower to take my shoes off and get back up again.
So, yeah, it was rough; but, as fellow ambassador Chris said, “It wasn’t the race I wanted, but it was an awesome long run!” Or, in my case, it was an awesome run/walk/crawl. Despite my physical issues, I am still glad I did it and happy to have- even if oh so heavy handed- the reminder of how challenging road running is and how much training (or lack thereof) can effect your output.
All that being said, I have another half on August 16th and… well… I think I’m officially, definitely, and certifiably half crazy.