Round 5 of the Nike Women’s Marathon, my fourth in SF, accomplished this past Sunday and I am happy to report that it went SO MUCH better than I expected given my litany of injuries this past year. I had such a great time and was reminded of how much I really and truly love running.
If you are familiar with the Nike race series, you know that this year they changed everything for their San Francisco race for the first time in 10 years. They removed the full marathon and completely changed the course. I ran my first full at Nike SF in 2011 and once was just fine (as it was SO AMAZINGLY DIFFICULT!), ran their SF half in 2012 and again in 2013 so I was eager to see just how different it would be this year.
Going into this race, I was more than nervous and worried. My last two halfs (The Town’s Half Marathon and the 2nd half of the San Francisco Marathon) went horribly. I hit the wall at mile 4 and every part of my body hurt and screamed, “QUIT! QUIT! QUIT!” This Sunday however, with the race I have been obsessed with even before I ever started running, I felt absolutely great and loved every single minute of it!
I left my house at 4:30am (as I was nervous about parking) and drove out to San Francisco, parked at the lot farthest away from the starting line, and waited until 5:30am to actually get out of the car and proceed to my Kearny Street coral. I knew that Coach Al would be giving a pep talk at 5:45 but I was 100% convinced that the race started at 6am so after walking from the car to the start line, then taking advantage of the short porta potty lines, my watch said 5:51 so decided to skip the pep talk and head to my coral.
The race does not start at 6am. This year, and every year prior, it starts at 6:30am. (I blame the concussion I am still healing on that one!) I texted my BRF Sammie, “WTH? Doesn’t this sucker start at 6am???” “6:30.” She replied. Ugh…
6:30 came and went… and we just stood there. I was starting to get increasingly anxious and frustrated, complaining to the runners around me that I could have peed one more time, darnit and they all agreed- it was TIME TO START THE RACE NOW!!! My watch read 7:10 and we were STILL just standing there. Eventually, we started to move…
It took 50 minutes to cross the start line. 50 minutes!!! With 25,000 runners I couldn’t see in front of me so I have no idea what the heck the Nike folks were doing up there! When I did this race in 2011, it took 45 minutes to cross the start but that was the last year they didn’t manage the corals. In 2012 they introduced the pace corals and that year as well as in 2013, it only took about 10 minutes to cross the start. Since this is a completely revamped race this year, I guess I can give them the benefit of the doubt that they’ll get it right next year. Still super frustrating though.
Anyhoo, the race finally started and we were off! I told myself to take it super easy, start slow, and somehow my excitement didn’t get the best of me and I did just that- slow, steady, a pace I felt like I could do all day. Right out of the gate, a 2 mile hill. Yaaaaay.
Slowly running on, I just zoned out. The first hill here didn’t phase me too much (thanks to all the trails I’ve been running/hiking lately) but the fact that I had to seriously pee was pretty distracting so at the 5K mark, we got to a bank of potties and I stopped, did my thing, then happily trotted back out on to the course. With this concussion, I’ve been really sensitive to loud noises lately and being in an extra loud part of the course, my head started pounding so I popped my ear buds in for protection, turned off my music, and took in all the muted cheering, music, woo-hoos, motivational signs, and high fives along the way.
Shortly after mile 3, the course hits the ever magnificent Golden Gate Park and I absolutely LOVE running through that place! It’s very pretty, the hills are rolling but not at all difficult. It was overcast and that typical SF layer of fog lingered just above the horizon and I started looking around for good photo ops, also trying to concentrate on the running, I swear.
With no salsa anywhere to be found, on I ran, passing the Conservatory of Flowers, then hitting mile 4.
Stopped here and there for some choice photos, in my typical fashion, and since I felt like I was running better than I have in months, I wasn’t at all concerned with not making the 3.5 hour cut off. I knew I would. I was happily fine…. oh look, cheerleaders!
Just about to hit the 10K mark, still winding our way through Golden Gate Park, I knew it was all meant to be- my determination in the face of constant setbacks, my commitment to running, all the work it took to get me here today- right when I saw this…
I started tearing up a bit, feeling moved by that signage and the bright green reminder of how I got started down this long path of running and racing- all my reasons to run, my dedication to Team in Training, all the things I love about writing, all the gifts my hard work on this blog has earned… I looked at my watch and saw that I had hit the half way point and was feeling absolutely great. I’ve certainly felt defeated a lot recently but not on this day. And I thought, “Gosh I sure could use a hug right now…”
One last set of motivational signs right before heading out of Golden Gate Park at mile 8 and just a few more reminders, “Just keep on going, Laura, you got this!”
And then we hit mile 8. Oh my goodness that hill at mile 8. I shortened my stride and swung my arms yet had to walk a bit but even walking I was really trying to give it my all, on up, up, up…
Given that this race is always a benefit for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Team in Training coaches from all over the country are along the course helping and encouraging their participants and of course I was looking for my East Bay coaches. Shortly after mile 8, I saw Coach Karen, ran up to her, gave out another sweaty hug and we walked together and chatted until we saw Coach Al! I was so happy to see them both, I told them how great I was doing despite the injuries, how all that strength training is paying off, and they both reminded me to take it easy, I promised I would, one last round of hugs and off I charged… after snapping a selfie together, of course:
Got to mile 10 and holy mother of a hilly hill! This year, the course was essentially backwards from the years prior so as we started climbing the final major uphill that used to be a super fun downhill, I just had to walk! Everyone else around me was walking too!
And then, as if in congratulations for that final challenging climb of the day, Nike’s huge WE RUN letters appeared out of the fog… I don’t think I need to tell you what I did next…
The kind stranger who took my photo here offered me a hard candy so I took it and thanked her (it’s not okay to take candy from any stranger but it’s totally okay to take candy from a runner!), popped it in my mouth, and flew down that super fun downhill into the Presidio for the final 5K.
Right around mile 11, I saw another one of my TNT coaches, Coach Rudy, so I ran up to him and we chatted for a bit but I was so close to the end and feeling so good that I had to keep on going! I noticed that my Garmin had all of a sudden died, total blank screen, so I walked a bit and tried to revive the thing but then noticed this cool screen in the distance that was flashing runner’s names so I fixed my gaze on that instead… “Laura” just had to pop up! I walked, camera in hand, saw the “Laura” but missed getting an in focus photo but my name was there and that made me giddy. I’m such a dork like that!
At mile 12.5 a woman next to me yelled, “Where the hell is it?!?!?!” And before I knew it, we made a turn on into the marina, and I could see the 13 mile sign straight ahead. Saw Coach Kim and even though I was about to finish the race, had to swoop over to the side of the course to say hi, we chatted a bit, then I said, “Well, I guess I better go and actually RUN now and finish this thing!”
Turned a corner to the finish chute and it was surprisingly not at all crowded! Crossed the finish line and just felt so happy and good and satisfied with myself and this great race. I love you, Nike, I really, do!
Then I saw these walls of shelving filled with black boxes and I thought, “Are those shoes?” but as I got closer, I saw My Precious, I saw the little blue boxes.
The volunteer apologized and said that the firemen were in the middle of the lawn area and I could wait in line to get a photo with them but the lines were like 5 miles long so I just grabbed all my finsher’s stuffs (food, bag, heat sheet) and sat in the grass staring at the Tiffany’s box I just earned, not wanting to open it as it just looks so immaculate.
Walked about 5 blocks to get in the shuttle line, walked about 5 more blocks after that to finally get on the shuttle, walked back to my car which I couldn’t locate for about 15 minutes as I had forgotten what floor I parked the thing on (it’s my brain, not me), and got back home at 1:30. Wow, what a day!!!
So all in all, I would say that this new course is a bit easier than the old course because the major hills are pretty spread out, a lot more flat road to be had this year. However, a lot of this new course crosses through similar territory of other San Francisco races I have run (Bay to Breakers, The Guardsmen run, the US Half, Hot Chocolate, the SF Marathon) so it was pretty familiar to me the whole way. In other words, some of the uniqueness the course had before is now gone but I didn’t mind that too much as I still adore running through the city.
The finish area was so much more efficient this year and I expected the super long wait for the shuttle, so no problem there, but what really irked me was the race shirt situation this year. In the past, you get your shirt- a FINISHER’S shirt- when you cross the finish line. No other race that I have done does that. This year, however, they gave you a shirt that says “We run 13.1 San Francisco” at packet pick up. So not only does it not say “finisher” but it doesn’t even have the name of the race or the year on it anywhere! PLUS, it wasn’t a shirt this year either, it was a tank top. I like tank tops but I want race SHIRTS! So strange.
Overall, I loved every minute of it, was so proud of myself for taking it easy and happily and YES I will be back next year if I am lucky enough to earn a spot again!!!
Did you run Nike SF in the past as well as this year? What did you think of the new course compared to the old? And how about the race TANK TOP, hunh? What do you think about that???