My 1st Marathon - The Final Push
Almost there! After an 18-mile hike at Strawberry with an elevation gain of 3,500 ft., starting from 5,500 ft. asl. It was taper time. I joined Stephanie’s birthday celebration with a 7-mile run on July 21st, starting from the top of Stagecoach, via the Manzanita Trail down to No Hands Bridge led by Chris. After which I raced back to Melissa’s to shower, pick-up my stuff and move to Fremont to start a job on Monday – July 23rd. What a hectic schedule but I was thankful to finally have a job and with very good prospects of growth and learning.
I settled in quite quickly, my housemates are a cool group of millennials. It was my first time since moving to the USA that I would experience having to go thru rush hour to/from work. The commute is not too bad though for me, just 17 miles to work it takes me 22 minutes in the morning and in the afternoon from 30-42 minutes. On the Tuesday – July 24th, after work I ran with Army Reserve Sergeant Fahad and we were quite impressed that we were fast even with the heat. It was too soon to celebrate because the next day my body and head were aching due to an oncoming cold. Lia gave me her box of Tylenol for severe cold and flu that put me to sleep right away. There were no more practice runs for me and I had this fear of not being well enough to race. I harvested lemons from the tree in the backyard, drank tea with honey & lemon and was taking 1500mgs of vit. C daily.
My boss Philip had sent me home early Friday afternoon as I was falling asleep so tired while he talked to me, I was feeling that bad. That night, I called Liza and assured here that, “Come hell or high water I would race.” And she said she figured as much. She commented that I really sounded congested, but I was not one to quit. Then searching through my luggage, I found a box of herbal tea from Sri Lanka named “Samahan” given by Jazz and Xenia. I have heard rave reviews about it and thought it was worth a try. At this point anything was worth trying. I had slept early all week and very soundly due to the medicine I was taking. Tonight, was not different I wanted to be well by tomorrow!
I woke up feeling much better, happy that the Sri Lankan herbal tea worked or was it the combination of all the remedies that I had sought? I woke up early to prepare and was on my way to San Francisco by 8:15am. I had planned to go to the Race Expo early, collect my bib and meet Liza at the Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel at Geary in downtown San Francisco. I parked my car at the Fremont Bart station, as it is free to park there (even overnight) during weekends. Then I took the Bart and got off at the Embarcadero station which was a big mistake because the race expo was in Fort Mason, sigh! It was a total of 4.2 miles from Embarcadero Station to Fort Mason and to the Clift, it was enough of a shake up run as preparation for tomorrow. I was so tired that Liza even was in the hotel ahead of me. We were happy to be able to check-in early with the help of Heather at the front desk. Our room was very nice with 2 very comfortable beds with fluffy pillows, a sitting area, huge tv, a full mini-bar and a host of nice appointments. The bathroom was well appointed too with very impressive toiletries. This hotel was surely one of San Francisco’s best kept secrets.
Liza discovered a Filipino eatery by the side rode from the hotel, another must try in the heart of the city! We had crispy fried pork belly with rice. They also gave us a sample of their chicken sisig which is served in a sizzling plate. We went back to the Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel to rest before going out again for happy hour across the hotel in a tapas bar called Bota. We each had a drink and shared a cheese sampler. I was trying to be as calm as possible and I felt much better.
|The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel|
Back at the hotel I prepared all my gear for tomorrow’s race and I just have a hard time trying to run light. It was going to be a very early wake up call, that I set-up my alarm at 3 am. This early schedule will give me enough time to eat, settle my stomach and have a leisurely 1.2 mile walk to my Corral G at the corner of Embarcadero and Folsom Streets. From the hotel, I walked down Geary, turned left on Market Street, down towards Embarcadero and right turn to find my way to the corner of Folsom Street. The police and other event volunteers were already on site and barricades had been set-up for the race start. It was a little windy with the temperature at a very pleasant 54F.
Before I slept, I had entered in my cellphone alarm the expected times I should be at the mile markers. At the Expo they were giving away this information, in the form of a paper band that could be worn. It was hard to compute at that time, hence I estimated the times and entered them in my cellphone alarm.
It was hard to decide what to bring to the race. I checked the weather and ditched the wind breaker, beanie hat, and draw string bag. I bought a belt carrier that had my food bars, cellphone and ID. I need an ID just in case of emergency. At the back of my bib was Liza’s contact number as well.
I was feeling good and strong this morning, but I was nervous. I kept asking myself; Am I ready? Did I prepare enough? Will I even finish this race? Athletes were just chatting away, I was listening to their stories. Others were like me nervous on their first try. Others I heard this was their NTH marathon. It was a friendly and warm crowd. The Bay Bridge looked so pretty with its lights against the night sky.
The athletes were divided in groups according to the expected time of finish. The elites and seeded athletes were to start first, and it would take them lest than three hours to finish the 26.2 miles. I expect to finish closer to 6 hours. Yes, twice length of the time that the elites were expected to finish. I just aim to finish the race before the cut-off time.
At the line, I was standing beside the two lady pacers that had the sign 4:55 which is they will hold the pace at an average of 11 minutes and 11 seconds to finish the 26.2 miles in 4 hours and 55 minutes. My projection to finish was 5 hours and 30 minutes. Months ago, Brian chided me on this asking if I planned to go shopping instead of racing.
|The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel with Liza|
The hardest challenge for me in my training was switching from a hiking mode to running. I had been a backpacker / hiker for almost 3o years that it’s hard to just switch away from that habit. During my training runs, I never really pushed my self to be faster. I just hope that my strategy in training in the mountain trails and elevation will give have prepared me for the San Francisco city marathon.
In a measure of caution not everyone racing this year’s marathon will be going across the San Francisco bridge. The half-marathoners (1st & 2nd half) would not be going on the bridge, but under it. The Ultra runners, those who signed up for the 2x the distance of the marathon started the race at 12 midnight.
The race starts were sounded by the Champion Cable Car Bell ringer – Ryan Cobb. I felt giddy myself, but I kept my focused to finish this race. I was glad that it was going to be cloudy and windy because I prefer to run when it is cold and perhaps the gloomy weather will deter me to take pictures. I cannot waste any time and I decided there were other times I could take pictures of this beautiful city as I had done many times before. I also signed up for the official photographs and hope that I catch the eye of the photographers.
It was a strong start for me, I kept up with pacers 4:55 we had a small group who kept up with them. Running past the Embarcadero, Pier 45, on Marina Boulevard, on Old Mason Street, past the Golden Gate Promenade where I saw a few athletes stop for a photo. By mile 5.5 we were on the hilly road going up towards the Golden Gate bridge. I was hoping the pacers would slow down but they did not. Their strategy was to gain ground and slow down later. By mile 6, I could only see the markers of the pacers as they disappeared around the corner stepping on the Golden Gate bridge. While I huffed and puffed my way and as soon as I stepped on the bridge, I tried to run faster to catch up with them. But my heart was beyond the beats where it should be, I was catching my breath and the pounding on my head was excruciating. I still have not gotten a Garmin watch, that measures the heartbeat, pace and all those wonderful stats that is needed. I was just going by feeling, and I knew I had to slow down. I alternated running and walking and envied those who stopped and took a picture on the Golden Gate. I welcomed the chilly, cloudy, gray weather this day. Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is an adventure all on its own and I will always feel the excitement as a privileged runner. I turned right on the Vista Point Park, on towards the backside and went down the dirt trail under the bridge. Coming out the other side and climbing towards the other side of the bridge and turn around point of the full marathon runners. As a security caution and to lessen the runner traffic on the bridge, the half-marathoners were not crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.
Between mile 11 and 12 we covered the stretch of Baker Beach and turned left on 27th Street. I could feel myself getting tired. I wondered what the distance between me and the next pacer behind (5:25). We entered the Golden Gate Park at Mile 14 running on JFK Drive. After approximately 1.5 miles it was a left turn to MLK Drive and a slight left to Middle Drive West. I loved going through the Golden Gate Park with its trees and greenery. I was following an elderly lady who I would catch up on and get left behind. The lady was one of those who had an all day paced and just kept at it. She eventually finished way ahead of me. The all-day pace is still something I yet have to master. It was total of 5 miles and 4 aid stations and we were out of the park at mile 19. We were back on the road and sky was clearing and the sun was out. This was going to be a hard 7 miles to the finish as it became warmer but the gusts of wind coming from the ocean brought me so much relief. There were gradual hills and at this point I was walking more than running. I would rest a while, then pick-up the pace only to slow down again. I noticed other runners were in the same predicament as I was, getting tired and slower as the miles crept on. It helped a lot that there were plenty enough aid stations. I started to use BioFreeze on my thighs and legs. If I can get to my tired feet, I would have done so.
Mile 20, I saw the cheer board and had a message for me. I never found out who greeted me on the board, but it did give me a boost. Pacer 5:25 came up and I struggled hard to keep my pace. This was a red flag for me because the time limit is 6 hours. I noticed that one of the guys who was in my pacing group of 4:55 at race start had dropped behind too! I said hello to him and he gave me a nod. I think he was wearing prosthetics and admired his resolve.
Mile 24, only 2.2 miles left and almost to the finish line. I dug in deep to the very last ounce of strength I had. At aid station 15, the cheers of the volunteers were very encouraging; “You are doing great!” and “You are almost there!”.
I carry on challenges compete with myself. I would ask myself; “Can I do this?”. Now it has turned to, “You have to do this!”. The streets and the boardwalk were busy with Sunday revelers and the AT&T Stadium was busy with folks for the afternoon game.
A few feet from the finish line, I heard the announcer call my name. I crossed that finished line with the last ounce of my strength. I collected my medal. I heard my name being called and looked around. Seeing Liza being there was a very touching experience. I tried to see where I could cross to meet with her. I Saw the BioFreeze photo board and had my picture taken. I also welcomed the warming aluminum sheet being given. Then Liza was in front of me, smiling, congratulating and hugging me. I just wanted to cry. I could not think, and I could not react. But I loved that Liza was there.
Grit, endurance, perseverance….and so many more traits that you build to come to this moment. A year of training, total running miles of 432.70 miles, 20K+- of elevation gain and a whole community of runner friends.
Click the video: The year in training
Click the video: Watch my pace