Traci completed her second round of chemotherapy this past Thursday. As expected, the second day after receiving the treatment, she felt less than stellar. As I sat at home on Saturday morning and thought about Traci's misery, I decided that misery loves company and if she was going to feel like crap, I should jump on that train so we could be in pain together. So I signed up for the San Francisco Marathon, which was to take place on Sunday. Yes, the next day.
Sure, most people train for months to prepare for a marathon. I like to think that by running fairly regularly, I, too, had "trained" to give my body a beating. Mentally, I was definitely prepared. I figured that if Traci can use her positive attitude to kick cancer's butt, I could use my mental prowess to tackle a measly 26.2 mile run. (And of course by "run," i mean "jog.")
I called Traci and asked her if I was crazy for signing up. Instead of saying, "Dude-that's a terrible idea," instead she said, "DO IT!" That was all I needed to hear. I drove to the runner's expo and decided to look around at who else was picking up their race packets and t-shirts. I told myself if there were at least three people who were picking up their packets that looked slower than me, I would sign up for the full marathon. If not, I would just run a half-marathon. When I spotted several people picking up t-shirts for the full marathon that looked like they planned on walking most of the race, I decided that I, too, could make the full marathon work for me, so I signed up.
After picking up my t-shirt and exploring the expo for a little while longer, I realized what I'd done. I'd just committed to running/jogging/walking 26.2 miles. TOMORROW. Oh man. I decided I shouldn't tell anyone until I was done, just in case I died in the process.
I rushed home and started googling "last minute tips for marathons." There were several blogs that popped up of folks that had run marathons without training. Two of the stories were about people that had run the very marathon for which I had just registered without training. That made me feel better. The bloggers both finished the marathon in around five and a half hours. The course closes after six hours, so they were pushing the tail end. As I read more, I found that the marathon has a rolling closure, so you need to maintain at least 13 minute miles if you want to have traffic held for you. If you go slower than that, you're on your own--on the sidewalk. 13 minute miles. That seemed like something I could do.
I started taking the specific advice I read. I trimmed my toenails. I ate pasta and salad for dinner. I made myself a sweet playlist. I decided to make my goal finishing time four and a half hours. That seemed pretty reasonable. Not fast, but not so slow that the course would close before I finished. I know I can pace much faster than 10 minute miles for shorter runs, surely I can manage to maintain something between a 10 and 11 minute mile for a few hours.
On race morning, I rolled out of bed, ate a PowerBar and hailed a cab to get to the start line. At 4:50am, there are some strange folks out at that hour. As I waited for a cab on the corner of Laguna and Lombard Streets, a young man approached me and asked me if I was hitchhiking. When I informed him I was hailing a cab, he gave me a pathetic look that implied, "can I get a ride, too?" I told him I was on my way to the start of a marathon and so I didn't have any extra cash on me. As soon as a cab stopped to pick me up, I bid my new "friend" adieu and asked the cabbie to get me to the Embarcadero start line pronto.
My cabbie was from the Ukraine. We had a great conversation on the way. He move here 15 years ago to provide a better life for his family, which now includes two grand babies, a 3 and 5 year old! Ah, I know those ages well. He dropped me off with a smile and well wishes, which I took to heart. This was already proving to be a good morning. There were tons of racers walking towards the start, so I joined them.
As I approached the starting line, I saw an enormous mass of runners. There were the professionals, who definitely looked the part. The half-marathoners, many of whom looked very nervous. As I talked to other runners, I started to feel better about what I was doing. This was going to be fun. I was going to meet lots of neat people and enjoy the lovely morning on the Bay!
I was in wave 6 out of 7. The faster the runner, the earlier the wave. That meant I was with other folks that were just hoping to finish. The serious runners had over an hour head start on us. That was fine by me. It turned out to be even better than fine. It turned out, it was the best place to start if you wanted a 4+ hour ego boost!
As soon I started running the race, I knew I was going to have a blast. I started out nice and slow, trying to establish a pace I thought I could sustain for 26 miles. The first few miles went really quickly. It seemed as though I'd blink and another mile had passed. Soon, I was passing my street and heading to the Golden Gate Bridge. As my iPhone tracked my progress, giving me updates every 2 miles with my pace and overall time, I checked my pacing bracelet. I was right on schedule if I wanted to come in with a 4:30 finish time. Awesome.
As I passed people (and I passed a lot of folks), I struck up conversation. Encouraging them. Giving them high-fives. As we passed water stations, I stopped, walked and thanked each volunteer. When we got to Chrissy Field, where several military widows and supporters stood bearing American flags, I stopped and personally thanked each one. I told them I was a vet and really appreciated their support and my heart ached for those that had lost someone they loved.
I knew after 8 miles, I was definitely all in. I was having a blast. My legs felt great and I was already starting to pull ahead of my 4:30 pacing goals.
At the half-way point in Golden Gate Park, I called home. I felt great, so it seemed as though it was a good time to let the family know what I was doing. When my dad answered the phone, he seemed confused by my huffing and puffing. When I explained I was half-way done with my marathon, he passed me off to mom. My mom, ever wise, informed me I needed to get off the phone and focus on my jogging. Ha. Of course. So, I hung up and got back into my music and found my stride. At the official half-way mark, I did a cartwheel. Life was good and I was feeling good.
The second half of the marathon seemed to pass by quickly. Suddenly, I only had 3 miles left. I could see the Giant's stadium and knew I was nearly done. My legs were happy. My brain was happy. I couldn't stop smiling. After spending hours listening to "Born To Run," I was experiencing the true runner's high I had always sought.
I was experiencing the joy of running that had previously eluded me. Before, I'd always run like it was a chore. I ran so I could eat a brownie after dinner. I ran because it's what my family does. I ran because I knew it was good for me. I didn't run because it was fun...until now. The smile on my face was enormous. It was contagious. Life was good.
As the race came to an end and I crossed the finish line. I continued to smile. What a great way to spend a Sunday morning. I headed to the beer tent to collect my free beer and met up with Andrew, Chuck, Allison and Ksenya, my new marathon friends. We chatted for a while, shared some highs and lows from the race and then I started off on my 3.5 mile walk home. Nothing like a little walk to stretch out the legs after a 26.2 mile run!
As I strolled home, I checked in with the family. It turns out that the mental toughness that I've always admired in my sister, runs in the family. I might have gotten a little, too. Thank goodness for good genes!!
It's now been four days since the race and I feel great. My legs were never unbearably sore, nor did I suffer any other injuries. My body is clearly a fan of running and now, my mind is, too. I'm thinking about trying a 50 or 100 mile race next. After this experience, who knows what I can do if I train! Like Traci, my body doesn't know how to do anything except be awesome. My body refuses to give in to fatigue or pain and Traci's refuses to yield to a few mutant cells. We Allans come from a special breed. And I couldn't be more proud that we can share our mis