Thursday, October 23, 2008

Weekend/Race Report: Nike Women's Marathon 2008

As I sit staring at the screen, trying to write a race report, it's hard to believe the weekend is over. It feels like such a blur as I think back on it and I'm still processing it so the words might come clumsily here.

The weekend itself was full of reunions as I connected with family, friends from college, and friends from KC. It was really fun to run into each one even though, it seemed there was little time for conversation. My phone rang more in those first couple days that it had all year long! It was crazy but eventually, everyone arrived and checked in to their hotels so the exploration of marathon and San Francisco activities could begin.

The W. women represent! (Photo courtesy of Luke W.)

Friday was filled with visits to the Nike Expotique where we picked up our race day packets and visited vendors that were giving away free stuff, a trip to Niketown for event merchandise and to find our names amongst the 20,000 others on the outside wall, a casual dinner and an early bedtime since it was the best chance at a good night's sleep before the race. I met my college friends at Fisherman's Wharf on Saturday morning to decorate our singlets with our names as well as the names of those we were running in honor/memory of. We walked down to Boudin for a delicious lunch, clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl for me, and walked along the bay enjoying the views. I sat on a park bench while the others made their way to Ghiradelli Square and after a stop at Lombard Street and a quick hello to my family at Union Square, we continued on to the TNT Pasta Party. John Bingham was his usual comedic self and it was another moving, energized and entertaining evening that got us excited and ready for the morning. My roommate for the weekend, Jen, and I, headed back to our room and began the checklist of all the things we needed to lay out for the morning. This was the first time I had thought about the fact that I was in SF to do another marathon. WHAT?! All of a sudden, I was nervous and trying to figure out exactly what I was thinking when I signed up for this again! I began to remember how much it hurt and how exhausting it was and how much I swore I would never do another full marathon! Too late now. We laid out all our gear-- and I have a lot -- and we attempted to sleep.

The Start Line!

After a restless night, I woke up 30 min. before my alarm. Okay, fine, it was going to be that kind of day. As I got ready, I wasn't nervous at all, I was too tired to be nervous. I met my team and we headed out to the very cold start line. Of course, once I got out there I decided I had to go to the bathroom. Since our hotel was closer to the start line than the porta-potty line, I chose the warmer/cleaner option. I managed to cut my finger on a piece of metal that was sticking out from the stall door. Ugh. I found an aid station but it was not yet stocked so a guy nearby had a bandaid which I graciously accepted and hoped a tetanus shot was not necessary. Back at the start, I saw my dad then my mom. She appeared totally ready and excited for it all to begin. I stood with my training crew as we waited for the clock to countdown and then we were off! It was dark and cold but we all expected that, it was early after all. We were layered with jackets, long sleeved shirts, gloves, scarves, hats and even pants in some cases. Brrrr! There was a coat check at mile 2.5 and I later would regret checking my extra layers because it NEVER warmed up and we NEVER saw the sun!

The race itself is difficult for me to describe since I often don't remember much and am pretty oblivious in the moment. My training partners are always pointing out things to me or asking about a particular event that occurred on the course and 99% of the time, I have no idea what they're talking about! What's happens to me out there? Here's what I do remember, we saw my dad, sister & Erik at mile 3 (yay!) and my brother, Luke, joined them at miles 11, 16 and 26, we saw other familiar faces along the way and I remember the first woman who said "go, Amy!" because I realized the sun had risen enough so that she could read my name on my singlet. I remember most of the hills, including a few new ones that were added to the course this year-- who's brilliant idea was that?! As I ascended one of the hills, I turned to Anna, my running partner, and said "my friends are going to kill me!" The hills seemed so much harder this year or perhaps I just chose to forget them. Either way, I was pretty sure I would be down a friend or two by the end of this thing. Oops. I remember seeing Joan Benoit Samuelson running-- such a hero for women! And speaking of heros, I remember the many names displayed on the passing runners. The reminders of why we were really there.

In Golden Gate Park at about mile 13, I saw my college friends, Katie and Ginny! I had been waiting all morning for them to pass me so it was exciting to see them and they looked super strong! I was so proud. They would pass me a couple miles later and I was amazed with their impressive run. At mile 16, when meeting my family, I recall asking them, "why did I decide to do this again?!" before forging on. Then I saw my sister-in-law, Andrea, also looking strong even though she said she was tired. We walked a bit together and then she was off to her impressive finish. I loved running into all these inspiring women!

Andrea couldn't be happier!

I'm going to pause here and tell you a bit about my race last year. Around mile 15, I had noticed the ball of my right foot was hurting but I didn't think much of it. I figured I had developed a blister in a weird place and kept going. (I would later discover I had bruised and blistered my right foot. Ouch!) It continued to get worse and I began to overcompensate which resulted in bad cramping in my left calf beginning at mile 19. The last seven miles, I wondered whether or not I'd be able to finish. All the stretching in the world was not taking care of the problem, neither was salt. It was all too little too late. I did finish but it wasn't pretty. Last year, I also lost my running partner at mile 2 so I did the majority of the race by myself.

Back to this year, I was determined to avoid the calf cramping and to experience this race with Anna who, I might add, walked the entire race with a full-size Pringles can in her hand! She was hilarious and a big hit with everyone she passed. I didn't want to go out too fast and I knew Anna would help me to stay at a relaxed pace at the start so it was all good. We stopped to stretch every couple miles as we were feeling really tight all morning long. I think the cold weather probably played a part as did my paranoia about cramping. At mile 20, I looked at the clock for the first time. Seriously, I had not focused on time at all for the first 20 miles and then all of a sudden I saw it and started to do the math. At this rate, I would finish with a slower time than last year! That was NOT acceptable! This was supposed to be easier and faster because I didn't have the cramping/bruising issues. I guess stopping 15 times to stretch and once to wait in a restroom line added up quickly. I started walking faster, knowing Anna was behind me and I figured she would catch up when I inevitably stopped to stretch AGAIN but when I did stop, I didn't see her. I put my sunglasses on and kept going.

The sunglasses were not on because it was sunny, it wasn't. They were there to protect the innocent runners, walkers and spectators that I might encounter over the next 6.2 miles. I had hit my "bite me zone" as John Bingham refers to it. With each step, I got more and more pissed off. At what, I'm not sure, it was all quite irrational. I didn't make eye contact with anyone, I didn't want anyone cheering for me, and heaven forbid anyone tried to talk to me! Wow, I never had a response like this. It should have been embarrassing since all these kind-hearted people were out there in the cold and mist to support me and help to cross the finish line but I was too busy being mad at them to be embarrassed. Shortly after mile 24, I found myself on pace with two women obsessively talking about how close we must be to the finish line. "Do you see the white tents? That would mean we were close. He said we were 1.5 miles away, I hope he was right. Do you think he was right? Are we close? Can you see the tents? Where's the mile 25 marker? Do you see it? I think he was wrong. How close are we now? How many street lights before the finish line? I still can't see the mile 25 marker. I think we have more than 1.5 miles to go. No, I think I can see the tents. Oh no, that's a different tent. The end of mile 25 is taking forever to get here." YA THINK?! Maybe if you'd stop talking about it the time would pass more quickly!!! It took everything in me to keep from taking them both out. I tried running faster to get away from them but then they would do the same thing. I crossed to the other side of the street to at least create some distance. In the last mile, I picked up my pace and finally got away. Still, I'm pretty sure mile 25 was twice as long as all the other miles! One of my coaches met up with me and helped keep me on pace to come in earlier than my finish time last year. I told her I just needed to come in 30 seconds earlier, anything but over! As I approached the finish line, I heard my family chanting my name and I was still in my ferocious "bite me zone" so my response to them was less than classy. I'll leave it at that, except to say that thankfully, they all thought it was funny and their laughter made me laugh which was SO needed! I picked up my pace, the finish line was right there and now I heard my college friends cheering for me too! Step, step, step, step, FINISH LINE! Choking back tears. What an emotional finish. I went from anger to laughter to tears instantaneously. Crazy!

The college crew after we all finished! (Photo courtesy of Aaron Routhe.)

Part of my family after mom and I both finished 26.2 miles!

I found friends for some pictures and then my family as we cheered on my mom during her finish. That's right, my mom's a marathoner! We shivered as we took more pictures then headed back to our hotels for warm showers and rest. That evening, we celebrated our accomplishments at E & O Trading Co. Dinner, martinis, good friends, family, it was grand.

The college crew at dinner.

The next day, everyone began their journeys home and I walked around the city a bit before taking the shuttle to the airport for a short flight home but not before a bird pooped on me. What a send off, San Francisco! It really was a great weekend but as usual, went by too quickly and I find that I had very few full conversations with anyone. It's my hope that the weekend was an experience none of us will forget.

The fam after dinner.

Collectively, my college friends and I raised $30,000 for the LLS! Add in my mom and Andrea, and we raised $37,000! With all 5000 TNT participants nationwide, the grand total is over $18 MILLION for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society! THANK YOU for being a part of this journey with me. No matter what role you played, financial supporter, encourager, running partner, race day spectator or friend, I could not have done this without you. You have made such a difference in the lives of so many people and I saw lots of them on Sunday. There were thousands of people standing with signs and pictures of their loved ones that faced cancer and they thanked us as we passed. Their gratitude goes out to you, as well. You made it possible for me and my friends and family to be out there on Sunday sharing in this life changing experience. You are making it possible for the LLS to continue in it's mission to find a cure for blood cancers. I hope you'll consider staying involved and maybe even participate in your own endurance event with TNT. You won't regret it!