October 22, 2012

Race Report: Nike Women’s Marathon

When I last left off, I had run the gorgeous Rockaway Marathon in 4:23 – a 10:00 pace that I consider completely respectable for my own abilities, but that left me feeling surprisingly good. No matter how many marathons I run and how used to it my muscles get, my feet usually hurt when I finish each one (that pain typically goes away after just one night of sleep). This time, perhaps thanks to the wooden boardwalk that made up about 2/3 of the course, my feet didn’t hurt at all. In fact, the only thing that hurt was my left hand and knee where I had skinned them. Excellent!

Despite making the decision not to race home for my forgotten Garmin, I still didn’t have nearly as much time at the airport as I had thought I would before my flight. After getting gas, returning my rental car, navigating the AirTrain, and going through security, I only had 20 minutes before boarding would begin for my flight. I headed straight up to the Delta SkyClub and asked the attendant to show me to the showers, but a doubtful look in reply. “You know your flight begins boarding in 15 minutes?” “Yes, yes – showers, please!” I responded. I knew that my seatmates would not appreciate it if I skipped this critical step in my journey 🙂

I zipped in and out of the shower and scrambled into leggings and my cuddly new Rockaway Marathon sweatshirt. I really hate traveling in sweats – it feels so gross! – but today I was going to make an exception. Recovering from a marathon is hard enough without being locked into an airline seat for 6 hours afterward! In addition to perhaps dozing a bit, I wanted to watch a bit of TV, catch up on email, and work on my Rockaway race report. I am already bad enough about getting race reports done in a timely manner and now I was going to have to write two in a weekend? Time to get cracking!

Unfortunately, when I turned on my computer, I learned that my plans had been foiled – I had a virus! I later joked with a friend how having computer/internet issues often seems like the biggest problem in the world (“my internet is down; I’m taking the day off work to lie in bed and cry”), but oddly enough, it didn’t faze me too much. I figured out pretty quickly that I wouldn’t be able to get it fixed until Monday when I went to the office, and for once, I quickly accepted that and moved on. Time to catch up on reading instead!

I ended up not sleeping at all on the flight, but I still arrived in San Francisco completely well-rested. Had I even run a marathon that day, or did I dream it? Just in case, I carb loaded in the way I only do when I run two marathons in a weekend – ordering both pasta and pizza at the cute little Italian restaurant I found for dinner. Oh, and of course, a glass of wine “to help me sleep.” Though I doubted I would have any trouble with that!

Before I knew it, it was race morning – and I was still feeling pretty good. I got ready pretty quickly, donning my purple Athleta laser cut skort and white Yurbuds Inspire tank, accenting the outfit with a Tiffany-blue Yurbuds headband. When I looked in the mirror, I thought I looked pretty cute! I know it’s silly/shallow, but when I think I look good, it gives me the confidence to go out there and do a good job. My knee hurt a lot where I had banged it up the day before, but my legs and feet felt good and strong otherwise. I didn’t feel as totally fantastic as if I were going to run a PR or anything, but I felt pretty confident that I would finish strong!

I headed out of the hotel, drinking a cup of coffee as I walked, and followed the other runners who seemed to know where they were going. The start was only a few blocks away, so it didn’t take long for me to get there. On the way, I chatted with some of the other runners I met, discussing goals for the day and how we hoped to do. My goal? To finish with a smile on my face! I really didn’t care about time at all; I just wanted to have a fun day.

I found volunteers checking for my wristband as I entered my corral, which is always a good thing in a big race like this. When people aren’t in the right corral, it can definitely gum up the works – though in this case, the anticipated finish times were self-reported and not based on past performance. Even so, though, my corral had a startlingly large range of paces: 7:30 to 8:59. I think I had probably put down an estimated finish of 3:55 or so, but after yesterday’s race, I probably wouldn’t be doing that anymore. Sometimes even with the best intentions at registration time, you get some inaccuracies!

For now, I made friends in my corral and got psyched for the start. I could see from Twitter that other FitFluential ambassadors were checking in at the start, but I didn’t see any of the other white Inspire shirts around. The white shirts were surprisingly easy to spot though! You know how they say that women dress for other women? This all-women’s race had the best dressed runners I have ever seen – it seemed like every single person had some form of Athleta/Lululemon/etc colorful top and skirt/shorts. No baggy t-shirts and basketball shorts here!

I was very excited to see that there were some VIPs wishing us well at the start – Allyson Felix, Kara Goucher, Shalane Flanagan, and Joan Benoit Samuelson! How cool. But before I had time to really think about them (and wonder which, of any of them, were running), the race began and we were off!

I had heard a lot of negative things about the start of the Nike Women’s Marathon before running it – namely, that the race is so crowded at the start that running a PR would be impossible. I wasn’t attempting a PR, but I still didn’t find overcrowding to be the case at all. It was plenty crowded, yes, but the corrals had seemed to do the trick and keep runners from getting too congested. It was certainly a packed race, but everyone seemed to be running at a pretty good clip, and I didn’t have any trouble weaving around people to run a speedy 8:24 for my first mile. That brought me out to the Embarcadero, which was very familiar ground – it was the start of the San Francisco Marathon, which I had run way back in 2008 when I first started marathoning!

We ran along the Embarcadero and Fisherman’s Wharf, and then turned up a very short hill to pass by the Ghirardelli Chocolate factory. I was careful to make note of its location in case of a sweets craving after the race! After crossing the 5K mark, we then headed back downhill and out along the ocean, which made me so happy. My coast to coast challenge was on!

As luck would have it, the course for the next several miles almost exactly mirrored the SFM course. Since I had run it four years ago, I didn’t know exactly what was coming up, but I was glad to remember when we got to the big uphill that it was going to be followed by a really long downhill on the other side. Just had to push it to the top!

At one of the flat sections that we hit before finally making it to the top, we passed the “Bra Swap” station. Nike offers a pretty cool service where you can trade in your old sports bra for a brand new one, and slip into a changing tent to don it right then and there. Unfortunately, I hadn’t learned about this service until the expo, and I had brought my best sports bras to the races, so I had no intention of giving them up. I wished they had put something about this on the website beforehand… but then, I found the race website to be pretty lacking in general. Instead of an actual website, it’s a Facebook page, with different sections for FAQs, course map, etc. It didn’t really have much of the standard information that most races have, and navigation was tough! But as I’ve never before done a race that even offered a bra swap, I guess I can’t complain that I didn’t get to take advantage of it.

At last, we reached the top of the hill – and a very fun spectator sign. My camera took awful pictures throughout the race due to the fog, but this guy was wearing a women’s bra and had a sign that said “Easier Than Childbirth.” Too funny!

And now came the glorious descent: nearly half a mile of pure downhill. Yippee! I managed to clock 8:04 for mile 8, which I was quite happy with. Rewarding me at the bottom of the hill were some more fun spectator signs: “Chafe now, wine later.” “Your training was longer than Kim Kardashian’s marriage.” And, given that this was an election year, you knew there had to be a political sign too:

We circled Crissy Field to some pumping music (Call Me Maybe, yay!), which put me in a great mood. Another thing that made me smile? A guy wearing this shirt to run in:

Only a real man can run a women’s marathon

Coming around a corner, we now faced another pretty good-sized uphill ahead of us. However, the race organizers had been smart enough to put the aid station right on this hill. I love that – if you’re going to slow down to refuel, it might as well be on an uphill! I hate when aid stations are at the top of a hill, right when the hard part is over and you just want to pick up the pace and make up the time you lost.

It was at this uphill aid station that I finally realized that while the volunteers were screaming “Gatorade,” what they actually had in their cups was Nuun. I knew that tangy taste was familiar! But they had gotten the proportions very wrong, or at least very different than what I’m used to by following the directions on the tubes. It tasted like they had used a full tablet per 3 oz cup of water! I actually liked the super strong flavor, but I lamented the fact that the low-calorie mix meant I wasn’t getting much of an energy boost from drinking it. I thought it was especially dangerous that the volunteers were referring to it as Gatorade – if I hadn’t figured out that it was Nuun and upped my Shotblox consumption accordingly, I might have thought it was 150 calorie Gatorade, which is usually just about all the fuel I need. I actually liked having the low calorie drink on the field (it was a lot tastier than plain water), but I think it’s really important to train your volunteers to accurately tell runners what they are drinking so they can adjust their fuel consumption accordingly.

The Shot Blox combined with a subsequent downhill gave me some energy, though, and I soon found myself coming into Golden Gate Park and mile 11. The half marathoners split off from the full marathoners, and it was not long before we reached the halfway point of our race: 2:11 total time for me, which was just the slightest improvement over both of my half splits the day before. Yay! It was in this section that I also got my second wind and started pulling faster miles than ever before: 9:11, 9:14, 9:18. When my friend Liza called to say hello at mile 16 (not realizing I was in the midst of a marathon), I didn’t hesitate to chat with her for a few minutes before promising to make plans to catch up soon. I was on fire!

I think part of my energy came from all the Tweeting I was doing with the #InspireForWomen hashtag as part of my agreement with Yurbuds, who had sponsored my entry into the race. I don’t always tweet while I run, but I do often cheer on/encourage the other runners around me. Not only is it polite, but it actually gives me more energy to try to pep up others. I found that live tweeting out my race (and getting positive feedback from so many wonderful people) helped to keep me in a great mood and just get me excited for whatever would be coming around the next turn.

Speaking of which, after we turned out of the park and onto the Great Highway, I saw something very exciting: the 25 mile marker! I was still 7 miles away from reaching it, but knowing that I only had 3.5 miles out and 3.5 miles back was very exciting.

We finally came to another aid station that had Shotblox, and I greedily grabbed several. I was getting tired and worn out! I was a little surprised that the race organizers hadn’t thought to put any fuel between miles 8 and 19, especially since (as already mentioned) the on-course drink was low-calorie Nuun instead of something substantial. I do carry my own Gu, but it seems like a race of this caliber should be able to provide energy gels/Shotblox/etc at more than just two spots in the full marathon. I had read a lot of comments before the race about how it catered more to half marathoners than full marathoners, and been pleasantly surprised that the full marathon was still a great experience, but this is the one area where I agreed with those statements.

At mile 19, I spied a NYC Team in Training coach running with a fellow New York athlete (as written on their t-shirts), and I gave them a hearty “Go New York!” as I approached. A few seconds later, the two said their goodbyes and the coach dropped back. But wait! “Coach?” I asked. “Do you know about how long this hill is that’s coming up?” Despite me not being TNT, the coach was awesome enough to run with me for a few seconds and let me know that it was just an on-ramp to the highway and wasn’t more than a quarter mile to the top. Sweet! Armed with that information, I pushed the pace all the way to the top instead of stopping for a walk break along the way. Just 6 miles left in this race!

We came down the hill and were faced with… a slight incline. What?? It turned out to be rolling all the way around Lake Merced, which I was not expecting. Luckily, at this point I was so high on adrenaline from being close to the finish that I didn’t care all that much. I was also listening to a pretty awesome playlist of pop songs I hadn’t heard in quite some time, and tweeting out lyrics like “What you feel is what you are and what you are is beautiful.” Why haven’t I listened to Goo Goo Dolls in 10 years? They are good stuff!

As I came into the last three miles, we ran through a section of professional signs with inspirational sayings. My favorite? 26.2 miles of glory – especially because that meant for me, it was a doubly glorious weekend!

With just one more up and over (git her done!), I was back onto the Great Highway and headed for the finish line. Checking my GPS midway through mile 23 (2.4 miles to go), I was especially excited to realize that I had already run 50 miles that weekend – and yet, my legs and feet still felt great! I may have been tired at the beginning of the race, but I think the energy you put into it is what you get out of it. By tweeting/cheering/permagrinning, I was now finishing feeling fantastic.

I was still having a ball until just before mile 25… when my phone died! No more music, and now no GPS at all (since I had forgotten to pack my Garmin). I tried not to let this dampen my spirits, but I was frustrated to not know exactly how far I still had to go. I resorted to asking TNT coaches on the side of the road how much was left, since I figured they would know the exact distance. Unfortunately, all of them kept giving me vague “ohhh less than a mile or two” responses – which was not too helpful! Spoiler alert: when I later found out my official time, I wished I hadn’t wasted a single second asking them and had instead just run my heart out. You win some, you lose some though!

Finally, though, I saw the finish line in front of me, and I sped up as much as I could for that final push. When I saw the clock, I realized that I had managed to run today’s race even faster than yesterday’s – and my face broke into a very surprised and very proud grin. I think I even cried when I crossed the finish line! I could not believe how good I felt and how well I had done.

And of course, I got to collect my Tiffany’s box with my necklace medal from a very cute fireman 🙂 That’s a pretty fun ending to any race! While I didn’t snap a pic of me with the actual box (thanks to the aforementioned dead phone), I liked that Yurbuds had chosen their headbands and race t-shirts to perfectly match the trademark Tiffany blue.

So… what’s up next? Well, my coast to coast challenge for my 75th marathon may have been completed, but I still had another marathon coming up the next weekend: Niagara Falls International Marathon! Stay tuned for that race report.

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 4:20:53
Pace: 10:03/mile
Overall place: 841/4452
Gender place: 725/4051
Age group place: 201/1052


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