Before I get into the nitty gritty of the race in an insanely long post, I just want to mention that for this race alone, runners like me raised $12.7 million for leukemia and lymphoma research. The eight-year total: $118 million for this event alone. That’s some serious fundraising and serious commitment from otherwise ordinary individuals, and I’m really proud to be part of that.
Ok, on to the race story that you’re waiting for.
In the past week, I did a lot of thinking. It’s been four years since my first and last shot at the Nike Women’s Marathon, three years since my last half marathon (Philly, 2008), and a year since breaking my foot. As the week wore on I spent a lot of time estimating pace, plotting my race strategy and generally overthinking myself into a corner as my excitement gave way to nerves.
I was almost certain that, barring some sort of cataclysm, I’d beat my previous PR and course record. The question was by how much? Could I beat my time by 10 minutes? 15? More? I analyzed numbers. I made semi-educated guesses. I debated about making a pace band to wear around my wrist and keep track of my time.
And then I found myself wondering: why?
Even if I could shave an hour off of my current personal record for the half marathon, I still wouldn’t be a top-tier contender. There was no situation in which I’d finish in the top 10, or even the top 10 of my age group. So why was I obsessing about pace?
What if I just stopped all of that, shut off my brain and just enjoyed the run?
It was a good thing that I had this little internal discussion, because race day didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped.
All of the pre-race information said that runners should get to the starting corrals by 6:30 for the 7:00 start. I showed up at 6:15 — compulsively early bird that I am — and was told that the bag check buses on my side of Union Square were already full, and that I had to get to the other side. Umm, easier said than done. 20 minutes of pushing through the throng later, I finally made it to the buses. “Go to any bus with an open window,” the guy was shouting on his bullhorn. Bus #1 had five open windows. “No, we’re full.” Bus #2 had three open windows. “No bags, keep moving.” Eight buses later I finally got the last available spot for my bag. I saw dozens of runners who carried their bags through the race because there was no space available in bag check. Did they not know how many participants to accommodate for?
Now it was nearly 7:00 and I had to get back through the throng to my pace group, lined up in front of Macy’s. I was almost a full block away. By the time the countdown began, I’d made it as far as the corner of Powell and Geary and was unable to go any further. I have no idea what pace group I began with, but I was surrounded by runners who were in the wrong place: 9:00, 14:00 and one 7:00 marathoner.
And when I say throng, let me explain how tightly we were packed in. We were so densely and tightly packed that I couldn’t lift my arm from my side to allow my Garmin to acquire satellites. People were pushing, and pushing hard, in an effort to move the masses and get to the potties or their start corrals. One woman had a claustrophobic panic attack and flipped out. All I could think of were stories of people being trampled to death in a crowd. If I ever do Nike again, I will seriously consider taking up position somewhere down the hill near Market Street just to spare myself the anxiety.
The Race Begins
I crossed the start line about 20:00 after the clock began, and I was probably in the front 1/4- 1/3 of the runners. I have no idea how long it took to get everyone across the start line.
When no one in your neighboring group is in the proper pace zone, this means that there’s a ton of jockeying for position that goes on at the start. Most of us were bobbing and weaving around the walkers, not to mention runners who were inexplicably making phone calls while running down the middle of Post Street. One overheard conversation: “Yeah, I’m on the move now, so if you could meet me near Pier 39 with some coffee, that would be great.”
On the Move
The crowds were insane this year, and there were many places where the traffic was just too dense to enable passing. I ran where I could, and walked more than I expected to because I had no place to go.
Near mile 8, I was met by my friend and virtual coach who brought a bottle of water, GU and the Advil that he assumed that I’d need. See, I’d manage to mostly keep quiet about the fact that I’d somehow managed to tweak my neck two days earlier. Looking to the left had been nearly impossible, and while I’d managed to function fairly normally in daily life, I hadn’t accounted for how much my neck would be needed in running. All that bouncing around… your neck muscles are doing more than you think they are. I know this now because I felt Every. Single. Step. But because I was too paranoid to violate the “nothing new on race day” mantra, I declined meds until I got home.
Now Greg has run more than his share of half marathons, but never Nike. He could not believe the crowds, the runners filling the streets, a dozen across, even eight miles in. (You’ll notice that crowds are a recurring theme here; sorry, but that’s part of every story that I have to tell about this race.)
Signs and Shirts
- “I run like a mom: 26.2 miles of peace and quiet.”
- “Y’all know that Tiffany has a catalog, right?”
- “Worst parade ever.”
- “I love football, but I’d rather spend my Sunday with thousands of lovely ladies.” (on the back of a guy’s shirt)
- “Marathons are easy. Just ask my wife.”
Nearing the Finish
I found my coach (or more accurately, my coach spotted me) somewhere between miles 11-12, on the long, gradual uphill through Golden Gate Park. Tim, you said all the right things at the right time and made me smile. I picked up my pace and managed to catch my 2010 mentor, Olivia, around mile 12. Olivia and I finished more or less simultaneously, and I’ll eventually post our TNT check-in photo of the two of us together.
As I crossed the finish line, there was lots of commotion even before we got to the lovely tuxedoed firemen handing out the Tiffany necklaces. A guy had flown in from out of town to not only surprise his girlfriend, but he also proposed to her at the finish line. It was incredibly sweet and she looked completely blown away by it all.
My final time was 2:46:31. Not as good as what I had hoped, but I don’t believe that I could have gone much faster on the course with the crowds the way they were. And it was still a course record by 12 minutes and a PR by 10 minutes. Not bad at all, when you think about it.
The end of the race was as chaotic as the start. The race bag buses were arranged in no particular order, so finding Bus 25 required walking up and down the rows. It wasn’t until after I got to my bus — second from last — that someone showed me that there was a handwritten bus map that seemed to only be possessed by the last two buses in the group.
But the Team in Training booth set up on the beach? Wow. Couldn’t have asked for a better place to stretch and relax before tackling the journey home by bus, BART train and taxi. And, uh, I probably would have taken photos of this lovely setup had I not been pretty darned tired. Hindsight, you know.
Will I do Nike again? Will I do another half marathon? Will I stick to shorter distances, like a sensible person, or will I decide that sensible just isn’t for me? I have some things to think about in the coming weeks.