Monday, October 22, 2007

The Nike Women's Marathon 2007

Sunday October 21, 2007

Perhaps this entry doesn't really fit in the "travel the world" blog, but it is certainly a journey of sorts. And we did make the trip to San Francisco for the weekend!

The scene: Union Square, San Francisco, 6:15 am on Sunday, 10/21.
The event: Nike Women's Marathon 2007

So I've been training for this marathon off and on for just about a year, but most intensively in the past 3 months. Tallying up the miles on my travel log, I've run 264 miles since mid June!

Here I am stretching out at 6 in the morning in Union Square. I have to say, I've never seen so many women in one place at the same time. There are about 20,000 runners in the marathon this year, an event which benefits the Leukemia Lymphoma Society.

Yes, guys can run it too, but the official scores go to the women. My guy opted to cheer me on instead. The sun was just barely starting to come up, but the air was charged with excitement and adrenaline. I was a little bit overwhelmed and slightly intimidated by all of the Team in Training people and their purple shirts and their coaches; but halfway through the race, I would be so happy to have them cheering me on, even though I'm not a part of their team.

I found my timing group (10-12 minutes per mile) and found a spot at the starting place. At around 6:40am, we heard a roar of cheering as the Elite Women headed out. These are the ladies that look like they could run this marathon, then be showered and back in bed for a nap by 9am.

And then, suddenly it was 7 am, and group by group, we headed to the Start line. The first few miles were so exciting, and even though it was slow because of the crowds, I felt like I was one small leg on a giant millipede, winding it's way through the city. The course for this marathon is exceedingly beautiful, showing off San Francisco in all her glory. We started in Union Square, ran by the TransAmerica Pyramid, headed down to the Embarcardero, which we followed around the Marina and through to the Presidio, complete with breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge in the early morning light. I was pleasantly surprised to see Jack at around mile 5, as we rounded the Marina.

At mile 6, we started a steep climb up Lincoln Blvd. which lasted roughly 1.3 miles. At the crest of the hill, there was a collective scream of joy, as runners reached the top and saw the amazing view of the glittering Bay... and a downhill track for as far as the eyes could see! Somewhere during the climb, I saw Dawn, who had crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to cheer me on. It was a great energy booster to see her during this strenuous climb.

At roughly mile 10, I was enjoying a swift downhill gait and feeling on top of the world, when we rounded the corner, and I was suddenly struck by the most unbelievable view of the Pacific Ocean, luminescent waves crashing infinitely on a misty beach! It was such a surreal union of so many different senses in that one moment; from the physical high that I was feeling, to the incredible vision before my eyes, the fresh smell of the ocean and rocking out on my ipod at that very minute was KT Tunstall singing "Suddenly I see, this is what I wanna be, Suddenly I see, why the hell it means so much to me..." I think that was probably the most glorious moment of the entire marathon for me. To be honest, I even shed a few tears of happiness... until the trail suddenly started to incline, at which point, those tears weren't so happy anymore!

Below, I receive a Haw Gao on a stick from Melissa, when she, Dawn and Jack greeted me as the course wound it's way through Golden Gate Park.

At mile 16, we exited Golden Gate Park and continued on to the Great Highway. I think it was at this point, that I started walking because I could feel myself losing steam. Something in my right knee was starting to burn, and there was also a strange pulling sensation going on in my hip. It was also around this point that the full marathoners caught a glimpse of the half marathoners crossing their finish line and looking happy to be done... I was soooo jealous! Seeing my friends at mile 18 cheering me on was the pick me up that I needed, at least for the next 2 miles.
I was determined to run most of mile 20 as we headed out around Lake Merced, because I had dedicated that mile to Jen, who I knew was praying for me at that very moment. But as soon as I crossed the mile 21 marker, I had to walk, and walked most of that mile, making it the LONGEST MILE EVER! By this point, I had some serious pain in my right leg, but I really felt like I was in the home stretch, especially when I saw a lady at mile 22 holding a sign that said "Only 4.2 more miles till flip flops and beer!" That actually made me laugh out loud, and I continued to limp/jog for the next 2 miles. (I was so loopy at this point that many things were making me laugh out loud.)

Halfway through mile 24, back on the Great Highway, I could feel the energy of the crowd and the draw of the finish line, but I was also feeling desperate... were these miles getting longer, or was it just me?? Suddenly, I saw Jack, jogging towards me, like a fish swimming against the current of many many female fish, and when I saw him I almost started crying. I stopped my limp/jog, and we walked for a while hand in hand. He chatted happily about the day, taking my mind off of the task at hand and then we picked up a slow jog again at 25.5 miles until at mile 26, some officials told him to get off of the course so that I could finish alone. Only .2 miles to go! I saw Nike's "Finish- Just Did It" banner ahead of me, and I felt a determination that I had never felt before in my entire life as I fixed my eyes ahead. Right before the finish line, I heard someone scream my name, and I looked over and saw Melissa frantically taking pictures.

And then it was over! I finished! On the other side of the finish line was a row of young men wearing tuxedos and running shoes, holding blue Tiffany's boxes with white bows, and I planted myself right in front of one of these guys, because yes, I just finished a Marathon, and by God I wanted my Tiffany Finisher's pendant!!!

Ah, the glory. My muscles tightened up almost the moment I stopped running but at the time it didn't matter. Jay and Emily came out to meet us at the Finishers Village and I limped around picking up free stuff. I've got great friends, let me just say. Recognizing my desire to be stationary, Jack and Emily set off to see if they could buy me a pair of flip flops, Jay ran off to find me some ice, and Melissa helped me hobble over to pick up my jacket that I had checked in during the run.

In the end, I have to say it was an awesome experience. It's funny because those who know me would never associate my name with the word "athlete" let alone "long distance runner". Which leads to the question, "So why run a marathon?" To which I answer, "Hmm."

The idea was planted in my head when over a year ago now, I was hanging out with my neighbor Julie and her baby son, and talking about her pregnancy and labor. When I asked her how the actual birthing part of it was, she replied, "Well, it's like, you've run marathons before, right?" I shook my head. "Oh, well it's kind of like a marathon. It's exciting when it starts, you feel moments of joy and pain in between, but the hard part's at the end." Maybe in a way, I ran this marathon to help me tackle the idea having children. Mind you, I'd like to have kids, just without the whole birthing process... which seems like something I so don't want to do. But hey, now I've run a marathon! Not to say that this compares, because I'm sure that having a baby is much much harder.

Over the months that I've been training though, I think that I've also been hoping that this would be a life changing experience for me. Who knows? Maybe I would grow to love an activity that I had once hated with my entire being. Well, that didn't exactly happen. In fact, it seemed that with every step that I ran, I ended up disliking it even more, to the point where one of my great motivators for actually running the marathon was so that when I finished, I would never have to run again! Well, I don't know if that's all together true now, because actually finishing a marathon changes things for me a little bit. Because now, one of my greatest triumphs in life is associated with running. How can I completely give it up? Especially when, including the marathon and training, my white and blue Mizuno running shoes have officially logged 290.2 miles?? So close to 300! Will I ever run another marathon again? To be honest, NO WAY! But I could probably be convinced to run a half marathon, or more likely, a 5k!

So now, in the end, I think that maybe I did this to prove to myself that there really isn't anything I can't do. I ran a frickin marathon! Me! La Verne Sheu Chen, who got a C- in 6th grade PE for who remembers what, but probably something about running the fewest laps in the school jogathon.

Do I recommend running a marathon? I would very carefully say, "Sure, just know what you're getting into." I've got a blister on the side of my big toe that looks like another toe.

For a great book on training for a marathon if you're like me, read "The Non Runner's Marathon Guide for Women: Get Off Your Butt and On With Your Training," by Dawn Dais, c. 2006.