You Only Have ONE First Marathon – The San Francisco Marathon 2015

Bear with me people. This post will be LONG and most likely emotional at points because well..this experience was overwhelmingly amazing…and I am starting this while sitting in the airport with some wine and ample time before my flight.

The San Francisco Marathon.

imageI am so grateful to have been able to fully complete this after dropping down to the half marathon last year due to an injury.  Last year, I felt like I was the only person running the half marathon, I remember feeling a bit embarrassed.  It seemed like I was the only person in the crowd with a half marathon bib while every around me was sporting a Full Marathon bib.  Now, here I was. Round two and FINALLY sporting the Full Marathon bib. My first full marathon bib!

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My nerves didn’t start kicking in until the day before.  I woke up early and made my way to the  shakeout run organized by Dean Karnazes.  The run overlooked the Golden Gate Bridge and I just started took in the scenery, chatted with other runners and did just about everything I could to not let my nerves take over.  It felt great to get my legs moving again after a couple of days of rest.  I tried not to over-stress but of course, every little bit of soreness or twinge immediately set nerves through my body.  They were somewhat alleviated when I was chatting with a runner on the bus and he refered to this sense of over awareness using a specific term (I wish I could remember because it was spot on).  I guess I am one of MANY runners that get super paranoid and borderline in a hypochondriac state of mind in the final days leading up to the race.

After the shakeout run, I so badly wanted to hit up the local Acai cafe  because I have been obsessed with making them back at home.  My world was totally rocked when I saw they come in QUART size.  Why yes, I would absolutely love an Acai bowl the size of my head!

imageIt was probably one of the greatest things I have ever tasted.  So much so, that after running 26.2 miles, I decided it would be a great idea to walk a mile to the cafe and get another one.  People in line started congratulating me when they saw my medal (even let me cut the line a bit!) and asked if the race was hard.  My response (still out of breath from the hilly walk) was “The walk here was harder”.  Ha.

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Quart sized Acai bowl…This time with some bling🙂

Alright, so about this 26.2 thing that I should be talking about.  Oh my.  It was the most memorable, rewarding, and fun experiences I have ever had.  Yes, I was nervous but deep down, I knew I was ready.  I set out my race outfit and fuel the night before.  I wasn’t sure how much fuel I was going to need/be able to fit in my bra since I have only trained with one Vega gel.  I managed to comfortably tuck 2 Vega Gels and a small sample sized Jelly Bean pack in my sports bra.  I am still not sure how it all fit but I do know that when I was standing in line for the Porta Potties chatting with another runner, she asked what “Vega Gel” was and I said, “I would love to show you but right now they are carefully placed in random cracks and spaces in my chest”..which then caused the male behind us to laugh and from then on it became a wonderful group chat that helped pass time while waiting 😉 …and certainly helped tame the nerves.

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After the bathroom, I made it to Wave 4 in time and was ready to rock!

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 I knew I had the potential to be in a higher wave but I also understood that having zero marathons under my belt gives me no right to dictate which wave I am in.  However, I was disappointed because the 3:35 pacers that I wanted to stick with from the beginning were in Wave 2.  Looking back now, despite some frustrating moments of trying to pass people in tight areas, starting further back provided some great confidence boosters throughout the race.  I ended up catching to the 3:45 pacers at Mile 14.  They told me that if I started in wave 4 then I was technically at a 3:35 pace and when I passed the 3:35 pacers at mile 20, I was elated. I was hitting a roughly 3:25 pace!

The first few miles were along Embarcadero and passed Fisherman Wharf.  I had a great view of Alcatraz and allowed myself to focus solely on taking in the scenery.  I self-talked A LOT throughout the race. The first couple of miles were, “It is happening, I am finally doing it!“.  I actually had to stop because there were moments where I started to tear up.  The excitement of starting this adventure was so exciting and overwhelming..in a good way!  As we were approaching the Golden Gate around mile 3 and 4 we hit some pretty solid hills.  Hills do not intimidate me, in fact, they are my confidence boosters.  I am not the typical skinny, no-body fat type runner.  I am a strong and built runner.  I always feel my strength helps me prevail when it comes to wind and hills so whenever I hit a hill, I tell myself that this is where I get the advantage over those skinny mini runners 🙂

Arriving at the Golden Gate Bridge was breath-taking.  It was  tight and the people in front of me were moving slower than I wanted but I did my best to pass without knocking someone off the bridge 😉  I could tell I was getting frustrated and had to remind myself that these are the moments you don’t get back.  Do I really want to look back at the most memorable view of the race and think that I let it go because I was fixated on an opening in front of me rather than the scenery around me.  No.  

There were many times I wanted to stop and take a picture of the scenery but I knew that my taking pictures-while-running skills are horrible and my phone was probably drowning in sweat in my bra.  I almost asked those around me taking pictures to send them to me (and move a little faster) but I don’t think exchanging numbers mid-race is helpful when trying to get a BQ time…and it is probably not very normal.

I had a Vega Gel around mile 7 as we were making the turn to go back over the bridge.  There were some nice downhills after the bridge and before I knew it, mile 11 was approaching.  “15 miles left, that’s not too bad.  I remember the week before my 20 miler, my 15 mile training run was scaling back, it was supposed to be a casual easy distance run. So, I said to myself, I have a casual easy distance left.  I can handle that.

As we were approaching mile 13, the half-marathoners started breaking off.  It took me back to last year where I felt a little ashamed that I was breaking off and was almost done while those around me still had 13.1 more miles to go.  Reliving that feeling and knowing that this time I was not one of those breaking off gave me a surge of energy.

Miles 14-18 were pretty quiet as we ran through Golden Gate park.  I quickly used the bathroom at Mile 16 to ease my stomach a bit but for the most part, I had no GI issues throughout the race.  That was a huge a concern of mine because I had not trained using this much water, gels and electrolyte drinks.

Prior to the race, I googled information about the course and read that Mile 19-20 has a terrible down hill.  Down hills are not my favorite.  They have a tendency to beat up my knees, so much so that I actually run them backwards.  Yes, miles 19.5-20 were run backwards.  I am pretty sure spectators thought I was crazy and the person in back of me definitely thought I was weird as we ran face to face down the hill. But Hey, whatever works.  I didn’t trip and I my knees felt no pain so in my opinion, it was a brilliant strategy.

When mile 20 approached, everything felt so real.  This was the point where people hit the wall and here I was, feeling great. Many people said that miles 20-26 are all mental.  I was ready prove my mental strength and make these final 6 miles nothing but strength and positivity.  I thought about my 6 miler in Ithaca a couple of weeks ago.  The hills were brutal and my legs were sore from the start.  Mel, you managed to get through those 6 miles feeling terrible from the start, you can get through this!  This is nothing. And it was.  Thrill and excitement carried me through those final 6.  With each mile that passed by, I knew I had it.  5 more, 4 more, 3 more, 2 more..each mile followed by the biggest smile.  When mile 25 hit, I was ready to go.  I turned to those around me and said “ONE MORE GUYS!’…they may have thought I was crazy but sometimes encouraging the  person next to me helps encourage me.

 MILE 26. Solid excitement. And of course the saddest and slowest song on my Pandora decided to come on.  I saw the finish line and kicked it in with everything I had..and with the biggest fricken smile on.  Which stayed on my face for quite some time…

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The guy on the ground behind me cracks me up…Doesn’t seem to be on my level.

I still wasn’t exactly sure of my time when I finished because I started in Wave 4 – about 22 minutes after the first wave.  I saw 3:48 when I crossed the line so I figured I was around 3:30.  Finally I saw the results, 3:26!  Boston Marathon 2016 – I am coming for you! 

I have done many things in my life but this was definitely one of the greatest moments I have ever experienced.  I know this is not my last marathon but I also know that not every marathon will be enjoyable and painless as this. I hope that with each marathon I run in the future, I shed some time off but never forget that a marathon is an amazing accomplishment in itself.  In all my past races, I come in a with a competitive edge and fixate on my time and my place.  For the first time in my racing career, I was able to put that aside and just run the miles for me and not for proving my time or place to anyone.  Of course I had a BQ time in mind but other than that, I genuinely did not care about place/time/splits.  Covering 26.2 was gratifying enough.  This distance grew on me.  It feels so refreshing to race for fun and not for proving my speed to others.  With all my past half marathons, 10k, or 5k – I can tell myself a million times that I will not focus on my time and just enjoy the race but I just can’t seem to fully commit to my words – I do care. For the first time, I didn’t care.  I was just happy to be out there living out a dream I have had for years.  

I don’t know what is ahead for me, but I do know that you only have ONE first marathon and I could not have asked for a better first.

A HUGE ‘Thank You’ to everyone for their support.  I saw and read each message and was overwhelmed with gratitude.  I can’t thank you all enough!

You are all so amazing. 

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