October 20, 2011

2011 Nike Women's Marathon Race Recap

I was ELATED when I got my registration confirmation email for this race. Thanks to a Dailymile friend, I got in with a Group ID. Admittedly, I had high expectations. I mean, it's hosted by Nike right? The "Expotique" was not was I was expecting. I felt like I was in an obnoxiously loud, product-pushing nightclub that I wanted to get out of as soon as possible.

There were no obvious signs on where to go to pick up our race packets. I walked up close to what I thought was the line for the Marathon goody bags only to be stopped by a volunteer who told me the line was "outside over there around the block"? Are you kidding me? What kind of directions are those?  I literally walk all the way around the tent because I have no idea which street the line starts on. Finally, I see a huge line on a sidewalk and slide in. There are volunteers with giant-sized lollipop-looking signs with pink on one side and green on the other since they had to control traffic going into and out of the Expotique at the same time. Unfortunately, there was ONE line for all runners. They did not separate the Marathoners from the Half Marathoners until the very end of the line. I think it took over 20 minutes to actually get up to the tent (we arrived Saturday around 3pm). When I got up there, everyone in front of me was waiting on the Half Marathon side and there was no one in line for the Marathon pick up. Grrrrrrrr. Let's have 2 lines next year please???

After I get my goody bag, I push through the crowd, trying to find merchandise and the runner-tracking sign up booth. I see all the sponsors booths, some with huge lines (just to try a sip of Lite Pom?)! I have no interest in trying out spinning bikes and treadmills the day before a marathon. Trying to get to the Merch area was nearly impossible because there was something going on on the suspended stage so I gave up. Feeling completely frustrated and disappointed, I left, met up with hubby outside and headed back to the hotel. We relaxed for a couple of hours, ate dinner at a restaurant across the street and we were both in bed asleep by 8:30pm - exhausted from a lack of sleep the night prior and a 6 hour drive from LA.

Start time was 7am on Sunday. Our hotel was only about 1/2 a mile from Union Square so I actually got to sleep in a little. What a concept! I forced down a banana and a few handfuls of Honeynut Cheerios at 5am, accompanied by a small cup of coffee and a little water. I had already laid out all my clothes and gear the night before. I wanted to wear something Nike so I ran in my Nike running skirt and socks since I wasn't wearing my Lunar Glide +3's. :-)

Hubby walked with me to the Start but didn't last long with all that estrogen pouring in from all directions. We find my corral, he gives me a kiss and then he's outta there! Can't say that I blame him. THIS is what the area turned into not 20 minutes later:

Hearing the National Anthem and the ensuing screams/whistling as the song ended was awesome. Here is some video of the last 30 seconds taken from my phone. I've watched it like 10 times and it still gives me chills!

I think the race started right on time. My corral was on the opposite side of Union Square (closer to Niketown of course) where the Start line was. It took just over 23 minutes for me to finally cross. I love this idea of having a designated area for runners to dump their "I'm trying to keep warm before the race" clothes. It seems so much safer for the runners so we're not worried about tripping over clothes thrown off to the curb or in the gutters. I can't say for sure if that barrier was up for another reason, but I like how the runners re-purposed it, if that was the case!

As soon as we cross the Start line, the course takes us down all the Embarcadero, passing Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf. We were also fortunate to have some breathtaking views of Alcatraz Island and the Golden Bridge.

Pier 39
The course was so crowded here (Fisherman's Wharf) that I am running on cable car tracks (lower left of pic)
and these people are running on the sidewalk!

The first few miles were frustrating, especially when we hit the first VERY steep hill where most runners chose to walk, but couldn't be bothered to consider the people who were trying to run. I was trying not to let it bother me but I can't stand that kind of selfishness. I see a single file line of runners on the left side of the road and start weaving my way through the crowd to get over there.  I heard some women behind me yelling "Runners on the left!!!".... so I let myself have a little outburst moment and joined in the yelling. A little consideration people!!!

The hills and elevation changes between Mile 5 through Mile 10 were pretty brutal.
The data from the first mile is not "real". The satellite signal was weak due to the tall buildings in the Financial District, etc. We hit the first steep, but short climb in Mile 3 near Fort Mason. From the Presidio (Mile 6), we continue along the cliff line to Lincoln Blvd, descend a very steep drop onto city streets (Mile 8) immediately followed by a 225+ ft ascent over 1.5 miles. At Mile 10, we hit the infamous Cliff House restaurant on the Great Highway with some beautiful views of the Pacific.

First 10 miles - Hybrid view from my data
Close to the Cliff House restaurant. Yes, that is a totem pole.

Miles 10 through 16 took us along the Great Highway and into Golden Gate park. The Half Marathoners and Marathoner's courses split around 11.5 miles. I was not especially fond of running with the half marathoners, probably because I have never run a race that combined the two in this way. I found myself getting caught up in their "we're almost done" energy just before the split (which was awesome and a little disheartening at the same time - LOL!). 

Peak (in Mile 13 = 290 ft)
I swear it was like someone turned the fresh air on as I headed deeper into the park. It was SO nice to get away from all of those other runners and their body heat!!! I found myself feeling suddenly very relaxed and at peace. I realized at this point that I was missing our Galloway group members and was feeling a little jealous of all the Team In Training groups who were running together. I wanted my group with me too. :-(  I called John around mile 14 to let him know how I was doing and when I thought I was going to finish.  It was really good to hear his voice and gave me a little boost. This part of the course was almost entirely inside Golden Gate Park.

Here is the Aerial Hybrid shot. The blue line shows where the Half Marathoners split off to head towards the finish. We did meet up with them again on MLK Jr Drive (bottom of map screenshot below), but at this point, our courses are divided by barriers.

Lower left = Mile 16 for Marathoners; Blue line shows where Half Marathon course splits off towards the Finish.
....and just in case you still didn't get it, there was one last reminder sign (if anyone had missed that turn, their Half Marathon just turned into a 17 mile race.) :-)

Here I am in Mile 16 - still smilin'!

Now we're back out on the Great Highway, headed towards to San Fran Zoo and San Fran State where I went to college. I knew from the course map that we would be running around Lake Merced which is pretty much where I got started running outside regularly. What a coincidence!

I must say something about the condition of the Great Highway. It SUCKS. I almost twisted my ankle twice in the cracks and crevices. Parts of the road in GG Park were torn up too. It was mentally tough because I knew that I was working harder physically to keep my lower body stabilized to maintain good form. This is very hard to do when you've already conquered miles and miles of steep hills!  I ran in my Pearl Izumi Streak IIs which have minimal padding and I could feel every pebble, divot and crack in the road. Because it was unexpected and I hadn't trained on this kind of terrain, I let it mess with my head a little but I worked it out pretty quickly once I realized it was conjuring up negative thoughts. Mile 17 is not a good time to start thinking that way. We've got a long way to go!

The last 10 miles was a trip down memory lane for me but also some of the best parts of course. The Half-ers don't know what they missed (or maybe they did and that's exactly why they did the Half!). Haha!!! More miles through the park. Getting to run on the Great Highway along the ocean (past Ocean Beach where we used to party and have bonfires when I was in high school - sorry Mom). Running by the Zoo (where I used to take our special ed kids a couple of times a year). Running around Lake Merced and passing San Fran State where I saw my old dorm!).
Thanks to the National Guard for greeting us at Lake Merced (almost at Mile 19 here)!

We ran clockwise around the lake. I soon remembered why we ran counterclockwise as a student af SF State.
It's much easier!
Elevation changes around Lake Merced;
Miles 19 - 23.5

When I read about the Chocolate Mile (at the 22 mile mark), for whatever reason, I thought it would be a big deal. Maybe some big signs of encouragement or special stations - something different.  But it was only a couple of volunteers handing out individually wrapped squares of Ghirardelli chocolate. After all the work we'd done to get to that point including that long jagged continuous hill just to get around the lake, the thought of eating it made me sick to my stomach. After 2 Gu's, Power Bar Gel, Shot Blocks and a 2nd Surge, I'd had enough sweets.

From here, we head back out on the Great Highway, the same way we came in. Only 3.2 miles to go! I can do a 5K from here. Come on Vera! I can feel little surges of speed and adrenaline but they are short-lived. I pass the 24 Mile Marker. Don't get excited Vera. Stay in your rhythm, you're not there yet. One foot in front of the other; one, two, one, two.... Mile 25. Now the crowd support is really starting to pick up. Some TNT coaches are running up and down the shoulder yelling out to everyone. Come on! Only a mile to go! Let's go, let's go, they shout. On the inside I'm thinking YES, I'm going to do it. I'm going to finish! I manage to eek out a few more short-lived surges of speed as my calves take their claws out and dig in. Just stay strong. It doesn't matter what your time is. I hear someone shout "The Finish is like 60 yards beyond that streetlight!". Oh thank God. I don't know how much more calf pain I can take. Mile 26. OMG, I can see the Finish. Here I go!

I wonder if John is around here somewhere. I can see the Firemen now. They're in tuxedos holding silver platters with those infamous blue square Tiffany boxes! "VERA!!!" I know that voice. Hubby!!! Don't cry. Don't cry. I can see he's got his phone out so I smile and wave. This is what he caught:

This is me smiling and trying not to cry at the same time. :-)
I hit the Finish mat and think about pulling out my sport cam to get a pick with my fireman but I'm too exhausted to get into my backpack. What I really want is to find Hubby!

My calves are really starting to cramp up now. I can't wait to sit down but I know I need to keep walking around. I see water bottles, Finisher's shirts, a box of bagels and a cool reusable bag. I grab one of each. I had planned on buying a sweatshirt or some other memorabilia, but just as Hubby predicted, there was no way I was willing to a) walk 25 ft to the boutique or b) stand in line. I can see the hubs making his way quickly to the runner's exit and I yell out to him that I'm just going to come out. We finally connect and before he can get a word out or give me a kiss, I'm instantly in tears. "I did it".

In Summary

The overall experience was awesome. There were waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too many people (22K total - a record for this race). My calves were screaming at me for the last 3 miles and I really had to work hard on relaxing. I thought a lot about gliding and staying strong. Coach Vera was out in full force for sure. I stopped to do some light stretching after about 22 miles a couple of times and that felt good.

I only had to use the porta-potty once at mile 18 (I had a 2nd Surge gel with a lot of caffeine in it at mile 16 which obviously struck a chord with my bowels). TMI. ;-)  I was so excited to see this just in the nick of time:

Runners behind the Honey Buckets are in mile 25 here,
 heading to the Finish after running around Lake Merced
Unless you're a local, I don't think traveling for the Half is worth the money. The course is incredibly overcrowded, made more difficult by all the very steep hills. For me, the pay off is in the Marathon course but I'm not a Team In Training member or a cancer survivor so my inspiration and motivation for being there was likely drastically different than the 5,000+ TNT racers.

The water and fuel stops created dangerous and frustrating situations on the course. There were no tall signs indicating where the tables were. Because there were SO MANY runners crowding the streets, all of the sudden you'd see masses of people cutting off runners as they darted from one side of the course to the other. I almost felt like I was in a mosh pit at the first stop. After that I wised up and kept an eye out for places where swarms of people were gathering near the side of the road. For as 'green' as Nike presented themselves, Gatorade was the exact opposite. I've never seen that much trash on the ground on a course. The plastic packaging they use for the fuel they were handing out was at least 3 x's the size of gel or shot block packaging. I don't know for sure that it wasn't recyclable, but my gut says no. I didn't have any use for what they were handing out anyway because all of their products give me GI problems when I'm running.

After I finished, I had a little trouble walking to the spot where my sis and brother-in-law were sitting and waiting for my slow ass (they picked up John from our hotel and drove him out to the finish). They were less than half a mile from the finish. I had to stop to sit down twice on the way to meet them. HAHA!!!!  John was being very patient.  We had a really nice lunch in the park where I had my first post-race beer ever! I've never once thought it sounded good, but this time, it did. When it was time for us to go, we had to walk probably a little more than 1/2 a mile from where we were sitting (and uphill!!) but I'd had my CEP compression socks on for over an hour at that point so I was able to make it with minimal discomfort.

Then of course we had to drive home to Los Angeles which turned into a 6 1/2 hour nightmare. The geniuses at Cal Trans have decided to close 1 of 2 lanes on the 5 fwy for several miles so it added an entire hour to our drive home due to stopped traffic. A-holes. I was sore, but it wasn't too bad. After we got home, I took a quick shower and got into bed. That's when the cramping really started. I was totally exhausted but I couldn't sleep. It was all in my quads and my calves. Considering all the hills, I'm surprised my back wasn't sore.

My left IT band (only on the outside of my knee) was sore for about 48 hours. I know that is from the steep downhills. There is just no way to train for that kind of impact unless you have access to SF-type hills. I taped up my knee and IT band with KT tape as soon as we got in the car to drive home which I think has helped minimize the pain tremendously.

Here's my data. What Nike has done here is super cool!

I forgot to start my Garmin on time (there were too many tall buildings to get accurate readings anyway - you'll see it in the pace data). I accidentally stopped the timer for a short period around mile 3. I forgot to stop my Garmin at the Finish.  My official finishing time was 5:08. I would have liked to have stayed under 5 hours, but this race was more about mental work than physical work for me and I accomplished what I set out to do, so I'm happy with how I did.

My biggest accomplishment in this race was finishing. After my DNF at Grandma's Marathon this past June and the resulting lack of self-confidence, I'm permanently changing my "What I'll Be Happy With" goal to "FINISH".

With all this said, the experience is definitely worth the reward....a Tiffany Finisher's necklace! Will I be back next year? Hell yes I will....if my number gets chosen again. :-)



Mike said...

Excellent race Vera and an excellent report! Julie ran as well and I wish I would have seen you out there. Despite looking, I missed all the DMers out there! Congrats again marathoner!

Johann said...

Congratulations! Great run and great recap! That is a lot of people! I don't know if I would cope with that. Nothing wrong with 05:08 for sure. You did great! I can never drink beer after exercise. I'm not a drinker in general and after a hard run I need my chocolate milk.

Greg Strosaker said...

Nice report Vera, sounds like the scenic course (especially since it included "Memory Lane" for you) made up for the over-corporatism of the event. I for one prefer to avoid these corporate-sponsored events, though it is getting tougher and tougher to do so. Recover well!

bobbi said...

Congratulations on a great race!

3:59:59. Bitches. said...

Great report, Vera. I ran the SF Marathon in July, and those hills are no joke. And I'm so glad you discovered teh joy that is the post-marathon beer! Congrats on a great finish, and happy running!

Anonymous said...

Vera- that is a hard course- I know-that was my first marathon. I can't believe you would run it again. Good for you!

Marathon 10k said...

I love those pics, and the necklace too. Great race, Congratulations for a great job well done.