Yesterday marked a (subjectively) significant first-time achievement – I managed to finish the San Francisco Half Marathon event with a respectable time!
In terms of training, I had only reached 7 miles on more than one occasion. On one occasion, maybe about 5-6 weeks prior to the race, I managed to hit 8 miles, but was never able to reach that distance again due to pain in my left knee. Two weeks before the event I went on a 6 mile run and the pain in my knee persisted for the next 2 days (not sore pain, but slightly more acute whenever I would bend/extend). In addition, that was the first run I went on with new running shoes, and I developed two sizable blisters on the bottoms of my feet around the arch area. Then 5 days before the event, I ran a 5k loop on a treadmill, and I couldn’t even complete it without the blister burn and the knee pain coming on again.
So yeah, I wasn’t too psyched. I didn’t really want to finish a race by hobbling over the finish line, or worse, cop out somewhere in the middle. I ordered a knee brace and had it shipped using my amazon prime free trial and went on one last short 2 mile run before the day of the race. Fortunately, no pain or blister burn, but after all it was only 2 miles…
Waking up at 4:45 am was no fun, especially since I couldn’t fall asleep from anticipation until past midnight. Fortunately I wasn’t feeling too sleepy when we got to the start location and had plenty of time to warm up and stretch before the approximate start time of 6:30 am.
Then it started! I think I paced myself quite well and the beginning of the course was actually mostly flat. Mile 1 seemed to pass by with ease and this was definitely a good sign for me. Even by mile 3 I wasn’t exhaling out of my mouth. And by mile 4, the golden gate bridge was in sight (although it was a bit deceiving because it appeared to be much closer than it really was). Unfortunately, I started feeling the blister burn and groaned in my head, “Ohhh mannn…already??” My left knee also started feeling some stress but not pain and I began to worry that by the half way mark I’d be screwed.
Then I literally started praying and asking God to give me the strength to finish, fully aware that my request was insignificant and completely non-urgent in the greatest sense, but acknowledging that even the energy and stamina that I already possess is from God anyways. And if it turns out that I could finish respectably and not become crippled with fatigue and exacerbated blisters, I could say with confidence that I relied on God. I mean seriously…if I was crippled during a 7 mile training run (honest-to-goodness could not bear to jog because of the pain), and could already start feeling pain after less than 3 miles on a treadmill with a knee brace, how could I expect to finish 13 miles???
So with that mindset I kept pace as I drew nearer to the bridge. A short distance before reaching the bridge, I took a brief detour to the toilet partially for physical comfort but more for mental preparation for crossing the bridge.
Anyways, running on the golden gate bridge was awesome. Even at that point (between mile 5 and 6) I was still feeling pretty fresh muscle-wise and cardio-wise, and that gave me a nice confidence boost. I thought, “Hey, this isn’t so bad! I guess my little bit of training went a really long way!” I would recant this thought later on towards the end of the race, but nevertheless, it felt great to reach the other side. I took a 2-3 minute stretch break and ate some GU energy gel which I never had before but figuring it could only help. Then I asked for some bandaids at the medic table for my blisters, which I think was a great decision. After stretching and applying the bandaids, I think I felt the most pumped during the whole race, preparing to cross back over the bridge. This was the part where I turned my hat backwards because I am so cool :p
At some point as I ran back across the bridge I saw the marker for mile 9 and at this point I was like “SWEET! Only 3 more miles to go!” Then after several minutes I realized, “Oh wait..4 miles..but STILL SWEET!” I had surpassed my personal longest distance ever run! My body seemed to realize it too because my quads started feeling the symptoms of cramping, at which point I thought, “Uh oh…I should’ve stretched these during the break.” I stopped briefly on the bridge to stretch them. This was the first of several mini stretch breaks I would take until the end. Then I ran again and saw the back of someone’s shirt; it read, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” I thought, “Wow, that’s an awesome quote.” Feeling more pumped again, I ran past the person, tapped him on the shoulder, and said, “I like your shirt!”
Mile 10 came around and I was like, “Okay, I can do this. This time only 3 more to go!” Unfortunately this last part of the race was the most difficult – the rolling streets of San Francisco. Cardio-wise I felt okay, but my muscles were really starting to fatigue and on the verge of cramping up. The inclines were not helping at all. I took a brief walking and stretching respite at every remaining water/cytomax stand. At one point I had to go to the side walk to stretch out before tackling the next incline. It was brutal, but I was still feeling pumped and determined to keep going.
Finally mile 12 passed, but I was already at my limit, jogging pretty slowly and switching to speed walking every now and then. I wanted to “conserve” energy for a finishing sprint but I really didn’t see how that would be possible in my state. Then the number of cheerers and supporters started increasing and I heard someone say, “You’re almost there! Only half a mile to go; it’s just right around the corner!” That really helped, although I was still pretty much hobbling over the last incline. I told myself I wasn’t going to start my last push until I could see the finish line, so until then I jogged and took the last remaining opportunities to stretch.
Then I saw it – the white banner that could only either be the finish line or some cruel joke. I have no idea how, but I started sprinting, taking long and full strides, hoping my legs would not lock and cause me to collapse and scrape my face on the pavement. I heard the cheerers clapping and calling my name (it’s on my bib). And then, with a huge sigh of relief, I crossed the finish line.
It’s really interesting how the human body can muster up the adrenaline and energy to make that last push, but I was definitely paying for it after the race. It seemed like every major muscle in both my legs were about to lock up – my quad, my hamstring, my calf, my shin. But hey, I had finished and was eating food so I was feeling pretty good about myself, and of course, thanking God.
After the race, we (my sisters, brother-in-law, and his sister) had japanese ramen for lunch (delicious) and watched Despicable Me (hilarious). Then we went home, and I crashed around 6:30pm and got up 12 hours later. Sleep is good
So for the curious and those of you who made it this far, here are the course maps (click on 1st Half Marathon and look for the green path along the top boundary with mile marker numbers). My finishing time was 2 hours 22 minutes and 6 seconds (a little under 11 min/mile). You can see the race results and look up Bib #33468 to see how I did compared to everyone else.