Tuesday, August 2, 2011

San Francisco Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 6; 26th Edition 
360.6 miles raced, 5550 meters swam and 146.3 miles biked in 2011
Race: San Francisco Marathon
Place: San Francisco, CA     
Miles from home:  739 miles
Weather: 50 degrees; cloudy; slightly humid

For the San Francisco Marathon, I was returning to not only much tromped upon ground (marathon in 2006, first half in 2009, second half in 2010) but I was also once again taking on the role of Charity Chaser - something I did not invent but something I have definitely made my own.

The basic premise of the Charity Chaser is I would start dead last and for each person I would pass, a certain dollar amount would be donated to the charity of my choice. How that money is raised varies with each individual race and the charities have always been different. To me, this is a way to reach out to as many different deserving charities as possible and do as much good as one can as often as one can. My greatest success story would be where I passed all but 161 of almost 10,000 total runners in the Pittsburgh Marathon.

Joining me as fellow Chaser was my good buddy Sam Felsenfeld who would be "chasing" for the first time. I told Sam that chasing is much more than simply passing people.  It involves lots of strategic running and the obstacles which come into play are ones a usual 3-hour marathoner never experiences. Read more about whom we were both raising money for HERE.

I knew this particular chasing event would be the hardest I had ever done for a few reasons.  First and foremost, the wave start of the SF Marathon would crease bottleneck problems I had never experienced. Usually, by about the 4th or 5th mile, I have been able to clear that vast majority of runners and the rest of the time is simply spent running down as many of the fast stragglers as possible. But as each wave here would start about 5 minutes apart, I knew we would hit bottleneck after bottleneck making progress difficult if not damn near impossible at times.

Second, as runners do an out and back on the Golden Gate Bridge, 4-plus miles of running would be like traffic in Hong Kong at rush hour- chaotic, ever-present with lots of pushing and shoving. I knew merely running a 3:10 would be a major accomplishment.

Oh yeah, San Francisco also has a few hills.

Miles 1-6:

The best thing about the wave starts was that even though I would normally be running at 5 AM, starting dead last would allow Sam and I to start slightly after 6:30 AM.  That extra 90 minutes of sleep time was much appreciated after spending two long and tiring days signing books, speaking to exuberant runners and doing the usual seemingly oh-so-easy-until-you-try-it expo exhibiting. When I woke the morning of the race to have virtually no voice and a head cold, I thought : "No! This is what writers of bad race recaps get! I don't want a cold that I overcome to surprise myself and run faster than I expected and wow look at me!" But alas, I had one.

As Sam and I lined up to start we were being urged on by both Bart Yasso and Rob Powers to get things underway.  As the last final straggler crossed the finish line, Sam gave me a little fist bump (when did this start and how can we end it?) and we were running unimpeded.  For about 100 feet. Within a block or two we were bobbing and weaving as if Muhammad Ali himself was throwing haymakers.

Sam and I did not know how we would run this race but I think we both figured we would run together for as long as we could.  Having done this before I tried to offer some advice and show him the angles we could take on the course. Regardless, we were both dodging people and doing the best we could to do so in a courteous manner. We both also ran into a few problems we usually did not encounter such as crowded aid stations.  Often coming to a dead stop and avoiding tons of runners to grab water was not something we were used to doing in a race. (And for all the things you do right, San Francisco Marathon, plastic breakable cups at the aid stations is not one of them.)

Before long we had encountered what were the largest hills of the course and the International Orange-colored towers of the Golden Gate Bridge rose majestically in front of us. Also in font of us - an endless sea of runners.

Miles 6-16:

I turned to Sam and told him that this was where it gets dicey and I hope we can see each other on the other end. That would be virtually the last time I would see him for the rest of the race.

Immediately it became survival running at its best.  With both lanes log-jammed with runners going to and fro, with those in front of Sam and Me going about half our speed, the recipe for disaster was one thick with shoes instead of spices. Fortunately, in spite of receiving one errant hand to my crotch region from a runner which almost made me vomit, and another shoulder shove from a runner who strayed from the "fro" area into my "to" area, I was able to escape the bridge unscathed.  However, Sam was no where to be seen.  I did not know if he was in front of me or behind me. I had joked how, for media purposes, finishing hand-in-hand and skipping together for a tie would make for a good story.  That seemed completely out of the question now.

As nearly perfect as the weather was for us, with low temperatures and a typical San Francisco fog which obscured the sun it was sneakily humid. Given the clusters at the aid stations I had not taken liquid for miles on end.  I had not really noticed how thirsty  I was until right around the halfway point when a pee break revealed to me I was severely dehydrated. The head cold wasn't helping much either.

Any relief that I had received from passing the largest bulk of runners was soon offset by the start of the second half-marathon. Once again runners were busting at the seams of the streets. This was wonderful as we never were running alone but I wasn't seeking camaraderie here. I was seeking to search out and destroy as many runners as possible.

As we made our way through Golden Gate Park I saw something no one ever wants to see: a downed runner. Off to my left on the side of the road was a runner who I had not seen fall down and for the entire time I approached him, never saw him move. All I could think was that I hoped my CPR training from ten years prior would come back to me in a flash.

Right before I reached him, two other runners veered from their course and approached as well.  I dropped to one knee and for the first time saw the runner move.  In an odd position with his leg crossed over to the side, I could see he was furiously trying to rub out a calf muscle cramp.  I have never been happier to see someone in so much pain.  I waved to the other runners to continue and began to administer some advice on how to rid oneself of said cramp.  As I pressed his foot toward his shin to alleviate the pressure he was feeling I remembered all the times said cramps had dropped me in marathons or regular runs.  He was probably as dehydrated as I had been a few miles back.

Even as precious seconds ticked by and scores of runners re-passed me, I ignored the fact that I would have to heel-toe it very quickly to regain those places (and therefore dollars) and continued to help the guy as much as I could. Eventually he was back on his feet and after sternly telling him he needed to get electrolytes into him as soon as possible, I began running again.  As a few runners told me they had seen what I did and that was very nice I shrugged and jokingly said "THAT mile split is going to be off a bit!"

Miles 16-22:

As I tracked down runners with a vengeance I knew a negative slit on this course and a sub 3:10 was entirely possible. Having passed through the half at 1:34:55, it seemed all but assured. Before long I found myself running stride for stride with a very fit female half-marathoner. As we chatted and talked about the day and the race (non-runners always find this fascinating: I can hear them as I pass saying "Those two were just talking like it was nothing!" I always wonder what they must think of the guy jogging along talking to his wife on his cellphone.  But I digress.)

As coincidence would have it, my new running mate just so happened to be the wife of a friend of mine and the voice of many a finishline: Dave Ragsdale.  The smallness of the running world never ceases to amaze me. Molly would be my running partner for the next few miles as we talked and enjoyed the day. My pace picked up and I was feeling good once again.  Even with the long delay to help the downed runner, I felt I could still negative split and run my 65th lifetime Boston Qualifier.

Unfortunately, as the final few hills rose before our feet, I had to let Molly go. I could tell that I was no longer going to be running the race pace I wished. she tried to encourage me but it wasn't a lack of spirit that was keeping me from trudging forward.

Miles 22- to finish:

A small cramping in my hamstring had me pulling up right before mile 22.  After walking for a bit to let the cramp subside, I was able to begin running again up the hill with set my sights on mile 23. The split for these two miles was not too bad, with me having only lost about a minute total between the two but unfortunately that was the end of my running well.

As my miles fell from under 7 minutes to over 10 minutes I could tell my race might end before I actually hit the finishline if I was not smart.  My energy ebbed and was soon gone.  I, as usual, had eaten nearly next to nothing the morning ofthe race.  For me, I like this empty feeling when I am running. However, if a race takes about ten minutes longer than I want it to, problems exponentially build. Throw in the humidity, the 10k PR on a tough course only 5 days prior and just about a dozen sundry items and I was cooked.

I was finally able to get my legs under me and start moving at a good clip when at about 26.1 miles I heard "Come on, Dane!"  It was Sam and he was passing me by. With my stopping to help the fallen runner and then nearly stopping to keep myself from becoming one, Sam had erased a 4 minute gap in the last 6 miles.  I would be lying to say I walked and stopped to let Sam catch me but I would also be lying if I said that when I was walking that I did not hope he would. We were going to get our media moment!

High-fiving as we crossed the finish together in exact times of 3:18:17, we had ended up passing all but a little over 200 of the nearly 6,000 participants. We obviously both wanted a much better result but I have to say that it worked out about as nice as one could hope.

There is much potential for this Charity Chasing event if a race utilizes it properly. Sam and I were able to create a nice stir and added a little extra buzz to the race. San Francisco does indeed put on a wonderful race and the city is really getting behind it.  I have said before that it is a shame the race does not have a huge sponsor behind it given what an awesome running community there is in San Francisco and what an international city it is.  It is a tough marathon but not so much more difficult than New York or Boston.

While the t-shirts given out to race participants do not usually matter to me either way, when a good one is put together, I take notice. The long-sleeve tech-T for this race was fantastic and one you can wear to many events. More importantly, their slogan "Worth the Hurt" really captures the spirit of this race.  As I sit here two days hence, with a sore body and tired eyes, being a Charity Chaser at this event was absolutely Worth the Hurt.


Brian said...

If you don't mind me asking, what do you usually eat on marathon morning? I don't like to eat before I run, either. I had a PB sandwich at like 3am before my marathon (and then went back to bed). That seemed ok, but I died at the wall at mile . I think a lack of long enough training runs due to injry was my main problem, but I'm willing to consider that not eating enough was a factor.

Good race and thanks for the recap!

MorganGeo said...

Great Recap. I'm not sure if you included this to be funny or not. But when I read about your shot to crotch region and it almost making you puke...It made me laugh to myself. (I can imagine the pain)