bracing for impact. the San Francisco Marathon 2014 (#tsfm2014) race report

bracing for impact. the San Francisco Marathon 2014 (#tsfm2014) race report

Comfy chair, a long commute, or a few drinks and some snacks for this one, amigos…

Typically, in the weeks leading into the Big Event that is Marathon weekend for me—especially if it’s a target race—I get super jazzed, with maybe just a little bit of healthy pre-race stress thrown in for good measure—because I want to see what my body will give me for a few uninterrupted hours of running. I’ll often have an idea of what’s attainable that day, barring catastrophe, and especially if the marathon is a race that I’ve been targeting in my training, I’ll enter into race weekend with many weeks’ and months’ worth of visualizations and hippy-dippy runner-shit that makes me even more ridiculous to be around than usual.

And yet, despite my rational “______ is probably the attainable, reasonable performance for the weekend” metric, I’m an avid, super-enthusiastic  proponent of burning our boats and setting goals, especially those of the crazy-ass variety, because fuck it, why not. You never know what’s goin to happen once you toe the line, and hell, as anyone who has ever run any sort of footrace can attest, a lot–a lot–can and does happen over the course of every single mile. It’s part of the thrill and the heartbreak of this sport.

For whatever reason, in the weeks before TSFM, my usual mix of pre-race nerves was completely absent and instead, the eustress-to-distress concoction was at a hearty bajillion:0 ratio. Truly. TSFM weekend was about a race, obviously, but much like many of my other marathons lately—Oakland and Newport this year, and Houston, Eugene, Chicago, and NYC last year—the race was really a backdrop, a function to the fashion of some quality time with some friends new and old in my (new) home state.

As I wrote about in my race week entry, coincidentally becoming a social media ambassador for TSFM mere months before my family and I relocated out here was an enormous fuckin’ deal for me because it has been through that avenue, through the social media interwebby world of TSFM and all its corollaries, that I’ve met people and made friends out here in the past seven months. Not quickly meeting and befriending people after moving out here was one of my biggest fears, and being able to, being able to actually meet and befriend people and sometimes, even getting to run with them! (heeeeeyoooo), no doubt has made the transition from Chicago-to-CA-life profoundly easier and much less (hyperbolically speaking) catastrophic, much less the head-on collision that I was convinced would happen before I ever set foot in SJ, CA, on 12/21/13 and actually gave life here a chance. 

This notion of “preparing to fail,” about bracing for impact—an impact that never happened—is somewhat thematic for the past seven months of life here and for TSFM footrace and one that I’ll momentarily revisit because, well, it matters.

Friday: Meredith, ThirstyBear

After a family dinner in SJ and a baby bullet train up to SF, the weekend fun began with seeing my lovely Bootlegger/Chicago gal, Meredith, who just happened to be in SF over the weekend for a family function. It’s so nice to see her when she’s here—which is pretty regularly—for all the obvious reasons but also because there’s just something comforting to see and experience a piece of “home” in your new “home,” if that makes any sense. Together, we met a gaggle of TSFM ambassadors, many of whom were on the SoCal Ragnar team from earlier this year, at ThirstyBear Brewing for a little get-together that Ethan Wes coordinated. Little did I know that everyone’s favorite Bart, Bart Yasso, would be joining us, which was super. It was a blast to catch up with Meredith, chat with everyone, meet some of the non-local ambassadors for the first time in real life, and just basically enjoy everyone’s company, as stupidly after-school special as that sounds, for a couple hours on Friday night.

TSFM ambassador + friends + Bart love at ThirstyBear. [cred: Alisyn]
TSFM ambassador + friends + Bart love at ThirstyBear. [cred: Alisyn]
with adorable Meredith and Bart.
with adorable Meredith and Bart.

Shortly thereafter, Meredith dropped me at Stone’s, with whom I would be spending my weekend and at where I’d be shacking up until Sunday, and after an hour or so of Stone and me catching up—somehow, we hadn’t seen each other since we ran B2B in May—it was snooze time.

Saturday: More Meredith, shake-out, Erin B, expo, dinner

TSFM sponsored a community 1-3 mile shake-out run with Bart Yasso that began at Fort Mason, site of the expo (and around mile 3 of the marathon course), so Meredith and I planned to meet-up over there for an easy pre-race yog together with TSFM ambassador community (Stone opted to sleep in and run close to home—smart gal). There was a huge turn-out for the run, maybe around 100, 150 runners, and naturally, getting to meet and see even more of TSFM ambassador community was a blast.

the shake-out... tons of runners
lotsa runnahs
ambassador-led shake-out/shitty parade :)
ambassador-led shitty parade :). L-R in orange, I think that’s Corinne, Taylor, and Karen
Bart + TSFM ambassadors + friends. [cred: Albert/RA]
Bart + TSFM ambassadors + friends. [cred: Albert/RA]
sweaty post-run. my ridic Cheshire indicates the sing-songy status of my heart.
sweaty post-run. my ridic Cheshire indicates the sing-songy status of my heart.

meeting fellow #bibravepro Jeremy [cred: Jeremy]
meeting fellow #bibravepro Jeremy. I like that “fuck yea, I’m happy, I just ran” facial expression of the Eugene runner behind me 🙂 [cred: Jeremy]
Following the morning yog on an unseasonably warm and humid day for SF, and after lots of sweaty hugs and kisses goodbye to Meredith, I quickly went through the expo to get my own stuff before meeting Erin B, a Chicago friend from Boston ’09 training who had flown into town to run 26.2, for tea. Erin loves SF and has always wanted to run TSFM, so I was obvs super stoked that she decided to do it this year because it’d mean I’d get to see her. We had last seen each other a few weeks before I moved, so you can imagine how quickly our tea time together (hello, alliteration) flew.

Between arriving on Friday night and mid-morning on Saturday, before the race even began, my heart was already full and sing-songy with love from getting to see and spend time with some really special people… cue the awwwwws for sure, but seriously, so. fuckin’. happy. 

Erin^2 :)
Erin^2 🙂


Post-tea, Erin and I went over to the expo, and before I began my shift, I also got to see Foxy and meet her sister Taryn, who had also flown in to run 26.2, her thirty-fifth marathon before her thirty-fifth birthday. Think about that for a second.

Thirty-five… before thirty-five.

Yeah, BAMF if I’ve ever heard one.

Like with Stone, I hadn’t seen Foxy since B2B in May, so it was nice to chat with her, her sister, and Erin B for a hot minute.  Fortunately, my expo shift fleeeeeeew by and, just like when I worked at B2B on behalf of ZOOMA, it was actually pretty invigorating. I worked some at the Info Table, where Trish totally rocked it all day and answered  questions like “do I have to wear clothes?” (valid question, it is SF), but I spent most of my time at the “beer garden bracelet” table, checking people’s IDs and adorning strangers’ wrists with “you-are-legally-able-to-drink-post-race” bracelets. Related: next time you think your DMV or passport picture is horrendous, I guarantee—guarantee—someone else’s is worse. (Oy). While I played the “I have to see your ID, even though you’re clearly over 50 years old” game for a few hours, another SF friend whom I also hadn’t seen since B2B, Robin, stopped by, as well as the newly-minted Ironman Saurabh, whom I also hadn’t seen since before he rocked IMCDA about a month ago. Seriously… all the love... before the race began. Ridiculously, stupidly, through-the-roof happy.

with the Ironman and Bart :)
with the Ironman (so proud of him!) and Bart; Bart was everywhere during marathon weekend!

I didn’t get outta dodge until nearly 5pm because I had been waiting to see Chris, who’d barely make it to the expo before things shut down, but the wait was worth it, since we, too, hadn’t seen each other in a while. While it was a bit of a long day for a day before a marathon, I was feelin pretty jazzed about everything and super invigorated, thanks in no small part to being able to see so many friends.

By about 5:30, I had finally gotten over to Foxy’s for dinner with her, Taryn, and Stone. The low-key and intimate environment of dinner with friends before race-day morning, wherein you’ll be surrounded by literally thousands of people and tons of nervous energy, was a perfect yin to the forthcoming race morning craziness yang, and somewhere in the meal, we four began talking about goals.  Naturally, as type-A personalities women runners are wont to do, and because, well… why not?, we all delineated our A, B, and C goals for race day.

Before this conversation, this super informal chat fewer than 12 hours to go! time, I hadn’t really thought in a lot of detail about what I wanted to accomplish, no doubt because, well, I really had no idea what was in the tank. Following the Newport Marathon in late May, wherein I made some stupid mistakes, I poorly raced the ZOOMA Napa HM (in late June) then raced much more strongly, for the most part, at the Jungle Run HM (two weeks prior to TSFM). However, with my long-term focus now on CIM in December, technically speaking, I’d only been back in marathon training mode (on a 70/24, twice as long as what I usually do) for about five weeks prior to TSFM. Most of my miles had been at comfortable/easy GA paces, and my mileage volume had been on the low, foundational side (~50 mpw). I didn’t think my endurance capacity had diminished all that much, but I had no idea where my marathon fitness and speed was sitting. 

Thus, when it was my turn to share my A, B, and C goals, I really didn’t know what to say. My generic plan was to give 100% of whatever was in the tank in the morning, so I safely went with A) a 3:19:59 (to break 3:20 and notch a ~7 second PR… hey, burning boats, right?); B) a BQ; and C) sub-4/something better than my 2010 pregnant-and-on-subpar-training time. I optimistically hoped that I could post at least a 3:25 at TSFM, but with the big ups and the ever-undulating course, even though that time would be my slowest since January ’13, I figured it’d be pretty challenging.

Post-perfect dinner, with my heart even more sing-songy and full, Stone and I went back to her place and did the usual song-and-dance routine that is Marathon Eve, and before too long, it was lights out for me around 9pm (after finishing a book–can’t say I’ve ever done that before a race) for a 2:55 wake-up, pretty similar to what I do for my weekday predawns. The sense of familiarity and comfort that comes with being around friends, as well as a pretty normal bedtime and wake-up time… no complaints.

Sunday, Race Day

Before heading over to the Embarcadero with Stone to meet-up with Foxy, Taryn, and the flurry of ambassadors and RunningAddicts pacers and our friends who’d join us at the pacer/TSFM ambassador tent, I did my typical pre-dawn jig of tea, food, and twitter, and I read a blog short from Seth Godin that really resonated with me. You can almost always tell what time I’m awake during the week, when I’m predawning, because I tend to be binge-reading on twitter, and Seth’s stuff is standard RT fare for me. Though he typically writes in a way that’s made to appeal more to entrepreneurs–read: not necessarily for stay-at-home moms or runners–his work on Sunday morning was spot-on.  Really, you should read it in its entirety here, but the gist:

“I would imagine that there are certain situations, perhaps involving the martial arts, where bracing for impact is a good idea.  The rest of the time, not so much.  […]

Worse than this, far worse, is that we brace for impact way more often than impact actually occurs. […]

All the clenching and imagining and playacting and anxiety—our culture has fooled us into thinking that this is a good thing, that it’s a form of preparation.

It’s not. It’s merely experiencing failure in advance, failure that rarely happens.

When you walk around braced for impact, you’re dramatically decreasing your chances. Your chances to avoid the outcome you fear, your chances to make a difference, and your chances to breathe and connect.”

I talk and write often about how important it is to set crazy-ass goals and work your ass off to realize them. No doubt it’s scary, and it’s scary in no small part because setting these goals, publicly proclaiming them (which is a big part of the puzzle), and working your ass off day in and day out to get after ’em necessitates that you get comfortable with the idea that you *might* fail… and in front of an audience, no less. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been there, and I know that it absolutely blows to work and work and work and come up short, but all I can say, all I can promise, is that it’s worth it.

When the ladies and I were chatting at dinner just a handful of hours earlier, rationally, I knew that the likelihood of me realizing that coveted sub-3:20 that I’ve been working toward was quite low at TSFM, not because I was “bracing for impact” but simply because my training isn’t there yet; this race wasn’t my destination as much as it was a turnpike stop on the journey (tenuous metaphor, but go with me). I knew it’d be far more comfortable to just run TSFM as a legit training run and throw all those aforementioned A, B, and C goals out the window–and no doubt, there’d definitely be huge amounts of safety in doing that as well, because if we aim really low, then we can’t be too disappointed with our outcomes, right?–but… but… but… I really wanted to see what I could do on the course, with the course.

Kinda similar to my approach at Boston #2 or NYC, I wanted to make that course work for me, and I knew that, just like at both of those tough races and hard courses, if I ran strategically, I could run and perform well (read: strongly, intelligently). And hey, honestly, if I left the gate going for that 3:19:59 and blew up in flames somewhere along the way, well dammit, that’s some valuable feedback. If I left the gate and holycrap actually realized it, or came within striking distance, again… valuable feedback.  No way would I or could I get any of this valuable feedback if I decided from the get-go to be comfortable and safe and not even try. Godin’s onto something. Why should I, why do we, brace for impact when said impact might not even materialize? It’s a colossal waste of time and energy.

I’m hoping that my incoherent rambling here at least gives you a small preview of the back-and-forth, emotional-rational-emotionally rational mental diatribe on those predawn hours before the run … and yet, despite this fast-and-furious mental back-and-forth that was my headspace in the hours at Stone’s before we left, I knew that ultimately, I wanted to race well, of course, but what was most important, what I wanted most out of the entire weekend, was to be able to revel in the experience and the time with my friends. When TSFM weekend was all said and done, I didn’t want to look back on everything pissed off that I didn’t post a specific time; instead, I wanted the weekend’s memories to be happy, and filled with rainbows and unicorns and magical sprinkles from all the good times and good experiences with my friends. I think it’s kinda funny because, as Stone and I were talking about on Friday night, I feel like when I say that I want my marathon weekend to be more about my time with my friends than about my actual race performance, I’m implicitly giving myself an out, a safety net, some permission to already think to myself well gee Erin, you’ve already lowered your stakes for yourself, what’s the point in trying if you’re really just after “a good time with friends” this weekend. Revisiting this now, though, I think I set myself up for a false dichotomy–implying that for some inexplicable reason, I think that it’s not possible to have a fun and amazing experience with my friends while also having a really solid race–but I’d eventually learn just how absurd that little pretend dichotomy was and how mutually nonexclusive (inclusive?) those parties in fact were.

Anyway… when Stone and I left her home, on the back 10k of the course, I was pumped–no nerves, just pumped, and ready to see what was going to unfold over the next handful of hours. Once we got to the Embarcadero and eventually got ourselves to the ambassador/pacer tent area, things moved quickly before the race’s 5:30 start time. We all noticed that things felt a bit humid–I’d later learn that during the race, it was something like 85% humidity (!), totally atypical for July in SF–but seeing so many more friends pre-race kept my nerves at their strange non-existent levels and again, that sing-songy heart thing I keep revisiting? Through the effin roof by this point.

Chris and his harem of women (w Stone and Foxy)
Chris and his harem  (w Stone and Foxy)
free race pics FTW. good thing I remembered to tie my hair back...
free race pics FTW. apparently I couldn’t be bothered to do my hair before we left Stone’s.
caaaaaaan you feel the looooooooove tonight...
caaaaaaan you feel the looooooooove tonight/this morning

with Ethan Wes and an apparently stinky Chris [cred: Alisyn]
with Ethan Wes and Chris [cred: Alisyn]
And like that, suddenly, I was standing in the corrals, with the lit-up Bay Bridge in the background, with the seemingly delayed realization that huh… guess we’re running a marathon in 3… 2… 1…

Bay Bridge pre-dawn is gorgeous
Bay Bridge pre-dawn is too gorgeous not to include here

TSFM course map

If you don’t want a nitty-gritty low-down about my race, no sweat; read my bibrave review here. And, in case you’re interested in running any of TSFM events in the future, watch this good course video:

Miles 1-5 – Ferry Building to the Presidio: 7:40, 42, 39, 20, 43

TSFM is unique from the other marathons I’ve previously run only because folks can choose to run the full 26.2, the first 13.1, the back 13.1, 52.4 (the marathon, twice, beginning at midnight) or a 5k. Therefore, when the marathon started at 5:30, so did the first 13.1 runners; the back 13.1 runners wouldn’t start until much later, around 8 or 8:30. Starting 26.2 with folks running 13.1 can be challenging in terms of people traffic but also, obviously, in terms of staying honest with your pace and not allowing yourself to start your 26.2 trek at your 13.1 pace. When I put together my mile-by-mile race strategy, that huge white bracelet you’ll see in my pics, I based it off of this website, which factors the relative ascents/descents of each mile  (much like what I did for my Boston and NYC strategies). I’m a huge believer in negative splits, and that’s how I run 99% of the time in training, so I was shooting for a 1:42 front half and a sizable-but-doable negative split for that 3:19:59.

Anyway, I began the race super comfortably, just cruising along, concentrating on not weaving, and just enjoyed the sights and sounds and smells (mmm, sourdough bread) of the Embarcadero and Crissy Field pre-dawn. For a few minutes, I ran in the vicinity of Ko, pacing the 3:30 group, and it made me super excited to be pacing the 3:35 group with him at the Santa Rosa Marathon here in just a few weeks’ time. He reminded me to “save my legs”–sage advice for any marathon–so I just kept on, enjoying the views and the comfort of pre-dawn (read: dark) running. Our first climb around mile 4 was pretty anticlimactic, and I felt totally absorbed in each mile that I was in… feeling good, feeling comfortable, feeling fresh.

Around mile 4 or 5, as we were in Crissy Field, I noticed two guys off to my left with Universal Sole shirts on–heyoooo, Chicago!–so naturally, a cat-call was in order. They reciprocated–always a nice pick-me-up–and before long, we began the first of our big climbs, a hill in the Presidio on our way up to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Miles 6-9 – Presidio up to (and over) the Golden Gate Bridge and back: 8:30 (big climb), 7:39, 7:19, 7:34

I remembered a few things about this course when I last ran TSFM in ’10, and the hill leading up to the GGB was one of those things. It’s long, it’s fairly steep, but it’s also over fairly quickly, relatively speaking. This mile, 6, should have been my slowest of the day (I aimed for a 9+ pace), and I focused on getting as many people to pass me as possible, while running suuuuuuuuper comfortably and just yoggin’ on up that thing. Once on the bridge, of course, the GGB was lovely as always, and while it was still pretty foggy and misty out, we could still make out the city in the background as we ran up and over the false flat that is the bridge–the flat that’s actually uphill both ways (just like that hill your dad had to climb, each way, in 12′ of snow on his way to school when he was a kid). Around this time, I lost Johnny, another RA pacer friend who was pacing the 3:25 group, but I felt totally comfortable in my decision to take the GGB miles at effort and literally to enjoy the view for the next few miles while we were there.

Probably because I didn’t know anyone here when I last ran this race, it didn’t occur to me that the GGB’s out-and-back nature would mean that I’d get to see all my runner buddies ahead of and behind me. That was awesome. Seeing Albert and Chris together, looking strong, and then Stone, Foxy, and Meg, and tons and tons of other RA pacer friends and TSFM buddies, collectively made my heart so stinkin’ sing-songy that I had to make a conscious effort to focus, grasshopper, because there was still a helluva long ways to go.

seeing these three muskateers (Meg [blue], Stone [orange-ish], Foxy [gray]) was a blast. cred: Stone's IG
seeing these three musketeers (Meg [blue], Stone [orange-ish], Foxy [gray]) was a blast. [cred: Stone’s IG]
Seeing Albert pacing Chris was fantastic, too! [cred: Linh/RA]
Seeing Albert pacing Chris was fantastic, too! [cred: Linh/RA]
Miles 10-12 – Presidio to Golden Gate Park: 7:47, 7:12 (big down), 7:47

Lots of folks bemoan how many runners stop to take selfies on the GGB, but fortunately, I didn’t run into any of that… or hell, if I did, I didn’t notice because I was too busy looking to my left (on the back portion of the bridge) to see how many runners I could cat-call. Immediately after the bridge, there’s a down, then another up, and then a sizable descent through the Presidio, one that my pace told me I should have clocked a 6:4x, but by that point in the race, I was already about 60-90 seconds ahead of where I wanted to be–too big a buffer, as experience has taught me–so I held back a bit and just let gravity do its thing (while focusing on not braking… downhill running is tricky).

what up, GGB
what up, GGB? this hill, that’s what’s upl!! (please, call my agent for bookings…)
then down down down
here we gooooooooooooo

Somewhere around the mile 12 mark, going up yet another hill in some neighborhood, I was comfortably running along when the two Uni Sole guys ran up to me (seemingly out of nowhere) and began chatting Chicago–who we ran with, what we’re doing out here, and the like. It was awesome to chat with those fellas (whose names I didn’t catch), and they looked like they were having a blast running the first 13.1.

We then entered Golden Gate Park around mile 12.5, and though I’ve had the pleasure of running a handful of races there, I seriously have no idea of its size nor any amount of spatial perception therein and surely would get lost there if left to my own devices (for perspective: it’s 20% larger than NYC’s Central Park). We’d be running in the park for miles 12.5 to 19ish and get to see the first halfers finish and the second halfers’ starting line, and the park, much like CP in NYC, is full of ups and downs. By the time I got to GGP, I wasn’t feeling as fresh as I had hoped I would–again, like my NYC strategy, I wanted to get to mile 16 feeling as though I hadn’t already run 16 miles–but I recalled that there’d be some topographical changes in the park that I could work to my advantage… basically, just continue to take the hills at effort and run the descents intelligently.

Miles 13-19 – Golden Gate Park – 7:33, 7:06, 7:39, 7:38, 7:47, 7:17, 7:28

Somewhere around mile 13 or 14, I caught up to Johnny and the 3:25 group, and much like with the Uni Sole guys, it was nice just to briefly chat with someone. Though I ran the entire course with folks in my near-immediate vicinity, very few people really talked. When I crossed 13.1, I was right around a 1:41 or high 1:40, faster than the 1:42 I was aiming for, so I knew I had even more incentive to be smart on the park’s ascents and descents because there was still a lot of course left to run. Though I was a little tired, I was hitting my nutrition like clockwork and constantly assessed how I was feeling and how I was hydrating, even wiping my temples at times to see if I was salting out at all (lesson from Newport in accidentally dehydrating myself, kids… shitty lesson to have learned the hard way but oh, so very valuable).

Shortly after seeing Johnny, I found myself running with a pack of guys, and though we were literally within striking distance of each other, no one was talking or even much acknowledging each other. In my stupid mid-marathon-induced craze, I thought I’d make some buddies and decide to break the ice, asking “where are all my ladies?!” –where are all the other women marathoners??– because there was maaaaaaybe just one or two ponytails far, far off in the distance but that was it; I was surrounded by dudes. My new BFFs and I had a good laugh about that for a minute, and it helped lighten the mood and minutea that is kinda the no-man’s land of miles 14-19 of a marathon. My BFFs and I hung for only a few minutes before I left them–again, making the course work for and with me–and shortly after the first half marathon’s finish, where I saw Albert again (another nice pick-me-up),  we began to wind around and around Stow Lake.

By the time we had reached the lake, I was ready to be out of GGP, and I felt like we were literally running in circles (which, truth be told, we kinda were). For the life of me, I couldn’t remember how much longer we had in the park, but luckily, the beauty of distraction came around again in the form of being able to see other runners ahead of or behind me at the mile 16.5/17.5-ish marker. Seeing Paulette‘s husband Kevin and then Stone and Meg running together (still!) was an unexpected treat, and I was SO HAPPY that those ladies were still together. I wondered what type of race they were having, based on the timing of when we saw each other, but hell if I can do mental math on the run… or ever. They (and Kevin) all looked good though, which, by the runner-based transitive property, in turn made me feel good.

hey look, Kevin!
hey look, I see Kevin! hiiiiiiii, Kevin!
get me outta this godforsaken park
get me outta this godforsaken park

Once we neared the 18 mile mark, just before the conservatory, I quickly thought about Chicago ’13 and Newport and my dumb moves at each race to start to kick with 15k to go. At mile 18, I knew that I’d still have a massive descent down Haight, once we got outta the park, as well as still some remaining ascents elsewhere, so I anticipated that any semblance of a kick that I could muster wasn’t going to happen until mile 20 at the very earliest. I was still feeling strong, still doing my nutrition like clockwork (and not salting out, as my periodic temple-rubbing indicated… that would have made for a funny picture), and right as we were getting ready to leave GGP, the sun peeked out for the first time, making me do everything in my mortal power to will that shit away.

And, much to my surprise, by the time we left GGP at mile 19, I was still under a 3:19:59 pace and feeling present, connected, in each mile, and just, generally speaking, enjoying the ride. I had been totally bracing for impact somewhere in the park, anticipating that sooner or later, something catastrophic would have happened to show me that my fitness isn’t where I think it is quite yet, but… it didn’t. At all.

marathons make me happy. circa mile 18.5, with the conservatory in the background
marathons and endocannibinoids bring me to my happy place. circa mile 18.5, with the conservatory in the background

Miles 20-26.2 – Haight St to Mission/Bryant, AT&T Park, Embarcadero/Finish: 7:41, 7:17, 7:18, 7:52, 8:03, 7:53, 8:04, 4:08 (8:16 pace) for .49

One of my favorite memories from TSFM ’10 was running down Haight St. I love the history behind the street/the ‘hood and its weirdo, electic factor, yet let me be the first to tell you that Haight St, between 7:30-8 on a Saturday morning, is pretty quiet. It was absolutely glorious to get outta the park, though, and after another false flat at the top of the street, we had a HUGE downhill–another vivid memory from ’10, because I thought the descent was so steep that I was gonna end up ass-over-teakettle down it–and much like the big descent after the GGB, here, too, I tried to take it at effort without braking too much. My pace calculations showed this should have been a 6:4x effort, but because I was still sizably ahead, I didn’t want to chance anything–still a lot of running left. Running straight down Haight (literally and geographically) for nearly 1.5 miles allowed me to see how many runners, all 26.2 folks, were ahead of me–not a ton, and virtually no women–and unlike ’10, by now in the race, things had really begun to spread out considerably. The only runners I could see were literally blocks ahead of me. An unexpected–and super fun–bonus to Haight this year was seeing a bubble machine that someone had set-up in a BOB stroller and placed on the street. Seriously, bubbles, bubbles, everywhere.

bc why wouldn't you run through bubbles at the intersection of Haight/Ashbury? [cred:]
bc why wouldn’t you run through bubbles at the intersection of Haight/Ashbury? [cred:]
Once we got off Haight, from about miles 21-24, through Mission and Potrero Hill, things got really quiet because, well, it’s that point of a marathon. The environment was mostly industrial (or seemingly industrial, anyway); the spectators were few; and aside from another hill around 22 and then a small little blip at 24, things were getting pretty flat again. My margin was beginning to dwindle some, but I still felt strong and fairly confident (though incredibly surprised) that the race had been going as well for as long as it had. Anytime I saw other runners begin to stop or death-march, I threw whatever words of encouragement I could muster their way, and when it came time to ascend those final couple hills, much like earlier in the race, I just took them at effort and didn’t really look on my watch at all.

It wasn’t until I had hit mile 24, as we were beginning to run alongside the water at the beginning of the homestretch, that I began to feel tired and finally began to feel the hills from earlier, and some cursory (and likely highly incorrect) mental math indicated that unless I got an amazing second wind, the sub-3:20 wasn’t in the cards. Maybe my central governor was trying to talk me out of a balls-out effort for 2.2+ miles, or maybe I got mentally weak, or maybe I decided to save the good stuff for CIM later this year, but I just went with it and listened to my body, willing my feet to just keep pickin’ themselves up. There was no sense of disappointment though–truly–because by then, with just 2.2ish to go, I knew it was simply a matter of finishing with 100% of whatever the stems would give me. I felt really relaxed and chill for the final couple miles and honestly, kinda felt like I was falling asleep some–not falling asleep, aka bonking fast and furious, a la Boston ’09–but I just kinda… I don’t know… kinda felt entranced by the cathartic nature of one step in front of the other, repeatedly, as fast as you can, over and over again. Maybe that’s a runner’s high, maybe it’s fatigue, or maybe I just got lazy; I’m not really sure.

I quickly played hypothetical games with myself, wondering how feasible it would have been for me to notch that 3:19 had I done things just a little differently earlier, but the thoughts were fleeting. Honestly, I was floored that I had had such a better, stronger, and more strategically-run race than I anticipated I’d have. For the entirety of the race, I had felt totally in control, totally connected to and with my run, totally “in” the single mile that I was running, and it was just… nice. It was really, really nice.

That whole thing that Godin was talking about, about how if we brace for impact and expect to fail, that we miss the opportunities to see, breathe, and connect with everything and everyone? Right on the money for me with this race. For nearly the entirety of the race, I tried hard to not approach every single mile with trepidation, with thoughts of yup, this will surely be the mile that’ll do me in, this will be the mile that’ll break me, but instead, I just tried to be present and focused, to experience the race and everything that comes with running 26.2. Admittedly, I kinda figured I’d tank much earlier, somewhere in GGP, but when I didn’t, I was ecstatic (and incredulous). I’m not always the most mentally-focused runner out there, so being present, staying focused, and really truly absolutely feeling and experiencing the race and everything that happens over 26.2 miles is a pretty big deal for me.

Finally, after approaching and then passing AT&T Ballpark at mile 25, and then a right-hand turn from the sidewalk to the street (wherein my calf started to momentarily cramp [fuck!] but quickly went away [hallelujah!]), we made our way alongside and under the Bay Bridge and voila. Just as quickly as we had started, we were done.  6195457_race_0.460364804533248.display 6264708_race_0.19306671168145828.display Pictures are worth a thousand words, and no doubt you can tell that I finished feeling totally fuckin’ floored and just had a blast out there.

Immediately after I finished, I began crowd-searching for my friends who were going after some big goals, and while I was waiting for them to finish, it was awesome to catch-up with other ambassadors and pacers who had finished their races earlier. The sun finally decided to make its presence known around mile 24, 25ish for me, so things were only going to get warmer (and seemingly, more humid) as the day wore on, making me a bit nervous for my friends who’d be coming in later.

everyone loves Ethan (first 13.1 finisher!)
everyone loves Ethan Wes (he rocked the first 13.1 and ran it with Alisyn, who took on 26.2!)

Very shortly after I had finished, Stone and Meg finished and made their way over to the tent, excitedly proclaiming that Meg had notched an enormous PR and her first BQ (!!!); that Stone had also notched a BQ, her second-fastest marathon ever, and a redemption run from Boston ’14; and finally, and probably most importantly, that they ran the entire race together.

I fuckin lost it.

Any runner will agree that you celebrate your friends’ performances as you do your own, and I was over the moon stoked for these ladies and their many accomplishments on marathon morning. And then, shortly after Stone and Meg, Foxy came through and said she had also notched a PR for the day, and not much later, her sister, who could finally say that she had run 35 marathons before her 35th birthday.

It was fucking fantastic, and my sing-songy heart was beside itself.

Stone's BQ; Meg's BQ & PR; my 4th AG & 21st female OA; Taryn's 35th before 35th; and Foxy's PR. Helluva Sunday morning. [cred: Stone]
Thousand words,minimal, in this pic. L-R: Stone’s BQ; Meg’s BQ & PR; my 4th AG & 20th female OA; Taryn’s 35th before 35th; and Foxy’s PR. Helluva Sunday morning. [cred: Stone]
Shortly after these ladies finished, Erin B came through and said how much she had enjoyed the course (and how she’s planning to come back for a redux, now that she knows how the hills are here…) 🙂

Erin ^3. :)
Erin ^3. 🙂 a thousand bajillion words, easily, in those post-26.2 smiles.

On an unseasonably warm and humid day on the last Sunday in July in the city by the bay, I ran a little footrace better–faster, more strategically, and more strongly–than any somewhat arbitrarily-based hope or expectation led me to believe.

Buuuuuuuuuuut… but… what’s more, and what matters most to me, though, is that when I think about TSFM ’14, and all of the events that have gotten me to that race–beginning in Chicago, when I haphazardly applied to be a social media ambassador; to NYC, a day before NYCM ’13, when I learned that I had been selected to do this social media ambassador thing; and by way of a cross-country move and basically restarting my adult life; and all the emotional ups and downs that commenced from September until race day, which included me re-making adult friends for the first time in forever–the actual footrace, itself, is such a teeny, tiny part of the puzzle that it’s really pretty inconsequential, kinda an aid station on the turnpike, some sort of transitory marker between Chicago and California.

That I raced well–well, of course, that makes me happy–but that I got to experience and run a top-notch and hard 26.2 with so many friends, who also all had incredible races and with whom I was able to share some great memories over the course of the very fast-paced weekend–that’s the good stuff, the sweet spot, the stuff that continues to make me Cheshire days and weeks post-race. Why I thought that having a good time with friends and racing my effin heart out were mutually exclusive is beyond me, but now, well… now I know better.

TSFM ’14 was a fantastic experience, a 26.2 that is absolutely worth every single ascent and descent, and one that I simply cannot recommend enough. Please. Do it.


by Garmin: 83% humidity; 1,474′ elevation

hills and hills

3:22:41; marathon #24; BQ #12; 20th/2309 females; 299th/6618 overall finishers; 4th/452 age group (F 30-34); fastest 26.2 in ’14; about a 20 second positive split; 31:01 minutes faster than my 2010 TSFM; badass good time.

Next time I run SF, it’ll be for the Nike Women’s 13.1, for which I am fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Please consider supporting my efforts here. 🙂

Thank you for all your love and support. xo

(and obviously, I was a social media ambassador for TSFM, but the aforementioned views herein are mine because it’d be stupid to lie. Duh).

21 thoughts on “bracing for impact. the San Francisco Marathon 2014 (#tsfm2014) race report

  1. Awesome race recap. You’re such a badass!! I am running the CIM this year as well. I am hoping to qualify for Boston. No plans on running it but I want to be able to say I qualified 🙂

    1. Thanks, Haley. 🙂 oooo BQ?! no doubt you can do it. Can’t wait to see you rock CIM here in a few short months. See you at NWSF, if not before! Congrats on your TSFM, too 🙂

  2. Such a beautiful post. Thx for the mention! I am so in awe of you and was so glad to witness seeing you off and welcoming you back on race day. I can’t tell you how much of an inspiration you are to runners like me who don’t actually fit the typical mold.. Always cheering for you near or far. Big hugs to you and congrats!!! xo

    1. Thanks, lady 🙂 it was so nice to see you all weekend long. You were a godsend to so many people. I’m looking forward to your great comeback and to seeing you destroy 13.1 soon. 🙂 xo

  3. I have so much to say about this recap, but I’m currently processing all of it, and I know that if I wait, I’ll end up letting the week get away from me and I won’t remember to comment. So here goes. Congrats on yet another incredible marathon! You never cease to amaze me, nor captivate me with these colorfully written recaps. I am beyond footed that this went well for you! Hearing about Stone, Foxy, Meg, and Taryn just warms my heart even more.

    I couldn’t agree more on Godin’s statements about bracing yourself for impact. I think that’s what’s taking so long for me to process — just thinking about how it relates to my own life and career as a runner (if you even want to call it a career).

    I can’t wait to run SR with you in a few weeks, and I’m so excited to follow your CIM training!

  4. Good job. I sure wasn’t smiling that nice in my pictures. But the weather was perfect and I finished my #11 marathon. Next is 50 mile ultra trail which is my first ultra. There’s a certain honesty in running. We find out who we are, and how far away from who we want to be. It’s friggin hard to run fast for a long time. Well done!

    1. Thanks, Mark! And holy smokes, a 50?! Have a blast. I can’t even fathom that right now! And YES– totally agree with you about the honesty that running reveals. It’s a character-building sport, to say the least.

  5. Oh… i forgot to ask … what do you mean by “even wiping my temples at times to see if I was salting out at all” ?

    1. Ah, yes– to see if I was dehydrating, to see if I was sweating out sodium (making my face caked in gravelly white patches) so I could adjust my hydration accordingly. Hope that makes sense.

  6. Congrats on yet another BQ and for finishing 20th. Wow! Also, congrats for positive splitting, which is for me one of the hardest things to do in a marathon. Again, I love your recaps. From the beginning of your trip to the moments after you crossed the finished line, it felt like I was right alongside for the ride! So many cool people you got to hang out/ with connect with made the race kinda just the icing on the cake. I did not realize that you got to run over the effin’ Golden Gate Bridge! That would make me want to do this race. If it were only in the spring so I could it could better fit in my spring/fall marathon 2 marathons per year cycle. Anyway, (not that it matters too much but) you probably would have gotten the sub 3:20 if not for all of the elevation and the humidity. If you ever get to a flat course with 45 degree temps – watch out! By the way, I always thought that Golden Gate Park was somehow touched the bridge. I guess not! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Pete. It really was a blast! Running over the GGB is always a treat, though with TSFM, you actually get to run on the roadway and not on the sidewalk, like you would any other day. I was surprised I only slowed down by 20secs on the back half, but hey, that’s hills for ya, right?! 🙂 thanks again. Go destroy CM!

      1. I guess you could technically run on the sidewalk of the GGB on a normal day if there aren’t too many people in the way, but it would definitely not be the same as running in the road! Anyway, a 20 second difference is a negative split in my book. Okay, truthfully I misread the positive as negative! In any case that’s as damn close to even as I’ve seen. Thanks!

  7. You are Bad Ass! So awesome. 3:22 is fantastic! Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m always thrilled at how one race becomes an entirely different adventure for each individual runner.

    Hope to run into you again sometime in the future #BibRavePro! Until then, stay awesome!

    1. thanks, Jeremy! It was lovely to meet you in real life! Glad you had a favorable TSFM experience, even with the horrible PF you had. Heal up quickly!

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