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San Fran is a-comin’… but that doesn’t make me any better than you

San Fran is a-comin’… but that doesn’t make me any better than you

The countdown is on for the San Francisco Marathon – state #10 and marathon #15 for me, incredible as that is to believe.

I’ve never been to San Fran, or even to any other part of Cali, so I’m super stoked for the race.  I’ll only be spending a quick weekend in SF before venturing down to southern Cali and the OC for a vacation with C and my in-laws, so what better way to see as much of SF as possible than to run 26 miles through it?  Seems to be a pretty cost and time-efficient and effective way to spend my Sunday morning there.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I have been training for this race, a race that’s a good 6 or so weeks after early June’s Sunburst Marathon, which was about 6 or so weeks after Boston in mid-April.  I’m not planning to break any records in San Fran–just enjoy the ride, take in the beautiful scenery, and do whatever my body will let me do that day–and I am feeling prepared for it.  My long runs of late have been at hilly Waterfall Glen, and unlike my 6 weeks post-Boston/pre-Sunburst, this time around I’ve been doing speedwork… which has left me feeling refreshed (and fast! or fast for me, at least).  So, in all, I’ve been feeling good- confident, happy with what I’ve run in the past 6 weeks, and prepared for this “gap” marathon race.

And then John linked me this article – which, if you haven’t read it, is basically about how balls-to-the-wall challenging the San Fran race is. Great!  ::dramatic eye roll and sigh here::

Not too long ago, I watched the SF course video, which described the first half of the race as “hilly and challenging” but the second part as “fast.”  Thus, going into the race, I’ve been thinking about how I’ll run this as I do for Boston… take it calm and steady for the first half, and then go for it in the latter stages of the race.  Am I nervous for the race?  Not yet.  That will probably come once I wake up around 3 or 4 a.m. the morning of (since I’ll start running around 5:45), and it finally hits me that I’ll be running a marathon that day.  I haven’t thought much about it, at least in those terms, because it seems to have just snuck up on me.

Anyway.  What this article unnecessarily did was dis people who manage to BQ–an ENORMOUS feat in and of itself, mind you–at fast, flat courses like Chicago (my hometown race).  I’ve BQed four times now, and never on a flat course like Chicago, but when people hear about a BQ, they’ll likely ask you where you did it… especially because BQing is such a big deal for a lot of marathoners out there.  But generally, at least in my experiences, people who BQ on hillier courses (like San Fran or Boston) won’t snub people who do so on flatter, faster courses.  That’s just not what it–the BQ or the general running community–is about.

To be fair, I guess the WSJ writer did this slight snub in the context of the SF article, wherein he was talking about how much more slowly (11 minutes+) people have run SF than their usual paces or PRs; okay, point taken.  SF’s hills can be intimidating.  But then, the article goes on to nearly bemoan the fact that so few people sign up for, and BQ, at San Fran because of the course’s toughness–that people are more inclined to run quickly, and BQ, at the pancake courses of Chicago, Columbus, et al.  Maybe he was simply trying to say that SF isn’t as popular a race as Chicago or Columbus or many of the other flat courses out there simply because it’s tough, or because people perceive it to be tough, or have nightmares of having to run up those enormous hills we all remember seeing in episodes of Full House or on the rice-a-roni commercials.  If this was, in fact, his intention, I think the mere insinuation adversely clouded what he was trying to say… probably, that this is a tough race.

Many runners aim to run just one marathon–as a bucket list accomplishment–and once they do it, they’re satisfied.  No time goal, no BQ goal, just completion.  This is true for some, but not all (hi!), charity runners.  For a growing number of runners, however, they do one race, and then get the itch to see how much more their body can handle.  Maybe it means going for a BQ, or simply dropping time, or just racing more intelligently.  To see what they’re capable of, in terms of speed, it makes sense for them to go to a flat course, where they feel they can really rock it and fly.  For the folks who want a challenge with their marathon–who aren’t just satisfied with running 26.2 miles–I venture that they’re more likely to do the more “extreme” marathons…the ones with the net uphill, the trail races, the Pike’s Peak race, races that are known for their hills, Big Sur, Boston, that sort of thing.  To me, these type of marathon runners aren’t any better, or worse, than their counterparts who prefer to stick to flatter courses.  I think it’s inaccurate, if not disingenuous, to assert or insinuate that people who don’t go the “extreme” marathon routes and who, instead, stick to the urban or fast courses, are worse than their hard-core counterparts.

This contention makes me think of folks who argue that trail runners are better than road racers, or that ultramarathoners are better than “just marathoners.”  Honestly, it doesn’t matter.  Just because you prefer one “type” of race, or distance, over another doesn’t mean that you’re a more adept runner.  Hell, it’s like saying that just because you’re a 5k runner and not a marathoner, that you’re not a “real” runner.  Or that half-marathon runners are better than 10k runners.  It’s ridiculous.  The running community’s not about that; more often than not, runners are genuinely excited that people want to lace up their shoes and do something so inexpensive, and accessible, that can do wonders for their health and for their lives.   What we should more worry ourselves about, or lose sleep over, is the growing number of people in the USA who don’t regularly partake in ANY sort of physical activity–running or not–who will surely suffer unnecessary, preventable medical-related illnesses and diseases.  That’s what sports and health writers should be bemoaning… not that people are not “ballsy” enough to take on as challenging a course as San Fran.

March Madness Recap

March Madness Recap

All smiles, post 13.1!

This past weekend, Chicago saw some seriously shitty weather on Saturday.  It was that nasty “wintry” mix stuff that combines wet snow, rain, and wind, which makes you feel like someone’s throwing sharp little knives at your face, and no matter how you cock your head, or how much you grit your teeth, there’s just no way to get comfortable.  Yuck.   Luckily, I wasn’t planning to run our group’s slated 15 miles on Saturday because I was running the Hillstriders’ March Madness half marathon out in Cary, IL, which is located roughly forever (70-ish minutes?) away from Chicago.

The March Madness race is like a secret that you want to share, because you know how good it is, but one that you want to keep to yourself, because you want to stay privy to the information.  I’ll explain.

Apparently, the race is limited to only about 1k runners each year, mostly because it’s on a Sunday morning, and the runners overtaking the rural country roads interfere with the church-going crowd.  (Logic would say to a) hold the race on a Saturday or b) start the race earlier than 8:35, but who’s reason to mess with church?  Anyway….)  That said, getting an entry into the race is like getting a golden ticket from a Wonka bar.  The 2010 race registration opened on New Year’s Eve day and filled in — get this — 5 hours.  Unless you were sitting by your computer, credit card in hand, you probably didn’t get an entry.  I took my laptop with me to the DR for the express reason of registering as soon as I possibly could.

The race, itself, is probably the hardest half marathon I’ve ever run (in addition to the Mill Creek Distance Classic in Youngstown, Ohio).  It’s hilly, and in all the wrong spots — much like the Boston Marathon!  In fact, that’s why many people run the March Madness race … as a Boston tune-up.  Check out the map below; you’ll get my drift.  It’s the best-kept secret that you kinda, but don’t really, want to share.

March Madness Half-Marathon Course

Here’s another picture of my training buddy, Chris, and me, taken right after we finished.  I think we look much more awake and alert than we probably feel 🙂

I ran a satisfying 1:41, slightly slower than last year, and pulled a 12th place finish in my age group and among the top 50 women.  I tried to run the race thoughtfully and not go balls-to-the-wall early on, for I knew what hills lied ahead, and when I finished, though tired, I still had some juice in the tank.  The race, and my performance, definitely made the drive worthwhile.

We’re officially less than a month from the 114th running of the Boston Marathon, kids.  Next up: the last of our three 20-milers before Boston, plus roughly a million Yasso 800s this week.

Bring it on.