Monday, September 19, 2011

Nor Cal Marathon | 9.18.11

Let's start at the very beginning. A very good place to start...

All day Saturday I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself. Since we weren't doing our usual long run on Saturday morning, I ended up watching about four hours of Bath Crashers on DIY. Random. But I packed everything up--I tried to keep it in one bag so I wouldn't be obnoxious. By noon I was ready to go.

The essentials:
Running clothes
Gu & beans
Water bottle


No, Cookie did not get to come, although she assured me she was essential.  I saw through it as a ruse to get out of the house and go back to her wild roots. Weirdo.  I ended up bringing a little bit of random stuff--like a book I didn't read and papers I didn't grade, but I had all the necessities.


The kiddos wished me good luck and I was off for San Jose.  I have to admit I liked SJ more than I thought I would.  I don't think I've ever had any reason to be there before now and between being lost in the car and running I think I saw just about all of the city.  Not a fan of the freeways, though.  Confusing.

Kel and I killed some time by finding a Reflexology place in SJ.  Holy moly, it was awesome.  Same $20 deal as here, but way better.  After that we cleaned our greasy selves up for dinner and headed to PF Chang.  I told Kelly that my one caveat for a pre-race dinner was no cheese.  I was a little worried about my tummy. PF Chang was perfect.  Rice, meat, veg.  Sold.  Apparently fried things are okay in my tummy when I run.  Score.

I am proud to proclaim that my favorite part of marathon training is the pre- and post-race EATING. We did some serious damage.


How much damage?  Um... lettuce wraps, crispy fried green beans, Kung Pao shrimp, crispy honey chicken and brown rice, GONE.

Hey, all in the name of fitness.

So at dinner I took a Benadryl (fondly known around here as Mr. B).  That gave me about one hour to remain awake--just long enough to navigate back the hotel, change my clothes and pass out.  I'm glad that in my training I always took a Mr. B before a long run so I knew it would make me sleepy (and I'd get a full night's sleep before the run).  If I took it early enough I wouldn't be tired the next morning, either.

The morning of the race was pretty laid-back.  I wasn't nervous at all about running.  All along there was only one thing that worried me:

Love the porta-potty line before the start.  NOT.

Bathrooms.  I can't do anything for five hours without having to visit the little girl's room, so I was afraid.  It's hard to know what's going to be available along the course and I didn't want to sacrifice time in lines during the actual race.  I was also afraid that my dinner might reassert itself at an inopportune time.  Sorry.  Gross.  But these are the things that give me the Crazies.  The one thing that can ruin a run for me is the need to find a bathroom.  I knew I needed to go before the start just so my mind would be clear.

We got to the race at about 7:00 for a 7:30 start.  It wasn't that busy near the starting line, and I quickly discovered it was because God and everybody were in line for the porta-potties.  I told Kel I had to go; if I don't go before a race it will become all I can think about (even if I don't have to go) which will ruin my life and basically be the worst thing ever.  We got in line at 7:10 and there were a good 30 people in front of us.  I was so nervous we were not going to make it.  Kelly assured me we'd be fine, though.

Finally the line began to move and one opened up--I stepped inside, flipped the latch and... Where do you think I was when that air horn went off, signaling that the race started?


Oh, the humanity.  Yep.  That's right.  I was in the porta-potty when the race started.  Please hold your applause for my awesomeness.  Way to start your first marathon, P.

Luckily they chip time these things, so your time doesn't start until you cross the start line.  I knew that so I figured taking care of business was priority numero uno.

It turned out to be a lucky thing, starting a tiny bit late (I'm talking maybe one minute) because the start was not all jammed up with eleventy billion strollers and walkers rolling ten deep that I'd have to hurdle over.  I usually hate the start of races and this was nice and calm because we were beginning after things already thinned out.  And honestly, I didn't worry anymore that I'd need to find a bathroom.

I really enjoyed running through downtown San Jose and the surrounding neighborhoods.  Very cute.  It reminded me a lot of running Urban Cow--a cool morning and lots of older homes.  I was using a plan generated by this site to pace myself.  Basically I had divided the race into three chunks and I was running negative splits.  (My plan for the first chunk: Miles 1-2 @ 12:00/mi, miles 3-9 @ 11:30/mi)  For the first chunk I did so well.  My priority at the start was not to go too fast, and I am proud to say that I held my pace exactly as I wanted it for the first 9 miles.  I felt great because I was conserving energy and walking the aid stations each time.  I couldn't have asked for a better start.  I was loving this race.

We wound around a nice park that was close to the airport.  I really enjoyed watching the planes take off and land--it was a nice distraction.  At about mile 6 we hit the first section of gravel path.  "I don't really like running in gravel," I told Kel, "it's too hard on my legs.  I hope we're off it soon."  I couldn't wait until we were back on pavement.  Little did I know that we'd get a quarter of a mile of pavement and then it would be loose gravel again from miles 9 to 14.  No bueno.

We continued to try to hold our running pace (about 11:15/mi for this chunk) but we started really feeling the fatigue in our joints.  My feet and hips were killing me; Kelly's quads were screaming.  Pretty soon I was having knee pain which is basically a text message from God saying: WHAT YOU ARE DOING TO YOUR HIPS RIGHT NOW IS BAD NEWS, HP.  In short, stop slipping around in this Godforsaken gravel.  Since I couldn't stop we had to take more walk breaks.  Not the end of the world, but it was really frustrating.  We didn't train on gravel, nor did they advertise this as a run-on-gravel kind of race.  It was so defeating. We started to see people running back on top of the cement wall next to the path.  I know now that they were willing to chance a fall because it was easier on the legs than the ol' slip and slide routine on the rocks.

After a while we were off the slippery grit, but since the course was a long out-and-back we didn't have a lot of hope for it being easy when we returned.  After several bouts with locked bathrooms on the course (2) I finally found an open one at mile 16, the turnaround.  I should mention, too that for most of this course it was just me and Kelly all alone.  There were 900 people running the half marathon, but only 400 running the full.  It was like Mad Max Marathoning--we were all alone in some dusty end-of-the-world battle.  At one point I asked Kel if maybe we'd been misdirected and we were just running on our own through the janky parts of San Jose.  But every time I'd start to think that we'd find another aid station filled with volunteers telling us to "keep going."  Duh lady, thanks.

By this point we still felt okay, though.  She wanted to stop and take a pic at the turnaround.  I'm glad now that we did:


Ten more miles.  Scheeeez.  When I think about how tired I was here I don't know how we did it, especially since this time we knew that we had 6.5 miles of gravel waiting for us that we had to cover again on the way back in.  It felt like the gravel would never end.  Every time we'd go under an overpass and we'd get a shady little stretch of firm cement our feet would practically cry out to us.  But we pushed on.  Suck it, feet.

People talk about hitting the wall in marathoning.  Mine was at about 19, I think, and the fight I was feeling was mostly just anger about being unhappy with the terrain.  I tried to think about this meditation book I'm reading.  This is all there is, I kept saying to myself.  Basically, there is no other place I am supposed to be in the world than here right now.  I tried to take in the experience.  I tried hard to think about all the things I was grateful for in marathoning--grateful my legs will let me run, grateful my heart will keep beating and my lungs will keep taking in air, grateful for being outside, grateful for the opportunity to prove I can do something this big, grateful for kids who I knew were cheering me on, grateful that Kelly wanted to do this with me.  I kept myself going and tried to run when I felt little bursts of energy.  It was getting hot.  I didn't feel like talking.  I was not being an awesome run buddy.

Somewhere in there Kelly hit a similar wall--I think after me.  But I was back to wanting to lay down and die again at mile 25.  I kept dividing the mileage I had left by familiar landmarks in my neighborhood.  All you have to do is run to the drinking fountain and back, that's all this is, I told myself.  Still at 25 when we came upon the first patch of shade in miles, every cell in my body wanted to give up and lay down on the cement.

We started to approach the finish and I could see volunteers by the HP Pavilion.  When one told us we only had two blocks to go, I could have kissed him.  I wanted to see my kids; I wanted to be done.  I wanted to have my kids see me be done, and have them see that I didn't give up.

The toughness of the gravel meant we came in much later than we anticipated, and since there were only 400 marathoners, the place was pretty empty.  Really empty.  I'm so thankful though because there right at the front of the fence were my two smiling monkeys waving their arms and yelling "Yay Mommy!"  I couldn't control myself and I cried like a big ol' baby.  I was so overwhelmed by the experience.  To have them right there cheering for me was just about as good as it gets.  E was right behind the finish line and everyone was close enough that I could touch them immediately.  I was grinning when I ran across the finish.


Finished!  6:00:01.  About a 13:30 pace.  Not fast by anyone's standards, but it reflects so much hard work that I am as proud as I could be.  I gave every single ounce of strength I had to this race.  I keep thinking about what my mom and dad used to say to me as a kid:  Just do your best.  That's all that matters.

I feel like I did.


My two best cheerleaders.  I hope they remember this day.

Me and Kel--we worked so hard today!

Running buddy, motivational coach, fellow gossip and amazing friend Kelly.  I am so grateful I had her there with me every step of the way.

Me with the fam.  Nothing better than running to that finish line and seeing their faces.

E and the kids.  Never have I been so happy to see the three of them.  I can't even express how much it means that he brought them.  I was overwhelmed.

So am I going to run another one?  I am officially not deciding that until the leg soreness dies down.  I know I have to run another half in two weeks because I am all signed up, but it's Urban Cow, which I love.  When we got to 13.1 during the marathon I remember thinking that's it? so I know it's not going to make me feel like I got run over by a truck.  I think I'm just going to run it for fun.  We'll see.  I want to see what the legs feel like in the next few days.  They're a different kind of sore that I am sure is a result of unplanned trail-running for 13ish miles.  I feel like all the little strings inside that stabilize things are buzzin' right now.  Trail work is a different animal, and I certainly didn't train for it.

I feel like I can check a box on my bucket list.  Not that I really have one, but this ranks with hiking Half Dome, graduating from college, getting married, having kids.  Run a marathon:  check.

Next up: don't flunk out of grad school.


  1. I just cried when I saw our finish picture and read your words. I am so glad that we got to share thistogether! Muwah!

  2. AWESOME JOB HEATHER AND KELLY! Wow!! Love your story telling Heather. LOL

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  4. I've been wanting to comment for a while now because you are such an incredible writer. Anyway, I decided to because as I was reading this post I had Pandora on(which I love!) and the music was somehow matching your words. Just as you crossed the finish line, the music reached a crescendo. I love those moments! I just thought I'd share this because I love reading your blog and you are an inspiration to me. Thank you!

    P.S. The name of the song was "And the winner is..." from Little Miss Sunshine. I'm pretty sure they meant to put your name there. :)

  5. A.: Thank you so much! And here's how I know I like you. That's one of my favorite songs. I actually play it in class all the time and--wait for it--I played it while I was running that race in SJ! Thanks so much for your comment. :) Glad somebody else out there likes Devotchka.