It has been one unbelievably challenging year. I started out too eager, got hurt…..and then kept getting hurt after that. I learned a valuable lesson about rest and recovery. (But that is for another post). For now I want to talk about the awesome that was the Nike Women’s Half Marathon. (Insert thumbs-up here).
As I may have mentioned
a thousand times before once or twice, I have been actively involved in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training for a year and a half. This was my third season. The team here in San Francisco is incredible. They’ve become more like family. Since June we’ve been training and raising money to fund research aimed at finding cures for blood cancers and improving the lives of patients and families. I’d say we did that….$450,000 later! So shout out to my SF/Marin Run Team for that!! I was also a part of an amazing group, Team on Fire. We worked together to raise over $250K, which funded a grant for research aimed at Acute Myeloid Leukemia. (A cancer a friend of mine has). I should mention though that at one of the awards receptions there was a surprise meet and greet. And look who I met:
Why yes, that is Shalane Flanagan.
This is Team On Fire. A Cancer-ass-kicking-cure-finding team. $252K for Acute Myelod Leukemia.
I went into the actual race with no expectations. I had two significant injuries this year that cost me months of quality training. They weren’t even simultaneous. Literally, as soon as the first one resolved the second one occurred. (ARRRGGGHHH!!!!) In my previous post I talked about my journey with acupuncture, which has been my saving grace. After weeks without running I did decide to try a light run and I was able to loosen the muscles in my back enough to start training, albeit carefully, again. By two weeks ago I was up to 10 slow, reluctant miles. I knew at that point that I could be on my feet with out my sciatic nerve taking over so I knew I could at least attempt this race.
I got to the start line really early. Oh, I should mention that the finish line was basically across the street from my apartment, so I had to get out to Union Square before the road closures at 5am. So I was there by 5am! I met with the team for a couple of pre-race pictures and a loud, “GO TEAM!!” before we departed to our prospective corrals.
I might be one of the few that doesn’t mind a long wait in the waves to get to the start line. I had good friends with me. We chatted with the runners around us, so it was fine. I noticed that because I went into this race just wanting to finish it, I wasn’t even the slightest bit nervous. I was just eager. About an hour and fifteen minutes after the gun, my wave was moving. We crossed the start line and almost immediately began a slight incline.
Now, if you’ve spent any time at all in San Francisco, you’ve learned that when we say “hills” we don’t mean “inclines”. We mean, adjust-how-you-walk-and-don’t-look-down-HILLS. The kind that make your car lose it’s breath. I was prepared for the inclines we had at the beginning. I held steady, really focused on my pacing. Last year I started way too fast and did a great first four miles, and then croaked at mile 5-10. I finished exhausted and in pain. I kept that in mind. I did a slow (really slow) first 5K, but I PR’d my 10K time by 3 minutes. Between miles 6 and 8 I alternated between, “I might actually PR this thing” with, “No PR, but my legs and back don’t hurt, SCORE!”. My legs were a little stiff, but okay. My lungs actually felt great.
I’ve run this part of the course, so as I crossed mile 8, I knew full-well what was coming up. After mile 9 there is a hill. Not just any ordinary hill, but the mother of all race-course hills. If I thought a picture would do it justice I would post one. But here is a look at the course elevation map.
(Click the map above for a larger view)
I knew I would lose some time on this so I just moved up it as quickly as I could without having to stop (read: I walked it, briskly). A teammate saw me and she pep-talked me to the top. At the top it dawned on me that I would actually finish this thing and I was in position to get a PR. The next mile and a half were down hill, and then the last mile or so was flat, feeding into the shute to the finish line at Marina Green. I have run this section so many times I could do it with my eyes closed, but this time it seemed to go for days. I found bumps I never knew where there. I swear they kept moving the finish line. One of my coaches ran with me for little while, which helped. I began to see more crowd gathered, ran into another friend spectating who cheered me on and then finally, I could see the finish line. Another coach joined me at this point (which he did at the same time last year!). When I looked at my watch I realized that I was going to finish no less than 4 minutes faster than my current record. Suddenly, I had energy that came from who-knows-where, and I bolted the last 0.2mi. Annnnd, I finished. I finished with energy. I finished without significant pain. And I finished with a -5:00min PR.
I was so excited. But I wanted some water. It got sunny and warm in the last few minutes! I went and collected my finisher’s bag full of snacks (thank you Whole Foods Market!) and collected my coveted Tiffany and Co. silver finisher’s necklace. Right around then I started to get a bit dizzy and not feeling well so I shoveled in a banana and bunch of water. I was able to connect with my boyfriend really fast. We then
walked hobbled towards home. I would have liked if I didn’t have to buy my finisher’s shirt, but at this point, they could have sold me anything, so it was fine!
When I got home, my awesome neighbors had decorated my apartment door. This was the icing on the cake. I have felt so much support between my fundraising for cancer research (our group funded a research grant!), and the love of friends, I can’t even express my gratitude.
This race felt so different. Between pacing, and nutrition, and listening to my body. The stars just aligned for me to have a good race. I know that they aren’t all like that (apparently, according to the San Luis Obispo Half-Marathon that I had to scrap in April due to shin splints). But I feel good because I knew I’d done something right this time.
We don’t know where Nike will be this spring, but I love this race series. I will keep doing it as long as it makes sense to. I am hoping they’ll keep the fall one in San Francisco, but if the city is right I’ll travel for it. I hope this is an indication that I’m healing and ready to start working towards the next race. But not before a nice long recovery period.
Have you run Nike Women’s (either full or half)? Without looking at your race results, how and when do you know you’ve run a good race?