San Francisco marathon.

It's Saturday. Tomorrow I'll have to wake up extremely early for the race so this is my last change to catch up on sleep. Doesn't work. I wake up at 9 and after some tossing and turning in bed realize that the sleep won't come back so I decide to get up. I turn to the side... aw! It's my abs. They hurt. Courtesy of CrossFit. I put my legs on the floor... ouch! It's my hamstrings. Crossfit again. Finally I stand. Owww! It's my calves. That's probably still a remainder from Big Basin. Wonderful. Looks like I'm all ready for tomorrow ;).

But actually it may not be such a bad thing. Let me explain. I was planning to take it super easy with this race. But I know myself. If I reached a point in recovery where nothing was hurting, I'd convince myself that I recovered well and would probably go strong in the race. Which would not be a good thing. Because I certainly did not recover yet; my frequent racing actually improved my recovery time, but one week to recover from a tough trail 50K race? Let's be serious.

Instead I'm hurting. Which means I have no illusion about the shape I'm in. Which means maybe I will manage to go easy? What exactly does easy mean? I'm kind of aiming to finish in 3:30.

In the evening I watched the Spirit of the marathon and this is what I wrote on Facebook:

Just finished watching, a pretty good documentary about the magical 26.2 mile race. Should be a good prep for tomorrow, the San Francisco marathon. Although if all goes well tomorrow will be the first time when I run a marathon, not race one. And when I enjoy the experience, not suffer through. My personal goal for the race? At no point to allow my projected finish time to be faster than 3:30. Let's see...

Let's see indeed. I go through my pre-race ritual and figure out that I'll have to get up at... 3:30am. Duh. That's not gonna be easy...

I go to bed super early, around 8:30pm or so. To my surprise I fall asleep almost immediately, which is a testament to how tired I am, as normally I have problems falling asleep before a race.

Unfortunately just as fast as I fell asleep I'm woken up by some noise outside. And this time sleep eludes me. Wonderful.

I lie in bed and think. I'm thinking that this will be a good lesson in pacing. Something I'm not very good at and am very aware of that. It'll be super important for the 100-miler. I know that just like in every other race in the 100-miler on the very first mile I'll feel like charging ahead. But I cannot think about that first mile. I'll have to think about those 99 that will come afterwards...

Other than that I'm thinking that my 3:30 plan is actually quite arrogant. These days at the top of my form I'm able to run 3:20. Now I'm completely battered after last weekends' race and the week's worth of CrossFit training and am thinking I can easily run 3:30? I don't think so. Oh well, I'll know soon enough. I'm briefly entertaining an idea of making my plans even more modest but instead I just increase my resolve to keep the 3:30 pace and see how it goes.

Finally I fall asleep.

... just to hear the alarm go off at 3:30. Feels as if I've just fallen asleep. Oh, life of a runner ain't easy :). Half asleep I eat some breakfast, dress, finish packing and am off the door almost on time.

Drive goes smoothly, not many people on the 101... until I hit San Francisco. There traffic is a mess because of the race and I hit a huge traffic jam. Of course I should have seen that coming. Of course I did not. To make matters worse my GPS starts to seriously misbehave. All this results in me getting panicky.

But finally I reach the parking. I wanted to be there 1 hour before the race. Instead all I have is 15 minutes. Oh boy... one day there'll be a race where I'll prepare properly and be there plenty ahead of time... one day.

On the bright side there is a restroom at the parking and there's no queue so it's one less thing to worry about. I get ready quickly and, well, start running towards the start, which is around 1 kilometer away.

I get there five minutes before the gun time. Which suggests serious trouble. But instead I see the place perfectly organized. I'm in my wave within two minutes, right between the 3:20 and 3:30 pacers and with plenty of space around me, instead of the usual cramping of runners. Very pleasant surprise indeed. I wait those last few minutes for the start and then off we go.

I stay true to my promise and go very easy. It has an amazing effect. My pace is probably not that much different than normally, but whereas normally I'd now be slaloming through the runners and getting all tense, this time I'm just totally relaxed and follow the natural pace of everyone around. Works so much better!

After the initial usual excitement of the start, things settle down after a while and I nicely position myself some 20 meters behind the 3:30 pacer. And I stay there. In fact: more than that, when we hit the first hill around kilometer 5, I fall behind and slowly recover my position afterwards. Way to go.

I feel great. True, my hamstrings are hurting right from the start. And true, around the 3rd kilometer my right calf starts to hurt as well, just as during Big Basin last week, but silently I hope that it will not get any worse (just as it didn't last week).

Other than that I feel good and really enjoy the race. The pace is comfortable and I'm enjoying the scenery. I actually start to believe that maybe my plan will work and I'll run an enjoyable marathon for a change...

Very quickly I'm brought down to earth. After a climb, we enter the Golden Gate Bridge. There, around 10th kilometer, my right calf snaps and I'm twisted in pain. I often saw people stretching on the side of the road during marathons. It never happened to me. Until now. So early into the race but I have no choice, limp to the side and try to massage and stretch the sore calf.

After doing that for a while I decide to give it a try. No go. Just when I make the first step I feel intense pain. Running is not an option. DNF is staring me straight in the face.

Walking? I try gingerly. It's not great and it hurts but somehow I'm able to limp. So now I have a hard decision to make. Do I turn back and walk back to the start, eventually making a half-marathon distance and DNF'ing? Or do I try to push forward walking in the hope that I can limp all the way to the finish?

My first instinct is to try to finish no matter what. Never to give up. Even if I have to crawl. But is that even realistic? I still have 32 kilometers to go (!!). Can I walk it and finish within the time limit? I make a quick calculation and it seems that if I can continue walking briskly, at a 15-minute mile or just above 9 minute per kilometer pace, I should be able to finish just shy of the 6-hour limit. Decision has been made. I'll continue for a bit, see how it goes and then reevaluate.

After a while I make it to the aid station at the end of the bridge. There I consult the medical stuff. The only help the guy can offer me is the advice to stretch it but I did that already and it did not help. He also clears me on walking till the end and adds that if at some point I cannot continue or realize I won't make it on time I can just stop at any aid station and eventually I'll be collected by a bus. Sounds like I have a plan. I get moving. I have a lot of walking to do...

So I walk. I'm able to keep the required pace. A couple of times I try to jog but it's not an option. Whenever I try anything even remotely resembling running the pain is back big time. When I walk I'm able to keep it in check.

So I walk.

And walk.

And walk.

I figure out a way to move efficiently keeping a decent (walking) pace and not causing too much pain. So I'm moving slightly faster now and limping slightly less. But it's still a limp, so eventually my other body parts start hurting from those weird jerky movements.

There really isn't much more I can say about those ensuing hours. Funny thing is that, shitty as my situation is, I'm not too upset about this whole thing. Happens. I was kind of asking for it. Now I'll have to deal with it. I'm a big boy. I can handle it. Perhaps even without crying.

Finally I cross the finish line. I finish in 5:42; 18 minutes to spare till the time limit. Interestingly, when I started this walking adventure, assuming I could finish, I had this picture in my mind of me walking totally alone, the bus collecting slow runners, rolling impatiently behind me... It was nothing like that. All the time I was surrounded by lots of people. Some of them walking. Some jogging. Some talking on the phone with someone. Yet others snapping photos feverishly or making movies. I had no idea that the rear of the marathon was such a lively place ;).

At the finish I get two medals -- one for the marathon and one for completing the SF/LA challenge, i.e. for running those two races in one year. Of course my finish time is nothing to talk about. But I'm still kinda proud of myself. That I finished. That I did not give up. Quite possibly I earned those medals like never before.

When I get home and fill my race spreadsheet I realize that this was my 13th marathon ever. I was never superstitious but.....


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