I ran the San Francisco 2nd-half marathon on July 25, 2010. Prior to this, I had only run 2 shorter races (5K and 10 miles) on very flat courses. So, I was worried. But I ended up having a really great time! To my surprise, I finished in 2:47:42, and my pace was even faster than in the shorter races (e.g. 10 miler)! The comfortable weather, interesting scenery, and – most importantly – many cheerers & great people I “ran into” just pulled me through. When I reviewed the photos after the race, I realized that I was actually smiling from the start to the end – even when my body was hurting. I can’t believe it!
NOW THE EXCITEMENT – AT THE STRARTING LINE
At the staring line, I felt a bit chilly. I suddenly understood why a merchant was selling very thin disposable windbreaker and pants (for $5) at the Expo. Quite a few runners wore a black garbage bag to keep themselves warm. I did 15 minutes of stretching and then just walked around. But once I started running, the temperature (around 11C to 13C?) was perfect.
The first wave did not have a lot of people so the second wave (mine) got to start a few minutes early. I thought the earlier I could start, the better (so that I could cross the finish line before it closed down). About 3,500 runners participated in the 2nd half marathon. But I certainly didn’t feel crowded at the starting point: the photographer got a good shot of me, and I could pretty much start running immediately after crossing the start line. The first half marathon had about 8,500 runners and would be considerably more crowded.
THE RUN – THE HILLS
I enjoyed the Golden Gate Park, city architecture, and harbour front. The hills in the first 3-4 miles were tough for me. I now realize that a course elevation map only shows the rough elevation. A lot of short but steep uphill details can happen in the real course, making the elevation much tougher to run. Instead of sticking to a fixed pace of jogging continuously for n minutes and then walking continuously for m minutes as I had practiced, I decided on the spot to walk the steepest hills & jog the easier ones – while trying to maintain a fixed overall run-walk ratio every 10 minutes. I also allowed relaxation to the ratio when necessary. In retrospect, it was a good strategy.
But despite that the hills were tough for me, I started off too fast. Partly, I worried that I could not beat the official time limit – especially since I didn’t see the first marker until mile 3?! Partly, I started with a faster wave and followed the pace of faster runners. When I spotted that the 1:50 pace bunny CATCHING UP with me – ahhhhh, I knew I was in trouble and needed to slow down. (Recall: my goal was to run under 3:30 so I should have been following the 3:00 pace bunny – even after taking into account that I started with an earlier wave!)
THE RUN – THE “EASY” PART
After the little hills during the first few miles in the Golden Gate Park, the course was much easier from then on. I especially loved the few steep downhill (~ 45 degree) sections which some runners seemed to be uncomfortable with. I passed quite a few of runners there. And I saw a runner walking backward to go down such hills.
THE RUN – MY LEGS YIELDING
At about 10 miles, the 2:30 pace bunny passed me and disappeared. I started out too fast during the hills and had to slow down substantially near the last 3.1 miles on the flat. I wasn’t badly out of breath – which would usually be the cause of my slowing down. Instead, my legs were very stiff and heavy – and for the first time in my life, I understood the meaning of those terms. The quads felt like stone and I couldn’t lift my legs much. I knew from practice and previous races that various parts of the body might hurt during the course but the pain would usually go away after a while. And such was the case during the first 2 hours. But after about 2 hours and 10 miles, the pain in my right angle started to persist; that was a first for me. I worried about getting cramp, especially after watching a gentleman walked off the course with severe cramp in one leg. (The pain in the right angle did disappear near the end of the race; or may be by then, I was just too excited to notice it.
I fell 1 month behind training schedule after being down with a high fever (with flu and lingering cough) and off the gym for about 3 weeks. Also, after the Acura 10 Miler 2 weeks earlier, I realized that I needed to let my body rest before the SF Half Marathon. So, during the 2 weeks prior, I had only trained for hills in shorter distances and seen a personal trainer to work on muscles of my lower body. As a result, before the race, I had practiced running only up to 10 miles. So, I was wondering if the “unusual” pain and heaviness in my legs were due to my going too fast at the start, the hills of SF, or simply the longer distance. Basically, I wasn’t sure what to expect or how to deal with it.
As such, I was considering a conservative strategy I had planned before the race: finished the race by walking the last 3.1 miles in about an hour (average walking speed). That should allow me to finish in about 3 hr 5 to 10 minutes – beating the official time limit and my expectation by much! So, I walked for about 10 minutes. I did try to jog again at one point but my legs insisted to go on strike.
THE RUN – THE CHEERS
Just then, photographers started to show up again along the course. Remembering how I didn’t look like I was running at all in all the photos from the 5k race at Ottawa Marathon, and thinking how hard and fast I had run the first 2 hours, I decided that I must run – at least in front of the photographers – and hopefully got one good shot of me running.
But I ended up running even behind the camera since too many people were cheering me by then. When I was really worried at one point, one official/volunteer looked me in the face and yelled loudly that I was doing great. Many spectators were also cheering me as well as other runners along the way. One cheered me by my name specifically and asked me to keep going. Hearing her cheered my name when my legs were yielding was like magic! I also remembered such a magic moment at the 5K race in Ottawa – except that I wasn’t ¼ as tired back then. And I couldn’t forget that two very beautiful young ladies who had run passed me, but then suddenly turned around and ran back to encourage me. Could I be hallucinating due to tiredness?!
RUNNING FOR A MISSING CHILD
Last but not least, I saw a lady running with a banner and a photo of a missing child on her back: she was running to raise $$ for an organization which searches for missing children. I felt sooo touched. Imagine that your child is missing and you feel desperate everyday. Many people are just too busy thinking how much more we can do to pamper our own children, to beat “our friends” at work or school, or to make more $$ and buy more. But a stranger out there cares enough to run a marathon with your child’s name and picture on her back to raise $$ for your missing child. (The runner is Caucasian and the child is African American. So, I think they are not related by blood.) Sigh! I wanted to walk up to the lady and pat her on the shoulder, but just then, she started running again and disappeared. But the encounter was enough to give me a boost of energy.
RUNNING IN MEMORY OF OR WITH THE ONES WE LOVE
And during my tiredness, a runner with a bright yellow shirt passed me. On his back, it said he was running for the memory of a lady. (I think the lady’s name was Melinda Wong but I can’t remember now after a week.) I suddenly felt very touched. I wanted to cheer him, but he ran fast and disappeared. Seeing this runner reminded me of my beloved Daifook. I really wanted to run for Daifook, and I felt very motivated again. So, I resumed running even though I was the most tired at that point.
After the race, I also read on Facebook that a gentleman pushed his wife in a wheelchair through the marathon. Completing a marathon or half-marathon in wheelchair is incredible on its own! To do it in a marathon with tons of hills is super-human! To push the one you love in a wheelchair through a marathon with tons of hills – is just simply beautiful. This is love.
LOOKING BACK AT MY RUNNING STRATEGY
After the 2-hour mark, at some points, I couldn’t help but think that it was such a waste that I was so tired by then. The course was nice and flat at that point. Had I saved up during the challenging hills at the start, I could have run fast during the easy parts then. But then having run fast early on gave me the additional motivation of beating the 3-hour mark – which would be like a miracle for me – during the later part of the course. I didn’t want to waste the fast time I had run so far. So, it still worked out pretty well – except that I looked really slow in the photos which were mostly taken near the end.
LEARNING TO LOVE – MYSELF
Hey, but even though my poses looked slow, I had a smile in every single photo, including the ones not shown here. I can’t believe it! Before, I would have never published, or even kept, these photos since I don’t look good. (I have had contact with quite a few professional photographers thru’ my work, and I have always asked them not to include me in their shots even when they kindly offered.) But seeing how happy I was when I ran, I feel very touched, and I develop a love for myself that I had never felt before. Moreoever, I don’t feel a lot of guilt seeing myself happy as I normally would. I guess I am finally learning to love myself.
Running has really brought a lot of wonder into my life. I’ve met nice people. I enjoy eating healthier food. My resting heart rate has dropped from high 90s or over 100’s to around 80s. I don’t wake up throughout the night with heart palpitation (despite that I still have a lot of nightmares). I no longer feel exceedingly tired after every single grocery trip, and I can stand for much longer time even though my legs suffered from severe supination. When I was on the plane to/from SF, I felt so strange that my heart did not “jump out” when the plane was moving up and down. And I didn’t have motion sickness at all. And oh yes, I haven’t had a headache for almost a month now (wow!!) – even under the cool weather of San Francisco and the wind of the Pacific Ocean.
Overall, I just had an amazing time at the SF half marathon! I am so thankful for the opportunity and blessings. I really love the huge full-marathon medal (4x bigger) but I won’t be ready for it for a long while. So, I will just cherish my little one. I think I will focus on building muscle strength and running faster instead of longer distance for the next while. When I can run under 2:30 (i.e. 5.3mph), which seems like only a small improvement but actually requires much work, I will think about going for a longer distance again!
I also had a great time in San Francisco overall. Many angels just lined up and went out of the way to give me a hand whenever I needed. Even the sun (!!) came out when I went on the cruise @ San Francisco Bay and to the beach at the Pacific Ocean. As a result, I had a sun burnt, and after looking like a lobster for the first 2 days, I now look like chocolate. (And the new wrinkles!!) But hey, I would do it again! Daifook, were the 3 dogs that approached me at the Pacific Ocean beach your signs for me? Thank you Daifook! Thank you Jesus for all the blessings!