I've never come so close to not running a race I signed up for.
I've been blessed to stay healthy through all these years of running, and my training was going SO DAMN WELL for months, that an injury 4 weeks out from race day was a novel issue for me. The day prior, even walking around the expo was painful. How was I ever going to run 26 miles if it made me wince just to step off a curb? I was preparing myself to accept that I wouldn't be running. I thought about cheering on friends and getting to be there for them instead.
Race morning, I prepared just like I usually would, but with a huge question mark. I was going to do 3 miles and if it was apparent I couldn't or shouldn't continue, I would duck out at Pier 39. I mean, I'd paid $230 for this damn race entry, so I wasn't about to back out without good reason. My friend Casie and I left for the start line late (typical me), so I ended up in a later corral than I was assigned. The Embarcadero was buzzing in the dark while the rest of the city slept. I lined up in the corner of the corral so I could try to push past crowds and move up towards my intended pace group, and said some prayers.
As the bell rang and my corral pushed off, adrenaline took over. I immediately noticed that my gait was compensating for my weaker leg, but it was bearable. I knew it was going to be tough, but I was prepared to go for it. I started off fairly easy the first 3 miles, as planned, then did my best to find pacers from the next corral up. My goal time pacer of 3:45 was likely far up ahead, and I didn't want to burn myself out trying to catch them, so I stuck to pace-watching on my own behalf. I figured - if I eventually did have to DNF this race, I might as well go for it and still shoot for my goal time. Swing for the fences, right?
The first 10+ miles went relatively well, aiming to get as close as possible to my planned goals for each mile. As per usual, the ascent up to the Golden Gate Bridge was tough as f, and the subsequent loop under the bridge and back up on the Marin side had me huffing and puffing.
But you know - the major growth that had occurred in the year since I last ran this race is that I became a pacer. My identity changed as a result. The entire race, I was in cheerleader mode. One of my most gleeful moments was crossing the bridge and seeing the 1st place female on the other side, and screaming my lungs out for her. Then a little while later, seeing my girl Elysha over there and screeching like a madwoman GO GIRL!!! Every time we hit a big hill, I joked with the people around me and told them we trained for this, right? A lot of folks had their headphones in and weren't really feeling my enthusiasm, but the major result is that it helped me. It kept my energy alive, and got me outside my own head. Thanking every police officer, and staying in the moment.
I crossed the half at 1:53:34, an 8:41 average pace. This was a little over my goal, but I had planned to negative split the second half - specifically making up time in the easier final 6 miles. As we entered Golden Gate Park, I braced myself for a long haul and made a strategy to stay energized. These miles were where I struggled in 2017. I considered putting my headphones in to jam out to some music, but for some reason didn't, and never did for the entirety of the race. I had a Beach House song stuck in my head and used that as cadence. As we wound through the park, I pushed to stay on pace and utilize every downhill. My calf hurt like hell, but thankfully the blessed SF Marathon gods had placed a pump bottle of Biofreeze at each aid station and I pulled down my compression sleeve to smother myself in that stuff every chance I got. MAGICAL, I tell you.
This was going well until about mile 17. I pulled up to the table and threw my tired leg up there to reapply this magical sorcery gel, and my leg started wobbling against the table like I had Parkinson's. An Instagram friend Audrey rolled up next to me (who went on to finish with a kickass 3:48!) and I excitedly said hi, before glancing down at my spasming leg and assessing the reality of my situation. It was after that when I began deteriorating. For the first time in a marathon, I stopped to walk. I bargained with myself that I could walk at each water stop, but then those walk breaks got longer and longer. I was still outwardly enjoying myself and interacting with all the awesome people around me, but the wheels were officially coming off my running.
We emerged from the park onto Haight Street at last, where people lined the streets cheering. I struggled to open a pack of gummies and tried to pump myself up to give it all I had on the final 6 miles. This was the downhill portion where I'd planned to negative split and really make up some time, as downhills have always been a strong suit for me. But guess what? Not today! My body was shot, and my calf hurt every time I stepped down. Which, y'know, in a marathon happens a lot. It was a struggle to continue moving forward. Everything in me wanted to walk. I kept doing the math and telling myself "if you keep up x pace from here on out you'll still finish in x time!" My goal went from 3:45, to hey at least I'll go sub-3:50, to oh crap let's at least get a PR.
The final 4 miles were an absolute battle to just. Keep. Moving. I thought about family members and friends; people who have helped me get to a point where I could do things like this. As we moved onto the Embarcadero, the Bay Bridge felt like a mirage that kept getting farther away. At last, I saw the finish line. I tried to spring the final 200 meters and fight for every second, but there was legitimately nothing left in the tank. I finished in 3:55:17, a 51 second PR and 3-minute course PR. I was limping, shivering, and felt like I was going to throw up. As volunteers told me congratulations and placed a medal over my head, I could barely make words come out of my mouth to say thank you. I saw someone I knew and tried to say hi between grasping to find a trash can to dry-heave into.
I was so proud and grateful that I was able to run this, but man, the marathon is a beast. The San Francisco Marathon in particular is a monster of a course, and humbling experience. I knew the moment I finished that there was going to be a long road ahead for healing my leg, but I didn't regret a thing. Our bodies and minds as marathoners are nothing short of miracles. I'm so proud of every single one of the 5,264 people who finished this thing, and the countless others who just went out there and tried. The volunteers, spectators, fellow runners, and support from home were the real MVPs on this day. My gratitude is endless. Thank you.