You know me, I can always find a lot to write about even when there’s not that much to a race. Here’s my race report from Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco. Am I happy with this run? Well, yes and no.
Nike Women’s Marathon 10/17/10
I seem to be having a lot of “comeback” marathons lately. NYC (’08) was going to be my triumphant comeback marathon after Ironman, parlaying all my long distance fitness into a new road PR. Except I wound up sick on race day, had a personal worst, and spent the next few months recovering from a mess of thyroid issues. Nike Women’s Marathon this Sunday was to be another comeback — a comeback from the hamstring tear that derailed last year’s PR at Palo Duro and cost me my first 50 miler at Rocky Raccoon.
Things don’t always go according to plan.
I’ve always been a very fortunate runner in that I recover quickly and I have had almost no issue with injury. Shin splints? Never had ‘em. IT Band troubles — nope. One time, I had a stress reaction over the cuboid bone, which every runner has sooner or later, that was quickly resolved when I got up off the couch and accidently popped things back in place. And another time, I had a hip thing going on that Dr. Sellers over at Performance Wellness identified as a weak psoas and got me back to 100 percent with little (or no, if I remember correctly) down time. That was my entire running injury history for about 12 years.
Then last year, I developed a partial tear to my hamstring at the ischial tuberosity (translation: I had damage to my hamstring up high in my butt, where the sit-bone and hamstring join up). It came on gradually, got LOTS worse, and knocked me out of running at all for pretty much two months. And then I had to come back. I decided that I trusted Gilbert Tuhabonye and his Gazelles to make sure I rehabilitated properly and I embraced the road again. According to my Airrosti doc, Brian Ellspermann, the road was going to be better for my hamstring than the trail. So why not go for a new road PR?
Naturally, I selected a marathon…or it selected me. My good friend and training buddy from back in ye olden Mixon days, Lindsey W., was putting together a group of friends to put in for the Nike Women’s Marathon lottery. San Francisco, a chance to train with an old friend, a girls’ trip with marathon bling in the form of a Tiffany’s necklace at the finish…oh, HELL yeah!
Getting Ready to Run
Training was a blast. My God, I had forgotten just how fun a track/speed workout with a training group could be. The amazing feeling of pushing yourself over short distance, seeing improvements, that pumped up feeling on the drive home that colors the rest of the day. My hamstring was doing well; every workout was better and I had no problems on long runs. Well, no hamstring troubles, that is. I did have issues with the heat or various days that really cost me some runs. I consulted with Meredith Terranova, my go-to nutritionist (oh, yeah — there was that whole weird allergy thing to deal with last February….), who promptly informed me that I was woefully short on my salt intake. A switch to liquid nutrition and different tablets knocked that problem right out of the ball park. My 22-miler went great from a nutrition stand-point. Except there was this little issue with my foot….
The Dreaded “P” Word
It didn’t seem like a big deal. My left foot was sore sometimes. It felt like I had stepped on something hard with my heel and bruised it a bit. The standard by which I measure every niggling pain (does it hurt when I run?) came up a big no — in fact, it felt better when I ran. And then, it started to hurt more throughout the day. Still, it wasn’t bugging my running so it must just be that I’m changing my stride (Gilbert was working me like a big dog on my form) and back on the hard road. And then that 22-miler; the last 2 miles, my calves cramped up and my foot hurt. I went to see my wonderful massage therapist, Gayla Campbell, who worked the foot and my hideously tight calves and told me that I had the beginnings of a problem.
And then my foot was so painful that getting out of bed in the morning hurt. Not good, especially when you’re three weeks out from your big comeback marathon. I went to see Dr. Ellspermann, who diagnosed Achilles tendonitis. The good news was that Gayla’s work had started to help and the Airrosti treatments were amazing. My history of good recovery and little injury was clearly going to carry me through.
I had almost no pain the week before the marathon. I’d done my final runs to no pain and perfect pacing. I went in for my last Airrosti treatment on Thursday and told Dr. Ellspermann that my foot was doing really well, “just back to where this all started with the little pain in my heel.” He gave me a look and asked me about that pain. I showed him the little bruised-feeling spot at the back of my heel and he said the dreaded “P” word…plantar fasciitis. Nooooo, not that! It’s all related — the tight calves, the Achilles tendonitis, the plantar fasciitis. I had hoped that I would get through my running career without a brush with this runner’s bugaboo but, according to Dr. E, I have the beginnings. What would this mean for my marathon? We’d just have to see. Until then, ice and stretch.
I left the next morning. Lindsey and I were traveling together; the irony is that she, too, had an issue pop up in the last weeks. We both took a philosophical stance on the race: it would be what it would be. No worries, just go run as best we could. In the meantime, we’d enjoy beautiful San Francisco and friends.
Enjoying San Francisco
I did a quick trip to the expo on Friday (I love an expo but what I love is the running stuff, not shopping per se, so the Nike expo was a huge disappointment for me. Crowded, with limited stuff — and stupid stuff: do I REALLY want to get a pedicure in an expo tent?), found my name on the Nike wall (that was cool!), and stretched and iced my foot before a fun dinner out with the girls. Epsom salt bath that night, more stretching.
The next day, we headed to Napa for a lovely day out. We went to Swanson Vineyards and had a wine tasting out in the lovely garden and followed that with a great lunch. I spent less time on my feet than I would’ve left to my own devices, where I most certainly would’ve walked around hilly downtown San Francisco. My foot had no pain whatsoever! Dinner that night was fantastic (it’s actually very easy for me now to avoid my trigger foods—wheat, soy, oranges, and peanuts) and I slept like a baby after another round of stretching and Epsom salt bath.
Race morning: Perfection. Chill but not cold, probably upper 40s, clear. It’s the easiest marathon morning I can remember.
Breakfast in my room was my gluten-free rice cereal with dried fruit and a banana and some weak coffee. Because I was at the host hotel, I was perfectly located and merely met the girls and we walked down the block to bag check. This would be my 20th marathon, so I’ve seen a few…and I have to say the start set-up and pre-race line up was probably the worst I’ve ever experienced. Nike had some 20,000 runners, and it was impossible to move to the appropriate starting “corrals” (really just areas of the street with a sign).
There was no differentiation between crowd and racers. While I have no issue whatsoever with men doing the race, I did with the fact that many I saw were clearly not lined up per the instructions (men were supposed to line up behind some red sign, which was not where I was — so if I saw them, the guys weren’t following the rules).
It certainly wasn’t cold being squashed in, as we were unable to move, but my clothing was perfect. I had on shorts, a short-sleeved shirt, arm warmers, gloves, hat, and my bigger waist pack, which carried my race nutrition (four packets of my Eload and Carbo-Pro mix), my allergy stuff (EpiPen and fast-acting Benadryl tablets), phone, electrolyte tablets, and a couple of bucks. I carried my handheld full of nutrition and my suitcase of courage — I was hoping to come in between 4:45 and 5:00.
I’m not going to go into too much detail over the first half or so of the race. Lindsey and I quickly separated, which is more my fault; I tend to just go into a zone. Plus it took a lot of concentration to navigate through the crowds. This is not a runner’s marathon, not at least back in the 10:00- to 11:59-mile start group. There were huge groups and very little race etiquette, with people walking from the get-go. I have no problem with whatever your pace is once you pin on a bib, but I have massive issues with bad behavior: don’t stop suddenly in front of people; don’t run 5 to 7 people abreast and bitch at people for coming through; do move to the right if you’re slower or taking a walk break; do hang onto your trash; please seed yourself appropriately, etc., etc.
It was extremely frustrating running. I knew enough to try to minimize my dodging and weaving, which is an extreme waste of energy, but a lot of it couldn’t be helped. Many times, I’d ask to come around only to realize that the runner couldn’t hear me because she was zoned out, on her phone (!) or listening to music. I had to shake off an exceptional unpleasant encounter with a woman with Team in Training. We were going uphill, the road was narrowing; there was a big bank of port-a-potties to the left and a narrow shoulder on the right where spectators were standing. Standing n the middle of the road were two 20-something guys in street clothes, laughing, as the stream of runners parted to come around them. Were they just being idiots or did they get stuck, trying to get to the port-a-potties? I’ll never know, but as I came around them, I yelled to them, “If you’re not racing, get off the course.”
At that point, I heard a woman behind me say, “Oh, shut the fuck up.” I turned back to her and said, “Excuse me?”
She said, “They have every right to be on the course. You need to just be quiet.”
Now, I was completely incredulous and figured she didn’t understand me so I said, “Those guys weren’t racing, so I told them to get off the course. It’s dangerous.”
She was extremely angry: “They have every right to be on the course. All they need to do is move to the right.”
The woman next to her shot me an incredulous look and responded, “Um, she means they were spectators.”
I guess this horribly unpleasant woman was running with a giant chip on her shoulder and wanted to stand up for TinT people who were walking — not at all the people I was addressing. Unfortunately, there was a lot of this kind of bitchy (sorry, that’s the only word for it) behavior on the course, and it left a horrible taste in my mouth.
The scenery was beautiful and the first half passed very quickly. My miles were pretty much all over the place, ranging from 10:10 to 12:46, depending on the crowd and the hill (up or down) but at the halfway mark, my foot was feeling good, I felt under control and easy, and my pace was under a 5:00 finish time. The weather was just about perfect; while I’d have liked a tad cooler, I was in my gloves still and the sky was overcast with a light drizzle falling. My nutrition was working wonderfully and it only took a few seconds to manage mixing my powder and water at an aid station. Perfect! I even had a miracle bathroom stop! I came to a bank of port-a-potties; I’d needed to go for a few miles but there were few bathroom opportunities (surprising for a race full of women, don’t you think?).
Some five people were standing around the port-a-potty when I ran up, calling out, “Are y’all in line?” Everybody nodded yes and I started to skip off when a door opened, the guy who was next in line said, “You go.” Really?!? Wow — in and out in 30 seconds! I love you, man!
Now, the course layout meant that the half marathoners split off as we entered a loop around the park, which would return back to the half marathon (and ultimately whole marathon) finish area. That loop wasn’t so bad but there was a definite drop-off in energy and bodies, as clearly the majority of runners were doing the half. After the loop, we headed out while those finishing the marathon came back in, the ocean to their left. It was wonderful to see the faster racers, and I cheered for the 3:40 group as they came along. Is there anything more beautiful than a strong runner finishing? I decided that I would press my pace to see if I couldn’t open a wider window before 5:00; after all, I felt good and the worst of the hills were behind me.
The Wheels Come Off
We were approaching the 30K mark when I saw the 5-hour pacer to my left. Hmmm; not what I wanted to see. We chatted and I asked her what their start differential was and she replied about 22 minutes. Eek! I was just shy of 18 minutes off the start, so assuming the group was on pace, I’d clearly lost some time. However, she fell back, which made me think that there was some adjusting going on, so I told myself it was time to get serious. After all, isn’t a marathon really a 20-mile warm-up for a 10K race?
Ok, that’s an old joke that’s not exactly true, but I know that my slowest miles are always in the mid-section, about miles 14–19. After that, much like an old nag to a barn, I usually find some reserves to pull a little bit of something out of my ass at the end. So it was just about time for me to get to work.
We came to the 30K mark and I got confused. I KNEW we did another loop but what I was seeing didn’t meet up to what I knew. There was what looked to be a huge lake off to my right. Runners were coming back at me, clearly finishing the loop, yet I could not see runners making their way around the lake. Uh…this unsettled me. A little discouragement seeped in. Stop it!
I focused; we headed up a slight incline; I pushed to pick it up, and my left foot just caved. Suddenly, it was horribly painful. There was no pop, no pull, no gradual “Ooohh, my foot is starting to hurt” easing into it. Nope: it just suddenly yelled out at me, “What the hell are you doing? This hurts—STOP!”
I tried to shift my weight a bit to relieve pressure which, rather than on the ball of my foot, was more along the arch. Eh. As I tried various ineffective changes, my calf began to complain. My mile split slowed to 12.58 as I limpingly moved along. Reluctantly, I decided to see if walking helped. It didn’t.
My next mile was 16.56. The area around the lake was pretty deserted, perhaps due to the fact that it was actually raining now. The road had a horrible camber — a slant, really — and the unevenness exacerbated my foot issue. At some point, I got mad and said (perhaps out loud) “Fuck this. If it’s going to hurt, I might as well move faster so it’ll be over sooner.”
I adopted a lopey lumbering stride and, miraculously, my foot seemed to relax a bit for a few minutes. Shoot, 13.55 and 12.56 are much better than almost 17 minutes-per-mile! Perhaps I could come back. And then it was extremely painful, so another 2 miles of hobbling and walking occurred, both well over 15:00. I fought back tears as I watched the 5:15 pacer pass me on the in-coming stretch. Not even running next to the ocean lifted my spirits. I managed to get a mile of quasi-running in during the final 2 miles of finish stretch but as I came in at 5:28, I had added almost 30 minutes to my time in the last 10K.
The rain was really coming down and it seemed the temperature had dropped; I could see my breath. I collected my Tiffany’s box from the gentlemen in tuxedos at the finish, who looked as miserable as I felt. I could barely put any weight on my foot at all. I just kept moving, skipping any finisher picture or other side trip. Periodically, I held on to something so I could stretch out my left leg, as the calf kept cramping (probably due to my weird attempts at running without putting pressure on the bottom of my foot). Lindsey and I met up — ironically, we’d finished just minutes apart, totally missing each other as she passed me somewhere in the final 10K.
Questioning My Race
In the back of my mind is the worry that I simply let go mentally; after all, my foot pain corresponded to my sinking spell as I confronted the seemingly endless lake loop. Was I just weak? Did I not “suck it up” enough to continue my pace? Or had I been managing to block minor discomfort for 19 miles, only to have pain of a certain level crash into my consciousness? Does it matter? I had 19 miles I was happy with and, well, 7 miles of relative hell.
I hope that I can resolve my foot issue but, like Lindsey and I decided before the race, it is what it is. I’ll deal with it. And I can always have another come-back marathon!