Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Race Report: Nike Women's Marathon

I left Seattle during a torrential rainstorm on Saturday morning only to emerge from the Powell Street BART Station to gloriously blue skies and temperatures in the high 60s. It wasn't a bad way to start off the weekend, and I was glad I listened to my instincts and packed summer running gear for the race.

The entire city buzzed with marathon fever, with Union Square serving as ground zero. Huge tents covered the center of the Square for race participants to pick up their packets; and beyond the Square, Niketown was lined with people searching for their name on the outer west wall of the store. I found mine and proudly snapped a picture. I don't what it is that makes people proud to see their names displayed, but I do admit it was exciting. I felt as though I was an important part of a whole, albeit a 1/20,000th part!

Niketown was too hot and too crowded to enjoy shopping for official marathon apparel, so I decided it walk to my hotel to unload my backpack and check-in for the night. Afterward, I had hours to shop--ALONE! I can't tell you how excited I was just to roam around from store to store without fulfilling the needs of someone else.

Everything pretty much went off without a hitch for me on Sunday morning. My alarm went off at 5:30 and I had a really great night's sleep. I caffeinated and walked back down to Union Square and found my pace "street", which was Powell (each pace group literally had their own street on which to start!). I fell in line in-between the St. Francis Hotel and the west side of Union Square and waited for the countdown.

I crossed the starting line 7 minutes after gun time--not bad for having to coordinate starting times for 20,000 people. At least I didn't have to wait around for 30 minutes like I did during the Rock 'n Roll Marathon!

I started off slowly--perhaps too slow. I guess I was concerned about the hills between miles 6-9, which were inside the Presidio. I didn't want to run out of steam mid-race like I did during the Mercer Island Marathon, where, by mile 9, I was toast after all of the hills. I think in hindsight, though, I could have pushed a little harder because really, I only lost ten seconds total during the race from where I was at the start, pace-wise, and I did have some extra energy toward the tail-end of it. Unfortunately, it was too late to try and make up some of that extra time.

But speaking of hills, they were everything people warned me about...and then some. The first hill, at Mile 6, was heading up into the Presidio, and the only thing that took my mind off of it's daunting pitch was seeing one woman go behind the park sign to drop trou' and do her business. Sad thing was, she wasn't anywhere near the sign when she pulled her pants down, so a thousand of us got to see a full moon rise in the east. I guess...when you gotta go, you gotta go.

Unfortunately, too, after enduring a three-mile stretch of long hills with steep pitches, the Golden Gate Bridge was shrouded in too much fog for viewing. So the only redemption was the longish downhill, which didn't last long enough, in my opinion. As we headed into one of my favorite SF neighborhoods adjacent to the park, the slopes offered little reprieve. It wasn't until we approached the Great Highway, as we viewed the Sutro Bathouses and Seal Rock were we able to get any real traction...and that was at Mile 10.

If I had any complaints about the race it was in dealing with the walkers on the course. Now, don't get me wrong--I'm all for doing a walk/run if that's your thing. And, seriously, I'm not that fast of a runner, so I'm not saying this to be an elitist snob. But I had several near-misses with other racers who, without any warning, and right in the middle of the road, would STOP first, then walk. If you're gonna do a walk/run, you should at least have the common courtesy to stay off to the side. My near collisions resulted in giving a few people flat tires (stepping on the backs of their shoes) and I'm sure those people were equally annoyed with me. But, STAY TO THE SIDE! DON'T STOP RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. YOU'RE NOT THE ONLY ONE ON THE COURSE!

My other complaint is similar but much, much worse. As I ran down the Great Highway, after passing Seal Rock and before heading into the park for the final stretch, there were throngs of spectators lining the sides of the road. It felt great hearing the cheers, knowing that the finish line wasn't far away. But as we rounded a bend to enter the park, five spectators stepped off the sidewalk and proceeded to WALK OVER AND STOP right in the middle of the course! I'm not kidding--they STOPPED and looked like frickin' deer caught in the headlights. What the fuck were these people thinking? I mean, I wasn't the only one who had to stop short to keep from completely plowing into these people. There were dozens of runners AROUND me! I shouted, "ARE YOU SERIOUS? WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?" And yeah, I had THAT much time to stop and say those words. That's how bad it was.

You know, when I paced for the Seattle Rock 'n Roll Marathon, and we approached the downtown surface streets, there were also hundreds of spectators lining the street. The main differences between the ones in Seattle and the ones in San Francisco were the police officers and the barricades that kept idiots off the course. I don't remember seeing any police OR barricades in that area, which happened to be have the most spectators (which makes sense since the finish line was so close). When you have so many people running in a race, the most important thing to think about, in my opinion, is everyone's safety. It just ISN'T safe for asshole spectators to walk across the race course.

Some more highlights of the race? Oh yes, I've failed to mention the finisher's medal: a sterling silver necklace from Tiffany featuring an engraved runner and the race's slogan, "Run Like a Girl". These were presented to each finisher by some fine-looking firefighters in tuxedos. The necklace--my necklace--made running this crazy, hilly, stupid-spectator race totally worthwhile.

Some honorable mentions of the race include the Ghiradelli Chocolate given to runners at Mile 11 (not so much for my benefit since I eat Snicker's mini bars while I race, but, you know...awesome chocolate!) And I loved the Finisher's Village for several reasons: first, I was handed bagels, chocolate milk, bananas, Kashi with yogurt AND a Safeway shopping tote specially made with the "Run Like a Girl" theme as we were herded through. And, the most awesomest thing I'd ever seen at a marathon: a changing room! Yes, folks, I'm easy to please, but I can't tell you how awful it is to change out of sopping wet, stinky running apparel while standing in a Porta Potty. Having a changing room made things so much easier that I wish I had brought a towel or a box of baby wipes just so I could wipe off before putting on my clean, dry Finisher's shirt.

I left San Francisco later that day, happy for the excellent weather and proudly wearing my Tiffany necklace. Though it wasn't my best race performance-wise, it was definitely one of my best racing experiences.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Slowly getting back to the swing of things

It's been three weeks today since mom died. I will admit, it does get a little easier each day--especially with the enormous amount of daily noise that comes from two kids. I think having to be "on" all the time has created a natural diversion to feeling sad all the time. When I'm alone, I think more about her death though even then, I'm deeply sad but not in some sort of deep state of paralysis.

After she passed away, I debated on whether or not I should run in the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco (which takes place this Sunday). I felt like it was too frivolous of a thing to do given the circumstances. But, over time I recognized the importance of living my life and all the great things about it and every one and every thing that makes me happy. Running is definitely high on the list of "things" that make me happy, and so I decided to go to the race. Besides, since this was a lottery draw, the chances of my being able to get in again next year are kinda slim. I've been planning on going to this race since March and I'm really looking forward to it. The views will be stunning and if that isn't enough to entice anyone to want to run the race, the sterling silver Tiffany necklace presented to each participant at the finish line should.

Running is such an instrumental part of my life. When I run alone, it helps me to hear my own thoughts, to think clearly, and sort through stuff in my head. Two days after mom died, I went on a 10-mile run by myself just so I could cry.

Running has also introduced me to a lot of people. I belong to a running group of about 100 people, and of those, 4-6 people (depending on who is training for what race) run together every Saturday. I love listening to everyone's stories and to share a few of my own. We've become quite the training team in every sense of the word in that we cheer each other on, push each other a little harder, and comfort one another in a time of need. When mom died, they all chipped in and bought my family a complete, enormous dinner from Whole Foods. That was, by far, the best thing anyone could ever do for me since the last thing I wanted to do was cook.

So rather than feel guilty for doing something indulgent for myself, I plan to enjoy my time in San Francisco. It'll be nice to get away for a couple of days and fun to run in a race where, at Mile 11, they hand out Ghiradelli chocolate.

Besides, that's what mom would have encouraged me to do.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Thinking Out Loud

Part of my long, drawn-out silence here is due to my mother's sudden passing. She died on September 25, unexpectedly, of a hemorrhage in her lower GI tract. It was an awful way for her to die and, judging by the way she left the world, she wasn't expecting it either. She had been reading in bed around midnight, munching on some butter cookies, when, I imagine, she felt the urge to use the bathroom, and she got up to use it and never left.

I know that much at least because when I went into her apartment a day later, her bedside reading lamp was still burning, her covers were carefully folded back--just enough for her to calmly swing her legs out of bed, and not disrupt the tin of butter cookies lying next to the book, which was placed face-down in order to save her place (she was reading Breaking Dawn, the final installment of the Twilight series).

My mother agreed to babysit for me on Friday afternoon since Pa and I had an appointment later in the day to see a photographer and review pictures he had taken of the family. When I called her an hour before I was scheduled to pick her up, the line was busy. I thought nothing of it until I tried 30 minutes later. I picked Audri up from preschool and we drove over to my mom's apartment. The first wave of panic hit me when I used the buzzer and she didn't respond. After waiting for a few minutes, the mail man let us inide the building. My second wave of panic--which was more like a tsunami--was when I knocked at her door and she didn't answer. I knew she was in there. I knew she was dead. I was too afraid to go inside. Besides, I had Audri in tow.

I called Pa at his office and he told me to pick him up. We drove to our house where he dropped us off. About 20 minutes later, he called to tell me what I had already known. What was worse, though, was the scene he described. She bled everwhere.

For the first few days, I was in too much shock to actually realize my mother was dead. Even after I left my mother's apartment the next day--having grabbed anything that was valuable to our family--and seeing the wake of her trauma, I was more upset by the way in which she died then the fact she was gone. The permanence of it all hadn't yet registered.

By Wednesday of last week, we were able to say our final goodbyes to her in a funeral home before she was cremated. I didn't want her embalmed because it seemed like such a wasteful thing to do; and so the funeral director placed her on a gurney and put a very pretty quilt over her body so that we only saw her head. At first, I was prepared to see something very gruesome and so I didn't want the children to see her until I did first. But everything was fine. In fact, she seemed more at peace than I had ever seen. Every single worry line and crevice on her face was gone.

Seeing her was the turning point between mourning over the horrible way in which she died and coming to grips with the fact that she was gone. The pit in my stomach grew wider, though I was still in tactical mode. By Friday, we had cleared out her apartment completely and donated everything to Goodwill.

Now that I've shifted out of tactical mode, I'm left with my emotions. I've found that if I try and shut out my thoughts during the day, they haunt me at night in my sleep. They wake me until I'm fully conscious.

And so, this is part of my grieving process -- writing about it helps me as I try and make sense of it all. It may take awhile.

My mother was a good person with a heart of gold, but she wasn't always the best mother. Too often, she had let her own thoughts eat away at her as she struggled to cope with the losses in her life. She also made some poor choices in life, which profoundly affected me and my siblings. She never sought help or spoke to anyone about her demons, and she thought she could take care of things herself, even up to the very end, as evidenced by the towel she used to try and clean up the blood she was losing.

But I loved her all the same because...well...because she was Mom and because I don't blame her for her shortcomings. She did the best she could and that was all anyone could ask for.