One-word recap: Comeback.
One-sentence recap: After a month of almost no running, I didn’t back out of this race but instead set out to have fun, which I did and also ran faster than expected.
My non-training: When we last left off in the story of my running life, I had paced a half-marathon and then a week later ran a hot, humid marathon while unknowingly sick. That was my sixth marathon-or-longer in a bit more than six months, and I think I was tired. We will get to the race recap, but first I’m going to bore you with my health woes leading up to it. Maybe someone will read this and think, “Oh, rest is ok, and going 90 miles an hour for two weeks without enough sleep is probably a recipe for mild disaster.” If so, my job here is done. Also, I am a hypocrite.
Five days after the Kona Marathon, I ran with Kristen to catch up and get back into our routine of running before work together. By then, I had spent more than a week waking up every single night drenched in sweat, and that morning I also woke up with a 101-degree fever. Yes, I still ran. And oh, wow, was that tough. Kristen had to stop for me several times while I caught my breath and tried not to pass out — and that was a slow 9:55 pace. So I gave in and went to the doctor, because Dr. Google was giving me a couple scary possibilities and I was going mad due to lack of sleep. They took blood, got the results late that afternoon, but wouldn’t give them to me over the phone, and I couldn’t get there before they closed. They said I’d have to make an appointment for the next week since this was on Friday. Do not anger a sick, sleep-deprived redhead.
Their clinic was open half a day the next day, a Saturday, so I took my feverish self over there, having just read up on patients’ rights to medical records. I marched in the door as Little Miss Toughy McTougherson, demanded my lab results — and promptly started crying. Yeah, that was not in the plan (and shows that I was clearly feverish). I got referred around the clinic a few times, and then a very nice nurse took me into the back, to her cubicle, and said I could have my lab results. She gave them to me and explained them to me: I had elevated levels of this and lowered levels of that, and I clearly had inflammation and infection in my body. They didn’t know where yet, but she had talked to my doctor, who said to give it another week before they started more tests. The nurse did wonders to calm me down, treat me as a non-crazy human being, and then mentioned my running. It turns out that she recently transferred and used to work with a woman who has won local marathons. Small world.
During the next 10 days, I ran less than seven miles total. I was too fatigued. My fever did finally subside, taking the night sweats with it, so I didn’t go back to the doctor (which is good, because that bill could buy me two pairs of running shoes). But I had lost nine pounds — not in a healthy way — and wasn’t exercising, and now I had less than four weeks until the Giant Race, a half-marathon where I had dreams of setting a new personal record. I finally ran another four-miler with Kristen, then two days later I ran six miles because someone I knew many years ago had died of cancer and I knew she hadn’t had the luxury of deciding whether to run. Then I ran almost 14 miles of trails with Kristen, because we got lost. The next day, after three hours of sleep, I volunteered from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. at a half-Ironman.
In retrospect, I think I came close to getting myself sick again, which is probably why I was unable to drag myself out to exercise for an entire week. I simply had no energy. In the next two weeks, I ran a total of nine miles. Not 60, but nine! Then I went out and ran nine miles on trails with Greg and an internet friend I finally met in person that day, Philip. Hey, I had doubled my two-week mileage in one day! Oh, and I was supposed to be racing a half marathon one week later! Kids, this is not the way to actually train for a half-marathon.
During race week, I ran Tuesday and my legs felt awful. Then I ran Wednesday, and Friday, and Saturday — because, you know, I might as well ramp up the running mere days before a race, right? (Again, don’t do this at home.) Saturday was great because Michaela was in San Francisco, so she, Tony and I went on a mellow run along The Embarcadero.
Race morning: Michaela let me crash in her hotel room that night, so I rolled out of bed, ate a Lara bar and left at the nice hour of 6:30 a.m. to jog to the 7 a.m. starting line. Well, “jog” did not happen, because my legs suddenly woke up and insisted on running the 1.4 miles at an 8:39 average pace. Considering that I was going to aim for 8:59-minute miles during the race, that “warmup” had just set me up for an even bigger train wreck of a race. Oh well, I would just have fun in my Giants color-coordinated race outfit.
I got to the start line around 6:45, got into my orange corral (color coincidence), and marveled at how painless it was to just get up and go to the start line. This also has me re-thinking options for later this year, which is another story. Anyway, a kids choir sang the National Anthem and then we were off and running.
Miles 1-3: 8:47, 8:36, 8:31
Hm, these were not 8:59-minute miles. Oh well, I was just going to have fun, and if I wound up walking, so be it. I had carried a disposable bottle of Nuun on my warmup and finished it around the second mile, then tossed it. I’m so used to carrying a bottle, but it sure was nice to run without one, so I might try this at an upcoming marathon — I haven’t gone bottle-free since Chicago in October 2009, which was 12 marathons ago.
Miles 4-7: 8:49, 8:29, 8:43, 8:50
A San Francisco race is guaranteed to have hills, but I knew this and just slowed a little, chugged upward, then relaxed and used gravity back downhill. I was pretty sure my watch said 57 minutes even at the halfway point, which put me on pace for a 1:54. Huh, that was not a 2-hour pace. Odd, but I just rolled with it.
Miles 8-10: 8:37, 8:41, 8:51
I walked through a water stop to gulp more water, since I only get one cup in if I’m running. We went up another hill, and I didn’t even think of walking. I was still running well, enjoying all the interesting Giants-themed outfits, and remembering that I was ABLE to run. So I figured I could probably run 1:55, and that became my goal. Somewhere in here, a teenage volunteer saw my bib number and shouted, “Oh my gosh, your number is 1234! You’re awesome!” I usually just grin and give volunteers a thumbs up because I don’t have any extra air, but I turned and shouted, “Thank you! Yes, best number ever!” She was a girl after my own heart.
Miles 11-13.19: 8:39, 8:38, 8:32, 7:55 pace for last 0.19 miles
We entered the back of the ballpark, and it kind of surprised me; I thought we kept going around to the south entrance, but suddenly we were inside the park, on the dirt and at the finish line. Had I actually looked at the route, I would have known and could have likely shaved 8 seconds off to squeak in under 1:54. But I didn’t care, because I had just run six minutes faster than I expected and I was on now ON THE FIELD at AT&T Park.
Finish time: 1:54:07.
Average pace by my watch: 8:39.
Official average pace: 8:42
Division rang: 87 of 706 (top 12.3 percent)
Gender rank: 292 of 3,174 (top 9.2 percent)
First half: 57:15. Second half: 56:52. (negative splits!)
The results don’t seem to show overall ranking among both genders. Regardless, I’m quite pleased with these results: I don’t actually remember the time I last cracked the top 10 percent.
Most importantly, I felt good. Sure, I was tired at the finish and, as always, only kind of remember getting a big, beautiful, glittery medal along with a lovely bottle of water. I looked down at the grass beneath by feet. I looked across the field toward home plate. I looked at the jumbotron showing runners finishing the race. I was so glad I hadn’t backed out. Plus, I got to walk across the field, look at home plate, gaze across to the pitcher’s mount, and THEN I got to go in the dugout.
I grabbed a bunch of food (they had bags for us!), then waited and shivered slightly in a 30-minute line to get my cool Giants race tech shirt and my Sergio Romo bobble head. And then I began the “cool down” run back to Michaela’s hotel room before she had to leave. I walked a little while sending a few more texts, but then started running. I tell you, it’s not as easy to run while carrying a bag full of snacks and bobble head, after already running 14.5 miles and standing around for a while. But 1.22 miles at an average 9:37 pace were not bad at all. The race had a 5k that started at 11 a.m., so I was actually running past people arriving in the city for that event, and some of them were clearly confused when they saw me. Oops.
And so another race came to an end, not with the personal best time I had once dreamed. But something happened that day. When I crossed that finish line and realized I had just run an 8:39 pace with a smile and without proper training, something changed. Right there on that field is where magic had happened for the San Francisco Giants. And right there on that field, I realized that magic can still happen for me.