Saturday, August 6, 2011

Tackling My First Marathon at the San Francisco Marathon (Part 1)

Part 1 here covers a quick summary of training for my first marathon, my race strategy, race schwag and expo, and pre-race time race day morning. Part 2 is here with the walk-through of the race itself and my finish to complete the journey to becoming a marathoner.

Sunday, July 31st, I became a marathoner. It only took 6 years, 26 half marathons, 3 25Ks, to get there. And it took 684 miles of training, including 3 20-milers, and 25 hours of strength training, and 12 pounds lost & 8% drop in body fat percentage, over 6 1/2 months after being released to run again after my C-section, to get me to the starting line of my marathon experience.

And so it was time for the San Francisco Marathon. I'd spent months hearing Dallasites asking why I would choose a summer marathon (because it meant training in Texas summer heat) that was also notoriously hilly. But I was excited. I had already been registered for the half marathon last year and had deferred that entry with the pregnancy, and then in 2011, they were asking for people across the US to apply to be a San Francisco Marathon ambassador. It was a multiple page, short essay, type of application, but then I was surprised when I was one of about 15 ambassadors chosen.  I already knew I was on the path to deciding to finally run a marathon, and that cemented it for me. To be honored to be chosen as an ambassador for the race and to run in such a beautiful city I'd enjoyed on a handful of past vacation visits - yes, I was going to run a marathon.

You could spot me at runs and races all spring/summer in
my SF Marathon Ambassador singlet! REPRESENT!
So I guest blogged for 20 weeks on the San Francisco Marathon website as their "Follow a New Marathoner's Training" series. It felt like it added some pressure on me, but it was also fun to get feedback and support from others during the training cycle.

Race Plan

I put together a race strategy wristband that I self-laminated (matereials available at an office supply store) to put around my wrist with tape (a thanks to Chris M. and Holly L. for that suggestion). The band listed where every determined walk break was, every hill with +/- elevation feet change listed, and every aid station and times to take my GU energy gels. The notes would serve as little mantras of a sort too by way of numbers (says the mathematician). "Don't worry pace is a little slow now, the hill's almost over.", "Just 0.4 miles until I can walk for a minute again.", "Pick up the lap pace just a little here because the big hill's coming up so average pace comes out right". Important since I'm a believer in even effort up a hill, instead of the more popular charge the hill for even pace (which equals extra effort).

My entire marathon race strategy on a 2" wide bracelet?!?

I posted this pic on Facebook in the days before the race and received a lot of fun and interesting comments:
"Wow that is detailed. Maybe I need you to create my plan for Vegas so I qualify for Boston."
"My plan has always been calm down and finish strong."
"Add a reminder - relax and enjoy the experience... if your pace isn't quite what you want it to be, that's ok, it's about the experience, not some specific number that may or may not allow you to enjoy the race!"
"I think you're going to finish a lot stronger than you think :)"
"Have fun and stick to YOUR plan. Can't wait for u to report back about your first full marathon!!"
Now I knew I'd be in a beautiful city, but part of "enjoy and have fun" for this race for me was to finish strong and feel good so that I could go on to 3 fun days of vacation in Napa Valley! I'm very analytical, and I realize this strategy band wouldn't work for every personality type.

So the plan was to plan one walk break of about 0.06 miles (done in mileage so I would get less anxious than counting down seconds to the next run) for every mile I ran. The walk breaks would be shifted a little here and there as needed so that I could have them fall on 1) an uphill, 2) an aid station, or 3) a GU stop. Running through water stations and taking energy gels makes my stomach upset.

I wanted to keep a 12:45-13:00 minute per mile pace. I laughingly gave myself permission to speed up at mile 20, with the assumption that I'd probably hit a wall and be "death marching" it in at that point so wouldn't be speeding up at all. So while new marathoners get told not to have a time goal, I adhered to that with the goal to finish strong, but recognized that if I followed the pacing plan, I could be about 5:40, and if the wheels fell off, it would be up to 6:20.

Race Schwag and Expo

While there are 25,000 runners in the San Francisco Marathon, it's still a nice homely race. Not overly concerned with glitz and glam, just a solid race experience. Since I'm not an expo shopper or care much about my goody bag, I wasn't bothered when the race expo was small and there were no flyers and product samples in our race bag (they did a "virtual race bag"). I know a lot of people who want a massive expo, where it's an event unto itself, and want a million product samples (do I really need a sampler shaving cream? Or small sample bag of Mahatma rice?) - this marathon isn't for you if that's what's important to you.

What's nice is that the fabric sport sack they give you (doubles as your gear check bag with a place to put your bib number in permanent marker) is solid construction. I actually had last year's bag (gift for all ambassadors) and had been using it all season as my "odds and ends" run gear bag. This is a bag I'll actually use.

The technical shirt was long sleeve (a little sad about that since Texas running weather gives you about 42 total days a year to wear a long sleeve shirt if you get hot easily like I do), but it's a gorgeous shirt. Black with an embossed design of black-on-black of the Golden Gate Bridge on the front, and a smaller gold SF Marathon logo on the bottom corner of the back of the shirt. Down the sleeves is this year's tagline for SF Marathon: "Worth the Hurt".

The race bib was nice and colorful, and avoided my pet peeve of going to a very big race where I register far far in advance and they don't personalize the bib with your name. I just think it's such a nice touch, and fairly inexpensive (about $0.02 per bib depending on your vendor) but has a huge effect for the morale of the racer.

Race goodies - bag, bib, and entrant technical shirt

Race Day Morning

4 am wakeup. I had  my pre-race bagel and got dressed into the clothes I had carefully laid out the night before.


Out the hotel lobby door at 5 am, Steve drove me to the race site and dropped me off a couple blocks away. That worked marvelously. As an ambassador I had entry into the VIP area that day. This was a big relief for this first-time marathoner as I had indoor restrooms (yay!), pre-race breakfast available (gnawed on a bagel a bit), and private bag check. I chatted away with Pat Finney, a local runner who was pacing 5:00, and other pacers. I got to meet Jon, who was pacing 5:45, and I told him that if he caught up to me, it meant I was slowing down. :-)

I jabbered away my nervousness with a few of the other ambassadors. My biggest thanks goes to Joe who was running the 5K since he's recovering from injury. That meant he was way laid back and was gracious enough to deal with my blabbering when I vented that I really needed the distraction.

When I left to go line up in Wave 7 (there are 8 waves total), I slowly moved with the crowd and discovered that the barricades went so so far back that I was quickly losing time. By the time I got into the start area, I had heard Wave 7 take off a few minutes before, but I thought they might let me go ahead rather than wait for the Wave 8 start since my bib had the 7 on it. So I squeezed my way all the way through the throng of runners to the start line, right under the start banner, and they wouldn't let me go ahead. :-( But the fun part of that is that when they did start Wave 8, I was RIGHT on the start line. And how often does a runner who's not an elite competitive athlete, get to be ON a start line when the gun goes off, even if it's just for their wave?

Part 2 tomorrow: the race experience itself. Journey to becoming a marathoner wraps up!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome post! Can't wait to hear the 2nd portion!! I wish I was a smart as you on my first marathon!! I went out way too fast and hit the dreaded wall!!
    By the way I'm a north Texas runner too!!

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