Race report: Nike Women’s Marathon
I was in San Francisco this past weekend, thanks to the kind folks at Nike who hosted a Global Running Summit so the press could preview some of their upcoming shoes and running apparel. (I know, I'm a very lucky duck.) More to come on the sneak peeks I took of some new gear, plus convos with 2009 Chicago Marathon winner (and course record-setter) Sammy Wanjiru and Chicago Rock ‘N Roll Half Marathon winner Kara Goucher. For now, here’s the story of how the mighty swoosh sucked me—hook, line and sinker—into running one what became one of my all-time favorite half marathons.
Just do it!...
Don’t Think. Run. That was the mantra at Nike’s summit, and I took it to heart. I’ve been enjoying 5Ks around town since August—and I'm running regularly, but maxing out at 6 milers—so I initially passed on the invitation to run the half marathon distance in San Fran. But as the race approached and I poked around the event website, I felt my resolve waning. It looked like a beautiful course and the website was awesome. Instead of thinking through all the reasons I wasn't prepared, I chatted up a few of my favorite enablers—ahem, running friends—all of whom gave me the green light to just run it for fun. At the midnight hour, I begged Nike to let me in. (Note, the Nike Women's Marathon sells out days after registration opens every March, so do not follow my slowpoke lead if you’re interested in running it in 2010.) I wasn't thinking. I was running.
On the way to San Francisco, I was very, very happy I’d decided to run. It seemed like everyone on my plane from Chicago was heading to town to run or watch the race. The energy was contagious! Nike partners with Team in Training, which provides runners across the country with marathon coaching. In exchange, these runners raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (a staggering $14 million was raised by participants in the SF race alone). TNT will always, always have a super special place in my heart because I trained for, and completed, my very first marathon with the NYC chapter in 2002.
It’s not an expo…
…It’s an expotique! Taking over Union Square in the heart of SF were the red and white tents of the race expo. Every participant wandered through in order to pick up her timing chip and race number. In keeping with the girl-power vibe, the expo featured uber-feminine bells and whistles. There were manicures. Smoothies. Chocolate samples. It was girl heaven. Across the street at the mega Niketown, runners were drinking more of the Nike Kool-Aid. In a tiny font, the names of every runner racing on Sunday, October 18 took over a massive window. There were about 19,000 women and 1,000 (brave!) men running on Sunday. Inside, the hooplah continued. The first floor brimmed with rack after rack of colorful race-themed sweatshirts, tees and more. Everywhere, buzzing women darted around, trying on new gear, shoes and accessories. Even though I have more than enough running gear at home, I couldn’t leave that hot-as-Hades, over-crowded store without a new heather-blue cotton tee logo’ed up with the race date and a red Golden Gate Bridge across the torso. I stood in line for a half an hour to buy it. So yes, I know, I’m a huge dork…but hey, race gear is half the reason I run races!
The big day…
After chugging my chocolate milk Ensure and lacing up my sneaks (Nikes, natch), I headed to the start line. There, in the darkness of early morning and in pleasant 60-something-degree air, runners giddily counted down to the 7am race start. There was hugging, stretching and plenty of cheering. I hope Nike uses the pre-race footage in a commercial, the excitement in that pack of runners was magical and sparkly—it was an inspiring scene.
And then, suddenly, we were off. A dear friend from high school was also in town to run the race, her second-ever half marathon, so I settled in next to her and focused on keeping the pace slow and easy. I let other women rocket past and tried to chill out in the midst of the circus. We headed south from Union Square to the Embarcadero, past Fisherman’s Wharf and the touristy restaurants along Pier 39. Through about mile 3, we only encountered gentle rollers—bigger stuff than we see in Chicago, but nothing crazy. We even passed a genius race check point at mile 2.5—a “coat check” where runners could toss long sleeve shirts in order to run unencumbered, and then pick them up again at the finish line. Very cool. At about that point, I decided I might be able to power through the course a little faster than I’d anticipated. I picked up the pace and wished my friend luck.
Like most races, the this-is-sooo-fun! feelings didn’t last forever. By mile 5, the euphoria of running in San Francisco on a beautiful fall morning had begun to fade into the reality of a tough, hilly course. We entered the Presidio, a beautiful park area, for the longest, steepest climb. My quads began to hum with the hard effort and I focused on looking a few feet ahead, never all the way up (up, up) to the end of the hill. At the top, a photo opp station awaited runners (with the Golden Gate Bridge breaking through the clouds and fog in the background)...not a bad spot to recover from the latest lung-searing incline.
Just past the mile 8 marker, when my legs were really beginning to whine, I got an unexpected boost. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ramon Bermo. He was my TNT coach in NYC (seven years ago!), and was on the sidelines cheering on some of his runners. “Ramon, Ramon!” I yelled in his direction. He spun around and—get this—totally recognized me and yelled back, “Goooo Liiiiiz!” It was so, so awesome. After seeing him, I knew I was going to be okay. The next mile was my fastest of the morning. Thanks, Ramon!
I’m surprised the miles weren’t more painful, with those crazy hills, but the truth is that for every uphill, we got a glorious (quad-shredding) downhill that came with an amazing view. And there was so much stuff going on, it was like a 13.1 mile party! There were gospel singers, cheer stations, DJs, drum troupes and samba music. There were motivational signs along the way…“Run like a girl,” “Hug like a girl,” “Laugh like a girl,” etc. There were signs on the road (“You gave up sleeping in on weekends for this!”). There were oranges, bananas and Ghirardelli chocolate bars being handed out. We were spoiled rotten!
At mile 10 we came down a steep hill that gave us a magnificent view of gray waves crashing on the beach in the foggy morning dawn. It was breathtaking. At about mile 11 we split off from the marathoners. As fun and ridiculously awesome as the course was, I didn’t think my poor quivering quads could take more than one step beyond the finish line. I was very happy to be a half marathoner.
And then, the finish line at the beach. I love every finish line moment. This one was wonderfully joyful. I was thrilled my body found a way to pound out a good run for me. I was so pysched find myself enjoying running a race purely for the joy of running, not for a personal record. I loved the course. But there was more than plain 'ol warm fuzzies to this finish. Just beyond the finish line arch, there were firemen. Wearing tuxedos. Smilingly offering every runner turquoise Tiffany boxes. (Yes, I'm serious.) Inside, I found the race medal—a silver necklace from Tiffany with the Nike swoosh and etched with the words “Run Like a Girl." It was the kind of race (and bling) that made you very happy to be one.