Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Marathon Day

It has all come down to this weekend. The five months of training, the early Saturday morning runs, the daily stretching & icing and the countless miles of earth pounding have all amounted to this one day.

The days approaching the weekend were charged with some pretty nervous and excited energy for me. We flew up to San Francisco on Thursday night so we could be in the city and well acclimated by Sunday. On Friday we picked up our race bibs and timing chips - my bib number was 5338 and Jamie’s was 6127. The timing chip was a small piece of plastic that we attached to our shoe that kept track of our time throughout the marathon. The rest of Friday and Saturday were spent relaxing.

On Saturday night Team In Training hosted a pasta dinner for the runners, and holy CRAP was this thing AWESOME!! Upon entering the convention center we were greeted with hundreds of cheering people armed with noise makers, crazy costumes, signs, and an extraordinary set of lungs. The amount of energy given out by this crowd was amazing!! I have to say I was completely overwhelmed. The pasta was awesome and the speakers were inspirational. Sleep was the order of the night though and the dinner was wrapped up pretty quickly to get us crackin at some much needed Z’s.

Sunday morning brought our earliest wakeup time yet… 4AM. I have to say, when I was living in the Bay area I saw the city many times at this hour, but never had I seen it in such tranquility. It was the calm before the storm I guess you could say, and the storm was beginning to gather inside of me. I was getting pretty pumped for the marathon and could not wait to burst across that starting line. Jamie and I went through our usual routine, of stretching, hydrating and slamming a smoothie (thanks mom and dad for bringing a blender over for us!)

We met up with our team in the hotel lobby and headed out to the starting line in Union Square. At the starting line my parents along with Jamie’s cousin SonHui and her friend Stephon met up with us to give us huge cheers and a lot of love before we were off.

After a little Star Spangled Banner and a firing of the starting gun we were off… well sort of. It took about seven minutes for the mass of people in front of us to get going and then for us to cross the starting line… then WE WERE OFF!!

Down Post Street we ran towards the Embarcadero and the famous San Francisco Piers. We had bundled up in sweat suits to keep our muscles warm for the first few miles, but as we gradually heated up the layers came off and were thrown to the side for Goodwill donations. The first mile seemed to take for ever, and we crossed over it just before hitting Embarcadero.

The streets were lined with all kinds of people – some just there to observe, some there to cheer on a friend or relative, and others just there to cheer, act silly and belt out motivational rants. The color purple was everywhere – from runners to spectators, many were there to support fight against cancer.

Time seemed to fly by between mile 1 and mile 5. There were a lot of runners around us and a tremendous amount of excitement in the air. I took in this energy and knew that as time went on and mileage dropped off, so would the energy level of us runners. The strategy that Jamie and I were using was to start out at an easy pace and try and conserve energy. Our mentor Paul was running with us and he was extremely enthusiastic, breaking in to bouts of song and chant. It served as a catalyst for energizing the runners around us (including myself), but required too much of my energy to commit to.

Aid stations were scattered throughout the course providing us with water, gatorade, fruit, light snacks and tons of entertainment. The volunteers at these stops were awesome - giving us motivation to press on to the next station.

We hit our first hill at mile 6 and with it brought a sense of sobriety to the brutal nature of the beautiful course. We were running through the Presidio area of the city and capturing beautiful views of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge, but the hill beneath us was relentless and continuously pushed back at our legs, testing their physical limits. This was not a day for defeat though and we passed through (well more like under) the Golden Gate and conquered our first gnarly hill.

There was little time for recuperation before next beast of a hill was upon us. We were ready though. Our training prepared us for this constant bombardment of hills, and this was no match for us. We attacked it full force and before we knew it we were on the back side of the hill enjoying panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. On our descent down the hill Paul had to make a stop for the bathroom – unfortunately due to some miscommunication we got separated from him. From this point on it was just Jamie and I.

The backside of the hill spit us out into the beautiful green landscapes of Golden Gate Park (much like New York’s Central Park for those not in the know). As we began our five mile trek through the park I noticed the inevitable onset of pain begin to hammer away at my knees and ankles. I took this a positive sign, because we were only two miles from the half way point.

As we approached the 12 mile mark there was a split off point for half marathoners to take to get to the finish line. It was amazing to see how the road cleared in front of us as runners branched off to their easy 13.1-mile victory. The course felt like a ghost town - though there were still clumps of cheering people on the sidelines, I still found quiet spots where I could feel the calm of the park and tune in to my internal thought engine. I found myself thinking about how with every mile I ran $207 was going to fight cancer, and together Jamie and I were raising $414 per mile… WOW!!

The loop through Golden Gate Park lead us out to the Great Highway, and a breezy 3-mile run along side the Pacific Ocean. My parents, Sonhui and Stephon were waiting for us at mile 16, and seeing them gave us an enormous boost. At about mile 17 every ounce of bone and muscle in my legs was screaming at me. I was surprised at how severe the pain was. My only rationalization was that our time spent training was mostly on soft dirt trails, and on this day we had been running on concrete and asphalt since we first crossed the starting line. Our training paid off though, because I was able to press through the pain and focus my attention elsewhere.

At the end of our trek down the Great Highway was Lake Merced. In my mind I pictured a small picturesque lake that we would quickly jaunt around and then make our triumphant return back down the Great Highway to the finish line. As we approached the lake though, reality quickly set in – this thing was GIGANTIC. No way, I thought, no way was this massive puddle the lake that we have to run around. I even reassured Jamie of this. But there was no denying it as the course started hugging its banks and following its curves.

The time we spent running around Lake Merced was definitely the most agonizing part of the run. The mileage seemed to drag by as the pain in my legs mounted a war against my will to press on. The pavement started to feel hard and unforgiving against my feet. Every detail of the asphalt underneath my shoes was ridiculed by my feet. The demons were starting to snarl and make themselves known. It was a rough patch along the course, but with Jamie by my side we were unwavered. Our pain was intense, but by no way was it comparable to what cancer patients endure, and we need only to cross the finish line to put it to rest. This change of perspective brought about a fighting spirit in us.

We finally pulled out of the never-ending loop around Lake Merced and were on our final 3-mile home-stretch to the finish line. There was however just one last trick up the sleeve of this beast, a final farewell hill. It was a small hill to say the least, but a big one considering how close we were to the finish line. Jamie and I made a pact to take it on without resolve. Halfway up I could tell she was struggling, so I pressed my hand to her back, looked her in the eyes and said ‘lets kill this baby... you and me… grrrrrrrrr!’ She met my challenge with a decisive growl back and we climbed on. My eyes met the top of the hill with a predacious scowl as my feet frantically consumed asphalt. Jamie was running tough and the frenzied look of determination on her face told me the hill was no match for her drive. As the crest of the hill passed under our feet a sense of victory swept over us that served to open up untapped energy reserves – it was go time and the finish line was just two and half miles away!

Our final approach to the finish line was met with strong resistance. My energy level was great, but the constant bombardment of pain was challenging my will. At one point a Team In Training coach yelled out to us “You see the white tents off in the distance?.. they are AFTER the finish line!” My attention suddenly fell onto the two great white pieces of plastic with terrible engrossment. Knowing that I could see something just beyond the finish line drew me in and allowed me to forget about the pain raging through legs. I became so fixated that I nearly ran past my brothers who were on the sidelines with their families yelling and going crazy. Seeing them was f’n AWSOME. They all seemed to take off after us… my brother Trevor ran next to us with a cup of coffee in his hand, David jogged with his son in his arms and Kevin brought up the rear. Seeing my family out there supporting really brought it home for me. Thanks guys; you are badass and I love you.

And then it happened!! The finish line reared its beautiful self on the horizon. What a glorious site! As we tore into the last mile smiles broke across both of our faces – reality was setting in that we were about to complete one of the most amazing challenges of our lives. The crowds began to thicken and the cheering started to rage as we slugged away at the last bit of mileage. The energy was so intense that my skin began to tingle. As we neared the finish line I miraculously picked my parents out of the see of faces and flung out high fives to them. We were within a couple hundred feet of the finish line when laughter overtook me; every bit of pride, fear, joy, anxiety, grief, love and hope surfaced as an uncontrolled laughter. I turned to Jamie and saw that she was feeling the same way, so I grabbed her hand and we raced toward our final milestone together.

I wish I could detail the rest for you, but everything beyond about an inch before the finish line is a blur to me. The next thing I knew I was holding Jamie in my arms and blasting her with kisses. We had DONE IT!! We had run 26.2 miles and raised $10,880 together for the fight against cancer. What an amazing feeling! What an incredible day! All of my family, including my best friend Adam and his dog Auggie (who drove nonstop to make it there from AZ, only to turn around and head back the same day… thanks bro you are a damn good friend) were at the finish line to congratulate us. My proud moment was hugging my dad and giving the Tiffany pendant that was bestowed to me upon crossing the finish line to my mom as a symbol of our family’s perseverance. We are all strong and we all have it in us to achieve the unimaginable... my dad is well on his way to winning his battle, and I cannot wait to be there to high five him as he goes flying by to his victory!!

Thank you to all of my gracious supporters! Thank you for your love, thank you for your words of support and THANK YOU for your generous donations… YOU are what made all of this possible!! You have helped change the lives of many cancer patients and their families, and you have helped change the face of cancer. No longer will we sit and watch cancer decimate lives, we will run, we will Train, we will Endure, we will Achieve, and WE... WILL... MATTER!!

Much Love.