No one ever said that I couldn’t keep writing blogs for the San Francisco Marathon…no one took away the Ambassador shirt I’ve been running in all year or said that I am no longer an Ambassador just because the Golden Gate Bridge’s traffic lanes are again closed to runners, the water stations have run dry, the finish line has been dismantled, and 26.2 miles of San Francisco streets have lost all evidence of the race run on them last weekend. So, as far as I’m concerned, even though the race is over, I am still an Ambassador and will continue to be one, blog posts and all, until the marathon staff revokes my WordPress password or serves me a cease and desist notice.
With that in mind, I feel compelled to provide a recap of a weekend that exceeded even the lofty expectations of my last blog post. But where to start with a weekend that was positively brimming with great times in the company of even better people, exuberant reunions with old friends and hopeful meetings with new friends, and wonderful memories that will no doubt last a lifetime? …and I haven’t even gotten to the race itself yet!
Mom, Sis, and I arrived in San Francisco about 2 p.m. the Friday before the race. I promptly visited the expo to announce that I was present and ready to be put to work. Jojo welcomed me with her characteristically warm smile and immediately introduced me to Bart Yasso…yes, you read that right, the Dalai Lama of running, Bart Yasso!! As much as Bart’s vast knowledge of running and insightful training tips and running strategies have helped us all, I was most impressed that he is also one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people I’ve ever met. We hit it off immediately. After more introductions, a leisurely stroll around an expo that seems to get better and better each year, and a few great conversations with race participants, it was time for the official pre-race Ambassador Party.
While I’d already had the pleasure of meeting a handful of Ambassadors face-to-face throughout the year, the party was a wonderful opportunity to meet the rest of our Ambassador team and some of their friends and family. And, just as I had suspected, every last one lived up to my Am-badass-ador expectations. Bart joined us for the party, where we presented our fearless leader Jojo with a small token of our gratitude for putting up with all of us for so many months: a digital photo frame with our silliest and scariest race photos, sure to provide hours of entertainment should she ever find herself bored at work.
The following morning, a swarm of Ambassadors met with our new friends from Lululemon to help with a shake-out run and answer questions about the San Francisco Marathon races. The turnout was great, everyone was excited for Sunday’s races, and I was even lucky enough to meet a few kind souls who read—and actually enjoy!—my blog posts. Choosing not to run the day before the race, I resigned to sitting around laughing with Bart, fellow Ambassadors who also opted to take it easy as well, and the impossibly warm and friendly Lululemon folks.
Pre-race pasta came very early, courtesy of a friend’s humbling dedication to her family and a cause that has torn too many families apart. Jojo explains it best herself in this post, where she announced her decision to run the marathon twice on behalf of the San Francisco Suicide Prevention Center. The Worth The Hurt Ultramarathon was a double loop of the marathon course. About 40 steadfast souls (including Ambassadors Dan and Peter) ran the reverse of the race course at midnight, then ran it again when the regular starting gun went off at 5:30 a.m. Understandably nervous about wrestling with such an undertaking alone, most Worth The Hurt runners asked friends to join them for various sections of their early morning run. I ran with Jojo through Haight-Ashbury and Golden Gate Park at 1 a.m.
After passing the torch to the next early-morning pacer in the Outer Sunset District (the ultramarathon did vary slightly from the regular marathon, in that the first loop didn’t cross the bridge and instead took an out-and-back detour along the coast) I caught a ride back to the hotel with Mom and Sis and fruitlessly tried to rest before the marathon. It was about 4 a.m. when Mom noticed the distressed look on my face and said I wasn’t looking too good. I’d been up since 11:30 pm. and had gotten no more than two hours of fitful sleep at best since the previous day. “I’m so tired, mom,” I said. “I don’t know how I am going to do this.” Jojo had been concern about me running with her and that I would have to sacrifice my race goals to do so, and while I was delighted at the opportunity to put things so meaningful as her cause and our friendship before my own selfish aspirations, I had serious doubts about my ability to finish the task.
As the inevitable start approached, I resigned to run until I had nothing left and took off up the Embarcadero more focused on staying optimistic than keeping on pace. Pulling back from my tendency to start too quickly, I felt good at the 5K mark and very strong on both passes of the Golden Gate Bridge—I wasn’t putting down a PR effort, but the ease with which I held a respectable pace built my confidence enough that I entered Golden Gate Park and the halfway mark in surprisingly high spirits. That all changed as I passed mile 20 and suddenly felt light headed and disconnected from the ground and my feet. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t panic a little as the though entered my mind, “What if I can’t finish this thing?” I wiped my brow, shook my head, and tried to regain composure. Over the next mile, watching my pace deteriorate with what seemed like each step, I thought about my friends who were running this thing twice. I had no excuses. It was time to admit defeat or suck it up and persevere. So I kicked. I kicked harder than I’ve ever kicked before. If I was going down, I was going down fighting like hell. By the long and lonely 24th mile, I had clawed my way to a 6-minute and 10-second pace, and kicked even harder as I approached the final mile.
Crossing the finish line, I threw my fist in the air and smiled like I’ve never smiled before. I had surprised myself and proven—if only momentarily—that I was the man that so many people seem to admire and respect. The day progressed as more Ambassadors and friends crossed the finish line. We celebrated, laughed, and eagerly talked about our next races and opportunities to bring the group back together.
The 2012 San Francisco Marathon will eventually fade into memory, the events of weekend folding into the pages that comprise our running lives. But a part of me will never left that finish line and the 2:53:17 reading on the clock as I crossed it. It wasn’t my fastest time and I didn’t win anything, but in that moment I had been invincible, and I have my fellow Am-badass-adors, Jojo, and, of course, the San Francisco Marathon to thank for it.