In the run up to my first marathon, last October, I was anxious for weeks ahead of time. Whenever anyone asked me how I was feeling, I just said that I was ready for it to be over. The pressure, the possibility of not finishing, the uncertainty about how painful and difficult it would be — it was all just too stressful.
When it came time for this marathon, however, I was a lot calmer. My mom was running too, so even though I felt under-trained and didn’t think I would do as well as I wanted to, I knew that she would do great and I could focus on her achievement. So, Marathon Day got closer and closer and I didn’t think about it much.
The day before we carbo-loaded, dutifully didn’t exercise at all and went to bed early. I got up at 5:30am on Marathon Day and finally, suddenly, felt butterflies in my stomach and saw that my hands were a little shaky. The time was finally here!
We arrived with time to spare at the starting line of the Oakland Marathon. The Portland Marathon starting line had been a mob scene. 6:00 in the morning, completely dark, pouring rain with raincoated volunteers directing and misdirecting runners and spectators through the labyrinth of corrals, starting pens and fenced off areas. The line for the bathrooms was probably 100 people long! The Oakland Marathon had only 1400 people running the marathon (compared to Portland’s 13,000). There were plenty of bathrooms, the crowds were sparse, and the atmosphere was calm. I thought maybe we were an hour early for the start time! Here’s a picture we took at about 7:00 in front of the starting line. The race started at 7:30.
30 minutes later and we were off! My goal was to keep an 11:00/mile pace for as much of the race as possible so I held back. In the excitement and adrenaline of starting a race, the impulse is to run as fast as you can. Or, sometimes, you don’t even realize how fast you’re running. I didn’t want to get tired 2/3s of the way through like happened in Portland so I held back.
The first 6-7 miles of the race were through charming neighborhoods of Oakland that I had never seen before. We were on Broadway, near Fremont street and on Telegraph for a little while, too. The boutiques, bistros and bars reminded me of Portland — areas like the Beaumont District and NW 23rd street. It was beautiful! Part of what I love in running in races is seeing all the people around me — their outfits, their gear, their form, their attitude. Everything. Marathons are a great chance to people watch. As my mom said, “Running the marathon was like a 22 mile parade! Followed by a 4 mile death march.” (Now press play on the youtube thing below to get the appropriate sound effect for that statement)
It was fun! I felt great all through the hilly section (probably because I walked a lot of the hills.) I took advantage of the hills to memorize a Bible passage (Romans 5:1-5) and I still remember it 4 days later so, mission accomplished! At mile 11 there was a long downhill with beautiful views of the Bay and San Francisco, just as the sun broke through the clouds. It was beautiful! Those were probably my favorite moments of the race: just a relaxed jog downhill, looking at the houses & businesses, smiling at spectators and enjoying the moment.
At the bottom of the incline was the 13.1 mile marker. A short woman standing just beyond the sign called out “Keep it up! You’re almost there!” I yelled back “That’s not true!”
I stopped at a Jack in the Box at mile 15 to use the restroom. As I was waiting a guy sitting there reading asked me to buy him food, I told him I didn’ t have any money on me but gave him one of my Gu‘s instead. He looked at it askance and said “I don’t want to get all jittery!” I told him it would just give him good energy (which I realize now sounds like some sort of ridiculous, ancient Chinese secret-style health claim: “Are you tired of that bad, jittery energy? Try Good Energy instead!”)
Starting around mile 19 I spend some time running next to a middle-aged Asian guy who looked miserable and was dragging and shuffling his feet so loudly I had to turn up my music in my headphones. He had neon pink and orange leg warmers bunched around his ankle so maybe the bulky fabric was weighing him down. In any case, he asked me to take a picture of him at the Mile 20 marker. After I did he said, “This is my first marathon! Isn’t it fun?” So, maybe when Asian people are traveling long distances on foot and look miserable they’re really having a good time? I’ve been so wrong about the Bataan Death March this whole time.
Around that point I realized that the index cards I’d written the Bible verses that I’d wanted to memorize on had fallen out of my pocket. I told my step-dad about this after the race and he told me it was a good thing, “You just invented litter evangelism!”
My Death March began around Mile 21. My right hip hurt. My feet didn’t feel quite right. I was just tired. But, with 5 miles to go you just continue on. I stopped about every half-mile or so to stretch my cramping calves and pictured my family & friends waiting at the finish line. It was too bad that the last 4 miles or so around Lake Merrit were so pretty because I was in no mood to appreciate the view. I tried to distract myself my thinking of funny things to do when crossing the finish line. Suggestions are welcome for the next marathon.
Finally, I ran the last .20 miles as fast as I could, high-fived my sister on my way past the finish line and found my mom waiting for me in her space blanket! We hugged, both got a little teary-eyed and told each other how proud and happy we were. I got my medal, a free massage and a congratulatory bar of chocolate from my sister & her fiance. It was great having my family there to watch & some family friends who made the drive out too!
Training for a marathon is a huge time commitment, results in extremely sore legs for the next 2-3 days, and seems, to me at least, like an impossibly large task to take on again. But, when I think of how much fun the race was, how good I felt crossing the finish line, and how much I want to improve my time, I’m really excited for the next one!