A few weeks ago I was talking with two senior grad students from my old lab, and they were discussing how graduate school was like a marathon. “We’ve been through so much, and now we’re so close. We can’t see the finish line yet, but it’s right there!”
“You guys are so inspiring, ” I said, half joking.
They looked over at me and laughed. “You think we’re kidding, but we’re really not. Grad school is a marathon, and you are at mile 1. It should be actually kind of fun right now.”
Well, mile 2 should be the most fun. Mile 1 is just getting used to the pace of running.
I’d like to say that this conversation inspired me to kick off my graduate career by running a half marathon, but in reality I had signed up for it months ago.
This morning I woke up at an ungodly hour to run the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco. I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but it was actually…pretty fun. As Amy knows but the rest of you don’t, I am historically a wheezy and out-of-shape distance runner. When we had to run the mile for P.E., I think I ran the whole time only once, and it was a struggle. (I made Amy run the whole time too – ha! She almost killed me afterwards, but it was ok. Right? Right?) I didn’t know that the first mile is actually not the easiest, even though theoretically you haven’t expended that much energy. The first mile is when all the warming up happens, before you get into the flow of things. It feels like all the lactic acid is being furiously produced but my body hasn’t acclimated yet. Hence, my legs feel like they’ll fall off.
Since I don’t live in San Francisco, I crashed the night with some college friends who were living in the city. There were actually three guests and three hosts that night, and we all ended up running even though some of them hadn’t initially planned for it.
I came down on Saturday, to pick up my packet with my race bib and various freebies (including a mini dry shampoo that actually almost works!). Packet pickup was at Union Square, and there was an “Expotique” where Nike basically shows off its snazzy new clothes and sponsors hand out free samples of cookies or chocolate banana smoothies. It’s all terribly lovely and an absolute madhouse. (Think a high concentration of very lululemon-ed women milling about a tent, some of whom are in lines and others of whom are just moving determinatedly but aimlessly. It was mass pandemonium.) Then we checked out Niketown, which was arguably worse. Pretty clothes, but people just everywhere.
I also hit the mall (hah) and bought a pair of blue Toms. The building that houses my lab is cracking down on footwear, and it turns out i have very few lab-appropriate shoes that are still intact. (So, this was not an impulse buy.) Then a couple of us got coffee at Nespresso, a swanky-ass “coffee shop” that looks like an upscale home furnishings store. They specialize in coffees, but it’s like a sit-down restaurant, with just coffee. They have like 20 different kinds of espresso for your drink, but the waiters are super nice and explain everything to you. Here’s my iced cappuccino. I forget what kind of espresso I chose. It was very…smooth. The taste and the texture of the drink were both very smooth and cool.
Then we hung out for awhile in a friend of a friend’s super nice rent-controlled Hayes Valley apartment before heading to dinner, where we ate hella bread and pasta. TIL – carbo loading is a real thing, and it works, it really works! Also, “pink sauce” is when you get red sauce and white sauce mixed together. It’s a thing in (at least) SoCal.
I didn’t sleep very well that night, partly because I was sleeping on a couch and partly because my alarm was set for 4:15am. Mainly, I was worried about not running fast enough for the whole 13.1 mi (!). The cutoff for finishing the race is 15 min/mi, after which they cut you off and transport you to another easy course to finish. It was all very hazy though, since the cutoff rate was different? the same? for the full and half marathons, and was it gun time or chip time? Did the stations at each mile just close down after a certain time? (That’s what I was convinced of.) Doesn’t that mean people who start in the 11:00+ min/mi group, which starts half an hour after the official race begins, get shafted? And, 15 min/mi sounded slow, but when I ran in the Berkeley hills to practice, that was pretty much my pace. Plus, I’d run up to 5 miles once in the last 12 months. In retrospect, this was all needless worrying.
Anyways, we woke up bright and early (dark and early, who are we kidding), made peanut butter and banana sandwiches, changed for the race, and tried unsuccessfully to catch a MUNI to Union Square. (TIL – the N-Owl is a bus. The T in the early morning may or may not be a bus.) We called Uber to give us a lift. (TIL – Uber and Lyft are ridesharing startups. Lyft cars sport a large pink mustache on the grill. We saw two yesterday.)
It was super cold when we got to the race’s start. The starting line was on Post St (east-west), and everyone was assigned a starting corral (north-south cross-streets) somewhere along Post. The starting corrals are organized by run pace, with faster runners starting closer to the starting line and slower runners (i.e. me) near the back. They released the people from each corral at like 10 minute intervals.
The usually-painful warmup first mile was actually really fun, because I could pass people as needed and settle in with people of my pace. That first mile was actually the fastest mile I’ve run in a long time, to my great surprise. (I know, because Nike+ tells me so.) The first mile didn’t feel that long either, compared with later miles. The great thing about races is that they don’t feel as boring as practice runs, because you’re running with hordes of other people. And there were definitely HORDES of people at NWM. 30,000, I believe? One of the reasons I was hesitant about running is that I ran a practice 10k in preparation for last year’s Nike Half (which I did not run due to a knee injury from said 10k), and in my pace group there were like maybe 5 or 10 people. The run was at night in a marshland trail, so it was basically running by myself in near-darkness, with not a soul in sight. It was kind of disheartening because I assumed (correctly, I think) that most people were up ahead. In the Nike Half, there are always a crowd of people around, even in my relatively slow pace. Sometimes when there was a slight incline up ahead, you could see the mass of brightly-clothed runners wending their way through the road. With all these people, you’re always motivated to keep running at a brisk pace.
Along the route, there are a bunch of spectators cheering, with cute/hilarious/snarky motivational signs. There were also volunteers handing out cups of water or energy blocks or electrolyte drinks every mile or two, which was very helpful. Unlike the 10k last year, they had not run out of water when I arrived. The energy blocks in particular were lifesavers, even though they were a little tough to eat when you didn’t have water. The course was pretty flat for the first five miles, and then from the 6th mile on (Presidio) there were more hills. Having trained (albeit very briefly) on the Berkeley hills, these hills were unpleasant but not too novel. (Downhill was great though. My knees didn’t mind much.) Luckily, two of my friends that were farther back in the crowd at the starting line caught up to me around mile 3, and we ran together until mile 12. They’re two fast runners, but one of them had a knee injury so they were going at a slower pace. They provided great motivation to run the whole time – I only walked maybe 4 or 5 times, and it was less than a block each time.
I was a little tired from mile 4 onward, but things started getting really rough around mile 11, and I had to take more breaks then. Miles 11 and 12 were the worstttt and they seemed the longest. (6 and 9 were pretty bad too, because of the hills.) Mile 13 was also rough but there was hope at the end of the tunnel. I never understood the last-ditch burst of energy before, but in the last quarter mile I mustered up the energy to sprint past a bunch of folks and make it to the finish line running. I had to cue up Miley Cyrus to get me through the last mile, but I ended with The Killers’ “All These Things I’ve Said And Done,” the same song I started the race with.
I ended up with a slightly sub-12 min/mi pace, which was far, far better than I was anticipating.
At the end of the race, we got this year’s Tiffany’s necklace that NWM is known for, handed out in a blue box by firemen in tuxedos (which seems kind of sexist, at least the way the firemen were described? But they seemed cool with it.) We also got a Nike Dri-Fit finisher’s t-shirt, which, despite being a cross between traffic-cone orange and goldenrod yellow, is actually a pretty sweet neon tangerine color with metallic teal lettering. I was worried mine wouldn’t fit because people said it ran small, but it fit perfectly, so much so that I want to get another Dri-Fit t-shirt just because it’s so pretty. (Also, I didn’t have a running shirt before this.) They also gave us a water bottle, a heatsheet (not printed with NWM like a few years ago, but cool nonetheless), and some free fruits and snacks in a little baggy. It was difficult to find my friends because there were so many people in that tiny area. Apparently the area is so small because something about the national parks shutting down? IDK. It sounded a bit wishy-washy.
The finish line also had some tents with masseuses, free samples from sponsors, and some merchandise for sale. I wanted to get a sweatshirt or something, but I didn’t see anything that looked perfect so I passed. We grabbed dim sum on Irving St in Outer Sunset, and then Uber-ed back to the apartment. The driver was hilarious, telling us stories about bad passengers that were high or contentious, or bad drivers who didn’t know where they were going. When we got back to the apartment, we sat in the hot tub for awhile and then passed out (literally for the hosts, figuratively for me because I had to take a bus back home). Yes, we did know that hot tubs are bad for aching muscles, but it felt lovely, so there.
Some pictures of our swag:
And now, I shall go to sleep because I have been up since 4:15am. All in all, a fantastic and memorable day.
*Edit 10/21/13: If this half marathon is any indication of my life in graduate school (which it’s not at all), I think I have a chance at this thing. Just remember:
- Run with friends. They will motivate you.
- Don’t lose momentum, even when you want to stop. Starting up again is tough.
- Pain is temporary. Sure, you’ll be sore the next day, but you won’t remember exactly how terrible the hills were.
- Always pick up the free food.