January 2014 Archives


As Charlie Dark likes to say, running is a metaphor for life. One example of this is the difference in satisfaction between running a race purely for yourself, and running a race to help someone else. I had the latter experience during the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco, and it was far more satisfying than running a personal best marathon time as I had done three weeks earlier in Berlin.  When I signed up for a Women's Marathon I was clear in my mind that the way I wanted to run it was as a pacer. I didn't know who I was going to pace, but I trusted that if I put the offer out to Gyal Dem Crew (the women from Run Dem Crew signed up for the race) at least one person would take me up on it. Sure enough, when race day came I was waiting at the start with Gemma and Emma, ready to see what we could do. My main focus was on helping Gemma to try to get a time of 4:30, but I was happy that Emma, who was just recovered from injury, was going to start the race with us, and perhaps stay with us for a good deal of it.

We crossed the start line shortly after 7:00 AM on a cool and foggy San Francisco Sunday morning. Our route took us downhill from Union Square straight down towards the Embarcadero which we joined just west of the Ferry Building. We then headed west, passed the warehouses where the various America's Cup Yacht teams are housed, and continued on towards Fisherman's Wharf. I was happily playing tour guide, pointing out these sorts of sights and maintaining a running commentary. Shortly after running through the tourist district at Fisherman's Wharf we turned left and headed up our first hill. I let Gemma set the pace here, wanting her to feel comfortable with the uphill. She confidently repeated Barbara's adage about 'same effort, not same pace' and had us fairly quickly to the top. This focus and sustained effort were destined to be a theme for the day.

After running past Fort Mason we ran downhill and passed 'singles Safeway' in the Marina. At least that's what it was called when I last lived in San Francisco. Leave it to people in San Francisco to have a supermarket as part of the singles scene. Apparently a good place to judge compatibility based on what people were putting into their carts. Ben and Jerry's? My kind of person. Pork loin? Not so much. But I digress. We swept along and on to the Marina waterfront. The support here was quite good (as it was for much of the race). The signs were not too dissimilar from those at most races, although there were more references to the toning effects of running. There were also some allusions to the promised firemen and Tiffany boxes at the finish
line. And, being San Francisco, the obligatory political commentary ('You are running better than BART,' a reference to Bay Area Rapid Transit which had been closed by a labour strike the day we arrived and stayed shut until after we left). The tone was more positive than a lot of races I have run. There was a nice feeling of most people cheering for all of the runners, not just waiting for their friends (or fellow citizens of one country or another).

We continued on to Crissy Field, entered the grounds of the Presidio, and started to climb. This turned out to be one of the bigger hills on the course. We ascended all the way up to the top of Lands End. At an appropriate point I gestured into the fog bank and announced that there was the Golden Gate Bridge in all its glory. Gemma and Emma did a great job of staying positive through the climb, and I did my best to distract them from how hard they were working. It certainly helped that we were running through some gorgeous woods for at least part of the ascent. While I was reflecting on how well prepared I was for running up this sort of hill, it occurred to me that I was running with a big grin on my face. Not only was I in
complete awe of the strong running of these two amazing women, I was in the midst of a definite runner's high. The physical setting, the fantastic support, the mood of the other runners, and the comfortable pace at which we were running were all combining to make this a fantastic run. Which of course made it that much easier to keep up light chatter, encouragement, etc. There were some parts of the hill where our paces were different enough that I was splitting my time
between Gemma and Emma. Slowing down, checking in with Emma, speeding up, providing some encouragement to Gemma, etc. I trust that the women I was sprinting past (uphill, mind you) understood, once I slowed down to join someone in a matching T-shirt, that I wasn't showing off.


Once we reached the top of the hill we got to run through a distinctly posh neighborhood, and then hit the big downhill that took us past Sutro Baths and The Cliff House and on to the beach. We all thoroughly enjoyed letting gravity do some work for us, had some conversation about the need to stay under control, and coasted down to sea level. After a bit of straight and flat running it was time to turn into Golden Gate Park and start our next long climb. This one was much gentler but did seem to go on for quite some time. Unsurprisingly there were lots of people in the park cheering, and there was some extra energy in the air as the half marathon runners were quite close to their finish. Once we had gotten to the top of the climb and started to turn down Emma told us that she needed to walk for a bit. I wished her luck, encouraged her to be sensible, and took off to catch up with Gemma. This next part of the run was absolutely fabulous: downhill, wooded, and a big display screen showing runner's names as we went past. I pointed Gemma's name out to her which drew a smile. At this point I could tell that she was definitely working, but still seemed quite strong and steady.

The last bit of the race took us uphill past the zoo, along Lake Merced Boulevard for a bit, and then doubled back to head towards the finish. Along this part of the loop Emma caught up with us, ran with us for a bit, and then took off and ended up finishing up a few minutes faster than we did. We also came across some of the Black Roses women and offered them some encouragement and smiles.

Once we were nearly back to the beach Gemma started to falter a bit. Physically she was still running strong, but she was struggling with mental focus (as I did in Berlin). She had a few times when she needed to stop running, collect herself, and then set off again. I just kept talking to her, telling her how fabulously she was doing, told her to take her time, etc. All the while keeping an eye on my watch as I was trying to engineer a surprise for her. I just needed to keep her focused enough to not lose too much more time, and she was set to come in a full five minutes ahead of her target. So on we went, down the hill to the beach. Here we ran into a bunch of people we know! Cory, who was the one-man cheer dem machine gave us a big shootout. We got a wave from Keelan (a super supportive friend of Gemma's who is also a member of Run Dem Crew), and we passed both Angel and Ama who were focused and pushing themselves as hard as they could towards the finish line. Finally we were about 2-300 meter from the finish line, right on schedule for my surprise, and Gemma started to slow down as if she were going to stop again. I felt that at this point she just needed a little encouragement more than she needed the stop (and I didn't want her to lose the time) so I gave her both a physical and metaphorical push. A gentle push in the back accompanied by my telling her the finish line was there and she hadn't yet earned the right to stop running. She responded like the champ that she is, accelerated, and flew across the line. Then I told her to look at her watch. 4:24:50!!

I am so enormously proud of what Gemma and Emma accomplished in this race, and feel very lucky to have been able to be a part of their journey. This was by far the most fun I have had running a marathon, and the most satisfying. As long as I have women who would like me as a pacer, I would happily run this race every year.


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This page is an archive of entries from January 2014 listed from newest to oldest.

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