My day began with a 4:30 am wake-up call. Yes, I knew the invited runners didn’t start until 5:30 and the peons like me wouldn’t hit the starting line until after 6:00 am, but as anyone who does long distances knows, the pre-run essentials require a good 90 minutes to complete. You know, make coffee, poop, eat oatmeal, poop, and make sure all necessary items like Garmin, phone, nutrition, and whatnot are packed in our hip pack. And then probably poop again, preferably at the hotel because the port-a-john lines ramp up fairly quickly at the start line.
I must digress for a moment. One thing I never got used to in Portland? They call the port-a-johns “Honey Buckets.” That’s the brand, like the rest of the world has United or whatever, but they have Honey Buckets. Maybe it’s from running past a homeless camp on the east side of the river and seeing a five gallon pail nearly full of shit, but there ain’t nothing sweet about the port-a-john. Or port-a-potty or whatever you call it.
Back to SF, or “The Other SF,” as a friend in Sioux Falls calls it.
Mile 0.0: It was a beautiful morning. Since we were up before sunrise, the lights on the Bay Bridge made for a nice background.
I managed to put myself in the wrong starting pen (five instead of six), but I didn’t notice until it was pointed out to me and at that point, I didn’t really care enough to move. I just figured a whole bunch of people would pass me and that was gonna happen anyway. I visited with a nice dude from Philadelphia named Lou. Yes, he had the accent. And yes, I asked about Rocky. And no, I did not make a Charlie Day reference.
Mile 1: It’s called the “Embarcadero.” While I consider myself a reasonably articulate person, I cannot say this word. I kept saying, “Embarcado,” like the extra syllable was just too much for me to handle. The sea smells were a bit too much for me to handle as I tried to find my pace.
Mile 1.7: Fisherman’s Wharf, where I took back everything I said about the Embarcode being stinky. Lawd. I love crab as much as the next person, but running through a wall of crab funk snapped awake any piece of me that wasn’t quite in race mode.
Mile 3: Fort Mason and the smells have cleared. An evil hill at the start of the mile reminded me that the hills in this town aren’t for the faint of heart. Runner’s Math begins: Do what you just did seven more times and you’re almost finished.
Mile 3.5: I saw the only “Remember the Unborn” shirt I will see in the race. Of course, I cringe and mutter something under my breath. But then I remind myself that my favorite thing about this city is the diversity. It’s laid-back cosmopolitan. It’s friendly. It’s a place where you’ll hear 16 different languages while you’re walking around. So I told myself that maybe the lady also remembers the born and is a vegan who works to improve child mortality rates around the globe.
Mile 4: Almost to the bridge, but the fog is so thick I can’t see it. Overheard 87 jokes about seeing the bridge. None good enough to remember.
Miles 5.5 to 9.5: I’d never been on the Golden Gate Bridge before, so being able to run across it was pretty amazing. It was so windy I had to grab hold of my cap three times. It was so foggy, I now know what it feels like to be on a pirate ship right before something terrible happens. It was intense, weird, and wonderful, so thick it was like running in a light rain. As I neared the end of the bridge, I could see the sun starting to peek out, and it was full-on sunshine at the turnaround on Vista Point, which just made going back on the bridge with the windy and super fog all the more bizarre. It would be a great set-up for a horror movie. (Eli—call me!)
Mile 10: I felt really good coming off the bridge. Then another of those damned hills. We’re not talking Lombard Street or anything, but damn. This run was a mental game more quickly for me than usual because of the hills.
Mile 12.5: We headed into Golden Gate Park. A dude with an adorable shorthair chihuahua was holding his dog’s tiny paw out as he called out, “DOGGIE HIGH FIVES!!!” Usually, I see people passing out high fives and all I think about is the pile of germs on their hands, but I could not resist the doggie high five, so I trotted over and got in on that action.
Tons of Fun next to me remarked, “Way to freak out that poor dog.”
I contemplated kicking him in the Nathan Sack.
I refrained as I needed the energy.
For the record, the dog was not shaking and didn’t appear to be frightened in any way.
Mile 13.7: GSP SIGHTING! A handsome boy was out for a run in the park with his dad. I kept it together and didn’t yell, “I love your pointer!” and start running to him like I did with Maggie on Stockton Street the day before. This was enough proof that if we ever got super rich and lived in SF, the park provides the right space for GSP-level exercise.
Mile Somewhere in Golden Gate Park: A small band played along the route. For the life of me, I can’t remember their sound, but I remember a lady playing a hand drum and swaying to the music. If she were to write an autobiography, it would be called, “SF Drummer Lady: If Stereotypes Could Talk.”
Mile 18.9ish: You gotta go through a very rapey tunnel as you’re leaving the park. Thankfully, there was a race monitor stationed right outside of it. The volunteer race monitors were part of a motorcycle club, with patches and all, which was just another reminder of the fabulous diversity of the Bay Area. There were even a handful of women in the club. The police who assisted on the course were also quite diverse—I saw more POC and women in uniform than I have seen in cities where I lived. Granted, I have no idea if that’s reflected in the leadership of the SFPD, but it was good to see.
Mile 19.3: I saw a beautiful Jerry mural on Haight Street. <3
Mile 20.8: Haight Street is a memory, but Jerry pushed “Truckin’” through the shuffle. “Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me, Other times I can barely see. Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.”
What occurred to me at that moment was that I physically felt pretty darn good. I hadn’t pushed anything, I was enjoying myself. Usually by this point in the race, I have planned a retirement and pledged to never do another marathon. The “Everything hurts and I want to quit” miles come between 18 and 24. But this was the first race where I didn’t have to go back to a life with which I was unhappy. Sure, leaving my new favorite city would be a little bit of a bummer, but I also had a really great life I was running back to, so the end of the race wasn’t gonna be a letdown. It would be Steve and the party at the finish line.
Mile 21.2: Apparently I hadn’t sweated out all my fluids because I needed to make a pit stop at the port-a-johns. Real talk, toilet paper is a memory at this point in a race, so my karma must be in line since I didn’t have any serious business to attend to. Once you’re covered in sweat and salt, a drip dry is a punchline, so I just headed to the hand wash station. There was soap, but the water was out, so I ended up spitting on my hands and sort of half-assed “drying” them on my soaked tank top. There were water stations basically every mile, so I figured I would just grab an extra cup to rinse later.
Mile 21.7ish: A good Samaritan was handing out pretzels. Salt sounded delicious at that point, so I grabbed a few and crunched away the downhill. Except I forgot that pretzels get stuck in my molars and without thinking, I reached into my mouth to pick the pretzel bits and then all I tasted was soap and probably the spit that I’d deposited to “wash” my hands at the port-a-john.
Somewhere along Mile 22: Jesus, soap tasted terrible. I almost felt bad for making fun of my older brother when he’d get soap shoved in his mouth for cursing when we were kids. Almost.
Somewhere further along Mile 22: Sweet, sweet water station. Water everywhere. All the swishing and spitting.
Mile 23: A group of 20 somethings were holding up signs and cheering, just when we needed it most. One young woman held a blown-up photo of her dog that reads, “Pet me, maybe.” The dog was at her feet. I pointed to the sign as I asked, “Really?”
“Sure!” she said.
I held little Sasha’s face in my hands and gave her a good chin scratch. I appreciated the bitch’s indifference—“Run human, you’re almost there.”
Mile 23.2: The glorious moment of knowing that only a 5K stood between me and the Power Crunch bar I’d been thinking about for a few miles. We spent a bit of time at their booth at the expo and were told there would be full-sized bars at the finish line.
Mile 23.8: We’re back down by the water and it was getting hot. As much water was getting dumped on my head as down my throat at this point.
Somewhere along Mile 24: Someone was running around in a Gumby suit, passing out high fives. I don’t think I imagined it, but I was a little batty, even if I felt good physically. I was still focused on the Power Crunch bar and the fact that I could see AT&T Park in the distance and I knew Mile 25 started right before the park.
Mile 24.HANGRY: In a cruel twist of fate, tailgaters for the Giants game were starting to grill. Bastards. Everything smelled good. Mantra: “Food is at the finish. You get a Power Crunch bar. You are a Brownhead.”
And that was the one that broke me.
Mile 25.5: This was the first race where Alli didn’t train me. I always thought about Alli and Joey during races, practically, because I needed to figure out what to do with my hands, and more so just because they were/are my best friends. The reason I have each of them tattooed on my feet is because they will run every race with me, no matter what.
Mile 25.8: Twisted crying faced woman who missed her doggo stayed focused on Power Crunch bar, even though Embarcment smells were kinda nasty.
Mile 26: I collected myself and laughed because Biggie rolled through the shuffle. I finally got to the West Coast and the East Coast brought me home. Giggles.
Mile 26.2: THE ANNOUNCER PRONOUNCED MY NAME AND TOWN CORRECTLY. This was a first.
Mile 26.WTF: “We’re out,” says the 12 year-old volunteering at the Power Crunch bar stand.
“WHAT? I’ve been looking forward to this for miles.”
Lots of blank staring.
Mile 27: Finding Steve and finish line party, but I probably griped about the Power Crunch for at least 15 minutes. (And then daily since.)