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San Francisco Marathon: Looking For Distraction

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I ran my first marathon in December, the California International Marathon. It did not go well. It was great, and I'd never trade the experience for a more successful version, but it did not go well. I learned during that run what it meant to hit The Wall. I'd had training runs in which I'd gotten tired or aggravated or out of flow -- when I sort of mentally fell apart and ended up feeling the opposite of runner's high. I had thought that was The Wall, or some relative version of The Wall. That was not The Wall.

The Wall is when your body holds a unified protest against any further movement. In training, I had been experiencing energy deflation, like a basketball that gets cut by a shard of glass and slowly turns into a leather cap. In the marathon, I experienced energy disapparation -- I was a balloon, and the road was a shotgun blast.

In that race, I did my first 20 miles at 10:12/mile (roughly on my desired pace) and the final 6.2 at 12:30/mile. Yes, 12:30/mile means walking. (It's even worse than it looks: I was on pace through 21 miles. I thought I'd gotten through The Wall. Then it collapsed on me. Surprise! So those final five were closer to 13 min/mile.)

The absolute worst thing about that death march to the finish line? Nothing could distract me from my disappointment. Nothing. The bands through East Sacramento. The great neighborhood. The folks jogging past me. Counting down the street numbers. (This is a great feature of CIM in theory: the final few miles take you down J and K streets from 58th Street to 8th Street. It's a a long countdown.) I love East Sacramento and downtown, and I could not get myself to turn my attention away from how dead my legs felt, or how badly I wanted to lay down and rest. Nothing could get my attention long enough to allow my body to return to jogging for more than a couple of blocks at a time.

Until the end, the last half-mile, when the crowds picked up and I knew my wife and daughter would be on the route, and then I wanted to actually be running by them. That distraction worked, and I finally finished, about 14 minutes behind the target I'd set at the last minute after coming to terms with reality on my first ever 20-miler a few weeks prior.

I chose the San Francisco Marathon on July 29 as my second marathon largely because of the distractions. It makes me feel guilty, because I do enjoy running. I just know that at some point in a run that long I'm going to hate running and wish I would not be running. I need to be able to look out over the Golden Gate Bridge or Golden Gate Park or The Presidio or Ft. Mason or AT&T Park and actually distract myself in order to get to my wife and daughter at the end at the pace I want to hit.

Of course, as I study the course map more and more, I'm realizing that the best distractions come pretty early in the race. The last four miles go through Dogpatch and Potrero Hills (not S.F.'s most postcard-ready neighborhoods) before re-engaging with The Embarcadero, passing the ballpark and wrapping. So over the next three months, I'm going to be trying to find ways to help me last four miles when I really, really don't want to run any more.

This is fun?