Friday, July 31, 2009

218 days to go

Wow, well, OK, I've gone and done it.

I've signed myself and Beloved Husband up to run in the Napa Valley Marathon in March 2010. Ooh-ee. No going back now! I haven't told him yet - do you think he'll be OK with it?

I knew there was no way I would take all this seriously unless there was an actual date in the calendar and money committed. I'm just not one of these people that can train for something hypothetical.

The good news is:
  • The course is very slightly downhill
  • There's usually a tail wind
  • You get 6 hours before (oh shame), a stragglers bus comes to scoop you up and deliver you to the finish
  • The event seems pretty small and friendly
  • It's a point to point course, the only way is forwards!
And the bad news:
  • A March marathon means training in the winter - dark and wet runs are likely
  • Race day itself could be really foul weather
  • I'm expecting there will be far fewer supporters on the course, compared with San Francisco.
But I can do this, I know I can!

Photo thanks: Napa Valley Marathon 2009.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Reasons not to run a marathon

  1. It takes a load of time to train. You need to be out there 4 or 5 times a week, and it chews up your weekends.
  2. I'm pretty sure it's bad for your body and joints, to be doing all that pavement-pounding.
Um, and that's is really. Am I going to let 2 tiny little reasons stand in my way?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tips for Marathon Supporters, part 1

I've now supported runners (to a greater or lesser extent) in the London, New York, and San Francisco marathons, so am declaring myself to be something of an expert in this little-known art (hah!). Many of these tips relate to San Francisco, others are more general.

I'm a huge believer in the importance of support; a friendly cheer from someone you know, or even someone you don't, can squeeze a couple of extra miles out of the tiredest pair of legs. When I'm on the course, I like to cheer everyone, regardless of whether or not I know them. Get out there and make some noise!!
  • Find out your runner's start time. Many larger races have waved starts; a 5:30AM advertised event could mean your runner doesn't cross the start line until 6:15AM or later.

  • Know your runner's predicted race pace, but don't expect them to stick to it. Often times, they'll start out faster (adrenalin) and slow down later. But, if you're hoping to cheer them at, say, mile 10, you'd better know whether they're planning to be there after 70 minutes or 2 hours. In San Francisco, the shuttle bus takes at least 20 minutes to get from the start to mile 4: if you watched your runner start and they have a fast pace, they'll be gone before you get there.

  • Know what color top they're wearing. In the bigger races, an impenetrable throng of runners will be passing and being able to look for a specific color is great. Ideally, encourage them into something lurid - green, orange and pink are all great choices. Discourage them from wearing the free T-shirt given out at the Expo: they won't know if it chaffs, and you'll never pick them out from the hordes of others who are wearing the same shirt. Likewise, if they know what you're wearing (lurid also good), they can look out for you. Some supporters bring helium balloons but I suspect they're a hassle to deal with.

  • Get hold of the course map and be strategic. Find out where your runner thinks they'd like support, and which sections of the course are easiest for you to get to, keeping in mind road closures and crowd/traffic chaos. (In some cities, the course will alternate to allow for some cross-traffic, so make sure you pick a section that is consistently in use by the runners!) My brother always asked to see us at the 20-ish mile point which can be the (metaphorically) darkest part of a marathon experience. They'll probably need you far more there than they do at the finish line. Ideally, your runner will know where to look out for you - if you can tell them which side of the course you'll be, that's the icing on the cake. The San Francisco Marathon has a wonderful shuttle bus which will help you catch your runner at mile 4, 13, 16 and 22. I paid $20 and strongly recommend it.

  • If you're planning to meet your runner after the race, for goodness sake arrange a meeting spot. With thousands of people milling around in identical foil blankets, you could spend hours searching for each other.

  • Races today are often chip-timed (meaning your runner has a chip attached to their shoe) and wondrous technology means you may be able to receive text messages when they cross a few key points on the course. Bazu are one provider but the website for your race may have specific details. This can be hugely useful to know if you have, in fact, missed your runner, in which case you can cut your losses and move to the next cheering point. This cost me $5 for the 2009 San Francisco marathon.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

If they can do it, why can't I?

Still chuffed to bits with my marathon running hubby, we spent time tonight on the computer looking at the race results and times of him and others.

I began pondering the efforts of women roughly my age, who took 5 or 6 hours to complete the San Francisco Marathon. Hmmm. Can you tell where this is heading?

A 6 hour marathon is equivalent to a pace of more than 13 minutes per mile. Even on my slowest days, I rarely take more than 11 minutes for a mile. I'd just need to practice a bit, to do that 26 times. Or, at my current level, I could pretty much run a mile, walk for 3 minutes, and repeat.

I've never thought of myself as a competitive kind of person, and I've been heard to say often enough that I've no wish to run a marathon. But if they can do it, why can't I?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Proud as punch: diary of a marathon supporter

6:11AM, Embarcadero, San Francisco, Mile 0
Hubby joins x thousand other runners for his first marathon. The first wave went off at 5:30AM; it's still dark, and everyone is lined up for the porta-potties which are woefully inadequate. As a result, we barely have time for a couple of pics before he squeezes through the fence to catch up with the back of his wave. I'm praying he's stretched properly, but have no time to lose as I must drop his gear at sweat-check and then seek out the spectator's shuttle bus in order to try to catch him at mile 4.

6:45AM, Crissy Field, Mile 4
The bus worked great and I'm in position with plenty of time to eat a breakfast snack and chat with the other supporters. We're somewhere near mile 4 so the runners look pretty fresh as they pass us. I'm half expecting him to be early, but he's right on time, which is great because it means he resisted the urge to start out too fast. Our strategic choice of bright green shirt is another plus: he's very easy to spot in the mass of white tops.

8:20AM, Golden Gate Park, Mile 13
The shuttle bus delivers me with an hour to spare. I would love to find a Starbucks but instead walk through the drizzly park to the start point for the second-half-marathon where I can be sure of finding another porta-potty. After that, I hang around mile 13 to cheer the runners. The first-half-marathoners have split off by this point, so they're running on a quiet, damp road and I figure they could use a little support. I wish I'd brought something with me to make noise; my voice can't encourage everyone. Many of the runners thank me for being there, which is super nice - others want to know the time as this is an important half-way point for them. Hubby passes, again right on his predicted time, looking just fine. You wouldn't guess he'd been running for over 2 hours and has the worst of the hills behind him. I cheer like crazy and might even have bellowed out 'love you!' to his back.

8:50AM, Golden Gate Park, Mile 15.8
I beetle through the park to our next planned cheering point, just a few hundred yards for me but nearly 3 hilly miles for him. I get a great spot on a corner where the course turns; this section is far busier because the second-half marathoners (fresh as daisies after just 2 miles) have joined the throng. Again, much more cheering and my voice is feeling it, but probably less than their quads. Hubby spots me and takes the corner wide so I can get some photos. As he passes, I realize he's likely to stop at the water point just up the hill, so I take off after him to cheer him on again. The runners give me puzzled looks as I overtake them on the hill.

9:50AM, 16th Street, Mile 22
Again, the shuttle bus worked like a dream and I had time for a snack and a drink before taking up my position on the street. This section of the course alternates to help traffic flow, so it's important to find a bit always in use. Some sensible supporters here have got noise-making gear and I regret being voice-reliant. The runners look like they can use all our help; traditionally this is the part of a marathon that's hardest, before the end is in sight. They're also coming up a slight hill which probably feels like Everest; many are walking. Hubby spots me from afar and waves for his photos. I can't believe he's still looking just fine - his planned timings have clearly worked well and he's obviously going to breeze home.
Having been so lucky with the bus all morning, I had now formulated hopes that I might be able to get to the finish line in order to cheer his triumph. Sadly, that was not to be - a crowd of us were frustrated when the only bus to show up was insistent on going back to Golden Gate Park (duh, who wants to go backwards on the course?). Our attempts to bribe the driver into a route change were unsuccessful.... at 10:25AM I was still on the bus when the text message to tell me hubby had finished came in. However, overall the shuttle buses worked great and I'd recommend them.

10:30AM, Embarcadero, Mile 26.2
After making hasty meeting arrangements 5 hours earlier, I'm thrilled that we manage to find each other. He looks great, is clearly tired, but still functioning. Hugs, photos, admiration of the marathon medal follow. With a time of 4:18, this was a respectable first marathon. Early in training, 4 hours had been talked of, but with a trail-running ankle injury at 2 months out, he was lucky to be running at all. I am insanely proud.
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