**After all that complaining about how Storify didn’t upload directly to my blog, all of the sudden it did. It came across a little jumbled, so I’ve tried to fix it some.**
I was sitting on a curb with my elbows draped over my knees. I was briny with dried sweat and was force feeding calories into my stomach. I had just finished the San Francisco Marathon with my buddy Nick Nelson, and my brother Ryan and my friend Tyler were tending to us. I was absent of thoughts and emotions at this point. I thought of Fight Club.
“Nothing was solved when the fight was over, but nothing mattered.”
Touché. This is how I wound up pleasantly robotic on that San Francisco curb.
It is 4:45 a.m. PST in the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel on top of Nob Hill in San Francisco, and my alarm on my phone is beeping. I jump out of bed, fearing I will fall back asleep. I turn around and see Nick slowly wake up, which means I don’t have to wake him up.
I see Tyler sleeping on the hotel room floor by the bathroom, half dressed from last night. I look by the window and see Ryan passed out, fully clothed on a lounger, much the way one imagines how Ernest Hemingway ended most days. This position suited Ryan, because he spent the night before drinking nothing but “Hemingways” with Tyler at a swank bar just down Nob Hill. Ryan has two new Sharpee tattoos on his arms. One says “I <3 SF.” The other is tough to see, but looks like a girl’s name. Twas a good night.
Nick and I let them sleep as we eat our energy breakfasts, shower, put on our running gear and check our bibs for tears. It is time to run the San Francisco Marathon, “The marathon that marathon runners fear.” We have been training and prepping for four months, so we are as ready as two rookies can be.
We wake Ryan and Tyler and walk the one mile down the hill to the piers and the starting line. Our heat starts at 6:03 a.m., and we stretch and kick our legs out in anticipation.
We found the starting line entrance and told Tyler and Ryan to cheer loud, then to get some food and coffee because they looked terrible.
The starting line is ridiculous. It is like a rock concert, except instead of having fun, everyone is having a panic attack. Nick and I are pretty calm. Despite this being our first marathon, we had practiced this many times, and countless times in our minds. So, we hop around and tell jokes to the people around us. Some people do not like our jokes. Their faces look like they are about to be shot into space for the first time.
Our heat is queued to starting line. They give us a pep talk. We are ready.
Our friends start responding, wishing us well. I read them to Nick. We are ready.
“Well, we’re running a marathon now.”
Nick and I had decided to run this race together, and to simply finish. We are running minutes-per-mile slower than we are likely capable of, but our goal is completion and to have as much fun as we can while 26.2 miles of the hilliest major marathon in the country decimates our bodies and will.
Meh, s’all good.
We trot along and watch people with no business running fast, run fast. We remind ourselves to not get overzealous and be cool. One mile in…
You know it!
I have no idea, but it could be!
We speed up to our fellow Jayhawk.
“Rock Chalk, brother.”
He looks over, sees our Lawrence apparel, smiles, gives us dap. We’re so cool, we feel like the homecoming kings of the San Francisco Marathon.
In screenwriting, we call what happened next a beat…
Nick is suddenly not cool anymore.
“You’re going to hate this… I have to go to the bathroom.”
Well, what are ya gonna do? We approach the first aid station at mile marker 2.5 and see a dozen Johnny on the Spots. The line is long, but Nick reaffirms this is an emergency. Looks like we’re stopping. It could have been the gallon of Gatorade I nervously drank before the race, or maybe it was the site of men and women dancing like kindergartners in the bathroom line, but I, too, now have to pee.
Ten minutes later, Nick and I finally both exit the Johnny’s and continue on our way.
The first four miles are flat. We run along the piers into the wharf, up a mini hill that immediately descends, then along a coastal road that intermittently jumps from residential to seaside park. It’s all very nice.
My greatest regret happened right here. On our left, a man best described as Kenny Powers on rollerblades, roles past us on rollerblades. It’s uncanny, and we are laughing and wasting energy. He will randomly pop up into view throughout the marathon. I should have taken a picture. I’m a fool.
Next we see an older couple struggling at mile 4. They’re wearing shirts with something printed on the back. Nick and I speed up and read them.
“Give us a break. We ran an Iron Man yesterday.”
I’m amazed. Nick is dumbfounded. He dangerously weaves through foot traffic to congratulate them on being the most badass people in attendance. They love him right way.
We eventually move out of the flats and hit our first hill, which is the longest and toughest. But more importantly, it marks the last bit of flat running we’ll have until mile 24. We’ve studied the course map like we were studying for the BAR, and know these next 18 miles are what we trained for.
We hit the famous bridge. It’s beautiful, but we can only admire it for a second. Racers are as packed here as they were at the starting line, but only now we’re jockeying for position and starting to sweat. There are moments when congestion eases, and we double-time it to make up some ground.
We cross the bridge. This is the most scenic part of the race. The bridge, bay, and city are all in sight. The entry fee was worth it.
Jordan texts me in reply from a text I sent to him the previous night. It is something about a girl and I laugh. I let him know I’m in the middle of a marathon. He sends a motivational text I cannot repeat.
Nick and I are fresh, minus a small heel pain I have. This pain would nag the rest of the race, but it was hardly anything worth quitting for. As Nick said a few times:
“We’ve come too far.” Both today, and the last four months.
Running back across the bridge is faster. My mom updates me that she is tracking us via the marathon’s racer tracker app.
I complain about the hills, mainly because everyone around us is–I am a conformist racer apparently. Even as Nick and I come off the bridge and immediately go into the second worst hill in the race, we have no legit complaints. We comment to each other that the hills don’t really bother us. We ran enough hills in training that our legs are accustomed to the torment. Plus, we’re not going to let these hills wreck us.
“We’ve come too far.”
As we slowly trek up this hill, I do one silly thing: I call my brother. He laughs that I’m on my phone while I’m racing. He says he and Tyler are following us on Twitter and Facebook. I tell him I’m glad he answered, because I was afraid he had passed out again. We tell him we’re likely going to finish in 4:30. He reaffirms he is hungover.
We run a few more miles. I am the first to admit he is hungry.
We finish running the Presidio, and enter Golden Gate Park. We weave through the forest for eight miles. Though, this is the most monotonous part of the race, it is the most familiar feeling. Nick and I trained on tree-lined roads that gently rise and fall; this is just like that.
We hit the halfway point. Half-marathoners cheer in delight. We are happy for their accomplishment, but jokingly grumble they are cowards.
Nick turns to racers over our shoulders. “You guys wanna do that again?”
“Buuuuughglglglhhh,” they cough out.
San Francisco does not think we are as funny as we do.
It is about this point Nick and I realize that we have been running with a slower group than us. Our bathroom breaks cost us the opportunity to run with people at our pace. We pick up our pace slightly, and start weaving through people like it was LA traffic.
The park is beautiful and challenging. We alternate running on blacktop and cracked service roads. We hit every aid station, always grabbing two shots of the electrolyte drink, and two shots of water. We remark to ourselves how our bodies are not aching. We trained in triple digit heat, and it’s barely 60 degrees here. Our happiness to not be miserable gives us more energy. We speed up a little.
At mile 15, a man with several young ladies is pumping a keg and yelling “Free beer!”
“We have to do it, right?” Yes.
I post this to Facebook. It is my most “Liked” comment. My mother voices her concern. Nick and I don’t regret it. The crowd roared as we cheers’d and chugged. Plus, any flavor other than sweat in our mouth was helpful. It woke us up.
Men, but especially women are coming out of the woodwork. Randomly, a racer or two would jump from the brush and forest and start racing again. Nature often calls without your welcome. Nick and I don’t judge.
“You gotta do what you gotta do.”
We exit the park and approach a tunnel. I’m feeling spry, so I jump up and touch the top as we enter. A photographer snaps a photo, which I wish I could find.
We enter the Haight & Ashbury district, which is the cultural adrenal gland for San Francisco. It is awesome. Fans are everywhere.
This is where the live updates ceased.
Every day we trained we recreated this exact point in the race, albeit we made that point mile 17 during training (you’re not supposed to run farther than 20 miles a day in training). At the 20-21 mile point, the race is mostly downhill. We have saved up for this point. I ask, “Want to kick it in?”
Twenty miles was the farthest we had ever run. Every step we took was one further than we had ever gone. We felt like Samwise Gamgee leaving The Shire. We are fired up, though.
It’s on. We literally sprint down the hills. I would pay for this for weeks, because the pounding my knees took left them tender to the point I could not train. But in this moment, we had come too far.
We run each mile 1:30 faster than we previously were.
We separate ourselves from a small pack and are the only two racers for a quarter mile. We haul for three miles and into the third to last aid station; at mile 23. After our drinks, we take off.
Something is different. I feel awful. Before I was shocked at how amazing I felt. The next, I was realizing what every marathoner I spoke to had warned of: the runner’s wall.
Between mile 20 and the finish, most runners hit a physical threshold that cannot be beaten, only overcome. I tell Nick I have hit this wall. But I say we’re not drastically slowing.
“We’ve come too far.”
My knees are Jell-O and dully ache. My back hurts with every step. My shoulders are sore from inadvertently tensing them. My ankles cannot rotate in any direction. My toes are jamming in my shoes, and I tell Nick I’m pretty sure I have lost a few toenails. Luckily I didn’t.
Up to mile 22, the miles melted away with ease. Miles 23-26.2 couldn’t end fast enough. I did not enjoy the scenary; I could barely look past my feet. Nick encourages me on, but he soon hits the wall.
Beautiful women in American Apparel tights and drinking tequila cheer us on and whistle. We can barely blow them kisses back (we have our fun). They yell and whistle more. For 30 seconds, I forget I’m running. We pass them. Misery returns.
We survive. We take every step one at a time. Slowly, seemingly dying, we go forth.
Nick and I have a rule: sprint the finish. Doesn’t matter how bad you feel. Doesn’t matter if you’ll puke. Sprint the finish. We do want to finish side-by-side. So, we have to be careful.
We’re 200 meters away.
“Sprint the finish?” I ask.
“Let’s do it,” Nick says.
I’m surprisingly emotional. For the first time in my life, I feel tears of joy and exhilaration hitting me. Nick is too tired to be emotional. Race volunteers grab us and move us through traffic to receive our medals, food, and aid. This shocks my almost-tears away.
Ryan and Tyler find us quickly, and we all hug and cheer. They were great fans and made it easy on us. We find a seat on a curb. I zone out.
Kelli furiously Tweets and Facebooks us to see if we have survived.
Hours later, after we had showered and packed (we could barely walk), we decide that we love San Francisco too much to leave just yet. We crave pizza, and have come to the right place.