Fitness, Guest Contributors, Nostalgia

Marathoner? Who Me?

DSC_0586“Crazy!” That’s what I called my girlfriend when she suggested we do the Honolulu Marathon! “We can WALK it!” she exclaimed! She steered me to a site called “Marathon Walking” which outlined how any level headed person with slight overachieving tendencies can (really) do it! This was January of 2011. We had 11 months! No sweat we said!

At that point, walking 2 miles was quite the achievement. Actually, it was finding the TIME to walk even 20 minutes was the big challenge. We were busy!

Then, my husband (the manager—you know the type) chimed in and threw down the real gauntlet (we think he was scoffing at us)… he would SPONSOR us through his small business company! Cool! An ACTUAL, like, FOR REAL SPONSOR! He paid our entry fee but then issued this ultimatum: If… during or after the race, we were found on the ground, comatose, we were to immediately remove any association with his company (i.e. t-shirts, caps, tattoos, etc). He surmised the negative publicity was going to hurt his already obscure image! “Sheesh” was all we could say.

So my girlfriend and I somehow MADE the time (3 days a week at 5 am in the morning) to walk 2 hours, 3 days a week, averaging 18 miles a week to get ourselves ready for the event of our lifetime (and put any scoffing to bed)!

Needless to say, we did not bring shame upon my husband’s company image and finished the long and often arduous route in a little over eight hours (oh my!). My 57 year old body almost abandoned me for a wiser brain, but looking back upon that year, the real reward of this life event was: making a very good and dear friend of my walking partner (we talked for hours on end while doing our training), having the support of my husband on a very personal journey, and getting into physical and mental shape to endure the rigors of walking eight long hours.

Yes, we GOT the Finisher shirt, the Finisher medal, pictures to prove it and most treasured of all, the memories. What now?

HALF MARATHON! But not just any marathon… THE NIKE Women’s Half Marathon! Yes, the ultimate, most expensive, very coolest event FOR WOMEN… in San Francisco! “Let’s Jus Do it” my (by this time) very close girlfriend said!

It’s now 2013 and we have been walking ever since the 2011 Honolulu Marathon training. 15-18 miles a week and legs are strong and memories of pain are weak. We commit ourselves and I put in my name into a lottery (yes, you need to be LUCKY to even get to participate!) in April, along with my credit card payment of $175. Linda waffles and decides it is just too much expense (which is what any rational person would have concluded). We probably won’t get picked anyways…

Then, the Nike email… I am IN! Okay, now what? Website says all half marathoners must finish in 3 hours 17 minutes (15 minute mile) or get picked up by a bus! Butterflies already! We now walk an average of 17-20 minute a mile! OK, time to UP the ante!

Linda, my Honolulu Marathon partner becomes my training inspiration and we learn to “wog” (walk-jog)! We still go 3 days a week and average 4-5 miles per day but with intervals of 1 minute run-3 minute walk. It’s do-able. That’s what I keep telling myself. Knees complain, I learn how to drink NUUN (fancy hydration drink) to keep the cramps at bay, and I buy the most expensive shoes I can find at Sports Authority! Oh, and knee braces and cool running attire help me feel like I CAN (really) DO IT!

We discover that the interval training is awesome! We struggle at first, but by October, we are running and wogging 13 minute miles! Weight is coming off and we actually MISS the early morning wogs when weather or vacations keep us from the pavement.

Then it is October and OFF I go!

Two words to describe participating in the San Francisco Nike Women’s Marathon: INCREDIBLE and AWESOME!

Imagine 30,000 (!) empowered women of all ethnicities, ages, shapes and sizes, descending on the city by the bay! The festivities starts on Friday, October 18 at Union Square. A giant tent houses the Marathon Expo! Usually at these expos you find exercise gear, shoe vendors, stuff to keep your body from knowing you are abusing it, etc. NOT NIKE! Just for us WOMEN, they offer… get this…hair styling, makeup, tattoos (!), photo booths and free bus rides to Whole Foods! Of course there are shopping coupons and a grand presentation of all the coolest and most recent Nike women’s running gear and shoes (in glass cases). We oooh and ahhh, but don’t even ask the prices as we know it isn’t the same as shopping from the clearance rack!

Nonetheless, we make our own cheer signs (“GO MOM”) and drink some very strong SF coffee, find our names on the “WE RUN SF” Nike Women’s Marathon participation wall and think about where we are going to EAT after it is all pau.I then realized what a small town gal I was and how all the glitz and glamor was totally lost on my almost 60 year old psyche. It WAS the most elaborate and beautifully designed expo I ever hope to see though, and as an artist, I am forever grateful to have seen what is possible with unlimited resources!

So what about the race?

mom&Anthea_startinglineStarting time on Sunday is 5:30 am at Union Square. We wake up hoping for clear skies and warm weather. Nada. Wet, very, very COLD weather seeps right through our flimsy garbage bags, which my much more experienced partner (my son’s wonderful fiancé, Anthea) recommends we wear at the start. It WAS a great idea as any extra clothing was much needed as we waited in our “corral” designated by running pace times (i.e. I was in the 11+ min/mile corral which was at the very end of the rest of all the corrals).

It was dark and as the corrals filled up, loud music blared (not too pleasant for tourists not associated with the Nike) and excitement mounted as we shuffled closer to the starting line. Fastest runner went first, then 20 minutes later, we were jogging down the middle of San Francisco dodging discarded clothing from faster runners who no longer needed to keep warm. (Yes, all that clothing gets donated to SF shelters)

Miraculously, I keep jogging almost to the first mile marker even though my plan was to run-walk every mile so I could last to the end… the excitement and momentum of 30,000 folks can do that to you! Our route takes us past the Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf, The Marina, Crissy Field, The Presidio, (past) Golden Gate Bridge (hidden in fog when we passed), the Cliffhouse, Lincoln Park, Golden Gate Park, and finally ending (for me) the 3 hours 3 minute Nike 13.1 mile “wog” at Ocean Beach.

All along the way, water and rest stops provided nourishment, including luna bars, Clif shot bloks, Dole Bananas, Neutrogena wipes, Noir Chocolates, Nuun hydration drinks and entertainment (although I don’t remember any of the singing or whatever they did to entertain us!). For me, the most powerful memory of what I felt during the run was keeping an eye out for water stations (knew hydration was going to be a big issue for me) and timing a 2-3 minute walk and 1-2 minute run on a regular basis. That kept me focused and eventually the pace group that was doing the same approximate minutes per mile all became familiar faces.

NiketoOceanBeachIt was foggy and wet throughout the course and taking a fall at the first water stop and cramping in thighs around mile 11 was a reminder that it wasn’t just another day on the pavement.

My husband and sons’ smiling faces and having my name, “mom!” (everyone looked!) called out at several places (especially when legs were cramping and knees were complaining) along the way truly MADE the day for me! (My son and my husband rode bikes to follow us along the course) Dear Anthea, staying with me at the start and sharing the experience together… THAT was the highlight of the memories I keep close to my heart.

Of course, for all women who know about NIKE, the ultimate reward is crossing under the incredibly welcome “FINISH” tower and knowing you really, truly, DID IT! Now you get your cool, Nike Finisher shirt AND your beautiful Tiffany NECKLACE, presented to you by a tuxedo clad San Francisco FIREMAN!!!! Yes, they are very cute and there is a great deal of squealing being heard as 30,000 women totally enjoy the attention!

For this ole lady, the memories and relief were enough to carry me, in a euphoric state through the day, even as I hobbled to the car, parked incredibly FAR from the finish line! The dim sum finisher lunch provided by our male supporter team (son and hubby) was unbelievably delicious, but the real appreciation came with a hot shower and afternoon nap! Icing the knees and bottles of electrolytes also helped make the day less painful!

Common question: Would you do it again?

Answer: MOST CERTAINLY! But WITH my daughter, Iris and daughter-in-law, Anthea! It is OUR event ladies! Just DO IT!


  1. What an inspiration, Susan! Looking forward to running the Nike Half with my daughter in a decade or two.

  2. Pete From Dayton Nevada says

    Adventure, endurance, persistence, love of family, pride are the first words that come to mind. Surely the early morning smell of San Francisco dew is a great anchor for you now. You’re looking better then ever.
    You and your hubby have always been my inspiration and 40 years later nothing’s changed.
    Pete the Nevada guy

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