October 20, 2008

Run Like a Girl

Yesterday I joined nearly 20,000 women (and a few men) in running the 2008 Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco. Of the three half marathons I have done this year, this one has got to be my favorite. It was also the hardest, the most rewarding, and the most emotional.

Nike throws this running party for the ladies every October to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). I ran it as a member of Team In Training (TNT), along with more than 100 of my teammates. The event raised over $18 million in funds for LLS, $1,800 of which was from generous donations made by my friends and family to my fundraising site.

This event was the first time I truly saw the impact of what LLS and TNT can do. From the giant crowd welcoming us as we entered Moscone Center for the TNT pre-run pasta party, to the statistics on what donations have achieved for cancer research, and the inspirational speech by a survivor as we carbo loaded, I was in awe. And who better to motivate us to run than Joan Benoit-Samuelson the Olympic Gold Medalist in the first Women’s Marathon in 1984? She spoke for a short time, but seeing her on that stage and just being in her presence. Damn. Tears filled my eyes. I saw her again the next morning wishing one of her friends a good run and I should have asked to take a photo with her, but I think of these things too late (sigh). And John “the Penguin” Bingham, whose column I read in Runner’s World was the emcee for the night.

The inspiration continued the next day at the run. The motivational posters along the course, and sea of purple TNT jerseys in the crowd, the number of spectators on the course cheering for us, and the camaraderie of running with such strong women kept me going for 13.1 miles. That, and my running partner, Rachel, for whom this half marathon was a first attempt at running further than 7 miles, let alone a half marathon. Those of you reading this who know me personally know the story of how Rachel and I hated each other before ever really knowing each other (a long story for another time). So, to complete this run, a run that celebrates the female athlete, sisterhood, and most importantly benefits cancer research…I can’t think of a better way to spend 13.1 miles.

I’ll admit that I was worried about running with her at first. Having completed two half marathons, one solo, I was worried that I’d have to think of things to talk about with someone for 13.1 miles. When I talk, my pace slows. I wanted to beat my Disneyland Half Marathon time, and was afraid I wouldn’t do it running with someone else and chatting the whole way. I get in a zone when I do these events and I didn’t know if I could be in the zone with someone else there. But once we lined up in our corral, all worries disappeared, and I wanted to run with my friend, and cross that finish line whenever we happened to get done, together. With my friend.

When we filled Union Square to line up for our 7 am start, it was dark and it was cold, but we were there for a purpose. There’s something special about running an event where almost everyone running is a woman. It’s like the biggest sorority or slumber party you have ever seen. Everyone seemed in a good mood. Some girls wore pigtails with pink ribbons. Some had matching running skirts. Those in purple TNT jerseys were running for their honorees – people who are fighting, have beaten, or have lost the battle with cancer. Even runners who weren’t running with a TNT team were running for a day when no one will die from cancer. Ever again. Someone began singing the National Anthem before the run began, and a lump formed in my throat. I couldn’t gulp it down, so it went with me on the run.

I won’t bore you with the details of each mile (there were 13.1 of them) and our pace (think more tortoise, less hare), and what we saw (Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge, Pacific Ocean, Golden Gate Park and people, thousands and thousands of people) because I don’t remember it all that well. What I do remember are the hills. The mother @#$%ing hills. Holy crap, there was no woman running that course that was a bigger bitch than those hills. I knew they’d be there, but I didn’t know they’d be so never-ending, and so freaking huge. (Someone on the side of the road posted a sign that said “You’re doing a HILL of a job!”) But about those hills, I chose to be there and climb them. Running up a hill does not suck as much ass as chemotherapy, radiation, or cancer all do. Also, hills that go up have a tendency to go down after you get to the top, which I love. I adore the backside of hills with my whole heart. My backside does not love the front side of hills, as evidenced by my sore butt cheeks today. When a TNT coach yelled “save your quads” on a ridiculously mean long hill, I obeyed, and walked. Walking meant I wouldn’t get a PR (personal record) on this run, but I was willing to give that up to save energy for the rest of the run.

People passed me, as they are wont to do to a person who runs like a snail, and several had things written on the back of their shirt. One girl’s shirt said “Does this shirt make my butt look fast?” and it did, it really did. Her butt looked SO fast. A pair of ladies in red shirts went by with “Who’s idea was this?” in white block letters written on the back. I saw thousands of shirts that said “I’m running for my” mom/dad/son/daughter/husband/wife/sister/brother/friend. A random guy ran by with thick fluorescent tape on his back that had this message in Sharpie ink: “Enjoying the scenery and running like a boy.” To the men (all 2 of you) who read this blog, the Nike Women’s Marathon is a great place to meet chicks. Last year (I think it was last year anyway), one guy running the Nike met a woman running the event. They soon began dating, got engaged, and yesterday ran the half marathon together as part of their honeymoon. And at yesterday’s finish line, a cute boy, dressed in a tuxedo, got on one knee and proposed to a cute girl immediately after she crossed the final timing mat.

Throughout the course, starting at the shopping mecca that is Union Square, out to the Embarcadero and along Fisherman’s Wharf, people cheered us on, yelling my name as I passed. I was glad I decided to take the coaches’ advice and iron-on my name to my jersey. Each time I heard “Go Cathy!” I tried to find who was cheering for me, and thank them as I passed. But when I heard Matte yell it, that was The Best, Jerry! I couldn’t see his face because there was a Nikon D70 attached to it, but I smiled and waved, saying to him telepathically, “Yeah. You know it! Your wife pretty much rocks right now!” There were people blasting their car stereos, folks from 24-Hour Fitness, Sports Basement, Luna, and Jamba Juice, bagpipes, bands, the SF Cheer squad, a gospel choir, friends and family of runners, and TNT people lining the streets everywhere they could access, all the way to the finish line. As we got close to the 13-mile mark, a woman informed us that there were “hot men with jewelry!” just around the corner.

If I said all I want to say about this run, I’d be writing for days, and you’d never come back to read another post again (this one is quite long enough as it is). But that lump that formed in my throat during the National Anthem at the start line? I finally released it at the finish. I accepted my reward, handed to me by a tuxedo-clad San Francisco firefighter holding a silver tray piled high with small blue boxes, each meticulously tied with a white satin ribbon. Then I made my way to the side barricade to hug Matte. I cried, but no tears would come. I was exhausted. I was sore. I was happy. I was sad. I was relieved. But mostly, I was proud.

Oh yeah. The medal. It’s beautiful. See?

2008 Nike Women's Half Marathon Medal

2008 Nike Women's Half Marathon Medal

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