Monday, October 19, 2009

So much to say.

So my dear readers, bear with me as I tell you all of it. Because to me, it is quite a tale of quite a journey. I've run (no pun intended) the range of emotions in the past three days and it all boils down to one simple fact:

I did it.

I left you off at a whirlwind of a day on Friday. Didn't explain the pictures in the previous post much but let me just say that it was just a tad below perfect. (And btw, the gap between where I was on Friday and total perfection only closed as the weekend progressed). Mike and I wandered around our beloved city relaxing, taking pictures at our favorite spots and eating Mexican at one of our old haunts. (Mike was allowed to be adventurous; I stuck to a tostada salad for fear of anything else wreaking havoc on my stomach).

Barb made it in with the team and it was great to see her. I had a couple of days with my friends and I nearly forgot why I was there; she grounded me and as soon as I saw her and we walked to the expo together, I started getting pumped once again for Sunday.

I got the first of many surprises - Mike's brother Andrew and his fiancee Leslie sent a wonderful basket full of carbolicious (oh yes, that's a word) goodies. Can't go wrong with pretzels and peanut butter.

And then we closed out the day with another great surprise: our good friend and partner-in-crime Walter came up from San Diego for the weekend. His wife (and my good friend) Kim was already here but he was able to swing a babysitter (thanks, mom!) and join the group. So Walter, Kim, Kerry, Lynette, Erin, CC and husband Brad, Ken, Barb, Renee (she paced me in SF, remember?), Mike and I got together at a great Italian joint in North Beach, laughing so hard our eyes watered. I took in every moment, fully appreciating why everyone was together and feeling humbled that I carry that much weight with these people that I could bring them to one place.

(I'll take this opportunity to share a typical Walter story. At some point at the beer-and-wine-only restaurant we were at, Mike was in desperate need of a scotch. (Ooh, that sounds bad, doesn't it? True, though.) Walter, sensing Mike's anxiety (and fielding texts from me telling him so), disappeared out the back door and through the restaurant kitchen, returning 10 minutes later with a flask of scotch, which we promptly poured into Mike's empty water glass. I share this story so you can begin to understand the many benefits of having W around. Not effing around with a need for alcohol is just number 763 on that list.)

Saturday morning we woke up and took an easy 20 minute run down Market Street. If you see the first picture I posted in my last entry ... that's us in front of City Hall. Ramon took it and it's utterly perfect, until you look closely and see my eyes are closed. Oh well. I'll have to get the same group together under the same conditions at the next Nike Womens Marathon and we'll give it another go.

So Saturday.

I joined Kim, Kerry and Lynette in the Marina for what I thought was going to be a little shopping and gabbing.

Ah, but this is Cindy, Kim, Kerry and Lynette so we pretty much just found a bar and planted ourselves there. (I'm all club soda, yo.) How we did this was also a typical story for us: we wandered onto a street fair put on by the San Francisco Fire Department. Saturday was 20 years (20 years! Oh, I remember where I was. Target. Where else?) since the Loma Prieta earthquake that set the Marina District on fire so they were holding some sort of commeration. Which meant drink tickets handed out for free to four loud women.

So we sat in Izzies for hours, laughing like we were still in high school. I cannot explain how much I love these girls. But perhaps you can see it on my face. I miss them when I am not with them; when I am with them I don't want the time to end; when the time ends I constantly think about what might bring us back together next.

I hustled back to the hotel to change for the TNT inspiration dinner. Babs and I - and the whole team - donned our "I Love NY" t-shirts but I'll admit ... I felt like a bit of a traitor wearing it in San Francisco. I was hoping the Golden Gate Bridge or Coit Tower didn't see me in it for fear I wouldn't be allowed to move back.

I also got another surprise: a visit from my good friend Kim, her husband Brad and their cute kids Dakota and Stella. They made the trek from LA for the weekend ... again, for little old me. (When I think about the miles all my friends crossed to see me, I break down. No other words for it.)

And now came the moment I wasn't expecting.

All I knew about the inspiration dinner was it is an opportunity to pay tribute to those helped by LLS ... and to be reminded about why we have fundraised all these months. These are the people we are really running for. What I wasn't prepared for, however, was to be thanked as we filed into Moscone Center. By hundreds of TNT coaches and staff in a thundering cacophony. (I have great video, by the way, as soon as I can figure out how to upload it)

Overwhelming does not begin to describe this display. I was certainly not the only one with tears in her eyes; you must be there to fully appreciate all of these rockstars jumping up and down and screaming ... for you. Thanking you. It was almost too much to bear.

The night was amazing. We filled our plates with pasta and heard from cancer survivors whose lives were not only touched by but made better by LLS. Best moments of the night came from John Bingham, a well-known running columnist and humorist who prides himself on being a "normal" runner. (My favorite quip was a warning about being in the "Bite Me Zone" on marathon day. This is when total frustration has set in and you will drop f-bombs at the nicest person running next to you. (I finally have a name for all those times with Elkin!). Mike, however, would simply call this the "Cindy Zone.")

Afterward, we decorated our singlets. Note to self: glitter glue takes a lifetime to dry. I had already put my name on the front in silver glitter but was planning on writing the names of all my honorees on the front as well. When I unfurled my purple tank to put more names on it, the D in my name had already smeared and I had written that damned thing hours earlier. Yikes! Hours until the starting gun and my glitter was still wet! Our coordinator Erin sensed my anxiety (and heard me screaming, "Holy F---! How long does GLITTER take to dry already?!) and gave me an extra singlet ... luckily, I didn't need it.

I got the names of my grandfather and nephew on the top:

Then added a few other people who had battled cancer - some who are still - as well as loved ones who lost their battles. I'll admit just putting their names on my shirt was an emotional experience.

Surprisingly, I got a good night's sleep and jumped out of bed at 4:15, ready to meet the team downstairs. Mike was really excited, too. He'd be going to various points on the course with Ken and Ron so he got up with me - and even took pictures (oh! the last photos of me as a non-marathoner!).

Ramon was in full coach form downstairs. The non-runners at the Hilton must have adored hearing a cowbell and whistle, followed by a loud Spanish dude yelling "Hey! Everybodee over heeeeere! You ready to do thiiiiiiis?!" at 5:45am on a Sunday. I will say this: the NYC TNTers? Loudest. Team. There.

That rocked, actually. What rocked even more was Ramon's trademark "Behave" plastered on his back. But all that misbehaving must have knocked off his last e at some point. Classic.

We all went to the start together and Ramon gave us one last pep talk. Being that it was SF, it was totally normal that at 6am on Sunday, two young dudes were sitting in the park smoking really fragrant weed. Surrounded by 10,000 women about to start a marathon and totally oblivious to it. Ramon tried to channel the wind toward us, possibly thinking a quick contact high might help our pacing.

Not really.

We did a group hug:

And hit the starting line. I was with Babs (natch!), Joanne, Rose and Caitlyn and the excitement was causing me to actually jump up and down. I had to keep reminding myself to not waste energy but I was So. Damned. Excited.!!

The gun went off at 7am and from where we were lined up we crossed over about a minute and a half after. Joanne peeled off from us (her results later...) and Rose and Caitlyn stuck together behind us. I felt great being next to Babs, pointing out landmarks around the city. The morning was glorious, just a bit chilly (perfect running weather) and high visibility. The views were astounding and I settled in, just enjoying every second of the run.

About a mile into the run as we came around the Embarcadero, someone yelled "Go Cindy!" and I excitedly looked over to see some total stranger yelling my name. I searched my brain, wondering who the eff this person was. Where did I know her from? It took me a good five seconds to realize I had plastered it all over the front and back of my singlet. I grinned, suddenly realizing why people do that. What an amazing feeling. From then on, I got a personal cheer every few people. No lie. I think it might have been the glitter. Baby stood out on my chest and I must have blinded people into cheering for me. Whatever. It freaking worked.

I felt fantastic. We hit the Marina and I spotted Erin and her husband Tony, who had come out with her mom and their daughters. I loved seeing my first fans. What a rush! Then I had the pleasure of running for about a half mile with Anabel, our honored teammate. Anabel is a leukemia survivor and all-around great girl. She was due to run the full marathon but a knee injury dictated she now do the half. She did great - smoked Babs and I as we ran at the bottom of the Presidio.

When we hit the first big hill at Mile 6 (oh yes ... The Mile 6 Hill), I thought of everything Ramon had taught us. I tiki-tiki'd my purple butt to the top and felt amazing. People all around me were huffing and puffing but not I. I was smiling ear to ear. And then I spotted Ken and Ron and the most glamorous signs I had ever seen (Please, people. They had ribbons and rhinestones on them. You will never come close to making signs like this. Ever.).

I fist-pumped all the way to the top as Mike, Ken, Ron, Walter, Kim, Lynette, Kerry and Michelle jumped and screamed for me.

I could get used to that feeling.

(Oh, I love these pics, btw ... I am screaming to Walter that the hill sucked (it didn't really, I just felt like I needed to say it) but I totally look like I am pulling an absolute nutjobby on this coach):

As we crested the top, we heard a familiar cowbell and whistle. Ramon. He ran straight over to Babs and I and ran with us for a few minutes, giving us great tips and gauging our energy level. His parting words: "I want to see you at the finish looking just like that."

The run just got prettier:

As we made our way into Golden Gate Park at Mile 11, I felt great but my heels were starting to nag a bit. I got nervous, hoping they wouldn't get worse. But I pushed it out of my head, enjoying the bands, cheerleaders and funny signs through the 5 miles in the park. I stopped a couple of times to stretch my quads. I wasn't pleased that I had to do this, but I also felt I needed to save everything for later. Babs was starting to wane as well and we both needed to get out of the park at about the same time. That's when we saw Kim, Brad and the kids, screaming their heads off and holding out water. What a sight for sore eyes. Babs and I later agreed that they were a much needed boost as we both felt our energy level drop a bit.

Coming out at Mile 16 to hit the Great Highway, we saw my group again.

At this point, I was getting a bit tired so the sight of them brought tears to my eyes. I saw Mike waving with a huge proud grin on his face and I knew I had to keep going.

So I did.

And then ... I started to fall apart.

I'm not happy with what I'm about to write, but you deserve to know everything about my run. And frankly, looking back on it a day after, I think it's a vital part of the experience.

The Great Highway is a four mile stretch that seems to go on forever. It's a bit of a mind you-know-what because you pass the finish tent to go the other way. And you remind yourself that you still have ten miles to go. Plus, what comes after the GH sucks big time.

I struggled these four miles. I stopped to stretch. I walked a few yards, yelling at myself.

I lost Barb.

I slowed my pace exponentially. To this point, I was keeping about a 9:15 mile. I have always paced close to 9 minutes and when I really get going, I'm under. Especially when I am trying to run a negative split, as I was attempting on Sunday. But somewhere, it kicked in that I was not going to be running a negative split for my first marathon. Maybe I could have pulled it out but it was almost too late at that point. It was all mental and I had gotten too far in my head.

Pain surged through my heels with every step and I cursed my shoes. Then I cursed myself. When I got to the opening of the park at Lake Merced, I thankfully saw Coach Pete and he reminded me what was to come and how to deal with it. The loop around Lake Merced was four miles of incline with very few spectators. We had been reminded that it gets runners every time. You could be smiling when you come in, crying when you come out.

Luckily, I was crying on the way in so how much worse could it get?

Much worse.

This may have been the worst four miles I have ever (attempted to) run in my life. I've had top-notch, world-class training. I've run 21 miles in just over 3 hours though rain. I've run hill repeats until my quads screamed at me - and then ran some more. I've run my first half-marathon in under 2 hours. Yet I could not get through this damned park. The pain in my heels got worse (or was it all in my head?) and at one point I got so upset with myself, I started to hyperventilate. I had to pull off to the side and bend down to put my head between my knees.

Oh yeah, and I entered the Bite Me Zone.

Pete had told me on the way in that a good tactic is to find someone with a comfortable pace and just stick with her. Feed off her energy and just reel her in. I didn't see anyone immediately who fit that bill. But I fit that bill for someone else. A very nice young girl sidled up to me and asked if she could run next to me since she had lost her running buddies. Since I had also lost Barb, I knew that was what I needed. But truthfully, I was pissed off and wanted to be alone. I wanted to scream "BITE ME!"

No worries, dear readers ... I cheerily told her "sure!" I also threw in that I was slowing down and may even have to stop and stretch at some point in hopes this might cause her to pick someone else. It didn't. But she also turned out to be really nice and helped me for at least a mile. I finally stopped to stretch my heels so she continued; when I caught up to her later on as she slowed to a near-stop, I reeled her back in, asking how she was doing. I hope I was able to give her a little encouragement; she certainly helped me.

About this time, I looked to my Ipod. I had packed it full of never-fail power songs as a kind of emergency back-up. I've always had people on my long runs so I never got used to music on the two-plus hours runs. I get into a rhythm of listening to my feet hit the pavement and that gets me through. Plus, Ramon nixed the idea. Told me it could actually throw off my stride. At this moment, however, I had no stride. I couldn't get going again and if this is what I needed, I was going to press play. I was desperate. So I did. And nothing. Damned thing hit the skids on me, just when I needed it most.

As I came out of Lake Merced, spent, wasted, music-less and not sure how I would be able to go the next three miles to the finish, I got a glimpse of the other side:

As bad as it sounds, I was so happy that I wasn't all of the people going in. You know how I like to take self-pics at the end of a long run when I'm so happy it's over? I took my last self-pic not because I was happy it was almost over but because I wasn't those guys. How's that for setting up Karma to bite me in the butt someday, huh?

I checked my time once again and thought I might be on track to finish under 4:30. Being that I had set out hoping to get as close to four hours as possible, I was already disappointed (wrong!) and beating myself up (wronger!), thinking I could just start walking now and be done with it (wrongest!). But that's when the best part of my training kicked in.

I started all the mantras, including the really important ones about why I did this in the first place. I thought about all the people I was honoring - people who had done things about a thousand times tougher just to save their lives. What I was doing was absolutely nothing compared to that and I felt like a very small person for giving any thought to giving up or being concerned about what time I was going to finish this in.

The next two miles, I gave everything I had left. I didn't walk and I didn't stop, although I wanted to. I wanted to so bad. But every time someone yelled my name, I put one foot in front of the other and I knew I was that much closer to my coaches, my family, my friends.

And then, I saw Coach Felicia. She picked me out immediately and just talked to me. She said she understood about the feet. She knew I was tired. She knew just how I felt. She pointed ahead: "See that stoplight? You go through that, just to the flashing lights, then you've got about 600 yards left to the finish." She told me I could make it. She lifted me up and I will never forget that short two minutes she gave to me. Thank you, Felicia.

But at that moment: there he was. Like a beacon. A beacon with a cowbell, yes. But a beacon.


Felicia handed me off, saying "Ramon's got you now." And then he was at my side, like some crazy Spanish angel who appears at the darkest moments. I will never forget the first words out of my mouth to him. "Ramon," I sputtered, "I fell apart. I fell apart in the park and I couldn't get it back."

And this was Ramon's response (I won't do the accent here. You need to read it carefully and that just muddles it all up):

"This is not the time to badmouth yourself. You need to celebrate this moment. Don't think about what you could have done. Think about what you are about to do. Do you understand what you're about to accomplish? This moment is to be celebrated, not badmouthed."

At that moment, the finish line was starting to come into view. Ramon continued:

"Do you see that up there? Do you see what you have done? You are amazing."

I grabbed Ramon's wrist, overcome with emotion. I told him I'd never be able to thank him enough for what he's done for me. I told him this has been the experience of a lifetime.

And then Ramon responded:

"The honor has been all mine, Cindy."

I leaned over and kissed him, as well as I could as I chugged toward the finish. I was so overcome that I sailed right past my family. This was not lost on Ramon, however, and he then said (Spanish accent back here): "Cindeeee ... thas you family over there. Wave to them!"

So I did, and let go of Ramon's wrist. Ramon's last words: "This is your moment. Enjoy this, drink this in." And then he peeled off and let me go those last 20 or so yards to the finish alone.

And it was delicious. Made even better by the fact that I was the only one crossing the finish at that moment, so I heard the announcer say,"And now Cindy is coming in. She's here all the way from New York City!" to cheers on either side. It was like the race was all mine for a few seconds.

I remembered what all the coaches said and didn't glance up at the clock or down at my watch. I smiled big for the camera, although I really didn't have to try hard to do it. I saw a sea of black, white and light blue (Those hot firefighters in tuxes holding Tiffany boxes. Oh yeah ... now I remember why I did this race) and I was there. I hunched over, hands on my knees, not sure what I was feeling most since every single emotion known to man was now surging through my body and mind.

My friends and family were there at the finish. Mike had tears in his eyes, my friend Kim was jumping up and down. I think the pictures explain everything:

What came next was a bit of a blur. I remember bagels, chocolate milk, foil being thrown over my shoulders. I'm not sure if I stretched and although I know I checked into the TNT tent, I have no idea if I conversed with anyone there. I do, however, remember each and every tux-clad firefighter, including all specs with name, age, height and weight they are able to bench-press.

I was so happy to see Jenn and Barb and give them huge hugs of congratulations. I loved seeing my teammates come in and hearing about their experiences. With the sea of TNT purple all around us, I felt such a part of something much bigger.

My family was so happy for me, and that made me even prouder. I'm the only one in my family who has completed a marathon. I've gotten so used to being surrounded by marathoners on the team, I forget that just a small segment of the population ever does this. So yeah, they were stoked for me.

My final time was 4:30. Not what I was hoping for, but I have to remind myself that five months ago my longest run ever was 7 miles. Turns out, San Francisco is kind of a challenging course, so for my first marathon (and by all means, not the last), I think I can be pretty proud.

For the record, all the TNTers did well. Barb had come in a few minutes before me and totally rocked it. Jenn also rocked the half and was really happy with her performance. Oh, Joanne? Joanne is a machine who actually qualified for the Boston Marathon with a time of 3:35. Oh yeah - this is her first marathon ever.

The best day ever continued when Babs and I went to brunch with 30 of my friends and family. So much love and support. (And so many bloody marys and beers because, after all, Fun Bobby was back in swing.) My rockstar friend Kerry arranged a great brunch for us to celebrate not just my race - but also CC and Renee, who ran a half and full, respectively.

Regrettably, I didn't make it to the mandatory misbehaving party with Ramon (which Babs told me was quite the evening). My mom and Ken stayed in the city that night and we chose to have a quiet drink with them, Kerry and Kim and spend our last hours catching up. Quiet was right ... about ten minutes into my glass of wine I was ready for my hotel bed.

After breakfast this morning with my mom and Ken, Mike and I walked over to Niketown so I could see my name on the wall. Can you see it?

I said a final goodbye to my best running friends, Barb and Jenn:

And then Mike and I headed to the airport, bidding goodbye to my mom and Ken.

When we were sitting on the plane and ready to takeoff, I allowed myself the time to let it sink in. I was sad it was over, sad I'd never experience my first time again. But wow oh wow ... how did I get so lucky to have had all of that in the first place? How did I get so lucky to have great family and friends who hold up big frilly signs at 7am on a Sunday for me? How did I get so lucky to know people who will generously open up their wallets when I tell them I am running a marathon and raising money for cancer research? How did I get so lucky to have world-class coaches run with me toward the finish to make sure I'll get there?

How did I ever not think that this was only the beginning?

Thanks to all of you for being there ... from the start ... to the finish.


  1. We all have learned from you. You did a truly selfless thing. And anything else we all did was just the "frosting on the cake".
    Love the last blog.

  2. I loved reading this Cin. You put the whole thing into words so well! You should be so proud...everyone wanted to die around Lake Merced. I am still having nightmares about it. I may not be able to go near a lake ever again. For fear of having intense and vivid flashbacks. Thanks so much for mentioning me, it was too sweet. And yes, we need to get together at the season ender to celebrate both of our accomplishments!

  3. Great blog! You had me laughing and crying. The first marathon is such a high. Nothing can replace it, I guess that is why we continue to run. You captured every moment so acurately. You may have motivated me to run another one. You did awesome! Glad I could share in the fun day with you! Congrats!!

  4. name the time and place, CC, and i will be there with you! loved seeing you ... and congrats to you, too!

  5. The marathon was just training for this blog. Please don't disappoint your legion of fans by discontinuing your posts. We really want to know . . . everything.

    New York Jew

  6. What an incredible accomplishment. Congratulations on your amazing finish!
    Funny thing? Scott and I get what we like to call "Cycling Tourettes" which sounds a lot like "Bite Me Zone"