Bits and Bytes

Just show up. Pay attention. And finish.

I ran my first marathon last Sunday: The Napa Valley Marathon. I started trail running last October with my friend Mitch from I started with just a few miles a week. Five miles maybe. By December, I ran my first race (17K). At the end of that race, I though, “Hmmm. I think I could have done 20K. So Mitch signed us up for ANOTHER race the following week, but all the 20K spaces were gone so he actually signed up for the 30K race instead. I told him: “There is no way I’m going to run 30 kilometres today.” BUT at the 10K mark, I thought: This isn’t so bad and said: “OK Let’s just do it.”

Since then, Mitch and I run on the weekends all over Sonoma County. We usually do 10 miles or so (17K). At the beginning of Feb, we ran a 35K race down at Woodside (south of San Francisco through some dense redwood forests). I tried to do an extra two kilometres because I was turning 37 this month and I called it my birthday race: 37K for 37 years.

So, I actually ran a marathon distance on Sunday: 42K or 26 point something miles. Which is my longest distance to date. And today: I hurt. Yesterday, I could barely move from in front of my computer. My thighs were almost too weak to stand up. (Imagine me trying to use the loo? Pull myself up from desk. Shuffle towards bathroom, drop pants, and well, I think I used an awful lot of upper body to brace myself to actually rest on the seat. Yes. That was probably the most painful part of the whole marathon distance experience–trying to take a leak the next day). OH. AND, my toes are tender. At the end of the day yesterday, I finally got myself dressed and down to the drug store and bought some Advil (anti-inflammatory), because I could only imagine what I’d feel like today.

Today, I’m drugged up (on Advil) and significantly less swollen. Today, I actually feel better. My toes are still tender and I’m wondering if my feet can get any more ugly? Mitch says they are a running badge of honour. I think they stink. Ugly feet. Ugh! Who wants ugly feet?

My friend Quebec Martin and his girlfriend Kelly are planning to run the Bay to Breakers in May. I have other commitments (with my friend from Yellowknife), but I’m considering asking her if we can somehow squeeze that quintessentially San Francisco experience in before our road trip.  ????

Regardless, when Quebec Martin and Kelly found out I was planning to run the Napa Valley Marathon, they wondered how I trained for such a distance. I told them I have a secret. They were curious. So I leaned in and whispered: “I walk.” And they were surprised. And I laughed and said: “Yeah. It turns out, the secret to running distances is I can walk whenever I feel like it. So I do.” On the trail runs, I usually walk up all the hills.

On this marathon I found out it’s actually a strategy. Somebody from Mitch’s running group in Petaluma was also running her first marathon BUT she had a running formula–a plan: run 8, walk 1. Me–being such a newbie to running–thought that meant: run 8K, walk 1K. I though: Wholly cow. I don’t think I could run for 8K straight. Turns out though, it means: run 8 minutes and walk 1 minute. When I paid attention to other marathoners, there seemed to be a lot of people using this structured run-walk strategy. I’m going to try it out sometime.

Later we were running along (I think I was probably plodding), and we overheard a girl on her cell phone: “AND I just screamed like a BITCH.” So we looked at one another and wondered what she could be screaming about? Blisters? Cramps? She continued her conversation. It turns out, she didn’t like the worms on the roadway. Oh. Did I mention it poured rain? My first marathon and it poured rain. Oh well. Also, for the record, it turns out Mitch doesn’t melt in the rain like he thought he might.

Anyway. The Napa Valley Marathon starts at Calistoga  at the top end of the Napa Valley on the Silverado Trail. It finishes at a high school in Napa itself. On a good day, I might think: “Oh, what lovely vineyards and mustard fields and WOW…am I ever lucky to live in wine country. And look at all these interesting wineries.” My eyes would devour the scenery. I’d make a mental notes about which wineries I’d heard of and which ones I might like to return to for a taste. On a rainy day, I was still thinking all of that, but also about what it would be like if it weren’t raining. Still quite spectacular though.

Regardless. It poured rain and this girl didn’t like the worms on the roadway. We talked to her later, actually we skipped with her later–in some sort of weird camaraderie that develops with the other marathoners along they way. I was starting to feel the distance (or the concrete) around mile 18. We came up behind this same girl and started chatting. We asked her about her worm phobia and about her marathons and about other squirmy things along the road. I mentioned that I had a theory about skipping. That if you are three, you could link arms and skip together and you actually use everybody’s momentum and it’s somehow easier. AND you collectively go faster.

So we linked arms (Mitch, me, and Lidiya) and started skipping. BUT. Mitch hadn’t ever really skipped before and was completely out-of-synch. (He get points for trying though, don’t you think? We’ll just leave it at that). Lidiya and I skipped for a bit. Arm-in-arm. AND I was right. You do go faster, and there is momentum. We went so fast, I was out-of-breath. So skipping is actually really great for cardio. We had to stop. My quads were dying and we still had six plus miles to go.

At mile 20, I put on my iPod. We weren’t supposed to have earphones, but music motivates me. I have certain songs that pace me. I’ll have to make that another post for another day: my running playlists. Anyway, at mile 20, I needed some motivation. With my earphones and music, I started to pick up my pace and was actually feeling like things were going well. We came up to a guy who had a white polyester blazer, a coloured painter’s hat, Docker pants, and a tie. So we asked him to explain himself. I guess people had been asking him along the way and we met him at mile 20. He sort of sighed, took a deep breath, and said he initially signed up to run this marathon when he was dating a girl. AND his friends laughed and bet that he wouldn’t be dating her by the time this marathon came along. So they made a bet. He’d run in costume if he WASN’T dating her.

So here he was, in some sort of shirt-tie-corporate-painter costume, out there at mile 20 because he lost a bet. All I could think of was: GIRL! He signed up for a marathon for you. AND here he was–out here, proving himself to his friends AND I BET he wanted to you to know that he showed up.

He showed up. In costume. He showed up at mile 0. He showed up at mile 20. And I’ll bet he showed up at mile 26.

He payed attention (because I know he was expecting to see you somewhere out there in the throngs of people).

And he finished.

Girl. GIRL! He’s just that into you. And you probably don’t even know it.

We eventually finished the marathon too. My time: 5 hours, 34 minutes, and some insignificant number of seconds.  When my friends ask me how I did, I just smile and say: “Well. I showed up. I paid attention. And I finished. What more could I do?”

That’s now my new life motto: Just show up. Pay attention. And finish.

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Comments (3)

  1. Jen, great post and stories. You did well. Same as was printed on the one woman’s hat, “you rock!”. Congratulations on showing up, your first marathon and – importantly – finishing. You’ll be ready for your 50k before long!

  2. Sorry,
    Unless you plan on teleporting you and your stuff there is no way we can drive/ride the distance we need to in 1.5 days! Some of us do have to catch a plane to get to work!

  3. Nice race report! I, too, ran in that downpour on March 1st. I’m sure it is much prettier with better weather, so I’ll have to run it again next year. I also ran the Woodside 50K.

    I like your motto. Running is like life – keep showing up, paying attention and stick ’till the finish, and you’ll keep improving.

    Congrats on finishing your first – and on your new marathon PR!