Marathon: Check.

Hi everyone.  My body is in a fair amount of distress at the moment.  After hitting the ground 34,583 times, my feet doth protest.  My knees, contrary to their usual policy of not whining, are wondering why in the hell stairs were ever invented, and my back is complaining that it’s never had to hold me rigid for so long without a nice slouch break.  This is all to be expected, because I actually ran 26.2 miles!!!!!! Holy crap.

Not that I didn’t expect to, mind you.  Mostly, I am just surprised that D-Day actually came and went.  The following is a rough account of Saturday evening through Sunday, so that you can get a taste of what it was like to live through the ridiculous feat of running really far.


This was a fairly relaxed day, yet I was far from relaxed.  Vikki and I had a Burning Man meeting with some friends, and we planned the various bits and pieces we’d need to bring for a week in the desert.  I spent most of the meeting snacking and carbo-loading (read: drinking beer and champagne).  We then went for a brief climbing jaunt at Berkeley Ironworks.  I was forced to depart quickly, because I was unable to keep myself from trying harder climbs, and I didn’t want to tire myself out.

We adjourned to San Francisco, where I cut my hair nice and short (for extra speed, you see), shaved my face, and got all my stuff together.  After dropping Vikki off at her house, I went to my friends Ann and Aiden’s loft in SoMa.  They live a few short blocks from the starting line, so I figured I could get to sleep early, wake up and just walk over to the race.  I ended up getting to bed around 9:30 or 10pm, which is something like 10^3 earlier than I usually get to bed.


My starting time was 6:12am.  What?  Didn’t the Vatican declare that to be an ungodly hour?  Well, apparently the atheist heathens who run the marathon didn’t get the memo, so like it or not, I was up just after 5am.  I staggered around, made some coffee, got most of the way dressed, then sat around the kitchen drinking coffee and hoping that the morning poop would come.  I had already packed a ziploc bag of electrolyte powder, a small tupperware container with my special caffeinated energy goo, and I had taken my Sportlegs, a pill that loads your body with lactate.  At about 5:45, the urge to lighten my load finally came, and upon completion, I took off for the starting line.

Of course, in my bleary, race-anxious, poo-panicky state, I totally forgot the timing tag.  That little orange device that goes around my shoelace and makes my race official was back at the loft.  Sh**.  So I ran back to get that, with about ten minutes to go before my wave was supposed to leave.

By now, of course, I’m jittery and somewhat stressed out by the morning’s first SNAFU, so when I get to the race, I become all manner of confused and flustered.  This leads to an inability to find the location of the bag drop (the place where runners can leave their sweats and keys and pick them up after the race).  By the time I do, it’s past 6:12, and I don’t even start the race until 6:40.

The Race: All 26.2 Gruesome Miles of It

No worries, of course.  My personal race clock doesn’t start ticking until my foot crosses the starting line.  I take off at my typical leisurely warm-up pace.  The weather is foggy and overcast, but windless and actually rather pleasant.  Perfect running weather.  I’m running in Wave 8 (instead of my assigned wave), and this is for people expecting a time of up to 6 hours.  I am hoping to run the thing in about 4 hours, so it’s no surprise that I am passing lots of people.

At the same time, it’s worth noting that having slower pacers in the beginning is a good thing.  I had been warned on many occasions that the biggest mistake marathoners make is starting out too strong, and bonking hard at mile 17, or mile 20, or whatever.  I did not intend to let that happen to yours truly.

To make a long story short, I kept fairly well to the plan.  I felt completely solid from the start until about mile 15, at which point I can’t help but notice that I’m approaching the longest distance I’ve ever run and that I don’t know what it’s going to be like beyond this point.  Thankfully, it’s a long stretch of downhill from mile 20 until about mile 24, and flat the rest of the way, so I at least was able to count on that.  I definitely felt like hell for the last 7 miles or so, but was so determined to keep charging and to do the race justice that I was able to keep a fairly consistent pace.

My splits reflect this: the first quarter (7.6 mi) took me 1:09:50.  I finished the first half at 2:00:29, and the third quarter at 3:05:17.

All told, I finished the race with a time of 4:02:25.  I am very happy with this time.  I can’t believe I ran 26.2 miles, and I can’t believe I did so in such good form.  I won’t lie, I was a little disappointed when I saw that my time was over the 4 hour mark, but it wasn’t by enough for me to really care too much.  Overall, I’m very happy with the effort I put forward.

(Here are some bullet points of things I specifically remember during the race)

  • At about mile 3, some guy farted really really loudly in front of me.  I know how it is to have to fart during a run, and it’s actually kinda funny, but when I caught a whiff, I wasn’t too happy about it.
  • The Golden Gate Bridge section was cool because I got to run on the road.  They closed three lanes: one for each direction and one for a buffer lane.  It was kinda lame, though, because one lane is only four people across, and since I was faster than most people at that point in the course, it was really frustrating trying to pass people and getting caught in bottlenecks.  Still, I was happy it wasn’t windy or crappy in some other way.
  • I saw Kinzie, a friend who was running the half marathon, at the end of her bridge part while I was beginning mine (meaning she was a long way in front of me).  She was just standing on the side.  Turns out her knees were bothering her.  A lot.
  • I saw my aunt Anne, who was also running the first half, on the bridge.  Her longest training run had been 5 miles or so, yet she managed to do the half in 2 hours and 18 minutes.  I am very impressed!
  • Golden Gate Park took forever.  We wound through that thing for miles and miles.  The best part was getting a paper cup of beer at one of the aid stations.
  • Vikki, Kinzie, Caitlin, Patrick, and Josh were apparently waiting for me at mile 17, but somehow we didn’t see each other at all.  I also didn’t see anyone on Haight at Clayton, which is a block from our house.  Apparently Erik thought I was going to pass by at 7am and didn’t bother to wake up.
  • I saw several runners doing the race barefoot.  I found that to be rather impressive.  Apparently, it’s supposed to be good for you.
  • I managed to eat two Larabars during the race.  They were very difficult to choke down.  I also had to pee three times during the race.  That part was easy.
  • Watching people dash off the course and into the bushes was funny.
  • I really enjoyed everyone along the course who was cheering the runners on.  I was impressed at how many were there, since I was along the back of the pack because of my late start.  Since our bibs had our names on them, people were actually calling out individual runners, and that was actually really nice (although I kept doing double-takes, thinking that people knew me).
  • I got so many second winds.  When I started to really feel it around mile 18 or so, my legs started to feel very bipolar: I would feel incredible for about a quarter mile.  Like, bring it on.  Like, let’s run another twenty or so for fun.  Then I would think to myself “HOLY SH** I HAVE FOUR MORE MILES HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?”
  • My hamstrings actually started to cramp a little at mile 17.  This was cause for some concern.  I drank more electrolytes, but they remained on the verge of cramping for the rest of the race.  I had to be hyper-conscious of my stride, to make sure that they were as even and effortless as possible.  I also did this because about the same time, my feet started hurting a bit.  Did I say bit?  I meant lot.  They hurt a lot.
  • I remember hitting the top of the hill on Haight Street and thinking to myself that I was on the home stretch.  Of course, there were about 4 miles left.  Not home stretch at all.  Each mile got progressively harder.  Then, after we cross Harrison, you can start to see the end: the Bay Bridge.  Then, as if to make sure all runners cry, the course takes a few right turns away from the bridge before finally getting onto 3rd Street and heading toward AT&T park.  That was hellish.  The last three miles or so I spent staring at the ground, concentrating on not cramping, and anticipating the feeling of allowing myself to stop running.
  • My forearms started cramping a bit.  Weird.
  • I saw my mom right past AT&T park, cheering and yelling.  I told her “This really hurts.”  I think she laughed.
  • I saw Vikki, Caitlin, Tzveta and Kinzie in the last few hundred yards.  I gave them a salute.
  • I saw my dad and Eliot a little bit later.  I gave them a salute.
  • The last half mile or so I ran pretty hard because I wanted to be left with nothing in the tank when I finished.
  • When I finished, I had nothing in the tank.  I checked my time and then went straight to the beer garden.  I was pissed that they only gave us runners one beer.
  • I exited the beer garden and borrowed my parents’ folding chair.  I sat down.  It was good.

So yeah, I did it!  I can’t believe it’s come and gone, but I’m done.  No more running for a while.  I can’t say whether I will run another long race, but I have to say that I did enjoy the process a lot.  Feeling so spent is a wonderful thing, and it’s a feeling that I relish.  So let’s just say for now that I can’t rule out the possibility of myself becoming a runner of sorts. But right now, I want to get back into climbing with a fury unseen since General Sherman used the Southern states as his personal stomping ground.

I will post again with the final results of the fundraising, and perhaps some other thoughts on life.  For now, I want to say thank you to everyone, but in particular, the following:

  • Andy Schilling: for motivation, massages at the Olympic club, mentoring, and making it to the race.
  • Vikki: for feeding me, being patient when I stressed out about missing a morning run, for, well, for being Vikki.
  • Mom and Dad: for the post-race barbecue, for putting up a generous matching grant, for, well, for everything.  Including having me, so I could then have a birthday challenge.
  • Eliot: For a generous matching grant, and for being hella chill.  Keep crankin’ bro.
  • Erik Bro: For chatting about marathons, training, and mostly for making me believe it was possible.
  • Lauren: You ran that first training run with me, remember?
  • Ann and Aiden: For letting me run around with poodles, and for letting me crash at your house the night before the big day.
  • The WebGreek boys: For the belief, the encouragement, and for letting me eat a disproportionate amount of the food in the house.
  • Lady: You inspire all runners because you are the best in the world at it.
  • To every single person who donated money to the Haiti cause: You made the race more meaningful.

If you’re reading this (and especially if you’ve read this far), then that means I love you.  Thanks for being there.


8 Responses to “Marathon: Check.”

  1. Spenser – very, very incredible Well done! I will definitely make it to your next race and might even do it with you. If your legs got a bit tired you might want to mix it up a bit next time – maybe throw in a little biking and perhaps a swim. They have races like that……

  2. David and Phyllis Says:

    Spenser, you da man!!!! Really impressive. Our heartiest congratulations.
    All the best. Hope to see you soon.

    Phyllis and David

  3. Spenser, first of all: Boo, Sherman. Secondly, “impressed” doesn’t begin to describe it. Way to go, man! Wow.

    Oh, and I definitely had a good laugh at the fart story. Nice.

  4. Spenser Says:

    Thanks Kara! And yeah, the fart thing was pretty funny…farting while running is funny because of the rhythmic sound as your feet hit the ground. Actually, I just think farts are funny. No matter how many times you hear one, it will still be funny.

  5. Norman Friedman Says:

    Congratulations !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    We are very impressed and happy to see the wonderful support you had from your family and friends.
    Keep it going. Six miles per hour is quite an accomplishment. I remember when the 4 minute mile was
    considered an impossible record to achieve. Today, there are races witrh two men accomplikshing this feat.
    Zee & Norman

    • Thanks Norm!

      Interestingly, a new course record was set on Sunday, and the guy was a grad student at Stanfurd, who was running his first marathon ever. Wow.

  6. Really proud of you. And yes, I did laugh when you said how much you hurt that last mile.

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