Race day - 4:30am pre-race
Finally, the time had come. we’d started our journey together on January 30th at our TNT kickoff, and started with our first steps on February 6th, running a mile around a track.
Sunday morning, June 6th – 4 months to the day after we’d gotten our butts off the couch and started to run for a cause – we were running our big event.
We got on the shuttle bus from the hotel at about 4:15am. The bus was packed full of Team In Training participants, and though the city we drove through was dark and sleeping, we were practically vibrating with excitement and nerves.
We pulled up to the drop-off point, walked across a bit of grassy park, and immediately got in line for the porta-potties. Coach Ed had advised us well. “As soon as you get there, get in line for the porta-potties. When you get out of the porta-potty, get right back in line. Then again. And again. The lines are going to be *that* long, and really, what else do you have to do while you’re waiting for the race to start? Stretch while you’re in line.”
View from the middle
Wiser words (about pre-race) were never spoken. Nearly everyone had nervous bowels, and the ritual of moving through the line, trying to move our bowels, and moving through the line again kept us sane and focused. High fives and “Way to go!” went around when one of us had achieved our modest goal (we’re a very supportive team!).
Eventually, we heard the race announcer calling for runners to take their positions in the corrals. I made my fond goodbyes and good lucks (you don’t tell someone to “break a leg” before a race – that’s only for theatre, trust me!) to Fran and the rest of the team running in earlier corrals than I, and headed to our corral with Kat, Gabe, and Brooklyn who I’d be starting with.
The race officially started at 6:15am, but really that was only for the very first corral of racers – the ones with REALLY low race numbers – from which one of the winners would eventually emerge in ridiculously fast time (just over 2 hours 9 minutes was the winning time for the FULL marathon!). The rest of the corrals started about a minute and a half to two minutes apart.
This was actually a GREAT way to do things (this was only our second race, and Avenue of the Giants that Fran and I ran the half for on May 2nd was *much* smaller – only just over 1500 racers, compared to the over 25,000 participants in San Diego), as it kept people from being so clumped up that they couldn’t move.
This also meant that way back in Corral 36, my group had to wait just over an hour before we actually got to start the race… standing, then walking about 20 feet, then standing, then walking about 20 feet… you get the idea. I think most of the stretching I did in the porta-potty line was basically undone by the standing around for an hour. But I did meet Brie from the New York City TNT run team, and had a nice chat.
Eventually, about 7:15am, we’d finally reached the start line, and got to experience the start of our chip clock, as opposed to the race clock. Even though we’d been spaced out by corral, people still go at their own pace, and there were a LOT of people. Being back in Corral 36 (well, I started in 33, but moved back to be with Kat and Gabe and Brooklyn) meant that I was amongst a mix of runners and walkers, and with so many of us, nobody was really able to go very far very fast at the start…
…which is actually PERFECT. We were *so* well trained and prepared for this by Coach Ed and our Mentors. I don’t know about the rest of the teeming throng, but our Santa Cruz team knew to start off S-L-O-W… and if it felt like we were going really slow, to go SLOWER, until it was painfully slow.
Everyone is full of adrenaline, excitement, bodily waste they didn’t manage to get out at the porta-potties, and competitiveness at the start of a race, and most people go way too fast too soon, and risk “bonking” before their race is done. We’d been well trained to start off really slow, let our muscles and strides warm up, and eventually to slowly pick up our pace. “Negative splits” was our mantra in training, so I wasn’t as frustrated at the slow start as many others.
Brie from NYC
But there were definitely some who wanted to win the race in the first mile, never mind that they were starting back in Corral 36. Brie and I walked and chatted together, and I steered us to the center of the road, so that the exuberant could rush past us easily on either side. I don’t think it was until about the 3K mark or so that things finally spread out enough that there was a little room to pick up speed and jog a bit.
One of the unique things about this race (and the rest of the Rock ‘n’ Roll series of races, I’m told) is the Rock ‘n’ Roll part. (duh!) At the beginning of the race, there were bands set up in gazebos along the course, about 3 in the first two miles, and more spaced further along later (not the bits where we ran on the freeway or onramps, though!). It was a great burst of energy and motivation to hear the band from way off, and have the music pull me through to the next patch of the run. Very very cool – who needs an iPod when you’ve got LIVE BANDS performing along the race?! I also saw Coach Ed along the race path early on, and it was a great boost.
Brie and I chatted a bit more, and I suggested picking up our pace a few times, but everybody runs their own race (and sometimes, we get to run our own race with our friends!) and she said that walking was more her speed that day, so I wished her a great race, and at Mile 4 I picked up my pace and started to run.
My run felt GOOD. Maybe it was the fact that I’d walked my first 4 miles and got my blood flowing again after standing around for a couple hours (including porta-potty lines) waiting for our start, or maybe it was just that this was my second half-marathon, and I didn’t really have any nervousness, but it really felt good to pick up my feet and put ‘em down again, faster and with purpose.
It was right around this time that I was happy to find Gabe and Brooklyn again! They’re both experienced race-walkers, so I wasn’t surprised that I’d fallen behind them while walking (my walk isn’t terribly fast either). This was when we hit our only real uphill area of the run, right about the time that the sun started to come out and bake us (so much for the earlier forecast of 65 degrees F!), so I walked some more through that patch, and picked it up again after Mile 6.
Mile 8 – over halfway done, and I was still feeling good. I’d been cruising right through the water stops and aid stations before this, as (thanks, Ed!) I was well prepared and supplied with my own hydration belt with electrolyte and water bottles, and pouches of GU electrolyte gel (with caffeine, woo!), energy bars, and spare hydration tablets. I’d been mindful of Coach Ed’s comment that I’d probably under-hydrated on my last half-marathon when I told him that I didn’t have to refill my bottles and had part of one left over last time, and made sure to drink a bit more with each sip, and eat and drink more often along my race… so to make sure I wouldn’t run dry, I filled a couple of my dry electrolyte bottles with water, dropped in my own electrolyte tablets, and topped off the bottle I reserve for water-only.
Around this point, the sun was really starting to bake, and I started to mix in a bit of walking with my run to make sure I conserved my energy for the last three miles, that I knew from experience would feel five times harder than the first ten. Everything’s sort of a blur from Mile 8 up to about Mile 11, other than seeing Coach Ed near the beginning, who gave me some sage advice and encouragement, and a bunch of my teammates doing the full marathon as the two courses overlapped. I love our team. Seriously, they are the BEST. I know that Fran and I wouldn’t have made it through all this without them, and hearing my name from behind as they cruised on through on their own race journey was great… I shared a lot of high fives, fist bumps, GO TEAMs, and wished them the best on their long run ahead.
Mile 11 was a switchback, and a kind of deceptive one at that… heading toward the turnaround, you see the Mile 11 marker on the right, but it’s not for you… not yet. It’s not until you go another quarter mile or more down the path, then back again, before you get to run (or walk) past the Mile 11 marker and call it yours… and boy was I feeling every bit of that down and back! I think it was an optical illusion or something, because it took FOREVER to get to the turnaround. I must have slowed down again (I was hot!) because I met up with Gabe and Brooklyn again, and appreciated the company as we pushed forward together.
It was the beginning of the end, though… once past it, we took a couple zigs and zags, and started to drop down toward the water, and the eventual finish line at Sea World. I ran most of Mile 12, but by this time, I was so cooked by the sun and feeling my feet that my run was only about good enough to keep up with G&B’s racewalking (I need to practice some racewalking to make my walk breaks faster!), dumped lots of water over my head at the last water stop somewhere in there, and heard the cheering and saw the crowds once I crossed the bridge before Mile 13.
The music was blaring, the crowds were cheering, and I saw the yellow mesh fencing of the final stretch before the finish line. If that isn’t enough to give you a burst of fresh energy (even if only for a short distance), I don’t know what is! I did my best attempt at a sprint to the finish, smiled for the camera and stuck my arms in the air, and crossed the finish line of my big race.
Finisher's Medal with 13.1 TNT pin
A nice person handed me my medal (those things are HEAVY!) and pointed me to plastic buckets of ice full of water bottles. I would have preferred to just sit in the ice bucket by this point, but I took a bottle of water instead, and settled for basking under the water sprayers to cool off for a moment… until I heard someone yelling my name, turned around and saw my Dad waving at me from the side fence.
I lost it.
I’d gotten a little misty at a few points along the race earlier… when we’d just turned up from the freeway onto city streets again and I saw an older gentleman with a sign reading something close to “Thank you, from a 13 year cancer survivor”, and thanking every one of us who passed by… when I passed Mile 10, which was a hard mile for me in my last race… and a couple other places.
But when I saw my Dad there, and I tried to talk, I could only choke out something partially intelligible like “I have to go check in – meet me at the tent” which I’m sure didn’t sound much like that at all when it came out. (Mom had been waiting further up the fence, but I couldn’t hear or see her at the time) They drove south 9 hours to see Fran and I finish our race, knowing that we’d be caught up in team events for nearly all weekend and that we’d have precious little time together during their trip, and they’d be turning around to drive home 2 days later. In so many ways, they’ve been so supportive through this all, and this one more thing… like I said, I lost it. (Thankfully the water from the sprayers helped camouflage my big beefy man-tears)
I smiled, drank my water, and shuffled off in a fog toward what looked like the right way to go, asking people in TNT shirts along the way “which way to the check-in tent?” until I saw purple shirts and big signs with arrows pointing the way…
Let me tell you, after my 13.1 miles and the aches and strains along the way, the furthest and hardest distance of the day *might* have been the distance from the finish line to the TNT tent! It felt like a MILE away. Eventually I shuffled my way there, all the while feeling the sun really start to set in and bake my noggin good. I managed to sign in, was congratulated, and handed my TNT 13.1 pin.
To me, that pin is more important than even my finisher’s medal. Everybody who finishes gets a medal, and it’s really nice. But not everybody had the journey that we did in TNT – many of us starting off as non-runners (or barely runners), but all of us motivated to run or walk 13.1 or 26.2 to raise money to kick cancer in the ass – our team really bonded over the last 4 months, and to me, that pin represents not just the journey that Fran and I took over the last season, but the shared experience we had with the entire team, something I wouldn’t trade for a solid gold finisher’s medal. (Did I mention how heavy that thing is?)
Once I’d done my duty and signed in, I had two biological imperatives (that had nothing to do with a porta-potty).
- I needed to get horizontal and lay down
- I needed to do it in the shade
Feet up, Shady spot
I found a spot under some little shrub-trees nearby the check-in tent, hoping that anybody from the rest of the team might see my collapsed body in the shade and come over (and at least check if I still had a pulse). Sure enough, Sara came by not long after (having finished her FULL marathon!), and we both tried to form words into sentences somewhat successfully, and enjoyed the shade. Eventually, we found Kat in a different shady spot, and some of the team started to trickle in, greeted by cheers, high fives, and huge hugs from the rest of us.
By this time, I’d started to feel a bit better, having drunk lots of water and eaten a little bit, and it was getting close to the time Fran and Brooke were expecting to finish. I found my Dad again, told him I was off to find Mom and wait for Fran at the finish line, and shuffled off to the finish.
Waiting at the finish line and getting to cheer many of my teammates in was FANTASTIC. As much as I’d really wanted to run the full marathon with most of the team, being able to be there to cheer in the people who’d supported and encouraged me throughout the season was just beautiful.
I lost it again, of course.
I learned pretty quickly that I could cheer “Way to go!” and the person’s name somewhat okay without my voice breaking, but when I tried yelling “Go TEAM!” or anything else, my voice would crack and I’d need to take a sip of water to pull myself together… but I really didn’t care. I was – and am – SO PROUD of these guys, that tears of joy were pretty much guaranteed.
Hell, I even lost it when cheering in some of the other runners, especially the ones who you could just tell by reading their faces, that they were having a really hard or painful time of it at the end, but dammit, they were going to finish this race, and do it with head held high.
Lauren & Kristen
I was there for about half an hour, and started to get a little bit worried, hoping that Fran and Brooke were both okay, and that neither of them had gotten hurt. I knew that the heat was going to make everyone slower, and just kept waiting to see them come around the curve to the final straightaway. Around this time, I got a text from our fantastic Mentor, Heather, saying that they’d just passed Mile 25, and I knew it wouldn’t be long.
Then they came around the bend.
Brooke & Fran
I totally lost it again, of course.
Really, how could I not?
My wonderful, beautiful, amazing wife just ran a marathon! She just ran 26.2 miles, not because she had to, but because she wanted to, for a great cause. She supported me like crazy in my own training, and she was just about to cross the finish line for her own race – alongside the awesome and fantastic Brooke – her running buddy throughout the season. They started together, and they finished together!
I started yelling something supportive and loud, handed my mom my hydration belt, and told her I’d meet her at the tent, and ran out to meet Fran and run the last little bit in with her.
She grabbed my hand, and I told her how proud of her I was (am!), and that she was nearly there. She asked, “Where’s the finish line?” and I pointed – “It’s *right* there – that yellow banner!” She said, “That’s it?” and turned on some crazy magical hidden turbojets she had hidden somewhere, and SPRINTED to the finish line.
She’d just gone 26.2 miles, and I’d had over two hours to rest, but she just WENT!
We got her medal and our pictures together, and met up with Brooke (and her mom!), and together walked over near the tent to meet the rest of the team.
We waited a bit for everyone in our crew to come in, gave huge hugs, and stumbled off to transportation and eventual food and parties later that night… but we did it.
I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.
For LOTS more race photos, check out our Flickr gallery: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rickfrancastello/sets/72157624108335301/
REMINDER: If you haven’t yet made a donation to LLS, or you have, but you’re feeling motivated to donate again, please consider doing so. Fran and I met our fundraising minimum for our San Diego race, but that doesn’t mean that the fight is over – there are still MILLIONS of people suffering from bone cancers, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is funding researchers and treatments to find a cure and help improve the lives of those fighting cancer!
It’s fast and easy, and tax-deductible! DONATE NOW – please?