August 8, 2016


So last Sunday I ran the San Francisco Marathon, my first marathon and an experience that really expanded beyond the race itself.  But to begin unraveling what it all meant and continues to mean, I'll share what the running day was like.  When I think back on it, I think about it in certain fragments and as I write about these fragments I imagine that's how I process and remember most things in my life.

The morning: 
The week before the race, I started to change my sleep schedule to prepare for waking up at 4 AM for the extremely early race start time. It was harder than I thought it would be. It made me remember that no matter how early I go to bed, it's hard for me to wake up in the dark. And it gave me some post-traumatic stress re-living some of the sleep deprivation of my residency training.  There were so many mornings during residency when I woke up with a groan, hating the fact I had to wake up so early with such a stretch of long hours ahead.  It really made me register the fact that I don't wake up like this anymore--that I have a normal human schedule now and that I look forward to the day of work.

That being said, no one was forcing me to wake up this early; I had chosen to do it and to attempt this race, so I tried to appreciate the quiet of this time.  On the morning of the race, I focused on calming my nerves. I hadn't been this nervous for anything in a long time, and I knew it was because I really felt it was 50-50 in terms of being able to finish. But I woke up to a flurry of supportive texts sent the night before when I'd gone to bed early, which helped me focus on breathing and just getting to the race.

The weather:
The first thing I felt on getting to the start line was that it wasn't nearly as cold as I'd anticipated, and the weather stayed temperate and perfect throughout.  The wind on the first part of the race leading to the Golden Gate Bridge can be harsh, and I definitely noticed its absence on race day, which was calming.

The unsettling start: 
The first gel I consumed before the race had caffeine in it, the equivalent of about a coffee. I don't usually drink much caffeine mainly because I'm pretty sensitive to it, just green tea most days. I'd given up even green tea for a couple of weeks to help with my sleep and also to make sure I would be sensitive to the caffeine on race day.  It worked a little too well, because I felt really buzzed in the beginning of the race, in a counter-productive way and spent the first six miles feeling the haze of being a little too sharp.  At some points it felt so disorienting, I actually began to think: what would my friends say if I stopped a few miles in, well before even the half-marathon distance?

The silent miles: 
I was a little worried about my phone's charge, as I'd tested out Spotify on my phone on longer runs and my phone would die within a few hours.  So I spent the first hour listening to a Murakami book, and fortunately this is something I've done in training, so it's become a comfortable meditative background. Then I decided that I'd try to listen to nothing on the Golden Gate Bridge portion of the race until we hit Golden Gate Park, a stretch of about six miles.  During training, I'd sometimes run in silence when my phone died, but I never deliberately chose it.  But it was a liberating thing on the bridge, to feel like my body really could do this with conscious self-awareness, that my mind was enjoying what my body was doing and not trying to be distracted from it.

The hills:
The SF Marathon is known as a challenging course due to the hills.  They're particularly rough in the first half, but they continue throughout. Besides completing the race, the thing I'm most proud of is running through all the hills and not feeling defeated by them. For a course like this, I really recommend combining medium-distance runs that trend gently uphill with short hill repeats.  It was one of the liberties I took with a purely distance-goal-oriented training schedule, and I know it helped me get through the long, steep hills steadily and feeling good.  Almost more than the distance itself, it made me feel so strong and happy to run over these hills.

The amazing miles:
I felt best in the race between miles 10 and 20. I was happy to feel comfortable and paced through the main hill in the Presidio, the very long stretch through Golden Gate Park, and the change of scenery as we crossed into Haight-Ashbury.  There's something about running for a long period of time that makes cliches feel more visceral and real.  I felt so grateful for my health, my city, and the people I knew would be waiting for me at the end regardless of what happened.  This summer hasn't been an easy one for me, and I'm not one to suggest dismissing or trivializing the bad in life just because there's a lot of good. But I do believe in being attentive to whatever is around. When there is so much beauty and capacity to experience that beauty, I want to take as much of that in as possible. To be able to live in this city, to be able to run in it, to be able to share it--it's a gift as palpable as a box wrapped in paper and tied with ribbon, and more expansive.

The brutal finish: 
I'd been told by a lot of people that runners hit a wall after mile 20. I felt fairly steady after mile 20, and it boosted me to enter the Mission and Potrero, my home neighborhoods. I could smell the Mexican food, and it was a unique, satisfying feeling to know I was now on the other side of the city, the most familiar to me, after having run so much of the Western side that is most familiar to visitors. I definitely slowed during these miles but feeling steady through mile 23, I thought I might not hit the wall.

...But it definitely hit me hard at almost mile 24. My legs were dead from the hills (which didn't fully end until mile 24), and while I didn't feel that tired in my lungs, the top of me found it harder and harder to carry the bottom.  I had to start walking, picking points ahead of me to start running again, and adding heavy time to what up until then had been a race at my goal mile pace.  I knew I was close, I knew I would finish, but it felt like far and forever.  I felt disappointed that I didn't achieve my third goal of running through the whole thing, but when my friends called near the finish line and I could tell them I was a few minutes away, I knew that was really all that mattered.

The amazing friends:
Which brings me to one of the best parts of the day, which was having some of my friends visit during the last stretch and celebrate the end.  They've been there through so much of the process, always interested in my boring running stories and supportive of however I was feeling about it in the moment. Then sharing a meal with so many people from different parts of my life--college, med school, climbing, including a friend visiting from the East Coast--and having all that positive energy and love in one place made me again feel really lucky, and really was the luckiest part.  As great as the marathon was, what's best is that this is what I have for miles and miles beyond those 26.2.

my team from beginning to end!

I like how half of us are posing and the other half is candidly cracking up

I look tiny in this photo. Immersed in love!


  1. Loved reading about the different segments of this journey- both the difficult and the good (esp miles 10-20!)! Can't wait to see how your joinery continues to unfold. Much love and admiration! Congrats again!!

  2. Thanks for everything Jen! Couldn't have done it without you.

  3. Congrats!!!! I love your race report - no mention of time or paces, just gratitude, perservence and love.

    1. Thanks for your support!! Haha, my time and paces are nothing to write about--I'm super slow, but now that the distance part of it is under my belt I'd love to work more on speed. Hoping 21 day fix will get me on the right track!


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