*That was NdesJ’s phrase, and I don’t think I completely understood it until this past weekend.
The Nike Women’s Marathon is a benefit for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, meaning it brings Team in Training teams from all around the country and the money raised goes to LLS. This year it raised $13 MILLION dollars. I met and ran with people from Georgia, New York, Wisconsin, Texas, Canada and more.
I can’t begin to explain the weekend, so bear with me as I not-very-eloquently try to describe all the wonderful things that happened.
The weekend started with meeting my teammates in Burbank for our flight to Oakland. On the flight, Southwest Airlines recognized Team in Training. I was sitting with a wonderful woman named Nancy, not part of TNT, who was traveling to Berkeley to spend the weekend with her 19 year old daughter. We spent the 50 minute flight chatting about everything from childhood to family to insurance fraud. As we descended into the Oakland area, she took out her checkbook and wrote a $50 check for LLS. She had lost her mother to leukemia, and LLS is an organization that she and her husband donate to every year. I was so touched by her donation and I thought of her frequently throughout the marathon. Thank you, Nancy!
We stayed at the Hilton in Union Square, with many other Team in Training participants from around the country. All weekend long, there was a lot of positive energy inside the hotel. (Sidenote: Workers of the Hilton were on strike outside of the hotel, so every time we entered or exited the building, we were greeted with picketers and people yelling, “SHAME ON YOU.” I tried not to let that ruin my weekend, but it was interesting!)
The Nike Expotique and Niketown had very cool merchandise, definitely geared toward those of us who like Nike gear and love to shop. I couldn’t resist…I picked up a few pieces. But I swear I will wear them proudly! And on the wall of Niketown: my name!
Thousands of Team in Training participants ran/walked the marathon. The night before the marathon, we attended the TNT Inspiration Dinner/Pasta Party. I had no idea we would have such a warm welcome upon entering the Moscone Center. TNT volunteers from all around the country gathered in funky outfits with party favors and were cheering, yelling, clapping, holding signs, etc. as we entered the Moscone Center. I was overwhelmed with emotion and immediately started crying. At that moment I realized how awesome it is to be part of Team in Training. During the dinner, John “The Penguin” Bingham spoke to us about the marathon being “a party” to celebrate all our hard work. I kept that with me throughout the marathon.
The Marathon: We started in Union Square and ran along the Embarcadero, up a few hills, through Golden Gate park, along the Great Highway, past the Zoo, around Lake Merced, back down the Great Highway and finished at Great Hwy/Lincoln. It was a point-to-point course and nice running tour of San Fran. The first half of the marathon was beautiful with views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate bridge. And the hills? Hills schmills. For me, they were great. Perhaps I was expecting bigger hills, but I took them slow, focused on form and realized that all the hill repeats Coach Neal made us do were all worth it. Thank you, Neal! It was so great to see Neal and Erin at mile 9, at the top of the last hill, cheering us on. There were a few more inclines throughout the rest of the marathon, and I definitely felt them, but they did not discourage me. (At the start of the race, I saw a woman whose shirt read: It’s a hill. Get over it. Loved it!)
This year, the slogan of the marathon was, “I Run to Be.” Throughout the course, there were huge signs reading, “I Run to Be Empowered. I Run to Be Unstoppable. I Run to Be Invincible.” Each sign was different, and each sign helped me along the way. There were also Nike Power Song Stations blasting different pop songs by Katy Perry, Beyonce, Journey, Enrique, Gaga, even a little Bieber Fever. The Penguin was right, it did feel like a party!
I took Coach Neal’s advice and broke down the marathon into 10-10-10: A 10 mile run, another 10 mile run, then a 10K run. That helped so much, and at mile 13, while one runner said, “Ugh, only mile 13,” I said, “No, it’s already mile 13!” A positive attitude goes a long way. 26.2 miles to be exact!
Around mile 14, I broke away from my 2 teammates and settled into a slightly faster and more comfortable pace. I was feeling GREAT! I was so excited and happy to be running the marathon. TNT runners were everywhere. Everywhere you looked, someone was wearing a purple TNT jersey. And the course was filled with TNT supporters yelling, “Go Team.” My jersey had my name on it, and to hear people yell, “Go, Maggie” was inspiring and kept me energized.
Did I mention it was cold, rainy and windy throughout the marathon? It didn’t bother me all that much (until the finish line when I stopped running, was sore and freezing.) Perhaps years of running in the Portland rain made it more bearable for me. Many runners got muscle cramps and had to stop and stretch throughout the course. Fortunately, I did not cramp up. My feet were aching, but my legs stayed cramp-free. Yay!
Around mile 16 I started my mantras to keep me going from one mile to the next. For each mile, I thought about a person whose name was written on my jersey. Mile 17 was Angie’s mile. In my head I kept repeating, “This is Angie’s mile. This mile is for Angie.” Mile 20 was for Christina. That was a very strong mile. Mile 22 was for Uncle Johnny, etc. These thoughts got me through each mile and helped me stay focused, mentally and physically. I also thought about each mile individually, like a lap. When mile 20 was done, I left it behind, started fresh and focused on mile 21.
As a runner, I’m pretty good at pacing myself and having a little something left for the last mile or two of a race. This race was no exception. I was extremely focused during mile 25, thinking about ALL the names on my jersey and counting down the traffic lights as I passed under them. Mile 26 was my mile. My mantra during that mile was, “Just keep running. Just keep running. Just keep running, running, running…”
It was toward the end of Mile 26 where I saw Coach Neal. He ran me into the finishing area in true Neal fashion — pushing me to crank it up 2 notches, going from an average 10:30 pace to an 8:22 pace, which was a sprint for me at that point. He dropped me off at the beginning of the chute, where I felt like a rock star as crowds of people on both sides of me were cheering, “Go, Maggie! You are a runner! Go, Maggie!” It was AMAZING! And yes, there was a cute fireman in a tuxedo waiting for me with my finishers medal: A sterling silver Tiffany’s necklace.
It truly was a fantastic weekend – 10 times more fun and meaningful than I ever thought, and one I will NEVER forget. It was so fun to be with my teammates, to run with them and celebrate with them. I loved every minute of the weekend and the marathon, even when it got tough. I’m so proud of myself and my team.
And the TNT support was so powerful and moving. Running the marathon with TNT made me realize how much I wanted to train and run with TNT for my next marathon. Yes, I said it: my next marathon. With Team in Training. I look forward to it! Onward Purple People! (That’s another NdesJ phrase!)