Kerry runs a marathon

That’s right, I ran a marathon! The San Francisco International Marathon. I wanted to run my first marathon when I was forty, and I did it about two weeks before my birthday. I was in total denial about getting any older, and thought that if I could run a marathon, that should prove it! I’m getting better, and older!

This marathon was not just about me, though; I did it to raise funds for the Leukemia Foundation. They sponsor a program called Team in Training, or TNT. They trained me to run a safe and successful marathon, and I raised $1500 for them. The money I raised went for a little girl with leukemia named Kyla Martinez. I heartily recommend this program to anybody who has ever considered running a marathon!

At 5 a.m. waiting for the race to start, with my running buddy Alice.

After months and months of training, I ran the whole San Francisco International Marathon Sunday morning for the Leukemia Society. The weather was perfect, and I was in the top physical condition of my life. I had logged over 500 miles of running and 100 hours of time preparing for this moment. I had shed about twelve pounds when I started running longer distances, and feeling really buff! I was perfectly prepared for the challenge! Little did I know how hard –and how easy– it would be.

It was cool and misty at the starting line, the Sausalito side of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was hard to get stretched out since it was so cool and early and there were so many people–over 5,000. Luckily I ran into my running buddies Alice and Francine at the starting line, and we ran the whole race together. It took us six minutes to shuffle up to the starting line after the starting bell went off. Finally we were running, and it was so exciting that we had to pace ourselves. But our coach’s words rang in our minds, “go out fast, die like a pig!”

The first ten miles were a piece of cake–we had done them several times before on our training runs. We ran across the bridge, through the edge of the Presidio, across Marina Green, and along Fishermen’s Wharf. We smiled and waved to the many well-wishers. We headed towards the Bay Bridge, and then I got separated from my friends for several miles when I stayed at a rest stop for six minutes. But I stretched the whole time, and was so refreshed from the rest that I was able to quickly catch up to them. Those must have been about eight minute miles! They were all pretty flat up to this point.

Just starting up Haight Street.

Alice, Francine and I ran together for about another half a mile, then we were at about the halfway point–Mile 13, at the bottom of the Haight Street hill, where my ex-husband Richard was waiting. He had fresh Gatorade to put in my pack (I had invented a camel-back waist pack for the event), plus towels to dry me off and more Power Gel. He took pictures of me running up the hill towards him. A kiss for luck and I was off running again, this time up the verrrrry steep Haight hill and through Haight-Ashbury. I walked up a lot of that, it’s just too steep. I caught my friends fairly close after the top of the hill.

Running through Chinatown.

Then we wended our way through some neighborhoods and Chinatown to Golden Gate Park close to the finish line. Unfortunately, there were almost 11 more miles to go! Through the park to the ocean, being careful to not get sand in our shoes, then up and back the long hill on Sunset. We were getting pretty tired by this point, so even though it was a gentle hill it seemed to be uphill both ways. We started taking turns waving at the well-wishers to conserve our strength. After a while, all we could do was smile at them. Although Alice, Francine and I had been running three abreast most of the way, by this point we started to get spread out a bit and having to talk ourselves through various aches both mental and physical. “Focus!” and “remember to relax!” were our main mantras. Also, Alice has asthma just like me, so we monitored each other’s breathing and made sure we used our inhalers when necessary. I also played what I call “arm games,” where I would swing my arms to “pull” me up a hill to break the monotony and boredom and give my legs a little rest–wow, it’s amazing what we can think up.

Mile 21 was pretty exciting, and scary too. It was a breakthrough milestone, since the farthest we had trained was twenty miles. Each mile thereafter was a breakthrough too, but less exciting and slower and harder to attain. We never “hit the wall,” as they say; it just seemed to slowly get harder. Luckily there were more and more people along the sides cheering us on. We managed thin smiles for them by this point, sometimes a “thanks.” But it meant a lot when we saw family and friends waving signs and jumping up and down, even though we couldn’t show it very well.

By Mile 22 my feet and legs were seriously hurting and if I thought about them too much, it could have put me out of the race. So I told myself that I couldn’t feel anything below my waist, and by denying the pain I was able to finish. It was amazing to discover what mental power can do. That and “that which does not break me makes me stronger.” It wouldn’t break me!

After Mile 23 and each mile thereafter one of our coaches was waiting to encourage us, run with us a little bit, and make sure we were okay. When our head coach, April Powers, an Ultra-Marathoner (100 mile racer), asked us how we were doing, Alice was the only one who could reply, and she barely got out the words, “it hurts.” But April got us pumped up again and we kept going–at this point, if we stopped, when we started running again it hurt a lot more for about two excruciating minutes, so we didn’t do any more stopping. That’s why I said it was both easy and hard to do—it was easier to keep running than to stop and have to start again.

By Mile 24 and 25 we could hardly remember how far we had gone or what the last milestone was. I had to plan to get around Botz’ Dots or other obstacles on the road, or I’d stumble and hurt my feet. Ow, ow, ow. Only the crowd and our coaches — and knowing that it hurt more to stop– kept us going. Finally we could see Kezar stadium through the trees! My eyes lit on it and pulled me towards it like a magnet. We knew it would be over soon!

Entering the finish, Kezar Stadium – I’m the third
person you can see in the distance.

As soon as I entered the stadium, I saw Richard with a group of my friends cheering me on. Great, because getting down the ramp to the track was really hard on the knees. We had to make it around the track, Olympic-style, to the finish line, and Alice and I were making little, “oh! oh! oh!” noises with each step. I kept going after crossing the line because my legs didn’t seem to know how to stop! And when I did realize I could stop, and tried, I almost fell but Richard caught me and held me upright. He and our friends Mike and Susan walk/carried me to the grass where I could lie down.

I realized that my denial of my pain had been so great, that I really couldn’t feel anything. I had expected to cry tears of joy, or accomplishment, from endorphins, or from sheer pain, but instead I felt nothing at all. It was quite a let-down, since in training I had cried from joy or pain or some combination each time I broke a milestone. It had felt so wonderful to cry each time. But this time I couldn’t feel my feet or legs or my feelings, they were just numb. A guy sat next to me bawling his eyes out, his shoulders shaking from the sobs, and I felt envious but there was nothing inside me. I was numb.

Richard rubbed my legs and feet, and slowly, very slowly, feeling began seeping back into me. After a while I could feel my lower legs, and then my feet. Then my emotions slowly started coming back. I began to feel how wonderful it was to have family and friends who supported me like that. My coaches. The people who had cheered me on. And the people who had sponsored me and believed that I could do it, even before I knew it myself. My honored patient, Kyla Martinez, whom I thought I was helping, but as it turned out she helped me get through the marathon. I’m the one who ran the marathon, but so many people helped me, were there every step of the way. Finally I could cry!

I had taken off work the day after the marathon, but I didn’t really need it. It was more emotional than physical. I had had a clear goal for almost half a year of my life, and my goal was over.

I stopped running for almost a month, then slowly picked it back up. I have not had a great urge to go through a marathon again, but I do run about 120 miles a month.