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Second time not the charm in SF half marathon
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Jeff Benziger stands outside AT&T Stadium on Sunday morning to await the start of the half marathon Giants Race. - photo by Photo by Sarah Evers

Everything in my system said abort.

My body wanted to quit. My mind, however, convinced it to finish my second half marathon in San Francisco on Sunday. By the end two hours and four minutes later my legs were screaming loudly in pain. I was hobbling around like a man who was whacked by a baseball bat in his hamstrings.

About 15-20 minutes before the Giants Race was to end for me, I remember seeing the Farmers Market tower off in the distance down the Embarcadero and thinking, you might as well tell me to pole vault across the Grand Canyon. Only until I passed the silvery Bay Bridge - that looked as unreachable as the moon - would I find the finish line inside the AT&T stadium.

I don't remember it being this hard an ordeal when I attempted my first half marathon in 2011. I was 50 then. Now I'm 53.

In 2011 I finished the 13.1-mile course with a time of 1:56:14 (that's one hour, 56 minutes and 14 seconds). On Sunday, I clocked in at a shockingly slower time of 2:04:31 - more than eight minutes slower this time.

What gives? I can't say for sure. But I don't necessarily believe three additional years and perhaps five extra pounds are responsible. After all, when I ran 11 miles in April - just out of the blue from Waterford to Oakdale - it was a piece of cake.

Perhaps I was just having an off day last Sunday. My muscles start cramping up here and there and I stopped several times along the way on columns of rubber to walk them out. I didn't get but four hours sleep the night before. I didn't really "train" in the sense that I run any more than two miles per three mornings a week. My shoes were probably not the best as evidenced by the massive blisters on both feet. And while states that runners should experiment with fuel, it also notes that "The last thing you want is to have an upset stomach after you take off from the starting line." Well, that's exactly what I had and I blame it on the energy drink that I rarely drink.

I disappointed myself. But I have to tell myself that I didn't really "fail" even though my goal was to set a personal record. I needed to keep some things in perspective. Out of all 4,125 runners, I finished in 1237th place, (29.9th percentile). Sure, 1,236 runners may have been faster, but I was ahead of 2,901 of them. Also, I placed 807th out of 1,189 males who ran (44th percentile). I was 60th out of 119 men in my 50-54 age class (50th percentile.) My attitude improved when I considered that I beat out 36 male runners aged 20 to 24, and 111 men in the 25-29 age class. You get the idea: The "old man" beats out many a young man and I suppose that's something to crow up. And I didn't fall like I did in 2011 - that's worth something.

In case you're wondering, other locals ran the race too, including John Luis, 39, of Hughson, who ran a time of 2:10:25; Stephanie Navarette, 47, of Ceres, who finished at 2:44:04; and Danyelle Gonzalez, 36, of Ceres, who came in before me at 2:01:27. Fellow journalist Teresa Hammond, 46, of the Oakdale Leader, ran her race with a time of 2:47:32.

I have to give credit to 81-year-old Mortimer Landsberg, the race's oldest. He finished at 3:37:17. I hardly think the point is for an 81-year-old to finish with a great time. Just the fact that he ran is awesome. What comes to mind is the famous quote by Theodore Roosevelt who said, "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

The half marathon is the country's fastest growing race event. In 2012, 1.85 million people finished a 13.1-mile race, up nearly 15 percent from 2011 according to Running USA. I'd love to see more people in the Valley competing in these types of events. Sure, there's blisters and temporary aches and pains that wear off in days but there is a sense of accomplishment that cannot be fully appreciated until it's done, not to mention health benefits for those who race.

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