July 28, 2010

San Francisco Marathon (Race Report)

What a race! Despite my initial plan to just have fun and take it easy on the notoriously hilly course, things just clicked and I felt great, surprising myself with a 6 minute PR!!

I headed to San Francisco Saturday afternoon, only to hit mad traffic and make it to the expo just as they were starting to shut things down. After picking up my packet I briefly met up with my aunt who I was crashing with to get the key to her room, then headed out of the city to Berkeley to try and relax and hit the sack early. I was staying in one of the Cal dorms and it was just my luck that the night I stayed there was an obnoxious concert going on right outside my window. Somehow I managed to fall asleep eventually, only to be woken a few hours later at the lovely hour of 3:30am. Followed my usual pre-race morning routine, then set out for the city around 4:15am. I gave myself plenty of time to get there in case of traffic, but the most I ran into on my way was a bucket in the middle of the street that got stuck underneath my car - ha!

Got to the start with plenty of time to spare, found a parking garage, and decided to take a little nap instead of heading out into the cold. When I finally made my way to the start line I passed by a public toilet with a very short line and figured it was better than a porta potty, so I hopped in line. Well come to find out it was actually some new-age toilet with a "self-cleansing cycle" after each use, lasting an entire minute! Water actually came out of the ground to clean the floor, meanwhile no one could use it til it was done. So that "short" 7 person line actually took almost a half hour! Afterward I hurried to the start line, dropped off my bag, and ran to hop into the next wave.
Nothing like starting a race while it's still dark!
Eager runners waiting the start!
Initially I was going to run with an official pacer - the 5:15 pacer was in my wave, and I figured that was a decent goal on a challenging course. I chatted with the girl while we waited to start, then finally we were off! It was a perfectly cool morning and would remain so throughout the race, which I think played a key role in my performance. What a difference from my hot runs here in Sacramento! We started off along the Embarcadero with plenty of sights to see, passing all the piers including the famous Pier 39, Fisherman's Wharf, and the Ghirardelli chocolate factory. Around mile 2 we hit our first short-but-steep hill as we headed up to Fort Mason. At the top we had a great view of Alcatraz in the distance, as well as our first glimpse of the Golden Gate!
Pier 39
Fisherman's Wharf
Ghirardelli factory, yumm!
A nice girl offered to take an action shot!
The first hill of many!
Next up was Crissy Field. It was around this time that I actually started to worry a bit because my hips and legs were hurting already! I knew that wasn't a good sign so early on in the race, but I also knew that I would push myself and keep going. I was going to finish, even if it was miserable (ironically I felt much better late in the race). The next part of the course was the highlight of the race and took us across the Golden Gate Bridge from miles 6-9. As I ran along the bridge, shrouded in it's usual morning fog, my mind completely wandered from my aches and pains. What an exhilarating experience!
View of the Golden Gate from Crissy Field.
Heading up the looong hill to the bridge!
Almost there!
Simply amazing.
From the bridge we headed through some neighborhoods and hit our first long downhill. All I'm going to say is that after running this race I understand why downhills can be just as hard as uphills! Still, I followed my technique and found myself passing several people who had to slow down. Around mile 11 we entered Golden Gate Park where the full marathon split from the first half marathon, and where the second half marathon began. It was a little tough as the halfers were speeding up on there last mile when I knew I wasn't even halfway, but at the same time I swelled a little with pride as I veered to the right with the rest of the full marathoners. Speaking of which, once we split runners were much more sparse since most were doing one of the halfs. It was around this time, running in the beautiful park, that I started to feel great and had one of those "this is why I love running marathons" moments. I hit the half mark in 2:26, and it was then that I started to realize that I could actually PR if I kept it up!
First big downhill!
Golden Gate Park
: )

We spent almost 7 miles in Golden Gate Park, and although it was beautiful the hills were never-ending! The whole race I stuck with the same strategy for hills, running at least the first half if not a little more, then walking to the crest. This allowed me to save some energy without wasting time walking the entire thing. One complaint I have is that they had the full marathoners run right along the finish line of the first half, past all the runners with the medals and the lines passing out food. Not a great sight to see when you're still only at mile 17! Needless to say when we left the park at mile 19 I was pleased to finally leave the rolling hills behind : )
Pretty lake within the park.
Lovely trails.

From there it was on to Haight-Ashbury. The next few miles had a couple nice downhills plus a few more moderate inclines. Around mile 22 I spotted my mom and her friend who had drove in for the day which was a nice boost just as I headed up a particularly steep hill. The last 4 miles I started to psych myself out. I still felt good physically, and I knew if I kept up even a slow jog I had a PR in the bag. So I kept trudging along, and finally was back along the Embarcadero, running along AT&T Park, home of the Giants. When I saw the Bay Bridge in the distance I knew I was close and mustered up what I had left for a finishing kick. The course was long (I measured an extra .36) so once my watch beeped 26 miles I knew I had to gut it out a little bit longer. I crossed the finish line and checked my watch and couldn't hold back a big grin when I saw my time! Negative split the second half giving me an official time of 4:49:15!!
AT&T Park
Finally spotted the Bay Bridge - so close!

Isn't it funny how your legs will carry you to the finish line but as soon as you cross it they know and immediately start to hate you!? I always seem to forget just how much I hurt after a marathon...which is probably a good thing because otherwise I might not want to do another! All of my joints throbbed, my feet hurt, and I was just tired. We took some pics with my awesome medal then after wandering for a while in search of a restaurant that was open we drove to Pier 39 for lunch. I was starving by that point since I hadn't eaten any of the post-race food. I ordered a veggie burger with fries and a beer, which totally hit the spot! Then before I got too tired or stiff my mom dropped me off at my car and I headed back to Sac, luckily not hitting any traffic this time.
Happy and proud finisher : )
My personal fan club

I'm really happy with my race, and it makes me wonder what I'm capable of on a flatter, faster course. Reflecting back on the race I've come up with a few things that I think contributed to my surprising performance. The first and perhaps biggest factor was the weather. After training in much warmer temps lately, my body thrived in the cool, overcast San Francisco climate. It was seriously perfect running weather! Secondly, my nutrition felt spot on. I took 6 Gu, one approximately every 45 minutes, and a salt capsule every hour along with water and never felt drained. I wasn't a fan of the course drink, Cytomax, and the salt capsules seemed to work well as a substitute. Thirdly I think my short walks on the hills really helped conserve my energy. And I think the hill repeats I've been doing actually helped, too. Overall I had a blast! I highly recommend this race to others - it's like a tour of the beautiful city of San Francisco - on foot!
Marathon no. 5 is in the books!


  1. Congratulations on that PR! That's awesome! Thanks for the pictures... looks like a fun race!

  2. great job! glad you enjoyed the City!

  3. Congrats on an awesome race! Love the pictures along the way. Next one less than a month away!!

  4. you rock. and I'm proud of you.

  5. Congrats!!! PRing at SF is a huge accomplishment! I actually PR'd there last year without trying as well and I think it's the race I'm most proud of :) hope you recover quickly!

  6. The second half of the SFM is not as easy as people say so for you to not only run a PR but a negative split too is pretty impressive.

    Congratulations on a terrific day at the races.

    All the best,