Race: Wipro San Fransisco Marathon, First Half
Distance: 13.1 mi
Weather: Upper 50s, foggy, yet, oddly dry
Course: flat at first, then a whole bunch of hills at the end
Summary: Loved it. Loved it. Loved it!
8 down, 42 to go.
So far, my favorite race yet…
I know… I know. I said smaller races this year. And, what do I do? I sign up for probably two of the larger races in the country (sigh). However, I will say, that, in spite of the sour taste that the Las Vegas Rock and Roll left in my race palette last year, I am happy to announce that these two giant races (this one and the Indy Mini, as I’ve started to call it) have been my favorites of all the eight I have now completed. Organization of events like this make a really, really big impact on the experience. I know (hope) that last year’s Las Vegas event was a fluke and I promise I *will* get over it.
For now, though, I’d like to tell you the story of how I decided to do THIS race and what my experience was with it. A friend of mine from high school ended up living in northern California and, thanks to Facebook, I was able to reconnect with him after many years of having lost touch. He decided to run the Chicago marathon to raise money for the American Cancer Society and, having only done one 5k before this, he thought it was a good idea to run a half marathon before the full to test his muster in the race scenario. I not only thought that was a terrific idea, I decided to join him so I could support him in person… and, since I hadn’t done California yet, it counted as another state on my list.
I actually had been looking at doing this particular race before he mentioned it because I liked the way it seemed to be structured: at it’s heart, it is a really a full marathon, BUT: if you aren’t up to the full marathon distance, you can run the first half – which goes along the bay, across the Golden Gate Bridge and back and then finish in Golden Gate park OR you could do the second half which goes through town and end back on the Embarcadero. If you are an Ultra runner, though, and 26.2 isn’t enough, you have an option too: run that sucker twice. I have always made the argument that the best way to see any town is to run it and I had always wanted to see more of San Fransisco. The most attractive thing to me about this race, at first, was the weather though. I’ve been out there in the summer and it is downright cold there early in the morning – a very nice opposite when you live in a place that pretty much feels like it is next door to Hell in the middle of July. Now, not only could I do that, but I also had a really, really good reason to pull the trigger and just do this race already: support my friend running his first big race.
It is a long trip to be “all ninja-like”, but because of work, I didn’t have the ability to stay out there as long as I would have liked, so I booked a ninja-like trip for a city 3,000 miles away: leave late Friday afternoon, get back mid-afternoon on Monday. Easy, peasy. However… as my luck would have it, the Eastern half of the US has had severe thunderstorms each day for the last two weeks of July, and this particular day was no different. I was supposed to fly from Raleigh to Detroit, but the storms in Detroit were worse than in Raleigh, so they booked me on a flight to Atlanta that had me taking another connection getting to San Fransisco that night about 10 minutes earlier. Win!
Not so fast…
Weather in Atlanta got worse and we were delayed… again. …and again. Until I was cutting it very close to making my connection. We finally got to Atlanta, I got off the plane as fast as I could, I ran down the hall and got to the gate and…. damn. doors shut. (sigh). And, as bad luck has it in these situations, no more flights out. I was offered a hotel room at a “discount” and a 6 am flight. I opted out of the hotel room to save money and (ironically) sanity, and decided to sleep in the terminal from which I was flying the next day so I had no opportunities to miss my flight – and I had dibs on the freshly brewed coffee first thing in the morning. Lemonade, people.
Although it was an uncomfortable sleep, I did manage to get a little bit of sleep here and there. And, I got a pretty cute Zebra blanket and pillow – consolation prize for a missed flight, so I thought. I got up, brushed my teeth and washed my face, got that first brew of the day (yessss!) and found my gate so I could get my boarding pass… what is this? First class? Why, yes, please! ha! totally made up for sleeping in the terminal! Then, I get on the plane and get settled in – yes, it is a window seat, but it is a window seat in first class, so I’m not going to be picky here. I got to board first, I’m going to get off first so I can’t miss my connection (in Minneapolis – ok, so there was *one* slight drawback to getting a flight the next day) and I was more comfortable than I would have been on the flight the night before. I was in acceptance. We took off and I looked out the window – something I rarely do since I always take aisle seats when they are available – and got to see a pretty cool sunrise out of my window. And, because a layered cloud deck, I got to see it on both sides – that was very peaceful and it made my morning. We landed without incident in Minneapolis, I caught my connection without incident, and I was on my way to San Fransisco.
I landed shortly before lunch time and my friend came to pick me up so we could go to the expo to get our packets. We got our packets, walked around a bit, caught up and chatted about the race. We were both kind of hungry, and he knows all the great places to eat, so we got some lunch (rice noodles!) and then were on the hunt for my standby nutrition since I couldn’t bring it with me: Gatorade fit series. We went to three different places looking for it, but couldn’t find it. I finally settled on Gatorade pro – that’ll be fine, right? (it was) We went to a local running store to get during-run fuel and I decided to try something I hadn’t tried before – a Clif Bonk Buster – I had never even seen it before – but my friend had used them and swore by it, so I tried it… that’ll be fine, right? (it was) We went back to the hotel, put our things down and then went to get dinner (believe it or not, it was already dinner time by then). As a test for the next morning, we decided to walk down to the race start line from the hotel to make sure we were going to leave in enough time. We walked around the start line for a bit to get oriented and then had an awesome steak and potatoes dinner at Epic. We went back to the hotel to get settled for the evening, and because I’m still on East Coast time at this point, I’m out like a light at 8 PM.
Our race started at 5:30, which for me, was 8:30 body time and it worked out great for me. My alarm went off at 3:30 or so, and I did snooze it a couple of times, but honestly, I was wired and excited. I have looked forward to almost all of my half marathons, but this one, for some reason, I was more excited about. I had done part of this route the year before when I came to San Fransisco for work, so I knew part of the route already and (sort of) what I was in store for – and it was actually one of my all-time favorite runs. Another reason I was excited was that I actually had an opportunity to come close to my PR because of the weather – no heat and humidity!! I always get a little overly excited about weather in the 50s and 60 because, yes, I am that much of a runner-stat-geek. It really does make a difference in your time. I got up, dressed, and met up with my friend who was understandably anxious. We didn’t have a place to make our own breakfast, so we decided to get eggs at a diner on the way.
Now that I don’t drink or party at all, I tend to forget that people still do that on a Saturday night, so I was a little surprised to see people out still from the night before. I should have taken a photo, but the diner was half runners, half after-partiers and it was quite a divergent sight. We ordered a simple breakfast of one cup of coffee and a plate of scrambled eggs – nothing else. We ate it quickly and were on our way to start. To simplify things, I asked if I could just put my stuff in his check bag, so we organized the bag, found the check in and walked around for a bit until we both decided we had to go to the restroom and the lines were long. We wished each other luck and went to our corrals. I got a bit freaked out that I was going to miss my start because the lines were soooooo long for the porta-johns, so I decided that I would wait until I found one along the way and headed to my coral.
I actually wasn’t too far from the corrals, so I went in. This is one race where the corrals *were* policed and you could not go into a corral if you weren’t assigned to it (yay!) so I showed my bib and filed into my corral. Another notable thing about the corrals is the wave times: a full ten minutes between starters. Hm… so, the elites start at 5:32 (granted, that is a weird start time, but it made sense when I was there), and since I was fourth back, I wasn’t scheduled to start until 5:52 – I got in right as they were making last calls for the first corral, so in hindsight, I probably had plenty of time to use the restroom, but I didn’t want to cut it too close. One thing I love about big cities is the sheer number of attractive men – and there were a ton of them here, so I had plenty to look at while I was waiting – and the view of the bay was nice, too. My corral was right at the ferry building, so I had a really nice view of the Bay Bridge, all lit up. This photo does not do it justice – the view was much prettier than that! I was getting anxious as wave 2 started and excited as wave 3 started, so I put on my music and just waited for my turn. But… up this point, I had not given much thought to how cold it was… now I just had time to think about it… over and over again.
So, I said that it made sense that my start time was 5:52 – it is because they officially started the event at 5:30. sharp. They did the national anthem and some introductions and, at 5:32 on the nose, the first and second waves were released. At 5:42 on the nose, Wave 3 was released. I almost couldn’t stand the wait! Finally, finally, it was my turn! Ours was called up, and I went out like a rabbit. I actually didn’t think it felt that fast at all – it felt great – but I happened to notice on my watch that I was sub-8 at one point and knew I had to pull that back. My first mile was 8:15, so I tried to pull it back even more – and ended up with 8:14. ha! at least I’m consistent.
However, by this time, my bladder was getting the better of me and I really couldn’t wait any longer, so I decided to stop at the first set of port-a-johns I saw… unfortunately, there was a line… and that line was disorganized like I’ve never seen at a running event – people were cutting in front of each other – I was cut three times before I barked something about not being invisible and cut back in front of someone else. I was pretty mad at this point, so I did what I had to do quickly, pulled up and literally ran out the door. The thing is: when you don’t take the time to pull up right when you are sweating, eh… things don’t go back to the right place. So… I was, ahem, all bunched up for a couple of miles. And, yes, that did make me irritable, so know I have actual perspective on the ever so eloquent southern colloquialism “don’t get your panties in a bunch”. Needless to say, mile three was my worst at 10:15 – almost completely erasing the speed of the first two miles. I had to get back to work without burning myself out.
It was at this point on the run that I actually started to relax and just enjoy it. For a while, at least. As I write this, I’m looking at my favorite pair of running shoes – which I have not worn since this race – that are covered in mud… and now I remember why. The 4 hour pacer. So, around the time I got to the Marina, just before Crissy field, I was working on de-bunching and starting to relax with my music (so, yeah, I decided to run with music this day – I was in the mood for it at the time) and take in the scenery, just recalling the last time I ran this route and how good I felt, and got lost in my thoughts until I see a wide barrier of people in front of me, the middle of which has on a bright yellow jacket and is carrying a sign that said “4:00”. Cool, I thought, I’m with the 4 hour pacer, which should have left in Wave 3, and that means I’m on goal for my sub-2. Sweet… except, I gotta get around this crowd… no where to pass on the left, so I passed on the right through some grass (and obviously some mud). There… that takes care of that… back to getting lost in my thoughts… where was I…
What? How can he be in front of me again? Did I really space out that much? (my splits say ‘uh huh’ at a 9:30 for this segment). This lead-trading went on for a little over a mile. I finally got to the point where I passed them for good just at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge – around mile 5.5. I have to assume he was doing a much better job of pacing than I was, which means that I should be paying much closer attention to it.
The first part of this run – save a couple of small hills – was pretty flat. However… as you make your way out of the marina, into what I call the first half of the Presidio, there are hills a plenty and they are plenty steep, especially as you make your way up to the Golden Gate Bridge. I have been to San Fransisco before, but this run was the first time I had ever actually been ON the Golden Gate Bridge and I gasped a little when I first got on it. It was foggy, but it was still a pretty amazing view. The event planners had marked off two lanes for us: one coming on and one going off. You basically run waterside on the way up, run around a circle and snake back running toward the middle on the way back out. There are some slick spots due to the fog and I was petrified of slipping. The event planners actually had a few of those spots covered with rubber-like carpeting or something, but not all places could be covered, so there were still a few spots that worried me.
I was so wrapped up in the view, trying not to slip, and seeing the people coming back, that I didn’t even pay attention to when my usual nutrition break came up (normally 50 minutes) and had just passed 7 miles when I realized I probably should take something. At this point, I was almost all the way across the bridge out of San Fransisco. I stopped to eat my bonk buster (which turned out to be an appropriate name), even though I didn’t really feel like it and washed it down with the Gatorade Pro I had been sipping the entire race up to that point. I continued on through the turn around and started “way backin’ it” toward the Golden Gate Park. I must admit, at this point, I was kind of disappointed I was half way finished. I am pretty sure that has never happened to me in a race before – at this point, I’m usually wishing I was at mile 10.
On the way back across the bridge, I ran on the inside and slowed down so I could see my friend behind me – who was in corral 8. He had logged pretty good times for his training runs, so I fully expected to see him at some point (I didn’t – I guess just too many people). Once I got off the bridge, we climbed the other side of the Presidio and, boy, was that a spectacular sight. From there, it was clearer than on the bridge and, in spite of all the people around me at that particular moment, I felt very alone and peaceful. I got sucked into the scenery. I didn’t even mind the 275 foot climb in under a mile…
What brought me back to reality, though, was the descent from that climb. One thing a runner always has to remember is that whatever goes up, must come down, and while the hammys pay the price on the way up, the knees and quads will on the way down. I have only recently begun to actually use the down hill to my advantage. That’s not to say that I go down them all out, increase my stride or do anything crazy, but I do use the opportunity gravity affords me to keep going at the same speed as I was going on flat and then use the crests and valleys as “rest” for these intervals. My friends… I put this theory to test big time at this point in the race.
All you have ever heard about San Fransisco hills is true: they are steep. They are long. They are relentless. I am constantly complaining about hills in Raleigh. After running these hills last year, I don’t complain any more. These are nothing. If you have ever seen photos of California Street from the bay side of town, that photo does not do the hill justice. Having said that: the hills don’t just go from East to West. Oh no. They go North to South, too. Oh yes. So, after coming out of the giant climb of the Presidio, we were subjected to (ahem) 3 full miles of a crazy joy ride of hills through the western side of town to Golden Gate park. I was fine with the first couple, but I promise you, my friends, I was mighty salty at the end. I wasn’t saying it out loud, but I was absolutely thinking it. I tried not to think about the hills and focus on the houses in this area and what it might be like to live… ah screw it. I hate these hills.
I was thrilled and disappointed at the same time to see the finish line. Thrilled that I made it 13.1 for an eighth time, thrilled that I made my goal time – even with the stops, the slowing and the hills, I ended up with a 1:59:19, on both my Garmin AND official time… disappointed that my part of the race was over. Two hours didn’t seem like long enough.
I got my food and foil blanket and tried walking around and rehydrating while waiting for my friend… but, I was freezing. At one point, I was shivering so hard, I actually got a cramp and had to walk it out. I wish I was kidding about that. I tried to position myself to see my friend finish, but I missed him. He finished in 2:11 and I’m so proud of him!!
I have cut gluten out of my diet again and, since, have been working on speed. I have noticed a real difference when running longer distances at faster paces when I eliminate gluten, so it is a diet choice I intend to maintain. Although there weren’t the crowds in this city that we had in Indianapolis, the city of San Fransisco was very welcoming to us and provided me with another very memorable run. I am planning to do the second half next year because this was such a good race for me. The biggest lesson I think I have learned from this, other than gluten free is the right decision, is that I’m on the right path with training. I’ve focused on stamina most of the year and now I’m finally comfortable after finishing 13 miles. I want to be able to finish it faster and still be comfortable, so that is what I plan to work on next.
Now… time to find #9…. where to next? TN? MD?