Race Report: The San Francisco Marathon

Ran the San Francisco Marathon this morning.  Went much better than I thought it would going in.  Woohoo!  As always, a huge thank you to Lena, my awesome wife and supporter in my craziness for such things. Getting up at 4:20am is not fun, especially when you’re not even the one racing.  Notes on the race first, then general tips for future racers.

 
Had a couple of goals going in:
 
1.  Have fun and enjoy the run.  It’s an awesome route – Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason, Crissy Field, GG Bridge (over and back), Presidio, GG Park, the Haight, down to the water, along the Bay, behind Giants stadium, and finish the loop at Pier 1.  I’ve done bits and parts of about 2/3 of the course over time when I lived in the city but the idea of circumnavigating the city was a pretty cool idea.
 
2. Go sub-4 hours.  My only other real marathon was back in 1998 (Austin) where I ran a 4:09.  I really wanted to get down under 3:50 with an outside goal of 3:42.  (3:42 would be one hour faster than my 26.2 mile run at the Ironman CDA last month.  As Eric R. has said, it’s totally irrelevant comparing running a marathon vs. the 26.2 miles in an Ironman, but I needed something to push me…  And I completely agree with his logic BTW.)
 
3. Feel good the whole race.  It’s only been 5 weeks since CDA, and it’s less than wise to run a marathon this close.  Michael L. mentioned the race to me a couple weeks back so I figured what the heck. Something to focus on for mid-summer.  I’m glad he did.
 
The Start
I arrived at the start area near downtown about 15 minutes before my wave.  That was just enough time to check in my sweats bag, do a little stretching, then line up in the corral with my wave. Weather was between chilly and chilly.  Hey, it’s San Francisco in July.  I probably should have given myself some more time, but such is life.   My wave went off at 5:42am.  (Wow – that’s early!)  My strategy was to start off at quicker pace then fall back if needed.  I was pretty sure of my fitness to get the distance done and I didn’t want to lull myself into a slower time than I was capable of right now.  In other races, I might start off a little slower and then speed up but not here.  The wave start seemed to spread out the runners as much as is possible.  It’s chip timing, so doesn’t really matter when you start.  I was looking at the course is 3 segments – the Bridge, the Park, the Finish.
 
The Golden Gate Bridge
Took until mile 3 or so to really feel like I was hitting any significant stride, which is just after the first little hill that takes you from Fisherman’s Wharf down to Fort Mason/Crissy Field. The Crissy Field stretch is super flat and kept striding. Then the first real climb up to the bridge.  Lots of runner traffic which was kind of a blessing b/c it keeps you from trying to gun up the hill.  The climb flattens up some, but then there’s the incline of the GG bridge.  Even leaving in the earlier wave, there was still a bit of runner traffic on the bridge. There are two lanes of the highway sectioned off – the right side for runners going out, the left for those after the turnaround.  The lanes are only about 4 runners wide, so played a little cat and mouse with oncoming runners to pass a few people.   After the turnaround, I caught up to Michael. We ran together for a couple of miles before separating again.
 
The Park
After the GG bridge, the course takes you through the Presidio. Tremendous scenery to the right down to the ocean.  Better than the bridge b/c it was super foggy and running on the road inhibits your view anyway.  Then through parts of the Outer Richmond then to the Park.  Not much to say about the park.  Just out and back and weave and in and out along various roads.  Not many hills, but lots of long slow inclines and down slopes.  Also lots of music in the park – some live performers and others just playing tunes. Very cool.  
 
The Finish
You exit the park on Haight Street which is the last significant incline on the course.  It’s about 1/2 mile, then you get over the hump and start winding down towards Market Street.  I was able to keep a 8:24 minute/mile pace through mile 20 or so, but a problem I had is that my Garmin was showing about 0.3 miles longer than the mile markets. 
 
(HINT: Courses are measured as the shortest possible distance – you should run the tangents on the bends.  I thought I was doing this, but I guess not.)
 
Several pretty steep downhills which were kind of a killer on the knees.  Then across Market Street into the Mission.  These 3 miles went pretty fast – then down to the water for the last 3 miles. With about 3.5 miles left, I was at 3:15 (3 hours, 15 mins total), so I was at pace to hit the sub-3:42, with maybe a chance of getting into the 3:30s.  I picked up the pace and kept chugging.  Got the the final turn behind the Giants baseball stadium and ran really, really hard for the last mile and was down to 8:17 minute/mile pace, but the end of the race, I ran 26.66 miles instead of exactly 26.2,which worked out to an official time of 3:40:59 (an 8:26 minute/mile pace).  (Had I run exactly 26.2 miles at the 8:17 minute pace, that works out to 3:37.)
 
Race Tips: 
  • Port-a-johns were at a premium at the start.  Fortunately, I was staying with a friend over in the Richmond, so on my drive to downtown on Geary, I stopped at Starbucks for an espresso and a pit stop.  Very glad that worked out for me b/c at the starting area, there were enormous lines.  I’m sure some people missed their starting time from this.  
  • To avoid a runner jam on the Golden Gate Bridge, sing up for an earlier wave. Waves go off in 10 minute increments. For example, Wave 3 was the 3:45 and under wave (an 8:45/minute pace).   The bridge is 5 miles into the race, so even if you are a 9:45 runner, you’ll get to the bridge before the rest of the runners that leave in Wave 4 and 5 come close to catching up.
  • Aid stations were plentiful and well-stocked with Cytomax and water.  A couple had gels.
  • Give yourself a time buffer for the case that you’re going by pace by not running a perfect line.  Most of us don’t. If you’re in the market for a Boston qualification, you don’t want that to bite you in the rear.
  • I deliberated between running with my belt or not.  Decided to do so.  Very glad I did.  I used the nutrition along the way and had a place for salt pills and a couple of gels.  Along stuffed my hat into the belt since I was breezy and foggy the whole race.
So that’s my report.  Not sure if a marathon is in the cards again anytime soon but I’m happy to have finished this one with a good time.  Maybe I’ll try one of those trail runs instead.  The pavement pounding is a killer on the knees. Going to spend the rest of this year looking ahead to next year’s Ironman.    Maybe get another triathlon or two in before season’s end.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I can’t wait any longer to consume the rack of ribs in the oven right now as a post-race meal, courtesy of the aforementioned very awesome Lena!
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