Last year, I ran my first half marathon in San Francisco. This year, I returned to the City to run another half marathon (warning, this will be a long recap!).
As I mentioned before, the SF marathon has full marathon (DARK BLUE) and two half marathons. The 1st half marathon (YELLOW) was the first half of the full marathon (from Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf, over the Golden Gate Bridge and back to Golden Gate Park) and the 2nd half marathon (LIGHT BLUE) from Golden Gate Park through Haight Ashbury, Mission District back to the Embarcadero) was the second half. We picked the 2nd half marathon, because a) it started a little later and b) the elevation profile looked a little less intimidating.
In order for marathoners and half marathoners to run together, marathoners and 1st half marathoners start together at the startline at the Embarcadero around 6 a.m. in the morning, 1st half marathoners end at Golden Gate Park where the 2nd half marathoners join on the course around 8 a.m. and then end back at the Embarcadero.
Last year, I chose the second half marathon, because a) it started a little later and b) the elevation profile looked a little less intimidating. Here’s a comparison of the two.
This year, I was ready to tackle the first half.
I took Amtrak to San Francisco on Saturday, because driving and parking in the City is insane and it’s usually hardly faster to drive than take the train. Also last year, traffic to the Bay Area was so crazy that it took me 3.5 hours to cover 75 miles (to the East Bay) and if Susi hadn’t picked up my race package for me, I wouldn’t have been able to get there in time to get it.
So this year, I wanted to make sure I got there relaxed (and I also didn’t want to worry about driving back home for 2+ hours after my run on Sunday).
I got to San Francisco around 1:30 p.m. and then had to make my way over to the Race Expo at Fort Mason. Took a wrong bus that took me to the Presidio and had to walk back through the Marina to Fort Mason from there, but I didn’t mind because I was able to walk part of the race course that I was going to run the next day!.
I picked up my race bib + t-shirt and spent some time walking around at the Expo. I met a German guy at the Currex stand, who talked me into some insoles for my running shoes. Well, ‘talked into’ means convincingly showed me research evidence conducted nowhere else but at the Deutsche Sporthochschule Köln (a renowned sports university near my hometown). I mean, if that is not prestigious, well-established research, then I don’t know what is.
We chatted in German for a bit, then I walked around the Expo some more and took a couple of pictures in front of some of the photo ops they had put up.
I snatched two free bottles of Hubert’s Lemonade on my way out and then walked over to Ghirardelli Square, where I sat in the sun and enjoyed my free beverage.
Around 4:30 p.m., I caught a bus back to Union Square and checked into my hotel. I stayed at the Bartlett Bunkhouse, which is somewhere between a hostel and a hotel. I had a room with private bath and I was pretty happy with my sleeping quarters. The room was small, but it had hardwood floors and the bed was pretty comfortable!
I went out again to get some dinner (had a arugula-salami-pizza at Pizzeria Delarosa) and then bought some water and went back to the hotel. I was in bed by 9:30 p.m.
Countdown was on:
My alarm was set for 4 a.m., but I didn’t really sleep that well and woke up every hour. Why is that before a race, you just can’t seem to sleep through the night (or at least, I can’t)?
I got up bright an early, had some water, nibbled on some oat crunch cereal. I got dressed and ready and was out the door by 4:45 a.m.
The streets of SF were still dark and mostly deserted, but you could see people (some wrapped in plastic bags) in running gear with bibs pinned to their shirts converge on Market Street heading down to Embarcadero. The runners were up and roaming around the city.
I was a little bit afraid that I was going to be cold in the morning, because I had planned to run in shorts and a tank top (but I did bring a sweater along), but it was surprisingly mild once I had dropped of my sweat bag with the UPS trucks.
I stood in line for a port-a-potty stop and the lines were really long, so I made it into my corral kinda late and was stuck in the back. We enjoyed a beautiful sunrise over the Bay Bridge and shortly after, my wave was off at 6:02 a.m..
I had a pretty good start, felt good and was moving along fairly well… or so I thought. There was a lot of swerving around and passing people on the first couple of miles (actually, I found the whole race to be pretty crowded and the crowd never really dispersed) and my pace for the first few miles was definitely slower than I had hoped for.
The first 5 miles were the ‘easy’ part of the course because they were mostly flat except for one relatively short hill in mile 3. In mile 6, we hit the first steep incline leading to the Golden Gate Bridge. I managed to run this, but my pace slowed considerably.
As we headed towards the bridge, I have to be honest and say that I was hoping for more scenic views, but early in the morning in July, the bridge is usually wrapped in Karl, the fog (thick and wet) and Sunday was no different. You literally couldn’t see 50 feet in front of you, let alone the big red arches in their full glory, and the bridge was wet and a bit slick, especially the metal bridge connectors.
We shared the road with oncoming runners coming back over the bridge and even though that was kind of cool, it also felt a bit crowded.
When we finally reached the other side of the bridge, the clouds opened up to reveal the most beautiful blue skies. But we weren’t able to enjoy that for very long because we turned around at the Vista Point and headed back into the fog towards the Presidio.
There was a fairly rapid decline for about a mile at mile 11 (where I hit my fast pace – surprise, surprise!) and then the rolling hills of the last 2.5 miles started and I was so. not. prepared. Whoever decided to put these hills at the end of the race must like cruel jokes.
Finally, we were outside Golden Gate Park and I knew the finish line was near. I attempted a final push for the last half mile of the course, but it wasn’t quite enough to beat my previous PR.
I finished in 2:09:55 ( which is 25 secondes behind my PR from last year (on the perceived easier 2nd half course).
I was pleasantly surprised how close my Garmin was to the official time (and that I ran a pretty tight race line because I only ran .15 miles long!)
I didn’t reach my time goal, but I am not sad about it. All things considered (a few missed workouts sessions, a forced 2-week rest period right before the race due to some ankle pain, which luckily disappeared and didn’t give me any more trouble), it all worked out pretty well and all that really counts is that I made it to the finish line.
This was a really fun course to run and I couldn’t believe that the miles flew by as fast as they did. The first half marathon felt all around a little quieter than running the second half marathon last year (which could be a combination of an earlier start time and the course being along the shore and over the bridge with less spectators at this early hour. The second half course on the other hand starts quite a bit later and goes through mostly residential neighborhoods).
Overall thoughts on the race organization:
Registration and Packet Pick Up
Registration is online and super-easy, the not so easy part is shelling out the money. This race is not cheap, but then again, you get what you pay for and this race is really well organized.
I wish they would offer to mail the race packet, because if you’re out of town and have to go to the expo to pick up your packet the day before the race, it’s kind of an inconvenience. Then again, the expo is really cool and I am glad I was forced to go see it this time. The race shirt is really nice, too.
Race morning Amenities
There were plenty of port-a-potties and signs at the starting line. UPS trucks were lined up to accept your sweat bags with your belongings (which were driven over to the finish line). Waves started on time.
This course challenges you right out of the gate with its early start time. I absolutely loved running along the piers, through the Marina, and over the Golden Gate Bridge, even if the fog completely obscured the view. The hills were challenging, I am not going to lie, but I’d run this race again in a heartbeat.
Each aid/water station was adequately staffed with volunteers and I thought they were appropriately spaced out. I wish runners would just use the provided trash cans to dispose of their paper cups and not just throw them on the ground. It made running/walking through the water stations a little inconvenient.
Finish line and Post Race Amenities
They had water right behind the finish line, bananas and power bars. Then you were moved right along to collect your medal and heat blanket and get out of the way.
They had a special challenge tent where you could pick up your challenge medals. I earned the “Half it all” challenge medal this year, because I participated in the 2nd half marathon last year. It’s a nice perk.
Then even further down, they offered hot coffee and Irish coffee, which was really nice because it was still chilly due to the fog.
The results were up relatively fast. You already could access your ‘unofficial’ finish time through the RTRT.me race app and it ended up being my official time, too.
There was an official race photograper (team), but I was disappointed with it this year. There were supposed to be 4 different photo stations along the race path (at the start line, on the Golden Gate Bridge, in the Presidio, and at the finish line in Golden Gate Park) but there were only three photos of me near the finish line. That was kinda disappointing. Every time I did see a photographer along the way, they were just ‘watching’, or fiddling with their cameras. Maybe it was just my bad luck (other people got more photos of themselves), but I was bummed anyway.
Also, last year, all photos were free, this year, you got one – zoomed out – photo of yourself crossing the finish line, every other image must be purchased (starting at $20 for one digital image!). For the price we pay for the registration, I felt this should have been included (like last year).
The photos that I do have (from after the race) were taken by A., who I met at the finish line and who also needed someone to take her picture. We both had run the race alone and it’s hard to get your medal in the picture when you’re attempting selfies.
We started talking and really hit it off. She’s from Texas and we’re both working in earth science. So cool! We ended up heading back to race festival (at Embarcadero) together, got our ‘free’ beer and some other free goodies, and ended up adding each other on Facebook. After enjoying our adult beverage and a nice chat, it was time for me to head back to the hotel to check out and go find some food.
I also had time to hang out for a couple more hours.
All in all, I had a really fanastic weekend in San Francisco. Some people expressed sympathy that I ran this race by myself, but to be honest, I really didn’t mind. Of course, I would have loved to run with Susi again or meet up with other people, but as I mentioned before, I really don’t mind doing things by myself.
Have you run races alone? Would you?