Why I wanted to run this race: I haven’t run in San Francisco since 2007, so I thought it was about time to get to know the city across the Bay in my running shoes. I picked the San Francisco 2nd Half Marathon (aka SF2HM) because it started later and had a less intimidating elevation profile than the 1st Half.
In the days leading up to the race:
I’ve already written about my goals, expo, and race strategy. On Saturday, I carb-loaded with dim sum at lunch and homemade veggie stir-fry for dinner. I was in bed by 10:00 pm, but had a hard time getting to sleep and ended up tossing and turning all night.
Race day morning timeline:
- 5:00 am: woke up, got dressed, and ate my usual pre-race PB&J English muffin with my not-so-usual-for-race-day cup of coffee. I figured I had 3+ hours to digest and let the coffee flow through my system (literally) before the race started at 8:23.
- 5:50 am: on the road!
- 6:15 am: parked! Sidenote: I’m so glad I reserved parking through GottaPark. It saved me the time and effort of driving around downtown SF, which always seems super confusing, to look for an open garage. The parking attendant was also nice enough to let me use their restroom. Flushing toilet, FTW.
- 6:25 am: on the shuttle (really, a school bus with the tallest seats I have ever seen) to the 2nd half start. Having gone through a traumatic shuttle experience at CIM, I was adamant about getting to the race super early.
- 6:50 am: dropped off next to Golden Gate Park (GGP). I absent-mindedly followed my fellow racers into the park. After a couple of minutes, I wondered aloud if we were going the right direction, but the guy next to me kinda shrugged and kept walking. I eventually realized that we were going the right direction, BUT we had a long way to go because our shuttle driver dropped us off at the wrong stop. Instead of stopping at 36th and Fulton, which was 0.1 miles from the start, she dropped us off at 10th and Fulton, near the 1st half finish and over 1.5 miles from the 2nd half start! I tried to be positive and cheered on the 1st Half Marathon runners as they ran by, but I was also a bit annoyed at the extra walk. Oh well.
- 7:20 am: arrived at Spreckel’s Lake/2nd Half start. Killed time with 2 porta potty breaks, a short jog, and drank some water (I was so thirsty, not sure why). There was a security check for the sweat bags, but it didn’t take any extra time.
- 8:00 am: Cathryn found me between the Wave 2 and Wave 3 groups. We nervously chatted and tried to keep warm, as it was quite chilly. And of course we took silly photos of ourselves before the race:
- ~8:13: Since Cathryn was starting with Wave 2, we wished each other good luck and parted ways. I found my spot near the 2:00 pacer in Wave 3 and kept checking my Garmin every 30 seconds to make sure it was still locked on the satellite. One can never be too sure…
After Wave 2 took off, I marched toward the start line with Wave 3. Even though it was very chilly, I knew I’d warm up quickly, so I took off my thrift store fleece and carefully hung it on a tree, hoping it might be useful to someone else in the future. There was a voice from a bullhorn counting down from 10, and when it got to 1, we took off. There was no siren or horn, or even loud music, just a remote voice saying “ONE” and that was that. It was a bit anti-climatic, actually.
Miles 1-3: 9:38, 9:22, 9:23
I meant to start off slow, but not 9:38 slow, especially since the first half mile was downhill. Sure, I was being cautious, but there were also tons of people in spite of the wave starts. I spent a fair portion of my time in Golden Gate Park weaving around people, especially when the path would narrow down to 5-6 people across. This was incredibly frustrating. Note to self: sign up/jump in the faster wave next time (no one was checking bibs). My legs also felt incredibly heavy. I began to wonder if I should’ve warmed up more, or if I should’ve had a more intense taper. The biggest thing was that I didn’t even feel like I was racing — I felt like I was on a training run with a huge group of people through GGP. I guess I wasn’t the only one who felt this way, because the 2:00 pace group was a full minute behind goal pace by the end of mile 3. My original plan was to keep them at a distance for the first 3 miles, but since they were going slower than planned, I caught up to them in the middle of the 3rd mile. I wasn’t too upset about my slow pace, since I didn’t want to wear myself out on the early hills. I felt that it was more important to keep up a consistent effort, and that’s what I did. As for the out-and-back during mile 2, I had learned my lesson from Oakland and stayed on the outside, so as not to get trapped during the tight, crowded turn. Yay for small victories! Clif Blok at mile 2.5.
Miles 4-6: 9:22, 8:50, 9:12
More winding through GGP. I started to pick up some speed around Stow Lake and finally felt like I was getting into my rhythm. I continued to hang with the 2:00 pace group and ate a Clif Blok at mile 4.5. At this point, I was already running ~0.1 longer than the course. (I did not pick up any additional distance in the 2nd half, thankfully!)
Miles 7-9: 8:40, 8:37, 9:11
These were my best miles of the whole race — not just because of my pace, but with my mood too. When we finally got out of GGP and the course widened onto Haight St., it was magical. It was the first time during the course where I actually felt like I was racing, and there were finally spectators on the course to cheer us on. The downhills didn’t hurt either. I think I took a Gu around 6.5 miles. I didn’t even let the steepest hill at 9 miles slow me down that much. Woohoo!
Miles 10-12: 9:05, 9:13, 9:30
Sometime between 9-10 miles, I did some math (which takes me SO LONG to do while running!) and realized that the 2:00 pace group was going to be cutting it close to 2 hours. I decided to drop the group and hoped to stay ahead of them for the rest of the race. I was feeling okay through mile 11, but definitely starting to fatigue. Contributing to the forming downward spiral were:
– the somewhat depressing industrial Dogpatch neighborhood with only a sprinkling of spectators;
– full, hot sun, after cool and cloudy conditions for the first hour;
– the thought of taking my final Clif Blok at 10.5 miles made me feel very queezy, so I opted out.
I kept telling myself, “Remember how you trained for fast finishes? This is the time to execute!” But honestly, when I came across the final water stop at mile 11.5, I wanted to stop SO badly. I walked through the station slower than usual and got a cup of both electrolytes and water. I justified the long water break as a means of rejuvenating myself, but really, I was just exhausted. I saw the 2:00 pace group cruise by and knew there was no way I could keep up with them. That was the most depressing moment of the race — watching that 2:00 sign floating farther and farther into the distance. Sigh.
Miles 13 + 0.2: 9:24, 8:38
When I rounded the corner to face AT&T Park, I knew I only had about a mile to go. I stopped looking at my watch, because, frankly, my pace was depressing me. So I focused on getting to the Bay Bridge as fast as I could. I knew the Bridge marked mile 26 of the full marathon, meaning only 200 m to go. In my mind, I wanted to sprint those last 200 meters, but my body was less willing. As usual, the end of the race always seems interminable. Where is that finish line?! I heard the Gypsy Runner call my name, but I was too tired to wave or even smile. Finally, the finish mat appeared and I breathed a sigh of relief as I ran across it. I stopped my Garmin, which read 2:01:04.9.
The finish corral was very well-organized. Volunteers handed out space blankets, water, bananas, yogurt, chocolate milk, scones, and medals. I was promised a post-race beer, but the line was too long and I was too impatient to wait. We found a nice place to sit by the water and eventually met up with Cathryn, who had a big PR, and Cathryn’s posse of family and friends. We also found MC, who did well given that she did not train very much. I picked up my bag from the sweat drop and it was seamless. The volunteers saw me coming and had my bag ready. Talk about efficient! The weather was gorgeous, so we sat around for a bit before heading home for a shower, big lunch, and a long nap.
Well, I wish could say that I was happy to have met my #1 goal of not blowing up (a la Oakland 2013), but I was definitely bummed about missing the sub-2 hour time goal. Looking back, my training had gone really well, but I still struggled to maintain low 9:00 per mile paces at the end of my last long run. So, I knew going in that a sub-2 was not in the bag, especially on a tough course like SF2HM. And while I did run conservative enough for a negative split (1 minute faster in the 2nd half), I ran too conservatively at the beginning to be able to make up the difference. Even though I didn’t get my sub-2 half this time, I’m trying to focus on the positive takeaways:
- My overall average pace for SF2HM was ~10 seconds faster than Oakland (Garmin data, not official pace), despite a tougher course, elevation-wise.
- Negative split! I’ve never, ever done that in a half marathon. 1:01:08 for the first 6.6 miles and 58:57 for the 2nd 6.6. Though the elevation profile and the early crowds definitely helped.
- Rankings: 167/631 age group (F30-39), 399/1673 women, 1054/3102 overall. It’s one of my informal 2013 goals to place in the top third overall in races, so I just missed it, but came very close (34%).
- I followed my race strategy pretty closely, and I felt like I made good decisions along the way.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to have a “successful race”. Goals are such a double-edged sword — exhilarating when they’re met, and heartbreaking when they aren’t. Last year, my first “real” year of running and racing, I improved by leaps and bounds and PR’ed at every distance. I’m still improving, just in less tangible ways, so it’s been a bit frustrating. I need to really appreciate the non-time-based goals as much as time-based ones.
About the race:
- Organizers: The San Francisco Marathon
- Cost: Rolling registration, starting at $85 and topping out at $120. There is almost always a $10 discount to be had — the race ambassadors usually have a code.
- Distance: 13.1 miles (my Garmin read 13.2)
- Parking/Transportation: Paid garages. There was a shuttle service to transport half marathons to and from downtown SF.
- Aid stations: About every 2 miles. Most had water and electrolyte (Ultima?), and there was one Gu only stop.
- Bathrooms: Plenty at the start and clusters of them at each aid station.
- Swag: Medal, tech t-shirt, 1 beer tickets, a lot of food and drinks in the finisher’s chute (though once you leave, you can’t get back in). There was a virtual “iGift bag” with coupons.
- Misc.: Very well-organized, from the expo to the finish chute. My only complaints were the shuttle mix-up, the crowded parts of the course through GGP, and the long line for beer. I appreciated the efficiency of the volunteers. They also had a booth with laptops set up to check your results instantly.
Official time: 2:01:05 (9:15/mile)
167/631 AG, 399/1673 F, 1054/3102 overall.
2:01:05 for 13.2 miles (9:11/mile)
(crossed 13.1 miles at 2:00:12)