Race Recap: San Francisco 1st Half Marathon

Why I wanted to run this race:  I’m not usually a fan of gimmicks or race medals, but for some reason, the “Half It All” challenge really spoke to me.  Basically, the challenge is to run both SF half marathons in consecutive years, and upon completion, you will be rewarded with a huge spinning/double-sided medal.  Sold!  Oh, and I was also given a $20 off discount code as a consolation prize for failing to be selected as a race ambassador.  Y’all know that I love me some discounted race entries!

Race goals/strategies/expectations:  Discussed previously, my goals were to do run/walk intervals, not hurt myself further, and hopefully finish under 2:30.

I woke up at 4:00 a.m. on race day, which is crazy early.  However, after the Big Sur Marathon, anything later than a 2:55 a.m. wake-up call seems luxurious.  After getting dressed and putting together a PB&J sandwich, I hit the road at 4:30 to meet up with KP and her buddies in Emeryville to carpool into the city together.  Between the 7 of us, we reserved 2 parking spaces through GottaPark, which I’d really recommend (again) if you decide to drive to the race.  In my car were TG, ML, and M’s friend (whose name I can’t recall).  Even though we just met, we instantly bonded over running stories as we drove over the Bay Bridge into SF.

Something about racing in San Francisco seems to catch me off guard, because I don’t plan to arrive with as much time to spare as I usually do pre-race (see: Kaiser).  The parking garage where I had reserved a spot was 95% full, so I parked in a sort of sketchy parking space and prayed that I wouldn’t get towed. (I didn’t.)  We also didn’t realize how far the garage was from the start — a good 1.3 miles, probably!

As we got closer to the start line, I got my drop bag ready to go, since we were cutting it very close.  We hit the Embarcadero and jogged towards the porta potties.  I was dismayed to see only ~10 porta potties with 50-100 people in line.  After a quick self-evaluation, I came to the realization that nature wasn’t calling (to my surprise!), so I bid my new friends good luck, turned around, and jogged toward the bag drop.  At this point, it was very close to the starting time for Wave 4 (5:52 a.m.), but I had already resigned myself to missing it and starting with Wave 5.  After dropping off my bag, I found out that the start times were a bit delayed, and Wave 4 hadn’t left yet.  Unlike SF2HM, which had very informal wave starts, they were actually checking bibs at each corral before they would let you into the wave.  Knowing that I’d be doing a run/walk, I settled into the way back of the wave and waited about 2 minutes before the official start, which happened at ~6:00 a.m.  The other thing to note was that, despite the early hour, I wasn’t the least bit cold in a tank top and shorts.  I could tell it was going to be hot one, and I hoped that it would stay overcast for as long as possible.

Gorgeous view of the Bay Bridge just before sunrise.

Gorgeous view of the Bay Bridge just before sunrise.

The Race:
Just a refresher on the course and elevation profile:

Miles 1-3: Approximate splits, due to my laps based on run/walk intervals: 10:30, 10:50, 11:10.
I felt really good at the start, so it was difficult for me to rein it in and stick to my plan of 3:1 run/walk intervals.  To my surprise, I kept leapfrogging with several runners, and eventually passed them even though I was run/walking.  It was cool to run through the normally tourist-packed areas of Pier 39 and Ghiradelli square in the quiet of an early Sunday morning.  We hit the first little hill going up to Fort Mason and I stopped to take a pretty photo of the sunrise.

Had to stop at the top of the hill to take a photo of this breathtaking scene.

Had to stop at the top of the hill to take a photo of this breathtaking scene.

Miles 4-9: 9:45, 10:45, 11:40 (photo time!), 10:03, 10:47, 10:19.
I was still feeling strong, so I began clipping my walk breaks shorter by 10 seconds (on either side of my Garmin beeping).  I took a Gu around mile 4.5, knowing that there was a water stop somewhere after mile 5.

One of the major perks of SF1HM: free race pics!

One of the major perks of SF1HM: free race pics!  Can you tell how humid and hot it was by the puddles of sweat on my collarbone?

First views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

First views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Running up the hill to Golden Gate Bridge, I heard a familiar voice and saw KP, who was running the full marathon.  She was running a little too fast for me, so after a few minutes of chitchat, I decided to drop back and do a walk interval.  By this point, my intervals were getting a little mixed up, since I’d delay the walk interval at water stops or start them earlier at a big hill.  Once I was on the GGB, it was so crowded that I found it difficult to take walk breaks.  When I did, I’d scoot over to the right and slow down gradually to a walk.  I’d also turn around and make sure runners weren’t using the right side as a passing lane.  If they were, I’d raise my hand and say, “Walking!”

One of many photos I took while running on the GGB.

One of many photos I took while running on the GGB.

It was really fun to run on the GGB, and I was glad to have a relatively clear view of the Bay and the SF skyline, even if the trade-off was no fog and warmer temps.   I took a million photos while on the Bridge, and when I got to the turn around, I tried to take a panoramic of the scene with my iPhone (it worked, sort of).  I was so wrapped up in taking the picture that I accidentally skipped the free Gu.  Oops.  Good thing I brought my own.

Handstitched panoramic -- because I haven't figured out how to do that on my phone just yet.

Handstitched panoramic — because I haven’t figured out how to do that on my iPhone just yet.

Running back towards SF on the Bridge was less wonderous and more, “Let’s get this thing over with.”  I kept up a decent pace and decided to do more running and less walking.  I took another Gu between the GGB and the Presidio.

Coming off the GGB (I think?)

Coming off the GGB (I think?)

Race photo rules #23: there always has to be at least one photo where I have a packet of Gu in my hand.

Race photo rule #23: there always has to be at least one photo where I have a packet of Gu in my hand.

Miles 10-13.1: 10:56, 10:09, 11:15, 9:51, 2:36 (for 0.26 mi)
I knew that there were some tough hills in this last portion of the race, so I just took it one mile at a time.  I think this was the first time during a half marathon where I’ve gotten to mile 10 and was actually excited and happy about it, instead of a feeling of complete despair. (This is usually the point where I really wish I was running a 10 miler instead of a half marathon!)  Moreover, I felt so relieved to have made it to the 10th mile without hobbling or pain.  I was going to be able to run the rest of this thing!  Well, I ended up walking up a few of the hills, but you know what I mean.

I didn’t get the dreaded “thoughts of doom and despair” until the last mile of the race.  I was approaching Golden Gate Park and my legs were feeling the effects of the rolling hills, and also from not having run more than 10 miles in many months.  I was determined, however, to run the last mile without stopping.  So, fighting all of the demons in my mind and the aching in my legs, I pushed through the last part of the course.  I even summoned enough energy to pass a few people at the end, finishing in 2:20:34.



I picked up my finisher’s medal, heat sheet, and box of water (yes, this is a thing now) and headed to the Race Challenges tent to get my Half It All medal.  Then I went and got some food (banana, lemon poppy seed muffin) and the best Irish coffee I’ve ever had in my life.  I sat and stretched near the Rose Garden and finished my food and drinks before getting in line for the shuttle back to the Embarcadero, which took about an hour altogether (waiting in line + the shuttle ride).  I heard that the lines were shorter earlier, so I probably spent too much time dilly-dallying in the Rose Garden.

As we drove out of the Panhandle, the cloudy skies gave way to full sunshine.  I was really glad that I ran the 1st Half instead of the 2nd Half or the Full.  Those runners had it rough!  I went to cheer on a few of the people I knew running, including RoseRunner (who finished before I could get to the finish line), Angela, Jane, BT, JT, and IP.  I got to catch up with JT briefly after she finished her 4th full marathon, then met up with IP and BT for beers at the Ferry Building.  All in all, a really nice morning!

The fruits of my labor

The fruits of my labor

Post-race analysis:
Since I was aiming for 2:30, I’m very satisfied with my performance at SF1HM, especially given how difficult the course was.  Even more than beating the time goal, though, I was happy to cross the finish line without injuring myself further, knowing that I successfully executed my race strategy; that I was able to be patient and hold back at the beginning and to fight my demons and run strong at the finish.

(Note to self: the pre-race dinner of roast chicken, broccoli, and couscous was a winner. Perhaps eating a smaller breakfast was good too.)

SF1HM vs. SF2HM:
Having run both half marathons, here are the pros and cons of the 1st vs. the 2nd half:
SF1HM Pros: Way more scenic, more interesting course, cooler weather, less crowded finish line with quicker access to amenities.
SF1HM Cons: Earlier start, parking situation at the start, smaller crowd of spectators at the finish and less spectator support in general, long shuttle back to the start.
Bottom line: I’d definitely run the 1st Half again, whereas I’d only run the 2nd Half as part of the full marathon.

The numbers:
Official time: 2:20:34 (10:43/mile)
506/1360 AG, 1443/4052 F, 3264/7250 overall

Garmin results:
2:20:36 for 13.26 miles (10:36/mile)
Elevation gain/loss: 1212’/960′ (net gain: ~260′)
*On the SFM site, they say there’s a total gain of 880′-990′ for the full marathon, with 187′ net gain in the first half of the marathon.  On mapmyrun, I found someone recorded an elevation gain of 1626′ for the full marathon.

Elevation and pace data from my Garmin.

Elevation and pace data from my Garmin.


About the race: (Excellent, detailed race information can be found on Angela’s recap.)

  • 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.
  • Parking/Transportation: Paid garages, street parking, and limited public transit to the start.  There was a shuttle that took 1st half finishers from Golden Gate Park to the Embarcadero.
  • Aid stations: About every 2.5 miles. All but one had both water and Nuun (one was water only).  They gave out Gu (gels and chomps) at the GGB turnaround.
  • Bathrooms: I had a hard time finding them at the start, and the ones I found had a huge line for only ~10 porta potties! After the race, I saw that there were small groups of porta potties everywhere, but their locations were not clearly marked.  There were several porta potties at each aid station and some real bathrooms along Crissy Field and through various parks.
  • Swag: Medal, tech t-shirt, 1 beer/Irish coffee ticket, food, and boxed water.  First half and 2nd half/full marathon finishers had slightly different amenities at the finish.  There was a virtual “iGift bag” with coupons.
  • Misc.: Like my experience at SF2HM, I thought SF1HM was very organized and well-executed.  I’ve heard some complaints about aid stations running out of water in the 2nd half, which is inexcusable, and there were also more problems this year with bag drop, where bags went missing or were hard to locate.  However, I didn’t experience any of these problems directly.  One major pro: free photos!!  I managed to have a few good ones, but I know some other friends who weren’t so lucky.



Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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Posted in Race Recap
14 comments on “Race Recap: San Francisco 1st Half Marathon
  1. Mike says:

    Congrats! Running (and especially racing) in S.F. always makes for a great morning, especially when it includes a (relatively) fog-free GGB. I assume from the lack of hip and back references that all parts behaved without incident? You look to be moving well in your race photos (speaking of which, let’s hear it for Shutterfly for stepping up and providing free race pix!).

    With your now-intimate knowledge of both the first and second half courses, maybe 2015 is the year you put together everything you’ve learned and run ’em both!

    • Jen says:

      Thanks, Mike! My hips and back behaved for the most part, which was a pleasant surprise. My right hip started to tighten up pretty badly about 10 seconds after I crossed the finish line, but I was able to stretch it out and it felt okay for the rest of the day. Even though my legs seemed fine after the race, I still took this last whole week off from running — I could tell while rolling that I had lots of tight spots throughout my legs.

      I just might run the full marathon to gain admittance to the 52.6 club — you get a hoodie for completing that challenge!

  2. Angela says:

    I do have to admit that the first half lends itself to some pretty sweet race pics! So glad that things went well for you & you were able to run more & more stay comfortable.

    Honestly, I’m not sure I’d run the 2nd half again. It’s just too late a start for a July race (even in SF), kind of boring (since I run parts of the course all the time), & not god for a PR. I think I’d consider running the first half once for the experience if I could get the absolute cheapest price with a discount code. I’m still blown away by how pricey these races are!

    • Jen says:

      Thanks, Angela! I totally agree with you about the 2nd half — the race doesn’t really warrant the high cost, especially when you live there. Like you said, the course isn’t PR friendly, nor is it that exciting. Plus, I wish the people living in SF came out to support it, like other major city marathons.

  3. Congrats!!! Awesome time for a run/walk situation. I really REALLY would love to run this next year – running the GGB is a bucket list item. So proud 🙂

  4. Grace says:

    Go Team Gluteus Medius! Sounds like all those clam shells are working out for you – good job! 🙂

    • Jen says:

      We need to make Team Gluteus Medius t-shirts! I don’t know if it was the clamshells or not, but I’m glad my body held it together for the race. Thanks for the support, Grace. 🙂

  5. Cathryn says:

    You ran a flipping solid race! So sensible, so well run and a great result at the end! And I have to say, those free race photos are amazing and you look awesome in them. Cool shorts. I have thin-leg-envy!

    • Jen says:

      Thanks, Cathryn, for all of the kind words. I think the short (regular) rogas are more flattering than the long ones, but I have to give most of the thin leg credit to my genes. 😀

  6. dlubi says:

    Great work out there and great race report! Really glad to hear your legs/hips are doing well! Nice job executing your plan and running a smart race. Congrats on the cool medal too! (One a technical note for future race reference: don’t trust Map My Run/Ride for elevation gains on a course – Garmin way more accurate in my experience)

    • Jen says:

      Thanks Danielle! And I’ll keep your tip about MMR in mind next time… though I’m often confused about the discrepancy between my Garmin and the official race elevation profiles.

  7. Dan says:

    Nice! What’s funny about this race is that it runs the improvised course I ran when I was in San Francisco last summer (the only time I’ve ever visited). I stayed with a friend by Telegraph Hill, so I just hit the shore and ran west. It was gorgeous, and I loved (almost) every second of it. So when I found out that that this race traces a similar path AND then through Golden Gate Park, I decided to try it out sometime.

    Looks like you got through it with humidity being the #1 obstacle and not any injuries rearing their ugly heads? That’s great! Definitely makes that bling so much more worthwhile.

    Anyway, if you decide to return next year for the marathon, I might be at the starting line!

    • Jen says:

      I’m definitely contemplating the full marathon next year, so that would be cool to see you at the race! The first 22 miles of the course are so scenic, but the last 3-4 miles are really tough — not only because they’re the last miles of a marathon, but the sun is usually out by then, there are little to no spectators, and you’re running through a rather unattractive, urban area. Besides that section, though, it’s a course I’d definitely recommend, especially to out-of-town visitors.

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