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