August 5, 2008

Race Report: San Francisco Marathon

I realized after the race that I never blogged about my goals for it. Basically, my dream goal was to PR, meaning under 4:14. I thought there was next to no chance of this, however, as my PR was set in Calgary which was basically pancake-flat, while the SFM course was supposed to be really hilly. My “within reach” goal was to finish somewhere between 4:15 and 4:30, and my “I will be so mad at myself if I don’t achieve this” goal was to finish under 4:41 (my current personal worst, set on a miserably hot day in Seattle).

Last night I had a little problem before I went to bed, when I tried cab company after cab company only to have every one tell me that they were booked for the race. My hotel was about 3/4 mile from the start, so it was walkable… but I preferred a ride. However, on my way back to my room, I ran into another guest who looked like a runner, so I asked, and he said he and his friend had already booked a cab and that I could share! Great.

I got up at 4:15 AM (which felt like 7:15 to my East Coast body clock… I love traveling west to do races!), got myself dressed and ready, and met Colby and Nick downstairs to get the cab. It was about 10 minutes late, which sent us into panic mode about whether it was actually coming, but it eventually showed up and we got to the start in about 10 minutes. For breakfast, instead of my usual oatmeal, I had a raw vegan Larabar – it had about the same amount of calories and sugar as my oatmeal, so I didn’t worry too much about experimenting with it. The sun still hadn’t come up at the start – I had never started a race in the dark before, so that was interesting. The SFM had also arranged to have “wave starts,” kind of similar to the NYRR corral system of seeding people, but in this case, each wave started ten minutes behind the wave in front of them. This was done in order to prevent crowding on the bridge, which was a good idea. At first I was sad that the start would be a bit anticlimactic because it wasn’t all 19,000 of us starting together, but I found that it was really cool to get to watch the other runners start. Prior to the start, the announcer kept saying how long until the start… but saying it in four languages! It was really cool to hear all those languages, and made it seem like a really big international race. I actually got all teary when he said go and the first runners took off 🙂

After shedding my sweats (it was COLD!) and dropping my bag, I joined my wave. I tried to look for Aron and Julianne, who were also in my wave, but didn’t see them. I made sure to get my Garmin all queued up with the satellites so I could just hit start when I crossed the line, and with the theme to “Chariots of Fire” playing in the background, we were off and running!

It seemed like I was the only one in shorts/skirt and a tank top – most people had long sleeves or pants or both. When I first saw that I was worried, but as soon as I started running, the cold didn’t bother me. I was glad I hadn’t bought some throwaway sweats, as I was totally comfy. The first three miles were pancake flat along the Embarcadero and through Fisherman’s Wharf, and I started to wonder about the hills I had heard so much about. Word on the street was that the first half was really rough, but that the second half was flat and nothing to worry about. If the first half as a whole was supposed to be tough, it concerned me that the first three miles were so easy, because it probably meant that the next ten were much harder. Around mile 3, we caught our first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance – and by in the distance, I mean up in the sky. That worried me, because in order for us to run across it, we’d need to get up there!

We hit our first hill at mile 2.5, but it was short and pretty easy, probably taking less than a minute to scale. There was a nice downhill right after too, so I was able to make up any time I lost slowing down on the uphill by flying down to reach the mile 3 marker. Next we had a flat section where we did a little loop around a park to hit mile 4. Still no sign of a major uphill, and we were getting closer and closer to the bridge! I knew it would be rough.

We turned a corner and hit a hill that was unfortunately around a bend, so I couldn’t see where the top was. I had told myself that I was not going to walk in the first half of the course – maybe through water stops, but never up a hill. So I had no choice but to power up it! It actually wasn’t too bad – a little steep, but again, we reached the top very quickly, so the extra effort didn’t seem bad (though it did hurt my pace for that mile). We were then at a set of tollbooths to go over the bridge – exciting!

I had heard that the bridge was a nasty uphill, and the elevation map indicates that too, but I actually felt like it was pretty flat – didn’t really notice an incline at all once I passed the tollbooths. The bridge was an out-and-back, and I hoped I might spot Lam on his return since when I first got onto the bridge the returning runners were about 4 miles ahead of me. However, he was still way ahead of that! I turned my attention to yelling “Go Maniacs!” every time I saw a Marathon Maniac singlet. There were a lot, and even though the yellow was bright, it was still sometimes hard to see them until they were right next to me just because it was so crowded (which also slowed my pace). I had decided not to wear my Maniacs singlet until I had run with it in training, so they all probably thought I was crazy and wondered how I knew about the Maniacs 🙂 The thick early morning fog made it tough to really see much off the bridge – I could barely see the water below! It was still beautiful, and I was so excited to be running over the bridge. There were a ton of photographers on the bridge, so hopefully they’ll get a good shot of me there, as that would be a pretty amazing picture with the bridge in the background.

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At the end of the bridge we had a quick turnaround loop and then headed back – I was bummed that it wasn’t a pure out-and-back, because I was hoping to see Julianne or Aron, but I have a feeling we missed each other on that little loop. Heading back over the bridge it was neat to see all the people who were just behind me – I knew from my Garmin that I was sustaining a much faster pace than usual, so it was neat to think that in my last marathon, that’s the pack I was running in 🙂

Speaking of my Garmin, I’m a little happier with it now. It worked pretty well in San Fran, with no losing the satellites, so maybe it’s just New York where it sucks. I honestly think having my Garmin was what made the difference for me to PR – I normally just rely on the clocks at each mile, but once I’ve gone a full mile and I’m a minute or two behind, it’s much harder to make up the time than when I can constantly see that I’m just a few seconds behind. The pace still seemed inaccurate at times (13 minute miles on a flat section? I don’t think so!), but for the most part it did a bit better. And those weird pace times didn’t seem to show up in the final output after the race (see the bottom of this report).

As we came off the bridge, we faced another steep uphill. This one was a bit longer than the others, but still not the craziness I was expecting. As I neared the top and wanted to quit, I saw that there was a water stop right at the crest – perfect! It encouraged me to run just a bit further, because I planned to take a quick walk break to drink my water anyway. After doing so, we hit the most amazing downhill I have ever run – one solid mile dropping about 250 feet! I just let my legs go and tried not to use my muscles at all to slow them down. I felt like I was flying, and it was actually a little scary, but a glance at my Garmin confirmed that I was doing a 6:10 pace – WOW! To hit that kind of pace in mile 11 made me too excited to be scared 🙂 In the end, Garmin recorded that mile as my fastest in the race with a 7:51 average pace. Almost exactly a year ago, I was on the track at SUNY Albany trying desperately to hit an 8:00 pace for just one quarter-mile lap… now I was under it in mile 11 of a marathon!

Of course, what comes down must go up again – at least in San Francisco. Miles 12 and 13 were uphills, but short ones with plateaus in between. Again, I didn’t find them difficult just because of the short duration – it was easy to just power up them when you could see them either flatten out or dip down as soon as you hit the top. We were in the city at this point, and while I have no idea if it was the same area, it reminded me of the Bay to Breakers course. I remembered how much trouble I had walking up the hills then (probably more due to the two bottles of wine I had drunk though), and was proud to be running up them now. Around the 12.5 mile mark we turned into a Golden Gate Park and the half marathoners split off from the full marathoners. It was exciting to be out there on our own! At the 13 mile mark, Garmin showed me at exactly 2 hours – so I just needed to pick up the pace a teeny bit in order to make 4:00! Knowing that the second half was a lot easier than the first, and with the first half not really being difficult, I decided that 4:00 was my new goal. I had put two pace bracelets on my arm – one for 4:00 and one for 4:15, because while I anticipated a 4:15-4:30 finish I didn’t think I’d need a pace bracelet for that – and at the halfway point I ripped off the 4:15 bracelet. I was going for it!

Golden Gate Park was pretty, with lush green foliage, pretty ponds, and… fields of bison? Yeah, that one confused me too. It seemed pretty flat throughout the park, with a few inclines and declines, but they were barely perceptible. We ran around a lot of little ponds and tons of flowerbeds some of which I recognized from my last trip to San Francisco. I was thankful that I wasn’t knocked out with a blow to the head this time around, as it probably wouldn’t have made for such a great finish 🙂 We spent about 7 miles in the park, but the miles there passed by quickly. Around mile 18 my right leg started to get a light cramp, probably because I had been drinking mainly water instead of Cytomax. In the past, I’ve taken a cup of energy drink and a cup of water at each aid station, but the cups were small and I was trying to see how few extra calories I could take in. That is to say, is it REALLY necessary to have an energy drink in addition to water, or was I just using it as an excuse because I almost never drink anything but water? (And alcohol.) Turns out, it is necessary to have an energy drink – my cramp went away shortly after having the Cytomax. Yay, Cytomax!

Mile 19 marked our exit form the park, and a nice jog along Haight Street. It was a lot different in the early morning than it had been the last time I was there – very few people, very little crazy 🙂 I was still wearing the ring I had bought last time from a street vendor, and I gave it a little kiss for luck as I ran. I decided that my souvenir from this trip would be a necklace to match, if I could find one (I did later that day while wandering around the city – yes, I walked several miles for fun after finishing the race). I saw the crepe place I was drooling over the last time I was in San Fran, and wished it weren’t so far on the other side of town, or I would have gone there for my post-marathon treat. As I approached a corner where I remembered waiting for the trolley, I also remembered that there was a big downhill coming up. Sure enough, mile 20 found us dropping about 200 feet – yay! Again, I tried to relax and just let my legs go, and the strategy resulted in me passing several people.

However, as we wound our way through the industrial district that comprised the final 10K, I found myself wondering if I had been too quick to fly. There were runners constantly turning in from side streets and other runners sprinting by who seemed so fresh it was like they were just starting to run! I was totally confused, especially when I saw that they weren’t just half marathoners – some had on full bibs! There were too many to be cheaters, but there were plenty of full marathoners around me so I didn’t think I had gone the wrong way… I was SO confused! I later discovered that to ease congestion, they were alternating routes for certain blocks (see the course map for a better understanding of what I mean – it’s kind of confusing). Confusion aside, these miles were just boring. Not much to see – just some strip malls and factories. It was also pancake-flat at this point, which further added to the boredom, though I wouldn’t say I was complaining about that!

Fortunately, at mile 24 we hit water again – couldn’t see the bay too well, but it was much better than the buildings. Looking at my Garmin, I knew I was going to be cutting it close to hit a 4:00 finish – if I could just keep my pace at 9:00 even, I’d make it. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t possible anymore. I was motivated and nowhere near hitting the wall, but I just couldn’t seem to go any faster even when I tried to pick up the pace. I didn’t have any more fuel to take, but I did grab some Cytomax at the twelfth and final water station in a last ditch effort to get some energy – no dice. I certainly wasn’t slogging it in, but I just wasn’t kicking it like I’m used to doing as I approach the finish. I realized this was a good thing, though – I had given it my all early in the race. Not enough to completely die, but just enough that I felt I was really pushing it and giving it my best effort.

As I approached mile 26, I kept a close eye on my Garmin – it was ahead by about 1/2 mile, and I wanted to see what Garmin thought my time was at the 26.2 mark. I missed the changeover by a split second, but my Garmin was still reading 26.2 miles when my watch clicked over to 4:00:00. Rats! We need better measurement on these courses. When I finally crossed, my Garmin read 26.5 miles – does that mean I did an ultra? 🙂

Either way, I crossed with a huge grin on my face and was close to tears after – I couldn’t believe I had beaten my PR by so much time on what people had told me was a harder course. I found it much easier than Calgary, even though Calgary was flatter. So I think I’m a cool-weather runner. Does this mean I’ll be able to drop another 10 minutes off my time by choosing a marathon that’s flat AND cool? Stay tuned to find out!

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After the race, I tried to be cautious about what I ate – no need to eat back all the calories I had burned. I did indulge in a cheese bread-type roll… I know I’m not supposed to have cheese (or butter, which was probably baked in) but it was nice as a one-time treat. At the post-race barbecue, I managed to spot Lam in the crowd and joined him at a table! So cool to finally meet someone from our little blogging circle 🙂 I was bummed that I didn’t get to see Julianne, Aron, Audrey, or Scarinzic, but there were just SO many people and I realized that without a specific time/place to meet, it probably wouldn’t happen. Next time I go to a race with RBFs, I’m planning ahead!

Later that day while wandering around exploring (yes, I walked the city afterward. I also considered doing a bike tour because I totally felt up to it, but they were self-guided and I thought I’d be bored by myself), I tried an In-N-Out hamburger. Verdict: it was pretty good, but I don’t get what all the fuss was about. I ended up eating just half of it because it wasn’t worth it to blow my diet over. I also got one small scoop of homemade ice cream and went to a wine tasting all in Ghirardelli Square because hey, let’s face it, it isn’t worth running a marathon if I can’t have ice cream and alcohol afterwards!

Next up: possibly Humpy’s Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska in two weeks? To be determined by work obligations and whether I get extended in St. Louis.

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 4:02:25
Pace/mile: 9:15
Overall place: 1315/4354
Age group place: 33/200

Mile 1: 8:31; HR: 168
Mile 2: 8:33; HR: 162
Mile 3: 8:51; HR: 162
Mile 4: 9:02; HR: 162
Mile 5: 8:49; HR: 164
Mile 6: 10:17; HR: 170
Mile 7: 9:10; HR: 162
Mile 8: 9:24; HR: 161
Mile 9: 9:05; HR: 167
Mile 10: 9:22; HR: 166
Mile 11: 7:51; HR: 164
Mile 12: 9:32; HR: 169
Mile 13: 9:40; HR: 166
Mile 14: 8:38; HR: 162
Mile 15: 9:31; HR: 165
Mile 16: 9:37; HR: 167
Mile 17: 9:47; HR: 167
Mile 18: 8:45; HR: 167
Mile 19: 9:25; HR: 165
Mile 20: 9:07; HR: 168
Mile 21: 8:09; HR: 170
Mile 22: 9:06; HR: 163
Mile 23: 9:18; HR: 166
Mile 24: 9:38; HR: 166
Mile 25: 9:27; HR: 162
Mile 26: 9:25; HR: 164
Mile 26.5: 4:15; HR: 166


41 thoughts on “Race Report: San Francisco Marathon”

  1. Way to go! Did travel to the marathon on your own? I love exploring new cities with the excuse of being there to run a marathon/half. That’s my kind of “vacation.” I don’t know how you go on all these trips every weekend, but I’m inspired. As soon as my knee is fully healed I’m signing up for another race.

  2. Congratulations on the new PR! You’ll break 4:00 before you know it.

    My dad, back in his marathoning days, ran the SF and the Golden Gate Marathons several times. I still remember getting up at the ass crack of dawn to drive into the city for them. I wish I remembered more about it!

  3. Nice race report, Laura. You really did run an amazing race. I’m surprised how you really paced yourself so well, while I was all over the place. Congrats on your awesome PR! You’re definitely breaking 4 hours next time in a flatter course! Great job.

  4. Great race and great report Laura! The pace for your last 6 miles looked pretty strong to me. This year was my 4th time to run the SF Marathon. I did well this year, but I’ve logged my share of 10 and 11 minute miles at the end of the race. I’m glad you enjoyed it – good luck on running in all 50 states!

  5. Congratulations again Laura. Great race report. Was it still cold at the finish or just in the morning. I know SF is always colder, so this is a great summer race that is still colder. I am a big fan of the cold.
    I was always frustrated by the Garmin overreading distance as well, and it was explained to me that the course is measured the shortest possible route, so its possible that between turns, water stops etc, that you have a little more distance. In Boston and NY marathon, they apparently mark the 26.2 with a yellow line, so if you want to be exactly 26.2, follow the yellow brick road so to speak 🙂
    Amazing job. Maybe you should come to Toronto to run a race this fall. Why not 50 states and provinces since you have already knocked off Alberta? 🙂

  6. awesome job laura and great report!!! i am still so bummed we didndt get to meet up but sometime soon in another race i hope!!!

    you did SO awesome on this course because it was not easy!! i need to learn how to run downhills like you because they slowed me down… any tips???

    i loooved the cooler weather also, any sort of heat just throws me off. i was in a tank and shorts from the get go too! it actually was warmer than i thought it was going to be.

    if you want to come out to CA again i am doing CIM in dec… cool and fast and flat!! too bad its not in another state to get another state on your list.

    again congrats on the amazing PR and amazing race!!!!

  7. Marci, I’m definitely considering adding the provinces – I just want to make the states a priority since that’s what the record I’m shooting for is. Just looked at the Ontario ones: Niagara Falls International, Ottawa, and either Toronto sound fun. Any recommendations?

  8. Impressive and made moreso by the fact you’re considering another in two weeks. Sidebar: I had an early Garmin and it was *awful* in NYC. Everywhere else, it was great. Another sad but true NYC fact.

    Congrats again on the marathon and PR!

  9. Nice job, great report and congrats on the PR!

    The Forerunner, in fact all GPS (except miltary issued ones) have a spoiler, this puts you off by just a bit, this is because the satellites are military ones and it means that bad people cannot cross triangulate their position…very James Bond!

  10. Loved the race report! Congrats again on such a great job. I also do better in the cooler weather and Alaska is definitely a place I would LOVE to run a marathon so I say go for it if your work schedule allows it!

  11. Wendy is right! You make it sound so easy. I can’t get over how many Marathons you’ve done and you keep improving and improving! Congrats on the PR!!!!

  12. Hey Laura,
    The best marathon is Ottawa, although it is hot. Also good is the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon, its better than the Toronto Marathon IMO. I am so excited for you to be the youngest ever to complete 50 states. Go for it!!!

  13. *tee hee*

    I wanted to be the 26.2ith comment ;-).

    Alaska looks so gorgeous!!! Good luck! I hope you can make it! If not, I might need to join you next year!

  14. Ha, thanks Chia! Looks like Alaska isn’t in my plans, because I’m going to be in NYC the next two weeks. I would have to pay for the flights myself, and it’s close to $1000! Instead, I’m looking at maybe going to South Dakota to do the Leading Ladies’ Marathon… flights are only $323 roundtrip!

  15. congrats again!!

    FYI-regarding the garmin-in actual races, I use it to capture splits, but I know the distance is gonna be a little bit longer since the courses are measured using the shortest possible distance-and most likely, especially in crowded races, I won’t be running exactly that. So go by the actual mile markers to judge pace (unless something looks blatently off.)

  16. wow I am seriously impressed. my stint with the Nike run last year was hard… the hills up and down were intense.

    I love cool weather running, it definitely helps out! Way to go!

  17. Laura, congrats to you. What a fabulous race. I am so gald you took my suggestion about dressing down — less is more when running a marathon, plus, SF is a little muggy. It’s cool I was just running in SF the days before your race, so I could clearly visualize your race. Beautiful. Way to go. I want to hear more abt how your Garmin sux in NYC; because if I reach my running goal this year, my reward is a Garmin, but would hate to spend all that money and have it be more frustrating than helfpul.

  18. I’m a little behind. Very well done, and another great race report. I’m so jealous of the running that I could just spit, and I want to get to the first marathon, so I can start obsessing about a new one. 🙂

  19. sorry i’m so late in reading this, but you are awesome! i love how detailed your race reports are, just makes me want to do it that much more! and you should totally run a marathon in alaska, that would be awesome!

  20. Well, running 26.5 definitely makes you an ultra runner. You have such a good memory of things when you run and you are such a good writer. Very descriptive terms. You tell great stories!

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