I’d almost forgotten about this race. I signed up for the lottery on a whim and was shocked when I got the email that said I’d gotten into the race. I’m training for CIM (the California International Marathon) in December, so my goal for this race was to use it as a training run. I wanted to run 10:00 minute/mile (my marathon goal pace) for the whole race and end up at the finish line feeling like running another 13.1 miles was possible.
I’d heard some horror stories about this race being incredibly crowded, and the expo did nothing to allay those fears. It took 45 minutes just to get inside the tent to collect my number and the lines for everything else on Saturday were incredibly long. Luckily I ran into a friend and we collected our numbers, took a quick photo, and escaped back to the East Bay. I’d have liked to have visited some of the booths or tried to see Shalene Flanagan, Kara Gaucher or Allyson Felix, but the crowd was just too overwhelming.
We got to the start nearly an hour before the race actually began, again fueled by stories of crazy crowds from the year before. I met up with some other friends and found two girls planning to run between 2:10-2:15. We inched our way up towards the start line. Luckily there were so many people all crammed into our corral that I was plenty warm. When we finally started the three of us were able to get off without too much weaving around people.
The course was beautiful. As one piece of my total lack of preparation, I hadn’t even looked at the course map. I’d checked the elevation profile, so I knew to expect some serious hills in the middle of the course, but I wasn’t prepared for how pretty the run was going to be. We went down the Embarcadero, through Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghiradelli Square. We hit a hill right at Fort Mason that I was glad I’d run before before winding our way along the Marina and into the Presidio.
Normally I love hills, and while I wasn’t properly trained for them, I didn’t mind them at all. For a while we went through a pattern where I’d lose my running buddies briefly on the up hill and then they’d catch me on the down hill. I’ve never successfully stayed with anyone during a race; in my only other attempt my sister and I managed to stay together for the first seven miles of our first half marathon before we lost each other. It was wonderful to have people to chat with, and I had my run club buddies with me right until mile 9.5 where I lost them in the combination of a crazy aid station and a hill. I spent the next few miles checking in front and behind me hoping I’d find them.
Right after I lost my buddies there was a beautiful long down hill that took us past Cliff House and out onto the Great Highway. The view was incredible; waves rolling in covered by a soft blanket of fog and uninterrupted sandy beach stretching out before you. The down hill was just steep enough that I felt like I was flying, but also just slightly out of control. Kind of like, I’m going really fast and this is cool, but if I slip things could get ugly, fast. Luckily I didn’t slip, and speeding down that hill while watching the waves was one of my favorite parts of the race.
As I turned into Golden Gate Park, I saw the second Safeway Cheer Station. The first had been just after Fort Mason, and I was truly blown away by the support at each of these stations. There were tons of spectators, all dressed in purple and cheering along with multiple cheerleading squads from local high schools. The second cheer station even had a drum corps. I so appreciated their energy and shouted my thanks as I went by. The spectators at this race were fantastic, and I saw many signs that made me laugh along the route. Some favorites included “Yes, you can… run faster than Paul Ryan!” and “Your training lasted longer than Kim Kardashian’s marriage!”
There were a lot of spectators, so running through the park was great fun. As I hit the 12 mile mark, I even had enough energy in the tank to pick it up to the finish. Right around here I saw Jojo out cheering, and I was thrilled to see a familiar face. That powered me through the last mile, which luckily had some slight downhill portions as well, and I clocked mile 13 in a speedy (for me!) 8:42. I loved that you could see the finish line from a reasonable distance in this race, and I managed to put in a good sprint to the line. As you turn towards the finish line, you can see where the full marathoners have to turn away from the finish line and put in many more miles. I thought of my friend who was running the full marathon (her first!) and hoped she’d passed the split already. I always hate when you have to run past the finish line during a race before you actually get to finish.
I crossed the line in 2:12:11, which my Garmin had as a 9:58 average pace for 13.28 miles. I felt fairly comfortable at the finish, and I was happy that I’d met my goal of running marathon pace for the whole race and not wanting to die. Normally there’s a period in the half marathon where I feel really tired, run out of energy, and have to hope for a surge to carry me through the rest of the race. In this race I felt strong the whole time.
Immediately at the finish I was handed my Tiffany’s box. While the expo had left me nervous about how well the race would be organized, I was actually blown away by the volunteers on race day. The aid stations were all incredibly well planned and staffed, and I never had trouble getting water or fuel when I wanted it. I grabbed three shot blocks (the normal packs of six were cleverly cut in half so you didn’t have to open anything) at mile 5, and only wanted water after that. Once I crossed the finish line, I was quickly handed my necklace, someone offered to take my picture, and then I was given a water bottle. Immediately after that we were presented with reusable Safeway bags, and then we walked down a line where bagels, bananas, fruit cups, Luna bars, coconut water and Ghiradelli chocolate (Dark & Sea Salt Caramel squares!) were all placed in our bags. I kept walking, this time through a tent to receive my finisher’s shirt, and then a volunteer wrapped me in a heat sheet and congratulated me. It was by far the smoothest finish line of any race I’ve attended.
At the finish line I found some friends, and we took some pictures before picking up our gear from the buses (retrieving our bags was also incredibly simple) and heading home.
I jokingly said to a friend today that we should run this race every weekend. While the expo had disappointed me, the actual race was a wonderful experience. The course was beautiful and challenging, I got to run with friends for most of the race, the spectators and volunteers along the course were amazing, and the finish line ran so smoothly I nearly forgot my legs were tired and my feet were sore.
I’m still feeling a little nervous about CIM being just 7 weeks away, but this race gave me a little more confidence. So far my longest run has been 18 miles, and that went well. I have 20 miles planned for next weekend, so fingers crossed, that run will be successful and I can keep gathering little bits of confidence as my second date with 26.2 approaches.