Last weekend was the hardest of the 24 road half marathons I have done. I ran the first half San Francisco Marathon. The weird thing is that the course itself wasn’t the toughest I have ran, that would be Clo-Cow half in Petaluma with its brutal hills, but it was the other factors that messed me up.
If you aren’t familiar with the San Francisco Marathon, they have a full marathon (obviously), but they also have the First Half Marathon and Second Half Marathon. If you do both halves in consecutive years, you get a special medal called the “Half it All Challenge” And it is pretty spiffy looking. Bonus: if you run the full marathon after running both halves, you get to join the 52 club and get a hoody. The Dashing Wife and I decided to do this challenge because the year we run the full would be the SF Marathon’s 40th anniversary, AAAANNNNNDDD the year we turn 40. That makes it extra cool.
Anyway, back to running. Race morning started at 3:45 am after a crappy night’s sleep. I got up took care of business and my good buddy Tony (aka Endorphin Dude) came by my brother-in-law’s house to pick me up. He didn’t do this for me because he likes me, he did because a) he likes my wife and this allowed her to sleep in an extra 2 hours, b) I guilted him into doing because I reminded him that I paced him to a 90+ min PR at American River 50, and c) I offered to pay the $5 bridge toll.
We got into the city and he had a reserved parking space ($46 to get a reserved spot, one of the reasons I dislike big cities). Luckily, I managed to find an open office door with an available toilet, so we didn’t have to wait in line for porta-potties. Then we went straight into our corrals. E-Dude and some friends got into corral 2, and I was in corral 3. He was taking it easy and pacing a friend to a sub 7hr marathon. He didn’t want to push himself as he had a 100 miler the following weekend (today as I am typing in fact).
The waves were staggered every 10 minutes, and like many popular races, it was jammed packed. I should have pushed my way to the front, or at least with a faster pace group because I could not get around people for about a half mile. This is why this race is hard, I couldn’t get into a comfortable pace because it was so crowded.
The race starts along the Embarcadero, which is nice and flat. I caught up to E-dude by mile 2, walked with him for about 15 seconds, got a selfie with him, and got back to running. The first hill was around mile 3 at Fort Mason, where you go up about 80 feet in elevation in less than 1000 feet. Luckily the first water stop was right before that hill, so I got to walk some of it after I took my water. But I took off down the hill as best I could.
We stayed flat until about mile 4, when we started climbing up towards the Golden Gate Bridge. It was about a 200 foot climb over the next mile. We our second water stop before the bridge at about mile 5 (where I had to visit the porta-potty again).
The bridge was crazy. They had closed two of the six lanes to car traffic, one lane for runners going to Marin, and one lane for runners going back to San Francisco. Going out wasn’t as bad because there weren’t that many oncoming runners, but it got steadily thicker. It was jammed packed, and I didn’t dare take a walk break because I probably would have gotten trampled. Of course, people were stopping to take pictures of the bridge. I took a picture too, but I ran backwards while I took the photo.
Another thing I didn’t think about is that the bridge is curved and his higher in the middle then the ends, so more climbing. There was another water stop around mile 7 at the Marin side of the bridge, plus some Gu. And then back across the bridge. It was even more crowded heading back because there was everybody who runs at an 8 minute pace to a 15 minute pace on the bridge at the same time. I was constantly waiting for openings and sprinting past people. Oh, and there was a headwind.
At the end of the bridge, we dropped down a little bit, but then had to climb up the Lincoln Highway with a 150 foot climb in a half mile. Oddly enough, I was familiar with this route as this was the bike portion of the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon. Another water stop around mile 10, which was close to the top of the hill. I got in my walk break, but as soon as I crested the top of the hill, I got to run downhill.
I am good at running downhill. It was a 260 foot elevation drop in ¾ of a mile, and I think I did sub 6 min/miles down the whole way. And I wasn’t pushing myself. I just let gravity pull me down the hill. Of course, there were more uphills in my path. The fifth water stop was just after mile 11, when we turned onto 26th Ave. An easy 60 feet of climbing in the mile to Golden Gate Park. Then 100 feet of climbing for the next half mile and an slight downhill grade to the finish line.
The full marathon folks broke off from us in the last half mile, but were around mile 17 or 18 as they passed by the first half finish line.
In the last ¼ mile, I saw some guy staggering along. Like he was drunk. I came up next to him, and said “You doing great, only ¼ mile to go, you got this!” He had this 1000 yard stare and said, “I can see the finish line!” and started running. I couldn’t see the finish line. He started off on this run/walk/gotta poop running style, and starting getting shorter and shorter. I caught him, and a bystander came over and caught his other side. And we were going to carry him to the finish. Luckily for me, another runner who had just finished, grabbed the guy from me, nearly pushed me out of the way, and said, “I got him. You go finish!” I made sure they had him, and took off like the wind. This all happened in the course of about 20 seconds.
I jetted to the finish line and crossed the line with an 8:20 ish pace.
As soon as I was done, I had to find the Dashing Wife. She had the keys to the car. I also needed to get in another 10 miles for my marathon training. So I ran around, got lost, and eventually (2 miles later) found my way to the Second Half start. I chatted with the Dashing Wife and some other friends for a bit, and once her wave started, took the bag of stuff off to the car. I grabbed another Gu, and the water bottle she graciously brought for me, and took off to run another 8 miles.
I left my bib on because I was going to run on the marathon course so I could find E-dude. I figured this would be easier if I had a bib on. I got back on the course near where the First Half and Marathon split. I walked with an injured runner for a while, just to get her within sight of the first half finish, and then hopped back onto the marathon course. At an aid station (I didn’t take any water), I recognized the race director from Ruth Anderson and asked him if he had seen E-Dude. He was only about a half mile or so ahead of me, so off I went.
I caught up with him about a mile later, walked with him for a bit, caught up to another runner friend, ran/walked with her for a short bit, and then ran some more. I eventually made it back to the car having ran 10.25 miles with a sub 10 min pace. Which wasn’t bad considering all the walking I had done. Overall, I ran/walked about 24 miles in 4:18, including the 10 minutes I spent chatting with the Dashing Wife. I am hoping that it translates into a good marathon time in two weeks.
After my run, I got back to the car, and drove to the finish line. After about 10 minutes of driving around, I found a free space (as in no money), three blocks from the finish. I got there, and about three minutes later, the Dashing Wife came streaking by to the finish. By that point in the race, the sun had come out and it was getting hot. I had heard that a bunch of people were cramping up and dropping out. They actually ran out of water, which sucks for the back of the packers.
The First Half San Francisco Marathon is no joke. It is a hard course, and the throngs of people make it that much harder. After the bridge the crowds on the course had thinned out, so next time, I am going to push my way to the front of the corral.