San Francisco Marathon Race Recap

Well folks, I didn’t win a million dollars, but I did surpass my race goals by completing the San Francisco Marathon in 4 hours and 25 minutes. I set a PR by 37 minutes and felt really damn good at the end. I don’t feel so hot today but such is the trade off of running almost 30 miles for kicks. This race recap is long, so I thought I’d get the stats out of the way in the first paragraph in case that’s all anyone wants to know!

Let’s start off this race recap talking about the all-important days right before the marathon. I don’t know what most people do in these days before, but I imagine it involves a lot of focus and anxiety about the marathon, obsessing about what to eat, and checking and rechecking that all the race gear is ready to go. At least, that was what I did last time.

This time, we went up to Sonoma on Friday for the wedding of some of our close friends and stayed until around 8:15 Saturday night before we drove back to the city. Naturally, as weddings often do, we ate a bunch of delicious food, walked around the beautiful property and gorgeous downtown Sonoma, and spent a lot of time basking in the sun.

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All week, I had cut out caffeine, sugar, and alcohol. On Saturday morning, I had a latte as big as my head with bites of Alex’s almond croissant (which was clearly made for carb loading), along with the best chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever had at lunch.

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I did manage to avoid the beer and cocktails by drinking so many bottles of water that I had to stop three times in the first hour of the race to pee.

We woke up ready and raring to go on Sunday morning. The SF Marathon starts early, and we were supposed to be out of the gate at 6:12 with our wave. Public transit at that hour is limited, so we hopped in a cab and got down to the Embarcadero.

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I made Alex wait in line with me for 10 minutes for the single port o potty that I could find, only to find that they closed the wave gate at 6:00 and we’d missed our start. We hopped in with the next wave, which was no big deal but I was still annoyed that they’d never mentioned it in any of the materials. I’ve never done a wave start at a race, and I just assumed that a 6:12 start meant we could show up at 6:10 and hop into the group.

We started out pretty fast, which came in handy since I had to stop twice to pee. Then we settled into a good pace, which varied a bit depending on the hill (of which there were many of the up and down variety). We went up and over the Golden Gate, which wasn’t fogged in at all – a race day miracle. The views were fantastic and although the road was quite congested with runners, it was fun to get a lot of honks from the cars driving by!

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Around mile 11, my knee started to hurt a lot. It’s not the knee that usually gives me trouble, and I started to freak out. Thanks only to Alex, I did not spiral into a crying, hysterical mess. Instead, I stopped and stretched a few times, popped a few painkillers and continued on with the race. I told myself that I could stop at the half if I needed to, but I knew I wanted to try to keep going. Stopping to walk actually seemed to hurt a lot more than running, so I just kept on keeping on and eventually it turned into a dull ache rather than a sharp pain which was easier to ignore. Lots of ice and elevation today!

After the pain lessened, the rest of the race was fairly smooth. My dad, my sister, brother in law, niece, and nephew had come to cheer us on and seeing them at mile 21 was so encouraging! I was feeling strong and happy but starting to tire, and their cheering was just what I needed to push forward.

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While there were plenty of spectators along the race course, there’s nothing like family and friends who go crazy when they see you. I was also incredibly motivated by all the thoughtful texts and Facebook notes I received from friends and family – so thank you for that.

At mile 21, Alex and I split up. We’d made an agreement at the beginning of training that we would run as much of the race together as we could, and then we’d split off if and when it made sense to do so. I was feeling like I could push it a little harder for the last 5 miles, so I told Alex I loved him and pulled ahead. It was a hard decision because we’d trained the whole time together, but I knew I would want him to do the same if he felt like he could finish strong and fast.

I spent the last 5 miles largely alone, even from other runners. I loved the course because it went through a lot of San Francisco – the Embarcadero, the Bridge, the Presidio, Golden Gate Park, the Richmond District, the Haight, the Mission, and finally Dog Patch. But the final stretch is mostly residential, and the course alternates between streets so they can let traffic through. I happened to be at the front of a pack of runners that was diverted, and so I ran several blocks mostly alone. I was really thankful for the spectator with the megaphone playing the rocky theme at the top of one of the hills. I threw up my arms and cheered for him as I went by.

I ate a gel at the last water stop, but resisted kicking it into super high gear until after I passed the mile 25 marker. I knew that I’d rather finish a little bit slower and feeling awesome than push it too hard and end up flagging at the very end. My family made it to the end to cheer, and I passed the finish line with tears in my eyes. I was emotional and grateful for the people that supported me (and Alex) along our training journey, to my body for keeping it together, and to myself for staying positive and upbeat throughout the race.

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Alex and I noted that so many marathon runners are SO serious; and there’s nothing wrong with that – 26.2 miles is no joke. But I also think it’s really important to have fun with it and I felt really great that I managed to stay goofy until the end.

Family Finishers

We spent the rest of the day eating pizza with my family and hanging out. Later in the evening, Alex and I got pie shakes for dinner, which confirmed that even running a marathon does not prevent one from feeling slightly ill after consuming all of that sugar. But it was worth it.

Even though my marathon in 2011 ended pretty badly, I knew I’d run another one because I wanted to finish strong. Now, I’m not sure if I’ll run another one (probably, but who knows) but I’d be happy to make this race my marathon legacy because I ended with a big fat smile on my face.

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