As part of yesterday’s brief post regarding my finishing time for the San Francisco Marathon, I promised a few more details about my experience, so here goes.
Exiting a cab I joined the trickle of runners already making their way to the Embarcadero, all of us clutching bags to drop off at the sweats check. Since the weather cooperated beautifully-overcast with a hint of breeze-there was no need to run with even a light jacket on, so I stuffed mine in my bag, dropped the kit off, and staked out a piece of sidewalk to start stretching. First, though, a couple of moments to take everything in-the beauty of the Bay Bridge outlined with its strings of lights, the quiet shuffle of runners jogging by warming up while others engaged in various pre-race stretches, all punctuated by occasional announcements from Ron Powers who did a masterful job pumping up the participants and calling the race.
As I started my stretching routine, I could already tell I was going to have a good race since I didn’t feel tight at all. Although, I am going to have to integrate some more hamstring stretches into my regimen, since mine really tightened up late in the race and slowed me down a bit. My pre-race routine finished I walked over to watch the elite runners step off to mark the official start of the marathon. Then I made my way down to the corral to join my fellow runners for our fourth wave 5:45 AM start. A couple of last minute instructions and some more motivational talk from the announcer, and then we were off.
My main focus at first was to not go out too fast and not waste energy passing too many people. I wanted to make sure I finished strong and near my goal time of 3 hours and 45 minutes. But when I got to the first mile marker, I checked my watch and saw 8:26-a 3 hour 50 minute pace. An unpleasant surprise. I didn’t panic though, and I didn’t toss out my strategy, but I did pick up my pace and started to pass other runners without expending too much energy.
Now, although the Embarcadero and Crissy Field are flat, the San Francisco Marathon is all about hills. In fact I feel running in San Francisco is like running in an Escher print-no matter what your route is or how you look at it, you always seem to be running uphill. Thankfully, all the hills and slopes I ran up while I trained prepared me for this race, and I kept up a nice pace running up to the deck of the Golden Gate Bridge. That part of the run was fun. Passing other runners in the narrow lane the organizers created was tough, but I loved looking up to see a colorful, bouncing line of runners stretched out down the entire length of the bridge.
With the bridge behind me I climbed another slope overlooking the beaches on the west side of the city and began my descent into the Sea Cliff neighborhood. By now at mile 10 I was still feeling good-no soreness in my legs or hips, my breathing felt good, and I was sticking to my strategy of when to fuel up and hydrate. Entering Golden Gate Park, I had a pleasant surprise when I spotted my wife’s cousin, Pat, standing with his in-laws waiting to cheer on his wife, Theresa who was also running the full marathon. Buoyed by our quick greeting, I passed the halfway mark at 13.1 miles, and felt just a twinge of jealousy for the half-marathoners who were done for the day.
Out of the Park and down Haight I fed off of the cheers of the few well-wishers who lined the route. Having trained for so long by myself, it felt great to hear shouts of “You look good!” and “Keep it up!” along with a few people who called out my name. At mile 21 I had the best moment, though, when I came up on Trish who came out to cheer me on. But no stopping. Just a brief hand clasp and I was on my way.
A good portion of the last five miles of the San Francisco Marathon wends its way through a more industrial portion of the city which is unfortunate since it was at this point in the race when I needed a little jolt of energy. I was starting to slow down and my leg muscles were starting to tighten up. With apologies to my neighbors in the Dogpatch area, the drabness of that neighborhood doesn’t provide much motivation. A couple of doubts started to creep in. Would I come in under my projected time? Would I hit the dreaded wall? Would I even finish?
With the Bay Bridge, which marked the end of the marathon, in my sights and the bragging rights that only come with finishing on my mind, I calmed down and focused on simply moving forward, literally putting one foot in front of the other until I made my way past the 26 mile banner and entered the chute before the finish line. I put on a little bit of a kick at the end and crossed, well ahead of my goal at 3 hours 35 minutes and 31 seconds.
I was elated and exhilarated as a race volunteer placed a finishers medal around my neck. All of those miles; the months of training in wind, darkness, rain, and heat paid off. I had put my mind to the task of finishing a marathon, and my body responded to the challenge. A little post-race stretching, a meet-up with Trish, a shower, brunch, and nap, and my race day was over. I had a terrific time running the marathon, and now it’s time to recover and figure out what the next challenge will be.