Tuesday, July 27, 2010

San Francisco Marathon


Disclaimer: In spite of running with my camera for the entire race, there are no good pictures. It was way too foggy with poor lighting. Unfortunately you are all stuck with a few crappy shots and a typically long report.

Today I earned the title “Assistant to the assistant pacer” at the San Francisco marathon. I ran with my friend Jim, who was a co-pacer for the 3:50 group. Having run the Leadville trail marathon 3 weeks ago, this race was all about the city and experiencing a new race. I’ve always loved northern California, and this was on my “bucket list” of marathons (that bucket, by the way, seems to be bottomless).

Since this race wasn’t as monumental for me as Leadville or North Face, I compiled a lost of pros/cons for the SF Marathon (instead of making you read a long-winded report, though that report still exists for the most die-hard of race report fans). If any of you have been thinking about running it, hopefully this will give you a little more insight to the race.


  • San Francisco is a fun city and a great place to visit.
  • Start line was easily accessible.
  • Starting area wasn’t crowded thanks to the staggered waves. Very short port-a-potty lines!
  • Course had a great variety of scenery to include the waterfront, Golden Gate bridge, the Presidio, and the famous cityscape.
  • Perfect weather. 
  • Plenty of pace groups.
  • Plenty of water stops.
  • Race security was a local bike (motorcycle) crew… that was fun.
  • Very minimal spectator support…i.e. no screaming fans and cow bells (could be a con if you’re in to that sort of thing).
  • Finish area wasn’t too crazy, bag pickup was a breeze. All kinds of fun snacks to munch on after, including fresh Jamba Juice smoothies.

  • First half was really, really crowded. Had I started in wave 2 like I was supposed to, it might have been better. I haven’t run that far back in the pack in a while, so I’m not sure how it stacks up with other races. 
  • Pretty difficult course for a PR. Much, much hillier than Boston, with way more uphill.
  • Poor volunteer support (experience?).  Complete chaos Not enough volunteers to actually hand out the water at a few of the stops, so everyone would stop to grab a cup off the table at the very beginning of the aid station. Probably on-par for the worst aid stations I’ve ever seen.
  • Confusing course, route actually changed while running to accommodate traffic flow. I did not have a problem with this as I’m a big advocate of following the person in front of me, but a few people ended up being misdirected down the wrong street and having to turn around. Sort of a major snafu for such a major race.
  • Too foggy to get any good pictures :(

Review: I wouldn’t recommend this race as a PR effort unless you live in San Francisco-like hills, though it’s a fun run if you can ignore your watch and just enjoy the city. San Francisco is such a great place to visit, if you can stick around for a few days it’s totally worth it.

The trip got off to a rough start. Saturday morning I woke up to realize it was entirely too bright outside for my 5:00 alarm. Sure enough, it was 6:30 and my flight was scheduled to depart at 7:40. Errr, yeah….panic ensued. Bryan did an amazing job of keeping me calm and getting me to the airport with minutes to spare. I heard my name being called through the terminal and rushed to the gate. I made it! Yippee!

I met up with Angie at the hotel and we made our way to the expo. I think they intentionally put the expo in a TINY venue so it would feel like it was really big. The expo was every bit as crowded, maybe even more so, than some of the bigger races I’ve done. We got the heck out of dodge and made our way back to the hotel to relax a little. I was running off of 5 hours of sleep, AND I was on east coast time.  Angie had the great idea to hang out at the hotel “lounge” (which is a fancy word for bar in this sense). We had a glass of wine, and then another….before we knew it we had to high tail it to dinner where we were meeting other “virtual runner friends” and their families. We had a great dinner with Jim and his wife, and James plus his three lovely ladies (calm down, 2 are his daughters).  I was cajoled in to another glass of wine, though I wasn’t terribly reluctant about it because this was a fun marathon after all.

After dinner we headed back to the hotel room. I was counting down the minutes until my head would finally hit the pillow. Angie was sweet enough to french-braid pigtails for me. My hair turns in to a raging bird’s nest by the end of long runs, and it takes forever to get the knots out. I was in bed at 10:00 for a 4:15 wakeup. 6 hours of sleep is plenty the night before a marathon, who actually sleeps well anyways?

Race morning I woke up an hourish before the start. I quickly got ready, ate a bagel (non-toasted, mind you), and walked the 10 blocks to the start. I cannot express how amazing it is to be able to WALK to the starting line. It was a bit chilly out, something like 55 degrees and balmy. Perfect weather to run a marathon!

At the start I basically stumbled in to James, who was looking as chipper and cheerful as ever. We found Jim, who due to his pacing status had access to the “VIP area with bagels and coffee. James didn’t have anything to eat, again, and convinced Jim to swipe him a VIP bagel. I think part of the reason why I’m so fond of James is because he is so carefree about everything he does, to include trying to set a PR on a crazy hilly marathon. Anyways, on to the start…

First I should mention that I had no problems with port-a-potty lines. I think the way they stagger the start times is actually quite genius for logistical purposed. Instead of 20,000 people swarming to the start, they have a new wave going off every 10 minutes. That means the slower marathoners may start an HOUR after the first wave. It really helped with congestion and kept the starting line pretty manageable.

            I found Jim with his 3:50 pacer sign, and we waited around for our 23 minute delayed start (we were wave 4). I was a little annoyed by a 5:30 starting time, thinking that was entirely too early for a race, but it worked out great being so close. Thanks to the un-congested starting area, you really didn’t need to be there any earlier than 15 minutes before your wave went off. Which brings me back to my story….
            I shed my long sleeved t-shirt right before the countdown began. I should mention that I have been trying in earnest to get rid of this shirt for about 4 years. Every time I do a race, it somehow ends up with me. Either I decide not to wear it, or someone “saves” it for me after the race (in spite of my pleading to let it go). I considered this a successful shedding experience when it did not return to me at the finish.

Our wave started and suddenly I found myself running another marathon. My first thought when I’m running is always “I wonder if this is going to hurt….”. My second thought was “holy crap this is a lot of people”. I was surprised that there was so much congestion for the first couple of miles. I had a terrible time trying to keep up with Jim, who was dutifully plugging away at the necessary pace. People were weaving in and out, walking, doing all of the horribly obnoxious things that people seem to do in a race. I think a lot of the problem was that the half marathoners were starting with the full runners, and it added a few thousand more people on the course. I can’t even imagine how awful it would’ve been without the staggered wave.

We had a pretty good group of people running with us, though we didn’t have too much chatter going on. I was looking around anxiously for good places to take pictures, but it was soooo foggy nothing would turn out. Bummer L  Race reports are so much more fun with pictures. Anywhoo…
Coming up on mile 4ish or so we hit the first big hill. This was definitely a hill. Everyone stopped talking as we started our ascent, and the sounds of labored breathing reflected the challenge. I was very impressed with the San Franciscans (or wherever the other runners were from) because very few people walked. It was the kind of hill where you’d expect a LOT of runners to be walking. Not so in this city!

After the hill we wound our way through a park, where I was completely astounded to see runners cutting across the grass for a little short-cut. At one point, a girl who cut across the grass hopped on the road next to me, and I said with all of the sarcasm I could muster: “Nice shortcut…”. She said “I know, Right??!!”. Ummm, no. Not right. Anyways, I was soon forced to hop on the grass myself because the sprinklers came on and drenched the path we were on. Not wanting to get my camera wet I had to run around.

After a bit we made our way to the Golden Gate Bridge, which was more the Covered in Fog and Haze Bridge at this point. Typical. 

After the last hill we came up, the bridge really wasn’t a challenge. We had some issues with crowd control as the lane was very narrow, but we managed to go over and back in mostly one piece. We did have a casualty who tripped, and it was a miracle it wasn’t me.  It was pretty chilly on the bridge, and I envied those with multiple layers. I definitely should’ve worn arm-warmers.

At some point approaching the bridge, Jim realized he had fudged his Garmin and didn’t have the accurate time/distance. He then realized he fudged his Timex, so he had no clue what we were doing. Oh Jim…I gave him my watch, and instructed him not to push any buttons this time. The 3rd watch did the trick, and he did a great job of pacing over the hills and on the flat/downhill portions. I could never pace like that…we were shooting for an 8:43 average, but nary a mile was flat enough to really hit that exact pace. We were either going much faster or much slower, but somehow it came out perfect.

Eventually we wound our way in to a park of some sort where the half runners would finally branch off. I was confused and amused when I looked over and saw a random group of bison just chilling in the park. Oh San Franny, you can be so silly sometimes. I thought of my husband, Bryan, who is like a little kid when we drive through the country. Every time we see cows that aren’t spotted he’ll yell “Bison!!!!”. Well babe, I finally found your bison.

The park was a little challenging because it seemed like a never-ending uphill climb. It wasn’t steep or anything, but it was a little annoying. Mind you my pace was completely comfortable and I had no trouble on the hills, but I really felt for the people in our group who were desperately going for a PR. This was NOT a PR course (later James proved me wrong).  Really though, it was rough. Way harder than Boston. Heck, Boston is cake compared to this. Well, maybe half-cake.

We finally came out of the park at mile 19 or 20, can’t quite remember. Our group did a great job of making it through the dreaded “wall” danger-zone. We were all chatting quite amicably by now, as if we suddenly realized we’d been running with the same group of people for nearly 3 hours. Unfortunately shortly after this, there were a couple more big hills that took out the majority of our group. Jim kept the pace perfect, but they were steep enough to where if you were tired, you were probably going to slow down a little too much.

After mile 24 we lost everyone. A couple of guys ran ahead, but most of them fell back. I was sad to see people struggling, but I suppose that happens. I honestly think the people who were going for a 3:50 probably should’ve gone for a 4:00 on this course. If you don’t live in these hills, it’s probably going to get to you.  I ended up running ahead for a bit with a guy, and we suddenly realized we were way ahead of the group. He stopped to walk, I slowly jogged along side. Eventually the almost non-existent group caught back up.

We finally passed mile 25, and then 26. Jim gave me the pacing sign to run through the finish, and I had fun chasing people with it and pretending like I was going to hit them on the head if they didn’t speed up. A couple of people did speed up, probably to get away from the crazy chick waving a sign at the back of their head. Jim was probably glad I didn’t take the sign before then, who knows what I would’ve done.

Jim and I crossed the finish line together, though he forgot to stop the watch so aren’t exactly sure of our time. 3:49:??. Perfect pacing, which I could not do if my life depended on it. The finish line chute was a breeze. Not too crowded, plenty of snacks and drinks. I scored a Jamba Juice smoothie (I know, right??!!) and some muscle milk. Jim and I finally parted ways so I could grab my stuff and get back to the hotel. It was pretty darn cold standing around in sweaty running gear. I walked the 10 blocks back to my hotel smiling to myself. This was my 7th marathon of 2010, and I have been very blessed to run in some amazing places.

And yes, for those who know me well, I had a luxurious Endurasoak bath as soon as I walked in the door.


  1. Nice report. I ran this event in 2004 and again in 2007. I love it, except for the 1/2 marathoners starting on the second half of the course. You suddenly have these people tearing by you, making it feel like you've slowed. Your pacing experience matches what I've seen. By the end, you're lucky to have 3 to 5 people with you. I think people tend to get over ambitious in choosing a pace group. I was in the area the weekend before for the Vineman 70.3 Half Ironman. I was tempted to stay for the marathon, but settled for a couple of days of wine touring in Sonoma County.

  2. You are insane!! Congrats on another marathon!!! BTW, I think the bridge pic is great.

  3. Thanks again for the loan of the watch! Last year I ran this race somewhat faster and there was less crowding. The water stations worked better too, but they really need more volunteers. The bridge always seems to claim some victims, slipping or tripping on the steel joints in the roadway. When I heard someone behind me go down I was sure it was you ;)

  4. Congrats on the marathon! And such a great recap of the race!

  5. Your such a funny writer. I'm still trying to figure out what god you paid off that allowed you to get on a plane from your bed in an hour. I know your "special", but dang Amy that is a talent.

    Congrats on your 7th marathon....what a year 2010 is for you.

  6. Thanks everyone! I must admit, I spend most of my races thinking about what I can come home and write about. Heaven help us if it's a boring race.

    Stevi- The same God who waited 10 seconds for me to get back in my car after work before it started pouring rain =)