It was a beautiful day in San Francisco on Saturday, clear and cool, and not very windy. The impending race early on Sunday, coupled with being in a different city, made it difficult to get to bed at a time befitting our early start.
We woke up at 3:30 to get ready for the race- a bit earlier than needed- and went down to the Embarcadero a few minutes after five to get into Corral 3. We passed the long port-a-potty line, and were glad we stayed across the street at the race hotel. We went into our corral and admired the bay in the dark morning, balloons with lights on them stretching across the water.
The first and second waves started, and we worked out way into the crowd to get ready. At 5:42, we started the San Francisco Marathon, working our way down the Embarcadero, up into the Presidio, with the sun rising as we approached the Golden Gate Bridge.
What an exciting landmark to run across! The bridge was clouded in fog, but the bright red of the enormous structure, the water below, and the shores on the Marin side were visible. It was a bit crowded, but not too bad at all. It was fun to see the faster runners doubling back toward San Francisco on the way over, morphing into mid-packers like us as we got closer to Marin. A short loop in Marin, and we headed back across a clearer, brighter bridge.
After the bridge, we continued on through the Presidio. The course thus far had been a challenge, with many steep uphills as well as some steeper downhills, We approached Golden Gate Park, and embarked on a nice tour of the park from a rare vantage point. The rolling hills, this far into the race, felt more and more challenging.
John and I had not planned initially to run together, due to our wildly different training over the past few months. He had been injured prior to running Rome, and has been doing more on the bike and at the gym since then. On the opposite end, I've trained like I've never trained before. But at the start, John said he'd keep up as long as he could. He actually did a fantastic job, staying with me and even helping me get up the hills over the first half of the course. It was great to run together, talk, and enjoy the sights with him.
Right before the mile 18 aid station, John told me that he would likely be slowing a bit, and I should keep going on my goal pace. He stopped for water at the aid station, and I waved goodbye. As I left the park, now alone for the last 8.2 miles, I continued on the pace we'd been going, anticipating the end of the rolling hills in my immediate future.
Out of the park and into the Haight, we did have some significant downhills. But, contrary to what John saw on the course elevation profile, there were uphills! Since I'd thought those were over, I felt it a bit more challenging to keep pace. I also felt my knees and hips tightening, and even started to struggle on the flats and downhills. I slowed from my goal pace for several miles, even topping 9:00 per mile for the first time since our bathroom stop in the park. Eventually, I got close to back on pace, and calculated that I'd still achieve my goal of finishing under 4:00.
I hot some more downhills after 20 miles, and picked it back up a bit. I saw Rachelle and her kids around 21 or so, and it was nice to see a friendly face. As I approached 24, my knees were screaming, but I realized that not only was I likely to beat 4:00, but a PR might be possible as well.
From mile 24 on, I really gave it everything. This was the first race that I actually passed a significant number of people in the last three miles instead of getting passed. I was hurting, but I wanted that PR! As I got to the waterfront, I sped up. It helped that through that stretch, the lead 2nd Half Marathoners started to pass me (about 15 men and one woman), giving me some added motivation. I passed Chris from the Chips shortly before AT&T Park, and was sorry to see that he was suffering from cramping.
From mile 25 on, I sprinted. I left everything out there. Mile 26 was my fastest since mile 11, and my 6th fastest of the race. I screamed past people, even causing some close calls. I had to maneuver around the walking wounded, and several times had to warn people to watch out. In the finishing chute, I nearly got clotheslined and had to get around an idiot who decided to cut me off to high-five spectators, and I nearly slammed into two guys posing for a finish photo before actually crossing the mat! I couldn't believe it.
What I really couldn't believe was that not only did I break 4:00, not only did I PR, but I almost broke 3:50! I came in at 3:50:25, a PR by over six minutes! The PR, on such a significant, meaningful, and challenging course, means so much. Suffice it to say that I really needed this victory, and I am so elated that I achieved everything I wanted to during this race.
John finished in a PR also, in 4:10:29. I unfortunately had marathon brain, went to somewhere other than where we said we'd meet, and didn't see him until I got back to the hotel.
We celebrated our finish with beer and burgers at Rogue Public House in North Beach, overlooking Washington Square Park.