Sunday, July 26, 2009

A PR 4 PR....San Francisco Marathon 2009

Overall: 2006 out of 5036
Men: 1549 out of 3326
M 50-54: 101 out of 265
Finish: 4:15:23 Pace: 9:45 (PR)
7.6 Mi: 1:12:16 Pace: 9:31
Half: 2:05:21 Pace: 9:34
20 mi: 3:13:10 Pace: 9:40
Age Grade: 56.11%
Age Adjusted Place: 1361, Time: 3:42:37
Pace vs HR graph
Garmin Track

Today I ran the San Francisco Marathon, my second marathon.

I'm very happy to have done this race 10 minutes faster than Napa, especially since there are a bunch of hills..the worst at mile 5 where you climb from Crissy field up to the deck of the GG bride, about 250'. There is probably total of 600' of climbing in this race. So, I'm proud of myself.

I'm even more proud of myself because 5 weeks ago, due to my own stupidity, I contracted a full blown case of acute achillis tendonitis. I had to stop ALL running and then figure out what to do to reduce it, take measures to prevent it again, and still be confident enough that I had a strong enough training base to pull off a PR. (More on this whole debaucle in another post). I supposed I could hire a trainer to keep me out of trouble,, but I find figuring these things out an interesting compliment to the actual running. (Yah, I'm stubborn that way.)

The turnout was HUGE this year...which I think caught the race officials off-guard. When Toni and I picked up my number and t-shirt at the expo we were told it was a 21,000 person field (5000 full marathoners, the rest half marathoners). They had assumed the economy would have _reduced_ the entrants. Instead it was up from about 12,000 last year!

Last year had 4400 full marathoners, so you can see the increase is primarily half marathoners. One of them is my friend Martha, she's just gotten back into running in the last year or so and is already doing a half. I think in the last year the number of people I see on my morning runs has doubled. At my Santa Cruz Half Marathon the same thing happened (and there the majority of runners were women!) What's going on out there?

Toni and I stayed overnight in a nice hotel about 1/2 mile from the start so I wouldn't have to drive up to SF and find parking at some even more un-Godly hour. We also had a nice, early 'carbo-loading' dinner the night before and I spent the evening relaxing and familiarizing myself with the surprise hills for me.! As you might imagine, suprises can be very demoralizing at late stages in the race.


No angst...I selected a 9:30 pace. That's the pace I ran for the first-half marathon here last year. Even with my training hiccups I figured it should be doable for the whole race (and would be a PR). To do this pace I actually tried to run a 9:00 pace on the flats as much as possible to make up for the hills. Last year the hills were really tough for me....this year I trained for the hills and felt ok on them but they still slowed me down.

The Start

We got up at 5am and walked down to the start at 5:30 ..and it was HOPPING! We had a hard time shouldering through the crowd to my wave position so Toni took my jacket (it was 52 at that hour) and head to watch the start while I went to the start to stretch. Behind me, I could see the top of the Bay Bridge was out of the fog so I knew the GG shouldn't be too wet...good! (If you wear glasses it's not fun running in need windshield wipers!)

The Bridge get to run Golden Gate bridge! It's neat to do..Toni and I never tire of seeing this bridge or the views from it. For the runners, two lanes are closed off to cars and divided to guide you over and back to the observation point at mile 7.5. It's a long bridge, by the time you get back you're almost at mile 10. Today, luckily, it was foggy but the deck of the bridge was just below the fog level.

One problem with the bridge run is that it's not a lot of room for all the runners and so, to avoid congestion, they have to do 'wave starts', i.e. they ask you what you think your finishing time will be, and they stage groups of people out at the start at roughly 10 minute intervals. Each wave gradually spreads out and fills out forward and back to the other waves and thusly you achieve an even flow of runners.

Back in March, I had signed up for wave 5, which assumes a roughly 4:15 final time. It's pretty amazing I was spot on that time..I assure you I had no idea that is how it would turn out ;) More on that below.

Burma Shave anyone?

One of the fun things in this race is they have a kind of rolling-SF-trivia quiz on various poster-board signs along the route. This starts on the long climb up to the GG bridge with the question 'What is the steepest hill in San Francisco?'. Of course you are thinking "THIS ONE!", but 100 meters down the road they give you the real answer which was something like "Filbert St between 22nd and 23rd". They point out in the next sign that it's grade is 33%...(we're running about a 4% which is plenty steep if you don't have pitons and climbing gear)...and the final sign says (of course) "Aren't you glad you aren't running that hill now?".

This quiz continues for the entire course....a nice touch. It reminds me of the old "Burma shave" signs back in the "old days". (Young'uns can google it.)

A Rant

Enter Curmugeon Mode:
Ok, so I'm _REALLY TIRED_ of people that don't understand the basics of running in a large race. If you are running on a narrow path DON'T RUN ABREAST with your friends. I mean, DUH!..COME's so rude to force faster runners to pause and try to pick a path around you....And RUNNERS WITH EAR BUDS......gee great, glad you have nice music to cheer you on! Which allows you to ignore the frequent 'On your left' requests, etc...grrr.. The people that do this are often the 20-somethings..what's our youth coming to?, etc, etc..ok Exit Curmugeon Mode...

Some fun things...

Many people cheer on their friends and loved ones with signs. My favorite was a guy that I first spotted at mile 5. He was leaning into the road and holding up a 5"x5" sheet of white paper in one hand, extended fully at arm's length.

On the paper was one word, two letters: GO

I saw this guy again 3 more times. When I spotted him at mile 22 crossed over and told him. "I Really like your sign". He laughed.

Favorite costume: A full Sparta warrior with armor. I passed him at about mile 8 on the bridge. I wonder how he did.

Favorite band: At about mile 23 was a great band playing Aquarius, from Hair..I sang along for a bit until I ran out of breath ;)

GG Park

There are a LOT of half-marathoners in the SF marathon. (Including me on the first half last year!) Unlike any other marathon I know of you can run either the first half (you get to run the bridge, finish in GG park) or the second half (you get to run through the GG park, run down funky Haight ave, etc....and finish at the same finish line as us "Full Marathoners" ;).

There is one huge problem with this for the Full runners...we are surrounded by people running half as far, and so, running considerably faster. For the first half, it doesn't seem so bad as you start out fresh and know that everybody is feeling about the same as you.

But the SECOND HALF, ARGH!!!. After the first-half crew peels off to go to their finish line, the full course corkscrews around in GG park (which is very beautiful) and things are nice and quite and not crowded. HA! Soon I spotted a HUGE crowd of runners gathered to run a race through the woods....methinks....huh?!..I guess they are having the 5k race there?. NO, silly, it was the Attack of the Second-Half-Marathoners..I hear a countdown, and in just seconds we are flooded with fresh, snappy young monster zygotes bouncing down the track with us. One of them sees the full marathon sign that says "14th Mile" and says.."hey, mile 14, that was easy..ha ha!". (explitive deleted)...we aren't really in the mood for this. I try to look on the bright side and have them inspire me to run faster...mostly that works but I missed my 20 minutes of calm.

Haight and Beyond

Running down this street was fun...and not just because it's flat. There are a lot of funky storefronts here and by the time we cruised through here (about 9:00am) a few people were out watching us cruise by. At mile 22 we spotted Toni and gave her the high five and let her know all was going pretty real tendonitis issues.

There are some biiiiiig downhills in this part of the course, and while I tried to pick up the speed a little I was not liking the way my quadraceps felt afterward. We like it flat...yes we do.

The scraggly-est area was down by 23nd and women shouted out as she walked along: "Just look at those stupid F**ers run!".

I was not offended .....just speaking the truth after all...8)

The sun finally came out in this segment on the race (after about mile 22). At first I was excited to see it..but after I started to heat up from hit I was not quite as happy.

Into Wall Territory

Yah, well, my friend Bill Schmidt says "The last 6 miles of the marathon are done from the neck up"...i.e. that's where the guts come in. I didn't have too much trouble until past mile 22. At that point I really started to feel the 'ol gradual loss of steam in the legs and the state of "no-matter-how-hard-you-try-you-just-don't-hold-the-pace". If you've never felt this you can't really understand's not being "tired" in the usual have the most overwheming desire to stop.

I went out fast for a PR knowing the trick is to make sure you arent too fast....else you hit the dreaded wall and either suffer horribly for many miles (and get a slower time) or you quit and walk (and suffer a miserable, demoralizing time).

I called it pretty close. The last 2 miles took FOREVER. I could not hold my target I compromised with myself and just tried to hold my heart rate steady at lower. The HR monitor is great for letting you focus on relative effort....and unlike pace information is updated every few seconds so you know exactly when you are slacking off. Would you belive me if I told you the effort in the last 3-4 miles seemed about equal to the previous 23?

So, I got my PR and a little 'taste' of setting a pace at the edge of trouble....a good, but not too painful lesson.

The Finish

Boy did that finish line look good on the last 1/4 mile! After the finish we walked down the chute and I found there were 4 gates to choose from to get your finishers medal....3 of them labeled "half marathoners" and ONE labled "full marathoners". Then I looked over my shoulder and realized there was a line of about 100 people in the "full" line. So I went to the back of this line and and instantly my legs started to stiffen up.

It's a REALLY BAD IDEA to stop running cold after 26.2 miles..let me tell you.

I started grousing under my breath a little bit and moving my legs in place and lo-and-behold: they started dispensing both types of medals to all lanes and we started moving 4x faster. Yay! I got my medal (you can see it above) and it has a picture of a dungeoness crab on one side, and of course the GG bridge on the other. Cool.

Exit the chutes and I find Toni....and she hands me a peeled orange she got at Whole Foods.

There was NEVER an orange that tasted so good! Wow. Then she gave me some pineapple chunks which I chowed down on as we walked to her car.

Back to the hotel (Toni got late checkout), a nice shower, iced the tendons for a few minutes, and then off to North Beach for a beer (mmmmmm..beeer) and nice lunch in the now fully sunny day...



  1. Paul, congrats on your great run! This was my first 1/2 marathon, the longest race I have that said, I was happy to finish, running! I did walk about 30 seconds at the 12.7 mile mark or so, as I did not expect that gradual continuous uphill. Going over the GGBridge was a foggy experience, in many ways. I have to plan my next race, to beat my time of 2h40m. When is your next race??

  2. Congrats to you seems you held your pace pretty well (given the hills)!

    I haven't planned a next race yet...I'll let you know.


Feel free to leave a comment!