Monday, July 26, 2010

RUNDown: 2010 San Francisco Marathon (#4)

One word summary: Intense.

Warning: this is a long RUNDown. Go get yourself a nice drink before you start reading.

Note: mile splits below are from my Garmin, with some massaging to make up for the different distance recorded (due to me not following the course tangents and GPS noise). 

Update: this guy ran the race carring a DSLR and took some really cool shots:

Note:some shots below courtesy of pacer Traci Falbo


nice blue color this year!
The intensity starts at the Expo on Saturday. It was packed! Much worse than last year it seemed to me (which was crazy compared to the year before). (Later we heard there were 24,000 people in the races.) Picked up my bib and race shirt. We both cluck approvingly over it's deep blue color.. well done! Toni and I then got her a spectator bus wrist band,then made our way over to the pace teams area.

There, I discovered to my surprise, that the 4:00 pace group does leave from wave 5. Yippee!. Joining a pace group changes my day tomorrow in ways I could only imagine....

Race Morning and the Start

Toni and I stayed in the Parc 55 hotel, which is about a 1 mile walk down market street from the start of the race. At about 4:30am, the alarm goes off and we get up and put on our gear.

This year it was all about keeping cool.....I chopped down an old shirt below the rib cage to expose the solar plexus, and I chopped off the short sleeves too.  Rather than a hat, I opted for a headband for the whole race. 

Just for fun, I bought some removable "marathon tattoos" from this enterprising young business man. 

Out the door at about 4:55am, except your truly first forgot is pre-race chug bottle of Cytomax, and then after getting down the road, realized I had also forgot my GPS watch. Errrrg. Had to go back twice to retrieve them. Need a pre-race-morning checklist too!

Weather is perfect, almost no wind, 52F or so, foggy and overcast, but the bay bridge is visible and so hopefully the bridge deck of GG is not in mist.

Found Toni's spectator bus area, kissed and hugged goodbye,  and headed over to wave 5. Here the story takes a twist....

The entrance to each wave "corral"  (made with movable fence) had the single entrance way way down at the back, away from the start. This enforced a nice priority position based on arrival time. (Not that it matters with chip timing that much).

In my morning brain fog, I see the entrance to the giant corral and I see a sign saying "wave 5" posted on the fencing of the next corral. So I don't go into that opening but I walk down another 100 meters and go into that corral. Great.

I go to the front of the corral and I see a bunch of wave 5 people (you can tell by the first digit of the race number), but I also see a bunch of wave 6 people. And frankly a mis-mash of other numbers. (wave 4, wave 7). I'm embarrassed to say that I 'corrected' a number of wave 6 people...and everybody was so unsure they assumed I was right. Sigh.

Okay, well now it gets even dumber. At the expo, we were told "find your pacer team (dressed with orange shirts and caps and bit "Pacer" signs on their back) at the back of your wave before the start".

I keep looking and waiting and nobody, bumpkis, nada.

Meanwhile, I meet an old friend, Steve Riley, who's in the wave too, and so we spend some time catching up with all things marathoning (I didn't even know he'd taken it up, so that took a while).

The pacers: Traci and Hanoch
Just when I'm giving up on the pacers, Steve points over my shoulder and says "Looks like your pacers are here"...sure enough two pacers had arrived. Went over to talk to them and they moved into position and chatted with some of the other folks around.

I was talking with a few people around me when suddenly, the two pacers dove under the tape that was still holding our wave back and took off at a run for the previous wave! That wave was just starting.....

I said "WTF!?", what are they doing? All the other people in the pacing group were shouting out and basically saying versions of the same thing. The person in charge of starting our wave was holding people back but I just dove under the tape and took off after the pacers. Behind me I could hear the other pace group folks, "let's catch up to them!" and they also took off under the tape.

So, we caught up and mushed into the throngs that were 100 meters in front of us, and gradually shuffled over the starting mats. I remembered to punch my watch, and as we moved along we gradually went faster and faster, passing the Ferry Building,  but it was very crowded and you had to really watch your step, not the sites.

Miles 0 to 5

mile:     1  pace:      9:07  --- crowded..can't catch pacers
mile:     2  pace:      8:37  --- running to catch up
mile:     3  pace:      9:06
mile:     4  pace:      9:02
mile:     5  pace:      9:13
cumulative @ mile:     5  pace:      8:58

By my watch we were running at a pretty good clip trying to catch up... about 8:45 average  pace. The crowding spread out as we got up by Fisherman's wharf and the streets got wider.

While I was running, I had a chance to think (thinking becomes quite optional in another few hours of racing ;), and I realized what at happened. A bunch of us, including the pacers had joined wave 6 rather than wave 5 due to the slightly ambiguous signs and our early morning poor brain function. The pacers realized this just as wave 5 was starting (where there were even more pace groupers wondering where they were I'm sure).

me running fast 
At the mile 3 split they were pretty much right on target, but in catching up to them from the back of wave 5, I had run 1 minute faster than them over those three miles.  (Garmin data above says I should only have been 30s up over a 9:09 pace, so they must have also been slow then..who knows?)

Next we went out on the water and up the backside of the Fort Mason hill, (I never knew about this place until I ran this race, it's a very nice park in there). I got a chance to see how the pacers took the first hill: a reasonably steep "bump up" of about 70 feet through the trees and back down into the Marina: They took it slower than normal...ok good.....I caught up to Traci (Falbo), one of the pacers and asked her about this and she confirmed that no, they didn't power the hills, but they tried to ease up a bit and make it up on the down's and flats.

4:00 pace group at Crissy. Me on right side
Well, that eased my mind. Soon we came up on Crissy field, could see that the deck of GG bridge was in the clear, Yay! Now I was on the lookout for Toni, the first spectator stop was supposed to be at mile 4.5.

As I approached within a 1/4 mile or so I could hear some cheering and cowbells, and yes, wait, THERE it was, the sound of our little goat bell I had borrowed for the day from our garden gate! I'm very used to this sound and easily picked it out at a distance.

Sure enough, as we approached the bell made it really easy to spot Toni and I waved and got her attention and high fived her gloved hand (It was cold if you weren't running!). As I ran away I shouted for her to "look for the 4:00" pacers so she could find me in the crowds flowing by easier. I forgot to mention to her that Steve Riley was back there in wave 6 a few minutes behind me.

Bridge deck is in the clear!
Traci the pacer stopped to get a shot of the bridge, and then caught back up with us. Soon we approached the meanest, nastiest hill in the race: the climb to the bridge deck. This hill is about a mile long and a 4% grade, tough.

Miles 5 to 10 

mile:     6  pace:      9:50  -- big hill to bridge
mile:     7  pace:      9:09
mile:     8  pace:      8:39 
mile:     9  pace:      9:00
mile:     10  pace:    8:40
cumulative @ mile:     10  pace:      9:05

The pacers slowed down, but not as much as I normally would have! So, I pushed and pushed and made it to the short flat stretch...recovered there and then pushed up the last bit to the toll booth area, keeping up with the group. Plenty of car traffic at this time (about 6:30am), and we all funneled into our 1/2 lane wide path.

crowded bridge (on the way back)
This is a kind of sucky time. It's really crowded in these lanes. The 1/2 lane to our left has runners coming back the other way and this year it's all really packed. (There is one full lane left empty as a buffer between us and the cars...a very Good Idea). Making it worse are the inconsiderate slower runners, that have signed up for waves much faster than their pace, and they are gumming up the works forcing people to find a way around them without tripping up other people. Why do they do this? Are these the same people that sit in the left lane on the highway at 55mph? Sigh. It's downright dangerous.

It burns a lot of energy running like this, as you are constantly dodging and weaving and using bursts of sprinting to get into little holes in the flow that let you make progress. For me, this problem had a new element of complexity: I could see that I was gradually losing the pacers. They were now about 30 meters ahead of me and so I realized I needed to work harder to keep up. Push, push push...

Eventually, we reached the observation area, our turnaround point, and I saw my 7.6 mile split there was quite fast: 9:03 pace, (vs 9:09 target).

On the way back the crowding was just as bad but we survived and kept within 10-15 meters of the pacers. I heard somebody call my name as they wizzed by on the outgoing lane, and I realized it was Steve...but too late to call back.

Miles 10 to 15

mile:     11  pace:      8:41
mile:     12  pace:      9:20  -- seacliff roller hills
mile:     13  pace:      9:17  -- ditto
mile:     14  pace:      8:50
mile:     15  pace:      9:19
cumulative @ mile:     15  pace:      9:02

up hills in the trees
We are in the amazing tree studded Presido now..really we have to climb another nasty rest for the weary..up up we go..there's a stunning view out to sea that I look out on ...can see a fast boat making it's way out there toward points unknown. Cresting the hill, we have a big downhill to harvest and we bomb down it..I like the downhills and normally do them faster than all the other folks around me, but the pacers are keeping us to that damn pace and so they know they have to push to make up the time we lost climbing. Push push push...
in seacliff
Into Seacliff now...ahead are the three+ big roller hills that climb back up to the GG park. I first learned about these hills when I ran the first half marathon in 2008.  It was a case of  "ugh-at-first-sight" .  At least the crowding is a thing of the past as I push myself just a teeny bit faster than I wish I had to in order to follow the pacers up these hills. On the flats between each roller I recover and all is well, but then its up-up again.

Finally at the top, we hang a left on Fulton street and then enter the GG park at Crossover drive. This is mile 12.5 and again I'm on the lookout for Toni...I pick out the bell sound and there she is...she uses her cell phone to grab a shot of me (and I try to go a bit slower for her). I forgot to mention Steve was out here, AGAIN and I vow to correct that at the next meeting point.

Now we come to the half / full runner split: full marathoners to the right. We haven't really noticed who's doing what, since the bibs that would show you that are on the front. Potentially some of the pace group were half marathoners going for a 2:00 half, but there's only a few that are leaving if any.

Without the half marathoners it is much less crowded and heading down JFK drive it's really nice.  It's a long gentle downhill, we are feeling ok (although somewhat muscle fatigued from the hills)  but unlike last year I'm coming through sooner and so the second half marathoners are not starting (yet). We hit the half marathon split and I have 1:58 on my clock...just about perfect.

bison munching
There are a few fun bands playing music and as usual, I really enjoy the music after the silent trodding. Traci the pacer stops to take a shot of the Bison herd which just before mile 14.

We turn onto Bernice Rogers Way, which joins right away with MLK Jr Dr and starts heading back uphill. It's not a steep hill (1.5-2% ?) and it has some flatter spots, but it's a long one..we climb all the way back up to mile 16.5, which is the highest point on the course..right around Stowe Lake.

Now it's getting tough.....banging up the loooong hill grades expose the fact that I am getting tired..and it's way too soon to be tired. I'm beginning to fear I won't be able to hold with the pace group. It's at this point I notice that NOT ONE of the other pace group people is anywhere close to my age. They are all 20s-30s. This isn't a good thing to dwell on.

Miles 15 to 20

mile:     16  pace:      9:19
mile:     17  pace:      9:24
mile:     18  pace:      8:51
mile:     19  pace:      9:13
mile:     20  pace:      9:32
cumulative @ mile:     20  pace:      9:05

so fast I'm blurry!
On the flatter spots I feel better and gain my confidence back...I know the hills will end soon so if I can just hang on until then and recover I can keep with them. We approach mile 16 which has a cheering place Toni could get to by walking from the 12.5 mile spot. Again, I spot her and this time yell out to look for Steve Riley behind me 5 min or so).

We head up another grade and I look forward to the lake, must be flat around a lake right? Hmm. well, yes and no. At this point even small 20' hills are really letting me know that my muscles are pretty shot from all the climbing. Note to self : more hill training! I hadn't done enough I guess.

On one of the rises I'm having some small spasms in my left thigh, not enough to stop me, but they do introduce small mis-steps in my pace. They don't hurt, they are just there. This is new. The slightest change in my balance, reaching for my water bottle behind my back, for example, sets it off. So I'm really careful and I shorted up my stride a bit when it happens and that seems to stop it for a while.

running by the conservatory
We have some small ups and downs heading to the exit of the park and I'm really push pushing to keep with the group and trying to catch back up when I lose ground on any rises. It's very hard to catch up, I think I'm speeding up but I barely close the gap before another small rise sets me back. At around mile 19 we exit the park and I recall a very short 10-15', but steep, spiraling rise after the Alvord Lake tunnel and up on to Haight St.

During this rise my legs tell me (in no uncertain terms): "WE DON'T LIKE THAT! DON'T YOU EVER DO THAT AGAIN!". I mean really, they both stiffened up in seconds and refused to go except at a very slow pace. I've never had that happen before and it kind of threw me.

Of course I had lost a lot of ground and at this point, I was mentally doing "damage" control, or something Tim Noakes calls "mid-race problem solving" ...yeah right. My problem is I need new leg muscles....bargle.  Anyway, I realize I need to just say goodbye to the pacers and hang it together or I risk not finishing without a dreadful slow trudge (walk). I really DON'T want that.

running down haight street
But, I'm on a long pretty flat stretch now in the Haight and so I just tell myself to take it as it comes and I lo and behold, find that I'm recovering some and even though they are now 200 meters or so ahead I can still the pacers bobbing sign ... which is comforting...but I do know they are going to gradually pull away.

There is a small rise and then the biggest downhill this late in the race...going down this hill my left thigh is doing it's Bad Thing from time to time unless I take it reasonably slow, so I back off and play nice.

Miles 20 to Finish

Somebody said once that a marathon is just a 10k race (6.2 miles), except you have to run 20 miles to get to the start :-D

Truer words were never spoken.

Given my speed on the previous section, I was now kind of worried that I was going to really really crash during this section. Heading through the Mission district, I was still very close to my 4:00 pace (remember I had a minute on the pacing group due to my sprint to meet them)  but I knew there would be a slowdown coming. The trick was to minimize it and not give in to the little inner voice that tries to trick you into walking or quitting.

Between miles 21 and 22 was another cheering station, but no Toni...must have been some snafu with the bus. This section has some flip-flop alternating routes (so that cars can get 'air-locked' through the course route) and Toni waited on the wrong one I guessed. I also lost complete touch with pacers in the distance because of this but as I came up to the water stop at mile 22.5 or so I saw them right there! This was a Big Lift.

My legs were now behaving themselves, I hadn't slowed down too much the hills were gentler and I knew my time could still be way better time than my previous 4:15 if I could just hold as long as possible.

On the downside I really hadn't been keeping up with my eating, my tummy just didn't want all that stuff at the speed I'd been running. This was bugging me given all the time I'd spent on this. I had taken more food than last year but way way under my long training run intake.

Into Potrero hill district now , then  loop back on 22nd and then left on Third, little jog over to Illinois. This is the Mission Bay area, it's the most sketchy area on the route, some boring industrial view,  but it's pretty much flat from here on out and my Bad Little Leggie liked that and decided to stop misbehaving for the rest of the race.

Unlike last year, no sunshine yet at this hour (about 9:30am) which is good. Sun adds 10F of apparent warmth and we're just about perfect temps without it. I'm not feeling dehydrated but my body is covered in a layer of sweat (and I my wrap-around sunglasses had been fogged up a bit on steep climbs earlier)...because the humidity is very high: 70-80%.

From mile 24 on things are really slow now, I see some quarters where I'm down to 11 min pace, but some are faster, so I feel pretty good, even though my body wants me to stop running I can keep pushing on.

slowing down near att park
Just after mile 25 we have to hop up a big curb that is about a foot high to jump (we run the sidewalk behind AT&T park), there's big signs for the runners and a person actually standing there to point it out. We run behind the park, which is kind of cool because you are right on the bay there.

Out the front of the park and another big step down (with signs) lots of grunts from everybody when we take 'em. Finally we're on the Embarcadero again! It's been a while since we trod upon it. I can see on my watch I'm looking at a single digit finishing minute (i.e. sub 4:10) if I can just keep motoring. But I'm close enough now that I have no intention of quitting so I'm not too worried.

Someplace around here there was a lone spectator cheering and as I went by he said "Only one more mile to go!".....this freaked me out. I KNEW that there was about .6 miles to go and so I said "There is NOT one more mile to go, there is .6 miles to go!", and so the guy (now behind me) replied, "Okay.... there's only .6 miles to go!".

The woman running next to me sighed and said something about "damn right there's only .6 to go" and I asked if the finish was under the Bay bridge ...I couldn't remember. She said it was .2 miles after the bridge. This was not what I wanted to hear, but hey, I knew I could do it. I said "We got it." and she said "Yup" and we both kept moving as fast as we could.

The Embarcadero there is teasingly curved toward the left and so you are straining and straining to see the big finish line arch but you just can't see it until about 1/4 mile away and the it appears, magically.

We're done!
At this point it's such a wonderful sight that all your fatigue just melts away. You know you are going to do even speed up a little (well, a really really little bit but it seems like a lot to you at the time 8). There are crowds cheering you on which helps you even more and you hit the mat, punch your watch and you've finished your 4th marathon in 4:06:18, your fastest ever.

mile:     21  pace:      9:13
mile:     22  pace:      9:15
mile:     23  pace:     10:20   --- more fade starts here
mile:     24  pace:     10:27
mile:     25  pace:     11:07
mile:     26  pace:     11:12
mile:     26.2  pace:     10:52  -- tiny speed up last 1/2 mile
cumulative @ mile:     26.2  pace:      9:25

nicest bling
You get into line and have a great medal put on you (this year a bridge + skyline shot) get handed a water bottle (which I sucked down in 1 minute) grab a banana and eat it in 15 seconds and then wonder of wonders, no bagels but fresh baked SCONES.....thousands of them! And oh joy: there are small SMOOTHIES here!

Really good food. I sit down with all my booty (even though I'm wondering if I'll get up again as my legs won't like it) and chow down...NOM NOM NOM...., yakking with pleasure about the great food, my race and how great I feel, considering,  with a nice guy a bit older than me that just ran a 3:50-something, he gave me a lot of great advice on how to try to qualify for Boston, which he's done...twice. wow!

It doesn't get much better than this, I'm thinking. My mind is just roiling with all the images/experiences (that I've just tried to tell you about) and I feel really satisfied with my effort, knowing I really successfully pushed much harder than ever before  and the wheels didn't (totally) fall off.

Running with pacers really gave me a lesson in how to push when needed and be really aware of when I tend to slack off. I also think I learned other tidbits about about how to attempt to break 4:00. But more about that in a "lessons learned" posting.

While eating I start texting with Toni and when done I get up (ouch oooch, stiff already) and find her quickly. We see there's a beer garden and Toni and I go in and share my delicious free Fat Tire IPA with her. She takes a picture of me standing in front of a huge shot of the GG bridge etc with the dreaded quote from the recent WSJ article: "The Race even Marathoners Fear" That's the shot in the previous blog entry to this one.

steve and me
Surprise! ....We run into Steve and his wife Goody and he looks fresh as a daisy. I ask him his time and he's got no idea, since he had no watch and his cell phone died at mile 22.  He thinks he's done a 4:15 (turns out he's really done a 4:02, which is smashing for his 2nd marathon! At least I beat him on age-graded time!). We take a bunch of shots together, say our goodbyes and head for the hotel.

I shower up (Achilles tendons are just fine, thank you, no need for icing) and we head over to Acme Burgerhaus over on 559, that tasted so good.

Next stop Long Beach Marathon on 10/17. A flat course....let's see what we can do there!

Full Marathon
Runner Details Race Results
Bib: 50264
Name: Paul R
Gender: M
Age: 54
Hometown: Palo Alto, CA
Overall: 1969 out of 5955
Men: 1557 out of 3901
M 50-54: 131 out of 336
Age/Grade: 58.73% Place: 1124
Finish: 4:06:18 Pace: 9:24
Tag Time: 4:06:18

Split Times
7.6 M: 1:08:46 Pace: 9:03
Half: 1:58:23 Pace: 9:02
20 M: 3:02:01 Pace: 9:07

You can see from the official splits that I was on a perfect pace but lost 6 minutes in the last 6.2 miles.


  1. I stumbled across your blog, it is great to read your race recap of the SF marathon, because it basically is like reading my own race recap! haha We got almost the exact same time, seems like you started out faster than I did, I totally bonked at mile 26, haha I'm doing the SF half marathon this year (2nd half), so I'm excited to see how fast I can go out there...

  2. and random story, but I do a lot of my runs on the Los Gatos Creek Trail, and I ended up talking to Hanoch by chance on the trail in July I think before the race happened. Really nice guy. Just seemed like the stars aligned or something, because my goal time was 4 hours, and here I was talking to Hanoch who was going to pace the 4 hour team during the race, haha

  3. Hi Nelly,

    That is funny! Small world. Hanoch was a nice guy yes.

    Were you in the 4 hour pace group then?

    Bonking at mile 26 seems pretty high class to could crawl the rest of the way 8)

    Have fun on the 2nd half, half marathon! I'm giving SFM a break for a year after doing the half in 08, full in 09 and 10.

  4. When I do races, I'm always concerned about getting clogged up with the masses, so I ended up just starting out decently close to the front by myself. I just decided to run the race solo just based on perceived effort and heartrate. The only time I felt like I was in the way a little bit was maybe the first mile when the various 3:30-3:40 pacing teams passed me. I think I started up with wave 2.

    Here is my race report if you're curious:

    I was fine running solo until about mile 20, when I started to lose it a bit mentally. My friend luckily paced me from mile 20 to the finish line, that helped out a ton. I basically maintained 9 min pace the whole race except for the start of mile 26 when the wheels fell off, haha It was a great experience.

    You've done a lot of the SF marathon events then! I guess I'm completing the 3 races they offer since I did the first half in 2009, full last year, now the 2nd half this year.


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