Although SFM08 was not my first marathon (actually my fourth overall), it was nevertheless a celebration of multiple ‘firsts’ for me. For starters, it was my first destination marathon. I decided on this marathon a year ago when I saw that it would give me an excuse to visit my second most favorite city in the continental United States (after my hometown of course!) Secondly, it was the first marathon I’ve ever run on my birthday. I thought it was the ultimate birthday present I could ever give myself. It was also my first summer marathon as well as my first marathon that started before daybreak.
Quite naturally then, I was full of nervous energy as I anxiously awaited the start of my 26.2 mile journey through the streets and bridges of
It was dreary and dark, with temps in the 50s when the marathon officially began for me at . Aside from the giant clock telling time on top of the
The Early Miles (1-5)
The first few miles along the Embarcadero were straight and flat. I used the opportunity to establish an easy and comfortable pace for myself. Even before starting, I had planned to run this section as a warmup for the longer and tougher middle miles that would come up later in the race. Indeed, mile 1 for me clocked in at , which was slightly slower than what I had anticipated running. I shed off my throw-away cotton long sleeve (it was quite chilly at the start) and sped up a bit in the second mile to recover some of my speed (). Making my way around Fisherman’s Wharf and onto
It is starting to get brighter now as I make my way out of the marina and on to Crosby Field. I am still moving fast to keep the runners at bay. But as I see the bridge get closer and closer, I start to worry that I may not be able to hold this blistering pace for very much longer. Mile 4 clocked in at , my fastest mile pace so far, yet for some reason, I was not able to shake the large group of runners nipping at my heels. At mile 5, I make the executive decision to slow down and allow myself to first blend in, then run behind this pace group. I figured that if they were meant to run like they were supposed to, I will catch up to them later on in the race. It just wasn’t worth it for me to burn out so early in the race just to keep up with their intense pace. The mile 5 marker arrived () just as I approached the foot of the long steep incline that would carry me up and onto the foot of the
The Bridge Miles (6-10)
After cresting the hill and making a sharp right, I found myself at the foot of the
The Middle Miles (11-13)
Although some would call the rolling bridge miles the toughest of the course, I knew from studying the elevation maps that it served only as an appetizer for the steady diet of steep and unforgiving hills up ahead. After a quick descent off the bridge, the course leads to a series of steady climbs, each about a quarter mile as we make our way over to
After the long and strenuous upward climb to the 10.5 mile point, we were treated to a long downhill stretch of road which was as steep as it was windy. I ran down the road as fast as I could, daring my legs to surrender completely to the forces of gravity. It felt cool to sprint down the side of the hill even if I had flashbacks of when I broken my collarbone on the side of a mountain with a similar grade during last winter. I paused to take in some water and Cytomax from a water station at the end of the downhill segment as I strategize my game plan for the next uphill portion of the race. Because of the multiple changes in elevation, my pace through these 3 miles fluctuated erratically from a low of pace for mile 11 to a high of for mile 12.
The Park Miles (14-19)
I had mixed feelings when I finally entered the park and crossed the half-marathon checkpoint at . On the one hand, I was happy that I was done with the tough miles (or so I thought at the time). On the other, I was extremely disappointed with my time for the half, which was the slowest I’d ever been at the halfway point of a marathon. Off to the side, but still visible to me, the half-marathoners who had been running with us since the beginning, were finishing their races and receiving their medals. Lucky them. Although I was still feeling relatively strong at this point of the race mostly because I had been running so conservatively up to this point, I felt very unmotivated to finish the rest of the race. All of a sudden, I asked myself, what am I doing here? The weather sucks (Overcast, cool, and damp for some reason didn’t seem so enjoyable to me at the time.) The scenery was so much less than spectacular. It’s way too early. There’s practically no crowd…because everyone’s celebrating with the half-marathoners and no one’s even out here cheering for us marathoners. Would anyone even know or care if I just casually slipped off the course and disappeared? Needless to say, my pity party of one made the remaining 13.1 miles seem like a hundred. Luckily, I remembered my list of 26.2 reasons why I was running the marathon, and made myself list and recite every single item while I battled through the rolling hills of
The Street Miles (20-23)
After battling through six miles in Golden Gate Park, which had more rolling hills than I remembered from the course elevation profile, I finally made it onto the Haight, one of the most famous neighborhoods in all of San Francisco. I had heard about this part of town from a cousin of mine who once led me on a tour of these parts. This area, which is subdivided into the upper and lower districts, was made famous during the hippie movement of the 1960s when large crowds of people would gather around these streets for scheduled and impromptu psychedelic rock performances and illicit drug parties. Today, remnants of these wild times can be seen in the stores and shops that line theses streets. I was really looking forward to running and visiting this part of town for its rich history and resemblance to
Around this time was also when the course took a dramatic and drastic turn, one that I hadn’t anticipated from the course elevation maps. The gradual and rolling hills that I had been running on for much of the way over suddenly gave way to the steep and mountainous streets that
The Last Miles (24-26.2)
I felt extremely tired and fatigued during these last miles. The lack of nothing but old factories and warehouses to look at did not help matters either. I remember having imaginary conversations with friends and families as I forced myself to labor through these parts. But even as I got closer and closer to the end, I could feel myself moving slower and slower. At the final water stop at mile 25, I stopped to take an extra cup of water and Cytomax. As I did, I saw the pacer and his team (remember them?) passed by in front of me. Oh, they are so annoying! Until that point, I hadn’t realized that I had been so off my pace. In that single visual, I saw my faint aspirations of setting a PR vanish before my very eyes. It was all I could do to drop my cup and take off for a dead sprint toward the finish line. As I counted down the tenths of miles I had left to go, I concentrated on the fact that although I didn’t get close to or , and this race wasn’t going to be a PR for me, I did beat the pace team and re-qualified for
As I took the final turn for the last 0.2 and the finish line, I suddenly remembered that it was my birthday, and I was happy. I also remembered the message that Bart Yasso, the larger-than-life race director for Runner’s World, had left for me a day ago at the marathon expo when he graciously spoke and autographed a book for me. He told me to always remember that running a marathon isn’t so much about how fast you finish, but the experiences you had while running it. How true! How true! Happy 33rd birthday to me!