San Francisco Half Marathon (A Race to Love)

Racing opportunities thin out during the summer in southern Arizona, so I kept my eyes open for events in cooler locales. I had several friends who were heading up to the San Francisco Marathon and Half Marathon, and I decided to join them. My husband Ted and I volunteered to drive our fuel-efficient Hyundai Elantra and Keith and Monica were game to travel with us. We decided to break the 880-ish mile trip into two days with a stopover in Bakersfield.

We crammed ourselves, luggage, and a couple week’s worth of snacks into the car, and waved goodbye to hundred-degree temperatures for a few days. Before we even left town, we ended up doubling back for sunglasses and a cell phone (the names of the forgetful parties have been withheld). A harbinger of other things to come… Finally, we were on out way, and our GPS (hereafter referred to as Dot) was plugged in and ready to navigate.

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Driving was pretty uneventful for a while, which is a good thing. We broke into our snacks and talked about our goals for the race. Monica wanted to break two hours. Keith, who averages over a marathon a month, had set a PR of 3:01:18 a few weeks ago and was feeling good. Personally, I was just wanting to go under 1:45 (My PR is 1:40:03). I knew it was a hilly course, and my training had been very short-distance focused lately. I had met my goal of breaking 21 minutes in a 5K and simply looking forward to getting out of town and having fun. We stopped in Phoenix for lunch and took few more pit stops along the way. It’s funny, no matter how much food you pack for a trip, you always want to buy more. Monica bought some gummy octopi, which led to her sharing this video with all of us: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=astISOttCQ0. Warning: Watch only if you like obnoxious things.

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Standing outside the General Patton museum at a California rest stop.

Keith brought his Sirius radio, and we listened to some classic rock and old school, “new wave” alternative music while it was sunny out. As night fell, our moods mellowed, and we dialed in Sirius XM Love. Easy 70’s tunes abounded, which was fine for everyone except Ted. Then it happened. The moment that set the tone for the rest of the trip. Minnie Ripperton. Loving you. Tweeting birds. La la la la! La la la la! La la la la la la la la la! Doo doo doo doo doo! And… ahh ahh ahh ahh ahh! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kE0pwJ5PMDg Yes, we sang. And it sounded awful. Runner’s lungs are not necessarily singer’s lungs. Our vocal chords strained and sputtered. But there was lots and lots of love in the car, and we dubbed this the road trip of love to the city of love. We were still feeling it when we arrived at our Bakersfield Super 8 super late that night.

Keith, Monica, and I met in the morning for an easy five-miler before we hit the road again. It was slightly cooler than in Tucson, which was nice. After we hit the road, Keith handed us his iPhone so we could hook it up to the auxiliary, and Minnie’s high notes poured through the speakers. The miles rolled by, and I gave Dot the expo address and she dutifully took us to Treasure Island. We saw a marina with a lot of expensive boats, but nothing that looked like a convention center. Then I realized that I had chosen the wrong zip code. Oops. We made our way back over the bridge and right into the heart of downtown San Francisco. Dot did her best to guide us, but the GPS signal frequently got lost amid the tall buildings, so some of her instructions weren’t very timely.

We were about to give up on the expo for that day and just head to the motel, when we passed several people carrying marathon bags and saw the convention center. When we arrived, we decided to split up so we could each look at what we wanted to. I started searching my purse for my phone to make sure I had everyone’s number, and I couldn’t find it. I frantically emptied my whole purse on the floor,and it wasn’t there. This amused some people… Ted had his phone, so he was stuck with me for a while.

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Yeah… I keep a lot of stuff in there.

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To paraphrase Templeton the rat from the first animated Charlotte’s Web movie, the expo was a veritable smorgasbord, and I tried almost everything. Bars, snacks, bars, drinks, chews, bars… Apparel, massagers, hydration systems, and all the usual stuff was present. I ended up buying a Tiger Tail and some sunglasses. Keith, who is an Ambassador for the race, met up with his fellow Ambassadors at their booth. He was also interviewed by a local news station because he had been at the Boston Marathon. We also messed around at the TRX station. Photo ops abounded.

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Because Keith was an ambassador, he was invited to a special dinner at a Thai restaurant and we were able to come as guests. The food was delicious and plentiful. After dinner, we walked around by the waterfront. The Bay Bridge was lit up beautifully. I had brought my sweater, but I still felt chilly.

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We decided to drive around so we could see the Golden Gate bridge and get a feel for the course, which went right over it. When we turned around in the little park, the bottom of the car scraped on something, and one of the underguard thingamajigs came loose (are you overwhelmed by my automotive knowledge?). Ted and Keith wrestled with it for a while, and were eventually able to completely detach it. More Minnie was needed… Ah, feel the love.

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We spent the next day at the Expo, and then Ted, Monica, and I took a side trip to Sports Basement, where I scooped up some running and tri gear and Ted got a free beer. Then we stopped at Trader Joe’s for some lunch salads and more snacks. I ended up finding my phone in one of my other bags. Who knows why I had put it there instead of my purse.

We decided that it would be fun to go to Little Italy for our pre-race dinner, so we piled into the car (people who live in the area might be laughing at us right about now). All of the parking lots in the area were full. Roads were blocked off due to some kind of street fair. Dot sounded annoyed as she repeatedly told us she was “Recalculating.” Traffic was congested. Dot faded in and out, and gave us our directions after we had already passed the turns. We drove up and down some of those crazy, steep hills that you see in the movies. An hour and a half later, we returned to the motel and ate pizza at a place across the street. I ended up having a veggie pizza sub and a salad.

It was another really cold evening, and I was regretting not bringing warmer bottoms to the race. I decided to ask the front desk for trash bags, figuring I could wear them to keep warm before the start. The desk guy raised his eyebrows, but gave me the bags. Monica kindly gave me a pair of throwaway gloves and let me borrow one of her fleece jackets. I had at least had the foresight to bring some tube sock “arm warmers” to toss.

I set my alarm for 3:20 the next morning. Bruce and Terri, who are also from Tucson but were staying elsewhere, kindly offered to drive me and Keith to the start. Ted was going to drive Monica to her start because she was running the second half of the course and didn’t have to get up as early. Bruce and Terri were also having problems with their GPS, but we made our way to the start in plenty of time. Security looked through our bags, but it didn’t take very long. It was a cool morning, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. With my extra layers and garbage bag, I was completely fine.

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*******************Skip if you don’t care about potty stuff********************************

Being an Ambassador, Keith was able to wait inside a restaurant and drink nice beverages and use plumbed toilets. Meanwhile, I made my way to the port-o-potties, and thankfully didn’t have to wait in line. If you have read my other race reports, you might have picked up on the fact that when it comes to the solid stuff, I usually have to go early and go often. This morning, nothing. Not at the hotel. Not in the plastic blue facility. Not even after taking a caffeinated Clif shot. It must have been that pizza sub. I don’t normally eat white bread. I knew that white flour can be used to make paste. Add some gummy cheese, and well, you get the point.

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I put Monica’s fleece in my gear check bag and headed toward the second corral. The air was cool, but I was fine in my tank and arm warmers. I also chucked my trash bag. It was crowded at the beginning, but I didn’t have to weave too much. My mental DJ cued up Republica’s “Ready to Go”.

It’s a crack, I’m back yeah standing
On the rooftops shouting out,
Baby I’m ready to go!

Because I wasn’t feeling the need to be aggressive in this race, I was fine with a slow start. I hit the first mile mark in 8:16. We ran along the waterfront, which was beautiful. The next couple miles were just under 8 minutes, then in the 7:40 range. The aroma of sourdough permeated the air. There was a steep climb as we approached the bridge. Now, My Chemical Romance’s “Famous Last Words” coursed through my head. I am not afraid to keep on living… That mile was run in 8:36.

Now for the highlight of the course: running on the Golden Gate Bridge. While it was still crowded and I needed to make sure I didn’t crash into anyone, I made sure to look to the side from time to time and take in the view. I had discarded the “arm warmers” and gloves by this time. The air was cool, but it felt wonderful. I saw Keith making his way back across the bridge around mile seven. There was some gentle ascending and descending, but I didn’t feel like it made that much difference in my pace or effort. At the end of the bridge, we ran into the park for the turn-around and then ran back across. A live band played some classic southern-style rock. I was feeling really, really good and decided I’d try to push the pace a little. Cascada’s “San Francisco” was in my head now. I had recently taught it in RPM, and well, I was in San Francisco. At least “Loving You” did not make an appearance. 

19913_4294477140486_1286549467_nAfter leaving the bridge, we headed inland a bit. After a sharp ascent, there was a nice view of the houses below. Then it was time to fly down a long, steep hill.  The last couple of miles were more up and down, emphasis on the up. I was still feeling good, and cranked up my effort and started passing some people. I saw someone with a sign that said “Lauf, Micha, Lauf!” I speak a little bit of German, and pretended that the sign was specifically encouraging me to run.

264894_4294477260489_1691156455_nAs I approached the finish line, I was passed by one person, and I decided to see if I could reel him in. I dug in and went for it, and I got him. My chip time was 1:43:17, and I was really happy with it. Ted and Monica had been able to see everything from the sidelines and got some great shots.

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Behind the guy in gray…

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Not anymore

I met up with Ted and Monica and got my dry clothes at bag check. While the weather 1005875_3280320263584_1794908932_nhad been perfect for running, it was a bit cool for just standing around. I picked up some Greek yogurt at the finish, which was delicious. I appreciated that they provided something with some protein. Soon it was time for Monica to line up for the Second Half, and Ted a I took a long walk to the car and drove to the finish line. 

Keith finished his marathon in an impressive 3:03:49, while Monica was happy with her 2:06:12. Bruce gutted out a 4:55:32 for his fifth marathon this year. I never saw one of our other Tucson friends, Brian, on the trip, but I saw that he won his age group with a 1:23:46. I ended up seventh in my age group of 431, which was a pleasant surprise. We headed to Pizza Orgasmica for some post-race fueling. Was it as good as it sounds? A lady doesn’t eat and tell 😉

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After lunch, it was back into the car and we headed to Bakersfield. When we asked Dot to take us to a Mexican restaurant that had been recommended by a local, she led us to a cemetery. Tall buildings weren’t the problem this time, so we banished her to the glove box for the rest of trip. On the way home, we refueled at a Love’s (where else?) travel stop.

This race was one where I was able to simply enjoy being a runner. I came into it without any real expectations, pressure, or plans. I just let my body do what it felt like doing and enjoyed the moment. Sometimes the fact that running is a celebration of being healthy and alive can get lost in the splits and mileage logs. Any day that I can move on my own power in a new and beautiful place is a good day indeed.

Race data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/329579065

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8 thoughts on “San Francisco Half Marathon (A Race to Love)

  1. Great recap! I love being able to run a race without pressure myself with a time goal. Looks like you still did amazingly with that 1:43 time (on a hilly course!). I was the 2:00 hour pacer, so I got to take my time to enjoy that race, too 🙂

  2. Garbage Bag! Awesome idea! I’m definitely going to try that one in one of the night races.

    I’m glad you got to catch up with the “guy in gray”, I also love sprinting in the last 100-300 meters. That rush and excitement and all the people cheering is so motivating. (This just might mean that I don’t really put my best in the races, oh well 🙂 )

    By the way, what is the “First/Second Half” ? Do you get to run the whole course in 2 years?!

    • Garbage bags are also useful when it’s raining and you have to wait around to start. That doesn’t happen where I live very often, though 😉

      Ha, yes, a battle at the finish is FUN. I think your brain lets your body release a little more energy when the end is in sight 🙂

      As for the first and second half, you’ve got it. If you run each half on back-to-back years, you get a special medal (Monica got it). It’s much nicer than the regular one.

      Thanks for the comments!

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