Sunday, June 23, 2013

2013 San Francisco Marathon - Race Recap

San Francisco Marathon Course
This was it.  My race for the year.  After taking a year off from marathons, I decided to try and push
for a BQ at, of all places, the 2013 San Francisco Marathon on June 16, 2013.  Tall task indeed, but I've always been an optimist.  My "A" goal would be 3:10, "A-" at 3:15.  Either would qualify me for Boston because I hit the next age bracket in July.  And given the bombings in Boston, I wanted to try as best I could to requalify. 

Training started in the last weekend of January.  However, Not trusting myself after 4 weeks to be fully motivated and honest with my workouts, I decided to work with a coach (@SpeedySasquatch -> Twitter) to help get me through the training.  This turned out to be my best training decision to date.  In fact, I could summarize the training period in two words:  quality miles.  I ran a lower volume, I was used to doing mostly volume and mixing up speed workouts, but Josh had me doing three quality workouts per week and less volume than I would have done on my own.  Furthermore, I made sure to run as many hills as I could in Central Park, especially its biggest, Harlem Hill, and also up the west side of Morningside Park.

My wife Sara and I arrived in SF on Wednesday night, and after working on Thursday, we attended the expo on Friday.  Frankly, it was disappointingly small, but that's relative to NYC.  My main high/low light was a pullup contest for $125.  High count for the day was 31.  My best was 32 during the winter strength building.  I didn't even come close.  I managed only 18.

The day before the race was spent with the family, barbecuing and playing with the my niece and nephews .  It was one of my favorite pre-race days yet.  Perhaps I could have rested and ate a little better, but no regrets here.

Race Day

My brother kindly got me to the race start before 5am on race day.  With a 5:30am start, I expected more traffic, but this was a relatively smaller race with an announced 20000 runners.  I think it was less than that.  I chatted with two other NYC runners Leslie, and later Patricio, before the race.

The general strategy was to start off slowly and keep a conservative effort through the first half of the race.  I headed to the corral about 5 minutes before my start, making sure to stay in the back so I'm forced to start in the crowd. 

Miles 1-5 (7:55, 7:39, 7:45, 7:23, 7:24)
This section was flat as it was alongside the water.  Kept it as easy as I could in the early going knowing that the going would get much tougher later.  I chatted with some other runners along the way towards Golden Gate.  There was a shortish climb here towards Fort Mason, with an elevation of 89 ft at the top.  It was short but steep, and in retrospect, just a slightly shorter climb than Central Park's Harlem Hill.  Yes, the elevation in that blue circle below is Harlem Hill, my main training incline since January.

Blue circle:  equivalent of Harlem Hill
Red circle:  Climb to and Golden Gate Bridge out and back
Green circle:  Golden Gate Park

Spectatorship was scant during the race, especially along the beach.  Somewhere along mile 5 though, there was a really loud, isolated cheer groupA couple of minutes later, I realized why.  The hill in the distance was upon us - a 200ft sharp climb to the Golden Gate Bridge.  No amount of hill training in Central Park prepared me for these grades.  I tried to conserve energy, doing my best to roll up the hill. 

Miles 6-10
(8:13, 7:26,  7:05, 7:25, 7:18)
After two sharp climbs, running on the Golden Gate Bridge at sunrise was the highlight of the race.  I wanted to stop and just take it in.  The bridge grade itself wasn't too bad.  I pressed on, and decided to start picking up the pace on the bridge declines, as evidenced by the 7:05 mile 8. 

Miles 11-15
(6:44, 7:41, 7:37, 7:06, 7:40)
For whatever reason, I thought it was mostly downhill after the bridge.  WRONG.  Before the downhill, there was another massive steep climb.  Again I rolled up the hill trying to conserve energy and get a better rate of return on the down hills.  In retrospect, this third climb started to weaken my mental fortitude and hills started to become disheartening.  Little did I know that starting at around mile 14, I'd be climbing about 6 miles of hill, singular.

Miles 16-20
(7:50, 7:54, 7:25, 7:46, 8:07)
Golden Gate Park is a beautiful and enjoyable...when you're not at miles 13-20 of a marathon.  This stretch of a race represents some of the most mentally and physically challenging miles I've run in a marathon.  Kept trying to pick up speed, but the loooooooong incline was working against me.  I wanted to give up a few times, but thankfully I had a friend to meet at mile 20.  Somewhere around mile 15, I kept thinking, just get to mile 20.

Even the exit out of the park was not a kind one.   Short and sharp incline on any other day, but after miles of climbing, I did not welcome the transition to the Haight.  As I topped the incline, I looked up, and sure enough, more climbing. 

 Miles 21-26.45
(7:31, 8:19, 9:11, 8:42, 8:10, 8:12, 3:25)
By the time I got to Armando at mile 20, all I was thinking was, "just get home."  I had hoped to be running in the mid-to-low 7's for the last 10k, but the mental and physical beatdown from the park was thorough.  I had also hoped to make up some of the time on the downhill, but the course gives up all the elevation climbed in less than a mile.  I gave up a lot of energy just trying to stay upright on mile 21 downhill.  If it wasn't for Armando, I may have walked the rest of the way from this point, but he pulled me all the way to the finish.  Hammies started to cramp at around mile 23, but I was still able to move.  I walked a couple of times and through the remaining water stations, and gave what I had.  Finish time:  3:25:04.

There's not one race where I don't feel like I could have given more, but after talking with some others and seeing the 2:25 winners time, I felt very satisfied my race effort.  I'm okay not having achieved my goal time.  There's always a next race.  And that next race will never again be San Francisco Marathon.

After the race, Armando took me around the Google headquarters right across the street from the finish line.  Here are some shots of the relatively sparse crowd for a marathon.