This was my fourth time running the San Francisco Marathon and it remains my favorite big city marathon in California. Some of my favorite things about this race are the convenient expo–I found parking right across the street and fed the meter a dollar worth of quarters–the (this year almost) summer date, the cool weather, the incredible scenery and the excellent organization.
For the first time at this race, I was an official pace leader, pacing the 3:40 marathon group. But, because this was the most aggressive (fastest) pacing assignment I’ve ever accepted and on the toughest course that I’ve ever paced, it still had the elements of a race to me. Before this year, the best I had done on this course was a 4:29 two years ago.
I found the expo to my liking and volunteered for an hour at the pacer expo booth, meeting many other runners who were interested in running with one of the many different pace groups. Although they seemed to run just a little small, I really liked the long sleeve race tech shirts.
Runners were advised to arrive to the corrals early due to increased security but there was hardly any extra wait at all to get through to the start. The race started right on time and the wave starts were well organized and Wave 3 started at 5:42AM on schedule.
I always enjoy the first few miles starting on Embarcadaro, going through Fisherman’s Wharf and making our way to the bridge. My favorite part of the race, however, although a little congested, is running out and back on the Golden Gate Bridge. Besides being incredibly beautiful–and this year there wasn’t any fog to hide the gorgeous views–it also allows the opportunity to see each the race leaders and friends coming in the opposite direction.
In past years, my least favorite part of the race has always been Golden Gate Park, Miles 13 – 18, as this part of the course has always been such a grind and where I’ve sputtered out in past years. This year, however, being in the best shape of my life, Golden Gate Park, while more challenging than the rest of the course, was much more pleasant. Plus, mentally being prepared for this section to be tougher than the other hillier but shorter lived parts of the race, made a huge difference.
By the time we got out of Golden Gate Park, though, it was just my co-pacer and I and two remaining women who were still running strong. Our group was small to begin with, about a half dozen, but now it was down to the last two women standing/running.
The Haight – Asbury District (Mile 19/20) is always a favorite of mine…just a funky artsy urban area and a reprieve from the winding hills of Golden Gate Park.
By Mile 21, one of the women running with us said she was feeling really good and asked when she should run ahead. We immediately sent her on her way.
Miles 22, 23 and 24 are probably the most dull of the course but I still enjoy them as I know we are getting close to the finish. By Mile 24, we urged our last remaining runner in our group onward so she could finish as strong as possible as it is our goal to finish as close to 3:40:00 without going over but to also get our runners to the finish as fast as possible even if it means we finish alone.
I love Mile 25 as we approach AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. I am a lifelong L.A. resident and grew up on Dodger Blue but it is still a great experience to run beside AT&T Park and see all the plaques on the ground and on the wall of the stadium and be back beside the ocean before making it back on the Embarcadero for that last push to the finish.
The experience of the last few miles of a marathon as a marathon pacer is a very interesting experience because, really, we are still pretty fresh and out on a Sunday morning stroll while everybody else has given it their all and is running (or walking) on fumes. But, we do our best to try to inspire other runners we come across, especially those who appear to really be struggling.
It is a beautiful sight as we approach the finish line and we are right on target, crossing the finish line in 3:39:51, to finish within 9 seconds of our 8400 second (3:40:00) goal, as good as a pacer hopes for in a race so although we are not racing, we are each very satisfied with the job we did out there and with the ultimate finish time.
My DW and 11 week old DD are right there waiting for me at the finish line and after chatting with some friends post-race for a few minutes and grabbing some post race refreshments and my LA/SF Marathon challenge medal, we skip the beer garden and instead walk all the way to Union Square for some photo opps followed by a great Fathers Day breakfast at Colibri’s Mexican Bistro two blocks from Union Square before walking back to our hotel in the SoMa district.
All in all, a beautiful morning and an amazing marathon. For me, there is no better big city race in California, hometown L.A. Marathon included (although it ranks a close second). I’ve done this race 4 times now and if I’m lucky, I’ll do it another 20 times…if I’m really really lucky, many of those times will be as official pace leader to help other runners meet or surpass their own respective goals. 🙂