Boy, that was a tough one. At least I had a great time hanging with the running crew and eating my heart out in San Francisco.
Going into the San Francisco Marathon this weekend, I had visions of kicking ass and setting a personal best. That went out the window by the halfway point when my legs started giving up on me, but I still hoped I would finish under four hours. By mile 18 I was just praying I wouldn't embarrass myself. Thankfully, I didn't. Even though by the end I felt like I was running slow enough to finish well over four hours, I managed to make it to the finish in 4:03:52. I guess it's some measure of success that I'm disappointed by a 4:03 marathon. It's a time I'm sure many other runners would be happy to have.
This marks my slowest marathon since the 2008 San Antonio Rock n' Roll Marathon where I ran slightly faster by a minute. Looking back at the results there, I think the same problem befell me in San Francisco--too many hills. It's not so much the big hills but the quantity of hills that was the factor. After entering Golden Gate Park at the halfway point, my legs started feeling weak. I fell behind Katie and Rob rather quickly, which bums me out. I wish I could have finished with them. At that point, though, I really had to run my own race. I was just going to slow them down, and I had to focus on getting through the next 13 miles somehow. I can't remember ever cramping in so many different places in my legs. The cramping never got severe where my legs locked up, but it did make moving my legs a struggle.
The frustrating thing about my legs letting me down was that I felt great otherwise. I wasn't out of breath and I felt like I had trained well enough to finish strong, but my legs though felt like calling it an early day. That it happened so early in the race also was frustrating because it affected me psychologically. I got annoyed with Golden Gate Park and what felt to me like endless loops. At one point I was sure I was running a loop I had already done. I also hated that I could hear where the half marathon was finishing, which I knew I would pass on the way out, but first I had to run a few loops within loops. I'm sure most of the other runners loved running through such a beautiful park, but I just couldn't wait to get out of there.
I recovered a little when I got onto Haight. I think I prefer running on city streets during a marathon over trees and nature. It's great during a training run, but I'm more entertained by city streets. In any event, I intended to forego as many walk breaks as I could and just plow ahead. I was doing well until about mile 22 when my stride turned into more of a shuffle. As evidenced by my pace, I slowed down from a 9:04/mile pace at the 20 mile mark to my final pace of 9:19/mile at the finish. That means I was probably running over 10 minutes per mile from mile 20 on. Not good.
All in all, I would rank San Francisco as the toughest course I have run. It definitely got the better of me, and for that reason I feel compelled to come back, if not next year then the following year. I intend to beat this course and post a time worth bragging about. To do so I'll have to take my training more seriously than I have in the last year.
One last thing about the race, the organizers really did a great job. Everything ran smoothly and I saw no major issues that I would correct. I'm not a fan of running those loops through Golden Gate Park, but I think others disagree with me. I also want to commend the organizers on neat little touches that help make this post-race period just as much fun. For one, the medal they give for the marathon can double as a coaster. Smart! I also love the video they provide on the website of everyone's finish. Although I'm mostly obscured by a tall runner in my video, I still got a laugh at seeing how quickly I transitioned from running to walking as soon as I crossed the finish line. I guess I'm serious about not running one more step at the finish.
As for San Francisco itself, it's the first time that I actually saw what others love about the city. The previous times I've been there, I've found it a nice city but not worth falling in love with. That's probably due to the fact that I have mostly visited the touristy areas in downtown. Staying with Liza in the Mission District, though, I really enjoyed the relaxed feel of the neighborhood, which also had a bounty of great shops and such. I wished I could have walked through the area more, but with the marathon I really had to avoid being on my feet so much. I think I did too much walking as it was and might have played a part in how quickly my legs fatigued. I'm still not convinced that San Francisco is as great as others make it out to be, but I finally started seeing the reason why people think highly of it--and the reason can be found away from downtown. Next time I visit the city I will definitely spend more time exploring other neighborhoods of the city.