We started at 0530hrs at the Embarcadero along the water front. The air was cool and damp, but not nearly as cold and windy as the night before. The bridge to San Rafael was capped with lights which stood out against the dark backdrop of the San Francisco sky that morning. After the gun went off, the course carried us around the waterline for about 5 miles, all the way to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. When we got to the GGB, the air was noticeably cooler and as we began the start of a steady three-mile climb up to and across the bridge, the low-lying fog and cloud cover--which make the GGB so famous for use in photos and movies--coated the runners' skin as if running through a mist. The wind was also kicking up and I was tucked right in the middle of my 3:40 (8:30/mile) pace group. At that point, you couldn't see a damn thing, but you could hear the low, eery bellowing sound of the Hornblower and other bay barges and boats as they made their way under the bridge. (Note: The horns sounded just like the alien pod 'collectors' in Tom Cruise's War of the Worlds a couple years ago. Made me smile.)
The plan, so to speak, was to run really conservatively with the slow pace group through the first half of the race and then if I felt good, I could pick it up once the majority of the hills subsided. If I didn't feel good, then I'd just knuckle down and stay in the middle of the 3:40 pack. Regardless, I committed to myself that I wouldn't make a move one minute or one mile sooner than the midway point (13.1 miles) and I was going to remain patient and just read my body until then.
Yeah, I scrapped that plan.
At mile 11, I felt good. After severe cramping in Cincy and Seattle, I came into this race way over-hydrated (as evidenced by unplanned pitstops in the bushes at mile 2, 8 and later at mile 17 to empty a full bladder.) Due to those stops, I frequently lost touch with the pace group, which obviously kept on running as I ducked in and out. The desperate yo-yo'ing of sprinting to catch back up eventually caused an adrenaline spike and on a huge downhill, I just took off, unlocking my legs and letting my body hurtle me down the hill. I can remember Natasha Badmann running back several minutes in the Hawaii Ironman a couple years ago, by sprinting the down hills while all the other women were locking out their legs and "bracing" down the hill. First, that's brutal on your quads and knees, especially in latter stages of a marathon. Secondly, it's analagous to sitting the breaks while driving down a steep hill; you're just breaking your own natural momentum and killing your breaks in the process. That said, I went with it...and went I did. I just ran. Soon the pace group was no longer visible over my shoulder.
It was a gamble, but as the splits corroborate, each mile was getting faster and each segment (as shown below) was getting faster than the previous. When it was all said and done, the last six miles were the fastest of the entire race.
At any rate, after we crossed back over the Golden Gate, the course wound thru the Golden Gate Park, which was absolutely gorgeous...it reminded me of Rock Creek Park in D.C., yet it was distinctly California in terms of flora and fauna. This section was particularly hilly as well. When we made it out of the park, we climbed to the top of Height Ashbury, which was the highest elevation point on the entire course and your legs were really feeling it at that point.
Height Ashbury, is the famous anti-war, home of the Grateful Dead, noted for its prodigious and flagrant weed smoking, and as the epicenter of the 60s and 70s west coast counter-culture revolution. Even still, the long-hairs were out in force to cheer everyone...even the likes of a short-haired agent who's running for injured American soldiers--the very thing they once and still do protest on a daily basis. In a sense, that's the strangely unifying spirit of distance running. It brings together opposing sides, ideologies, and perspectives, which might otherwise, never see eye to eye on any issue of real substance.
With that, we began a series of rolling descents, all the way to the old packing houses that lie about 4 miles from the finish. At this point, I focused on form, breathing and driving it home. I had long since ditched my pace group and was inching closer to an overall average of 8:00/mile, something I never would've thought possible when looking at the race profile and in light of my implosion a month earlier in Seattle. Regardless, I pushed through and crossed the first line (26.2 miles, though obviously it remained unmarked) in 3:32 and then crossed the "official" finish line in 3:34:07. According to the Garmin readout, that's 8:02 average for the entire race, but the race website, has it (26.2, not 26.65) as being 8:10 per mile. Either way, it's done and on the books.
On the whole, I loved my trip to San Francisco. I ran a good race. Got a lot of work done for some clients. Saw the city where I was born. Ate the best Chow Mein of my life on the 2nd floor balcony of a tiny restaurant in Chinatown. Rode a trolley. Saw where one of my favorite movies, Bullit, was shot. Watched a 2-hour dance showcase in Union Square. Saw my fair share of locals, tourists, trannies and homeless. Ate a little bit of San Fran sea food. Had two post-race, well-deserved gin & tonics. Slept like a baby the night after the race, for the first time in almost a month.
Though I love this city, and will undoubtedly be back more and more over the next couple years--both for business and for recreation--there truly is no place like home. With that, my bags are packed and I'm going to do some client work until taking off for the airport and my 1500hrs PST flight back to Washington, D.C.
San Francisco is on the books and Colorado Springs is up next, where I'll be doing the American Discovery Trail Marathon over Labor Day weekend. Thanks for all your support.
Seven down. Three to go.