Can I just say it?
The San Francisco Marathon race day experience is one that I will never ever forget.
Our morning started at the Green Tortoise hostel. One of my roomies at the hostel was running the first half and being she was setting her alarm, I asked her to blow me out of bed if I was not up by 4:15. There was nothing really to worry about as for some reason even after going to bed at like 8, my brain woke me up at 3:45. I tried to get out of my room and sort myself out on the stairs but lord knows I always forget something so after a couple quite but mad dashes back to the room, Emma and I went down stairs together and met three amazing ladies (Anita, Kelly and Kristy), and our new friend Pascal. We had decided to walk to the start line together as we had been only a little more then a mile away. Our hostel was so cool that while we had been getting ourselves together in the lobby they started playing Rocky’s Theme to cheer us on. We made an agreement to meet back in the lobby the celebrate at the Hard Rock later. I have to say, getting five new amazing international friends out of this trip was a huge plus.
As an ambassador I had the privileged and honor of being afforded the VIP treatment. And let me just say this was a spoil. We had our own pre-race food, bag check and bathrooms. It made pre-race so much easier then it normally is for me. I got to the tent was able to drop my bag and just take in the pre-race. But from what I understand from my friends, it was easy to find everything they needed to be ready for the pre-race.
Now let me be blunt. My training had not been the way it should not of been. Anyone who has been following my life outside of my blog knows that I have been dealing with a lot and my running has been what I can handle when I can handle. So between that and the fact this race has a 6 hour limit, my nerves played a huge number on me. I had considered downgrading before the race, but I also knew for a fact, that this trip could be once in a life time. I do not know where my life is going to lead in the next couple years. My dear friend and fellow ambassador Charles had talked me through the nerves, which helped me put perspective on the race itself.
The next thing I know it was time to take off.
The first few miles of the race take you down the water through Fishermans Warf before you hit the first hill at Fort Mason. I had been familiar with this as it was the path to the expo, and knew I just needed to slow it down and take it at my own pace. Once you are through there you head through Crissy Field. The weather was a NW Native’s dream come true. It was cold, a little drizzly and grey.
And then you hit the Golden Gate Bridge. This is the only race that gets to hits the actual road way. To say running the bridge was surreal was an understatement. It was hard to not just get lost in the moment. I was lucky because my fellow ambassador and friend Lisa grabbed me and got a great pic of me on the bridge itself. For those who are looking for this to be a fast part of the course, it wont be, its crowded and slightly cumbersome as everyone seems to be taking photos. But how can you blame them? It is so amazing.
After we come off the bridge, we go back to hill climbing. to take the Baker Beach area. You come out to this amazing overlook to Baker Beach. For as tough as this part of the course is it is also very beautiful and scenic.
After getting through Baker Beach and heading into the Presidio you start a series of tough hill climbs. Lets just say it. This race has soooo many hills. But you are truly seeing all the amazing parts of SF. I think at this point of the race is where I realized that this race was going to be mentally tougher then I ever imagined.
Once you come through the Presido you hit Golden Gate Park. I am going to be very blunt here. You spend a good bunch of miles in Golden Gate Park. This is also where the first half marathon finishes. (I have not decided if it is cool to watch the first half finish or depressing.) They are amazing miles around Stow Lake, the buffalo paddocks, and close to the flower conservatory. I actually had to laugh at Stow Lake because a duck came out of the water and stopped started at me and just started to quack his fool head off. I actually had to stop and take his photo because he was amusing me so much.
The bad thing is the miles here get long and you find yourself asking; “Am I ever going to make it out?” Several people I was running with at the time all said the same thing. We felt like we had been stuck there forever.
After the park, you hit the Ashbury Heights neighborhood, and I have to admit, I enjoy the eclectic nature of this area. So many people sitting outside enjoying their breakfasts, and trying to give us all insane looks like we have no clue what we had doing. But there was so much elevation change here, as in up and down hills, I really did feel like I was hitting the wall. But it goes back to the one thing you hear me mention, is how its about focusing on the next step in front of you. So I broke it down that way, worked on the next step.
We headed for the Tenderloin and it reminded me a lot of the industrial district in Portland. There was also sporadic water stations here. This is not an issue for me, as I am always carrying what I need (though it started leaking after two years) .
Once we made the final turn back to the water I realized that no matter what was going to happen, I was going to be a finisher (the race has a 6 hour time limit which adds to the challenge). All I needed to do was to stay the course and stay with the slower pace I had set. I saw Nicole, who was on the tail end of running 52.4 miles and she looked amazing. She inspired me to aim for bigger goals next year, because maybe an Ultra is something I can.
I was running with a lady who had been running through Portland before which helped push me and we ran into a gal who was having cramps. We supplied her with as much gu and electrolytes before we made the turn towards the Bay Bridge.
I made the finish and I was done. Physically and emotionally. I needed food, and my medal. I made my way to the tent with my boxed water to get a hug from my fellow ambassador the lovley Heather who stayed to take care of the last of the finishers in the ambassadors tent.
There is a reason this race is considered one of the toughest in the country. It pushes you and pushes you hard. But getting to see an amazing city with so much scenery, is so worth it. It is well organized, the running community is very supportive and you get to run the Golden Gate Bridge. Is it perfect? No, but there is no race that is. But the staff of the marathon is dedicated to making it better.
My final thoughts?
You have to figure out how strong you really are.
Being an ambassador for this race has truly been a life changing experience.
I have an amazing group of running friends that will be with me for the rest of my life.
I learned that if I wanted to accomplish something I just needed to go after it.
I learned that my story inspires others.
I can not thank the SF Marathon staff, especially Lark and Nich for taking such good care of their ambassadors and helping me through a life changing experience that I will never forget.
I will be back. My mission is to be a stronger runner so the hills don’t hurt so much. I know this is something I can accomplish