A week ago I ran my third marathon, and my first of 2009: The San Francisco Marathon. It was a most excellent experience with perfect weather, beautiful views, and quad-grinding hills.
It also happened to fall on mine and Jen’s 6th wedding anniversary, so extra special thanks to Jen for supporting my marathon habit – even when it falls on our anniversary! Happy anniversary, my love!
Leading up to the SF Marathon, my plan had been to shoot for a 3:15, which would require a 7:27 pace, and would be a stretch, but within reason. The day before the marathon, however, I realized there was no 3:15 pace group, and while talking with one of the 3:10 pace group leaders in the moments after meeting Dean Karnazes, I got all fired up and decided what the hell? I might as well push for a 3:10 pace (7:15/mile) and see how long I can sustain it.
Of course, this is a big no-no (changing your goal and strategy the day before a big race), so I wouldn’t really recommend it to anyone.
But as Jen and Pete pointed out, what did I have to lose? I’d already been planning to run a much faster marathon this October – where I still hope to qualify for the Boston Marathon with a 3:10 – and I knew my chances would be a lot better there than in SF. It would be good data to have, Jen pointed out – how long I could hold a 7:15 average pace on a challenging course.
So I went for it, knowing that I probably wouldn’t hit a 3:10 on a notoriously tough course, but that it would’ve been pretty freakin’ awesome if I had.
Marathon morning, Jen woke up with me at the insane hour of 3am as I suited up with all my marathon gear. We were on our way from Treasure Island into pre-dawn San Francisco by a little after 4am.
Jen’s Facebook status update that morning pointed out that it was the earliest we’d been up in SF without having stayed up all night the night before.
The 5:30am start was seriously early, but turned out to be a good thing since the fog held almost exactly the entire time I was racing.
The race organizers somehow messed up the wave number printed on my bib. Based on my estimated finish time (EFT), I should’ve been securely in Wave #1 (EFT of 3:29 or less). But my bib showed me as Wave #2, so I was turned away from the entrance to Wave #1, and had to force my way through a massive crowd of runners entering in the second wave corral with just minutes to spare before the start.
So I never actually found the 3:10 pace group, as I’d planned. In the congested start, they were off in the distance before I could even join them. The same thing happened at CIM, when I had hoped to run with the 3:20 pace group (which I eventually did after catching them in the second half).
I started strong in the opening 5 miles (7:21, 7:11, 7:24, 7:10, 7:15) down the fog-drenched Embarcadero, through Fort Mason, the Marina – where a cheering Jen gave me my first early support – and up the first (and steepest) hills of the course (0 to 289 feet) leading up to the Golden Gate Bridge.
The trek across the Golden Gate was beautiful in the early morning hours – with a fog horn sounding from the waters below every couple minutes. It wasn’t too crowded among the pack of runners I was with, and at that point, I was still keeping my eyes peeled for the 3:10 pace group, on the off chance that I might gain on them.
The bridge was wet with condensation and fog, so running over the occasional metal grate was precarious, and I worried I’d lose my footing.
At the end of the bridge was the turn-around point and aid station, and leading up to it is where I caught a glimpse of the lead runners – not the usual African elite runners since this tough course is brutal on everyone. I gained some speed on the return trip on the bridge back toward the city, passing a few runners, and getting a boost of energy from the cars who honked and cheered their support as they drove past.
Back on land, we headed into the fog-covered Presidio – a former army base – for a mix of steep climbs, winding trails, and fierce downhills.
I got another Jen-boost around Mile 10, where my Garmin told me I was averaging about 7:16/mile – I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t too far off the aggressive 3:10 goal. According to my Garmin data, I averaged 7:18 through the first 13 miles.
After a fast Mile 14 (7:04), my quick pace started to take its toll on the steep and winding roads through Golden Gate Park (the elevation changed from 68 to 305 feet on Mile 14.5 through Mile 17). I started to hear other runners calling out that “it’s all downhill from Mile 18 to the end.” So mentally, I started pushing for Mile 18.
Exiting the park just after Mile 19 and charging into the Haight-Ashbury, I was revitalized by the change of scenery. Much to my surprise, I’d also been running in the same vicinity as the 3:20 pace group by this time, jockeying to stay ahead of the encouraging pace group leader and determined not to lose sight of the 3:20 group.
The slower pace in the second half was really taking a toll on my finish goal (splits in Miles 15-20: 7:44,7:43,8:02,7:27,7:44,7:54).
So my adjusted goal was to finish as close to or ahead of 3:20 as I could. I wasn’t going to let the 3:20 pace leader – and the one or two runners clinging by his side – out of my sight.
It was around this time that I accepted an orange slice from some guy in the Haight. It tasted a little funny and then I realized, “Shit, I just ate an orange from a dude in the freakin’ Haight. I hope I don’t start tripping.” Even my next GU didn’t get rid of the funny taste.
Hitting the 20-mile mark is a triumph in any marathon and in SF it was no exception. It’s often said that the final 6.2 miles are when the second half of the marathon begins. Indeed. I felt depleted, but dug deep and ran as hard as I could through China Basin, past AT&T Park and toward the final stretch back onto the Embarcadero (splits from Miles 21-26: 7:24,7:39,8:10,8:12,8:00,8:04).
In the final couple miles leading to the finish, the crowd began to thin, and the collective pace of runners around me began to slow.
After crossing the 26-mile marker – always a huge relief in any marathon – I turned it on for the final stretch. As the crowd lining the course thickened, my pace quickened, and the announcer leaned in to read the name on my bib. “Let’s hear it for this guy – let’s hear it for Gabe – he’s all alone out here!”
The crowd cheered as I kept one eye on the finish line and another in the crowd, looking for Jen, Pete, Sierra, and Enoch. I caught them out of my right eye, jumping and cheering as I flew across the finish line and tore off my hat, holding it high in the air. I got choked up as I slowed into the finishers’ corral, proud, relieved, and satisfied to be done with another marathon.
The fog cleared shortly after I crossed the finish line, where we spent the next couple hours basking in the glorious sunshine of a picture-perfect San Francisco morning, enjoying some brews and each other’s company.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I placed 235th overall out of 5,093 finishers, or in the top 4.6% – definitely an accomplishment I can be proud of, even with my crazy last-minute tinkering with my goal pace.
Could I have run a 3:15 with a more even pace from the beginning? Possibly. But did I build the confidence of running about half of a tough marathon course at the 7:15 I’ll need to maintain on a faster course for a BQ? Definitely.
Big thank you to the most supportive marathon wife ever, and to my bro and Sierra (props for stocking and rolling the mobile finish line bar!), and Enoch for cheering me on at the finish – and to my Mom for driving from Southern California to see me at the finish, and Ben for joining the finish line festivities. You guys rock and I love you all!
|Split||Time||Avg Speed||Avg HR|
Official chip time – 3:20:07.
Here’s an anniversary toast: