Monday, June 24, 2013

San Francisco Makes Three Marathons in Six Weeks

There must be something wrong with me. In my training for the San Francisco Marathon I somehow convinced myself that it would be a good idea not to do an 18 mile training run, nor a 20 mile training run but to instead run two marathons along the way.

With six weeks to go until this my goal event, I joined my buddy John down in Santa Cruz for the Surfer’s Path Marathon. Four weeks out I nearly killed myself on the upper hills of Oakland in the Canyon Meadow Marathon. And now it was time to face down the hills of San Francisco for the event I originally intended for early summer.

After the trail marathon in Oakland my body was beat up. It took me much longer than usual to recover. My quads were talking and my ankle was crying uncle. I took it very easy the week after that one. Then I had a work trip to London the week prior to SF Marathon, so I decided to run again but super easy. My company put me up at the Lancaster London which is right across the street from Hyde Park, my favorite place to run in London. It has an endless maze of trails, all flat and all easy on the body. A perfect recovery course.

By the end of the week there I felt ready to take on another race. Or so I had hoped.

I woke on race day at about 3 in the morning. For some reason, the SF Marathon starts at the rude hour of 5:30am. This lets them clear the course and open the roads (especially the Golden Gate Bridge) to all traffic by 11am. But it still felt cruel to get up so early.

Kent and I carpooled into the city and were parked and in our corral by 4:45 and ready to go. It was an incredible morning in The City. At that hour the skies were clear and the lights on the Bay Bridge lit up the waterfront. It wasn’t windy and thus was warmer than expected. The gun went off to start the race and we were off. At this point I was immediately feeling the Canyon Meadow Trail Marathon - I was sluggish. I was barely able to hold an 8-minute mile, which is a slow start for me. Kent, quickly moved ahead.

The race starts along the Embarcadero waterfront, and follows the same course as our SF to Tiburon training run - out to Crissy Field, into the Presidio and up to the Golden Gate Bridge. The race takes the rightmost two lanes from the roadway, leaving the pedestrian pathway clear for spectators. When we hit the bridge it was still clear and calm and the sun had begun to rise in the East throwing gorgeous light across the water. About half way across, coming at us, were the first place runners. I’m always amazed at how relaxed they look, despite doing 5 minute miles. How do they do it?

When we had made the turn on the Marin-side of the bridge and were coming back, it was starting to get warm and I was beginning to worry about my wardrobe plan. The forecast had been for low 50s the entire morning so I had pulled out my SMS long sleeve running tee, PowerBar vest and black running tights. Here on the bridge it was already well above 60 degrees. But as we turned off the bridge and started heading toward Golden Gate Park, there was fog overhead and the weather turned colder. Perfect.

The next ten miles or so took place entirely in this incredible city park winding from ocean beach, through to the Haight and back a few more times. At mile 13 we split off from the half marathon runners and went West into the park for 4 miles before looping back to the half marathon finish. It’s kind of disheartening running past a finish line knowing you have about eight more miles to go. But a few of the spectators and runners who were finished, turned toward us and cheered us on. Thanks.

After the race left the park is where it got weird. This is the only race I’ve done where the course splits at several intersections. You’ll be running along and all of the sudden the volunteers who sent those before you straight ahead, now direct you to the right. The SF Marathon does this strange course splitting about 5 times. I don’t know if it actually serves any purpose. It certainly isn’t controlling runner crowds because there weren’t more than 10 of us at a time, going through. I don’t think it helped with traffic flow because while the split does shift us from Northbound to Southbound lanes, we ultimately have to cross those same lanes when we rejoin the main course. And at times it felt like these detours elongated the course. Kent said his Garmin showed 26.37 at the finish.

As I had successfully done during the Canyon Meadow Marathon, I was continuing to take advantage of my new technique for downhills - no braking. On this part of the course there was a lot of up, flat, then down. I would pass the folks around me on the ups, they would catch back up on the flats and then I’d leave them in the dust on the downs. I really like this new change to my marathon running as it really gives me a serious breather on the downhills while gaining speed and not taxing my leg muscles with braking actions.

Despite the gains of the downhills I never caught Kent. We were back and forth with each other the first 13 miles but then he was able to hold a stronger pace than I and off he went. He is really becoming such a stronger runner. Way to go, man!

The second half of the SF Marathon isn’t very scenic until you get past mile 22. It goes through some well known neighborhoods but they are mostly inland and there’s a fair amount of warehouses and body shops along the way. When it gets toward the water then it gets good. By mile 24 we were approaching AT&T Park. When I did the SF Marathon second half, a few years back, we ran on the Embarcadero to the finish moving along the road in front of the home of the SF Giants. This time we ran along the waterfront trail that encircles the park - definitely a far better trail. Being along the water always relaxes me and the views were great as there was no fog once again here in the east side of the city.

Despite the miles, my body was feeling good again as the final two miles came upon me. I held pace and pushed on as we put the ballpark behind us and could see the Ferry Building up ahead. I crossed the line in 3:36, a strong time for me. Kent, the stud, crossed 4 minutes earlier. Awesome.

Despite the hard training with the prior two marathons the SF Marathon was a very steady race for me. Usually I have a faster first half than second but in this race my splits were even at around 8 minutes a mile the entire way. I attribute a lot of things to this - good nutrition planning, the no-brakes downhills and solid, steady pacing.

Not a bad way to reach number 45 in my marathoning career.   

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