It was kind of a dream come true when I had the opportunity to run across the Golden Gate Bridge – not just once, but twice – at last year’s San Francisco First Half Marathon. It was such a fun, well-organized race that within days of registration opening for the 2016 race, I had signed up to run the San Francisco Second Half Marathon.
By way of explanation…each year, the San Francisco Marathon also includes two half marathons: the 1st Half, which mirrors (not surprisingly) the first half of the marathon course, and starts alongside the marathon runners, like I did last year; and the 2nd Half, which starts at a slightly different location, but joins up midway through the marathon and ends at the same spot. My motivation for running the 2nd half was two-fold: 1) to visit our friends in San Francisco again, and 2) for a medal – and not just any medal…
A few months ago, however, motivation number one became moot, as our friends relocated to Seattle! This is not a bad thing, since they’re now much closer to us – but we sadly didn’t see them in SF this time. Nevertheless, we founds ourselves an Airbnb within walking distance of the Start Line, so we were good to go.
We flew down to SFO on Saturday morning, and caught the efficient and highly recommended Wingz service directly to Fort Mason, where the Expo was taking place again this year. I felt a bit more familiar with some of the race brands as well, since I’m a huge fan of nuun (which was also being handed out on the course), as well as a SPIBelt Ambassador. Made to sure snap photos of the reps at each booth! (Don’t forget, use the code ‘bradley2016’ for a free gift at checkout with any SPIBelt purchase!)
Bib in hand, we bussed all the way to Outer Richmond to check in. I went for a quick shake-out run by Ocean Beach to get myself ready for the next morning.
Having sussed out the start line location during my run the night before, I knew it was just a 10-minute walk from our Airbnb. It was near the western end of Golden Gate Park, just steps from the Dutch Windmill.
Arrived a bit earlier than necessary, but that allowed time to use the toilet and relax. Also, happily ran into fellow #BibRavePro – Jenny! Thankfully, she recognized me by my hat, since I’m a bit oblivious when it comes to noticing people in crowds. We wished each other well, and headed to our corrals.
One of the weirdest sights, particularly for me as a Canadian, was seeing a police (?) officer with a rifle. I guess he was there for our protection. It kind of freaked me out. I didn’t take his picture.
Trying to seed myself strategically – knowing I couldn’t keep up with the 1:40 pacer, but wanting to keep the 1:50 pacer behind me – I just wiggled in between…and snuggled up to the heater that was set up for us, because it was a bit chilly. I regretted not bringing gloves at that moment, but would forget about it soon enough.
Following the singing of the national anthem – and whoever sang, she was absolutely phenomenal! – the elite wave was off. Those of us in Wave 2 started two minutes later.
Golden Gate Park
The first 8.5km of the race wound through the paths of Golden Gate Park. It was slightly foggy, so there wasn’t a ton of scenery visible. I started out sort of slowly, and found the route a bit crowded. We also had a wee out and back spot, which narrowed the path significantly. Somebody was running with music playing through a small speaker. There was a dead, flattened mouse on the ground. It was surprisingly muggy for an overcast morning, and I no longer wished I had gloves.
I kind of lost track of where we were, the path winding through the Park – but I know now that we did a complete loop of Stow Lake, and I saw this peekaboo view of the Chinese Pagoda.
And moments later we were passing the finish line of the First Half – a spot a remembered well from last year! But we still had a long way to go…
The road widened and the runners were much more spread out. I caught up with the 1:55 pacer (not sure where she got ahead of me!) and forged ahead.
We exited the park at its eastern end, to cheers from spectators and volunteers (including the amazing bunch of bikers scattered along the course – so much positivity!)
I’ll mention here that all of the multiple fuelling stations were efficient and well-stocked with water and nuun. I took advantage of most of them, and was very glad that there were so many!
We were now in the Haight-Ashbury district – specifically, running east along Haight Street. It was still early, so a lot of the many restaurants and shops were still closed. However, it was so cool to see all of the brightly coloured buildings. And in a splash of character, a homeless guy wrapped in a blanket was cheering enthusiastically from a prone position on a bus stop bench.
And then the hills – DOWN hills! A couple of fairly steep declines, each within just a block or so. I tried to pick up a bit of speed while still staying in control. I didn’t want to take a tumble, because I knew I wouldn’t stop!
A few turns, and we were running along the northern edge of the Mission District. And I’ll admit that I started zoning out a bit at this point. The streets were very…normal. Average city streets, nothing especially remarkable. And for about 3km, we were going essentially in a straight line.
Then a group of people was handing out free beer. Beer. Not something I could stomach at this point in the race. Some were taking advantage of this generosity!
Under a freeway, a few more twists and turns, and we were running along the water. Or, at least, the water was over there…past a bunch of factories and abandoned warehouses. The type of neighbourhood where you wouldn’t want to hang about, or race through unless you were surrounded by hundreds of others. Reminded me a bit of Gotham.
And then we were skirting AT&T Park (home of the San Francisco Giants), and the true waterfront – the Embarcadero!
Closing in on the spot where I started the First Half Marathon a year ago. The Bay Bridge overhead, the crowds cheering. I picked up the pace as best I could, and crossed the finish line with my hands in the air!
My time was just 4 seconds faster than last year – and I am OK with that. I achieved my goal of completing both the First Half and the Second Half!
Oh the bling! Yes, I got my half marathon medal. But the real treat – and my other motivation for running this race – was the Half It All Challenge medal. By completing both the First Half and the Second Half in consecutive years (in either order), participants receive what I consider to be one of the best medals in my collection. Totally WORTH THE HURT!
There was a beer garden on site – but I didn’t feel like lining up, and honestly didn’t want beer, we went out for coffee instead.
And that was the San Francisco Second Half Marathon!
We stayed in San Francisco for a couple of days, and did some of the most touristy things we could. Here is a small sample:
San Francisco – you’ve been good to me! Thanks for an awesome race experience, yet again!
Chip Time: 1:50:03
Average Pace: 8:24 min/mile (5:13 min/km)
Place Overall: 744/4489
Age Category Place: 44/212
San Francisco 2nd Half Marathon – Quick Review
Social Media: @theSFMarathon is quite active on social media – Twitter, Facebook & Instagram. Their communications via email ramp up as the event approaches, and provide what I consider to be just enough information. Thumbs up!
Package Pickup: The Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason gets pretty crowded, and I was really glad we didn’t have to worry about parking! If you can, come by transit. There were loads of vendors and sponsors at the Expo – pretty much every kind of gear you could want. Since we were shopping with low-value Canadian dollars, the only purchase I made was some nuun.
T-shirt/Swag: I’ll admit that I loved last year’s long-sleeved technical shirt because it was orange. This year’s was grey-ish, with a colourful design. The race medal itself was simple if underwhelming – but I absolutely adore my Half It All medal!
Course: More uphill than you might expect weaving in and around Golden Gate Park. With divided pathways as people wound their way out and back, I found this part of the route too crowded. Steep downhills mid-race were fun and speedy, but took their toll on my calves the next day. I’ll admit that a good chuck in the latter half of the race was kind of boring, until we approached the finish line. But at least it was flat.
Post-Race: It was a LONG walk from the finishing chute to where the after-party was taking place. There was a beer garden, but I didn’t partake. Not a bad setup from what I could see.
Organization: The SF Marathon puts on a top-notch event. The whole thing is really well organized, their aid stations are plentiful and well-stocked, and the volunteers are amazing. Very consistent and in line with what I experienced last year.
Would I run it again? Probably not. And this is not to downplay the event – but because I want to travel elsewhere and do other races! And because SF is an awfully expensive city to stay in. If I did have the opportunity to participate again (free race entry anyone?), I would probably go back and do the First Half, which is far more scenic and honestly more fun!
Have you ever run a San Francisco race?
What’s your favourite place in SF?