San Francisco Half Marathon


Happy to join Jessica at The Silvah Lining for her #TuesdayTales race recap link up! Share your race recaps!

The Silvah Lining

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I feel like a lot has happened in the past few days – and all of it good! Thinking about how to sum up an amazing weekend in Northern California combined with a world-class half marathon, I’m almost at a loss for words. Almost. Because I’ve still got lots to say!

Signing Up

I’m not exactly sure what put the San Francisco Half Marathon on my radar. But at some point I decided it was going to be on of my 2015 #yearofthehalf races. I checked in with my dear friend, Wendy, who I’ve known since we met in Japan some years back. She and her family live in Marin County, just over the Golden Gate Bridge. Can we visit in July?  I asked way back in February. Confirmed!

So we arrived at SFO late on Friday night. Wendy was there to pick us up, and given that we hadn’t seen each other in 5 years, there was lots of catching up to do!

Expo Day

Despite our late arrival, I had decided to do some Marin County training. We were staying in Mill Valley, hidden amongst the redwoods. I ventured out into town and back, and managed a 5.5km shakeout run while the rest of the gang went to a local cafe. It was beautiful.

Then we were off to the Expo! Wendy said she was expecting a table with bibs – not the huge event that it actually was! Not surprisingly, the place was heaving. With a full marathon, TWO half marathons, a 5k AND an ultra (double) marathon to be run, some 25,000 people had to pick up their race packets.

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In what was arguably some strategic planning, the packet pickup was at the very back of the venue, requiring all participants to walk amongst the vendors and sponsors.

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It took more time to fight through the crowd than it did to get my bib and T-shirt. I grabbed a couple of quick samples – my beloved nuun and some Simply 7 Hummus Chips – but limited my browsing since we had Wendy’s daughter in tow.

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We napped in the afternoon, and then had dinner by the water in Tiburon – with views of Angel Island and San Fran in the distance.

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After dinner, prepped my gear for an early morning…


Race Day

In order to ensure we were downtown in time for the 5:30am start, the household was up at 3:30am. I had coffee, oatmeal and toast with peanut butter – nothing fancy or unfamiliar, and certainly no smoothie! But despite taking my time before we left, I knew a potty break would be required.

Traffic was light and I was dropped off a block from the start line before 5am. I made a beeline for the toilet lines, which were thankfully short.


Then I made my way to the starting corral. It was dark, with the lights of the Bay Bridge as a backdrop.


The San Francisco Marathon is unique. Those running the First Half Marathon (like me) start out with the Full Marathon runners. We follow the same route until the final mile in Golden Gate Park – the half marathoners veer left to the finish, and the full marathoners continue. And at mile 13, the Second Half Marathon runners start their race (around 8am) and follow the remainder of the marathon route.

Long story short, there were both half and full marathon runners with me in the corral. (I wore my Tiux Compression Socks, too!)

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At 5:30, the gun went off and the elites headed out. Our wave started two minutes later.

The Waterfront – The ‘Flat’ Part

The route took us along the Embarcadero, the historic waterfront with all the Piers. Pier 33 – the ferry to Alcatraz. Pier 39 – the Aquarium. Fisherman’s Wharf. I tried to take photos as I was running, but this is all I got:

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I realized within the first mile or so that I shouldn’t have gone to my corral so soon. I should have lined up again for the toilets. I really had to pee.

At the first water stop, I made a decision – it was now or never, stop for a potty break or be miserable for the next 90 minutes. I erred on the side of comfort, and added about 45 seconds to my overall time. But it was my best decision that morning.

Then we met our first hill.

Up and up, up to the top of Fort Mason. A blip on the elevation profile, a chore in real life. Thankfully, with an empty bladder, I was feeling quite spritely and made it to the top without incident. Here we had some pretty remarkable views of the city, but none of my blurry photos do it justice. We wended our way back down to the waterfront.

Past the Palace of Fine Arts, through Crissy Field. And thanks to the generosity of Hoka One One – free race photo number one!


Through the fog and the brightening sky, the Golden Gate Bridge came into view.

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At Mile 5, the game changed. The hills that San Francisco is renowned for – this was one of them. Not like the Fort Mason hill – a legit hill. We somehow had to get to the bridge, and up was the only option! I was determined not to walk, no matter how slow I was going. The road twisted and curved, and suddenly it was there in front of me (the blurriness evokes some of the ‘feel’ of the run…)

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The Bridge

That’s right folks! My purpose for being here. The reason I chose the First Half. The icon of San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge!


The upper reaches were still shrouded in fog. It was surprisingly quiet. There was a bit of traffic – only the 3 lanes on the east side were for runners. It was windy. It was amazing to be there.


The bridge deck is about a mile and a half long (over 2,500 metres) – and midway across we encountered the lead runners on their return journey. I was paying more attention to them than to my laboured breathing. It was inspiring. And at some point, we hit the halfway mark.


At the far side of the bridge, we did a loop around the lookout point – I didn’t stop to take in the view, and I’m pretty sure it was still too foggy to see much. Then we were the ones heading back, and an increasing volume of runners were approaching.

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The toll gates were all flashing SLOW but a sign above clearly stated DON’T STOP – I took this as encouragement, and forged ahead.


To the Finish

Although running the Golden Gate was the obvious highlight of this race, my truly favourite section followed. We were running Lincoln Boulevard, along the western edge of The Presidio. Nothing but the wild Pacific Ocean spreading out to our right. The crowds had thinned, and even the runners started to spread out a bit – we were heading up again…

At the peak, the sweeping vistas were breathtaking. The photos do not do justice.



Downhill again.

The final stretch took us through the streets of the city, with some of that awesome San Fran architecture. I did not take photos on the run, but here are a few from the day before…

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Left turn. We’re in Golden Gate Park. A curve. Another left, while the marathoners turn right. Where is the finish line? Another curve and there it is – I speed up for (what I hoped would be) a strong finish.

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They call my name – Wendy, just steps from the announcer, corrects his pronunciation – and he repeats it. This makes me grin like an idiot.


A medal. A space blanket. Some food AND some Irish coffee! My 7th half marathon of 2015 is complete!


The Holiday Continues

It’s only 7:30am! The day stretches out ahead of us! We drive back over the Golden Gate Bridge, as runners continue their journey. I’m glad to be done. The day involves:



A nap!

Late lunch and some errands with the family.

An amazing massage (I got treated!)

Then a relaxing dinner at home.

Monday was a bit more on the sightseeing front:

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An amazing race weekend – and more importantly a fantastic time with good friends. We will be back for another race!!


Final Results

Chip Time: 1:50:10
Average pace: 8:25 min/mile (5:13 min/km)
Overall: 620/7727
Age Ranking: 99/845



What a great race! The scenery, the city, the energy, the people, the Bridge! What more can I say?

Packet Pickup/Expo
Crazy busy expo, extremely crowded parking lot. To be fair, they warned us repeatedly to take transit to get there – but we were with a family coming from outside of the city, so it made more sense to drive. I found the flow of people inside a bit challenging. Because the bib/shirt pickup was at the very back of the hall, you had to fight your way through some serious crowds. I prefer it when you can enter, get your stuff, and then wander through the expo.

Long-sleeved t-shirt in orange. I didn’t wear it for the race, but I will look forward to wearing it when the weather cools off. Pleased with the design and the colour. The medal is quite lovely, if a bit small. It has a classic feel to it. The unexpected perk was the free race photos sponsored by Hoka One One!

The First Half starts out flat, has a fairly short, steep hill, and then is flat again until you head upwards to the Golden Gate Bridge. The Bridge itself has a gradual, gentle slope. The rest of the course is fairly consistent up and down to the finish. A challenging course with some amazing views. The fog on race day made it a wee bit less scenic, but cooler to run!

Aid Stations
There were several, and I think they all had nuun and water. I grabbed nuun at a couple of them. On the far side of Golden Gate, they were handing out Gu Chew packets. Everything seemed quite efficient.

I believe there were more festivities at the very end – where the Full Marathon and Second Half finished. At the First Half finish line we had bananas, Muscle Milk and a few other items – but most importantly, Irish Coffee! Yum! Also, got nifty space blankets!

Race Management
No flaws in management that I could identify. Good race communication via email and social media, on-time start, and a smooth flow of things. I was pleased. I’ll definitely keep this race in mind for future!!

Have you ever been to San Francisco? What’s your favourite sight?
Have you run any of the San Francisco Marathon races? Would you consider it?


  1. Emily G

    Wow yeah, great job for a hilly race! The thought of running in San Fran scares me! Looks like you had an amazing time- can’t wait to catch up some more!

  2. Sorry you didn’t get sun–the view from the bridge is amazing when Karl (the fog) isn’t there. (You can follow him on twitter @KarlTheFog, but he’s not good about advance planning.)

    You’re right, that expo set-up was definitely on purpose. Detroit does the same thing. It helps to draw in exhibitors, who are willing to pay more money too, when you can promise that every single runner will walk by their station. As an organizer, I think it is brilliant. I didn’t see how SF executed it, but Detroit does an excellent job.

  3. Sounds very cool. I was just out in SF in June for Escape from Alcatraz. Definitely hilly. I enjoyed the sea lions at pier 39 or whichever number that was. Congrats on a memorable race!

  4. I am just seeing this now (via your 12 Lessons post). I just ran the Golden Gare Bridge a few days ago (family vacation….pics on my Instsgram). San Fran is amazing! Totally awesome architecture & those hills! I definitely want to go back and run there again!! What a great recap 🙂

    • bjcjapan

      Thanks for visiting, Kimberly! Yes, Golden Gate is just amazing and I love San Fran! I’ll be there again this year to run the Second Half of the SF Marathon. Can’t wait!

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