Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tackling my First Marathon at San Francisco Marathon (Part 2)

Part 1 covered a quick summary of training for my first marathon, my race strategy, race schwag and expo, and pre-race time race day morning. This is Part 2 with the walk-through of the race itself and my finish to complete the journey to becoming a marathoner.

This San Francisco Marathon race report is long. I'm just gonna say it. If anyone reads this and just wants to skim through it, that's cool with me. I don't do most of my blogging for others - I do it for my own journaling, especially so I can go back and relive the race when I want to, but if others find it helpful, that's awesome too! I don't have too many pretty pictures, but I've tried to break up all the words by sprinkling some in. Enjoy!

July 31, 2011 - the day I became a marathoner!

Live Tweeting the Race

The day before the race, Steve and I had found the hotel room didn't have Wifi for Steve to access the iPad app for SF Marathon runner tracking. He would have to go down to the lobby to get the udpdates on the iPad since he was signed up for the text messaging. When I started the race, I hadn't planned ahead of time to live tweet (post messages to Twitter) through the event, but I realized it would be a great way for my husband to know where I was at, how I was doing, and when to expect me at the finish line. I'm @Libbyruns if you're on Twitter!


About 55 degrees at the start. Only ever got up to the mid- to high-60s during the race. A little cold wind here and there. I wore my San Francisco Marathon Ambassador singlet, with a long sleeve Dallas Running Club shirt over it, and a short sleeve DRC shirt over that. Especially after people talked about how cold the race was at the start. Right before the start line, I actually took off the short sleeve shirt and left it to the side. I thought about getting rid of the long sleeve because I felt like it was too much, but I kept it just in case and was glad I did.

The First 5.5 Miles - To the Bridge

Taking my scheduled walk breaks the first couple miles were definitely hard. I can understand how people can throw their plans aside in a race. I felt strong in such lower temperatures than we'd seen during training in Texas.

The race starts on the east side of the bay on the water at the Embarcadero. You spend the early miles following the coast around the north side, past Fisherman's Wharf, through the Marina and Crissy Field, before getting onto the Golden Gate bridge.  It was really funny to see the line of tourists waiting for the ferry to go Alcatraz, staring at us like we were crazy to be doing this so early in the morning (it was maybe 7 am when we passed them), while we're all looking back like, "There's something much more fun you could be doing this time of day!"

The first big hill came at mile 2.5. You could see the people walking up it before you even got there. It was 75 feet up in only one-tenth of a mile. But I had been training the most comparable hill north of Dallas I could find, 60 feet up in a tenth of a mile, so it was no big thing. My walk break was scheduled here so I just powerwalked up, passing people, even lightly jogged a little of it, and it was over.

Mile 3 I had this pain in the ball of my left foot that started. I have a metatarsal bone with little to no padding that pushes down there, and it can be very sensitive. I may have just stepped down on something unevenly and bruised it a little, but it plagued me in the early miles, and I stopped a couple times to retie my shoes to try to get more comfortable. I don't remember it later so maybe I just forgot about it with everything else, or it became less sharp of a pain at least.

Here are my splits the first 5 miles:
Mile 1: 12:13
Mile 2: 12:47
Mile 3: 12:26
Mile 4: 12:46
Mile 5: 12:57

Miles 5.5 to 9.5 - Across the Golden Gate Bridge and Back

All of mile 6 was spent climbing two big hills to get up to the bridge. It was a 200 foot ascent over the 1 mile. I knew this from my Race Strategy Band and therefore didn't sweat the pace too much, knowing that I'd make it up later on a downhill.

The Golden Gate bridge segment is running out in one lane of the roadway, doing a turnaround at the vista point past the bridge, and then coming back across in the next roadway lane. This is the only marathon where you can cross the Golden Gate bridge and actually run in the road. However, mile 6 is that time for me of "You want me to do 20 more miles?" So I'll admit that I actually didn't look out over the bay that much. At any rate, since I was in the last wave, there were no gorgeous city lights to enjoy, it was 8:00ish and so just a dull overcast grey everywhere.

So I spent mile 7 running across the bridge, distracting myself from all that lay ahead by looking at the big group of runners coming back across the bridge searching for the faces of two Twitter friends, Peter and Lauren. I'd never met either of them, but Lauren had posted a pic of her outfit the night before. Both she AND Peter were in tutus. Even with the mass of people running towards us, I thought I'd be able to spot them. However, with the live tweeting at walk breaks, I'm wondering if looking down then, that's when I missed them. Oh well, the distraction had achieved its goal.

How did I manage to miss this? SILLY BEAR!

During the out portion on the bridge I saw a girl fall onto her knees and two guys help her up. I'd heard about people falling on this section. There are large metal trusses and grates and section breaks. It seemed they'd made the worst of them better by putting big rubber mats on top of them, but I later learned a friend fell on one of these when the bridge shuddered just a little and the mats buckled.

I'd glad on the bridge that I had my long sleeve shirt. It was a cold wind coming across, and it turned out there were occasional sections of cold gusty wind until about mile 24 in the race. I turn around at the vista point and head back. I'd heard someone say the bridge is uphill both ways. Yes, but it's also downhill for half the bridge both ways too. And generally, the uphill was so gradual, it wasn't a big deal - again, thank you, hill training!

About 0.3 miles before the end of the bridge, I see a girl right in front of me start to fall. It's that slow motion type where she spends 4 or 5 steps trying to catch herself but we all know the inevitable. Well, she not only ends up falling, but her hands don't quite catch her and her attempt to stop herself had just added to the momentum, and she skids... on her face. Luckily it appears she has friends there because three girls immediately stop. I stop for a second but there are already three girls attending to her, so I start running again. At this point, you can contrast the tweet that comes next to the one a mile before:

At Mile 8:
 At Mile 9:

My splits through this section:
Mile 6: 13:16
Mile 7: 12:31
Mile 8: 12:35
Mile 9: 12:39

Miles 9.5 to 13.1 - The Notoriously Hilly Presidio

I don't remember this being as bad as I've seen in a few other race reports. Yes, it was hilly. Here's what my pace strategy band said:
Mile 9.7         :  aid, GU
Miles 9.5-10.0   :  hill (150+)
Miles 10.1-10.5  :  hill (175-)
Miles 10.5-11.0  :  hill (75-)
Mile 11          :  aid - no walk
Miles 11.1-11.5  :  hill (100+)
Mile 11.1        :  walk
Miles 11.8-12.0  :  hill (50+)
Miles 12.05-12.15:  hill (50-)
Miles 12.3-12.7  :  hill (75+)
You can see the feet of elevation gain or drop. But with planning my walk breaks and allowing myself even effort through this section (which meant some miles were faster and some were slower, with the faith they would average out to where I wanted to be), it never felt too hard.

Mile splits:
Mile 10: 12:53
Mile 11: 11:55
Mile 12: 13:19
Mile 13: 12:58
At 13.1, I was at 2:46 for the first half. This is 2 minutes slower than Rock N Roll Dallas Half Marathon in March and 1 minute slower than Big D Half Marathon in April. I'm nothing if not consistent.

Miles 13 to 19 - The Neverending Golden Gate Park

The San Francisco Marathon is able to eek out 6 miles just in Golden Gate Park. They wind you every which way in that park, to the point it's a little discombobulating and when you see another segment of runners, you can't tell if that's where you've been or where you are going.

Our path in Golden Gate Park!
It's a beautiful park, although sadly I never did see a buffalo as they are known to roam there. It was sad to pass the finish line for the first half marathon as they were closing it down. You kinda just wanted to be finished. But I just kept on with my even splits. Around mile 18, Bart Yasso tweeted  with a mention of me with a rousing cheer to how I was doing at that point, and that did a great job of fueling the fire to make me push to keep running strong.

I was getting fearful, miles 18-20 seems to be where that dreaded wall lies for many, where they "bonk". I felt like it was a monster lying in wait for me to round the corner. This was the first time too that I chatted with anyone during the race. A couple sentences exchanged with 4 or 5 people in the quiet of the park.

When you exit the park at Mile 19 to enter the Haight-Asbury area, there was a huge group of homeless people and their unleashed dogs. I thought it would be ironic if one of the dogs suddenly attacked me, preventing me from finishing. I actually came up with a lot of those scenarios in the late miles.

Just as I'm exiting, a guy passes me and says "Great job, Libby" with this smirk. I'm getting tired because I just say, "Oh, thanks, how ya doing?" I know some people in San Fran but I'm thinking, I don't recognize this guy. Me, the moron, has forgotten my name is on my bib. :-)

Mile 14: 12:46
Mile 15: 13:20
Mile 16: 13:32
Mile 17: 13:00
Mile 18: 12:39
Mile 19: 12:53

Miles 19-25.0 - Rollin' rollin' rollin'

We start a series of rolling hills. Maybe not tiny rolling hills like Dallas, but every uphill has a downhill! There's not a ton of detail through this area but a few highlights.

Perspective: one of those rolling hills, as seen from the top of the hill

I hit mile 20, and it was like the clouds above my head lifted. NO WALL. Had I actually conserved my glycogen properly to not bonk and enjoy the end of this race? I remembered my promise to not adjust pace until I hit mile 20, and how laughable I had thought the idea of speeding up would be. But rolling hills was an advantage for my pacing.

I averaged 12:45 the first 20 miles. So the next half mile after hitting mile 20, my lap pace falls to a 10:30. Oops. I'm feeling good, euphoric. I'm passing so many people who are walking. I add in another longer walk break for every mile through to the end of the race. And I'm still getting faster. Miles 20-25 averages 12:35 compared to the 12:45 in the race leading up to that.

I turn a corner about mile 21 on a downhill where I'm hauling and a pedestrian gets in my way. I have almost zero ability to swerve that late, so the guy gets brushed by me with a yell of "Watch Out!" That shakes me a little, that was a close one.

The police stopped us around mile 22 to let car traffic go. I was ANGRY about this. Don't give me 30 seconds this late into a race for my legs to stiffen up! Grrr.

At Mile 22.8, I take my last of 5 GUs. I tweet, "Now I hate GU". I felt like if you even showed me a GU, I'd have thrown up. Ugh, there's only so much GU you can take in a race. But when you are out there for 5 1/2 hours, I'm glad I did 5, rather than 4.

Mile splits:
Mile 20: 12:33
Mile 21: 12:24
Mile 22: 12:36
Mile 23: 13:11
Mile 24: 12:21
Mile 25: 12:26

Miles 25-26.2 - The Last 1.2, well, 1.4 Miles, to the Finish

We've made it back to the coastline. I strip off my long sleeve shirt because the sun is now out, the winds appear to have passed, and I'm speeding up, so heating up! We go RIGHT by AT&T Park (Candlestick Park?) and can see onto the field through the metal gates. It was actually pretty cool, even for someone like me who doesn't follow sports.

I'm getting lots of cheers from spectators this last segment as I pass lots of walkers. But it also re-emphasizes that I've spent the last 6 miles WEAVING through walkers. I wonder how much of my energy I used up just on the weaving.

Mile 26 is an 11:39, compared to my overall finish pace of 12:41! I'm feeling great.
Then I move into a hard kick. My Garmin ended up at 26.4, as it was hard to always run tangents a lot of the race. The last 0.4 miles are at a 10:20 pace!

The Finish Line

As I come into the finish, I'm almost missed by the announcer, Bart Yasso, as he's telling a story, but luckily fellow Ambassador Joe is with him, and points out, "There's Libby, Bart!" excitedly. I get a huge shout-out and a high-five from Bart. He celebrates my finish over the PA System and fills people in a little more about me. How I'll be running Hood To Coast with him on his team by winning a contest, how I was one of the SF Marathon ambassadors, how I'm from Dallas-Fort Worth. I'm feeling really proud right now.

Finishing strong! My favorite pic of the race!
Photo Courtesy: Joe Whelan
I finish in 5:34:10 officially (once we sorted out that my chip had failed at the finish line). My first half marathon was 2:46, and my second half marathon was 2:48. Overall I finished at a 12:41 average pace. I couldn't have asked for a more consistent race.

Heading into the finish!
As I slow down post-finish and walk through the short line to get my finisher medal, I can feel my legs stiffening up. I see my husband who walks along outside the corral.

Very pretty medal, designed to double as a coaster!

I get some extra photos from the photographers because it's my first marathon and I fully plan to buy them, once I sort through the millions of unidentified images to find all of them. Grr, that's what I get for folding my bib small and pinning it to my shorts - I never get many pictures.


Hubby and I hang out for a few minutes in the VIP area. I get a nice picture with Bart Yasso and fellow Ambassador Monika.

From left to right: Monika, Bart, and me!
And Joe took a picture of my husband and me as we were leaving.

Coming Up Next

Where does a first-time marathoner go from here? He he he, they run a second marathon in 9 weeks, and then their first ultramarathon, a 50K, 4 weeks after that.

After 2011 San Francisco Marathon, I next have Hood To Coast Relay on August 26-27, running on the Runners World Team with Bart Yasso. It will truly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Then, October 9, 2011, I tackle my second marathon at the Chicago Marathon with 44,999 awesome runners. I signed up for this marathon in March when I signed up for San Francisco because I never wanted to have just one impression of the marathon. I wanted to know that even if SF Marathon was an awful experience, I was going to give it one more try before I got to decide if I never wanted to run another one again.

Finally, on November 5, 2011, I will go for my first ultramarathon, a 50K (=31 miles), at Rocky Raccoon in Huntsville State Park outside Houston, Texas. I'll be blessed to have Corina and Alicia along for the ride, two people I'm thrilled to spend 31 miles with! :-)


  1. Congrats on the race. :) I think it's a perfect recap!!

  2. Great story! The homeless dogs coming to get you was too much. I think we need to write one book just on the random, bizarre thoughts that pop up when doing long runs. Sounds like you had this planned well! ~ Catherine

  3. congratulations!!!! (again, I know) haha. You are a machine! My second half is usually way slower than my first. I can't beieve you saw two poeple fall on the bridge! I am a really clumsy person and keep my eyes on the ground most of the time and saw all of the potential tripping spots and marveled how in a smashed crowd people weren't tripping. Guess they just weren't tripping near me :(

    I was really worried about gettin stopped at one of the road switches and luckily wasn't, but was at one that just opened and ran alone for a while which was really weird...

    Good luck in Chicago! I ran in 2007 where there was a horrible heat wave and they called the race off part way through. I managed to finish but didn't have a great time so chicago is totally on my list of races I want to do again at some point. Its a GREAT race and city. Totally one of my fave marathons. :) okay /endlongestcommentever

  4. Congratulations on finishing your first marathon! Good choices - San Francisco and Chicago are two of my favorites, having now run each of them 7 times.

  5. Congrats! What a strong, consistent race. Looking forward to more awesome race reports! :)

  6. Congratulations, Libby! Fantastic job on your first marathon! I'm so proud of you and love your journaling of it too. What an incredible experience for you and I hope someday to be able to do the same as you're such an inspiration to me!!! Maybe I'll be able to run one with you sometime! Enjoy your VICTORY! There was never any doubt in my mind! :-) Sharon

  7. Congratulations Libby! I'm running the Baltimore Marathon in October (my first) I'm super excited. Thanks for the race report and tips!


  8. great recap! love the pictures and AWESOME finish! I didn't realize you were doing Chicago!!!! So amazing! You'll do great!

  9. Congrats on your race! :) You've managed amazingly well!
    I really wanted to do my first marathon this year (so far I've done only halves), and I was thinking about Chicago, but an injury prevented me from doing that... Hopefully next year !

  10. Great recap. I was in the last wave and finished in 5:00:22 so I was right there with you. Also my first marathon.

    FYI AT&T park is not Candlestick--that's further south. You drove past it if you flew out of SFO.

    There's a slight typo in the 5th paragraph of the 5.5-9.5 mile section--"I'd glad on the bridge..."

  11. Awesome, awesome job! Loved the recap. You should be proud! Very cool you're doing an ultra this year too. Wow. Just added you to my blog roll. Excited to hear about the rest of your races.