On non race mornings, hearing my alarm at 3:30 in the morning would usually prompt my hand to clash with my snooze button. On the morning of the S.F. Half however, I was up just before, eager to see what the city would bring.
Two days prior, I found myself in Fort Mason waiting in a growing, twisting line to attend the expo. The San Francisco Marathon conveniently allotted hours both Friday and Saturday to pick up bibs, buy last-minute nutrition, and talk to reps about the newest and latest products. I was lucky enough to find parking just steps from the expo but I loved how the S.F. Marathon teamed up with nearby lots to help reserve spots as well as provide ferry transportation for those who desired other options.
I arrived about thirty minutes in anticipation of the opening doors, to be greeted by local companies and vendors. Among them were Nitro Coffee, Clover Dairy and Jamba Juice. Clover was handing out free cartons of chocolate milk as well as offering samples of their new greek yogurt. Jamba Juice was also handing out smoothie shots for those waiting in line which proved to be a nice treat in the warm weather.
Just a minute or two after my watch read noon, the doors opened, and the runners started to file inside. We were greeted by a DJ who was playing music to help set a fun tone for attendees. The expo was narrow and long and provided three main rows of vendors. Bib and T-shirt pickup were located in the back of the building so I proceeded there first. After reading my bib number to a volunteer, I showed him my ID and was off to collect my shirt. I was excited to see vendors such as Pro Compression, Nike, A Runner’s Mind and many others selling all the clothing, nutrition, and gear that a runner could dream of. I wish I could have seen a map of the vendors in advance so I knew where to spend the small window of time I allotted myself. Luckily it was easy to navigate after a fairly quick walk through, as long as I tried to avoid the eager sellers. After a speedy product demo for a muscle stimulator, I snatched a couple of tiny sample Power Crunch bars to satisfy my need for all things mini and headed back up the peninsula until I returned for race day.
RACE DAY MORNING
With a little prep, Race Day mornings go smoothly when one’s outfit is laid out and bag is packed the night before. After turning off my alarm I glanced at the floor, smiling at my red crab hat and Fisherman’s Wharf shirt. Perhaps I have done too many Disney races but either way I try not to take any run too seriously. I look to have fun, and if I am feeling good, maybe push for a PR.
While I consider myself a morning person rather than a night owl, instead of driving myself into the city, I decided to purchase a bus ticket available to me when I registered for the half. I arrived at Millbrae Bart station at 4 a.m. just to give myself a nice fifteen minute window. I asked a fellow runner if she knew where the buses left from and told me she wasn’t exactly sure but pointed to a line of yellow school buses, indicating the answer. I had to laugh at the commentary coming from long-lost jocks and mathlete nerds voicing their disatisfaction at the dismal transportation. As I boarded the bus, a few more took seats behind me and we were off five minutes before our designated departure.
With the freeways empty, our bus took us to the fog and start line. No race day morning is complete without a small hiccup which was caused by our driver who kept asking where the start line was causing panic for some and laughs for others. After departing from our bus, half a block of dimly lit street kept us from the corrals and glimmering Bay Bridge. After some quick photos, I entered my corral watching the other runners do so until my ears were greeted by the Cable Car Chorus. Their voices in harmony sounded lovely and gave warmth to the chilly morning. Soon the first corral was released to the sound of a cable car bell and I was off and running.
I waved goodbye to the Ferry Building as I was off towards Fisherman’s Wharf. The first few miles were nice and flat, allowing me to find my stride. I was most excited to see the famous S.F. sights from foot but did not take into account how quickly the Ghirardelli sign would come into view only to be subdued by Chrissy Field, followed by the charm of the Marina architecture.
A short but steep climb took me by surprise at Fort Mason and again just leading up to the Golden Gate Bridge. The first few miles had me anticipating the grandness of the bridge but once I climbed up to it, the towers were covered by thick fog. My body wrestled with comfort as my temperature rose from exercise and adrenaline only to be brought down by fog and mist the bridge spitted at the passersby. I started to see the main cables descend and I was excited. I was almost across! A few minutes passed and the cables started to climb upwards and I realized I had forgotten about the second tower, marking my reality. Not only was I only half way across, but my mind was already building a wall. The slight incline to the Vista Point turn around gave me something to look forward. While I was slowly moving uphill, I would be able to run down it soon. I took a package of Gu chews from a volunteer and continued moving forward.
The return trip on the bridge seemed much quicker despite a few testing elements. My shoes were soaking wet from water that collected on the roads, causing a blister to form. I decided to treat it rather than suffer the final two miles through the Presidio and Golden Gate Park. Rolling hills awaited me but I pushed through, seeing signs for the park and finish line. The last half mile had nice energy with the 2nd Half Runners just commencing and the Full runners carrying on. I felt a surge of energy once I was greeted by the Mile 13 marker and could see runners sporting mylar blankets and new medals around their necks that would soon find a home resting against walls, hanging from racks.
Finish Line and Beyond
The finish line reception for the first half marathon finishers offered food, drinks and a large grassy area to celebrate and rest tired legs. The first of many stations to greet my post race needs was an Irish coffee bar. While there was an option for a regular cup of Joe, I welcomed a splash of Bailey’s into my cup and continued towards more tables of provided snacks. Muscle Milk was handing out bottles of their signature protein shake. Power Crunch offered full bars to finishers in an assortment of flavors. For the runners who just want a more natural option, bananas were available as well as fruit cups.
A short walk reunited me with a row of buses which would drive finishers back to the start line which was transformed into a celebratory festival. After a short ride, I exited the bus and walked over to a collection of tents. There was a beer garden which offered Lagunitas and Golden State Cider. A rep from 4505 Chicharrones was giving out samples of their pork rinds which are locally made in delicious flavors such as Jalapeño Cheddar and Smokehouse BBQ. I loved the touches of local products that were found both at the Expo and Finish Line Festival.
While running in the city had a different vibe than expected, the SF Marathon team put on a fun race, complete with a unique and challenging course. Albeit quick, I loved running by sights such as Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli, on either side of the water and architecture of the Marina and of course across the Golden Gate Bridge. I cursed the hills then but thank them now for providing themselves as one of the many stepping-stones along my journey.
Hope to see you out on the roads or trails soon!