My San Francisco Marathon Story

I knew that running the San Francisco Marathon was going to be hard. And it proved to be probably the most difficult courses I have faced thus far. During the entire race I kept thinking back to this quote that the race’s organizers posted to their Facebook page…

Source: SFM Social Media Feed

Source: SFM Social Media Feed

This is my San Francisco Marathon story…

Race Eve:

+ I finished everything on my To Do List and started getting ready for bed at 8 pm. The sun was still up but the race started early (first wave at 5:30 am) and I wanted to get some decent hours of sleep before the first of my four alarms went off. I felt surprisingly calm and peaceful, no jitters or anxiety for a change.

+ I drank one last glass of water with Nuun before turning in. Except my body wasn’t used to going to sleep that early and I tossed and turned despite taking Melatonin. After about an hour I realized I had drank Kola Nuun, which has caffeine! I was so annoyed and decided I will never drink Kola Nuun again! I must have eventually fallen asleep but I never really felt rested the entire night.

+ I think I got maybe five hours (if I’m being generous), which is much less than the eight hours I usually get.

Pre-Race Morning:

+ I woke up to the first alarm that I had set for 3:15 am and was ready within 15-minutes. I ate a bagel with honey (my usual pre-long run breakfast) at 3:45 am and was out the door by 4 am.

+ This year race organizers partnered with parking companies in the City, one of which offered parking reservations. It was such a relief to know that I had a reserved parking spot – one less thing to have to worry. I found the garage with no problem; it was about a half mile from the race area.

+ Despite peeing five times before leaving home I had to pee again after I parked. I knew there was a restroom in the Hyatt Embarcadero that I could use. There were lots of other runners in the lobby but no line for the bathroom (if you’re a runner you know what a win it is to have a real bathroom with no lines before a race!).

The hotel was warm and I figured I’d probably have to pee again so I planned on staying there for as long as I could. After about 10 minutes of watching other runners I realized I had forgotten to put my timing chip on my shoe. I hadn’t decided on which shoes to wear until that morning and had left the timing chip on my desk. I went into full panic mode. I raced to the starting area to find someone who could help me.

Because of the Boston Marathon bombing there was a security check that everyone had to go through. I was there early enough where it took less than five minutes. I made a beeline straight to the Information Tent. For $5 they issued me a new timing chip, but that meant I also got a new bib number.

+ Being at the Information Tent positioned me to get this shot of the start of the race.

Wave 1 starts

Wave 1 starts

+ My friend Alice met me there. She was running the 1st Half Marathon and had made plans to run together. We’d never run a single step together before so this was a risky move on both of our parts but one that worked out well (at least for me it did!).

Ran the 1st Half with Alice!

Ran the 1st Half with Alice!

+ We also met up with my friend Mark who was running his first full marathon!

First time marathoners are guaranteed an automatic PR!

First time marathoners are guaranteed an automatic PR!

Start – Mile 5:

+ Alice and I were in Wave 7, which started behind the Finish Line. As we passed under it I thought about all the miles to be run until I saw it again.

Wave 7 starts behind the Finish Line

Wave 7 starts behind the Finish Line

+ Just before we started running I realized I was hungry. It was two and a half hours since I had eaten my bagel and my stomach was already growling – loudly.

+ There was considerable traffic during the first few miles but we didn’t weave and waste extra energy – we just went with it.

+ We cruised through these miles and before we knew it, we were climbing up to the Golden Gate Bridge (GGB).

Miles 6-10:

+ We ran the GGB during the 7 am hour and it was hot. Karl the Fog was nowhere to be found. This is not normal.

+ There was a lot more traffic on the GGB with runners heading on both directions and lots of them stopping to take pictures.

+ We fell in step with the 4:55 pace group. It’s the pace I finished my last marathon. Their pace felt easy and comfortable so I ran with them until we stopped at an aid station and lost them forever.

Miles 11-14:

+ The worst hill of the race, the climb up Lincoln Blvd, came as we descended from the GGB. Having run the 1st Half Marathon in 2010, I knew this was a tough hill but having not run it during training (a decision I immensely regret) I forgot how tough it was.

I think this is on Lincoln Blvd

I think this is on Lincoln Blvd

We walked up most of it and then when we got to the top we cruised the long, steep downhill. I thought we ran the downhill conservatively but I started to feel my quads soon after the descent as we made our way to The Richmond neighborhood.

+ I said goodbye to Alice on Mile 12 as she went on to the 1st Half Marathon Finish Line. I was so sad to see her go.

+ I cruised the downhill on JFK Blvd but my quads started to feel more and more achy.

Miles 15-19:

+ These miles ran through Golden Gate Park (GGP) and were filled with small rolling hills. But at that point even the smallest of hills felt hard.

+ By the time I saw Angela, RoadBunner, and E who were spectating at Mile 16 my quads were on fire. I gave them my arm warmers and they gave me Tylenol.

+ As hot as it was on the bridge, it was foggy and cold in GGP.

Running in Golden Gate Park

Running in Golden Gate Park

+ I still don’t love running around Stow Lake.

+ I stopped for a bathroom break on Mile 19

Miles 20-23:

+ We left GGP and ran through The Haight. I knew there was a big downhill coming. I ran it as conservatively as I could but by the time I got to the bottom of it my quads were officially dead. I started cramping.

+ This was the point that I stopped caring about time and just wanted to make it to the Finish Line.

Miles 24-26.82:

+ Not much to say here other than I walked more than I ran.

Just wanting it to be over...

Just wanting it to be over…

+ It was hot and unshaded.

Fake smiles

Fake smiles

+ I was still hungry. In total I ate about three packs of Honey Stinger Chews during the race and it did nothing to satisfy my hunger. I was famished.

+ As I neared the Finish Line I forced myself to run the whole way in even though my legs felt like they wanted to buckle under me. I didn’t focus on anything else but the Finish Line sign and apparently missed my cousin and a few friends who saw me in those last few moments of the race.

Finishing chute

Finishing chute

+ I collected my medal, water, a banana and then an otter pop. It was the best otter pop I’ve ever had.

So happy to have finished!

So happy to have finished!


+ My goal for every race that I run is simple, “Better than the last one.” Of the four marathons I’ve finished this is the first one where I didn’t PR. In fact, I finished in 5:27:48, which was almost 33 minutes slower than my last one. If I only judged a race by time then yes, this was a huge disappointment.

But the last marathon I finished was in May 2011. I trained for three other marathons in between that one and this one. I didn’t expect that it would be 25 months to cross a marathon Finish Line again. So yes, while I am disappointed with my time, I am immensely grateful to have been able to see the Start AND Finish Lines of this race.

+ My other goal for this race was to love San Francisco with every step, and I did. Despite the tough course I felt I was so, so, so happy to be running in this beautiful unique City that I love so much.

Source: SFM Socia Media feed

Source: Race organizers Socia Media feed

+ It was a weird feeling to be at the Start Line and not feel any aches or pains. In fact, over the past week I felt REALLY good. It was odd not to have some nagging niggles. During the race everything that had bothered me in training; i.e., shin splints, right foot, lower leg pains were all non-issues. The only thing that hurt during the race was my quads (and my glutes in later miles). Post race, my quads were still the only things that hurt.

+ This was also the first marathon that I didn’t have any gastro intestinal issues or chafing.

+ I achieved a different kind of PR – I ran the entire race without music. This was my first race and longest distance to do that. It wasn’t planned, in fact I had an awesome brand new “All Golden State” playlist sync’d up on my iPod shuffle. But since I ran the first half with Alice I didn’t listen to it, and when we parted ways I didn’t feel like putting it on.

Both feet off the ground?

No head phones and both feet off the ground?

+ The camelback worked out great. I felt comfortable in it and it helped to have those pockets. I don’t think I will wear them for every race but it certainly is nice to have the option.

+ My Garmin time and Chip Times were exactly the same although the distances were vastly different. This course is known for being long and my Garmin consistently read .5-8 miles longer than the mile markers. It was somewhat deflating to run past an aid station and have them say, “Mile 23 is just around the corner!” yet according to my Garmin I was already at 23.48 miles. My total distance was 26.82 miles.

+ As difficult as the race was, I didn’t let myself get to my “dark place” – where I cry, curse, hate everything and everyone. I just accepted the situation and went with it. This was HUGE for me and probably what I am most proud of.

+ This was the first marathon where I knew the course, having run the 1st Half Marathon in 2010 and the 2nd Half Marathon in 2011 and 2012. I did most of my long runs on portions of the course. But dear lord I was not prepared for how hard it was to run the whole thing in one race.

Now I really understand why it’s motto is “Worth the Hurt.”

This was the hardest course I have ever run. Even harder than my first marathon. During the race I kept thinking of Cate and how she qualified for Boston on this course a few years ago (and killed again this year!). I cannot even wrap my head about that!

I have the utmost respect for anyone who finishes a marathon but those who finish SFM are my superheroes.

+ Last night as I was going to bed I felt so sad to think that I have to wait 13-months for another SFM weekend. Despite how hard it was I love this race so, so much. The organization is almost perfect and they do such a great job of making it a special weekend. I don’t feel the need to run the Full again (someone please remind me of this if I ever entertain those thoughts again) but I do plan to run one of it’s races every year that I’m capable of running!

SFM Finish!

SFM Finish!

8 Responses to My San Francisco Marathon Story

  1. Michaela says:

    Congrats, Naomi! SFM is such a tough course. This is a huge accomplishment!

  2. Cathryn says:

    Such a great write-up and such a great run – congratulations. I LOVE your tenacity, and particularly how you kept your good spirits for the entire run, that is a massive achievement. I thought numerous times on Sunday that I could NEVER run the whole thing – the course is so hard. And you ran it all on a BAGEL! Wonderful achievement!

  3. Jana Carter says:

    You are such an inspiration and just a joy to call a friend! Congrats!

  4. thechrislam says:

    Look at them legs!! Congrats on completing another marathon, N! It’s a tough ass course and you did it w/o music!?! It’s a win whenever one does not endure stomach issues! Fantastic recap!

  5. Kimra says:

    Congrats! It’s such a tough course, and I’m not sure I’m brave enough to tackle the full. Kudos to you for doing it!

  6. Courtney says:

    CONGRATS GIRL! you did wonderful. you should be proud of yourself. xoxo

  7. Alyssa says:

    YOU DID SO GREAT!!! I am so, so proud of you. So many months of hard work and a tough day with the heat. I’m happy you still love the race, because the race loves you, too. :) Sooo well done!!

  8. Cate says:

    It’s HUGE to not end up hating everything, and yay for not feeling any annoying weird little pains!!! Awesome job toughing it out and finishing strong. My garmin said 26.68 and I definitely had my garmin beeping WELL before all the mile markers for pretty much the whole race.

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