I'd had my eye on a sub-seeded spot at SF2HM for a while (IMHO as someone who lives in SF & runs through Golden Gate Park / through the Haight / Mission / along the Embarcadero nearly every day of my life, it is just too expensive to consider otherwise), but it wasn't until 2013 that the timing worked out. Although I managed to spectacularly injure myself three weeks before race day (BOO), I still had a sub-1:40 half marathon time on the books recent enough to get me the discounted rate for the next year (YAY), so in July 2014, come hell or high water, I was absolutely determined to make it to the start.
Being four weeks out from a marathon, racing it for time was out of the question. I wasn't trained for it & didn't want to sacrifice marathon workouts/mileage in order to taper for & recover from an all-out 13.1 effort, particularly on a course I know (because I run it all the time) not to be all that PR-friendly. But I did have an 18-mile long run scheduled for that Sunday, so I figured I'd just do it at long run pace, tack on an extra five miles somewhere, & call it good.
I went back and forth on how/when/where to do the extra miles, which was tied up with how & when to get to the start. After mentally running through a few different scenarios, I decided the most logistically simple thing would be to run the five miles from my house to the start in Golden Gate Park, run the race, then BART home from the Embarcadero. The downside to this plan was that it meant carrying my drop bag during my pre-race five miles, which I did not think would be that bad, but let me just state for the record: it was, in fact, that bad. LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES!
Otherwise, it worked out well. I arrived at the start maybe ten minutes before the gun, and although I almost choked when I saw the line for the bag drop, it actually moved really quickly & I don't think I waited more than 3-4 minutes. I was already warmed up & sweaty, so there was none of the usual agonizing over how long can I keep my sweats on & put off checking my bag before I need to strip & warm-up. (Not that it was that chilly; even when I left home at 7:00am, I was pretty comfortable in just a sports bra & shorts. This is called foreshadowing.) I also managed to spontaneously run into reader Tim & say hi, which was cool. (Hi, Tim!)
This wasn't really a big deal considering I would not be running anywhere close to the pace that got me into that wave. The only snafu it caused came at maybe mile 2 (?) when the marathon & half courses split. (Didn't see that coming.) Only because I had started after speedy wave 1 & before reasonably speedy wave 2 had had time to catch up (because believe me, they were going to catch up), I encountered not so much a split but a row of cones with arrows pointing to either side & every other runner in my field of view going to the left. (I'm assuming there were signs specifying that marathoners were to go left and half-ers right, but I was probably too busy panicking about being separated from the herd to see them.)
The miles through the Park were fairly uneventful, & I spent most of it reminding my psychotic runner brain that in spite of the fact that I was surrounded by other runners looking serious & wearing bibs I was not in fact racing & should at no point be doing anything that resembled expending effort. After a while I settled into a good rhythm, though, & just tried to be very strict with myself about never ever running faster than 8:15 at the fastest (at which I was marginally successful).
Her hot, miserable, radiating-off-the-pavement, hydration-sucking, soul-crushing presence.
The last five miles or so are kind of a haze of oven-baked misery. It was at this point that I decided to fully embrace the fact that this was Not A Race for me & started walking through water stations, downing two or three cups & dousing myself with another for good measure. There was precious little shade on this part of the course & when a sliver appeared the entire field gravitated toward it like a Marina girl toward a juice cleanse.
Adding to my growing ugh-just-let-it-end mentality was the fact that I couldn't remember exactly how this part of the course went, only that it would eventually T into 3rd Street & become basically a straight shot to the Embarcadero & the finish, & every time I thought we were headed directly toward 3rd, the route would turn south again & the psychotic runner brain would begin anxiously barking, "We're turning right. WHY are we turning right?? THE FINISH LINE IS THAT WAY, YOU FOOLS!!!"
(Also, course marshals, you are lovely amazing wonderful people and no races would ever happen without you volunteering your time, but PLEASE, help a runner out with two things:
- 1) Unless you can see the finish, we are really just not almost there. I know you're trying to help, but.....Don't try to help.
2) If runners ask you when the next water is, don't tell them it's "Right around the corner" when it is in fact half a mile down the next street after the corner. If you don't know where the water is, just say you don't know. It's cool. We really are dealing with enough at that point without the heartbreaking betrayal of learning the Water Is A Lie.
THX, UR AWSM!!!!!)
With three miles or so to go, I was so, so ready to be done, just because of the heat. At that point I feel like perceived effort is kind of fixed; I was maintaining the same pace with no problem, but to be honest I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have felt any easier even if I'd slowed down. I just wanted water & shade.
With literally about a tenth of a mile to go I heard a familiar voice call my name & turned to see a certain retired blogger coming up behind me, one of the many friends I had hoped & failed to see at the start. We finished together, then kvetched over our free beers about the ridiculous heat & what a giant exhausting time-suck marathon training is.
Thanks to Jen for the sweet pic!
Instead of timing my warm-up & the race separately, I just started my watch at home & kept it running until I hit 18 miles.
It was another .2 or so to the finish, which I estimate I ran in about 2:00 or so.
My official race time was 1:50:14 / ~8:26 pace, which was more or less what I expected. The only thing I don't understand is my first official course split at 1.5 miles, which was recorded as 14:19 / ~9:33 pace and makes absolutely no sense. My Garmin paces for that portion of the race (splits 5-6ish above) were over a minute below that, and even my first super-relaxed warm-up mile was only 9:20. The only thing I can think of is that maybe wave 1 only gets a gun time & not a chip time, so my time started counting while I was standing in corral 2 dithering after the official wave 1 start. Since I wasn't racing my official time is no big deal to me, but I am kind of curious about what the discrepancy could have been.
- Overall: 615/4492
Location: San Francisco, CA
Date: Late July (July 27, 2014 this year)
Price: This seemed simpler than typing it all out:
I think the race weekend prices ended up being irrelevant in the full and halves since they sold out well before then. I don't know what the 5K / ultra race weekend prices were. Like I mentioned before, in my mind these are REALLY steep prices, so I'm not sure I would ever be willing to pay full price for any of these races given that I live here (though I can maybe imagine paying that much for a destination "race-cation" event that I was really excited to run as a kind of one-time experience).
Deadlines/sellout factor: SFM sells out all their races every year. (Not sure if the ultra is selling out at this point.) The first half seems to be the first to fill up, followed by the full, & finally the second half. I think this year it sold out sometime in late June or early July.
Field Size: As noted above there were ~4500 finishers in the 2nd half, ~7200 in the 1st half, ~6600 in the full, ~1600 in the 5K, & some indeterminate number in the ultra.
Expo: I know many people preferred Fort Mason over The Concourse, but I have to say that when I realized that's where the expo was & that I had no choice but to go there on either Friday or Saturday, I just groaned to myself. I mean yes, it's kind of picturesque, I suppose, out on the water with Alcatraz in the background, etc. etc. But really, it's just a big, old, loud, rusty warehouse extremely well-suited to hosting giant
drunk fests events like wine & spirits tastings & tech company holiday parties. (Witness the concrete floor, many exits, & easy access to the Bay via railings that may be safely leaned over by even the most incapacitated of Marina girls.)
Also, it is extremely difficult to get to via any method of transit other than private auto (particularly from my neck of the woods), and if you do that you better start praying as soon as you leave home that you can find a parking spot less than a mile away that will cost you less than $47 / hour. I had Don drop me at the corner of Van Ness & Bay & just walked through the park & down the steps to the parking lot while he waited in the car.
My expectations for a race expo are reasonably straightforward. Was the packet/bib/swag table easy to locate & get to? Was the wait time not insane? Were any problems rectified quickly? I'd been a little afraid this expo could be a shit show, so I waited to go until around 4pm, hoping it might be slightly less insane. There were definitely still many people there, but I walked right up to the bib & shirt tables with no wait & got my stuff in less than five minutes.
In terms of vendors/booths/etc., well, if you have ever been to the expo for a reasonably big race, just picture that.
Yes, you had to wind your way through a bunch of them to get to the bibs, but I feel like that's just par for the course & they do have to make some kind of effort to get people to buy stuff. Speaking of buying stuff, YE GODS. If you can imagine it, there is SFM merch of it. And it is NOT CHEAP.
One interesting thing that happened on my way through the expo to get my bib was that I passed all the "Challenges" table, one of which had a banner that read "SF/Berkeley Challenge." In general I'm not all that big on medals, particularly not
thanks for giving us more money loyalty/series/challenge medals, but since both races were already a done deal & I was there anyway I figured I might as well ask about it. The guy at the table said yes, but I wasn't on his printed list, so another woman said she'd just look up my results in the computer.
Ultimately her response was, "Sure, you qualify, but since you ran SF last year, you should have gotten your challenge medal at Berkeley." I told her I'd been registered but didn't run, and she was like, "Huh. That's weird. You're listed as a finisher." This was pretty funny to me because they apparently totally would have given me the medal at Berkeley just because I paid for both races. Still, she put a special stamp on my bib, & after I picked up my drop bag at the finish I went & grabbed my challenge medal, which is I have to say pretty nice.
If you are into challenge medals/other schwag, SFM is your race. In addition to the SF/Berkeley challenge, there's also...
- The "'Half' It All" challenge for running the two half marathons in consecutive years (check this one out on Jen's blog)
- The "San Francisco Originals" challenge for running Bay to Breakers (May), SFM or HM (July), the Giant Race (September), and Bridge to Bridge Run (October).
- The "California Dreamin'" Cup for running both a Long Beach race and an SFM race.
- The 52 Club, where runners who run all three of the SFM races in consecutive years receive a logo hoodie.
- Loyal Runners who have run an SFM race 5 or 10 times since 2001 can receive a special award (I don't know what) at the expo.
Start: I totally fell down on the job & did not take pictures of the 2nd half staging at Spreckels Lake, because I really only had time to drop my bag, deal with a sharp toenail/bloody toe situation (oh yeah did I mention that? Fun times!), suck down a gel, & miss my wave. BUT, especially given how late I rolled up, everything seemed extremely clear & well-organized (except for the part about clarifying whether wave x goes in front of or behind the sign for said wave). UPS trucks with signs indicating bib numbers were parked in a line next to the lake, & all you had to do was toss your bag to the UPS guys. There seemed to be many port-o-potties with reasonably short lines. (I did not use them so can't comment much more than that.) I also know that there were shuttles to take people to the start from the full marathon/1st half start, but again, I didn't use them, so can't comment.
Unfortunately, I heard later that there were some complaints from folks who finished later that due to people taking more than their fair share of food & drinks, they ran out and there was nothing left for the last group of finishers. I've been at big races before where this happened as well, and I find it absolutely reprehensible. If you really want to see the classiest of the classy, let me direct your attention to the screen shot at right. Apparently this Elise Murphy person took an entire case of coconut water from the finish line & posted it on Instagram.
I mean WTF?? It's completely absurd but if grown-ass adults can't behave like grown-ass adults, I'm afraid that SFM may need to think about stationing a couple of volunteers near the finish line spread in order to ensure that people don't pull this kind of crap in the future. It's just deplorable and incredibly unfair to later finishers, who paid the same entry fee as everybody else.
It took some time to locate the UPS trucks with the drop bags, but it was only because they were parked a little ways off to the side & weren't in my immediate field of vision when I left the chute. I walked up to my truck where maybe six people were waiting & a dude literally glanced at my number & handed me my bag in the space of 10 seconds. (Although, there was one couple standing there who said they'd been waiting for over 15 minutes for the woman's bag & why couldn't they get more people looking for it. I think they kind of glared at me when the dude handed me my bag & I guess I kind of can't blame them.)
The lines for the higher number bibs looked much longer so I don't know how long it took those people to get their bags. Even so, there's only so much you can do to streamline a process where people have to go through hundreds of bags by hand looking for one in particular. I think that's just called sweat check. Honestly, this was probably the quickest, most efficient, well-run & well-organized bag drop/sweat check I've ever seen at a big race. (Not that I've ever experienced an awful one, either.) Nice job, SFM.
The 2nd half is definitely the less brutal of the two half marathon courses. That said, it is not what you'd call flat and fast. There are several good size hills, along with a few sections of gradual sustained uphill. Between that and the late start (8:15), I wouldn't recommend running this race as a PR attempt if you expect it to be anything like a close thing. Some years it's overcast & cloudy the whole day, but like I said, this year it was sunny & warm on the east side of the city with very little shade, and I'm sure race times reflected that.
I had no issue with any of the water stops/aid stations, but I found out later that there were many complaints this year from runners who finished later (mostly marathoners finishing in the 5-6 hour range, but potentially also those in the 2nd half in the 3+ hour range) that the aid stations ran out of Nuun and some came close to running out of cups for water, with some aid station attendants restricting how much water runners could take and in some cases attempting to physically block them from taking more. I'm sure that this was a result of the warm temps toward the end of the race and the faster 2nd half / mid-pack full runners taking more fluids than they normally would have.
I've never organized a race, so I suppose I could be way off about this, but running out of fluids seems to me like a foreseeable and solvable problem. Yes, SF is often cool and overcast all day in the summer, but everyone knows that those sunny warm ones do occasionally happen, and SFM has been around long enough that I would assume they'd be prepared for the worst case scenario in terms of having fluids/cups on hand. It's just not reasonable to expect any of the runners in a race to restrict their fluid intake on a warm day or (as some people suggested) carry all the fluids they'll need, "just in case." Your race fee pays for those fluids & services, and they should be available. (I mean sure, if you know you're an extreme outlier & are going to need gallons and gallons of fluids to get through the race, that's a different matter. But three or four cups of water at an aid station on a hot day is not unreasonable.)
Ain't gonna lie -- parking in SF is tough. And if you're running one of the halves, you'll need to work out your logistics ahead of time since the start & finish are in different places. (There are shuttles between the different starts & finishes, but your mileage may vary in terms of how long you have to wait to get on one at different points.) There are some public transportation options, though the 1st half & full start early enough that those are probably not viable options for getting there. There's also an option to reserve parking ahead of time via an app called GottaPark, so if you're planning on driving, consider it. Also consider getting someone who loves you a whole, whole lot to drop you at the starts--just be sure to consult the road closures page first.
Finishers receive a massive marathon-worthy medal for the full and a smaller but quite classy medal for the half and a nice long sleeve tech shirt. In past years there have been different shirts for the halves & full, but this year I think it was the same shirt with just different event names on the back. (Update: Thanks to Paulette for pointing out that the half & full shirts were indeed different colors this year!)
Also, free race pictures courtesy of Shutterfly, which was pretty darn sweet.
Super-speedy folks, you might consider competing for an age group award. While yes, the winning times were obviously fast, they're considerably slower than at many major marathons and halves (even considering the difficulty of the courses), so you never know.
None of the SFM races are what you'd call easy, but for such a (relatively) enormous race with so many different events going on, it was extremely well-organized (in my personal experience) and made everything just a breeze for participants. It did really bum me out to hear about the issues at the aid stations & finish for later finishers, and I'm glad to see SFM acknowledging the issues and committing to try to figure out what happened and see what they can do better next time. I don't recall hearing about issues like this in prior years, so I hope this was an isolated case.
I am not psyched about the decision to use Nuun rather than an actual sports drink with actual carbohydrates in it, but since none of these are races I would run for a PR, it's not really that great big of a deal for me personally. I just carried my own gels & drank the water & Nuun & was fine. Like I said, the races are not cheap; I can see sucking up the cost if you do it as a destination race & you're spending a lot of money anyway, but personally it's hard for me as an SF resident to see paying $160-170 for a full or $120 for a half. BUT, if you're somewhere else in the country, want to visit SF & make a race-cation out of it, I can definitely recommend the SFM races as fun, well-run events.