I've been aware of this race in its various incarnations for the last ten years or so and always had it in the back of my mind, but never actually run it. It starts in Sausalito on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, then runs over the Bridge to finish on the north side of SF. The race has been around in some form or another since the early 80s so it's sort of a classic, but any year that I considered it, something didn't work out. Either the timing was wrong, or I wasn't into the distance, or was out of town, or just had other things I wanted to run.
This year as I put together my summer of short, fast racing, it popped up again, and I added it to my short of list of nearby events that might be fun if the timing worked out. When I decided on Wharf to Wharf as my peak race, though, my coach suggested that I not try to race Across the Bay just two weeks before because it was unlikely that I'd be fully recovered & ready to race 6 miles just two weeks later. But if I wanted to do it as a tempo workout, that was fine.
I'd gone back and forth about it because it's hard to spend money on a race, especially a local one with a route you could run any time, just to do a workout. On the other hand, the tempo workout I'd have on tap for that week was one I know I struggle with (3 x 2 miles at HM pace / 2:00 jog) and I thought that maybe the race atmosphere would keep me motivated and honest (and maybe make it more bearable). At the last minute Represent Running Race Ambassador Erin gave me a comp code she wasn't going to use, and I figured, "What the heck. Let's do this." (That would also mean getting the run out of the way early in the day, which would be nice since we had plans to spend most of the day at a birthday barbecue.)
On Sunday morning I easily found my way to Aquatic Park and the shuttles, got on one at 6:30am, and was at the start in Sausalito about 20 minutes later, leaving me plenty of time to find the gear check, port-a-potties, & get warmed up before the race at 8. (They stage it in four waves ten minutes apart, based on estimated pace/finish time that you enter when you sign up. I forget the numbers exactly but Wave 1 is supposed to be sub-8:00 pace, Wave 2 is something like 8:00-9:30 pace, Wave 3 is something like 9:30-12:00 pace, and Wave 4 is something like 12:00+. I don't remember the paces exactly but you get the idea.)
I hit the port-a-potties around 7:20ish, then started warming up at 7:30 when they opened the Wave 1 corral. I didn't know much about the course so I jogged the first half-mile or so & back, & was excited to find that it started off with a sweet downhill! (Nevermind jogging back up it.)
Because I was planning to run my tempo intervals at 7:30 pace, I signed up for Wave 1. Now, this race is also a Pacific Association Road Grand Prix race, which means that a lot of really, REALLY fast people would be running it (e.g., the women's winner averaged 5:38 pace & the men's winner 4:57 pace). Not wanting to get run over by all the PA runners, I mostly kind of just looked around & lined up maybe in the middle of Wave 1 & figured that would be about right.
The view from the start in Sausalito
Waiting for them to open the Wave 1 corral at the start
Look at all those ridiculously fast people up there.
One deafeningly loud Whitney Houston National Anthem later (Why do we still do this at races? It makes no sense to me.), Wave 1 was off, and I quickly realized that while there might be people up front running 5:00-5:30-6:00 pace, most of those around me were running 9:00-10:00 pace?? Going downhill? In the beginning I couldn't run faster than maybe 8:00-8:30 pace because of the crowds and I was still weaving around a ton of people going much, much slower than that. So yeah, 9:00-10:00-11:00 is a great pace to run! If that is your pace, you absolutely 100% go on with your bad self! But, PSA, people, ***pay attention and sign up for the right wave***. It's really frustrating when you're trying to hit a particular pace but can't because folks around you are in the wrong place for the pace they're running.
IN ANY CASE, we barreled down the first .5 miles or so, which is fun but also a little terrifying because you can look up and see the Golden Gate Bridge waaaaay above you, and you know you're meant to run over it, which means at some point you have to get up there.
Taken from about mid-way down the initial descent (during my warm up). We are going up there!
Taken from pretty much the low point. We are headed for the top of that hill!
Sure enough, we very quickly hit the bridge approach, and I went from running 7:30 pace to 7:45 to 8:00 to 9:00 to 10:00 and I kid you not at a certain point I was seeing 11:xx on my watch. It was just that steep! I kept trying to push fairly hard since I was doing a tempo effort, but OMFG, it's hard to remember another time racing when I wanted to walk so bad. Mostly I just tried to channel my memory of running up the giant 2 mile hill to Hurricane Point during the Big Sur Marathon & remind myself that sooner or later it had to end.
I'd been a little worried that once we hit the bridge (which is not flat, it's more like an arc) my legs would be so shot from the hill that I wouldn't be able to get back up to HM/tempo pace, but before too long I was right on pace again and feeling great. After the giant approach hill, the gentle uphill of the bridge felt completely civilized, and before I knew it my watch ticked off the first 2-mile pace interval (7:38, 8:46, THANKS GIANT HILL) and I reveled in a nice, relaxing two-minute jog.
In good weather, running across the Golden Gate Bridge offers one heck of a view, but on this particular day it was completely socked in (not unusual, actually) and it was so foggy that everything was pretty wet. Fortunately the wind was the typical western crosswind, rather than a southerly headwind, so running on the bridge was really easy and comfortable.
You can't really tell but there is a GIANT BRIDGE RIGHT BEHIND US
My second two-mile pace interval was really weird. I do 2 x 2-3 miles @ HM/LT pace fairly often and it is one of the hardest workouts for me -- so often it just feels so impossible, and sometimes even after the first half-mile or mile I'm like, "There is just no way I can finish this." But during the second interval I was just running along at what felt like the right effort, and then I'd look down and see 7:15-7:20 pace and think, "Eek, no way this is going to last! Slow down a bit!" And I would try, and even succeed a little, but then later just ho-humming along, I'd see 7:10 or 7:05 or even 7:00! That is not supposed to happen! I mean, I know that the other side of the bridge is a little downhill, but it's not THAT downhill.
Of course then we came off the bridge and barreled down the REAL downhill. This is where I was thankful for the fact that I run downhills a lot and felt like I was really able to take advantage of it. Now, at this point I was often seeing numbers even below 7:00, 6:50s or so and even on one occasion 6:40, and it still felt super easy! The trouble with trying to do a tempo effort on an extreme downhill is that you're trying to keep up the same effort level, but at a certain point you are running as fast as you possibly can downhill with any amount of safety and it *STILL* doesn't feel hard enough. So, yeah, this (7:16, 7:06) second interval is not quite as impressive as it felt at the time!
Coming off the downhill to the flats by Crissy Field, I was preparing myself for 7:30 pace to actually start feeling like 7:30 pace again. I had a nice little two-minute jog to get me to the turnaround of the little dog-leg there, and then it was off on my last tempo interval, which, yep, I definitely started to feel by even the first half-mile. This was the feeling that I normally associate with this workout--OMG, this is too hard, there's no way I can do this for another HALF mile, let alone another MILE--and yet, there is a part of my brain that knows I can (however much I might not *want* to) and have done it plenty of times before. So I just played my little counting game, counting down from 100 for each quarter mile and trying not to get overwhelmed with how many quarter miles were left.
Finally, blessedly, that last interval came to an end (7:27, 7:27) and I was more than happy to just coast through to the finish at a nice, easy, cool-down jog. (Of course, everyone who then passed me going much faster thought I had hit a wall or was otherwise suddenly having a really hard time & kept calling motivational phrases to me, which just made me laugh.) Still, doing any amount of running after that workout is still work (and uggggh let's not talk about that one last hill by the Safeway near the finish!), and I was exhausted enough that I was having trouble mentally translating 12K to miles & kept wanting to ask someone who ran by, "Hey, do you know how much is left??" but figured that might be rude. But I was pretty sure it was in the 7.4 range, and when the finish line came into view I was quite happy to be done.
So, yeah; overall I was quite happy to get this workout done on a race course with other people & race energy, and it made it WAY more palatable than doing it on my own in the park. THANKS ERIN & REPRESENT RUNNING!!
Date: Mid-July (Sunday, July 14 this year)
Represent Running is a local race company with the goal of putting on small local events that retain the character of the place where they're held (as opposed to, say, Rock 'N Roll events which are more or less interchangeable). In addition to Across the Bay 12K/415K, their other races include the Silicon Valley Half (Half/10K/5K), the Shamrock Shuffle (5K/10K), the San Jose 408K (8K), & the East Bay 510K (5K & 10K). (Get it??? 415 is the SF area code, 408 is San Jose's area code, & 510 is a big East Bay area code.) I don't know how many people know it but Across the Bay is actually a kind of continuation of a classic SF Race originally known as Houlihan's to Houlihan's, running from one restaurant in Sausalito (now the Barrel House) to its sister restaurant in San Francisco (which is where the 12K came from). After Dave Rhody/Rhody Co. (the original organizers) canceled the race a few years ago, it's gone through various sponsors & event runners, but Represent Running has been putting it on as "Across the Bay" for I think the last three years now.
The race is also a fundraiser for the Edgewood Center for Children and Families, a nonprofit provider of behavioral and mental health services for Bay Area children, youth, and families that have experienced trauma, so you can also do some good by running this race as well.
At this point the race site just lists the 12K as $64 and the 5K as $52, but I suspect that those are just the most recent prices and like most races there were cheaper prices if you registered earlier. I was lucky to get a comped entry from Represent Running Race Ambassador Erin since she wasn't using hers. (Thanks Erin!!!!)
Deadlines/sellout factor: When I picked up my bib on Saturday, people were still signing up, so it doesn't seem like selling out is too much of a risk.
- 5K finishers - 382, with about a page's worth of DNS/DNFers
- 12K finishers - 2,336, with about a page's worth of DNS/DNFers
Staging, Parking, etc.:
Having never run this race before, I gave myself a little extra time to figure out parking, shuttles, etc. The 12K goes in four waves (based on the estimated pace you give them when you sign up) starting at 8:00, 8:10, 8:20, & 8:30. Because it's a point-to-point course that starts at a random spot in Sausalito, you have to take a shuttle from the finish area near Ghiradelli Square in SF. Shuttles start running at 6am & the website advises that wave 1 & 2 folks take as early a shuttle as possible & that if you don't get to the shuttle by 7:30, you aren't guaranteed a spot. (The 5K is an out-and-back in SF at 7:30, so no shuttles necessary).
There are many parking garages in this part of SF, but I found that when I arrived at 6:30am there was plenty of nearby, free street parking. (I suspected as much but wasn't sure.) From there I just followed the obviously dressed runners over to the shuttles at Aquatic Park (maybe a quarter mile walk). At that point the shuttle lines were quite short and I think I was on a bus in less than five minutes.
From there it was a ~20 minute bus ride to the start area in Sausalito. (Meaning, we got there with an hour and ten minutes until the start, so, in retrospect, I could have been a little later.) At the start area were UPS trucks waiting to take our gear bags to SF for pickup. (At first I was planning not to grab a bag until I got warmed up & stripped out of my sweats, but I heard someone saying that they ran out of bags the previous year, so I just grabbed one & carried it around until I was ready to use it.)
There were three separate banks of port-a-potties that seemed like plenty when I arrived as there were no lines at all. However, when I tried to go back at 7:45 for one last pee before the wave 1 start, the lines were INSANE at all three banks, like among the longest race port-a-potty lines I've ever seen. So, maybe a few more would not go amiss.
Finish line stuff was super easy -- the line to get gear bags wasn't too bad and I think I waited maybe five minutes, and I was out of there.
As I've said the 12K course starts in Sausalito, runs over the Golden Gate Bridge, down to Crissy Fields, and along the waterfront to finish at Aquatic Park/Ghirardelli Square (~7.44 miles). It's definitely hilly--a fun downhill from the start, then a bit of flat, then up up UP to the Bridge, up and over the Bridge (which is NOT flat), a steep windy downhill coming off the bridge, then a nice flat section through the Marina, & just a couple more smaller up & downhills near the finish. So not a PR course by any stretch, but maybe sort of a fun one if you're a XC/trails kind of person. (Also know that there's a section through Crissy Fields that is mostly gravel/dirt. I know a lot of people don't mind it but it's my nemesis.) To me that one big hill at the beginning is the thing to be aware of -- it's about half a mile long and VERY steep, so just be mentally prepared for it.
They do not close any car lanes on the Bridge (I'm not sure any races get to do that anymore), so you run on the bike path on the side. Some roads are partially or completely closed off but in other areas you just run on the sidewalk/open running & bike paths, mostly paved.
A cool medal designed by a local artist, and a logo tech T.
If you decide to run:
- Practice your up- and downhill running. Be ready for the GIANT uphill getting onto the bridge, but also know that if you practice your downhill running you can make up a lot of time in miles two & three.
- If you're trying to run 7:30 pace or faster, you probably want to be farther up at the front than you think. I spent so much time dodging people who were DEFINITELY running slower than 8:00 miles downhill in Wave 1.
- If you arrive fairly early, you can park for free on the street so need to worry about garages.
Actually a pretty fun race, other than the one giant hill! Represent Running puts on great events and though it's hard to get excited about running that crazy hill again, I'd consider it again in the future since it's so close and easy. If I were actually racing it might be fun to see if I could crack the top 10 A/G.