Archive for July, 2009

Race: S.F. Marathon 2009

Here’s what I was up to this morning. Photos by Cathi, except for the Bridge one from the S. F. Chronicle.

5:00 am. Time for a run.

5:00 am. Time for a run.

While making my way through the throng to the start area, I bumped into Ken of the LMJS. He was holding a pace sign.
“Hi. Are you leading a pace group?”
“Yes, 3:00. Are you going to come run with us?”
“Holy Moley! I’d like to, but perhaps not today. I’m shooting for 3:20”
He noticed the numbers sharpied on my arm. “You know, they give out pace bands.” He showed me his.
“I can’t read those without glasses”
“Ah. At the moment I’m looking for someone to complain to. My bib number is 101, and the bag drop zones start at 1000.”
Hopefully he resolved that one. A few minutes later I was in position at the front of wave 2. Something lit up the darkness to my right. The guy next to me was typing away on a Blackberry. Not some brief tweet, either, but several lines of text. Amazing. I could almost touch the 3:20 pace leader, but he was beyond the barrier in wave 1, and might as well have been on the moon. Gotta sign up earlier next time, before wave 1 fills.


We got away neatly with no bumping, a minute behind the first wave. Knowing that I would be running without a pace group, I was wearing the Garmin, and had a reasonable idea of pace. It was in manual split mode, which tuned out to be a mistake since I missed quite a few of the mile markers. They were a stylish blue-on-grey, and hard to see in places. I hadn’t done any detailed calculations, but estimated that I needed to run 7:30 in the flats to have something in hand for the hills. The first two flat miles averaged 7:28. Pretty much where I wanted to be, and it was much lighter now. A voice next to me: “Oh, a hill!”
“The good news is that this is the steepest hill of the race”
“Oh, yeah. I was looking over there at Alcatraz, and it caught me by surprise.”
“We try to give the scenic tour.”
I glanced over at the island. It looked spooky, poking up into the layer of fog that was close above our heads. The bridge should have been visible from the Marina Green, but of course it wasn’t. Hmm. going to be chilly up there, I expect. Mile 3 – 7:48 . Miles 4, 5 on the flat again – 7:31

The hill up to the bridge was steeper than I remembered from last year. Perhaps because I was pacing more aggressively this time. The ground was wet from the fog, and the eucalyptus trees dripped on us. The flag by the toll booths was hanging straight down. Excellent! A little further on, a young woman stopped and turned around so that her companion could take her picture with the almost invisible bridge in the background. All that was showing was the nearby suspension cables rising up into nothingness. I had been apprehensive about crowding on the bridge. It wasn’t a problem since the runners were more spread out at this pace. We could go as fast or slow as we wanted. The foghorns added atmosphere. Mile 6, 7 – 7:47.

This pic is from the S.F. Chronicle. Click for more.

Coming back over the bridge, the crosswind kicked in quite abruptly.
That’s kinda nice. I had been sweating, and I’m not now. Speed increased as we reached the downgrade at the end. I was looking at bibs coming the other way. Mostly wave 4… Oh, there’s the 3:50 pace leader! That’s where I was last year. Back then, I watched the runners coming off the bridge and thought they looked like gods. It only took a year to make the switcheroo. Into the Presidio, more drippy trees, and a big downhill. Miles 8, 9, 10 – 7:15. Mile 11: 6:55

Steepish rolling hills through residential streets, with some enthusiastic young spectators. I possibly was going a little fast here, but things felt OK. I remembered that here was where I sped up last year, although I was a minute per mile slower then than now. Phew. Don’t run directly behind Diarrhea Girl. I hope for her sake she’s running the half. Pass her. Mile 12 – 7:52, Mile 13 – 7:33.

I reached the half in 1:39:32, A little ahead of plan, Perhaps there was a little too much stress at this point, but I wasn’t worried. Then a faster downhill mile. After we turned eastwards and began the gradual uphill, my pace slowed quite a bit. That’s OK, the second half is net downhill. Do NOT attack this hill, it’s two miles long! Mile 14 – 7:03, Mile 15 – 7:56, Mile 16 – 8:11

Things were going awry. I was falling behind schedule, to a degree that made a recovery unlikely given how I felt. The hill had indeed done some damage. But others were hurting worse. I was gradually gaining places in the field, which was very spread out now that the halfers were gone. From the crest of Haight Street, I zipped downhill for a few blocks, climbed again, then down some more. I was passing runners, but was too tired to make best use of these boosts. Looks like 3:20 is not going to happen today. Time for a new mindset. Lets try fishing! See that runner 50 yards ahead? hook him. Good, now reel in slowly, click click click… A little burst as I passed him, so he stayed passed. Catch and release. Think you can hook that next one? Sure, my imaginary casting skills are excellent! These little games were helping to stave off what I call Default Mode, where my gait deteriorates to an inefficient mess. A minor triumph: A guy who looked to be in my age group had passed me earlier and gone ahead until I lost sight of him. I came up with him again, and he ran close behind for a while before fading. Miles 17, 18 – 7:21, Mile 19 – 7:45, Miles 20, 21 – 7:34, Mile 22: 8:11

And so it continued on the flat to the finish. Oddly, this section did not seem so long and tedious as last year, even though things were hurting by now. Just look at the runners… Oh, here we are at the ballpark already! Mile 23, 24 – 7:56, Mile 25 – 7:54, Mile 26 – 7:54

Am I there yet?

Am I there yet?

I must have kicked at the finish. I remember being completely out of breath, gasping with my hands on my knees. I was indeed adrift from my 3:20 goal, at 3:22:28. In retrospect, the goal was a bit of a stretch for this course. It’s not 10 minutes faster than Big Sur. Could I have run it better? yes, but not a whole lot. On the bright side, I was 10/265 (4.2%) in my age group, and 264/5036 overall (5.24%)

My Splits. Only 8 of them because the pattern repeats. Add 1:01 for miles 9-16, 2:02 for 17:24

My Splits. Only 8 of them because the pattern repeats. Add 1:01 for the next 8, and so on.


Dress Rehearsal

The taper is a curious time. You run at easy or recovery pace much of the time, and any speed work is not too challenging. It can be a little dispiriting. Easy is the new normal, and marathon pace appears dauntingly fast.

This morning was the dress rehearsal. I wore the clothes planned for Sunday, right down to the sunglasses perched on my head. I needed to check that that they would stay up there, for a race that starts in the dark. The assignment: 7 miles, of which two would be run at marathon pace. The ankles have been a bit twinge-y this week, the usual taper nonsense, and I could feel them a bit during the warmup miles. In order to run the SFM course in 3:20 I need to pace at about 7:30 on the flat to make up for the hills. I’ve been worrying about this, since some of my MP practice runs have not gone too well.  Is it too fast, or is the problem between my ears?

I got up to perceived marathon pace and hit the lap button. It felt a little awkward but OK, about how a marathon normally feels in the first mile. The in-race warmup. Can’t do that in a 5K! Posture good, stride OK, maybe kick up the heels some more, keep it smooth…

After half a mile I reached the trail by the beach. There was a stiff headwind. There’s my excuse for being a little off-pace for this first mile. No, wait. This is marathon pace, It’s not that hard. maintain this! I glanced at the Garmin for the first time. 7:15 pace so far. Wow, faster than I thought. Take it easy.. When the Garmin beeped the mile I turned around and headed the other way, trying to relax. Running into the wind had been quite cold, this was much nicer. I was getting into the groove and feeling a whole lot more cheerful. Can I do this for 26.2 miles? Maybe I can.

First mile: 7:19, second 7:18. So not very good as a pacing exercise, but a grade-A confidence booster. Now if I can just restrain myself from running the early miles too fast this thing looks a lot more feasable than it did yesterday. I suppose that’s what a dress rehearsal is really for. Checking out the clothing is secondary. The sunglasses did stay put, though.

S.F. Marathon Course Notes

Possible Bottleneck

Possible Bottleneck

Last year’s San Francisco Marathon was my first race at this distance, and now I’m running it again. There will be some differences this time, but I’ll get to that. Although this is mostly for my own benefit, I hope anyone who is running this course for the first time might find some useful things here, including those who are running one of the two half marathons.


The summer weather is following it’s usual pattern with temperatures at about 55 at race start, rising to the low 60s later. Pretty much ideal, but then there’s the wind. It gets quite breezy even this early in the morning (the race starts at 5:30). Fortunately, most of the course is quite sheltered. The only exposed sections are the Marina Green and Chrissy field at miles 3 and 4, then the Golden Gate Bridge, where it’s a chilly crosswind about 250 feet above the bay. The rest of the course is either sheltered or downwind.

Other Runners

First, some finisher stats. Here in increasing order of hilliness are the distributions of finish times for CIM, SFM, and Big Sur, courtesy of’s results pages:

As might be expected, CIM with it’s fast course and deep talent pool is noticeably faster than the others. SF appears to show a bigger speed disparity between men and women than either of the others. Your guess is as good as mine. The real reason I included these is to get an idea of what pace the main pack moves at, and how fast does one needs to be to have a clear road. The importance of this was brought home to me after Big Sur, when I compared notes with other runners who had been behind me. They had problems with crowding at aid stations and walkers in line abreast. I escaped all that by finishing just under 3:30. Plainly the 4:00 to 4:30 folks had the worst of it.

My target for next week is 3:20, which would put me roughly in 200th place, going by last years results. I should have a much cleaner run than last year. Some complications: The race has wave starts, and the marathoners in the first two waves are outnumbered by half-marathoners. Wave one (sub 3:30 pace) was already full when I signed up, so barring a last minute upgrade, I’ll be starting in wave two with the 3:30 to 3:45 folks. The good news is that wave two starts only a minute behind wave one, but 15 minutes ahead of wave three. So I’ll be in a race with about 750 other marathoners and 1,000 halfers until we catch the wave one tailenders. More than I would like, but way better than last year, when I was in wave four. The two waves combined will comprise 2,500 runners total.


California International Marathon


San Francisco Marathon

Big Sur

Big Sur International Marathon

One Lane Each Way

One Lane Each Way

Why does any of this matter? Well, you see that bridge pictured at the top of the page? We run across that twice, with just one traffic lane in each direction. It’s tight, and lasts for four miles starting at about mile 5.5. Last year it was quite a jostle, with zero time to admire the view! It will pay to be in a relatively thin group of runners. We’ll see how that goes. Most of the rest of the course is full road width, and the occasional narrow bits are short.


Here is the elevation profile (pdf) and course map (pdf) Basically, there is a short steep hill at mile 2, but it’s only 75 ft high. The hill up to the bridge starts at mile 5 and goes up 200 ft in a mile. Congestion apart, the bridge is an enjoyable run because the gradient gradually changes, and you slowly accelerate. Then there’s a 150 ft half-miler in the Presidio, followed by a really nice downhill mile. That was the point where I went out ahead of my pace group last year, and never saw them again. Some steepish rollers just after that, and most of the serious uphills are done before the race reaches halfway.

The second half starts on a downhill trend, until the turn at the ocean end of Golden Gate Park, then it’s gently uphill for 2.5 miles. I don’t think the profile is accurate for miles 17 to 20. Perhaps it’s for an earlier version of the course. There are some steep downhills in this section, then it climbs up again. Some more downhill dashes. and we’re back by the bay.

The final two miles is flat and comparatively dull. You can see the ballpark and the Bay Bridge in the distance, and know that the finish is slightly beyond them. Ugh. My policy this year is to just look at the runner in front during this section, and take it block by block.

Putting all this down has helped me to visualize how I’ll run this race. Logic suggests I should be able to run 3:25 fairly easily, and 3:20 with a bit of effort, but I’ve been nervous about it. This helps.

Weather Update

Clear skys are forecast for Sunday. It was mostly overcast last year. I checked where the sun will be using an online astronomical calculator. At the time I’m starting eastwrds it will be 20ᵒ up and directly in line with the street grid. Gonna need those sunglasses, even though it starts in the dark!

Deja Vu

Well here we are tapering again already, and this time it’s for a marathon I’ve done before. My next post will be a detailed discussion of the San Francisco Marathon course, based on last year’s experience.
I’ve normally been running six days a week this cycle, but made it seven last week. I thought it would be about 85 miles, but somehow it got up to 90. Oops. Previous big weeks usually resulted in my feeling somewhat weary, but not this time. Phitzinger’s program is tough but seems to get results. Hopefully this bodes well for the race.

As part of the whole learning-about-coaching thing for the club, I went to a talk at Presidio Sport & Medicine, where we heard Dr. Joann Dahlkoetter talk about sports psychology, and Chris Chorak talk about sports injuries from the coaches point of view. Dr. Joann won the S.F Marathon in 1980 (2:43) and placed second in the 1982 Ironman. Starting the marathon phase of that race, she was so trashed from the cycling that she was walking, and had to use her full mental bag of tricks to get going. Being passed by one of her rivals certainly helped! Quite an illuminating morning altogether.

Maximum Week

After having looked at the official results for last Sunday’s 5K, it seems that my AG win was not such a gimme after all. There were eight of us 50-59 guys running, and three of us broke 21:00. Memo to self: Turn around after finishing. You might see something interesting!

This is my maximum week in this marathon cycle. I missed a long run on Sunday to stroke my vanity with that 5K, so made amends with a 15-miler on Monday, my “rest” day. It’s not surprising that Wednesday’s intervals (6 X 1000m @ 5K pace w/3 minute recoveries) were slow by about 10 seconds per mile. This is playing with fire, as fitness can actually deteriorate if you’e not in shape to do your workouts properly. The last one was the fastest though, and I’ll probably get away with it since taper starts next week. Don’t try this at home, kids!

Race PRs

5K20:43 (LMJS 6/28/09
12K54:36 (Across Bay 3/21/10)
15K1:09:51 (LMJS 19/27/09)
Half1:31:28 (Kaiser 2012
Marathon 3;13:14 (CIM '11)


July 2009
« Jun   Aug »