Friday, August 1, 2014

Race Report : The San Francisco Marathon 2014 : Not your typical race report.

"You're a [track, road, trail] sprinter / runner / hiker / shuffler / walker!"  What?  Life can be so confusing and limiting for those that label and identify themselves by their means of a workout and preferred race venue.  If you are a track runner and normally train and race on the track then what you are not allowed to run on the road nor hike a state/federal park?  Sure from an equipment point of view there are specific differences in equipping, training and planning for workouts/races on track but isn't it your goal and how you strive towards that goal that ultimately matters?

If your goal is to set a Personal Record (PR) or Boston Qualify (BQ) by optimizing speed via minimizing weight, aid station (AS) time, interaction with fellow runners, spectators or the scenic views then great! In contrast, if your goal is to eventually finish whilst enjoying the spectacle and exclusivity of running on closed city streets (and bridges!),  taking in panoramic views, chit-chating with fellow adventurers from all over the world and just having fun.  That is fine too!  You could even be a someone who normally enjoys only running on trails using and using the course as a training run dialing in equipment and fuel/fluid replenishment procedures. Each is a specific goal which can be trained, planned, executed for and enjoyed.  

A friend of mine recently nailed this topic for me in his piece on 'Hike It Like It' site entitled, "Footprints in the Paella :Reflection on Backpacking, Trail Running, and Stereotypes" where he tackles stereotypes and argues that shouldn't we "not [to] identify our respective backpacking/hiking/running personas, but instead [to] focus on our goals trip by trip?"

My goal for Sunday, July 27th was to complete a 26 plus mile training run, dial-in equipment, fuel/fluid replenishment routines, socialize with other runners, enjoy the incredible scenic vistas and encourage others to find and strive towards their goals.  In full disclosure I was part of the 2014 San Francisco Marathon Ambassadors team and directly resulted in the registration of a number of runners to this event.

Below is my review of the 2014 San Francisco Marathon broken down by : Equipment & Supplies, Pre-race expo, Race Day, Post-race reflections.

I) Equipment & Supplies

This is my typical trail running attire that doesn't change much and is normally packed and ready to go in my 'go bag'.

    • Shoes : Hoka Stinsons
    • Socks : Injinji medium weight toe socks
    • Calf Guards : Generic mesh calf guards from Amazon used to protect me from brush and poison oak.
    • Shorts : Pocketed Nike DryFit - preferably with side pockets and rear zip pocket.
    • Shirt : long sleeved micro-weave technical shirt
    • Packs : OrangeMud single HydraQuiver, Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Essential
    • Hat : Technical 'head sweats'
    Fluid, Fuel and Supplies:  I'm not a morning person nor a particularly big breakfast person especially before a race.  I try to get up at least two hours before a race start to eat something like a powerbar and get to the race one hour before the start to mix and mingle.  I carry my own food but I will eat from an AS table if they have boiled potatoes (my favorite) or freshly cut sweet watermelon.  For a race that is longer than three hours (which a road marathon is for me) I use a simple 50:50 mixture of UCAN's SuperStarch and GU Roctane.  The super starch lays down a minimal blood sugar level and the roctane with (MaltoDextrin and simple sugars) provides short and medium term energy.  I supplement with GU (or boiled potatoes) every hour.  I ended up refilling my 23 oz bottle once and ate four Gels.
    • 23 oz bottle filled with ice cubes, 2 scopes of UCAN SuperStarch, 2 scopes of grape flavored GU Roctane (no caffeine).
    • Extra set of powdered UCAN/Roctane in small baggies for refill at mile 13 AS
    • Two Hammer and three GU gels
    • Emergency pack with knife, band-aides, Ibuprofen, Imodium AD, Antacids, money and expired drivers license.

    II) Pre-race Expo

    Given the race had no same-day registration and an early 5:30AM start I booked a room at the Parc55 which is right off the Powell Street BART exit, not close but not too far from the Mission Street and The Embarcadero Start.  I enjoyed the 45min ride from Pleasanton to SF, checked into the hotel then ran the ~2.5 miles to the race expo held at the Fort Mason Center.

      Was treated along the way with the normal noise, hustle and bustle of The City on a Saturday; such as, street demonstrations, intoxicated locals and the quirky shops on Polk Street.

    Please note there was a free shuttle that ran from the Hyatt Embarcadero to Fort Mason but I needed a shakeout run and really wasn't interested in queuing up for a shuttle and all that.

    Along the way for the explorer was The Great Meadow which you pretty much have to go through to make your way to the stairs that brings you down to the Fort.  I actually stopped here for at least 20min taking in the many nice views, tons of people sun bathing, playing lawn games, picnicking, walking their dogs/children or just hanging out.  A friendly, clean and fun 'local neighborhood park'.

    Once you start down the stairs from The Great Meadow you see this view in the distance.  A mass of cars/shuttles and runners with that determination in their eyes (Where's my BIB!)  It was your typical race expo with vendor and sponsor booths, a place to pick up your bib, shirt, information desk, etc.  Bart Yasso, running legend, was making his rounds chit-chating with lucky runners.

    I didn't take many pictures inside the Expo except with Lark - head of marketing at SF Marathon and all around cool person.

    [Tip - get your ID checked and yellow wrist band at the expo so you don't have to wait in line to the beer garden]

    [Tip - there is a table of technical shirts from prior years races where you can score one for $5 each!  I bought two.]

     III) Race Day!

    Rewind slightly to the night before race day.  Given I haven't lived in SF for about 20 years I forgot what downtown was like ... especially at night.  O'Farrell and neighboring streets are host to several VERY popular bars/nightclubs - including the one across the street from my room.  Party goers pretty much made as much noise with their mouths as they did honking from their limos until about closing time 3AM.  Not that I was going to get much sleep before race day anyway, but I pretty much only got an hours sleep before the alarm went off at 4AM.  The room did have curtains, shades to make the room dark and a complimentary pair of ear plugs!  OK, maybe I got two hours of sleep having gone to bed around 9:30PM.  It was all kinda a blur.

    I knew it would take 20 min to walk from the hotel to the start, plus I wanted to be an hour early so subtracting 1.5 hours from Wave 5 starting at 6:01AM that meant I had to leave the hotel no later than 4:30AM.  So, up at 4AM, eat/dress then down to lobby to request late checkout (1PM) since I was running a Marathon after all and couldn't control when I'd finish and be back at the hotel.  The registration desk agreed and I hoped actually updated the computer.

    [Tip : If your hotel isn't runner friendly and automatically give you late checkout, then request one which is normally complimentary and done with the morning registration crew morning of checkout day.  They should give you at least a one our late checkout, but could be extended based on their loading up to three hours.]

    I arrived right on time and there were few people at the start around 5AM.  Used this opportunity to hunt down fellow Ambassadors (in Orange) and friends.  Got lucky and found several from Fleetfeet Pleasanton and ARMed and Dangerous race clubs.  Couldn't find my running friends from FMRC nor MountainHouse.  The porta-pottie lines were too long but I knew there they'd be much less busy on the course.  Sure enough I had my own private bathroom near the HM mark. Yeah, I took a two minute detour but used it also as a walk break.

    At 5:30AM the elites took off and Waves started their march towards the start line.  For a race with more than 26,000 participants the process was amazingly well organized and orderly.  There were a few stragglers that missed their Wave but in the end if you really cared about your time you were chipped and probably had your Smart, GPS-enabled Phone/Watch anyway.  I stayed with other Ambassadors in our tent until my Wave 5 came by thinking I could scope out and catch my friends.  Not!  There were just too many people in my wave and I ended up packing near the 4:20 pace group and sticking with them.

    Here is a picture of some Wave 3 Ambassadors lit by the Bay Bridge and with morning blue skies as background.  The air was thick with anticipation.

    I also just happen to catch Pavement Runner who elected (was bribed, inebriated?) to run the Double Marathon.  Brian started at midnight and had just finished his first marathon loop before starting off with us on his second loop.  That's more than 50 miles of SF road running.  Rather hardcore and a testament to Brian's running ability, fund raising prowess and probably his sanity! Read his full review here.

    The San Francisco Marathon group did something that VERY few large organized running events do and that was offer free photos.  Sure we are used to that in the small trail and ultra running community but in the road running arena by folks like Rock 'n Roll that is rare.  I greatly appreciated the free photos and more than one were actually well shot.  I hope this trend catches on!

    Since, I don't run with music in my ear I chatted with several people and asked where they were from, their professions and their goals for the race.  I received many questions about the 'Orange Ambassador Shirt' and of course why was I wearing a pack and that sort of thing.  One friendly guy in his 50s had just qualified for Boston, was beaming with pride and was just enjoying being in SF and 'running with his friends'.

    On course, there was one guy offering cups of free beer as well as another guy offering 'free hugs'.  I didn't take part in either but I did chase bubbles coming out of the baby stroller equipped with one huge bubble machine.  That was cool.  As well as the random house that had their hose angled so to shower us with cold tap water.  Sounds strange but felt great.

    Bling for those that are into heavy medal included a finishers medal and several others if you participated in the various challenges.  A fellow runner reminded me that we ran the Inaugural Berkeley Half Marathon last year which qualified us for the second medal.

    There were also the usual bagels, water, Coconut water, bananas, muffins, etc.  But for those that know me it all pales in comparison to a celebratory finishers beer!  There was Sierra Nevada on tap including Torpedo and another red/dark IPA that I had.  Yup, nothing speaks reward and accomplishment louder than a cold beer with friends after an completing an adventure!

    [Repeated Tip - get your ID checked and yellow wrist band at the expo so you don't have to wait in line to the beer garden]

    I used both Garmin and Strava app running on my iPhone 5 to track actual pace and route. Why? Mostly to make sure I didn't run too fast and to keep a nice and easy shuffle.

    If you are into elapsed times...  I finished the marathon in 4:35 hours according to official chip timing (although Strava reported running time of 4:30) with a 2:13 first half and 2:22 second half.  I was perfectly fine with my run time, felt fresh at the finish, but somewhat disappointed that I let heat reduce my pace in the second half.  The morning was a cool 65 with a slight breeze off the ocean which let itself to a super easy early morning run.  [The first half is truly an enjoyable run because of the incredible views and cool breeze off the ocean]

    Part of the second half from GG park through mission back to the bay bridge is basically running through exposed neighborhood and industrial streets in warmer 77 deg heat.  Yeah, I know we [trail runners] will and do run in 100+ deg degree heat with a smile on our faces but dang it 'felt' hot and I actually slowed down my pace considerably.  If I could do something over again I would  maintain my 9:30-10:00 pace throughout the second half.

    IV) Post-race reflections

    The San Francisco Marathon is a USATF certified and measured course complete with chip timing, aid stations (AS) nearly every other mile, spectators, bands and offers big city culture mixed with incredibly panoramic views of the Bay.  I achieved my goal of getting in a 26+ mile training run, taking in some beautiful SF scenery and yes had my celebratory beer. 

    I was ogled on the course because I wore ‘trail’ shoes, mesh calf sleeves and my OrangeMud backpack/quiver. I was asked ‘Hey, where are you hiking too?’, ‘Are you a trail runner?’, ‘Why would you wear a pack when there are ASs every other mile?”.  I used these opportunities to talk about goals, how supportive the greater running community is in helping us plan and achieve our goals.  I also dispensed electrolyte tabs, salt pills and band-aids to those that needed them (from my pack).

    I would definitely run The San Francisco Marathon again and also feel I'm ready for my next adventure in completing a local trail race named Skyline 50K this Sunday.


    1. Looks great! Do you have any idea when the next marathon is going to be? I'd love to participate, but I'm going to be there for 2 weeks only and that in October. I think I'll just talk to my travel agent at and ask him for advice. Can you tell me where I cna buy the attire for cheap? I've ran marathons in Europe, but here it's more of a by the way thing.

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