Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Race Recap: The San Francisco Marathon

Hmmm... Where to start with this one.

When the idea of attempting 3:47 at the San Francisco Marathon got in my head, I trained to try and meet that goal. But magical things happen on race day, and I figured there would be a chance I could potentially do better... Or worse.

Luckily, I ended up beating my goal by a few minutes. The amazing thing? I didn't feel good about this race.

When my best running friend Rad and I signed up for SFM, we both registered to be in Wave 5 together -- the wave that hosts the 4:00-4:15 predicted-finish marathoners. We both had killer training cycles, and at the expo we decided to switch waves: She into Wave 4, and me into Wave 2.

It's about time we broke in our twin tops and temporary tattoos!
Okay, so not all of the tattoos are temporary.

The Race

After being dropped off an at ungodly ugly hour, I pushed my way into Wave 2 where I bumped into my training buddy Katie and her friend Jessica. The gun went off at 5:32 a.m. and I started running with a group of really fast people. I kind of regretted this as I found myself caught in a pack of runners pushing a pace I knew I didn't want to hold.

Jessica, Katie, & me
Mile 1 (7:55), Mile 2 (8:04), Mile 3 (8:24), Mile 4 (8:21), Mile 5 (8:19), Mile 6 (8:46)

The race starts out flat and fast along the Piers on the Embarcadero, into Fort Mason, the Marina, Crissy Field, and then up onto the Golden Gate Bridge. The sun started peeking its way out once I got to the bridge, but parts of the course were hard to see simply because there was no light. I tried to not step on anyone's feet and wanted to stay out of everyone's way, but I knew I was going too fast heading into the hills.

Look at all those really fast people shunning me for being in their corral.

Mile 7 (8:10), Mile 8 (7:55), Mile 9 (7:57), Mile 10 (8:00), Mile 11 (7:57)

Running the Golden Gate Bridge was serious fun for once. I'm scared of being on the bridge and I always inadvertently run a bit faster for this reason, but I had a good distraction this time. Because two lanes of the roadbed were closed -- the far north lane for the coming runners, and the lane parallel for the returning runners -- I was able to spot SO many people! It was great getting to see Katie, Ron, Ginny, Tonia, Karin, Aron, Kristin, AND Tony on the bridge before I got into the neighborhoods I knew all too well. I was too happy and excited looking for my friends that I just cruised along and didn't even care about my pace.

Flash photography is really attractive at this hour.

Mile 12 (8:32), Mile 13 (8:31)
, Mile 14 (8:17), Mile 15 (8:33)

As we ran through the Avenues into Golden Gate Park, I was now feeling the effect of going out too fast. I saw XLMIC cheering at mile 10, Cate and Mike cheering at mile 12, and Naomi cheering at mile 13 -- all of which was a surprise, and all of which was sweet relief from thinking about my legs inevitably crashing. I crossed the half marathon in 1:48 (at an 8:11 average pace, this wasn't too far off my current PR), and knew I had had a stellar first half of the race. But I still had half of the race to go.

Mile 16 (8:35), Mile 17 (8:55), Mile 18 (8:26), Mile 19 (8:31)

RoadBunner, Audrey, and Layla had given us a heads up that they were going to be cheering and taking photos at mile 16 in Golden Gate Park. This gave me something else to look forward to. I tried to hold it together to look presentable for my friends, otherwise I'm sure I would have given up on the long and gradual 2-mile uphill that led us to them. Dead serious. I was doing everything in my power to go as far as I could before stopping to walk.

Looking this good was totally a fluke. ;)
I don't know how the Bay Area running community ever thrived without Layla. This girl is a rockstar both in terms of running and in supporting runners.
The best cheerleaders ever at SFM! Cate, Layla, RoadBunner, & Audrey!!
I rounded the corner before my favorite part of GGP -- Stow Lake -- but I knew my legs were slowing. Stow Lake is a series of nonstop rolling hills, and while I did a lot of my speed training there, I just didn't have it in me. I took it easier on the hills and thought about how soon I'd be getting out of the park and onto the "flat" part of the race: The Haight, Mission, and Potrero neighborhoods.

Mile 20 (8:39), Mile 21 (8:20), Mile 22 (8:30)

A great thing about this race is that it runs through so many different neighborhoods and pockets of the city, so the miles fly by. A few more friends told me they'd be cheering at mile 21, so, once again, I knew of something to look forward to. Having all the support along the course was truly a lifesaver, as I don't know how I would have held it together if I didn't know anyone out there. A smile or cheer from a stranger is nice, but when you can recognize a face on the course that is there just for you, the cheering is that much more meaningful. I was sooo tired when I saw my friends at mile 21, but I was able to pick it up a little after that adrenaline boost.

I ran with these girls for most of the second half. While I never got their names, we spent a lot of time together, silently pushing one another. I like the synchronicity of our strides in these shots. Thanks, RoadBunner's Boyfriend. :)
Mile 23 (9:17), Mile 24 (9:00), Mile 25 (9:06), Mile 26 (9:03)

At mile 23 I allowed myself to walk through the water stop, and from there on out I told myself to just keep moving without looking at my pace. The last few miles of the race were fairly desolate in terms of spectators and scenery, and the portion of the course behind AT&T Park was a death march. While I didn't see people dropping left and right like I had been warned, there was nothing interesting to look at and I got stuck in my head; the "just give up" and "why bother" thoughts started taking over. Everyone around me all looked, and probably felt, like zombies. I was trying hard to convince myself I was almost done, but I wasn't running the tangents well. I felt like the finish line kept moving farther and farther away.

Feeling pretty down & out.
Mile .46 (4:02, 8:36 pace)

I knew I had another huge PR under my belt unless I keeled over, but I couldn't help but think of what "could have happened" had I run the first miles of SFM smarter and not been so gassed for so long at the end.

Coming down the finisher's chute with an 11+ minute PR.

But on the bright side...

I completely conquered my A goal. I also felt I had given everything I had in me when I crossed that finish line. I saw so many of my bestestest running friends and supporters along the way.

And I can't ask for much more than that.

Marathon #4
This medal doubles as a coaster and is HUGE! Love it.


Overall, I am pleased with my time and what I've accomplished on this beast of a race -- never did I think I'd hit multiple sub-8 minute miles in a marathon OR break the 3:45 mark on such a challenging course! But I am a bit disappointed in knowing I didn't pace myself when the course was so conducive to negative splitting.

While I can't redo anything about this race, I did learn that the terrain doesn't affect my pace much. It's my pacing strategy and my mentality that need improvement, and that's what I'll work on next.

Long-run buddies: me, Aron, Katie, & Kristin :)
Rad & I showing off the goods and our brand new "Worth the Hurt" sweatshirts

Garmin Time: 26.46 miles, 3:44:16 -- 8:28 pace (7.1 mph)

Official Time: 26.2 miles, 3:44:14 -- an 11:02 PR!
Average Pace: 8:34 min/mile
Overall Place: 963 out of 5,920
Gender Place: 152 out of 1,976
Age/Gender Place: 47 out of 445
Air Temp: 57F

1: 7:55
2: 8:04
3: 8:24
4: 8:21
5: 8:19
6: 8:46
7: 8:10
8: 7:55
9: 7:56
10: 8:00
11: 7:57
12: 8:32
13: 8:31 (half marathon in 1:48)
14: 8:17
15: 8:33
16: 8:35
17: 8:55
18: 8:26
19: 8:31
20: 8:39
21: 8:20
22: 8:30
23: 9:17
24: 9:00
25: 9:06
26: 9:03
.46: 4:02 (8:36 pace)

More stories/photos of this weekend coming soon... :)


  1. Congratulations on your PR!! Those last 3 miles completely suck, but you finished strong and crushed your A goal, and that's awesome! It was great seeing you out there

  2. Seriously can't tell you how proud I am of you. You're amazing!

  3. You know you rock! I love despite the AHHHMazing time you walked away with, you still allow room for growth, thats what makes you a pro! It was an awesome race and an awesome weekend, it'll be pretty hard to match, but I am sure we will manage!-xooxoxox Rad

  4. You crushed that race! Congrats on the PR! Feel free to pace me to a sub-4 whenever you'd like! See you in a few weeks!

  5. You know you rock! I love despite the AHHHMazing time you walked away with, you still allow room for growth, thats what makes you a pro! It was an awesome race and an awesome weekend, it'll be pretty hard to match, but I am sure we will manage!-xooxoxox Rad

  6. You are a ROCKSTAR!! Remember how, just a few months ago, you and I had similar race times and average paces? Well, you ran the first half of this marathon at a faster pace than my PR for a half! Coming after Big Sur, you've also proved that this speed-up of yours IS NOT A FLUKE!!
    Congratulations on the huge PR, the very fast time on a tough course, for taking good lessons out of it, and for setting yourself up to further conquer the next race.

  7. So incredible. Not a whole lot more to say other than I am honored to get to be a teammate of such a fab marathoner and really look forward to even training with you soon.

    This is a great report…i feel competely filled in :)

  8. Wow!!! That is AWESOME. What a great race report. I hope to have a very similar report in October. My goal is very close to yours (I have a 3:57 PR and am hoping to run somewhere under 3:50)

    I can't wait to meet you in a few weeks!

  9. Way to go, you rocked!!! YOu are such a strong runner. In no time you will BQ.

  10. Congrats on the PR, and I love that you got so many pictures of you on the course! Just wait until next year...

  11. Congrats on breaking your A-goal! Rawk star!

  12. Whoa there! An 11 min PR on the SF course means you are doing something right.

    Your fade was very minimal compared most runners, I think you did fine..ok maybe you could have eeeked out a few more minutes with uber-perfect pacing but hey.

    I repeat: 11m is HUGE.

  13. HEYO! look at you and your mighty huge PR! congrats, girl!

  14. Awesome work out there! That's a HUGE PR! Be happy with it and look at what you learned. This is just the tip of the iceberg!

  15. Congratulations on an AWESOME PR on a super tough course!!

  16. CONGRATS!!! what a huge PR! so happy for you and i hope you're still wearing the medal and smile!

  17. I see Boston in your future, Miss Alyssa!:-)

  18. Holy shit!!! I don't even know what to say to you right now!!!! OMG!!! You are amazing! Seriously, your running has improved so much since moving to San Fran:) Congrats to you A! You are a PR machine...look at how far you have come since marathon number one! I am proud of you and so thrilled for your accomplishment!

    Miss you so much! I need to come and run with you for sure:) Love and hugs!

  19. Yay, congrats! So awesome to read about everybody's race. I really need to run it next year. :)

  20. CONGRATS on the ridiculous PR!! Can't wait to celebrate with some more running at HTC!

  21. You are amazing! I am so proud of you!

  22. Great job A! You did really well and the photos are great. I know what you mean about how you can do well time-wise but still be frustrated with the race. It's so satisfying to run the whole thing strategically. It worked for you but I bet next time with some pacing you'll totally rock your A goal again!

  23. You are amazing!!! So excited for all the running adventures ahead :)

  24. Just came across your blog..wanted to CONGRATULATE you on an awesome finish!! You crushed your PR!!! Very inspiring! I've been running for about a year now - but only have one race under my belt (a 10K) and am training for my first half. Thanks for being so fab!

  25. Alyssa - just in the short amount of time that I've known you, you have grown SO much and I am so happy to watch you get faster and faster. You did a great job and I def. see a BQ in the near future!

  26. Oh man, if you do Santa Rosa or CIM this year, you will definitely BQ. Eleven minutes -- you smoked S.F.

    I think you need to change your blog name to "Diary of an Awesome Runner." And I love how you look like you're having the time of your life in ALL of your race pics. I'm sure I looked like a warm death in miles 11-13 of my own half ...

    Congrats on your finish!

  27. Congrats on the race! Just found your blog, and glad I did, moving to SF in the nearish future!

  28. I've been indirectly following you through Runners Rambles - what a race you had! A 11 minute PR is gigantic! Especially in SF!

    It seemed like your training went phenomenal, and it was no surprise that you did so well out there.

    That is great that you had some people to run with during the Golden Gate Park miles, I remember running there almost by myself and thinking - when will these hills end!

    Those signs are indeed awesome, love the Angry Birds one, haha

    It sounds like overall you ran a great race - I guess the only thing to work on a little bit is not starting out too fast. 7:55 first mile is blazing speed out of the gate! It seems like you held your awesome pace until mile 23 or so, but you didn't falter by that much.

    Jim of 50 After 40 had a great post a while back about negative splitting - it basically entails that you start out the first 4-5 miles running slower than goal pace and gradually work into your goal pace, then at the end you have more energy at the end of the race. My SF race last year went pretty similar to yours (only at a slower pace), I also ran the 2nd half slower than the first half because I bonked at mile 26 - so I'm going to try the strategy of working into goal pace next marathon that I do.

    Congrats on the race!!!

  29. CONGRATS!!!!!! I love how casual you are with "I beat my goal by a couple of min". A COUPLE!? that is amazing.

  30. And I forgot to say that I think you will BQ on an easier course like CIM!

  31. Congratulations!! Any PR is awesome, but beating your time by 11 minutes!? Amazing!! (especially on such a tough course) I have also been in the situation where I wonder how I would've done if I hadn't gone out so fast at the start but sometimes it's so hard to know what else to do! Anything can happen on race day and if you feel good, you just have to go with it.

    I hope you're still riding the high from the race!! Congrats again! Can't wait to meet you (and celebrate!) in a few weeks!!!

  32. I don't think any of us had any doubt that you would OWN this race! Seriously, I was more excited for your race, then for my own. You worked so hard for this and it paid off! Hat's off to you my friend!

  33. Way to hold on at the finish.. great photos. :)

  34. How did it take me so long to comment on this??


    For real. I knew you had it in you, but you had an amazing time!! I guess you're meant to be a hill runner. :)

    Pacing and the mental part of the marathon can be one of the toughest parts of the whole gig, so no worries if you're not there yet...I don't think many of us are. Hanging in there at the end of a marathon is SO hard and you did it quite well....congrats!!

    (And you know what another 11 minute PR would be...right?? wink wink...)

    Can't wait to see you for HTC!!

  35. dang girl. You kicked some booty in this race! yay!

  36. Well I just realized I never commented - lame!

    I am so proud of you girl, you went out there and gave it your all and pulled off an amazing race. I know it wasn't exactly as you planned, but really most aren't and you still finished strong with another massive PR on a freaking hard course. You are awesome and I was thinking about you all morning while I was out there running too!

  37. Wow!!!! Great recap and great race!

  38. You pulled a massive PR on a tough course - congrats!! I love all your pictures too - despite how you may have been feeling you looked great. Every race is a learning experience so be happy with your take away. Can't wait to run with you again soon!