I pick a verse for every goal race to focus on throughout the training cycle and race. For the San Francisco Marathon, I came across Proverbs 16:9, and it really got me thinking about where my heart was in this process. Running can easily become such a self-focused sport, and we lose sight of the mighty plans that God has for us.
In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.
I formally started marathon training 7 weeks before race day, and about three weeks in, I started to have shin splints that hurt pretty badly, and more importantly, scared me enough to change up my training entirely. My coach utilizes intensity in practically every run, so I was out of a coach and out of a training plan once I made the decision to focus on health over performance. I’ve never had a stress fracture, and I want to take precautions to never reach that point! So I spent the last month with a lot of time cross training and running on a flat treadmill. I also added a few 20 mile runs that I wouldn’t have run with my previous training schedule. Although it was disheartening to have my training derailed a bit, it was a really good reminder to evaluate my heart and keep my focus on God. Injuries are really good at giving us perspective!
Arriving in San Francisco
San Francisco was not a goal race for me to PR, but rather a race to go enjoy, perform well, and then enjoy our friends and drink lots of good wine out in wine country. Jon and I spent the night at my parents’ house on Friday night so we could be with Cadence one more night before flying out. We did a quick 1.5 mile shakeout run before jetting to the airport for our first trip without Cadence. Since I’m still breastfeeding Cadence, I brought a manual pump to use at night and in the morning.
Jon and I arrived in San Francisco on Saturday afternoon and walked with our friends to the expo. On our way, I just about had a heart attack when I walked all of hills. I had been avoiding hills for the last month because hillwork made my shins hurt worse, and my goal was to make it intact to the race. This race was going to hurt! I picked up my elite bib at the expo, which was a really neat experience since this is the first race as an elite runner! Dinner included lots of good food, great friends, and an early bedtime.
Our hotel was right across the street from the start, so race morning was pretty easy. My alarm was set for 4 am, but I didn’t sleep great and woke wide awake at 3:40 am. I ate some of my mom’s homemade bread and half of a protein bar. Jon and I got dressed and headed downstairs to meet our friends at 5 am. This is probably the first race where I haven’t used the porta potty before a start. It was so convenient to have the hotel so close!! I hopped into the elite corral at the front of the line and did a few warm up strides. I wasn’t nearly as warmed up as I should have been, but the corrals closed at 5:15 am, and I was afraid I’d miss the window if I went off and ran much.
One of the announcers was Dean Karnazes, which was really neat. I admit that I felt totally out of place standing up in the front, but it was still a really fun experience to stand with the elites. Finally, the whistle blew, and we all started running. I started out at about a 6:50 pace, and it felt like an effort. I knew I could hold the pace at that time, but I didn’t think this was a good sign for what was to come as far as pace was concerned. I didn’t have a goal though, so I didn’t worry. I was running beside the 3:00 pacer, and there were a few other guys clumped with him. I like to run with others, so I decided to stick with them as long as I could.
First Hill to the Golden Gate Bridge
We reached the first hill around 2.5 miles. I really wanted to see how the other guys handled the hill to get an idea of what I should be doing. We all slowed down to about an 8 minute pace and then flew down the hill. This was fine by me, and I was clicking right along. Things were feeling really comfortable and I was having a lot of fun. It was 57 degrees at the start, which is way cooler than anything I have run in a long time. There was a really dense fog and a headwind, so we were pretty much just running in a bubble.
At about mile 5, we ran up a hill to the Golden Gate Bridge. I didn’t realize that we were even on the bridge until I looked up and saw the bridge towering overhead. It was so foggy. The bridge is 1.2 miles with entry and exit adding to the distance. This was definitely my most fun part of the race. As we were crossing over, we saw the lead pack coming back over the bridge. And then it was our turn. All of the masses of runners were crossing the bridge as we were exiting. I saw our 3 friends and my husband. This is also where I learned that I was first female. I had so many other runners, especially female, cheering for me as I passed. If ever I felt like a celebrity, this was the moment. I also knew that I should enjoy it while it lasted. 🙂
Running to the Golden Gate Park
We left the bridge around mile 9.5 and ran toward Golden Gate Park. Up until this point, the race was flying by and I felt really good, albeit tired of hills. Golden Gate Park seemed to last forever. And it wasn’t as flat as I had hoped. A really nice guy was running with me and tried to give me an idea of the landscape for the rest of the race. While it evened out more on paper, to the legs, it still felt really hilly. Two girls passed me around mile 13. I had not really slowed down, but they were flying. I know that it was too early in the race to chase, and I didn’t have it in me to run their paces.
I got to see my husband and friends several times while I was in the park (they ran the half and finished in the park). This was a great boost to my morale. I was hurting a little, but it was more that I was just ready to be done with the hills. It wasn’t so fun anymore. I remember reading a race report by Tia Stone (@arkansasrunnermom on IG) who said that she felt relief at mile 20 because it was downhill. So I just kept looking for mile 20. My legs were tired, but not so tired that I really felt like I needed to slow down. My paces for the whole race were very much dictated by the hills. I had lost the 3 hour pacer guy (Carl) somewhere in the park, and the sun was so bright that I couldn’t really see anything in front of me (it was no longer a cool 57 degrees!)
Running Past 20
The last few miles went by pretty slowly for me, but I didn’t want to slow down because I wanted to be finished. I only saw fuel at one stop at mile 8 (apparently I missed the other aid station), but I ate my Honey Stinger Gel and Honey Stinger Chews. I also drank water at every other aid station. The second half of the race was direct sunlight and pretty toasty.
The last two miles of the race were by the bay, so it was flatter, but by then I had started to slow regardless of elevation change. I had not been running tangents very well, and my watch chimed at 26.2 as a sub 3 hour marathon, but I still had 0.34 to run. I knew that I was third female, but I did not know how much of a lead I had. I crossed the finish in 3:01:12 as the overall third place female, and my sweet husband and friends were there to cheer me on.
The race was a challenge for me, but it was an incredible experience. The race director and all of the volunteers did a fantastic job with every detail! My least favorite part was definitely the second half, which was supposed to be the easier half. I am satisfied with my time and place, but I do wish that I had gone into the race with a time goal. I absolutely believe that if I had gone into the race with a time goal of sub 3, I could have hit the mark. By the time that I realized that I could have reached this goal, I didn’t have time to make it up. I believe that I could have shaved off time with a little more mental edge alone. So that’s a great lesson to be mentally sharp going into a race, even if you don’t feel very ambitious at the start. You never know until you try!
After the race, we attended the awards ceremony. All of the top finishers were super congenial and energetic. What an honor to get to know them! As a prize, I got a new Fitbit, Jaybird wireless headphones, and some other smaller items. I also got a nice 3rd place plaque. My husband and friends made me feel like a queen, and I am so thankful for their sweet support. We all ate a big brunch together after showering, and then we masochistically walked all around San Francisco on tired legs. What an amazing city!
We finished up the trip with wine tastings in Sonoma and Napa on Monday and Tuesday.
Here’s some cool data from my Milestone Pod. The main thing that I notice is that my foot strike changed for the uphills and the downhills. My stride length and ground contact were also better for this marathon than on my training runs. The faster I run, the more efficiently I run. Isn’t God good!?
If you want to order a Milestone Pod, use code PodTeamMeridith30 for 30% off until the end of July!