After sixteen months of not racing due to injury, I ran the 2014 Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon in Golden Gate Park — my fourteenth half marathon in my 13th state.
After checking the long-range and short-range forecast several times, it appeared that the weather would be cool and cloudy for the race. So I was surprised when I awoke on race morning to find it raining steadily. The temperature was about 45 degrees and it was windy — conditions that were predicted to last for the duration of the race. I reconsidered my choice of clothing several times and finally opted for running shorts, a long-sleeved tech shirt, light tech jacket and a heavy fleece. The fleece was primarily to keep me warm at the start though I couldn’t afford to leave it on the side of the road, since it was the only coat I had brought for my week in California. And I cursed myself for my last-minute decision to leave my hat at home and that fact that I had no headband for my ears.
I made my way downtown from my hotel and secured a spot in the parking garage under Golden Gate Park. Reaching the outside entrance to the garage, I realized how cold it was and waited with a number of runners inside the garage until closer to race time, hoping the rain would let up a bit. Finally we could wait no longer, and made our way to the start, used the port-a-johns, and then I huddled with some other runners in a small park structure while I waited for a friend who was running the 5K to arrive.
Starting time came quickly and we were off. I had decided that I was going to do 1:00/0:30 walk/run intervals at the outset to see how I felt. We started off in the park and then miles 2 and 3 were around a city square with a little bit of an uphill. During this time, I removed my heavy jacket and had to run the rest of the way with it tied around my waist. Because of the rain, I decided not to use Runkeeper on my cell phone so I didn’t know my splits, but they had volunteers calling out the time elapsed as we went by.
Miles 3-7 went well. There were some nice downhill stretches that I ran and I was aware of a small group of runners that seemed to be going the same pace as I was. We’d pass one another, but never get too far ahead, and then switch things up again. At mile 7, we emerged onto the “Great Road” (Route 1), which I had heard some of the runners talking about in the garage. As soon as we turned left onto Route 1, there was a strong headwind, with driving, cold rain coming right at us. I didn’t know the course well, but saw that this was an out and back and saw mile 12 on the opposite side, so knew that I was in for at least a couple miles of difficult running. It was three miles out and three miles back on Great Highway. This was the most difficult part of the course, but also the most beautiful stretch, with sand dunes and the Pacific Ocean on one side.
By the turnaround near Mile 10, I was really feeling tired and thought I was starting to get blisters. I stopped, took off my shoes, checked my feet and then re-tied them tighter to minimize slippage. Retracing our steps on the Great Road, I could still see other runners struggling into the wind, though the rain had lessened to a drizzle. I was feeling good and running faster than most at this point (might have been the tailwind), so I was consciously picking off one or two runners at a time and passing them. At Mile 13 we turned back into the park for a short uphill stretch to the finish. They called out the name of the woman ahead of me — one of the runners I had been with the whole way. I was surprised to find that she was from Watertown, Mass. and said hello in the finish area. She must have started ahead of me because the final standings have her finishing after me.
The finish was well-organized and staffed with mylar blankets, water, T-shirts and snacks. I made my way to the exit and was surprised to discover that it was about a half mile walk to the shuttle busses. I heard a lot of cold, wet, tired people grumbling on the way to the bus — which took us four or five miles back to the parking garage and start area.
My only other issue with this race was at the parking garage. It took me at least 45 minutes to exit the garage due to traffic. And then the parking attendant tried to charge me an additional couple of bucks because I had exceeded the 15 minutes allotted between the time I fed the pay machine and the exit. I stopped for my first ever meal at In and Out Burger on the way home. It wasn’t the traditional post-run pancakes, but it WAS good!
Overall a well-organized, executed and solid race, with good support and a net downhill – and a great race for someone that wants to run in San Francisco without monster hills. One GREAT thing about this race is that bibs are mailed in advance so no need to arrive a day early and attend an expo to get them.
My time didn’t matter for this one, it was all about finishing and seeing how my foot would feel. It was fine and I was only a little bit sore the next day — typical post-race soreness. So I’m thrilled to be back to racing and already planning out the coming year’s adventures!