The Thrills of Hills: A Recap of The San Francisco Marathon


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I’ve heard it said often enough, “Learn to love hills, they’ll make you a stronger runner.” After last Sunday’s run, I believe it. It’s hard to know when you register for a race online what you’re really signing up for? You can’t know, not with any degree of certainty, what you’re getting into – the run of a lifetime or the challenge of a lifetime? You can only research the course, maybe suss out a few runners who have done it before and get some feedback, but really just hope and pray for the best. I suppose that’s what makes it challenging and exciting to begin with – the unknown factor, the anticipation of discovery – in the end, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The San Francisco Marathon (SF Marathon) was a dream hills course, that is, if you ever have such dreams or nightmares. Lol. Truthfully, I wouldn’t describe it in nightmare terms because despite the hilly terrain, I enjoyed it and thought it was quite scenic and interesting. My favorite part of the course was running on the golden gate bridge (big thrill)..about three miles out from the Bay area into Marin and back to the tune of perfect San Francisco-type weather, overcast and drizzly with a cool breeze. I was in my element at tempo pace with a slight incline to relatively flat run in the company of thousands of runners and spectators lining the bridge; a perfect run setting if there ever was one, if only it could have stayed that way. But it was San Francisco, you would think I didn’t know it as I really didn’t expect it to be quite as hilly; suffice to say my expectations were surpassed. I especially wasn’t thrilled with the downhill portions of the race as it was hell on my lower back and butt cheeks but on the other hand, the variance kept the race interesting. What I knew of the law of gravity kept me sane and pushing forward on the hills and if you know anything about running downhill, then you know the momentum pretty much carries you; only there needs to be some sort of control to your running, which was the hard part, since there was no traction.
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Running along the bay area was another thrill. Starting from around mile 3 to 6, it was beautiful, cool, and calm around 6am looking out over the bay to the boats as they floated on the still water. The heavy fog surrounding us like a cocoon made as if to seclude us in a space where only running existed. One could feel the immense hush settling over us as we dug in and psyched ourselves for what lay ahead. Of course nothing in my training on those very miniscule hills (in comparison anyway) in Central Park, New York could have prepared me for what must have been mountains (or so it seemed at the time) I had to run. However, it was encouraging to see the locals running with slightly less effort, it gives me hope that mastering those hills is possible after all; I only have to incorporate it into my training. Only, right.
In hindsight, I should have made more of an effort to tame my pace in the first half, and to be fair I tried, but with the early ups and downs and stronger muscles to play with, pushing it kind of just happened and I was able to keep up a more or less steady 8:15 min p/mile. It was the steady decline of mile 13 that saw my decrease in pace which just about summed up the rest of the race. Getting past the historic residential areas and closer to the city provided a bit of a reprieve in terms of a flatter landscape and difference in scenery but it was a case of too little too late, as I was already heading toward a 3:50 finish. Not much that could have been done at that point and not for a lack of anything not provided on the course.
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The 31st running of the SF marathon ran pretty smoothly. Lots of fluid and energy gels strategically placed along the course made sure we were ready to take on the hills right up to the finish line. Crossing under the merciful covering of an overcast sky was a blessing I did not take for granted, for San Francisco’s glorious sunshine soon appeared as if out of no where. Boy was I grateful to have finished and was especially heartened to see the streams of runners that kept pouring in despite the damnable heat. 27,000 runners found their strong last Sunday, which I think speaks a lot to what determination, perseverance and the right attitude can do when coupled with a runner on a mission. That said, it’s a course I’d love to run again; maybe I’m a sucker for punishment after all.
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