Thursday, August 02, 2018

Victory at the 2018 San Francisco Double Marathon


Last Saturday, I had the great pleasure of joining ~100 ultrarunners for the two-sided fun of the 2018 San Francisco Double Marathon. I say “two-sided” because this race has a unique way of showing you two completely different views of this great city while essentially being the exact same course. How, you ask? Well, you start with the first loop of the SF Marathon course in reverse at 11pm (among full traffic and drunken partygoers), then after a short break, take over the city with 23,000 runners for the official SF Marathon at 5:30am. Same course, but two wildly different experiences! 

(Me with Dean Karnazes, the man who started this crazy race)
Dean Karnazes has invited me to this run for years, when it started as an unofficial double with his Krazy friends. In 2015, it was “legitimized” as an official race option and has grown in participation ever since. I ran it last year for the first time and instantly understood why so many runners came back year after year. There’s nothing quite like it.

(The crazy SF doublers!)

(Claire Gladstone poses at the start, photo courtesy of Claire)
(This guy was crazy enough to pace the 4:55 group on the second marathon. Now that's confidence!)
(Super volunteer Penny McPhail, aka Chicken Lady)
 I watched the sun set as I drove up, parking near the Ferry Building with more than enough time to suit up and get ready. Dean came running up to the start just in time to hear Race Director Lauri Abrahamsen and Course Director Michael Li give us final instructions (Dean had run 18 miles to the start from his house in Marin, as one does). As we crossed the street to the start area, the SFPD had a completely naked man cuffed and face down on the pavement…welcome to the city! We swapped hellos with other runners, and found out there was a pretty good mix of returning athletes, first timers, and a handful trying their first ultra. The weather was an ideal 57 degrees, so with a hoot and holler, Lauri sent us off down the Embarcadero.

(And we're off!)
 Carlsbad, CA’s Stefan Asbock (3rd here last year) set a blistering sub-7 min/mile pace and was soon out of sight, while the rest of us snapped pics of the Bay Bridge and grouped up by pace. My legs wanted to go fast, so within a few miles I was running solo, the RunGo app whispering turn-by-turn directions into my ear as I watched for Stefan in the distance.

 By mile 3, I caught Stefan and we paired up through the Dogpatch and Mission districts. The streets were not blocked off, so it helped to have two headlights to part the sea of revelers on the busy sidewalks. We stuck together through the Haight district, where the cannabis smoke hung in the air with delicious intensity. I hope the aid station is coming soon, I’m getting hungry! But like a total wannabe stoner, I obliviously went right by the aid station.

(The mobile aid station takes care of us, photo courtesy of Michael Li)
 Stefan did find the mobile aid station, so I found myself running through Golden Gate Park by myself. The nocturnal animals lurked everywhere in the fog, including deer, coyote, and what looked like a family of skunk (run away!). A pack of rats devoured a garbage bag so quickly it looked like the bag was rolling down the street, right up until an owl swooped down and picked a squeaking rat from the pack and soared into the clouds, scattering the remaining vermin to the sewers. I’m so glad I did this race – how else would I see the wild side of Park life?
(Raccoons head to work!)
 I refueled at the second mobile aid station (mile 10), with Stefan coming in just as I headed out along the Great Highway. A quick two mile out and back, with plenty of high fives with fellow ultrarunners as we reentered Golden Gate Park and headed towards the Presidio. The city was dead quiet, the streets filled only with the sounds and shadows of my solo running (a great zombie-apocalypse kind of moment). I caught a cool breeze heading up the climb to Baker Beach, and knocked on the window of the mobile aid station minivan (mile 20) where Janeth Siva and Ed Lui got me filled up. They confirmed I was well ahead of schedule (surprise!), and sent me under the bridge.

(Volunteers Janeth Siva and Ed Lui pose with Dean, photo courtesy of Janeth)
(Like angels in the night!)
(Golden Gate at night, photo courtesy of Claire)
 Another coyote tracked along with me through Crissy Field, tag teaming with one more who followed me to Ghirardelli Square. Local escorts! I had no idea coyotes were so plentiful here. Fisherman’s Wharf was, much like last year, the most rats I have ever seen in one place (and a guarantee I’ll never eat at that restaurant). Before long, I reached the finish (3:14:16) and got right to eating fresh meal and changing into fresh clothes.

 I had about a three hour gap before the next marathon started, and spent most of that time eating, drinking, stretching, and moving around. I had learned from last year that taking a nap was a sure way to lock up your legs, so best to stay alert! Stefan (3:33, and with the best post-race chocolate) and Kevin Cochrane (3:49, although with an extra mile, so technically our first ultramarathoner) came in soon after me, and then a steady stream of runners shedding their headlamps and tights for sunscreen and shorts. Round two would begin soon enough!

(Here we go again!)
 At 4:15am, I peeked my head out to the start line and saw nobody. Forty-five minutes later, the Embarcadero was filled with 15,000 runners ready to go! I made it to Corral A just as it left the start area, and slowly warmed my legs up. One…more…lap!

 Lots of company on this lap, with languages from all over the world. As the fog lifted to reveal the Golden Gate Bridge, there were just as many “Vunderbar!”s as “Formidable”s. We squeezed onto the sidewalk (no road closure on the bridge this year), cheering Jorge Maravilla (1st), Alex Varner (4th), and Michael Wardian (10th) as they returned on the other side. There was a fun dirt fire road to get under the bridge this year, and some more trail from the bridge to Hwy 1…trail running rules!

(The Golden Gate Bridge in daytime!)
 My pace picked up considerably as we entered Golden Gate Park (mile 11), the circadian rhythm of the morning bringing me back to life. I passed the 3:45 pace group, then 3:30, then….2:45?!? Oh wait, that’s the half marathoners. (ha, ha)

(Best aid station volunteers ever! Photo courtesy of Claire)
 Once we hit Haight Street, most of us knew the climbing parts were over. Although only 1,200 feet of climbing in total, San Fran has a way to dishing it out swiftly and painfully. I rallied with a few hungry marathoners through the final miles, grateful that the clouds never really broke enough to make it hot. I cruised in to the finish pulled by two sub-3:30 BQ hopefuls, feeling good, and ready for some breakfast.

(There's that finish!)
(Next up, pancakes!)
  The first to greet me as a volunteer saying “congratulations…you won the double!”. I was shocked, by both the win and that they could pick me out of the crowd of finishers. He was happy to oblige my desire for pancakes with a VIP pass, where I got to catch up with repeat marathon winner Jorge Maravilla (and Joaquin!), Alex Varner, and other top finishers, as well as sponsors from Generation UCAN, Air France, and BioFreeze, before heading to the stage for our awards. This race is so official now! The pomp was a lot of fun though.

(On stage for the awards)
(Lots of swag indeed!)
 The official results had me at 3:14:16 + 3:29:38 = 6:43:54 for first, with Stefan Asbock (3:33 + 3:43 = 7:17) in 2nd, and Bradley Fenner (4:01 + 3:50 = 7:52) in 3rd. Twenty-one year old Sadie McGirr (4:25 + 4:38 = 9:03) won the Women’s division. Jorge Maravilla (2:27) and San Francisco’s Bonnie Tran (2:54) won the Marathon, and based on what I heard, a lot of PR’s and BQ’s were clocked.

(Jorge Maravilla for the victory!)
 Once again, a fantastic race experience, and I am already eager to try it again! My thanks to Lauri, Michael, and their ultra crew for helping keep this special ultra alive and thriving, and to Dean for scheming it up in the first place. I hope to see you again soon!

Also a special thanks to inov-8 (kick ass shoes), injinji (52.4 miles and no blisters says it all), and my sponsors for keeping my training on track!