Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The San Francisco Marathon Summer of Love

It was with great pleasure that I joined 25,000+ runners for the 2011 annual San Francisco Marathon in San Francisco, CA, now the 13th largest marathon in the world (!). This epic hilly course is a rare chance to jaunt through some of SF's most scenic spots – Fisherman’s Wharf, the Golden Gate Bridge, Hwy 1, Haight-Ashbury, etc. - and finish in time for an 8:30am breakfast beer on Embarcadero Street. Runners take over the city! We had great weather, and the race organization was flawless...a perfect way to spend a summer day in California.
(Golden Gate Bridge, here we come!)
I was really excited to run this course for the first time, and had no trouble popping up at 4am for the drive/shave/nipple tape/coffee in the car routine. I haven't been sleeping much the last few months, and was hoping a little adventure with my fellow running warriors would be just the ticket. My insomnia appears to be one part almost-sleeping-through-the-night 4-month old, and two parts anxiety-driven nightmares that I am convinced are some sort of mid-life crisis demon sneaking into my dreams to sucker punch my libido with a yearning for an excessively virile youth never realized. Wha? I mean, WTF, right? Unwarranted and completely useless for sure, but also a clear lesson to not underestimate what lies deep in your subconscious. Let's just say that I now understand why men of a certain age do things...selfish and adolescent things...in an impulsive attempt to keep these ghouls at bay.

So, what to do, what to do. Go find a used convertible red corvette and drop a gold chain? Wash that grey right out of my goatee? Go out with a pack of 20-year-olds and try not to choke them to death when they say “like” every 3 seconds (“you know, like, you have this, like, retro vibe and all”)? No need for that snake oil since I know a little secret – adventurous fun is kryptonite for the mid-life crisis demons, and there is plenty of that at the start corral of a marathon. It's the demon no-fly zone. The most sacred of altars. About as appetizing as an outside patio lunch at the Stinking Rose to a pack of vampires. Let the rhythm of our steps be a Fountain of Youth to drive them away...DEMONS, BEGONE! ;-P

(And we're off! Photo courtesy of J Scheil)
So with that, I worked my way up to the elite start with 30 seconds to spare, saying hello to fellow ultrarunners Devon Crosby-Helms (training for the 100k Worlds), Nathan Yanko (somehow able to marathon after his recent finish at Hardrock), Michael Wardian (fresh off a 2nd place finish at Badwater and a bout of food poisoning the day before), and Keith Bechtol (last years winner and course record holder, doing the half this year), while giving lots of shout-outs to friends in the corral of 7,000 running the marathon. At 5:30am, we were sent off in the dark down Embarcadero through Fisherman’s Wharf. Let's do this!

(Night runners cruise by the Ferry Bldg tower)
I felt pretty fresh, hanging with Devon and Nathan for a few miles before surging up to the lead pack of women to get a few pictures before they dropped me like a sack of sourdough. Wardian led a pack up front at about a 5:30 min/mile pace, with the Women hanging at a 6:30 min/mile pace. I found myself somewhere in between as we crossed Crissy Field and headed up to the Golden Gate Bridge (mile 5).

(The leading women sprint down Fisherman's Wharf)
What fun to have a lane on the bridge to ourselves! We joked about bringing toll money (will they take a gel instead?), thanking the weather gods for easing up on what could have been gale force winds. It was still dark, and we heard one of the lead women go down behind us as we focused on our own footing. Best to stay alert! Before too long, Wardian and 2-time winner Andrew Cook came the other way with a few more in tow. I held my camera out to get a picture, which Wardian thought was a high five in the dark and nearly slapped my camera into the ocean. Now THAT would have been memorable!

(Beep! Beep! On your right...)
(The sun begins to rise as we head to Sausalito)
We got to see lots of runners coming the other way, including the “first half” marathoners (half marathoners can choose the first half over the bridge, or the second half through the park and Haight Ashbury). Everyone was stoked! The sun began to glow in the clouds as we finished up on the bridge (mile 8).

(Runners take over the bridge, photo courtesy of Brent Ward)
(Zhuangrong Xu on his way to a 1:37 finish in the Half)
We took a familiar route along Hwy 1, reminiscent of Escape from Alcatraz and the Presidio 10-Miler. This sure is a hilly marathon! Just when you thought it was going to let up, another steep one block climb would pop up and get your arms pumping. We cut through town to Golden Gate Park and began weaving our way up through the toughest climbs of the day (mile 11).

(Bombing the downhills on Hwy 1)
I crossed the halfway point in 1:25:10, and stopped briefly to have a beer with the Hash House Harriers (mile 15). They screamed “first beer drinker!” as we took a chug. Sweet, I’m so honored! Although it’s sort of like being valedictorian at summer school. ;-)

(Midpoint brew with the Hash House Harriers)
(Weaving through the hills and walking paths of GG Park)
Just as the half marathoners peeled off for their finish, the two Emily’s leading the women’s field caught us with their fierce second half pace. Emily Field was right on the shoulder of Emily Belli, who didn’t seem to be slowing much from her digger on the bridge. I stayed right with them, but within two miles, their surging tactics had me red-lining so we let them sprint ahead through Haight-Ashbury (mile 19), already filled with that sweet scent of the ganja. I guess it’s 4:20 somewhere!

(Half marathoners finish up while the Emily's take control)
(Emily Belli sets the pace while Emily Field stays on her shoulder)
(Cruising by the Golden Gate Park Flower Conservatory)
(Runners cut through the Haight district)
(Jimi give us some guidance...Forever 26.2?)
The downhills reminded us what this city is famous for, as did the great spectators lined up along the course in the wee hours of the morning. The runners were really spread out now, and I found myself slowing a bit to relieve a sore right heel (still nagging after a 2500-mile car road trip). At mile 22, I caught that same heel in a cable car track (how cliché for the SF Marathon!) and had to walk a block, thinking for sure my day was done. Of course, it was just when Devon and Nathan effortlessly cruised by (does every walk demand a witness?). But the expected surge of pain never came, and I found solace in ramping back up to a 7:15 min/mile pace.

(Awesome spectators everywhere)
We cut through Potrero and Dogpatch, getting a full view of AT&T Park where a group of people in devil costumes lured us with donuts, beer, music, lounge chairs (mile 25). I thought I said begone, you demons! Well, maybe just one donut…

(More great spectators!)
We got to run the last mile along the waterfront, and I cruised into the finish chute in a surprisingly fast 2:58:00 for 33rd place. The music was blasting, spectators were everywhere, and the Sierra Nevada Brewery tent was happy to hand me a celebratory beer to go with my bagel breakfast.

(Jorge Campos from Costa Rica squeezes in under 3 hours)
(Mike Wardian upgrades to the win after two 2nd place finishes)
(Devon and Nathan, the cutest foodie couple in running)

(Emily Field finds victory)
I found out that Michael Wardian had won the race in 2:27:06 after breaking the lead pack late in the race and leaving them 7 minutes behind. Nice! Emily Field (2:50:24) had surged ahead for the win in the last mile, and was already ordering her celebratory Guinness when Devon came in to get 3rd (2:53). Keith Bechtol nearly broke the half marathon record with his 1:05:22 (a PR by two minutes), showing he is well on his way for training for the 2012 Olympic Trials. These guys are super-fast for such a tough course! We all had nothing but great things to say about the course organization, volunteers, and how PR pros Kelli Wynne and Lyz Luke took great care of us.

(Devon and Nathan enjoying flowers and a post-race breakfast)
My mind was clear and present, as it always is at the finish of a spectacular race. I love that feeling, that unburdened radiance that stays with us once the running rhythm ceases. I need only to look into the eyes of every finisher to see we share it, as we give each other that knowing nod for tackling an epic adventure and claiming the day as ours. Ah, yes….today was a good day to run!

“Mid-life” may simply be a tipping point where we acknowledge having more memories than new experiences lying ahead. But if you fill each day with spectacular memories like we did today, that’s not a bad thing at all. Nowhere near it in fact. Plus maybe you push that halfway point out a few more years with all this healthy living…

Live life to have good stories, my friends, and there will always be a smile on your face. Especially as you sleep through the night. ;-)



  1. Great seeing you out there Scott. Glad your day wasn't over when we passed you (and sorry to be the witness), you rocked it. Hope your heel heals quickly.

  2. Great job with another sub-3, Scott! It was fun for me to bump into you before the race. (I was the 3:40 pacer) Good luck with the rest of your races this year, maybe I'll bump into you again next year.

  3. I always wonder how you run these great times, 2-3 times a month. A 2:58 here, a 1:16 half there. Then I saw the picture of you drinking the beer with the Harriers and I figured it out. You're smiling, you're having fun while the rest of us take ourselves way to seriously. You're a smart man, Scott.

  4. Epic race report and excellent life lessons!

  5. Sounds like a lot of fun. I love the course but it's not an easy one so it's great you could cruise it and just have fun (still beating almost everyone).

  6. What an awesome way to get another day through a mid-life crisis! Scott, your descriptions of these things make me want to run a marathon. Surprisingly, after a long absense, I did think they are much fun! And as always, you're rocking running crazy fast and taking pictures.

  7. Amazing blog, amazing writing, amazing race! I have a dear friend that did the half...it is life-altering I think, to participate in this "Adventures"! Here's to keeping the demons at bay, and for giving that mid-life crisis a run for it's money ;)!

  8. Thanks for the report and the cool pics. That looks like a fun course and great atmosphere. Living in the moment and enjoying a beer, a friend, and running in a great place, what could be better.

  9. Wow! What an accomplishment! I did the full but alas was several hours behind you. Great job!

  10. Thanks for the great race report! I love that you have so much fun while racing! AmyD

  11. If you plan to do something adolescent and selfish, can I come with you? I've always wondered about you after we met at Big Sur (I'm the filmmaker from NYC). - S

  12. Great race SD... As always drawing inspiration from your blogs about running. Thanks for sharing buddy...

  13. Just heard your interview on Ultra Runner Podcast and had to hop on your blog. I completed my first SF Marathon (first 26.2 actually) and enjoyed reading and remembering the course. Awesome and thanks!

  14. Great report! A far cry from me blowing up trying to run a 330! Ha! Awesome experience though and one I hope to repeat if the Army will keep me close to california for a while.

  15. Hooray Emily Field! So very, very proud of you! Love, Mom

  16. Hi, after reading your blog on WMA marathon,i am following you! I am hooked!!.
    Well it was a coincident that I too was there for SF marathon after WMA marathon at Sac. I wonder how anybody could be smiling, joking, observing the minute things, have a beer and still finish marathon in sub.3.Great! Enjoyed the coarse again through your blog. Thanks. Mala, India


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