Catching that Unicorn in San Francisco

Something amazing happened this weekend…and I don’t even know how to start this blog post. And I know it’s going to be crazy long…so you’ve been warned!

After I ran the Santa Rosa Marathon last summer, I knew I needed a break from marathons. And I was pretty sure I would wait until the SF Marathon before taking on 26.2. I had considered running Eugene (which unfortunately was moved to the same day as SF) or SLO, but just wasn’t feeling it when I would have needed to start training. I was pretty happy to be running more trails and hills, and focusing less on speed … until I had a great race at the Super Bowl 10k, which started my streak of PRing in every distance this year. The only downside of choosing SFM was that I would not be able to run Wharf to Wharf. (But you can read all about my friend Leslie’s race experience at her blog.) My goals for SF (my 5th marathon) remained the same from the moment I decided to run it until race day: run a smart, strong race regardless of what that might mean in time. And I can say I did just that – but it also resulted in a great time that I never expected!


Ok introductions for the post are over and now its time to get through the weekend. I packed up a ton of snacks (lots o’ carbs as taught to me by Hillary) and the hubs and I headed up to SF. Like last year, I again had the privilege of serving as a SFM ambassador. Unlike last year, I decided to commit less time to volunteering so I could save my energy for the race. This meant that I only volunteered for a few hours at the expo. Props to the hubs who hung out at the expo, not the most exciting place if you’re not running the race. The expo was held at Fort Mason and had amazing views. I helped to register runners for 2015 and if I looked to my left, I had a stunning view of the bay. I got to work with Paulette, who I always have a fun time with, and Bonnie, who I just met but was full of excitement for the weekend! SFM hooked up its ambassador volunteers with some nice goodies (lots of GU and a sweet water bottle). In addition to picking up my bib and shirt, I also got my 52 Club sweatshirt. As I was heading out of the expo, I saw Erin G. and got a big awesome bear hug from this awesome gal. Then the hubs and I got some awesome grub at one of the food trucks outside the expo: Doc’s of they Bay. They had the best veggie burger I’ve ever had!

Goodies for SFM Ambassador volunteers

Goodies for SFM Ambassador volunteers

Black Bean Burger, photo courtesy of Doc's website.

Black Bean Burger, photo courtesy of Doc’s website.

After eating, the hubs and I headed to the Hotel Triton, our home for the race weekend. It took FOREVER to get the hotel because of a pro Palestine protest weaving its way through the city. Once we finally checked in, we got to our funky little room (I loved the character of this hotel! Only downside was that our mini fridge wasn’t working). After relaxing a bit, we decided to head out for a beer at Golden Gate Tap Room. We had been trying to organize dinner plans with Chris and finally decided on the Cheesecake Factory because it would a wide selection and was convenient (I also thought it would be kid friendly for Chris’s son, but even though we told them we had a child with us they didn’t bring a child’s menu or even a chair for him… boo!). Even though it’s a chain and I like to eat more locally, it’s a nice pick because of its location looking down on Union Square. The wait was long but it ended up being almost perfect as it took a while for us all to connect. Fellow ambassador, Wes, also came by to say hello. It was fun to have dinner with the hubs and Chris’s fam; it was also pretty low-key and not far from our hotels. Then, after heading back to get my forgotten water bottle, it was time to get to bed for an early morning wake up.

Protestors in SF

Protestors in SF

Fun hotel room

Fun hotel room

Sunday, Race Day!

I was scheduled to run in Wave 3, which started at 5:42am (yep you read that right). So my alarm was set for 2:45 to eat breakfast. I got up, ate my Picky Bars and banana. And then back to bed. I didn’t need 3 hours to get ready, so I set my alarm for 4am and tried to sleep. I didn’t really, but it was nice to relax a little more anyway. Once it was really time to get up, I quickly got dressed and headed out. When I got to the street there was a car that appeared to have been crushed by a ton of concrete. I was so confused… how did I sleep through this?! Turns out they were filming a movie about an earthquake outside our hotel (according to the internet The Rock will be in it). It looked pretty legit. Then I jogged down to the start (yep I had a warm up mile before my marathon). By the time I found the ambassador tent, I was pretty warm. I only brought a few things in my gear check (asthma inhaler, Immodium, hotel key, long sleeve… wish I would have brought some sweatpants and flip-flops but I never really plan well for post race). I met up with old friends, including Alisyn who I missed at the expo, and met some of the ambassadors. I also caught up with Erin S. and Sarah. Erin S. and I had talked over Strava about starting the race together since we had similar goals. I was glad to find her as we hadn’t really made any real meet up plans. Then it was time for the Wave 2 runners to hop into their corral. A few minutes later, Erin S., Sarah, and I decided to look for the 3:35 pacers as that was where we all wanted to start. We found them quickly but didn’t realize that they were in Wave 2 (Wave 3 was for 3:35-4 hour marathoners). We asked them about it and said they would start with Wave 3. Well, then the race started and we were off at 5:30. I was happy to get going earlier, no time for race nerves to undermine me… but it also meant that I was starting 12 minutes earlier than I told the hubs and I worried he would miss me at the finish. I had no phone and no way of telling him.

The first few miles were easy, breezy. We stuck with the pacers, told some jokes and had a good time. I was glad to start off with some friendly faces as I typically run with others and I knew it would make it feel more like a long run than a race, and it kept me from getting in my head too much. I also paid no attention to my watch, I never once looked at the overall time in the entire race, I trusted the pacers to do the math and let myself just run by feel. As we headed into our first climb, we joked “it’s getting a little boring, what do you say we climb a hill?” This was the way we approached the first couple of climbs… until we hit mile 11, which has several good hills, we started to call them speed bumps to keep ourselves relaxed. When we were climbing a Presidio hill, we looked to our right and saw the sun rising over Alactraz – so beautiful!  And soon we at the beginning of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Miles 1-6 (from Strava’s miles as I missed a ton of mile markers and didn’t get all the splits): 8:11, 8:09, 8:20, 8:00, 8:07, 9:02 (hill climb much?)

Photo from fellow SFM ambassador Stan's FB

Photo from fellow SFM ambassador Stan’s FB

We all knew that the Bridge is a false flat… meaning it looks flat but you’re climbing that sucker. But the Bridge is my favorite part and not just because it’s beautiful. I love this part because we get to see so many of the other runners. We cheered on the winners who looked strong and fast. We saw Chris and Erin G. rocking their races and Albert doing a great job of pacing. On our way back over the bridge, I saw so many friends running, it was awesome! I just missing cheering for Jordan (but girl, know that I totally screamed for you!), so I’m not sure if she heard me, but definitely had a cheer fest with Alisyn, Paulette, and Wes. Then we were over the bridge and heading toward mile 10. I remembered from last year’s half marathon that I trashed my quads by screaming down hill only to push through the punishing hills of mile 11. I told the girls, I was going to be conservative and take it easy downhill, and they agreed. And while the following hills were hard, they didn’t feel nearly as difficult as they did last year. So my plan worked and I survived what I think is really the most difficult climbing in the race. We then headed into Golden Gate Park. I knew fellow SCE team member and friend Sam would be somewhere around my mile 13 or 14 as she was running the Second Half. When I saw her, I was stoked. I knew I felt good still and strong. I totally waved like a crazy person at her and she, with her friend Jill, cheered for me. I love that feeling. Sam also sent a video of my craziness to the hubs and some friends. Now we just had to get through the park.
Miles 7-14: 8:11, 8:03, 8:16, 8:04, 8:00, 8:21, 8:25, 7:48

Coming off the bridge

Coming off the bridge


Golden Gate Park is deceiving because you’re in it for 6 miles and it’s full of rolling hills. I have only run in there a handful of times, but Erin S. and Sarah run it often and knew the hardest hills. For a while we had been about 30 seconds to a minute ahead of the 3:35 pacers, but in the park they caught back up with us. At this point we had some goals: we had gotten Sarah through miles 11-12, that she had dreaded and now we focused on pushing Erin S. through mile 15 (a spot that had been hard for her at Boston this year). We encouraged each other, Sarah and Erin S. sang some songs that my running brain could not recognize, and Erin S. told jokes when we climbed. Soon enough we were through mile 15 and our next goal was to get through the park. Unfortunately, Sarah fell behind here (but don’t worry she still scored a PR at the race, which was only her 2nd marathon – rock star!). We got out of the park and headed toward Haight, and some nice downhills. We ran through some awesome bubbles in that stretch and didn’t let Erin S. go home (she lives near the 20 mile mark). I also had my fastest mile in this stretch.

Miles 15-21: 8:12, 7:49, 8:21, 7:32, 7:45, 7:54, 7:42.

In the park (I think?)

In the park – all smiles

Final stretch! I told Erin S. that mile 22 was my beast to overcome. It’s where I really felt apart at Santa Rosa and started walking. She and one of the pacers both said we’d get through it, and I told the pacer that he better even if he had to tie a rope to me and pull me. Even though there are a few little climbs beginning in mile 22, I actually felt ok. I started mentally telling myself things like “only 36 minutes left, you can do this” (assuming I was running way slower than I was). We were quieter in these final miles, but still encouraged each other. Around mile 24, a police tried to stop us to get an emergency vehicle through. We stopped, briefly, it wasn’t ready to go so we decided to sprint through the intersection. Not a fun forced stop but I hope they reached the emergency safely. I had never dreamed I would be at this point in a marathon. I really thought I would slow down and end up closer to my previous marathon PR (3:42). (Despite how many times Leslie told me I was going to BQ this weekend! She knew better than I did!) Erin S. said something about how we were about to qualify for Boston but I didn’t believe her. It seemed so unreal. We cruised up to AT&T Park and I told myself it was only about 10 minutes left, I could do anything for 10 minutes. At some point we eeked a little ahead of the pacers (who BTW did a great job! They reminded us to keep our shoulders down and run by effort on the hills). I never really felt terrible in the race but in that last mile, I REALLY wanted to see that finish line. I started scanning the crowds around mile 25 for the hubs, but I feared that since I started early and was ending close to my unrealistic earliest finish time, he was going to miss me at the end (he was probably walking just by the finish as I crossed). And then there was the finish, I had been dragging a little but told Erin S. “let’s do this” and forced a little sprint to the end. Official finish time: 3:33:49 (age group: 13, gender: 63, overall: 560). This is a 9 minute PR. And a Boston Qualifier. On a course with nearly 1000 feet of climbing. What!?! And by the way, running a full marathon and BQing is a fast way to secure a bond with someone, so a special awesome thanks and high-five to my BQ BFF, Erin S.!
Miles 22-26.2: 7:52, 8:03, 8:13, 7:55, 7:51 (last .2, or .5 if you’re my Garmin, was a 7:13 pace).

So close to the finish!

So close to the finish!



Post race excitement with amazing runners: Erin S. my BQ BFF, me, Erin G. (speedy and 3rd in her age group), Taryn who ran her 35th marathon by 35, and Sarah with a sweet new PR.

Post race excitement with amazing runners: Erin S. my BQ BFF, me, Erin G. speedy and 3rd in her age group, Taryn who ran her 35th marathon by 35, and Sarah with a sweet new PR. (photo cred: Erin G.)


After the finish, I borrowed Erin S.’s phone to text the hubs and tell him I had finished… yep he just missed me. He was bummed he had missed me and I was too, but he had been there to support me and even if he didn’t see me at the end, that was still awesome. I didn’t hang out for long, I was smelly and sweaty and wanted a shower and a Coke. The hubs and I headed back to the hotel, with a stop for that Coke. They were still filming the movie but we were able to easily get to the hotel and I hopped in the shower. Soon we were heading home with a long pit stop for my traditional post-race In N Out feast (this time with 2 grilled cheese sandwiches, fries, and a strawberry shake). I was exhausted but soo happy! I spent the rest of the day responding to congrats texts (thanks friends!), checking in with the coach who totally provided the perfect training for this race, and hanging out in the compression boots.

Sweet celebratory gift from Leslie :)

Sweet celebratory gift from Leslie 🙂

Erin G. loves to call running goals unicorns (like, you know, the mascot for the Boston Marathon) and I had been chasing this unicorn since December 2012. It was one I that started to feel was unattainable and to have it happen in SF, with such amazing people around me (and virtually supporting me in Santa Cruz and my parents in So Cal), was the best way I could have ever caught this unicorn!


11 thoughts on “Catching that Unicorn in San Francisco

  1. So excited for you – I was ecstatic to hear Erin and Erin tell me you BQ’d when I saw them after the race! This post was great to read, almost has me teared up even. 🙂

  2. beyond, beyond, beyond excited and proud and so fuckin’ happy for you. seriously, the cup has floooooooooooooodeth over 🙂 xo

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  6. Thanks for sharing this. Very inspiring! And I appreciate the side notes about the course. I felt like I was right there running it with you. This year will be my first SF marathon. Looking forward to it!

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