Finally, it arrived! After meeting up for the pre-race pasta dinner with fellow runners at One Market the night before, I got to sleep early prior to the main event. My hotel near Union Square was great and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it as long as there’s a decent rate available (Hotel Monaco – a Kimpton).
I woke up around 3:30 AM (Pacific) and was more than ready to go, despite the fact that my wave didn’t start until 5:45! Although I had debated how to best get from my hotel to the starting line (about 2 miles away), I decided it would be best to get in a ‘warm up’ run and rely on my own two feet!
I arrived at the (still very dark) starting line around 5:00 ready to go. This gave me ample time to stretch, while enjoying views of the Bay Bridge illuminated in all its glory.
By around 5:20, I was locked and loaded into my wave (three) and awaiting the official start. Conditions could not have been more perfect approaching sunrise, with temps in the low 50’s – a far cry from 100 degree Carolina heat I’d been training in!
Very soon, we were off! The first several miles of the course were familiar to me (albeit without traffic) based on several recent work and personal trips to the Bay Area. We started on the Embarcadero near the Ferry Building and Bay Bridge. Proceeding towards Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, we passed In-N-Out Burger (I forgot to return for my fix following the race so am noting that here)! Fort Mason soon beckoned with the first full view of the mighty Golden Gate. Heading into the Marina District and Crissy Field, the first hill of the course soon presented itself near Fort Point. With the magical Bay constantly in sight as motivation, I pressed on and soon was running on the road bed of the bridge herself. Though I had previously ventured into Marin County to Vista Point, there was something truly amazing to be crossing with thousands of fellow runners in the early morning, in lanes typically dedicated to traffic. This was running nirvana! I have never experienced better running…period.
After crossing the Golden Gate, we looped into Vista Point (an overlook of SF and the Bay) before venturing back across. Approaching mile 10, I really thought I was nearing the home stretch! Think again! Running into uncharted territory near Baker Beach, the last 3 miles presented challenge after challenge of unexpected hill work. Without a doubt, I lost several minutes on my time with one hill alone (just after crossing the GG). Nonetheless, I would not let a few hills ruin my first running event on the West Coast. I pressed on and very shortly found myself approaching the finish line at Golden Gate Park! Unbelievable.
Little did I know, as I crossed the finish line (still in the fog), I had set a new PR for the half marathon!!! What better place to do it? After a post-race carbo-load (including an added treat of Irish Coffee), I boarded the shuttle back to the Embarcadero and hung out while the full marathon finishers rolled in. What a great experience (less the travel issues getting there)!
I killed several hours after the race just taking in the day at the full finish line, then took the Muni to meet some friends for lunch (and wine) before taking Bart to SFO for my return red eye flight to the East Coast! Mission accomplished! Would I do it all over again? Hell yes!