Thursday, 4 July 2013

San Francisco Marathon, 16th June 2013

Heading to the start
The alarm sounded – it was dark outside, that’s because it was 3:10am! The day was finally here, the day of the San Francisco Marathon! We ate our porridge pots (brought over from England) and tried for a few more minutes of sleep before setting off from our hotel for the 5:30am start!
Despite the early start I felt awake and raring to go – I think finally all the months of training were about to become a reality and I couldn’t wait to get started! Dan and I arrived in good time at the start, which meant we could drop off our bags and get to a queue free portaloo! A first for me at a marathon!! After dropping Dan’s kit off we said our goodbyes and wished each other luck. I was starting in Wave 1 at 5:32 (2 minutes after the elites) and Dan was in Wave 2 for his half marathon which started 10 minutes later. I got to my pen nice and early, and was having a chat with a few friendly Americans while we waited for the customary National Anthem and announcements. At 5:30am the elites were off. My heart was pounding, only 2 minutes to go – this was it!! I’d managed to get myself right to the front of the wave, so when the gun went I was on an open road! What struck me in the first few miles on this marathon was the peace and quiet. In London and Paris there is noise and hustle right from the start! Here, it wasn’t even light yet, there were a few supporters (but not many), and all the runners around me were ‘in the zone’. It was actually a really nice way to start a marathon, alone with your own thoughts, and preparing for what was to lie ahead.

 My aim was to run 3hr15 for this marathon. With a previous best of 3hr24 set the year before in London, I knew this was going to be a challenge, given the amount of elevation on this course. The majority of the climbing came in the first half, so I was under no illusions that in order to get my 3:15 I would need to go out slightly faster than this pace to start with, to take into account some slower miles up the hills.The first couple of miles were flat – then came a small hill followed by a downhill – no problems. It was then flat along the coast as we approached the Golden Gate Bridge. The approach to the bridge was beautiful. The sun was rising as we approached it. I remember thinking the bridge looked quite high up and that the climb to reach it would be steep. It was, but being only 6 miles in, it didn’t feel like it took much out of the legs, and looking over to the right I could see San Francisco in the distance, with a haze of cloud hanging over the top. It was quite simply…breath-taking. The next few miles were great – running over the Golden Gate Bridge was something else! I felt slightly emotional as I ran over the bridge, thinking that as a child I had been driven across it so many times with my family. But this time I was running over it! What a privilege! The course took us out over the bridge and then back again, so the elites were making their way back across. They were flying and the leading female was up there with the fast men – it was great to see them all glide past.
There was a water station at the end of the bridge before looping back to get back across. I was on 8 miles at this point and suddenly realised I’d forgotten to take my first energy gel! There had been too many amazing distractions. I started taking the first of my gels and continued round to get back on the bridge. I wondered whether I might be able to see Dan on the way back, so positioned myself to the left so I could see the oncoming runners. Dan had had the same thought. Just as I was reaching the crest of the bridge I saw a waving hand and smiling face, followed by ‘Jo!’. We gave eachother a wave and a smile and carried on. Dan was looking relaxed there I thought and I was happy thinking he’d surely be on for the PB he was after! After coming off the bridge I looked at my watch. I was aiming for an average pace of 7:20/mile which would bring me in under 3:15. I was just under this and felt good, so I was pleased with how this was going!

On leaving the bridge I thought there might be some downhill to come. I was wrong. We turned to the right and headed up the steepest climb so far. The 3:15 pacer and his followers came storming past me at this point. According to my watch they were going too fast, so I let them go. I made the right decision as caught them on the downhill which followed. But I was aware that this had been a steep climb and that the legs were feeling this one more! The course was approaching the Golden Gate Park – the finish area for the half marathon. As we entered the park; the half marathon and marathon runners split. Not long I thought, till Dan makes his way to the finish line. I was willing him on in my mind. As I went past the half finish line, I felt a surge of energy. Half way I told myself, and still feeling good – here we go! I took a gel, swig of water and carried on. However, a few miles later, this burst of energy disappeared. These miles were a gradual uphill and I was starting to feel it. The 3:15 pacer went past me again. However, this time I knew he was going at the right pace, and it was me who was slowing down. I watched the little sign he was holding saying ‘3:15’ disappear off round the corner. Had I gone off too fast in the earlier miles? Had I not controlled it up the hills? I had 10 miles to go and I felt rough – this was not a good sign. However, if there is one thing marathon training and racing in general has taught me, is that just because you feel rubbish at one point in the run, doesn’t mean that won’t change later on! I was telling myself that I’d done all that training and that I was stronger than that, and to just keep to my pace as best as I could!! Another gel later, and a bit more water, the feeling went, and once again I started to feel back in control.
We headed out of the park and into Downtown San Francisco. There was very little flat in this part of the course, just uphills followed by downhills. In many ways, I think I preferred this. I would push on the uphills knowing that there was a downhill coming and then relax into it. My watch was still giving me an average pace that would get me in for 3:15, but I’d become increasingly aware that my watch was not matching up with the mile markers, and my watch was 400m ahead. I knew therefore, that I could add on a couple of minutes to the time my watch was predicting me. I went through 24 miles in 3 hours according to the watch. All my miles had been under 8 minutes up until that point and I knew I could run another 2.2 at that pace, which would bring me in around the time I wanted. Despite being in a fair bit of pain at this point (some of the steep downhills had really taken it out of my quads!), I was thinking how strong I felt at this point in the race compared to previous marathons. Never in a marathon had I made it to 24 miles without a significant drop in pace. I knew 3:15 was going to be slightly out of reach, but my back up plan was sub 3:20, so I re-focused on this and pushed on! Knowing my family and friends were following me on the tracking device really helped me keep the pace!
The sun was starting to shine quite strongly now, and I was thinking a hat and sunglasses would be good at this point. I could see the SF Giants baseball stadium ahead, another spectacular sight! And then behind it, the Bay Bridge!! The finish line was under this – not far to go!! As all other marathon runners will relate to, the last few miles are just a matter of survival. Putting one foot in front of the other and willing the finish line to be there! I don’t remember a whole lot of detail!! The last 400m are a total daze. Dan had made it back from his half marathon race and was on the side lines cheering me on. Unfortunately in my marathon-induced state I didn’t see or hear him at this stage, but am so happy that he was there to share the moment.
I crossed the finish line in an official time of 3hr18.08. I instantly felt lightheaded and made my way through the various finish stands, collecting a medal, photo, bottle of water etc… I could see Dan stood at the end and I made my way over. We gave each other a massive hug. He told me my time and that he’d smashed his PB too (1hr44.18) – we’d done it!! Four months of preparation and here we were stood at the finish line in San Francisco having both achieved our goals!

One of the best days of my life!! And it wasn’t even 9am!!!
Crossing the finish line

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