After losing over 30 pounds in 2016 and starting my running streak in 2017, I found myself getting into a really good routine and getting very comfortable running.
As a result of these changes, at 35 years old, I found myself being able to comfortably run longer and faster than I had ever run in my life – yes, EVER.
I decided that it was time to reward myself for all of the hard work but also to test myself and the progress I had made by doing a half marathon.
I had done several half marathons before, but they were mainly local, so I wanted to make this one more of an occasion and decided that it would be fun to travel somewhere new for a race.
Why San Francisco?
I finally settled on the Rock’n’Roll San Francisco Half Marathon because I had never been to California and they had a half marathon in the timeframe that I wanted to go there.
Also, I had run some Rock’n’Roll events in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. before and they were always well-organized and fun events to take part in.
Traveling 3,000 miles to take part in a half marathon might seem like a long way to go, but this was also an opportunity for me to go to California for the first time, see the Pacific Ocean for the first time and see how much my running had actually improved over the years.
San Francisco is a very unique city. Located between the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay, it’s probably best known for cable cars, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.
It’s also known as being a very hilly city, and for the most part this race lived up to that reputation. There were three or four significant hills on the route, but having trained for them, I wasn’t overly concerned about them.
There was no special preparations for this race. I continued to do what I had done to get into good shape and every once in a while I did a longer run just to make sure my body and mind could handle the extra miles.
Everything in the lead up to the race was going great.
That is, until a couple of weeks before I was scheduled to fly to California.
On a normal run, running on a route I ran almost every day, I stepped on a rock and rolled my ankle. It gave me a little bit of a scare for a couple days with some swelling and pain, but luckily with race day fast approaching it began to feel better after a few days.
I don’t think I realized it at the time, but looking back now, I went to San Francisco very confident of running a personal best time. I knew that my training had gone well and, with the expected cooler early Spring temperatures in San Francisco, I felt like everything set me up to have a good race.
One thing that was new to me though was that the race was scheduled to start about 30 minutes before sunrise.
There is definitely a different feeling when you are lined up at the start of a race in the early morning darkness because it honestly felt like it was still the middle of the night. And having only had the day before to see some of the city, there was a little uncertainty about some sections of the course that I had yet to see.
The day before the race, I ran a part of the first few miles of the race just to give myself an idea of what to expect. Having scoped out some of the beginning part of the route, I was able to be comfortable as the race got underway. After the first 2-3 miles came the fun part!
The Rock’n’Roll Series of events prides itself on having live music at several points along the route, but to be honest I don’t remember any music on the course during this race.
During most of this race, I was very much in the zone and focused on keeping my mile splits as fast as I could comfortably maintain.
However, there are a few parts of this race that I will never forget as long as I live.
Mile to Remember
The first part that I will never forget is The Mile to Remember. This mile of the route was lined with photos and posters honoring service members that were killed during active military duty. This alone would have been inspiration to run my best, but what made it even more moving and inspiring was that the family members (spouse, children, parents) were standing next to the photos of their loved ones.
In some cases, they were cheering and giving out high fives as the runners passed by. In others, they were quietly crying to themselves as the runners went by. I think most of the Rock’n’Roll Series of races has a mile like this. For this race, the Mile to Remember was Mile #4, which was a pretty tough uphill leading to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Golden Gate Bridge
The second part of this race that I will never forget was running across the Golden Gate Bridge at about Mile 5. This is one of the most iconic American landmarks, but having the opportunity to run over it just after the sun came up over the San Francisco Bay was truly incredible!
There I was running about a 7 minute mile, looking to my right at the sun reflecting off the water right next to Alcatraz. Funnily enough, while I was running across the Golden Gate Bridge, I was also eating a small bag of Skittles for some quick sugar. It was here that I learned that maybe I shouldn’t eat and run at the same time because unfortunately a piece of one got into my nasal passage. If you’ve ever had to blow a half eaten Skittle out of your nose while running, you might understand how I was feeling. If you haven’t, take my word for it it’s quite uncomfortable!
But Skittle or no Skittle the view was awesome!
The third part that I will never forget was the last mile. After passing the 1 hour 30 minute pace group, the group that I was only hoping to finish with, I continued on to the last section of the race.
In the last part of the race, there was a steep downhill that lasts for one block. It was in these moments that I knew that I was going to finish in under 1:30:00. It was also in these moments that I realized that I was the only person running down the hill to the final turn right before the finish line. It felt like the whole world was watching – even though only a few hundred at best. All I kept thinking was finish strong and, more importantly, don’t trip.
Luckily, I didn’t trip and I rounded the last corner to cross the finish line in 1:28:37 – a new personal best by more than five minutes and good enough for 56th overall and 5th in my age group!
The morning after the race, I went for a short jog and decided to run the same streets that were the finishing section of the race the day before. And during this run, just after the sun had come up, I was able to take in the quietness and solitude, which was so different from just 24 hours earlier, and really appreciate what I had done.
I remember this run almost as much as I remember the race itself. Because during this seemingly meaningless run I was able to think about the progress I had made.
In many ways, I look back at this race and think of it as the moment in time when I realized how much my hard work to lose weight and become a better runner had paid off.
Have you had a race that changed your way of thinking about what is possible for you and your running? Let me know about it in the comments!
Note: Unfortunately, this race is no longer listed on the race organizer’s schedule, so I’m not sure if this is temporary or permanent, but there are other races that take place in San Francisco that would take in most, if not all, of the same sites.
More From RunPatRun:
- As you may or may not know, I was in Utah, Arizona and Nevada recently, where I was racing in the Grand Circle Trailfest. I can’t wait to share my experiences out there with everyone in a few weeks!
- In case you missed them, RunPatRun Race Series – Part 1: Favorite Race – Marine Corps Marathon and RunPatRun Race Series – Part 2: Bird-In-Hand 5k and Half Marathon were the first two parts in my Race Series.