Pre-race, ready to run 26.2 (hilly) miles ~ Katherine, me, Beth

I think it was just before the half-way mark, on a stretch within Golden Gate Park that at first seemed fairly flat but in all actuality was a slow, oh-so-steady incline, when Katherine asked me, “So, what are you going to say about this race in your blog?”

Well, that was easy. I’ll of course have to talk about the hills. And yes, that’s hills plural. Lots and lots of hills.

It’s San Francisco. Of course there would be hills. It may have been my first trip to the city, but I knew this about its landscape. Friends who’d run the Nike Women’s Marathon previously mentioned this fact, too. So I was prepared. I train on hills, too, right? Here in northern Michigan, we’ve got some hills…well, OK, not those kinds of mountainous trolley car San Francisco treat kind of hills.

So, yes, I was surprised at just how hilly this course turned out to be. But, oh, the views! The Golden Gate Bridge. The Pacific Ocean. Alcatraz. Landmarks and neighborhoods built on cliffs (including Robin Williams’, as one woman who came alongside us pointed out as we ran up a hill–yep, another one of  those hills–and past a gigantic house near China Beach). San Francisco is a beautiful and historic city. And with two friends running 26.2 miles with me — and another, amazing friend snapping pics of us throughout the race — this proved to be one memorable marathon.

And did I mention I got a Tiffany’s necklace out of the deal? All 22,000+ runners — in both the half and full marathons — were given Tiffany necklaces in place of finisher’s medals. Nice touch.

Front of the 2011 Tiffany race finisher necklace ~ Back of pendant reads: I Run to Be. The necklace came in a blue TIffany pouch inside a blue Tiffany box. Handed to us at the finish line by men in tuxes.

Training for and running this race couldn’t have been more different from what I experienced with my first marathon earlier this year. My training wasn’t nearly as intense or consuming, and of course the San Francisco race was thousands of miles from home while the Bayshore Marathon was in my backyard. I ran my first 26.2 solo while my second marathon was shared with friends. There’s just a different feel when you’re out there on your own, plugging away amid other runners but really alone, compared to chatting the miles away with friends (and offering words of encouragement when you each need it the most).

I have to acknowledge, too, that the pressure was off for me as far as running this second marathon fast. Having reached my goal of qualifying for Boston at the Bayshore, I knew I wanted to feel good and strong in San Francisco…but I didn’t feel the need to PR. I just wanted to have fun. Take in the sights. Savor the time in a new place. I even told my running partners, Katherine and Beth, to go ahead if they felt the urge. They said the same to me, but I knew I wouldn’t go all out. I truly felt OK about either or both of them going ahead without me, but as it happened we all stuck together. And I am so happy we did. (I believe they are happy about this, too).

Union Square ~ San Francisco. Home to the race expo & race start

We arrived in SF late Friday and spent Saturday, the day before the race, hanging downtown near our hotel. We were so happy to have found a hotel steps away from the start line.

Katherine & me ~ Picking up our race packets

The “expotique” was packed with people. We hung around for awhile, and did decide to give the Nike gait analysis a try. This is where you hop onto a treadmill and watch your run in slow motion on the video screen in front of you. With the help of a Nike expert, you can determine the right fit and best shoe for you. You run on the treadmill trying out Nike’s LunarEclipse+, the latest in the company’s Dynamic Support line. I didn’t really learn anything earth-shattering, though I was told I am a “prancer” kind of runner. Which was later confirmed by Katherine and Beth: “Yep, you are,” they tell me over lunch at a Thai place down the street. I suppose I can see this since I am a forefoot striker. I also was told that I don’t need a ton of cushion and support in a running shoe. Katherine ended up on the big screen in the expo tent when her Nike expert was interviewed by a Nike television team.

You're a star, Katherine!

After a day of shopping, eating and a early night, race day was finally here.

Just before 7 a.m., about to start...

My girl Crystal traveled all the way from the East Coast to cheer us on (yes, she’s THAT amazing of a friend. Thank you, sweet friend!)

Soo good to see Crystal -- it had been two years since we'd seen each other!

The temps were a bit on the warm side, but it was overcast. Pretty perfect running weather. Crystal hopped onto the spectator bus not long after the race began. She caught up with us at a couple of spots.

 

Almost to Mile 13

After so many hills, walking through the aid stations and hydrating with water was essential.

 

The downhills were tougher on my legs than the hills...

The final stretch of the race took us along the Pacific Ocean. Surfers rode the swells. Not too shabby of scenery when you’re trying to push through  those final miles.

 

Happy to reach the finish line!

We did it! Chip time: 4:08:27

This may have been my most favorite post-marathon moment: using the free Neutrogena skin care samples. C’mon, you know how you feel post-race…tired and sore in the best possible of ways, and also pretty sweaty and gross. This tent where you could swipe a refreshing, cleansing cloth across your face and neck? Ahh, so nice.

Feeling fresh :)

While we weren’t thrilled with the lack of food at the finish line — where were all the bananas? Bagels? — we did appreciate the beachside tent filled with yoga mats, foam rollers and informal instructor-led stretch exercises. It felt good to sit down, stretch out and sip on cold chocolate milk (they did have ample chocolate milk, I’ll give race organizers that).

After all of this? We took the shuttle back to Union Square, where we grabbed a bite to eat and indulged in naps and some serious downtime. We made sure to take in more sights the final day and a half we were in San Francisco. Along with enjoying piping-hot clam chowder in a bread bowl down at Fisherman’s Wharf (yum), my favorite moments were those spent at China Beach, where the views of the Golden Gate Bridge are spectacular.

Second marathon is in the books! Loved San Francisco!

Up next: training for Boston…beginning in November!

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