The Ups and Downs of the San Francisco Half-Marathon

By Crista Tappan - June 19, 2012

It took seven long hours for my friends Bobby, Michelle and I to reach San Francisco from Ventura. I spent the better part of the journey squished in the back of the car reading Scott Jurek's book Eat & Run (there really is no good and comfortable way to travel long distances). I also managed to crochet Michelle a miniature owl to hang from her rear-view mirror (Bobby said it kept staring at him during the drive!). Michelle even recreated the Battle of the Bulge, right on the car's dashboard!

But if I'm being totally honest here, I was completely exhausted. I was going off two days of sleeping less than 4 hours each night. I knew this would be a recipe for disaster for my race, but there are just some things in life that we cannot help. Still gotta keep your head up!

We arrived at our awesome hostel, the Amsterdam, in the early afternoon. San Francisco really has the best hostels. After putting our stuff down in our room and checking out the place, we went off to explore the city a little and get our bearings (and a few local beers).

Bobby and Michelle checking out the San Fran map. I was more concerned with the pub crawl poster on the bottom left of the picture.

Before we knew it, we were climbing into our bunk beds to get ready for Bobby and I's race the next morning. Michelle's knee was still plotting against her, so she had the luxury of going to the event without the added anxiety of racing. I would have traded places with her in a heartbeat. But, on the other hand, who else would take awesome pictures? Yay for her and her zoom lens! And for being able to hold my stuff for me during my race ;-)

I set my alarm for around 5:30 AM to wake up (the race start was scheduled for 8 AM...yay more sleep time!) Of course...I slept in a little too much. My lack of sleep was really starting to affect me. We left the hostel around 7 AM, and since a bus ride from our hostel to the Golden Gate Bridge was suppose to take only 30 minutes, we figured we'd have perfect timing. Packet pick-up was scheduled for 6-7:45 AM so if everything planned out accordingly, we should arrive at 7:30 with plenty of time to pick up our bibs, stand in line at the port-a-potties and get to the race start.

If I've learned one thing about life by now, it's that things never go as planned. The picture below marks a moment of miscalculation and horror- when we realized that we were going in the wrong direction. "Please please please, little blue dot, go the other way!"

In our excitement over finding the bus stop in time, and seeing the number on the bus that we were looking for, we completely forgot to check the direction the bus was going. We had a 50/50 chance, and well, it just wasn't our day.

Commence panic. Because Bobby believes that women can ask for directions easier than guys, I grudgingly made my way up to the bus driver. 

"Excuse me," I asked. The bus driver didn't look like he was in the mood for questions. "Does this bus take us to Crissy park? By the Golden Gate Bridge?"

"It will eventually," He laughed. "You might as well stay on for the ride, since you're already on the bus and we will be making a loop around at the end." He didn't even look at me when he said it. I stood in place, feeling defeated.

"Crissy pahhhkk?" A homeless man sitting at the front of the bus blurted out, who had previously been talking to himself. "Don' choo worry, girrrrrl. We'll get choo to Crissaaay park! Just sit back and relaaaax!"

I wasn't amused. And I also didn't want to ask the bus driver how long it would take. So I simply went back to my seat and tried to calm my nerves. What if I miss my race? What if I get there and it's started already, could I still run it? Would that be the worst thing in the world, to miss my race, anyway? I don't feel that great, I'm achy from the long car ride and lack of sleep...

Even Michelle was fidgeting and staring at the little blue dot on her phone. Our fate was in the hands of the bus driver and the number of people who decided they wanted on or off.

After forty-five minutes of anxiety filled stopping and going, we reached our destination. We hurried off the bus and saw the race line nowhere in sight. We did see runners, going in the opposite direction from what we thought was the right way.

As we stood panicking about where to go, a group of women passed us with bibs on and I quickly asked them if they were running the half. They said yes, and that the starting line was about half a mile away.

It was 7:45 AM. We all started running together. I handed off my stuff to Michelle, wanted to cry a little bit, and hurried towards the packet pick up/ race start.

I picked up my bib and t-shirt at 7:55 AM. I stood in the line for the port-a-potty for another grueling four minutes. I made it to the race start just in time to pin my bib on and suck down an energy goo. 

Oh wow, here we go!

Hey, look! It's the Golden Gate Bridge! 

I had mixed emotions during the beginning of the run. Physically, I felt pretty shitty. I had eaten half a box of chocolate chip cookies (Trader Joe's double chocolate chip cookies, I hate and love you) the night before, regretfully, and I literally felt like I was carrying around a twenty pound pack. Seriously, have I learned nothing from my previous experiences with food? My muscles ached. My legs felt like they were pumped with water. My head hurt. Was the long cramped car ride or stuffing myself the culprit? Or lack of sleep? Or everything combined? I told Bobby to go on ahead without me, and I settled back into a slow pace. I figured, hell, if I wasn't going to PR on this race I might as well enjoy it and take lots of pictures! So I did. I took lots and lots of them.

Up and up and up and uppppp.

Am I seriously running right next to that thing? DANG. Talk about great distractions!

Hey, this isn't a trail!...but it's still beautiful.

Oh wow, this is the most beautiful place I've ever ran.

I took this around mile 10. I remember thinking to myself, there is NO WAY the bridge is only three miles away!

Getting closer...

Oh HELL no. Hell. To. The. No. ....Soft sand? Half a MILE of soft sand? At the end of the race?! With my shoes and socks on?! I didn't read that in the course description! It took me a full minute to clean out the sand from my shoes and socks after this!

And then suddenly the trees looked like something out of Jurassic Park.

It's so beautiful, I don't even care it's already two hours into my race and I have another three miles to run!

Oh thank god. I finished. I wasn't DFL. Time? I don't even want to know. Cold Coke? Yes, please. I don't even care how bad it is for me. Give me the corn syrup! Give me more cookies! 

Upon reflection, it's pretty clear why things went the way they did. Even though at times, my body feels like it's a machine, I can't forget that tossing a wrench into my gears (box o' cookies) will wreck havoc. 

So here are my lessons from the San Francisco Half-Marathon:

1) Get sleep the night before your race. If this is impossible, make sure to sleep well the few nights before, too. Sleeping less than four hours a night for three days in a row is NOT a good idea.

2) Don't eat a box of cookies the day before your race. It does not count as carbo-loading. Also, stay the hell away from the oreos during your race. What are you thinking?  It may taste delicious, but it will make you feel awful. 
3) Figure out your driving situation/ travel situation the night before your race. "Winging it" will sometimes cause unwanted panic and anxiety before your race. This is no bueno. Not even a bum chanting, "We'll get choo to Crissaaay paahhhkk!" will make you laugh.
5) Accept the ups and downs of San Francisco. The hills during my race were brutal. But the hills I had to climb wandering around the city for two days after my race were especially brutal. Pay attention to the logistics of your trip, and make sure you're not going to torture yourself with extra physical activity when all you want to do is crawl into a bed. 
6) Don't continue to stuff yourself after your race if you're already feeling awful. Oh my god, do I ever learn anything? When I'm on vacation, I swear, my super duper healthy diet gets tossed out the window along with my sleep patterns and acceptable alcohol limits. Mixing all of these things together made me feel like I was competing in the ultimate endurance test-- eating, drinking, and running my way around San Francisco. Remember your limits. 
7) When in doubt, check the little blue dot. I can't tell you how many times Bobby, Michelle and I got lost on our trip. Each time, we would try our bests to navigate on our little tiny maps. Then, we'd eventually give up, pull out our iPhones and say aloud, "Where are we?" Technology can be your friend, if you let it.

8) "If you get a shitty time on a race, you can always chalk it up to a training run!" This is what my wonderful cousin Lindsay told me after I told her how awful I did during my race. She's right. At the end of the day, I ran 13.1 miles and did my absolute best given how I felt. Miles are still miles, regardless of how fast you ran them.

9) Walking around and staying active in the days after your race is much better than sitting still and letting your body get lazy and uncomfortable. This is actually a counter to one of my previous lessons, but I'm going to say it anyway. I really think that forcing my muscles to stay stretched out and flexible during the two days after my race actually helped a lot with my recovery. It's been about five days now and I feel solid. Keep pushing forward, it'll work out better in the end that way. 

10) Spending a weekend with two of your best friends makes everything better. I feel incredibly blessed to have such an awesome couple as two of my greatest friends. It was Michelle's birthday on the 18th, so we turned the trip into an all-out, Half-Marathon/ Michelle's birthday weekend. There is never a dull moment with those two. Friendships formed are the things I cherish most about running, and more so, in life.

All in all, it was an incredible experience. I saw some of the most beautiful sights I'd ever seen before during a race. At times I felt like the terrain was more like an obstacle course than a trail run. But that's okay. Being flexible and learning to adapt to what's handed to you is the most important tool you can give yourself. I made new friends, ate new foods, and saw new sights. 

On the way home, I finished Eat & Run, and felt Scott Jurek's ongoing mantra throughout the book to be particularly relevant to my experience: "Sometimes you just do things."

And sometimes, when you're lucky, you'll do them well :)

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