2012 Wipro San Francisco Marathon – 1st Half – Sunday, July 29, 2012 – John V. Karavitis
In May I was cruising around www.runningintheusa.com, and also on http://www.halfmarathons.net/usa_half_marathons.html , looking for a race to enter in July. For some bizarre reason, perhaps owing to the fact that July tends to be the hottest month, there don’t seem to be as many races as in the spring and fall. Well, I came across the Wipro San Francisco Marathon, which gives runners the option of running the full marathon, or the 1st half, or the 2nd half. I was intrigued, and starting looking at possible airfare options. Hotels were strictly limited to hotels that had a deal with the race to offer runners a reduced rate. Round-trip airfare from Chicago’s O’Hare airport to San Francisco was about $500. At the time, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to go ahead and sign up. The next day, however, as I was back to checking the airfares, I noticed that they had jumped up to $550. Obviously, since driving to San Francisco was not an option, I had to either make the jump and sign up for the race, or not. Since I had never been to San Francisco before, I decided to go ahead and sign up.
My first full marathon is this October 7, the Chicago Marathon. So, I didn’t want to run the full marathon in San Francisco, both because I wasn’t ready for a full marathon, but also to guard against any possible medical emergency arising that would interfere with my timely departure that afternoon. I chose the first half because it appeared to be the more scenic route. It starts on the northeast edge of San Francisco, and works its way along the Embarcadero, all the way to and over the Golden Gate bridge, back over it, and ending in Golden Gate Park.
The day to leave arrived. I typically awaken early in the morning to run, but the Friday before the race I got very little sleep. I also over-packed somewhat. I had a small suitcase and a carry-on. I am thinking of getting just a carry-on that is midway in size between the two. That way, I’ll not only have enough packing space, but not too much, and I won’t have to wait at the carousel to get my luggage. I’ll just carry it off with me.
San Francisco’s airport is small, but modern and clean. I grabbed a taxi for the less than half hour trip to Nob Hill, where I stayed at the Mark Hopkins Hotel Intercontinental. Are you aware that San Francisco has HILLS? I mean HILLS. Sure, many of you have probably seen “The Streets of San Francisco”, or even “Bullitt”, starring Steve McQueen, or any one of the Dirty Harry movies. But you have to actually see and walk these hills. They are MURDER on the shins!
I obviously arrived early to the hotel . I had requested a room on a high floor, in order to avoid traffic noise at night, and thus ensure myself a good night’s sleep before the half marathon. However, the room on the 6th floor wasn’t ready, but there was one on the 3rd floor, at the back of the hotel, not on a street. Not wanting to wait until 3 PM, I took the room on the 3rd floor.
Small but clean, it lacked a microwave and fridge. There was an ice machine across from the elevators. I opened my luggage and then after a short rest headed out to get my race packet.
San Francisco is an interesting city. Again, the hills have to be walked to be believed. They are STEEP. Only a fool or the desperate would build on such steep hills, but after that, real estate is all about “Location, Location, Location”. Or maybe, “If you build it, someone else will come along eventually and want to buy it.”
I ended up going the wrong way at first. Instead of heading east, I headed west. That was the wrong way to go. Urine and garbage-strewn streets are not a pleasant sight. Finally getting my bearings, thanks to a street sign and the small paper map that I got from the hotel concierge, I turned around and headed toward Powell St. I turned right and headed south toward Market St. Market St. is a lot like Chicago’s State St., but grittier, grimier, and urine-stained. In fact, as I was walking along Market St, to get to 7th, I saw a black homeless man standing in front of a tree, urinating. Not a=your typical Kodak moment, and I (wisely) refrained from capturing the incident with my digital camera.
What caught my eye was the ratio of tourists to residents in San Francisco. There seem to be more tourists running around San Francisco than San Franciscans!
After I picked up my race packet, I walked toward the Embarcadero, both to see it and to scope out the general area of the Start line for the 1st half half-marathon. I saw the Oakland bridge, which seems to to be the equal of the Golden Gate bridge, only in gray. When I hit Market St again, I worked my way over to the Embarcadero Plaza and walked around, trying to find my way back to California St. and the hotel.
For anyone who is staying in that area, there is a McDonald’s with good coffee on Front St. just off of California St., near the Embarcadero. There are also Subways,etc.
When I got back to my hotel, I lay down for a bit and surfed the free TV channels. After about a half hour, I got up, and my shins hurt! All that walking downhill along Powell St. made my shin muscles work very hard to stabilize my feet as I was walking, and I was concerned that this could affect my race performance that Sunday.
I went back out walking, heading toward Chinatown, as that was near my hotel. I was very disappointed. Crowded, dirty, filthy streets, along with hilly streets. I was flabbergasted. THIS is the famous Chinatown of San Francisco? I also realized how every single restaurant seemed to offer the same Chinese-American food.
Saturday at 10 AM, I took a guided tour of Chinatown through “Wok Wiz”. Lola, our tour guide, was very courteous and knowledgeable. We saw restaurants, open air grocery stores, tea shops, and temples. We saw the famous barber who plays the “erhu” (find him on YouTube), the hospital where Bruce Lee was born, and ended our two hour tour with dim sum and beef chow fun at a Chinese restaurant. I saw Chinatown in a slightly different light. It seems as though the famous earthquake of 1906 destroyed Chinatown, and originally, the city fathers did not want to re-build it. However, the Chinese community convinced the city that it would work as a tourist attraction, which it has for over a century. Still, I think Chinatown’s time has come and gone. The city should seize the land by eminent domain and encourage modern construction. Such a waste of prime real estate!
After lunch I headed north toward Pier 39 of the Embarcadero, wanting to catch as cable car (you know what I mean! “Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco Treat!”). Instead, I caught an open-air bus that went over the Golden Gate bridge and back to the end of Market St. From there, I walked north to McDonald’s and got 3 $1 McDoubles, fries and coffee. I needed dinner, and I wanted food for the early wake-up the next day, which was race day. My only real regrets are (1) I did not ride a cable car, and (2) I did not know ahead of time that the Gilroy Garlic Festival was on that weekend. Gilroy is 50 miles away from San Francisco, so it was a no-go.
Before I ended my day, I knew that I would have to find some way to get a cup of coffee in me before the race. The McDonald’s on Front St just off of California St didn’t open until 6:30 AM, and my wave was scheduled to start at 6:02 AM. Luckily, the hotel concierge looked up in his computer and found a nearby Starbucks that opened at 5 AM.
The night before a race, I can never sleep well. I’m too tense and high-strung. So, I didn’t really need the 4 AM wake-up call, the 4:05 AM room alarm, or the follow-up 4:15 AM wake-up call. I got dressed, pinned my number on, and headed out to Starbucks. I got there about 4:52, and there already was a runner waiting at the door. At the Starbucks I met Tony and Kelly, and walked with them to the start of the race.
The race area was a madhouse. No clear cordoning off of the area, and never enough porta-potties. I finally got in line at one of them , finished my coffee while in line, and ended up getting to my wave’s corral about 5 or so minutes before race start.
Temperature-wise, the weather was near perfect, low 50s. With an overcast sky, there was no chance of over-heating during the race. As far as I am concerned, conditions were “race perfect”.
There are a few hills on the 1st Half’s race course, but I managed to run well. I didn’t stop until about 85 minutes into the race, just as I was about to cross back over the Golden Gate bridge, and it was to change over to another mini DV vid cam. My fingers had difficulty changing camera, they were cold and stiff.
I finished the race in 2:04:57, a personal best. It surprised me, since I have been run-walking y half-marathons, but also because of all the hills that I had to slog through. After the race, I got my banana, blueberry scone and an orange, and headed for the bus that was going to take us back to the start line at the Embarcadero.
I recorded my race participation, you can check it out on my YouTube channel, JohnVKaravitis, Enjoy! John V. Karavitis