And so it’s done. A freakishly early start (my wave was at 05:32) which fortunately didn’t bother me too much as I was still on UK time, some absolutely spectacular scenery, and some genuinely gruelling hills and I’m done. Happy to report it was by no means my worst marathon, but nor was it my best. In fact, it’s exactly my median marathon. Woo. I take some credit for the fact that it really was bloody hilly, but I’d also freely acknowledge I didn’t train as hard as I should have done.
Anyway, it was an unusual marathon in many ways. For one thing, it had absolutely tiny crowds for a big city marathon; like, maybe two or three people on each street kind of tiny. I guess that’s partly the early start and partly the fact that a lot of it is outside of residential areas, but also it’s just not as big of a deal as New York or London or even Paris. That’s kind of fine by me actually – I love big crowds and really value the support, but this is also my fifth marathon and I’m kind of over having my name shouted out by everyone I pass. That gives you a big boost but, when you want to just get your head down and run, can also be a distraction. So, on this marathon it’s more about the scenery and the run and, believe me, the scenery is spectacular in places. You go over (and then back over) the Golden Gate bridge, through Presidio Park overlooking Baker Beach and round (and round, and round) Golden Gate park.
So, what about those hills? Ok, they don’t make you run over the middle of San Francisco, but even round the edge there are some pretty punchy hills, with gradients in the region of 16% in places (and 4-8% for quite long stretches) and total elevation gain of around 450m (i.e. roughly equivalent to my climb of Pen Y Fan a few weeks ago, albeit over a longer period). In places, early on, this is offset by some lovely easy downhills and, as I struggled up the biggest hill at around 20 miles (just when you most want to die, generally) I kept telling myself that I’d soon have a lovely long downhill when I could claw back some time and relax. Sadly, I was wrong. See – it turns out that when your quads, feet and calves are all screaming in pain, running down a -8% gradient on tarmac road is no better than running on the flat, and possibly even worse.
So, yeah, the longed-for time-clawing never happened and my second-half performance was utter shit. I just pulled in a sub-4:00 which is respectable enough but definitely not the best I could have done.
However, that particular battle is over, and the campaign for the Marathon des Sables continues.