Worth The Hurt? SF Marathon Recap!

So many of you already know I ran the San Francisco Marathon this Sunday. Here is my story.


I arranged everything the night before and got into bed at like 8PM. I was even tired, and therefore proud of myself—I’d actually get sleep! But then of course I lay in bed for 2 hours tossing and turning and listening to the neighbor’s dog upstairs bark its head off and once I DID fall asleep I woke up half a dozen times ready to go. Finally the 3:15AM alarm went off and it was go time.


I got dressed, pulled everything together, and ate my race-day breakfast (peanut butter and banana sandwich). Then I spit toothpaste all over my race shirt, almost poured flat Mike’s Hard Cranberry Lemonade (who buys that stuff?!) into my water bottles instead of Gatorade, and my cab didn’t come. My “confirmed” cab. Thank God I have a car! Jeez. Left around 4:25 AM and headed down towards the quiet and peaceful Embarcadero.


I was at the start area for a while, just kind of taking it all in (and waiting in portapotty lines). I moved from wave 2 back to wave 4 so I had 20 more minutes before the start. We were SO BLESSED with the weather—it was clear and crisp but not cold! I’d brought THREE extra layers to shiver in at the start line and it was perfectly pleasant. That was awesome.


Beforehand I’d run into Cate and Alyssa and then I met up with my new friend Erica in the wave 4 corral. It was SO NICE to see friendly faces in the morning and feel like we were all in it together.


Then the running part started.

I went out with Erica and that was awesome. I also didn’t listen to my iPod for the first 8 miles which was even awesomer. I told myself the race didn’t start until mile 5 (the first real hill)… the beginning was just a warm up. I ran with Erica, chatted a bit, took in the whole experience, marveled at those out cheering at 6AM. I also went out too fast. I don’t have my Garmin splits (I’m at a hotel in Portland right now…) but I know I ran the first mile in 9 flat, the second in 9:10, the third in 9:05, and the fourth right around there.

I was feeling rather good and rather fresh up to the first hill up to the bridge. I walked a part of that—I knew this was one of the tougher hills and didn’t want to push it too hard so early on. Then we were on the bridge.

At mile 6 I was at about 55 minutes, averaging just over 9 minutes per mile. I started feeling pretty dehydrated at this point. I knew I needed to take in more liquid and also energy. I took my first GU at mile 6 and determined at that point I’d walk through the rest of the aid stations to make sure I actually drank at least two cups of water per, and even that wouldn’t be enough.

Running the bridge was awesome. I’ve run the bridge a lot, but it’s always stressful dodging cyclists, strollers and tourists. This time was really awesome. Though I actually noticed much more that it was a hill! (Photo courtesy SFM)


Before I knew it the bridge was over and we were at mile 10 at 1:35 or so. The next hill in the Presidio was the biggest and I walked a BIG chunk of that. I didn’t feel bad at all, as I was decently ahead of 4:15 pace at this point. The hill wasn’t as bad as I remembered, though, and before I knew it I was running again. We made it into the Richmond, mile 11, and I was thinking that I had gone out much too fast. I had had it in my mind that it would get easier past the Presidio, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have 16 more miles to run!

I lost Erica at mile 11 when they split the road right between us and that really bummed me out—the miles had gone by so much faster with her next to me! But I pushed through the hills down the avenues and made it into Golden Gate Park at mile 12.

I expected everything to get easier here—I was on my home turf! However, I felt the effects of my poor pacing. I crossed the half mark at 2:08.

2:08 is a very respectable time for a half.

2:08 is a VERY respectable time for the first half of SF which is verrrry hilly.

2:08 is an IDIOTIC time for someone who planned to run the first half in 2:12-2:15 and then try to negative split the course as everyone says to do at SF.

Pushing myself faster than I should have over the first half made the second half very difficult. Luckily miles 13-16 went by pretty fast because I knew I’d have friends at mile 16! The thought really brightened me up when I started to slow. (Photo below courtesy of RoadBunner—look how gorgeous and happy and awesome these girls are! Great signs. Thanks.)


At this point I was already taking a LOT of walk breaks. Big Sur was hillier and I didn’t start taking any walk breaks til mile 17 and this was much different. I felt dehydrated, tired, sore, achy, any combo of bad things. It was REALLY hard to keep running already. I willed myself around Stow Lake and out of the park, telling myself that it was all downhill from there (literally).


I couldn’t even run all the way down Haight Street (my street!) I was just still trying to recover from the worse hills of the first half and the pace. I had told myself I should never see an 8 on my Garmin; rather often I had looked down and seen myself running an 8:30 pace. That is NOT my marathon pace. And I paid for it.

A guardian angel in the form of a coworker saved my life with a bottle of Gatorade at the mile 20 marker. The steep downhill on Haight Street was rather painful and knocked me out even worse. But then I knew I’d see my sister between mile 21 and 22 so it willed me on… and then the best surprise… MY WHOLE FAMILY was on the corner of 16th and Harrison! What a blessing. They walked up that corner with me and it was awesome. My dad had the app too that gave them my splits.


HONESTY: the last 4/5 miles were death. They were just horrible. Not scenic, industrial, ugly, rolling hills, couldn’t really tell where I was going, TIRED. I kept walking. I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t have the physical energy or the mental willpower to keep on going. At mile 23 I said I’d run the last 5K nonstop even if I was practically crawling. I made it 0.2 miles before I had to stop and walk again. It didn’t even necessarily feel like a wall. I just felt like I’d given up.

Also, the course ran a bit long which made it so frustrating on the Garmin those last few miles. I’m pretty sure I clocked the race at 26.55 miles. That extra 0.35, legit or not, was like, four minutes on my marathon time! So I plan to subtract those four minutes and declare that my new time. Just kidding.


I knew where the finish line was before I could see it. I did everything I can to keep myself going. I’d seen my 4:15 pace slip to a 4:19 and then plus 4:20. I just didn’t want to risk not beating my Big Sur time of 4:27:50 or something like that so I willed myself across the finish line in 4:22:50, a PR by 5 minutes.


After those last five miles of misery I was very, very grateful to be done.


And to get a heatsheet. My first heatsheet! Courtney’s all grown up…


Once I was able to hobble my way out of the finish chute and around to my fam, I immediately stuffed half a banana, half a scone, and a handful of M&Ms into my mouth and then promptly wanted to vomit (but I didn’t so success).



Once I could walk and talk normally again we went to the ferry building for bathrooms and to grab some food for the fam. it was SUCH an amazing surprise to see all my family there and it meant so much to me to have them there for me when I crossed the finish line and promptly ceased to be a sentient being.


So I finished alive and set a PR. But how do I really feel about this race?

Basically, it would be foolish and selfish of me to be anything BUT overjoyed with this race. I have blogged about SFM a lot lately leading up to it, about injury, lack of training, feeling grateful just to get to the start line without being hurt. To have not only gotten to the starting line but also to the finish line in one piece with no injury and even beating my last time is joyous. Especially because I didn’t push myself too hard—I took one day off slightly sore and then went running on Tuesday. Back to normal. (Minus the significant chunks of both my middle toes that are missing… hmmmm.)

In short I am so happy and grateful that I got to have this race experience, and to share it with family and friends, and to stay healthy.

But this race also frustrated me. Because it showed me a taste of what I COULD do.

I made some mistakes in this race and had I just went out a little slower, fueled a little better, and most importantly, willed myself along in those last 5 miles I could have easily run a 4:10-4:15 today. But I didn’t. Part of that is physical. But a big part of that was mental. I couldn’t tell you if, in those last five miles, I didn’t have any physical energy left or if I simply didn’t have enough mental energy to care. I remember thinking to myself, “I’m gonna kick myself for these last five miles” during them, but it just wasn’t enough. It made me realize that I need to get healthier and train better and stop selling myself short and I WILL run that 4:10 marathon or someday a 3:59:59. I’m not fast and I never will be, but I CAN get better at this both physically and mentally and SFM showed me a glimpse of that.

It’s so easy to focus on the shortcomings—why can’t I be one of those people who runs a 4:00 marathon?—instead of the progress. Hey, when I started running in January for reals, my short run pace was 10:30. Now I can do 8:30s. PROGRESS!! And that’s the great thing about running… you’re only truly competing against yourself.


Around noon, I met up with a bunch of bloggers and friends at Pier 23. I wasn’t really hungry at this point (I’d felt like throwing up for a good portion of the race, and I NEVER really get nauseous,..) but I got a beer (awesome) and some sweet potato fries. it was great to get to catch up with everyone and hear about different race experiences, and find a bit of comfort in that most EVERYONE hated those last five miles!


The day ended with two beautiful things: Ben & Jerrys, and Genki Ramen with Alyssa and Erica. Perfection.


Part of me feels like I let myself down in this race by not pushing harder, and then I remember, I went into this race wanting no pushing at all. I came into this race to enjoy it as an experience, to learn, to take it all in, to fall in love with the marathon. And I did. No matter what, there are going to be things we wish we could change—that’s reality. But most importantly, I did it, I finished marathon #2, and I achieved my main goal:

I had fun.

Here’s to the next, hopefully faster, marathon and all the FUN to come between now and then!

xoxo, courtney

Check out some of my new friends’/running inspirations’ recaps:


  • Comments

    1. Thanks for the honest and informative post. It was really interesting. I know parts didn’t go the way you wanted, but that’s still awesome you went for it.

      PS – love the signs your buddies made!!!

    2. Ahhh I am so proud of you for pushing through. I can’t imagine how mentally strong you must be to push through a marathon. I was in SF for the first time in June…and the hills on your course must have been insane. I mean… you can’t go ANYWHERE without the threat of monster hills! Congrats, girl!
      Cait @ Beyond Bananas recently posted..What I Ate… WEDNESDAYMy Profile

    3. You PR-ed!! Yay!!!

      I think the most amazing part about this recap is when the Embarcadaro was all peaceful in the morning…I’d so love to walk around when it is that quiet.
      The Healthy Engineer recently posted..Hating and Falling in Love with IndiaMy Profile

    4. DUDE freaking PR bad effin’ asssssss! You did so great and HELLO — who is looking all fresh-faced at the end? OH YEAH, you!

      I totally hear ya on the “I didn’t feel like I hit a wall, I just felt like I gave up” — that’s what happened with me, too. The end of the race was SO HARD! Anyway, your fade was minimal and you still rocked it! I’m glad we got to spend so much time together last weekend; let’s do it again soon! :)

      Alyssa recently posted..Race Recap: The San Francisco MarathonMy Profile

    5. Great job! You PR’d BIG TIME & that’s definitely something to be proud of!

      I think a lot of tend to focus on the negative right after an event, instead of the positive. (I know I’m guilty of that after my last tri.) It’s a hard habit to break, but you’re totally right – look at the PROGRESS you’ve made. In the long run, that’s what matters & you’ll look back this awesome finish & wonder why you were frustrated in the first place!
      Theresa @ActiveEggplant.com recently posted..The AftermathMy Profile

      • Elisabeth,If your hubby will go for Nancy’s, he will totally go for this. Nancy’s isn’t very sweet, and you can seweten this however you want. To wean my family from sweet yogurt, I mixed half store yogurt with half of the homemade yogurt at first.Anne and Karli,Let me know how it works!! The sleeping bag totally makes it less intimidating .

      • You’re the one with the brains here. I’m watching for your posts.

    6. Woo-hoo, PR! Yay!! :)

    7. Congratulations Courtney! I really enjoyed reading your recap. I appreciate the honesty. Running is just as much mental as it is physical. You should be incredibly proud of your PR. Great job!!
      Aimee recently posted..Wordless Wednesday: Saturday Family FunMy Profile

    8. The end of that race is totally brutal, but you didn’t give up and you ran a new PR, which is AWESOME!!! And I’m so glad you had fun…that’s super important!
      Cate recently posted..7 LinksMy Profile

    9. I have felt like you have in more than one marathon. You never stop to think that everyone at some point has felt like this. I think you can prepare to the gills for a race and it can still not go as planned. I think races such as this make us humble and appreciate the 26 miles of a marathon. It ain’t easy! We need races to remind us of our feats. I think 1. You rocked it 2. I bet your family was standing there thinking ‘I could never do what she is doing’, so feel accomplished & 3. You validate how we have all felt. It is nice knowing others go through these struggles. Honolulu was mine. Grrrr.
      JanaC recently posted..Runners EtiquetteMy Profile

    10. Awesome race recap, Courtney! It’s amazing what our bodies are capable of! From your report it sounds like you definitely have a 4:00 marathon in you. A lot of it does seem mental. So, what marathon is next? :)
      Katie @ Legally Fit recently posted..ChangeMy Profile

    11. This looks so fun! I just moved to Santa Rosa so maybe I will do the 1/2 {or the full?!} next year!!!

    12. This sounds similar to how I felt in my third marathon — the last six miles were deathly and awful, and I also finished in 4:22. I’d been aiming for a 4:02, though, so you ran a smarter race than I. Also, you ran a PR, and that day I ran a PW. Oh, and yours was a whole lot hillier than mine!
      In other words, you have no reason to be hard on yourself. You havent’ been running very long, and you are definitely getting faster. You’ve just run two of the hilliest road marathons in the whole country, and both in VERY respectable times. You’ll have a 3 in front of your marathon time before too long.


    13. Love how reflective and insightful you are in these posts. “I didn’t have any physical energy left or if I simply didn’t have enough mental energy to care” So glad you beat your PR!

    14. Congrats on the race! Hopefully next year I’ll be in SF and ready to run at least the half if not the full!
      Jane @ Broccolini + Cheese recently posted..Sometimes.My Profile

      • So awesome! Let me know if and when you end up here, yay for new friends! :)

      • Amy,I too like the idea of laser hair removal, but I have to admit, that it seems a litlte embarrassing to grow hair out long enough to get the treatment done (not as bad as Frida Kahlo but not pretty). It does sound like a nice option, though! I’d definitely need to save up for it too! We don’t have a hair removal budget .

    15. Wow congratulations! It looks like so much fun.

    16. Congratulations! You made it (and did awesomely!) I had no idea the SF Marathon included running across the Golden Gate, haha you were right by me then here in Mill Valley :)
      Sara K recently posted..Laziza AzizaMy Profile

      • Seriously! No way. We should definitely meet up sometime! I don’t get to the north of the bridge anywhere near enough. Brunch in Sausalito? :)

    17. That was fun to read :) I read a bunch of your blogger friend posts, too. Way to go, Courtney. So proud of YOU.
      Victoria recently posted..Women’s World Cup 2011My Profile

    18. great job! marathons are always hard and any one that’s finished is great- no matter what you could or could not have done differently. way to go!
      Sarah K. @ The Pajama Chef recently posted..Kale Frittata for TwoMy Profile

    19. You made me cry :) Good tears though! I’m so proud of you and so honored to be your friend :) You pushed through the whole thing and did not give up!!!! YOU ARE AMAZING, dear! xo
      Brittany @ LessBritt MoreLife recently posted..personal training previewMy Profile

    20. Courtney you are ahhhhhhhhmaZing, you should have nothing but love for yourself, you were totally my savior for close to half this race, you PR’d aNd you look amazing the whole gosh dang time!
      You started running in January for reals!? I mean your on marathon #2 and this was only in July?! Hello Awesometown Mayor! I cant wait to run another race with yoU!xo-Erica

    21. You PR’d in San Francisco! That is ah-mazing! I know I’ve said it before, but seriously, congratulations! And great race report! Running behind the ballpark *is* a death march, especially during the last few miles of such a tough course! And I’m so glad your family surprised you – I got teary-eyed when I read that part!

      • I got teary eyed when I saw them! Although the tears might have alreayd been on there because I was kind of wanting to hurl myself in the bay by mile 22, but regardless, it was SO sweet :)

    22. This is a great recap! Congrats on the PR! You have run 2 of the hardest marathons in the US – Big Sur and SF!

      If you run on an easier course I guarantee you will cut a lot of time off, I bet like 10 minutes or more. Especially if you run it at more even splits during the race. You probably saw what I wrote on Alyssa’s post about 50 After 40s approach of going slower over the first to ease into your marathon pace, which this seems to help you negative split for sure and not feel so terrible over the final miles.

      Those signs are indeed awesome, they seem like great supporters!

      Weird, it felt like I was reading my own recap from last years marathon in your writing. From going too fast over the first half of the race, to hating the last 4-5 miles, to bonking, to thinking that I could go no further, to feeling like I wanted to throw up, the family at the finish line, etc.

      Again, congrats on the PR, and if you just started running in January and are already at a 8:30 short run pace, you will continue to improve. I bet you will be able to run a 4 hour marathon in maybe a year or two of running. Heck, I’ve been running off and on for like 20 years and I usually average about 8:30 pace on my short runs, lol
      Nelly recently posted..SF half marathon weekend/Stanford tennis tourneyMy Profile

    23. Oh, and in looking at your Big Sur recap, that pic of you running with the piano player in the background is awesome, I nominate that pic for possible framing on the wall status, haha
      Nelly recently posted..SF half marathon weekend/Stanford tennis tourneyMy Profile

    24. I ran my first full marathon this past spring – it was painful (20-40 mph direct wind gusts from miles 16-22) but rewarding because I finished. Congrats in being in the less then 1% of the American population who ever finishes one of those buggers!

    25. Congrats Courtney! You did AMAZING!! You should be incredibly proud of yourself! Awesome recap.

    26. Awesome race recap, and awesome job finishing the marathon. It was a tough one for sure – the downhills were killing me at the end because my legs were so dead. And you know what? I think the course WAS long because my Garmin said 26.53 miles when I crossed the finish line!

      Do you have any races planned next? You should think about the Norcal one – it’s supposed to be fast and flat in downtown San Jose. That’s next up for me…

      Oh, and I have GOT to try that Ben and Jerry’s flavor… is it awesome??

      • YAY someone else measured it long! I was like half joking and half legit bitter when I saw that. I was at like 4:18 or 19 when I crossed 26.2 on the garmin… goal time. No fair!

        What’s the Norcal race? I don’t know what that is! I am not sure for me. I am signed up for Nike Womens, not sure about that one though, and I might do CIM. Decisions decisions :)

    27. I love how truthful you are! You look great in all the pictures-not like you wanted to puke at all:)
      Grace recently posted..All in a days work…My Profile

    28. Congrats! That is an amazing accomplishment! I have heard San Fran is one of the hardest marathons so you should be so proud! :)
      Allison @ PickyEatingRD recently posted..A Hint of Dark ChocolateMy Profile

      • It’s true that it’s pretty hard, I’ve only run really “hard” marathons so I don’t know what a flat course would feel like, honestly I kind of assume that after 20 miles it’s all the same ridiculous suck fest for the last hour, flat or hilly :) haha

    29. I’m so proud of your Courtney!!! You are such an inspiration!!

      I am very happy to hear you made it without major injuries too!!

      You are AMAZING darling!!
      Katie@Real Food Katie’s Way recently posted..Ants Out of My Pants!My Profile

    30. Congrats on your marathon! Some Saturdays I run with a group in my hometown called “wear blue: run to remember” that was started by a few war widows to serve as a living memorial to the service and sacrifice of the American military. Anyway a big group of them headed to SF to run this marathon too! The founder of this group, actually ran a full marathon before this one for a total of 52.4 miles! So amazing. I’m still trying to work up enough courage to sign up for the Seattle Marathon in November!
      Mel recently posted..There’s No Place Like Friday Harbor…My Profile

    31. Awesome re-cap and awesome PR!! I loved the honesty in the post – you finished, you PR-ed and you learned what you’re capable of! I just finished Week 1 of Marathon training and I love reading about other peoples experiences… it gets me pumped up! :) We should do a run sometime!!
      Kristine @ Running On Hungry recently posted..Beach Weekend + Week 1 to 26.2My Profile

    32. speechless…you amaze me. love, m

    33. Congratulations!! I loved every single word of this…but I especially love that last paragraph and your awesome attitude. You did amazing, and the fact that you PR’d after your tough training cycle is even more impressive!!

      I’m sorry the last few miles were such a struggle, but you should know that we’ve all been there. Marathons are so flippin’ tough. Sometimes even after the best training cycles, things still fall apart on race day. Last fall I ran a hilly marathon and had a very similar experience as you did here – I went out too fast for the course and literally crashed and burned. I felt like I gave up in those last 5 miles…I didn’t even really care about my time or moving quickly or anything. I just didn’t have the energy. So the fact that you pushed through that and finished saying you’ve fallen in love with the marathon is wonderful!!

      I hope you’re still feeling super proud of yourself for your SFM accomplishments. You WILL get to a faster marathon time someday! I know you have it in you!! Congrats again!
      Lauren recently posted..Providence Rock ‘n Roll Half MarathonMy Profile

    34. Congrats on a great race Courtney!!! I am so impressed you were able to go out there and PR on that course after everything you have been through… so happy for you it turned out this way!
      Aron recently posted..Friday FavoritesMy Profile

    35. Wow, congrats on the PR, Courtney- you pushed *very* hard to earn that sucker! And what a great journey! I am gearing up for my very first marathon (also in the city, Nike Women’s) and am very inspired by this although nervous for those hills! Oh, sorry, I mean “inclines”.
      Laura recently posted..Run Pretty Far Giveaway!My Profile

      • you’re doing nike? YAY! I am running too (have a full bib, but dropping to the half) with a dozen bloggers and runners. We will probably all get brunch afterwards. Would love to have you!

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