The countdown is on for the San Francisco Marathon – state #10 and marathon #15 for me, incredible as that is to believe.
I’ve never been to San Fran, or even to any other part of Cali, so I’m super stoked for the race. I’ll only be spending a quick weekend in SF before venturing down to southern Cali and the OC for a vacation with C and my in-laws, so what better way to see as much of SF as possible than to run 26 miles through it? Seems to be a pretty cost and time-efficient and effective way to spend my Sunday morning there.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I have been training for this race, a race that’s a good 6 or so weeks after early June’s Sunburst Marathon, which was about 6 or so weeks after Boston in mid-April. I’m not planning to break any records in San Fran–just enjoy the ride, take in the beautiful scenery, and do whatever my body will let me do that day–and I am feeling prepared for it. My long runs of late have been at hilly Waterfall Glen, and unlike my 6 weeks post-Boston/pre-Sunburst, this time around I’ve been doing speedwork… which has left me feeling refreshed (and fast! or fast for me, at least). So, in all, I’ve been feeling good- confident, happy with what I’ve run in the past 6 weeks, and prepared for this “gap” marathon race.
And then John linked me this article – which, if you haven’t read it, is basically about how balls-to-the-wall challenging the San Fran race is. Great! ::dramatic eye roll and sigh here::
Not too long ago, I watched the SF course video, which described the first half of the race as “hilly and challenging” but the second part as “fast.” Thus, going into the race, I’ve been thinking about how I’ll run this as I do for Boston… take it calm and steady for the first half, and then go for it in the latter stages of the race. Am I nervous for the race? Not yet. That will probably come once I wake up around 3 or 4 a.m. the morning of (since I’ll start running around 5:45), and it finally hits me that I’ll be running a marathon that day. I haven’t thought much about it, at least in those terms, because it seems to have just snuck up on me.
Anyway. What this article unnecessarily did was dis people who manage to BQ–an ENORMOUS feat in and of itself, mind you–at fast, flat courses like Chicago (my hometown race). I’ve BQed four times now, and never on a flat course like Chicago, but when people hear about a BQ, they’ll likely ask you where you did it… especially because BQing is such a big deal for a lot of marathoners out there. But generally, at least in my experiences, people who BQ on hillier courses (like San Fran or Boston) won’t snub people who do so on flatter, faster courses. That’s just not what it–the BQ or the general running community–is about.
To be fair, I guess the WSJ writer did this slight snub in the context of the SF article, wherein he was talking about how much more slowly (11 minutes+) people have run SF than their usual paces or PRs; okay, point taken. SF’s hills can be intimidating. But then, the article goes on to nearly bemoan the fact that so few people sign up for, and BQ, at San Fran because of the course’s toughness–that people are more inclined to run quickly, and BQ, at the pancake courses of Chicago, Columbus, et al. Maybe he was simply trying to say that SF isn’t as popular a race as Chicago or Columbus or many of the other flat courses out there simply because it’s tough, or because people perceive it to be tough, or have nightmares of having to run up those enormous hills we all remember seeing in episodes of Full House or on the rice-a-roni commercials. If this was, in fact, his intention, I think the mere insinuation adversely clouded what he was trying to say… probably, that this is a tough race.
Many runners aim to run just one marathon–as a bucket list accomplishment–and once they do it, they’re satisfied. No time goal, no BQ goal, just completion. This is true for some, but not all (hi!), charity runners. For a growing number of runners, however, they do one race, and then get the itch to see how much more their body can handle. Maybe it means going for a BQ, or simply dropping time, or just racing more intelligently. To see what they’re capable of, in terms of speed, it makes sense for them to go to a flat course, where they feel they can really rock it and fly. For the folks who want a challenge with their marathon–who aren’t just satisfied with running 26.2 miles–I venture that they’re more likely to do the more “extreme” marathons…the ones with the net uphill, the trail races, the Pike’s Peak race, races that are known for their hills, Big Sur, Boston, that sort of thing. To me, these type of marathon runners aren’t any better, or worse, than their counterparts who prefer to stick to flatter courses. I think it’s inaccurate, if not disingenuous, to assert or insinuate that people who don’t go the “extreme” marathon routes and who, instead, stick to the urban or fast courses, are worse than their hard-core counterparts.
This contention makes me think of folks who argue that trail runners are better than road racers, or that ultramarathoners are better than “just marathoners.” Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Just because you prefer one “type” of race, or distance, over another doesn’t mean that you’re a more adept runner. Hell, it’s like saying that just because you’re a 5k runner and not a marathoner, that you’re not a “real” runner. Or that half-marathon runners are better than 10k runners. It’s ridiculous. The running community’s not about that; more often than not, runners are genuinely excited that people want to lace up their shoes and do something so inexpensive, and accessible, that can do wonders for their health and for their lives. What we should more worry ourselves about, or lose sleep over, is the growing number of people in the USA who don’t regularly partake in ANY sort of physical activity–running or not–who will surely suffer unnecessary, preventable medical-related illnesses and diseases. That’s what sports and health writers should be bemoaning… not that people are not “ballsy” enough to take on as challenging a course as San Fran.