Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Race Report: Reykjavik Marathon

The week before I went to Reykjavik, I was going to run the Revel Chilliwack Marathon just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  But my flight leaving New York was severely delayed heading there, and we ended up landing over 1 1/2 hours late.  Thinking I still had a chance to rush to the rental car counter, my idea was to get my rental and drive the 80 minutes to run this inaugural race. But then after getting through immigration, I got downstairs to the rentals area, and it was totally closed, with absolutely no way to get the car I reserved. A cab would’ve cost me over $220 CAD to the shuttle pickup, another $60 CAD if they took me up to the startline.  I ended up taking a DNS (did not start) and after sulking at the Vancouver Airport for a few hours, I decided to make the most of my trip by spending it with family who lived in the area, and also cheer on the runners for the SeaWheeze Half Marathon, which just happened to be occurring in Vancouver on the same weekend.

Cut to a week later, being back in New York -- I leave Thursday night on the evening flight out of JFK headed to Iceland.  Being that it is west of continental Europe, sitting closer to the North American continent, and by virtue of flying direct northeastward past New England and Atlantic Canada, the flight duration is just about the same as the flight I took the week before.  Weather issues caused delays again, and we left New York about an hour and fifteen minutes late. We made up some time and landed only half an hour after we were supposed to.  I landed in Reykjavik just after 7am local time, four hours ahead of NYC.  I was a bit tired, not getting as much sleep as I wanted, but knew I had to soldier on for a full day of sightseeing ahead.

The Reykjavik Airport is in Keflavik, roughly 50 kilometers away from Reykjavik city center, so I had to take a bus to the city.  It's 3000 Icelandic króna, or roughly $24, for the one way trip - pretty steep, but we are in the Nordics, notoriously known to be pricy.  40 minutes later, I was in the city, and I head to the Apotek Hotel, where I was staying with my friend Tom to drop off my bags. Also here for the race is Tom's friend Vladi, and he was staying in Iceland for several days and booked a camper van to travel freely around the island, offering to drive us all around to check out the sites.  Since both Tom and I were only here for a limited amount of time, we decided to try to fit in as much of the Golden Circle route, a 190 mile route looping from Reykjavík into the southern uplands of Iceland and back containing the most visited natural landmarks in Iceland, as we could for the day.  After freshening up quickly, we headed out of Reykjavik to explore what Iceland is known for - its natural beauty!

Some of the beautiful terrain out
of Thingvellir National Park
Only an hour east of the city is Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, and one of the main stops of the famed Golden Circle route. The nearly 36 square mile park is a site of great historical and geological significance, and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. The site was also known as the centre of Icelandic culture, laying the foundation for the language and literature that have been a prominent part of people's lives right up to the present day. The park lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. To its south lies Þingvallavatn (Thingvallavatn), the largest natural lake in Iceland. We found ourselves stopping multiple times on this drive out, just to get photos of the incredible surroundings; also getting a whiff of the sulfur smell that permeates the air!  We also spotted our first wildlife - a pair of Icelandic sheep, just walking alongside the road... they got pretty close to our car, perhaps hungry for some food!  Among one of the most popular attractions within the park is the Öxarárfoss waterfall, which flows from the river Öxará over the Almannagjá gorge, providing us a gorgeous backdrop for some photos. 
In front of Öxarárfoss waterfall
Kerið Crater
After a couple hours enjoying Thingvellir, we decided to head south down to the 3,000 year old Kerið Crater. Kerið is one of several crater lakes in the area, known as Iceland's Western Volcanic Zone, created as the land moved over a localized hotspot, but it is the one that has the most visually recognizable caldera still intact. It is believed that Kerið was a cone volcano which erupted and emptied its magma reserve. Once the magma was depleted, the weight of the cone collapsed into the empty magma chamber. The current pool of water at the bottom of the crater, at 180 feet deep, is at the same level as the water table and is not caused by rainfall.  Vladi decided to cook up a bite to eat for us as well while we were here, being that it was already afternoon, so we enjoyed some beans, egg whites, and whole wheat bread, to satiate our hunger before continuing on in our sightseeing.

Furthest east in the Golden Circle route is Gulfoss, a waterfall considered one of the most iconic and beloved attractions in Iceland. Fed by the Hvítá River, Gulfoss Waterfall abruptly plunges in two stages (36 feet and 69 feet) into a crevice 105 feet deep, with a very strong 4,900 cubic feet per second of volume water flow in the summer months, one of the largest in Europe. In Icelandic, Gullfoss means “Golden Waterfall”, because on a sunny day, the water takes on a golden-brown color, due to the fact that it’s glacial water and therefore carries lots of sediments that glacial ice has carved off the earth throughout the years.

Vladi and Me, as Strokkur
erupts for the umpteenth time
Heading back to Reykjavik, we could hit up another popular Golden Circle site, while the sun was still shining. Not far from Gulfoss is the Haukadalur valley area, where various geothermal feature such as mud pools, fumaroles and other geysers are located. Among these are Geysir, the most famous geyser in the area, which at one point erupted boiling water 230 feet into the air, though nowadays erupts rarely -  in the past, eruptions have stopped altogether for years at a time. The English word geyser (a periodically spouting hot spring) actually derives from this Geysir. Strokkur, another geyser located only 160 feet away, erupts about 100 feet, but with much more regularity - roughly every five minutes. It was entertaining watching a group of three young guys set down lawn chairs near Strokkur, scoring the quality of the eruptions on a scale on 1 to 10 on pads of paper as they happened.  There was a small visitors center here as well, where we stopped to window shop and grab another quick bite to eat - in my case, a chocolate bar and a bottle of Icelandic Toasted Porter.

We headed back to Reykjavik with one more stop to make on the Golden Circle route - the Brúarfoss waterfalls, supposedly a short distance from the geysers, and containing the most blue water of all the waterfalls on the Golden Circle. But when we got to the turn from the main road, we found a closed gate, realizing upon further research that access was restricted due to its location on private property, and the owners closing off access to the public.  There was ability to still get there, having to park at a small lot not far away, but it also required a 4 mile roundtrip hike, which we weren't inclined to do at that point in the day.  And both Tom and I were getting hungry.

We were back in Reykjavik by around 8:30 that night, making a stop at a Krónan discount supermarket before it closed at 9pm.  We made it back to the city centre, parking a few blocks away from the Apotek Hotel (and luckily finding a spot, as streets were closing for Saturday's events!) Dinner that night was at Jamie's Italian, the Reykjavik location of the restaurant chain by British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. I started to fade pretty quickly, since I had been running on roughly three hours of sleep from the flight over straight into a full day of sightseeing, so when we retired back to the room, I crashed.  Thankfully, the race the next morning wasn't until 8:40am.

Vladi, Tom, and I
before the race started
Race morning started tamely enough. I woke up a little over an hour before the start, to give myself enough time to prepare my foot.  In the weeks prior to the race, I started to feel what I initially though was the onset of a gout attack, but later realized that I was actually developing bursitis in my right foot. It may have actually been a blessing that I didn't run the race the week before - my foot wasn't in the best of shape.  A swollen bunion-like bump formed on my right foot's big toe joint, and because I favored that part of my foot, I ended up spending a couple weeks redistributing my weight to the other side of my foot, and developing a bit of tightness.  The ball of my foot was quite tender, so in preparation, I decided to wrap it with KT tape, as well as use orthotics designed to support the arch and the ball of my foot.  It felt fine on Friday as we went sightseeing, so I set some personal goals for finishing this race... an "A" goal of 4:30, consistent with my previous times, but a more sensible "B" goal of just going under 5 hours - because of uncertainty with my foot.

Having our hotel be just around the corner from the startline, I quickly got my race clothes on for the race, and Tom and I were headed out of the hotel at about 8:15.  It was drizzling slightly as we walked over to Lækjargata, where the startline was located. It was more of a "spitting" rain that didn't seem to make much sense considering the sky above was bright and blue with only a few wipsy clouds around. Temperatures were in the low 50s, with no wind.  It looked to be a perfect day in terms of weather.

The race start
After Tom, Vladi, and I took some startline photos, we separated to join in on the corrals, starting to fill with runners.  There were many runners from all over the world here; some 1,181 marathoners and 2,625 half marathoners. Of these, most were from Iceland, but there was a sizeable American contingent as well, later finding out that 534 runners listed the USA as their nationality - 222 in the full, 312 in the half.  We were able to self seed, placing ourselves near pacers who held pace signs and balloons with their intended finish targets for both the half and full, and I placed myself near the 2 hour half marathoners.  Soon, the race began; I ended up crossing only 2 minutes and 21 seconds after the gun, but unfortunately, I could not get to my running start like I expected.  This is where self-seeding backfires - it was very frustrating to get past the startmat only to resort to having to walk the first 0.1 mile, because of walkers impeding runners. Eventually, we made our way down Lækjargata, one of the main streets of downtown Reykjavik, which takes its name (Icelandic for "stream street") from the stream that once ran along the street, from the Tjörnin lake to the sea. We were right next to the northeastern corner of the lake when the street finally opened up a bit and I finally got to start running.  It was a beautiful start, with the lake to our right, and buildings like the National Gallery of Iceland and the Fríkirkjan í Reykjavík (the Lutheran Free Church) to our left, as we made our way down Fríkirkjuvegur.

Running down Lynghagi
Barely half a mile into our race, we were turning right over Skothúsvegur, the roadbridge crossing over the lake into the Vesturbær district of Reykjavik, one of the more posh residential areas of the city.  We turned left onto Suðurgata (Icelandic for "southbound"), heading past the National Museum of Iceland and through the campus of the University of Iceland, the country's oldest and largest institution of higher education, founded in 1911.  Roughly 2 kilometers into the race (just past my first mile, which my watch clocked as a 9:11), I turn right onto Lynghagi, a short residential street leading us to Ægisíða, the seashore road on Reykjavik's southwestern side, overlooking Faxaflói (Faxa Bay.)  The views were magnificent - it reminded me somewhat of Marina District in San Francisco or even the early shoreside parts of the Big Sur Marathon.  I spotted two runners wearing "Prospect Park Track Club" singlets and chatted them up as we ran a similar pace northwestward along this street, finding out they were running the half.

Ægisíða angled left slightly as we continued to parallel the shape of the shore, though this time we were inland, the road turning into Nesvegur.  We actually began to run just outside of Reykjavik proper, into the township of Seltjarnarnes, on the tip of the peninsula. My second mile split was an 8:36, not surprising since I didn't have that 0.1 walk at the start of the first mile in this section of the race.  It would turn out to be my fastest mile of the whole marathon.  Eventually, after a slight uphill, we turned left onto Suðurströnd (Icelandic for "southern coast"), literally running on the south coast of the town, and hit the 5K mat, which I crossed in a gun time split of 30:38, translating into 28:17.  Not bad, considering I was very concerned about my right foot!

Gorgeous views of Esja 10K
away across Faxa Bay
I took my first walk break when my watch beeped at 29 minutes, just before we turned right heading north along Lindarbraut. We were now crossing the entire length of the peninsula to its northern shore.  Many residents living along the course were out cheering us on, so it was quite nice to have that support, hearing "áfram! áfram!" meaning "onward!" or "keep going!" in Icelandic. The last hundred meters or so along Lindarbraut was slightly downhill, where we could see across Faxa Bay over to the Akranes peninsula and the beloved 3,000 foot tall mountain Esja in the Kjalarnes district, some 10 kilometers away.

The clouds making this scenery
all the more beautiful!
We turned right at the end of the street, now running along Norðurströnd (fittingly, "northern coast"), now getting to enjoy Esja in all its glory, the clouds providing a beautiful canopy overhead. It was otherworldly; not only could we see those magnificent mountains, but Reykjavik's old Grandi Harbor (which we were running to) provided a unique picture in the foreground. Mile 4 clocked in at 9:26, as the road became Eiðsgrandi, now that we were back in Reykjavik city limits. I managed to find my friend Wojtek from Poland, who had just set a new world record by running the most number of marathons in different countries within 365 days - a whopping 62 and counting!

We ran together for the next mile or so, catching up on each others lives, before I managed to pick up the pace a little bit.  I picked up the pace a little - my fifth mile was a 9:06. We passed a roundabout (driving on the outskirts of Reykjavik the day before revealed that there were many of these all over the city!) eventually continuing along a street called Ánanaust before reaching the Grandi Harbor.  We reached another roundabout where there we saw runners coming back around the other side, so this was where I knew we'd have a loop we'd be running back toward.  We were now on Fiskislóð, the main street running along the "spine" of the harbor area.

Grandi Harbor
We got to a short out-and-back area along Hólmaslóð where our sixth mile was, which my watch clocked at a fairly consistent 9:09 pace, then crossed the 10km mat, clocking in a 57 minute flat 10K. So far, so good! The 2:00 half marathon and 4:00 full pacers were just behind me.  We returned back toward the "entrance" to the harbor along another road running its length, Grandagarður, passing by the old fishermen huts now converted into indoor market spaces.  This area had only recently been transformed into a cultural fixture of Reykjavik, with shops, restaurants, and museums in this former fishing district of the city.  We reached that roundabout where I saw runners coming down, turning left and up a slight hill along Mýrargata, and past an active demolition site, where a backhoe was tearing down a building while the race was going on.

Passing by Harpa Concert Hall
We continued along the quaint seaside street, as it became two-lane Geirsgata, passing by the Hafnarhús of the Reykjavik Art Museum (the harbour's former warehouse) and the Kolaportið, Iceland's only flea market.  My 7th mile was still fairly strong, coming in at 9:09, eventually reaching Kalkofnsvegur, where we would begin the three mile long out-and-back on Sæbraut (normally one of Reykjavik's busiest streets, of course closed that day for our race) that defined the first half of the race. We passed by the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre and the Sun Voyager sculpture along the water, continuing eastward out of the downtown area of the city skirting the waterside edge of the residential neighborhoods of Tún, Teigar, and Laekir, in the district of Laugardulur. I continued to post some fairly consistent mile splits, even as the road started to not be as flat as it had been.  Mile 8 was a 9:11, mile 9 was a 9:21.  It was here, though, that I started to feel something not right in my right foot.

It wasn't the bursitis that was the issue; the tape and the orthotics ended up causing a blister to form UNDERNEATH the right side of my right foot, behind my pinky toe joint.  Somewhere along the way, I stopped to remove the tape and the orthotics, losing a little bit of time, but still managing to hit my 10th mile in 10:40.  The 2 hour and 4 hour pacers passed me by, and with knowing the blister could hamper my running going forward, I set a new goal to try to reach the halfway point in 2:10, allowing for a buffer for my pace slowing down. I spotted Vladi on the other side of the road for the first time, yelling out to him as he looked very strong, well on his way to beat his goal of a sub-4 hour marathon.  My official 16.4 km split (where the turnaround point was) was a 1:34:40.  Hopefully this year, that turnaround point was at the right spot; the 2018 edition was 213 meters short because they put it on the wrong area on this street!  Now that we were running back in the other direction, I looked out for friends along the way on the other side of the road, managing to shout out to fellow Front Runners Katrina and Tara, who were running the half, and who I only realized were also in Reykjavik to do the race on social media the day prior.

Running along Sæbraut to mile 12
My pace slowed a bit, losing the momentum I had built up with my consistent 9+ minute miles early on. I began to walk a bit more, favoring my foot as I felt the blister starting to get bigger.  I was nervous about it popping, but really had no way to stop and inspect; after all, I still had 16 miles to run. It was still manageable, though apparent and a little painful, but not terribly. We ran our way back along Sæbraut, reaching the 12 mile mark before turing left onto Höfðatún, past the Höfði House, home of Icelandic poet Einar Benediktsson which also hosted the iconic political summit between presidents Ronald Reagan of the US and Mikhail Gorbechav of the USSR in 1986, an event that helped to signal the end of the Cold War. While half marathoners continued on forward to the finish line.  There were far fewer of us running the full marathon, but at least there was a consistent flow of other runners in front of and behind me.

Views of Reykjavik City Center
as we approach the halfway point
After making our way around a roundabout, and continuing for a block along Katrínartún, we turned left onto Miðtún, running through a quiet residential neighborhood.  We turned left onto Hátún, then began to run along paved pathways finding our way over a pedestrian bridge that took us over the busy Kringlumýrarbraut directly in front of the beautiful Laugarneskirkja church. We were then led to run along Hofteigur, eventually reaching Laugardalsvöllur, Iceland's national football stadium. It was along a pedestrian pathway next to the stadium where we crossed the halfway point timing mat of the race, which I managed in 2:09:35, under that 2:10 goal.  That "A" goal of sub 4:30 was still in sight, but would be tough to manage if this blister got any worse.

Laugardalur Valley
Now into the second half of the race, we continued on the treelined paths of Þvottalaugavegur, the path by the old "laundry springs" of the Laugardalur valley, where in olden times, the women of Reykjavik would take their laundry for washing.  Through the trees, we were able to see the striking steeple of Áskirkja church rising dramatically over the valley, appearing like a modernist interpretation of a Viking ship.  It was nice to momentarily not have to be on roads, running on these paved pathways that passed by Íþróttahöllin í Laugardal (the Laugardalsholl Sports Center, where the race's expo was located); Skautahöllin í Laugardal (the Laugardulur Ice Rink); the Grasagardur Botanical Garden; and the Húsdýragarðurinn Park & Zoo, whose animals were in fenced in pens alongside the pathway, watching us run right by.  My pace slowed to 11 minute miles, as I began to figure out how to manage running the rest of this race with the blister.

Running along the bike paths near
the main street
We exited the Laugardalur valley, eventually running on the sidewalk alongside Engjavegur and then down alongside a bicycle/pedestrian pathway built alongside Suðurlandsbraut.  We then turned left into the neighborhood of Vogar, as we ran a one mile loop around three streets: Skeiðarvogur, Langholtsvegur, and Gnoðarvogur, before continuing east on along the path we were originally on alongside Suðurlandsbraut. We turned right over the walkway taking us over Miklabraut and a path along Miklabraut, another busy traffic street, as we followed the pathways that skirted the edge of a busy highway intersection toward the Elliðaárdal valley. For most of the rest of the race, we'd be running along paved pathways away from the streets.  I started to think, this was smart of the Reykjavik Marathon organizers to put the course along these pathways; that meant less roads to be closed off to vehicles.

Gorgeous little waterfall in the
Elliðaár river
Somehow, I was able to get my mile split for mile 16 back down to 10:06, but it would never reach this speed again for the rest of the race. We ran through a pedestrian pathway underneath the Reykjanesbraut highway, emerging to a path taking us through the Elliðaárdal valley.  Almost immediately after coming out of the dark underpass, we turned right, and caught sight of a small waterfall on the Elliðaár river.  Eventually, we crossed a pair of footbridge over the river's two branches, with the path separated by some cones, as faster runners were beginning to return after navigating the 3.7 mile loop around the valley.  We turned left onto Rafstöðvarvegur, running north where I spotted Vladi for the second time on his return trip.  I was roughly 16.8 miles into my race; he was about three miles in front of me, and still running strong.

Striking red bridges in
the Elliðaárdal valley
We ran underneath the Vesturlandsvegur highway, coming to a roundabout where the runners on the other side of the road were coming up, but we veered left to the path beside Bíldshöfði. We then ran alongside more paved pathways alongside the river Elliðaár, with beautiful views of Esja framing our line of sight.  This area, the heart of the Elliðaárdal valley, is known for being the location of one Iceland's most popular salmon and trout fishing rivers.  We crossed over a a pair of striking red bridges, resembling tilted pyramid frames over the river, eventually finding ourselves onto the streets once again, running on Sævarhöfði and past the old factories of the Björgun sand and gravel plant and Höfða asphalt stations, as we made our way to the short loop taking us to the charming residential area of Elliðaárvogur.

Part of the eastern residential district of Grafarvogur, Elliðaárvogur is the initial phase of a residential development area built on landfill from the plant and former industrial areas. This area, which includes the Ártúnshöfði areas south of Sævarhöfði, will contain as many as 4,000 new apartments in one of the largest development areas in the city. We ran around the streets of Elliðaárvogur, passing by the strikingly colored apartment buildings, even running alongside the small harbor area of Bryggjuhverfið, before returning along Sævarhöfði back down toward the roundabout where we saw the faster runners coming up the road. 

Pathways along the southern coastline
We returned back to Rafstöðvarvegur, to a short out and back near the Reykjavik Angling Club's headquarters where we crossed another timing mat at 29.4 kilometers (crossing in 3:06:42) before heading back through the valley and over the pair of footbridges through another pathway underneath the Reykjanesbraut highway.  We ran back on the road along Traðarland briefly, before retreating back to the paved pathways.  By then, we were about 20.5 miles into the race, just past the "wall" that many runners experience.  With only a 10K to go, and my watch registering just under 3:30, I readjusted my goals -- the "A" goal of 4:30 had pretty much slipped away, but if I maintained an 11 minute mile, I could still get under 4:45, possibly 4:40 to finish. My new "A" -- sub-4:40. We were now running through the Fossvogsdalur valley, nestled right on the border between Reykjavik and the neighboring city of Kópavogur. The path continued westward, eventually crossing another pedestrian bridge over the Kringlumýrarbraut, connecting us to the pathways adjacent to a woodland area (which I later found out was the Fossvogskirkjugarður cemetery!) and the southern coastline.

The pathway then veered away from the coast, just short of passing by the Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach, as we began to run northward past Reykjavik University's main building to our left, and the hills of the Öskjuhlíð forest to our right. We were also right next to Reykjavik Airport, the domestic airport serving the city, just north of the university.  The runway was clearly visible as we ran on the pathway taking us to Flugvallarvegur.   By that point, there was only 5 kilometers left in the race, and my watch had just passed the 4 hour mark.  The revised "A" goal of sub-4:40 was very possible, but I had to make every step count, keeping myself under 12 minute miles despite how much it hurt.

Spotting Hallgrimskirkja with only
a few kilometers to go!
We ran on the sidewalk alongside Flugvallarvegur, and around the edge of the Knattspyrnufélagið Valur athletic club's grounds at Hlíðarendi, turning left on the sidewalk alongside Bústaðarvegur as we headed north back into the city centre. One last timing mat at the 38km mark had me crossing in 4:10:31.  My blister was really starting to affect me by then. Hallgrimskirkja and its 244 foot tall tower were visible from our vantagepoint, knowing full well we'd be right in front of it in a matter of miles.  We followed the pathways as it took us over one last pedestrian bridge (this time, over Hringbraut, already teeming with cars trying to find their way in to park in Reykjavik), before finally being led through the last two miles within the city centre. We ran down the quaint residential streets of Bergstaðastræti as it curved its way northward, turning right onto Skólavörðustígur with its direct view of Hallgrimskirkja.  My watch beeped as it passed mile 25, 4:24:04. But the 40km mark, the race's "real" mile 25 was just around the corner as we turned left onto Grettisgata. That was a good sign; there was no way this year's version was going to be short!

My customary 40km mark sign!
With 1.2 miles to go, we headed east on Grettisgata, hearing more "áfram! áfram!" from spectators on the route.  We turned left onto Barónsstígur, running three blocks, before turning left onto Skúlagata on our way to get back onto Sæbraut.  Meanwhile, I still had to dodge a few tourists dragging their luggage to the bus stops where they would be collected for bus rides to the airport; but eventually, I was back on Sæbraut for the final push.  The Harpa Concert Hall was back in view, and we roudned the corner onto Lækjargata, with the finish line in sight.  I'd cross in 4:39:27, managing my mid-race revised "A" goal by 33 seconds!  I was very happy.  Not only was my 112th marathon completed, I finished my 21st of the year, and my 32nd new country.  And at 64°N latitude, this was the northernmost marathon I've completed, further north than Helsinki at 60°N and Anchorage at 61°N.  There are only a small handful of other marathons at a higher latitude.

The blister felt terrible, but I needed to get some food in my system, so I followed the finish line chute to the post-race set up they had in the Mæðragarðurinn park right near the finish line. Wojtek managed to cross just about a minute and a half after me, telling me he practically sprinted the last few kilometers of the race.  He had found another Marathon Globetrotter, Ulrike, who finished about ten minutes ahead of us. We posed for a quick photo, before I hobbled over to the medical tent, situated right next to the park. I revealed to them my foot, where the blister had grown to the size of a half dollar (OUCH), and begged them to drain it for me, since I was too chicken to do it myself.  They managed to "deflate" it, and cover it up with a second-skin hydrocolloidal bandage, which would at least hold up for the rest of the day, though, likely not when waterlogged in the Blue Lagoon, which was the plan after the race.  It felt much better having the bandage on it, and I could walk, despite definitely feeling the pain of putting weight on it.  It actually felt better to run on it rather than walk!

I turned my phone's data settings back on, and contacted Tom, who had already gone back to the hotel room; we decided to meet up back on Skólavörðustígur, where the view of Hallgrimskirkja was directly in front of the race course, providing for a perfect post-race photo, and site for my customary victory headstand.  Tom had an AMAZING race - he set a new PR with a blazing fast 2:51:26, and placed 11th overall.  We eventually met up with Vladi, who also set a new PR by 3 minutes (running a 3:48:05), and then used our time near the area to go into the church, and purchase tickets to go take a lift to go up to the top, where an viewing deck gave us 360-degree views of Reykjavik and the surrounding mountains.  After a few more pictures on the ground, we grabbed a quick bite to eat -- I was starving! -- for some Icelandic hot dogs, then to Sandholt for some coffee.  We then headed back toward the hotel, where I could grab my bags, quickly rinse off the race sweat, and then head off with Tom and Vladi to the Blue Lagoon for some much-needed relaxation time!
Victory Headstand!
Celebrating our marathon finish in
the warm waters of the Blue Lagoon
With our timed entrance ticket for the Blue Lagoon set at 5pm, we headed out about 4pm to allow us for potential traffic when leaving the city.  Located on the Reykjanes Peninsula some 40 minutes southwest of Reykjavik, the beautiful milky-blue water at the Blue Lagoon is unlike anything else found on earth, and makes a stark contrast to the surrounding black lava field and its creeping grey moss. The water stays at 39°C (102°F) year-round, making it the perfect temperature for bathing. Our entry included a complimentary silica face mask and a drink. It was great to run into several other runners who had the same idea as we did, to relax here after the marathon, including inspiring Brian Reynolds, who I had first met at the Chicago Marathon expo. He not only set a PR in the half (a blazing fast 1:18:43, good enough for 5th overall), he set a new world record time for fastest half marathon by a double amputee! It was a fantastic way to celebrate all of our accomplishments with this race.

Enjoying Menningarnótt
After spending a few hours soaking in the warm waters of the Blue Lagoon, we headed back into Reykjavik, eventually arriving around 9:30pm.  I decided to go off on my own for the night, and enjoy the beautiful evening, which was Menningarnótt, or Reykjavik's "Culture Night," which has been held annually since 1996. It was created by the Reykjavík city council, and has now become one of the largest festivals in Iceland, rivalling the celebration of Iceland's national day on June 17. Locals claimed this year’s Menningarnótt to be one of the busiest they’ve seen, likely due to the gorgeous weather in Reykjavik all day Saturday that lasted into the evening. Even the place I stopped into for dinner, Icelandic Street Food (where I had a delicious traditional Icelandic Lamb Soup!) was quite the happening place. The main stage at Arnarhóll was especially crowded, as Icelandic pop group Stjórnin (who represented Iceland in several editions of the Eurovision Song Contest in the early 90s) entertained the crowd until the fireworks closed out a busy day in the capital city.

The infamous Penis Museum!
We got to sleep in a bit on Sunday morning, and with the weather forecast not being so great, we decided to stay in town. I’m always up for “oddball” sights, and was actually super excited to go the Iceland Phallological Museum... a museum entirely dedicated to penises and penile parts. The collection of 280 specimens from 93 species of animals includes 55 penises taken from whales (including humongous specimens from both a sperm whale and a blue whale, the largest in the animal kingdom!), 36 from seals and 118 from land mammals (including sculptures of the penises of the entire Icelandic handball team!), and allegedly even those from huldufólk (Icelandic elves) and trolls! If anything, this was the place for ridiculous photos.

We also wandered over to the Sun Voyager statue for some photos before popping into the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre, which we saw so many times during the race. The building, completed in 2011 won the European Union’s Mies van der Rohe award for contemporary architecture in 2013. and features a distinctive colored glass facade inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland.  It was a nice respite from the wind and rain.

Vladi decided to head off on his own for the remainder of the day, to maximize his time with nature, while Tom and I stayed in town to explore more of Reykjavik before catching our bus back to the airport.  After lunch at a Scandinavian restaurant on the main street (Laugavegur), and another stop at Sandholt for coffee and baked goods, we stopped into souvenir shops along the main strip then headed to the Settlement Exhibition of the Reykjavik City Museum located near our hotel. The exhibition is based on the archaeological excavation of the ruin of one of the first houses in Iceland and findings from other excavations in the city centre, focused on life in the Viking Age of Iceland.  Part of our admission into the exhibition was to Aðalstræti 10, only a few blocks away; this is the oldest house in Reykjavik, and houses a unique photographic exhibition on the year 1918 in the city, when Iceland became a free and sovereign state, independent from the Kingdom of Denmark.

By then, it was 4:30, and our bus was picking us up from the Laekjargata bus stop at 5pm; having walked all morning and afternoon, my blister from the race was not feeling good, and I was struggling to walk without grimacing in pain.  We got back to the hotel, grabbed our things (which we had left with the front desk when we checked out that morning), and made our way to the bus, which was waiting for us.  After taking us to the main bus station to transfer to another bus, we made the 45 minute trip out to the airport in the harrowing weather; the wind and rain was coming down hard.  I was a little worried about my flight taking off on time.  We got to the airport after 6pm, and I bid adieu to Tom who was sticking around for a few more hours before his flight.  I managed to hobble my way through the airport to my gate, and board for the 8pm flight, taking off on time and without any issues; we got back to New York that evening only a tiny bit later than planned, and I had another country checked off.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Race Report: BioFreeze San Francisco Marathon

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 edition of the San Francisco Marathon was rescheduled to a November date, then ultimately canceled.  All registrants were given the option of running the race virtually, or transferring their entry to 2021 for a fee. The 2021 edition was also rescheduled from its traditional late July date to September 19, 2021.  The course will largely stay the same, other than some revisions to the course - adding mileage within the Marin County side of the Golden Gate Bridge, subtracting mileage within Golden Gate Park, and slightly less mileage in Potrero Hill.

In 2016, I completed a major goal of finishing my first ultramarathon - the San Francisco Ultramarathon, where I ran two loops of the San Francisco Marathon course, the first with about fifty other runners in reverse from the finish line to the start line (with a few detours) beginning at midnight, then the second with thousands of runners completing the actual race from the start to the finish. I ended up with a 5:33:47 and 6:30:47 for the two loops, slow but considering that it was my first and I was still fairly "fresh" to the marathon circuit, respectable.  I wasn't too fond of the course during the morning hours, either, so it wasn't at the top of my list to return.

In 2019, however, I began to experience a surge of faster times, breaking my marathon PR three times within the course of eight weeks, chopping it down from a 4:27:00 that held from September 2017 until April 2019 to a 4:11:02 in June 2019.  Several friends had decided to take on the ultramarathon or marathon that year, and with that in mind, I began to consider looking at it as well.  I have only returned to some cities to repeat marathons (or halves) for a handful of races, but the idea of cutting down my existing personal course "record" by what could be as much as an hour was appealing. During the weekend I spent in Calgary for the Calgary Marathon with my friend Febry and her husband Leo, it took some convincing, but a week later, I was signed up for my second San Francisco... or technically, third. It also helped that two of my friends from Germany who I met in Jordan in 2018, Tom and Rafa, were making their way all the way to San Francisco for the race as well, along with Rafa's sister Magda, coming in from Poland.  It would be a great opportunity to reconnect with them once again!

I booked flights for a Friday afternoon trip direct from JFK to SFO, and thankfully about five days before my departure, I was upgraded into the Delta One cabin, meaning lie flat seats and late lunch service on the nearly six hour long flight! It was a nice and easy trip, and despite a late departure, we arrived early to San Francisco. I took BART into the city, getting off at the Embarcadero where I walked up to Febry and Leo's Japanese restaurant, Kirimachi, located at the Embarcadero Center.  Despite the restaurant having closed already earlier that evening, Febry had a nice dinner waiting for me when I arrived.  We walked back to her apartment in Yerba Buena Gardens, just fifteen minutes away, where I promptly crashed for the night, as the time change started to rear its head on me.

Lombard Street
I woke up early the next morning ready to get my day started, as Febry and I did our own 3 mile shakeout run from her place to the race expo at Fort Mason.  She took us up Montgomery Street to the Transamerica Pyramid, the iconic San Francisco Building in the Financial District.  We then veered northwest up Columbus Avenue past other important relics of the city's past, including the Sentinel Building in North Beach (a photogenic building that survived the 1906 earthquake and is home to Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope film studio), Coit Tower enveloped in fog up on Telegraph Hill, Saint Peter and Paul Church (cultural center of San Francisco's Italian-American community, as well as the iconic location where Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio took photographs after their civil ceremony at city hall), and Washington Square. We turned left onto Lombard Street, where we tried our best to conquer its very steep hills, then took some photos at the famed "crookedest street" photo op. We then made our way down Hyde Street toward North Point Street, where we stopped by Ghirardelli Square, before taking on the hill from Municipal Pier up into Fort Mason.  We arrived just as the doors were opening to the expo at 9am.
Doors opening at the Marathon Expo
Brunch with Lara and Cloud
After retrieving my bib, I spent a good hour and a half at the expo. Most of the booths there were more of the same that I've seen at so many other race expos, but I stuck around moreso to wait for friends who were coming in that morning. On my way out, I ran into my friend Claire, who was planning to run the ultramarathon later that evening for the second year in a row.  We left the expo together, as I walked down the Marina District's Chestnut Street, to meet up with my friend Lara and her boyfriend Cloud for brunch at The Tipsy Pig.

With Orlando at the top of Twin Peaks
After a delicious meal (chicken and waffles for the win!) I got an Uber to take me to Cole Valley, where I would meet with a friend from my high school days in Kansas, who I haven't seen in eighteen years - basically, half my lifetime ago! Orlando moved to San Francisco only a few years ago, and caught wind of my visit to the area via social media.  He reached out and asked if I'd be around to grab a drink, and told him I was considering doing a free hike that some other friends had suggested up to Twin Peaks, one of San Francisco's highest points.  He had a free afternoon, so he told me he'd meet up with me and join in! When we got there, it was a fairly large crowd, maybe 50 of us altogether, perhaps more - and my friends who suggested the hike were nowhere to be found. We joined in anyway, and got to make our way up to the peaks by heading up the Farnsworth Steps, passing through the Sutro Forest to the Fairy Gates and up to Clarendon Avenue, continuing up a muddy trail to the Sutro Tower. From there, we made our way over to the top of Twin Peaks summit, 925 feet above sea level, with spectacular views of the Bay Area in all directions.

It was a spectacular day, and while we were warned that the ascent gets us to experience every microclimate possible that San Francisco is known for, we were treated to pretty nice temps, no rain whatsoever. After a few photos, we gingerly made our way down the mountain, making our way down Tank Hill into Golden Gate Park, where we got to see the dahlias in full bloom near the Conservatory of Flowers in the park's northeastern corner.  Orlando had to leave by that point to head to a barbecue, but I joined the rest of the group as we made our way past the California Academy of Sciences down into Inner Sunset for some beers at Social Brewery.  All in all, we ended up hiking a good 5.5 miles - not usually recommended the day before a hilly marathon, but I'm a different kind of animal, haha!

Pre-race dinner with members
of San Francisco Front Runners!
Afterward, I grabbed another Uber to head to the Castro District, where I joined San Francisco Front Runners for a pre-race dinner at the aptly-named Sausage Factory, an Italian restaurant.  We had a nice sized group including runners who came in for the race from the Denver contingent of the club (Colorado Front Runners), while I represented New York. It was an early dinner since the race would start so early the next morning.  I headed back to Febry and Leo's place, and started to wind down for the night.  Joining Febry and Leo were their friends Sophia and Hawk - and their "day" was just getting started.  After only a couple hours of sleep, Febry and Sophia were up by 9pm to get their things together and head to the finish line where they would start the ultramarathon at 11pm.  Another friend, Almi, was running the ultramarathon as well, and she dropped off her son Nate at Febry and Leo's place so he could walk over to the start with us in the morning and get some sleep himself. I drifted off to sleep not long after they left the apartment, a 4am wake up call in my near future.  Which overall didn't feel so terrible, since my body clock was still in eastern time zone, so it would feel more like a somewhat normal 7am alarm.

Almi ran the ultra, 17 weeks pregnant!
I woke up ready to go at 4am, throwing on my race clothes and preparing for the morning as Hawk, Leo, and Nate stirred. Soon, Hawk, Nate and I were out the door, and Leo went back to sleep, walking the quick 15 minutes down to the Hyatt Regency near the startline, where the ultramarathoners had a special room to wait in between races.  All of my friends who had started at 11pm changed into a new set of clothes, and were getting themselves ready for the morning loop with all the other runners that began at 5:30.  Having not seen Almi the night before, I got to hug her and check in with her - she was running the ultramarathon while 17 weeks pregnant! Luckily, her boyfriend Eddie was running the ultra with her, so all she needed to do was monitor her heartrate and keep her breathing stable, while he ensured that she got adequate calories and hydration throughout the race. Sophia and Febry looked fine, too, and soon we were back out on the street, ready for the marathon and their second of the day! I left my bag at the Hyatt, planning to come back here rather than deal with keeping my bag with the official gear check.  After all, the ultramarathoners were keeping their things here.

San Francisco's Bay Bridge, backlit by
the pre-dawn sky
I jumped into the corrals along the Embarcadero with the sky turning a pretty magenta/orange by the sun rising to the east, something made even more beautiful as the Bay Bridge formed our foreground. It was a fine 60° with a slight wind, and a little humid - not a surprise, considering the fog rolls into the city quite regularly. Soon, we heard the national anthem and the gun go off for the elite runners, and it took some 17 minutes before I finally was able to cross the starting line just before Mission Street, in the shadow of the iconic Ferry Building at the Embarcadero's intersection with Market Street.  It was nice and flat for these first couple miles, as we made our way past all of the piers along San Francisco's northeastern waterfront. It wasn't particularly foggy either, so we could even see Coit Tower to our left.
Starting the race before dawn!
Running along the Embarcadero, views of Coit Tower
Running alongside Fisherman's Wharf
Soon, the Embarcadero made its way into North Beach, as we passed Pier 39 and Pier 45, turning into Jefferson Street as we made our way through the popular neighborhood and tourist attraction of Fisherman's Wharf.  It was very peculiar to be seeing this area devoid of people other than us runners - but granted, it was 6 in the morning. We hit our second mile of the race, and I had registered my first two miles at 8:27 and 8:31.  Blazing fast.  We continued along the road until we entered the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, running alongside the concrete pathway right next to the water as we passed the Maritime Museum, then jumped off of the curb onto Van Ness Avenue. I had lost track of Febry earlier when we were at the Hyatt, but caught up to her here just before encountering our first hill of the race, that hill from Municipal Pier up into Fort Mason that we had run the day before.  It was a little tougher today, and I had to walk a short bit of it, but soon I was running again, gaining speed as we came downhill onto Marina Boulevard past the Great Meadow Park. Mile 3 clocked in at an 8:41.  Another fast mile.  I'd end up crossing the 5K mark in 26:23, one of my fastest first 5Ks for a marathon I've run. Pretty fast, but I feel good, like I'm not overdoing it.

A nice view of the Golden Gate
Bridge from the SF Bay Trail
We continue along the westbound lanes of Marina Boulevard, another nice flat section of course, passing some particularly beautiful homes to our left in the Marina District facing Marina Green and the water.  We pass by hundreds of yachts and boats in the harbor as Marina Boulevard turns into Mason Street, and the Golden Gate Bridge can be seen faintly in the distance.  We're running toward it, and strangely enough, it's not enveloped in fog like it normally can be. In fact, friends such as Febry, who have run this race twelve times, have always run the race with the section on the bridge being quite wet due to the fog rolling into the bay. We pass Crissy Field, approaching it even closer. I end up running past other friends, Mitch and Carlee, as we make our way toward the gravel section on the San Francisco Bay Trail beside the picnic area, with rock cairns strewn about on the shoreline. The Golden Gate Bridge is now in full view, and looking gorgeous this morning. We're now five miles in, and my last two miles were both fast as well - an 8:43 and 8:29!  What is going on!? Sure, its flat, but why am I not feeling like I'm putting forth so much effort and still pulling this pace?

An out and back on Marine Drive
Just past the Warming Hut, we are directed back onto the asphalt at Marine Drive, running on the westbound lane.  Runners are coming back toward us on the eastbound lane, so we head straight out for a turnaround point just before the span of the bridge. We head back along Marine Drive in the other direction, and I reach out to Mitch who I see on the other side for a quick high five, before the road begins to ascend again for our second big hill of the race along Long Avenue.  It's here where I take my first real lengthy walk break.  The road switches back as we run along the Battery East Trail, slightly rolling as we make our way up to the bridge level. I hit the sixth mile of the race in 9:24, and cross a timing mat about 0.1 mile later in 55:19 (why it wasn't at the 10K mark of the race, I don't know.)  We've ascended from 19 feet to 177 feet over the last mile, a 158 foot climb, in just under ten minutes.  Still making good time!
Looking down from the viewpoint at the top of the Battery East trail
Running on the sidewalk of the
Golden Gate Bridge
Now, we've made our way onto the bridge span. For years, the Golden Gate Bridge District (who owns and operates the bridge) had allowed the annual marathon to cone off two of the northbound lanes to accommodate the runners. The bridge couldn't be completely closed off because this was the only direct crossing from San Francisco into Marin County, without having to cross into the East Bay. But all that changed after a series of car and truck terror attacks in Nice in 2016 and in London and Barcelona in 2017, and the subsequent need for increased security. For the 2018 edition of the race, the marathon organizers were forced to recalibrate the race and move the marathoners onto the sidewalk, separated by a barrier from the roadway on the bridge, which would make the course much more narrow; this also prompted the organizers to require the start times to be staggered and limit the actual running across the bridge to just the marathon runners. I made my way across the bridge, noting that still, there was no fog on the bridge! For the first time, I'll be able to run across this bridge without emerging wet.

The gravel path on the Marin County
side of the bridge
Running across the bridge's sidewalk was surprisingly quick.  Despite the slight incline to get over the center part of the bridge over the Golden Gate (the strait connecting San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean), I maintained a steady pace under 9 minutes a mile over the bridge's over one mile span. It was a pretty direct straight line too, with only the small diversions around the bridge's two 746 foot tall towers.  The towers also indicated with signage when we crossed from San Francisco into Marin County. When reaching the other side of the bridge, we made our way along the slight incline toward the parking lot at Vista Point.  We crossed a mat here in the parking lot, at what I later found out was the 8.3 mile mark (another random location), crossing in 1:13:52, for an 8:54 pace.  Surprisingly on par for a sub 2 first half! We rounded the restroom buildings and the Lone Sailor statue, before being directed toward the gravel trail that rounded Vista Point from a slightly lower vantage point.  It offered some beautiful unobstructed views of the city from Marin County, though the terrain was a bit uneven and slightly perilous.  We continued along the path underneath the bridge's deck and past its massive piers.  The course then returned us along the asphalted Conzelman Road as we ascended back to the bridge's span level. My 9th mile was slow, pulling in the split at just above 10 minutes.

Climbing uphill on the
California Coastal Trail...
We were guided back to the bridge's sidewalks, this time on the other side, and experienced some tough headwinds as we made our way back into San Francisco.  Still, the straightaway and the relative slightness of the ascent, and managing to gun it down the descent kept me on a fairly steady pace through the 10th and 11th miles, clocking them in at 9:12 and 9:13 on my watch.  Still good!  The runners in the 1st half marathon joined us by this point, having started an hour after our gun at 6:30am, and were halfway through their race.  Their mileage markers, mixed in with ours made for a little confusion.  It was then we hit the hill along the Presidio on the California Coastal Trail.  I took a walk break and spotted a spectator with TWO corgis on the left side of the road and stopped for a quick selfie, learning that their names were Noodles and Lily!  I crossed a 11.3 mile mat in 1:44:11, enough for 9:14 pace, and knew I still had it in me to potentially go under 2 hours for the first half. We reached the highest point of the entire race at 282 feet along Lincoln Boulevard, then began a steep downhill down from the Presidio into the tony neighborhood of Sea Cliff.  I managed some sub-8 minute pace careening down the road, banking a bit more time as I crossed the 12 mile mark at under 9 minute pace. It read only 1:48:34 on my watch -- a sub 2 was definitely in the picture.
Corgi spotting on the Presidio!
Speeding downhill on
Lincoln Boulevard
Lincoln Boulevard turned into El Camino del Mar, before we turned left onto 27th Avenue, beginning the tough ascent through the Richmond District.  It was also here where the first "runner valves" opened and closed, a system of rerouting runners onto alternate streets to keep traffic flowing. Thankfully, I got through this part without having to make the turn which would've cost me "valuable" seconds for keeping my half marathon under the two hour mark.  Eventually, my watch hit the 13 mile mark, passing it in 1:58:27, with the course's 13 mile sign only a matter of seconds later. In my mind, that was just enough to get over the halfway point, where there was a timing mat with seconds to spare before the clock hit 2.  My split time? Just under.  1:59:37.  Only the third time I've ever gone under two hours for 13.1 miles, and my second in two months for the first half of a marathon. I was thrilled.

But of course... there was still another 13.1 miles to go.  I caught my breath, taking a quick walk break, as we continued running southward along 27th Avenue. We turned left onto Fulton Street, right at the northern edge of Golden Gate Park, before curving into the park at Crossover Drive and the Transverse.  At JFK Drive, we turned right, and officially began a little over 5 miles of running through Golden Gate Park, San Francisco's huge urban park that's even larger than New York City's Central Park.  Having run this park before, I knew that its roadways were not as cut and dry as Central Park's were, and it was misleadingly NOT flat. Unfortunately, I also started to feel a slight tinge in my left hamstring, potentially from trying to push too much to hit that sub-2 half. My pace began to slip slightly, and I liberally began to take walk breaks.  Mile 14 was my slowest mile thus far, at 10:35, which included the walk after crossing the mat, but also a pretty steady amount of incline - nearly 106 feet worth. But mile 15 had a nice drop of 114 feet, so I managed just under 9 minutes for that mile.  Feeling strong, I barely even noticed that we ran alongside the park's famous Bison Paddock, a small herd that has been maintained within the park's confines since 1891.  San Francisco Front Runners managed an aid station here, and I gleefully yelled out my thanks to them as I continued on.
Golden Gate Park
We made a sharp left onto Bernice Rodgers Way onto MLK Jr Drive along the park's south end.  Here's where the road started to slightly ascend, and I felt it.  My walk breaks were rather liberal through here, and my pace slipped because of it.  A 10:03 mile 16 followed, and a 12:23 mile 17 (which included a bathroom break).  Rafa and his sister Magda came up right behind me (Rafa greeting me with a well intentioned, but unfortunately timed ass slap, lol) and looked quite strong, as they passed and kept on going. The course zigzagged slightly as it maneuvered itself onto Middle Drive, cutting through the park's center. With the 1st Half Marathoners within a mile of their finish, we heard a lot of "you're almost there!" cheers, which for us marathoners did not help one bit. The course turned left onto Transverse Drive before turning right onto JFK Drive again, right at the intersection where we had essentially entered the park, and after passing underneath Crossover Drive's overpass, they split off to their finish line on the left, while we continued on along the drive in smaller numbers on the right. We also had a timing mat to cross here, which at 17.5 miles in put me at 2:46:20, or 9:31 pace.  Yeah, the last 4.4 miles dragged, but not terribly.

I clocked in another just over 10 minute mile at mile 18, and reached the aid station managed by the San Francisco Road Runners Club (SFRRC).  My friend Lynne is a club ambassador for them and was volunteering by handing out water and electrolytes here; it was really nice to be able to see a familiar face at this point of the race.  At this point, I kicked it into gear; having passed the 4:20 pacers quite early on in the race (even before reaching the bridge), they had caught up -- and knowing they started in a corral ahead of me, I knew I was roughly seven to eight minutes ahead of them in time.  If I kept up with them, that could make me EXTREMELY close to my PR time - possibly ahead of PR pace - and for this hilly course, would be quite impressive for me.  I kept up as best as I can, and though the hills didn't end here, I carried on.  We were routed onto a smaller pathway off of the main road into the park, passing mile 19 as we crossed under the overpass at Kezar Drive.  My watch clocked a 9:41 pace for that mile, a slight improvement, and we had just passed the three hour mark of the race.  We finally exited the park onto Haight Street at the park's eastern end on Stanyan Street and stared at the slight uphill meeting us for the next block. Thankfully, it was shortlived; the road flattened out significantly, and I feel like it was there where I magically picked up my pace. I passed the 4:20 pacers once again.

Running down the Haight
I felt strong as we passed through the district of Haight-Ashbury, continuing on eastward as we passed Buena Vista Park. I spotted the two corgis, Noodles and Lily, once again as I passed Divisadero Street. Though the course continues on through the Lower Haight before turning right onto Buchanan Street, a runner valve had been turned on, directing us right onto Scott Street and left onto Waller Street. We were on another steep drop, and my pace quickened as we continued eastward. Another dogleg down Buchanan Street onto Hermann Street and onto Guerrero Street followed, as we ran into the heart of the Mission District, the cultural nexus and epicenter of San Francisco's Mexican/Chicano, and to a lesser extent, the Bay Area's Nicaraguan, Salvadoran and Guatemalan community.  My 21st mile returned to a 9:11 pace thanks to that downhill, as I continued on through the neighborhood. We turned left onto 16th Street, one of the neighborhood's primary corridors, beating a runner valve that would've had us dogleg through the neighborhood.

Once a largely immigrant neighborhood, the 90s and early 2000s, especially the dot-com boom, brought young urban professionals into the area, as well as a reputation of being artist-friendly. Their movement into the area initiated gentrification, raising rents and housing prices.  In a day and age where those rents continue to go sky-high, the area has become a shell of what it once was.  Running through here early on a Sunday morning still brought about activity, especially near the 16th Street Mission BART station, but you could see how depressed it's become - there's an eerie stillness, nonetheless.

Climbing up Mississippi Street
in Potrero Hill
We continued eastward, with the road starting to go uphill past Harrison Street, so I ran up to that section before walking up the hill.  I threw in some quick spurts of running despite my tiredness, eventually led to turn onto Florida Street as we entered another runner valve, then continued eastward on 17th Street, realizing the crest of the hill came after we passed by Franklin Square.  We continued on past the US-101 overpass, entering the neighborhood of Potrero Hill. Clear in the distance was a massive building, part of the UCSF Medical Center, whose campus was on the other side of I-280, so the building was a good landmark to run toward.  The area became much more industrial before we eventually turned right onto Mississippi Street, then left onto Mariposa Street.  The 4:20 pacers had caught up again by that point, so I pushed myself to continue on as we entered the neighborhood of Dogpatch for the last 3 miles of the race.

Running by the still-in-construction
Chase Center
We passed through a not-very-pretty section of town as we continued southward to the furthest south point of the race, where we turned left onto 22nd Street, where we ran past a more residential area of the neighborhood.  Dogpatch was once a gritty working class area which has experienced some rapid transformation in the last couple decades, and you could easily see that once we made it to 3rd Street, where we turned left.  3rd Street is the neighborhood's main commercial artery and is served by a light rail line.  We ran up to 20th Street, where we turned right, then followed Illinois Street northward, which was undergoing a bit of construction. With two miles left in the race, I began to take a couple more walk breaks as the 4:20 pacers then passed me for the last time. Now in Mission Bay, we then began to run along Terry A Francois Boulevard northward, as we ran past the very busy construction site of the Chase Center, the arena where the NBA's Golden State Warriors will make their home in the upcoming season.  The arena looks very nearly done, but there was quite a bit of activity with workers onsite as we ran past.
Mile 25!
The Bay Bridge in the distance
marks the finish line!
The final 1.5 miles had us running straight north toward Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants baseball team.  Known as AT&T Park from 2006 to 2019, thankfully there was no game occurring that day unlike in 2016, when I was having to run past hordes of Giants fans soujourning toward a game.  There was a fair bit of construction around here, too, as we passed the 25 mile mark of the race.  We turned right onto the Third Street Bridge, then followed the promenade adjacent to the baseball stadium and McCovey Cove, before running on the pathway alongside South Beach Harbor. We then joined back onto the asphalt onto the Embarcadero with the Bay Bridge in the distance. Only a couple blocks after the bridge was the finish line, and while my PR time passed by in the last few hundred meters of the race, I was thrilled with potentially finishing well under my 4:30 goal.  Eventually, I crossed the finish line in 4:15:30, enough to make this hilly course (with a whopping 1,175 feet of elevation gain) my second fastest lifetime marathon.  It's only 4 1/2 minutes off of my PR from a flat course. More than that, I had beat my times from 2016 considerably... my speedy run took off almost 79 minutes from my fastest San Francisco Marathon.
Can't believe I sub-2'd at the halfway point of this hilly race!
It felt like the heat had turned up bigtime in the last few miles of the race, but in reality, it was only seven degrees warmer than the start. I grabbed some of the post-race treats offered, gobbling up two of the Dole fruit cups quickly.  I got my medal, and proudly walked down the street, making my way past the end of the finish line chute.  I beelined over to the Hyatt, and went up to get my bag.  Only two other people were in the room when I arrived; obviously many of the runners were still out on the course.  One of those runners was Lisa, who ended up being the female winner of the ultra; turns out, she was running the ultra for the second time, the last time being the year I ran it! After catching my breath, I headed back out and found Rafa and Magda in the beer garden; they had only finished about thirteen minutes ahead of me in the grand scheme of things.  But it was enough to be a massive PR for Magda, by something like 20 minutes!  We enjoyed each others company for a little while before walking back to their hotel, where we met up with Tom, who finished his blazing fast race in just over three hours.

With Tom and Rafa
After using their place to get rinsed off, we headed down the street to get a late lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant, then grabbed an Uber to take us back to Crissy Field and the area where we could get some prime "finisher" photos with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.  The fog had started to roll in by then, so parts of the bridge were enveloped in fog, but it made for a beautiful effect in our photos.  I had my headstand photo taken here, in what is probably one of my most favorite headstand photos to date.  We took a group photo out on Torpedo Wharf, which was incredibly windy, then threw clothes back on before we grabbed another Uber to take us back downtown.  The rest of the group made a stop at Fisherman's Wharf, which was insanely busy at this time of day, a total 180 from how it was when we ran past earlier that morning.
With my European friends, for an optimal Golden Gate photo op!
Victory Headstand!
I ended up heading back to Febry and Leo's where I rested my feet for a little while until they got back from lunch.  I left at around 7pm, heading to the Montgomery BART Station to meet up with my friend Alex, who was on the same flight as me headed back to JFK that night.  We enjoyed one last meal at the airport before boarding our flight, where we both zonked out for most of the six hour redeye back.  Groggily, I made my way to my office after landing, and slept for another hour and a half before beginning my Monday at work!