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Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon

There are some great half marathon events in the Bay Area, but this one has quickly become one of my favorites.  I ran this race last year for the first time without paying much attention to the course or my time. I didn’t even realize the elevation was a net down–not at all what you would expect for a race in hilly San Francisco.  I nearly ran a PR without even trying.  And it was cold, wet and windy last year.  I said I would try and run a PR the next year, and that’s exactly what I did today.

great-highway2Ocean Beach and the Great Highway

This RRCA Western Region Half Marathon Championship certified 13.1 mile course is ranked as one of the most scenic in the country by Runner’s World. It starts on John F. Kennedy Drive at Stow Lake Drive in Golden Gate Park and finishes on Martin Luther King Drive near the Great Highway.  The half marathon and 5K start at the same time, but there’s no log jam at the start since the road is plenty wide.  The race announcer said there were over 10,000 runners today, but there were less than 6,000 who finished the half marathon.  Still, that’s a lot of people coming out on SuperBowl Sunday to run a foot race.  For many like me, it helps justify eating fistfulls of football munchies later in the day.

I like uncovering a bit of the local history around the races and places.  Here’s a fairly useless piece of trivia.  The name Kaiser Permanente comes from Henry Kaiser, a successful international contractor based in Oakland, who in 1938, began planning construction of the Grand Coulee Dam.  The name Permanente was picked by Henry’s first wife, Bess, because of her love of Permanente Creek that flows year round on the San Francisco peninsula. 

dutch-windmill2The more interesting bit has to do with the old Dutch Windmill near the finish line in Golden Gate Park.  I didn’t even know it existed until I saw it at this race last year.  Last year’s cool finisher’s medal incorporated the windmill in its design.  The Dutch Windmill was completed in 1902 when the San Francisco coast was lined with sand dunes.  Wells were drilled along the coast as early as 1873, identifying enough of a fresh water source to irrigate the land.  The windmill was built as an alternative water supply for what later became Golden Gate Park.

I also like to know where my entry fee goes.  A portion of each entry fee for this race benefits three community organizations:

  • The Harbor Light Center for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse
  • Support for Families of Children with Disabilities
  • Koret Family House


 Golden Gate Park

Now on to the race.  I felt confident after running a 10-mile PR last weekend and setting a PR at the National Postal One Hour Swim just three days ago.  But I also knew I would need a really superb effort to run a PR at this distance.  It was 45 degrees and sunny at the start with little wind today–absolutely perfect racing conditions.  I like the disposable chip timer that came in the mail with my race bib.  No checking in required on race day and no chip removal at the finish.  I wore a 1:37 pace band (7:24 pace), hoping to take over a minute off my previous PR.

I took the first mile at 7:22 pace, but knew if I was feeling good I should try to take the first half a bit faster than planned, since the first half is mostly downhill.  I clicked off the next several miles under my planned pace and was feeling good, so I just kept at it.  The more time I could cut in the first half, the more of a buffer I would have to negotiate the second half, which is entirely flat. 

At the halfway point, I was 1:50 under my goal pace and feeling solid.  I wasn’t expecting to be that far ahead of my plan, but now that I had six miles in the bank, I was determined to keep things on track.  Once I was out on the Great Highway I knew how easy it is to slow down on the flats, so I tried to stay at my planned 7:24 pace or better.  By mile 9, I knew my PR was in the bag as long as I didn’t blow up.  Then I passed a guy who seemed to have collapsed on the course.  He looked about my age and in  good shape.  He had several people helping him, but I reminded myself that could be me if I didn’t keep my eye on the ball.  With 2 – 3 miles to go and my PR well in hand (or foot) I just enjoyed the moment.  A PR at the half marathon and marathon distance is a fine accomplishment.  I finished in 1:36:21 (7:21 pace), taking exactly two minutes off my old PR.

The big disappointment this year was the surprise of crossing the finish line and not receiving a finisher’s medal.  Last year, they had quite a fine looking medal awarded as you crossed the finish line.  It’s the first half marathon I have run that ended with no hardware.  I also know many runners complain about the parking for this event, largely because it is a point to point race.  There really is no good solution.  Some people try to park near the start while others try to park somewhere in the middle.  I chose to park near the finish and take the bus shuttles to the start line, but you need to get up at the butt crack of dawn like I did to get there early enough for a decent parking spot.  I’ve come to appreciate the many races in San Francisco where good parking is as hard to find as a good Republican.


2 Responses

  1. Hello from Wexford Ireland, I enjoyed the article. Very Good.

    • Hi Tyson! Thanks for your note. I hope to be able to do some fell running in Ireland some day. You guys are fearless!

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