Racing the Golden Gate

The good thing about running a race “in your backyard” is that you know exactly what’s coming. The bad thing about running a race in your backyard is that you know exactly what’s coming…

This weekend I raced the Emerald Nuts Across the Bay 12k – a challenging run starting north of the Golden Gate Bridge, snaking up a windy road from sea level to cross the bridge, charging back down the other side, following the San Francisco Bay and finishing with one last steep incline and steeper decline before arriving at Aquatic Park by Ghirardelli Square. It’s a fun course if you like hills, like San Francisco or want an excuse to run on the west side of the Golden Gate Bridge (typically reserved for cyclists). But because of said hills, it can be challenging to assess how well you are doing.  And then ironically, the 3 mile stretch of flats can be the hardest part mentally… even if you run that stretch virtually every single morning.

I ran from my house to aquatic and hopped on one of the first buses to the start. I’m always somewhat amused seeing a school bus filled with adults. We headed across the Golden Gate Bridge just before sunrise and proceed to the still empty starting area (we arrived early). After catching up with lots of friends, a short warm up and dropping off my bags, it’s already time to head to the start.  As I’m arrived, the announcer started asking how many people have run this 20 times, 10 times… and it occurs to me that this will be my 5th time running this race! That’s certainly the first time I’ve done FIVE of any one race.

The course started off with perfect weather – a light haze blocking the sun, the temps were cool but not cold and there was hardly any wind. San Francisco really does have some ideal running conditions! I was stuck in the crowd for the first mile, running a tad slower than I’d liked but it’s better than my typical going-out-too-fast habit. Mile 2 found us at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge and either due to an unfounded confidence or a familiarity with (and secret liking for) this killer hill, I charged up at a pretty decent pace – a full 30 seconds faster than last year. I caught my breath once we reached the summit and then began climbing the smaller incline over the arch of the Golden Gate Bridge. I have to admit, I run the bridge about twice a month and it never grows old – I feel like a kid in awe of the landscape every time. The cliffs on the west side of San Francisco hanging against the backdrop of the ocean are simply breathtaking. Unlike the San Francisco Marathon, we only head in one direction across the bridge (and on the sidewalk) so I try to take it in while I can.

We headed off of the bridge with a hairpin turn and began flying down the bicycle path. It amazes me how I can always seem to pass people on the uphills, but they pass me with ease on the downhills. Oh well, I focus on my form and trying to keep up. A few more turns and we are on the 3 mile flat section. I know this part like the back of my hand and it’s hard mentally to stay consistent knowing how far away Fort Mason still is. But I see a friend ahead of me and focus on trying to catch up to her. After a few miles, we hit our last hill and I realized I’ve shortened the gap between us a bit. I pushed up the hill but it seemed longer than I remember. My friend might be hard to catch but there was another girl between us that I aimed to catch. I pushed over the crest of the hill, sped up my turnover and started cruising down the other side. This downhill was too steep for my liking, but soon it was over and I rounded the final turn, sprinting with everything I had left, just barely missing my friend by a second.

This was my final tune up race for the upcoming Boston Marathon. It was a fun race with some good challenging hills, although I did miss a few of my race goals despite all the great conditions. After the race, I downed my usual recovery drink, did a short cool down run and had a nice brunch with a few other sweaty runners at an outdoor café to enjoy the gorgeous weather. So Sunday consisted of seeing the sunrise, racing over the Golden Gate and chilling in the sunshine over brunch with friends – all without ever turning on my car. Not a bad sport we have here, huh?

Love the run.

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