San Francisco Marathon – A Personal Worst

Runners like to talk about their “personal best” times.  I ran the San Francisco Marathon on Sunday July 29 and turned in my personal worst – 5:14:20.

Now – before you say “5:14:20 – that’s barely running”, remember that I ran 26.2 miles.  I ran the entire way only taking short breaks (usually 15 – 30 seconds) at the water stops to make sure I slurped down enough liquids.  My personal best is 4:05 and my typical time is around 5:00, so it’s not that bad, but it was a painful marathon.

A few things conspired to reduce me to the “marathon shuffle” for the last eight miles (vs. the usual four to five at the end.)  First, I wasn’t planning on running this marathon.  My friend Katherine McIntyre had been training for it and two weeks ago I put together a solid 14 mile trail run and a solid 10 mile run back to back and decided to tag along and be her running buddy (e.g. “I promise you’ll be able to beat me.”  My next planned marathon was in October, so this was more of a fantasy excursion for the weekend (if you define fantasy as running for five hours and then limping around the rest of the day.)

Next up – the Golden Gate bridge.  I’ve driven across the Golden Gate bridge but I’ve never run it.  It sucked – cold, foggy, rainy, crowded, and lots of noisy smelly cars.  At the turn around at Vista Point (around 7 miles) I just wanted “off the damn bridge.”  I did miles 1 – 7 at an 11:30 pace (my goal was 5 hours so this was right on pace.)  I cruised through the half marathon point at a 11:00 average pace.  That means I did miles 8 – 13 at a sub 10:30 pace.  Way too fast for a five hour marathon. 

Here’s a picture of me just before I blew up at mile 18 – somewhere in the Haight (thanks to my friend Ben Casnocha who had to run out on the course to get my attention.)  I look a little tired but pretty good.  By the time I got to Divisadero I felt like I’d been run over by a steamroller.


Last problem – the day before routine. 


That would be the Harry Potter 5 / Live Free or Die Hard double feature at the AMC Van Ness.  While I spent much of the day sitting on my ass like you are supposed to, I ate like crap during the day.  Stupid.

It was a difficult marathon in all respects.  I’m not alone – some of the other stories coming back are similar.  I think this is one that seduces you with the flat start and downhill segment between 7 and 13 and then destroys you on the back half.  Oh well – it counts – at least that’s another one down.  Nine down, 41 to go.

  • Brad – finishing is what counts, not the time. This will make your next marathon seem like a piece of cake!

  • If you’re going to go to a double feature before a marathon, you gotta keep the blood out of the legs… bring a pillow or something!!

  • I’ve never had the guts to do anything longer than the Gate River Run in Jacksonville, FL (15k). Kudos for taking the plunge and running with a friend, even if it wasn’t great – it’ll make the rest seem even better!

  • Good work getting through it on short notice!

    The Golden Gate Bridge really is much better from a distance. I live in SF, ride my bike across it 3x per week and it’s almost always windy, noisy, congested and unpleasant.

    Note of correction, though: it wasn’t rain. Just really thick fog, the San Francisco treat!

  • While it may be a personal worst, it is still impressive for you to have done a marathon without your normal prep going into it. Also, I’m sure that most people would have a hard time doing 26.2 miles in 12 hours, let alone 5. Plus, like Heather said, this will make the other ones seem like a piece of cake.

  • Martha

    Not sure if the picture that Ben took shows you happy or just in that “what the hell was I thinking” state…. but yeah, you’re right, you still look pretty good!!

  • Baldwyn

    Ah, misery does love company, thanks for the link to my report! 🙂 I knew SFM wasn’t the easiest marathon I could pick for my first, but since my running career started with a half at it two years ago, it was an appropriate. Good luck in October, and congrats on this one!

  • Even though the time may not have been your best, congrats on finishing. I do wonder, however, what might be even more important – What did you think of the latest Harry Potter and John McClane movies?!? Good luck on your October run!

  • Die Hard kicked Harry Potter’s ass.

  • If it were always easy, what would be the point of the goal? Congrats for finishing what surely must have been quite the mental battle.


  • Michael Beirne

    Hi Brad, try training for your next race with a camelbak on then running gameday without… come race day, the missing 10 lbs helped me run the marine corps marathon in 32 min less time (4:08) then on my training run…. and 6 months after my ACL surgery, no less!

    PS, don’t be too hard on yourself, I ran my first marathon after a hefty halloween night of drinking.. I think I beat you on the stupid points there!

    PPS, they definitely screwed up this HP movie!
    -Mike Beirne

  • Deb Miller

    Remember, this wasn’t your goal race, think of it as a training run. You just picked a really hard training run — really hard. I did a half over the Golden Gate Bridge several years ago. The weather was beautiful, but even so, the down off the bridge and back up is enough to destroy your legs.

    You did great! The mom in me says “make sure you recover”. Good luck in October.

  • Ed

    Hey Brad,

    Nice job to finish SF. I wouldn’t sweat your time, given the course difficulty and your race prep. Race organizers have tweaked the route over the last ten years. SF isn’t as conducive to a good race time as some other great city marathons (Seattle, Vancouver are awesome city courses! and others that I have not run, but heard great things such as DC, Austin, Chicago and Portland). Still, SF seems like a great race (scenery, crowd, etc) and hopefully you don’t have any regrets.

    I laud your broader goal of finishing 50 marathons before you are 50. It’s courageous to set (and execute) a life goal that stretches you like that. Keep up the great effort and good luck training for your marathon in October.


  • Florian

    Hi Brad,

    don’t worry about the time! The most important is, that you did run the marathon. A good marathon to improve you personal best time is the Berlin Marathon in Germany. So if you run in Berlin -let me know!

  • This one was also tough for me– I ran the half and have done it and the whole SF marathon before, this time training only part-time and boy was I was schooled on exactly how much that part I didn’t do cost me! However, finished within a few minutes of my PB and glad I done it 🙂

  • Brad Matthews

    Hi Brad,

    We have alot in common besides the name. I ran SFM and it was my 28th state. I am 45 so I won’t make 50 by 50. I ran Grandma’s marathon in Minnesota 6 weeks before SFM and had not run since due to injuries to both achilles tendons and a hernia. I prepared for SFM by staying up all night at the airport gate in Minnesota due to a cancelled flight and then spent marathon eve drinking too much beer at the Giants game. I thought as long as I am already injured I might as well have some fun. By mile 5 entering the bridge every stride hurt so it was a long day. I finished in 5:53 and thought about dropping at several points in the race. My personal best is a 3:15 in St. Louis 3 years ago and SFM was a personal worst. Oh well, 26.2 miles is 26.2 miles regardless of the time. Congratulations on your finish.

    Brad Matthews

  • I'm sorry about this result. I am running this years' SFM and am looking for inspiration. Hopefully this will inspire me to work even harder!