By Rich Berson and Rachelle Barbour
For the past 7 years we’ve been going to SF every July to split the two halves of the SF
marathon. It’s the perfect race for two running parents who both want to run. At other events we
have to flip over who gets to race, but in SF the two half marathons are independent: One starts
very early in the morning with the full marathon; the other starts at around 8:00 near the halfway
point of the marathon, about a mile from the first marathon finish. Rich has always done the first
half before this year – he’s faster, gets an earlier wave start, and thus gives us more time to high
five and trade kids. However, this year Rachelle started first. This also means that this year we
both got really cool spinner medals. The SF marathon has a special deal – if you do one half one
year, and the other the next year you get a Half It All medal. If you do the marathon the
following year, you get a special hoodie. So guess what we’re doing next year . . .
Overall, the race is really great. You can’t beat 50 degree temps in July! Everything is very well
organized. It’s a pretty crowded race, in part because it goes through some narrow areas.
There’s not much of a spectator presence though. All the swag is great.
Rachelle: My wave started at around 5:40. They start you early so that they can get everyone on
and off the Golden Gate Bridge and reopen the lanes to cars. The marathon and first half start at
the Embarcadero just south of the ferry building. Each wave is in a different corral encircled by a
chain link fence. I knew from Rich that once I got in, I’d be stuck – and there are no portapotties
The first couple miles are flat and relatively fast, only slowed down by the runners getting
themselves sorted out. The hills in this half are more extreme. OK, the hills killed me: like most
Sacramento runners, I don’t train on hills, so I pass people on the flats and get passed by them on
the hills. Nonetheless, this half is much more beautiful than the second half. It was great
running along Chrissy Field in the breeze and fog. Running across the bridge was amazing, even
though the lanes were pretty narrow and crowded. I started looking for fellow Chips on the out
and back part on the bridge, and got to cheer on Chris Malenab who was running the marathon.
The bridge had that fog that just lays right across the road bed. It was magical. The water stop
on the Marin side was mile 8 – they had lots of Gu and good support. Once across the bridge, I
hit the huge Presidio hill. I was ready for it mentally, if not physically. At least I’d gone quickly
enough on the flats that my overall pace was consistent with other half-marathons I’ve run. After
a bunch of rollers, I was thrilled to turn away from the marathon course and head into the finish
line in Golden Gate Park. Rich was there waiting and cheering for me.
I picked up my special spinner medal, got lots of food to go, had two gulps of Irish coffee (yes,
there is an Irish coffee bar at the finish), and wished Rich luck as I headed back to the car. I had
plans: go back to our friends’ house, get showered, and take the kids out to the course in time to
see Rich in the Lower Haight and then at the finish. I was thrilled not only to see Rich, but to get
to cheer on Kendra and John Bridges in the full, and my training partner (who qualified for
Boston!) We then grabbed Muni and saw Rich finish. It’s a great race for spectators since it’s a
big loop, and it was a thrill to get to run, get cleaned up, and get to cheer as well. This fantastic,
fun race is on our calendar year after year. Mark your calendars: next year they’re having it 6
weeks early – in June, to avoid America’s Cup.
Rich: My day in San Francisco was not just a half marathon, it was a duathlon – driving was the
first event, then running was the second. I started the day at about 4:30 by driving Rachelle to
her start – cruising down Market Street in the taxi only lane and hoping not to get a ticket for my
efforts to be a fast chauffeur. After I dropped her off, I drove back to our friends’ house (where
we were staying while they were out of town!) Then I lay down for a bit, followed tradition by
going to the bathroom many times, ate some toast, and proudly donned my Chips gear. Then I
drove over to the park to watch Rachelle finish.
In the park, I hit the porta-pottie, bundled up in a Mylar blanket, and waited for Rachelle in fog
so thick it was more like rain. I saw her Chips singlet sprinting to the line and cheered
frantically. After she finished, we did a few fist bumps, kissed a couple times, and I escorted her
to the Irish coffee station. Then I jogged to my start by the buffalo pen about a mile away.
Once I got to the start, I huddled under a heat lamp for a while. After the speedy first wave took
off, we were herded like buffalo up to the start, and then we were off. The beginning of the race
was downhill toward the ocean, then we turned around and headed uphill to Stow Lake. I
avoided the angry, aggressive, annoying geese on Stow Lake, along with the angry, aggressive,
annoying 1:40 pace group. Then it was downhill from Stow Lake, where I put some distance on
the pace group out of sheer frustration.
We wound through the park and ended up on Haight Street. I reluctantly passed up the beer aid
station and cruised through the Haight. I’m pretty sure I passed (again reluctantly) a weed aid
station at about mile six. After going through the upper Haight, I got a nice downhill into the
lower Haight. Waiting for me there were the three most awesome Chips I know – Rachelle,
Soleil, and Luka. They cheered, I grunted. They waved, I threw them a sweaty long sleeve shirt I
had tied around my waist.
After the adrenaline rush of seeing the family, I picked up the pace a bit. There’s a huge
downhill after the lower Haight, so I barreled down it as fast as my legs would carry me. The
next neighborhood we got to tour was the Mission. I was tempted by the sweet smell of carnitas
(even though I’m usually vegetarian), but my willpower was strong enough that I didn’t stop for a
taco. Usually the BART Station at Mission and 16 th features drug dealers of all shapes and sizes,
but since this was race day, there were instead just cheering fans.
After passing through the Mission, there are some rolling hills in Potrero Hill, so I limped up the
uphills and kamikazied down the downhills. The race then hits Dogpatch, a neighborhood that
didn’t exist when we lived in the city 15 years ago. There were ultra hip artist types cheering,
and a restaurant that promised free beignets all day to racers. (I still regret that we didn’t go take
them up on the offer.)
After Dogpatch is the home stretch. I picked up the pace along the flat last two miles. The
Giants’ stadium is in the background during that stretch, and the Bay Bridge continually looks
just a few feet away. I busted along the back side of the ballpark, jumping a curb along the way.
Then I saw the finish, heard and then saw the family again, and sprinted with an ugly grimace to
After I finished (in a time I was happy with), I met up with Rachelle and the kids, and we walked
the treat alley. I grabbed a banana and a scone. Then I got some Jamba Juice, which the kids
mooched after I had just a drop. I scored the kids some chocolate milk, and they somehow ended
up with a giant bag of Pirate Booty. We all got bags of mixed nuts and washed them down with
coconut water. In other words, come for the race, but stay for the buffet!
We wiped the crumbs off our faces and then went to get my cool Half It All medal. It spins!
Golden Gate Bridge on one side, the painted Victorians of the Haight on the other. Then we took
Muni to our home base, had a quick shower, and then went to Chinatown to gorge on dim sum.
We both love this race. It’s so nice to get the cold and fog during a sweltering Sacramento
summer. It’s fun and exciting to get a tour of San Francisco. This was the first time I did the
second half, after a bunch of years doing the first half. The first half is more beautiful, but the
second half is more flat. So you can decide which you care more about when you join us next
year. Or don’t choose, and just do it the full!
Next year, for the special hoodie, we’ll both be doing the full. (And, yes, Chris Malenab, we
know it isn’t fair that we get a cool spinning medal and a hoodie for two halves plus a full when
all you get for doing three fulls is feet covered with blisters.) We could use a babysitter, so get in
touch if you want to volunteer. Otherwise, we hope to see you on the race course.