Easily one of the most daunting things about the San Francisco Marathon is the elevation. The city itself is right on the ocean but the hills there are vast and famous. All along, when imagining the course I've pictured one gigantic hill.
But that's not really what the hills are like. Are they?
Well, the San Francisco Marathon Web site has an elevation chart that gives you an idea of what the hills are like.
Miles 1-10.5: The first five miles are relatively flat, except for one big hill after 2.5 miles. After five miles, there is a steady incline, the first large sustained incline of the race. It goes on for about 1.5 miles and is about a 200-foot climb in total.
Mile 9.5 to 10.5 is interesting. You go up 150 feet in a half-mile but then descend the same elevation in the same distance.
Miles 10.5-21: So the last decline from the previous section doesn't stop at 10.5. You get back down to sea level almost by the time you get through 11 miles. But then there is a steady climb that lasts 1.5 miles and is almost 200 feet. That's followed by a steady decline (1.5 miles or so) but then is what looks like the toughest incline of the race. For about 2.5 miles, the elevation climbs about 250 feet and then stays level until you get through 20 miles. Then, for crossing 20 miles, you are rewarded with another decline, which looks kinda sharp.
Miles 21-26.2: Hello hill reprieve. The final five miles might be hellish but the course itself isn't. This could qualify as a 5-mile Fun Run if it weren't preceded by 21 miles.
So, all this info is great and all but how do you quantify 100 feet, 200 feet or 300 feet?
I mapped some courses that I usually run or have run before, to compare their elevation to San Francisco.
This one is right by my house. I lovingly call it The Hill. I just mapped it one way though I usually run over it and back (duh, right? I mean, how else would I get home?). One way, the climb is almost 1.5 miles and it's about 250 feet. I love this run. It's challenging and I always get it done. The way back is also steep, but shorter distance.
This is my beloved Mt. Rubidoux. The elevation there looks like it's about a 300-foot climb in roughly two miles. I love this run too because it's also a challenge, although I've realized that this does a number on my Achilles heel so I've run it sparingly since May.
Since I've handled The Hill and Mt. Rubidoux just fine - well, without any major complications save for the heel thing - I have faith that the hills might not be as tough as I've pictured them.
And remember, my half-marathon PR of 1:56:58 was on a hilly course.
I don't expect a PR at San Francisco necessarily - I will blog about my goals here in the next day or two - but I have proven that I can handle the hills before.