The San Francisco Marathon: My First 26.2

SF marathon elle curtin penner

It’s not every day you get to check something off your bucket list. Entire years have passed without crossing anything off of mine––but after nearly 120 days of training, 15 long runs totaling 199 miles and dozens upon dozens of carbohydrate-heavy meals later, I can officially say I’ve checked running a full marathon off of my bucket list!

I know this recap is long overdue, so let’s get right to it, shall we?


If you’ve ever known a marathoner, or have run one yourself, you know a marathon rarely happens without at least a little bit of pre-race drama. Well, about 30 minutes after posting my 3-day countdown post last Thursday afternoon, I pulled my right calf on an easy shake-out run.

It happened so fast at first I pretended it didn’t happen at all. With a quarter-mile to go I hobbled home, stretched, foam rolled and tried not to think about it. That actually worked pretty well until I stood up to get out of bed on Friday morning.


I spent the rest of Friday in a silent panic which ended in a mini-meltdown later that night. All I could think was, “After all that training…”

Thankfully, 24 hours of rest, ice, compression and elevation had me feeling a bit better on Saturday. Not perfect by any means but good enough to give it a shot.


Miles 1-4: I’ll be honest––I spent the first mile waiting my calf to give out completely. Thankfully that didn’t happen, and eventually my focus redirected from my right leg to the beautiful views and the excitement around me. By Mile 4 I had settled in to my run. Things were looking up.

Mile 5: No really, things were literally looking up. Mile 5 marked the start of the massive uphill to the Golden Gate Bridge… And unfortunately, my calf made sure I felt every step. Despite the discomfort, I pressed on and remained focused on just making it to the top.  For a few minutes I thought it might be the beginning of the end but, as soon as I made it to the top and the hills leveled out a bit, I suddenly didn’t feel anything anymore. Not a twinge. Nothing.

By some small miracle, my calf never bothered me again for the rest of the race. WOOT!

Miles 6-17: This part of the course brought me across the Golden Gate Bridge (and back), through Park Presidio, the Richmond and then through the winding paths of Golden Gate Park. Holy rolling hills, but much to my surprise, I felt strong! The hubs greeted me in the park at Mile 15 with a big smile and encouraging words. He followed me by bike from that point on, snapping photos and cheering me along every few miles for the rest of the race.

Miles 18-22: Mile 18 is where things started to get tough. I tried to enjoy the long downhill from Golden Gate Park into Haight Ashbury but by that time my quads were shot, the sun was out in full force and I could feel my body temp inching up slowly. The rolling hills continued and the water stations seemed sparse, neither of which helped my dropping energy levels.

So, when things started getting really tough around Mile 21 I did what any girl would do––I texted my girlfriends who were tracking me along the way. Their replies:

OMG. Texting from the marathon. Bad ass! Keep goingggggggggg ––Katie


Just think about how great your bum is going to look after this race thanks to all those hills.    ––Libby


Start deciding what you want for brunch. ––Anne


You’ve made it through the hardest part (the middle miles) too! … Also, keep planning your cartwheel across the finish line. :) Go girl!!!!!!! ––Lauren

And thanks to those girls, I trudged on.

Miles 22-26.2: Man-oh-man. If you look at my splits, it’s obvious this is where things got rough. The sun was taking its toll, not just on me but other runners too. I counted three people down in the span of one mile and, at one point, prayed I wasn’t the next one to crash into the cement.

Mile after mile though, the hubs was there to cheer me on, the inspirational texts kept coming in and before I knew it I was stepping across the finish line!

Total Time: 4:13:23 // Average Pace: 9:39/mile // Elevation Gain: 1,450 feet


For efficiency, I’ll just sum up the 30 seconds of emotions that ensued after crossing the finish line:

Wait, I finished? I finished!!! !!! !!! Um, that was hard. But, holy sh*t! I did it!!! Gah, I forgot to stop my watch. Husband! Nope, you’re definitely not my husband. She better not try to give me a Half Marathon medal. God this thing is heavy. Full Marathon medal, check! Wait, is that…. milk? Nope, it’s water. In a box. WATER!!! Wait so, that’s it? It’s over? Um, I can’t possibly be sad about that. Did someone just say ‘beer’?


So, I spent the rest of Sunday pretty much endorphin-wasted. If you’ve never experienced this level of “runner’s high”––you must because it’s absolutely hysterical. After a long shower and an even longer nap, the boys took Erin and I out for Mex & margs to celebrate.

I’ve been living in high waisted skinny pants since Sunday because, well, they feel amazing. Kind of like a compression sock for my whole lower body. Monday was slow going and going up and down stairs was absolutely dreadful. But after a few days of rest with some light walking mixed in, I’m feeling about 90% recovered at this point. I haven’t felt up to running yet but I’m getting there and am most looking forward to adding strength workouts back into my routine!


How’d it go? Awesome. I loved it. Training was tough, but the race itself was completely amazing. I’m now more in love with running than I ever have been before.

Would I ever do it again? I promised my mom I wouldn’t… but… Well, let’s just leave it at that.

finish line shot

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  • Hi! I came across your blog looking for SF Marathon. This is my first one I’m signed up for, too. I have about a month and a half left to train. Are there any tips you could suggest to include in my training to get me more prepared for this one? Thanks!

  • Hey there! I came across your blog when I typed in “San Francisco First Marathon” to see if there were any others who chose this as their first marathon. I’m debating having this be my first full (I’ve ran about ten halfs), but the thought of all the hills has me worried. What were your thoughts on having this be your first full? Would you recommend choosing a flatter course? I just love SF so much and would love to run the entire course and not just the first half of it. I would love to get your perspective if you have time. :)

    • If you’re not going for time and can incorporate both gradual and steeper hills into your training I think it’d make a great first marathon! There’s so much to look at, especially the first half. It’s a great way to see a lot of the city! If you’re going for time though there are definitely better, faster courses. I personally found the hills to be a good excuse not to care about time though!

      • Awesome! Thank you so much! Yes, I definitely would not be worried about time at all. :) I would happy to finish in sub 5 hours, so I am super impressed with your time. Thank you for your perspective. I really appreciate it!

  • Good job and good time! The first marathon is tough and SF is a hard one, from the sounds of it! The worst part of my first was the last 6 miles when, suddenly, there were hills, rain, and my quads started to seize up on me. No good! But, finishing, regardless of how, is a great feat! Good job!

  • Way to go Elle! Congratulations! also kudos to Rob for being at more than one spot on the course to cheer you on. What a team!

  • Congratulations!
    This is amaizng! I love your race and running recaps.
    I can’t imagine the feeling you must have had crossing the finish line – and I’m so glad that the calf stopped causing you trouble!

  • That’s pretty awesome!! I ran this race too but I came a little later than you. This was my 2nd time running this marathon and love love it. I can relate to all your experiences and feelings. The day after the marathon I began to plan the rest of my runs for the year!! Congrats on your achievement!!

  • Congrats!! Seems like an amazing but difficult course, way to stay strong the whole way through :) I think your post race thoughts sum up alot of my usual post race thoughts. AWESOME job!

  • Whooo-hooo! Congratulations! There is nothing that compares to the first marathon :) Thankfully you were smart in the days leading up to fix your calf and you were tough throughout the race to keep going. Great work!

  • Congrats!!!! You made that look easy girl! I’m in trainings for my first marathon now! Haven’t rached any distances get over my half marathon longest to date. This was great encouragement! I laughed at your last comment about your mom. I promised my mom the same! She worries:)

  • I LOVE that you were texting to get you through! Hearing that from my friends would kick me going too. I’m a sucker for technology and cardio! Congrats!!

  • I can’t wait until the day I finish a marathon! I’m sure my mind will be buzzing like yours was. God must have blessed that leg of yours because I would’ve been in full panic mode the whole time during the race but looks like you did fine in the end!

  • HUGE congrats, Elle! Well done for pushing through, staying positive, and getting over all those hills! I’ve heard the SF marathon is a really rolly one, and you DID IT! My feelings after my first marathon were similar to yours. It took a long time for it to sink in that I’d actually finished. Happy recovering, and enjoy your compression body sock! :)

  • Congrats, Elle!! Your 30 second race finish thoughts are making me LOL :) I’m sure you had so many emotions running over you that you weren’t sure what to think! And how can you look so amazing in your post-race photo?! I can only hope to run as well as you in the Chicago this fall.

  • Every time I talk about marathons, my Mom reminds me about after my first marathon when I told her “don’t ever let me do that again.” Of course, I don’t remember that, or at least I pretend not to.

    Congrats – great job!

  • CONGRAULATIONS!! I felt so happy after my 5 mile race, I can only imagine the euphoria that settles in once you’ve accomplished something like a full marathon! Go buy yourself something pretty, you deserve it!

  • So incredible! Congratulations on that accomplishment. Your time was really good too, you should be so proud! Can’t wait to finally meet you this week at the Class Pass event. Hope your legs are ready for Barry’s!

  • Woop!!!! I did NYC this past November and when you said, “I tried to enjoy the long down hill” I thought, “NOPE!!!” I remember that feeling too too well at mile 23 entering Central Park. You did it!!! Congrats!!

  • CONGRATS marathoner! The middle miles ARE the worst and SF is a TOUGH course! My first full was CIM – a very, very flat course. Congratulations! Also – treat yourself to a massage at International Orange. SO worth it!

  • Congrats!!! I can’t even imagine running a full marathon, but the race sounds amazing. Kudos to your hubby and girlfriends for all the cheering and encouragement – it helps so much. I love Anne’s text – thinking about brunch would definitely pull me through. :)

  • Marathoner extraordinaire! Congrats! Love the recap and love you!!! PS- I also texted during the NYC marathon and it was awesome. There, I said it :)