Red Skies at Night – RNR San Francisco 2017

There’s something to be said about home town races. It’s even better if you have two of them.

I finished work early on Friday for Rock n Roll San Francisco weekend. I swiped my Clipper card at the Pleasanton Bart station and set off to the city. This was our first 5-year Legacy for any race. I always stand on the train out of habit, even though there were tons of open seats. Coming up from the stairs at the north end of the Embarcadero Station I felt the cool drizzle of a San Francisco spring. The Rock n Roll rain jacket was just what I needed.

On the way to the expo, I ran into one of my marathon heroes, Tony “Endorphin Dude” Nguyen. He was in his last few weeks of training before American River 50. I also saw Audrey, a former coworker. She was doing an half Ironman two weeks later. California life means you run into people you know in the middle of a big city doing healthy stuff like that.


This year the expo was at Pier 35 instead of Moscone and the longshore feel was a nice change of pace. I picked up my bib and the Legacy Runner swag – a vanity bib and a disposable shopping bag. I guess that goes with the environmental mindset of the area, but seeing the same bags hanging up for purchase for $2 at the expo was a little disappointing. We’ve been TourPass holders since 2011, and we haven’t spent that much on race entries, so we’ll look forward to a 10-year Legacy in 2022, assuming we last that long.

We had a few more additions to the Rock n Roll Peanut Gallery. We were especially happy to give Ann two pairs of matching socks (one for the new addition to their family). The expo closed up at 7 and we caught the train home.

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Saturday, March 25th
8 AM ish: I kissed my wife goodbye as she dropped me off at the train station, scratching the dogs on the head as I lifted my backpack out of the back seat. Even though check-in at the Inn at the Opera was at 3PM, I wanted to spend the morning with my older brother. San Francisco is a Pokemon Go paradise so we spent few hours of hunting during the Niantic water event before lunch at Gott’s. Besides, I wanted him to see the Hall of Fame Banner at the Expo, hoping he’d be impressed enough to want to come down to San Jose in October. By 2:30 he’d caught enough Magikarp for another Gyarados. Players get it.

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Al called from the Bay Bridge just as Gary left, right in the middle of Friday afternoon traffic. After dropping stuff off at the hotel, we headed back to the expo for his bib. A few hundred yards from Pier 35, I jumped out of his car and ran a block to catch a Lapras (again, players get this). A few of the Gypsies and Black Sheep were trickling in as we got later in the day.

We had dinner with Gary and Susan at Il Borgo. It’s one of those family owned Italian restaurants with seating for maybe 30 total where the bake the bread fresh every half hour. It’s worth the walk.

On the way back to the hotel, city hall was lit up with Rock n Roll red. Ann said something about “Red skies at night, runners delight.” This was definitely a good sign for Sunday.


Sunday, March 26th, Half Marathon
Thanks to the tip from Amy and Greg in Dallas, we got into the United VIP lounge. They moved the starting line off the Great Highway about 3/4th of a mile into Golden Gate

Wesley and Martin shared our breakfast table. Mae, Sherry and Zach took off earlier.

Park, but United chose to have their lounge at the Beach Chalet. I think it was a good choice. We had no trouble getting Uber to drop us off and it has plenty of space and decent bathrooms (supplemented by the heated trailer rooms). Flight attendants were doing their best to make us feel comfortable with a good breakfast spread, the handy United buffs and charcoal hand warmers. United even provided a shuttle to the starting line. We were among the last to board.

The start line in 2017 was located near the Bison paddock on John F Kennedy. It was eerily quiet because of the noise ordinances in the park – no music and barely any light other than the start line. Ann even had to keep her voice down for the corral send offs (which must be excruciating for her). She was sporting some cool new socks though.

They changed the course slightly in 2017. The first mile was different than last year’s course. There wasn’t the steep hill up Balboa in the first quarter mile, but it was quite a bit more crowded, forcing us to a slower pace initially. Other than that and the Haight Street Selfie Station, the main objective for us mid-packers was to get to the Golden Gate Bridge in time to come back on the road bed (about 1:10 for the first 5.7 miles give or take).

Even with that time in mind, I still had to take time at the Blue Mile, this time on the climb up Lincoln. This is the most challenging part of RNR SF, a half mile 3% grade followed by a half mile 7% grade. The motivation is the pictures and flags on the left. The reward is the view from the top.

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I’m a huge fan of out and back stretches, especially in the Rock n Roll races. This one was 2 miles long. I saw a lot of faster friends heading back. Those who come back on the sidewalk actually get a better view of the city, but it’s quite a bit narrower.

Susan was coming into the Vista Point turn as I was heading out, so I camped out and waited for her so we could head back on the bridge together. We’d done that for the last 4 years, why stop now?

Anyway, if I didn’t wait for her, we wouldn’t have taken this picture. It may have been a lot more awkward with someone else. Heh.


The last five miles we just chatted away, passing all the places we trained when we started racing in 2005. The turn up the last long hill on Polk Street put me right on the edge of my heart rate zone. I guess leaving that in San Francisco seemed pretty appropriate. The finish line pictures always seem better when we finish together.

Post race VIP at United was just as good as pre-race. We got our medals engraved free (my time says “finished”) and there were a good selection of sandwiches, brunch food including meat and veggie frittatas, nuts, popcorn and as much beer and soda as you wanted. If United sponsored another VIP, I’d be quick to sign up.

We didn’t have a flight to catch. Our timeshare was reserved for two nights so we didn’t even have to rush out of town. We shared dinner with a bunch of Black Sheep on a surfboard at the Wipeout Bar and Grill, talking about where we were going to see each other next. No surprise – next week at Raleigh. After driving through the night and arriving just a few hours before the start, Hollie caught the 1 in 8000 shiny Magikarp. I guess some things go right.

The Bart ride home was a little more crowded. We still found seats together with our roll on suitcases. Out of pocket expenses for the weekend was basically food, $12 each for train fares and maybe $20 for Uber rides. In one of the most expensive places to live and work in the US, this was one of our cheapest.

We don’t really do many home town races, but we like this one enough to want to come back every year. As long as the skies stay red, it’ll be a delight for us.


Rock n Roll San Francisco is in its 5th year under the CGI brand name. It was formerly the San Francisco Half Marathon. In year 2, the course changed from an out and back from the Marina Green to a point to point starting on the Great Highway. Short of a few bus box upgrades and the starting line change in 2017, the course is more or less the same. Participation still looks strong as the race sold out for the fifth year in a row.

San Francisco was our 5th Rock n Roll of 2017, earning us the new Roadie Medal with the opening trunk. This is my favorite so far of the redesigned Heavy Medal series. We’re among the 51 sitting with 5 races. Another 15 people did the Tex2Mex double and earned their Six String medal. I’ll have to check, but I believe we have more people than last year who have run the table (so to speak) through 6 weekends.

It goes without saying we’ll be back for RNR SF 2018. Next up, Raleigh!

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