Friday, April 16, 2010

Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon - 2/7/10

This was my 3rd time running the Kaiser half. I'll always look fondly on this race as it was the first long distance race I ever ran. I remember wondering how I was ever going to finish, but I managed to with the support of my sister, my dad, and my aunt who I recruited to run with me. That was in 2007. I took the next year off while I was recovering from hip surgery, but I was back in 2009 and ran it with my friend Emily.

This year I decided to use it as a training run for the Napa Valley Marathon I'd been preparing for. It was perfectly sandwiched between an 18 and 20 mile run which called for a step back week with a long run of 14 miles. Since I'd been putting in a lot of miles, I decided to go for a PR. My previous two half marathons I ran at 2:02, this year I was looking for a sub-2:00 time.

Race morning comes and I wake up early and force myself to eat my usual pre-race meal of toast with peanut butter. Soon after, I'm picked up by fellow runners Gil and Tad and we head out to meet Emily who lives right near the start of the race. We escape having to deal with the crazy parking situation and get to stash the car in her garage. I soon realize in my excitement I forgot my GU. While I've no doubt I could have pushed through the race without it, mentally it didn't sit well with me. Luckily Tad had brought a few extras, and despite the fact that they were probably my least favorite flavors (lime and something else equally as bad), I'd never been so thankful to have them.

After we boarded the bus that dropped us off near that starting line near Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park, took last minute trips to the WAY overcrowded porta potties, and dropped off our gear at the sweat checks, we joined the rest of the anxious runners and waited for the start. All I kept thinking was I needed to take this slow and steady, find a good pace, stick with it, and cruise in at under a 2 hour time. Definitely an attainable goal.

And we're off. We say our goodbyes to Gil as she veers off for the 5K, and we weave our way through the crowded start of the race. The more races I do, the more I realize just how crowded this race is with it's sold out 10,000 participants. After running around the panhandle and back into the park I notice we're doing an 8:10 pace. Yes, we've made up the time we lost at the start, but this is not how I planned to run this race. Slightly nervous that I'm not going to be able to sustain the pace and worried that I'll crash and not set the PR I wanted, I mention to Tad what we're running at. He seems unconcerned, and I begin to admit to myself that I'm actually feeling quite comfortable at the speed we're going. My breathing is not labored and I seem to have fallen into a good rhythm, so I decide to go with it.

At mile 7 we hit the beach, and we're faced with the long out and back to Sloat Blvd down the Great Highway. With 2 lanes blocked off from traffic, one lane for the runners headed out, and one lane for the runners headed back towards the park, it gets really crowded again. We lost Emily a ways back, and somewhere near the turn around at Sloat I lost Tad while slurping down gatorade and finishing the last of my GU at an aid stop. I could spot his head bobbing ahead of me, but decided not to waste my energy to try to sprint ahead and catch up, so I stayed a little over a minute behind him for the rest of the race.

Approaching mile 11 I knew the only way that I wasn't going to run a sub-2:00 half was if my legs gave out completely. While my legs were screaming, I knew they'd hold up until the finish. There's some comfort knowing that you're not going to have to sprint the last mile to meet your goal, but it didn't mean I wasn't ready to be done with this race. Turning the corner back into the park, less then a mile to the finish, would have been a much more pleasant experience if it wasn't for the that little hill you have to make it up. As I rounded the last corner I could see the big Finish banner and broke out into a sprint to the finish line. Walking down the finishers chute I immediately saw Gil and Julienne waiting for me, while Tad was off finding some water. Emily followed shortly after with us all cheering her in.

My GPS watch clocked me at 1:54:08 for 13.1 miles, however due to all the weaving we had to do around other runners, the finish line was still at least .15 miles off. My official chip time was 1:55:07. Either way you look at it, I shattered my PR, as did Tad. I finished in the top 25% of my division. I'm convinced I still would have come in with a PR if Tad wasn't running it with me, but it definitely showed me the advantage of running with someone who pushes you maybe more then you set out to do yourself.

Now that the hard part of the day was done, and it was time to bask in our glory. The great thing about this race is it's always held on Super Bowl Sunday, so as has come to be tradition, we walked over to Emily's to enjoy the game (and puppy bowl) with friends. We indulged guilt-free in mounds of tator tots, plenty of beer from Rob's 3-tap kegerator, and kicked back while all of our muscles began to protest any movement at all. It was a good day.

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