Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Grape Stomp Livermore Half Marathon - 10/24/10

The Giants win the pennant. Yes, I watched the last few innings of the game, but do I consider myself a baseball fan? No. For the most part it bores me death. I have been a bit of a fair weathered fan though and even enjoyed watching a bit of the post-season. Ultimately, I guess I just have a problem with a sport where I'm not even sure if the players sweat. I imagine the pitcher does, and probably the catcher too, but I don't think the rest of them do. This is what I lay in bed thinking of on Saturday night while trying to fall asleep. This didn't come easy as San Francisco thought the best way to celebrate was to get drunk and walk up and down the streets screaming at the top of their lungs until the wee hours of the morning, while drivers felt the need to encourage them by laying on their horns. Don't these people know that some of us have a race in the morning and need to get up well before the sun rises?

Despite the commotion, I was able to get a decent amount of sleep and was relatively alert when my alarm went off at 5:30. As I got in my car and drove off I heard a loud "ka-thunk". Crap, did my car just break on me? I looked in my rearview mirror and apparently a giant pumpkin got wedged under my car, and as I drove over it I smooshed it to smithereens. Great, the morning has just begun and already I'm a pumpkin killer. After stopping for some gas when realizing my tank was on empty, I picked up Kirsten for the drive down to Livermore. Kirsten had registered for this race before I had. It was on my radar, but when I found out I'd actually have company if I did it, it was an easy decision to commit to it. Races are always more fun with friends.

We got to Livermore with plenty of time to spare in order to pick up our bibs and t-shirts. I was thrilled to be receiving another colored race shirt. Not surprisingly given the name of the race, the shirt was purple. It's not that I do the races for the shirts, but it's definitely a plus when you don't have to buy your own running shirts, and my collection was definitely lacking a purple race shirt. This was a very no frills race, quite the contrast compared to the Nike Women's I'd run the weekend before. Along with the half marathon, there was a 10K and a 5K as well. A total of 232 people were running the half, 141 of which were female, and close to another 600 were running either the 10K or 5K. As we lined up for the start at 8a, for the first time in any race I've ever ran, there was no national anthem, just a countdown before we were sent on our way.

Kirsten and I separated after crossing the start and I spent the next five minutes or so working my way up to the front. They had us running on a very narrow path in the beginning that ran along the parking lot and there wasn't a whole lot of room to pass other runners. Thankfully, it cleared up fairly quickly and didn't end up having whole lot of affect on my pace. This was a true out and back course. Starting at Robertson Park, we were to run 6.5 miles out and then retrace our steps back to the start. Out of all the races I've done, I don't think I've ever run a true out and back. My preference is always the loop courses, but for the most part if I'm running in a race I'm fairly happy doing whatever, as long as it's not a multiple loop course where you keep repeating the same loop.

We spent the first three miles running along the Arroyo Mocho Trail where we passed through Parkway Park, Macho Park and then finally Oak Knoll Pioneer Park. This was definitely my favorite stretch of the race. Having grown up just a few towns over from Livermore, the area definitely had a familiar feeling. Not that I'd been there and run this route, but the trail itself just screamed East Bay to me. It's paved and runs alongside a creek and is lined with huge trees. The runners weren't the only ones out, there were lots of residents out walking their dogs and kids, and some cyclists as well. Two of the runners were actually running with their dogs in the half marathon. One was a giant German Shepard, and the other was a mid-sized mutt. This once again just reminded me how great it's going to be to have a dog to run with when the time comes.

We then ran alongside Stanley Blvd for what seemed like an eternity because it was so boring, but it was really only about two miles. Stanley Blvd is a main street with lots of traffic coming and going, with a good size path running alongside it for pedestrians. The weather was fairly ugly out with some very ominous clouds hovering overhead, but it wasn't raining yet and it wasn't that cold. It was however windy, and this stretch in particular was where you really felt the wind. The wind is one of my least favorite elements and running in it is even worse. It can really slow you down and make you have to work a lot harder. The good thing was that the wind was hitting us sideways, so we wouldn't be running directly into it in either direction, but there were times where it still felt quite strong.

I found myself running in a pack with three other women on Stanley Blvd. I was feeling good at this point and keeping a steady pace. This was a good group for me to be running in so I stuck with it, knowing that at some point I'd like to make a move to break free. There was no rush for that at this point though since there was still a lot of race left. I had no idea how I would do in this race. It's a prime course for setting a PR since it's so flat, but having a strong performance last week could have a negative impact on this race. My plan was to stay on PR track but if by mile 8 I felt the gas in my tank depleting I'd back off. I find it's right around mile 8 that I know if I'll be able to maintain my pace or close to it for the last 5 miles or not. There's no point making yourself miserable if you know it's not going to happen, and sometimes the best approach when you're feeling tired is to drop your pace by 30-40 seconds and maintain that for the rest of the run. If you don't, you might find yourself having to drop your pace considerably more for the last few miles and therefore ruin any chance you have at a decent time.

Running alongside part of Stanley Blvd there's a large body of water that's connected to Shadow Cliffs Regional Recreation Area where people were out in boats. Just before mile 6 we turned into Shadow Cliffs which was basically a park with picnic tables, a swimming beach and numerous trails. As we made the turn you could see water slides located on the other side of the park as well. This was where the turnaround point was, and the only really place you encountered any sort of hills. They weren't major but they were enough to drop my pace a bit. My first six miles were all around 8:00 minute miles, with miles two and three actually being at a 7:50 pace. Mile seven dropped to an 8:35 pace due to the hills which I was fine with considering the padding I gave myself early on.

As we exited the park to head back down Stanley Blvd the way we came, we started running alongside the runners going the other way. As I was going towards the park, this enabled me to get an idea of how many women were ahead of me. There wasn't many, and I'd broken free of the pack that I ran with at the turnaround, with only one running on my heels. I knew because I could hear her, her bib number kept flapping in the wind so I always had an idea where she was. I was pretty convinced that I could keep up a decent pace for the rest of the race and it was worth it going for a PR. Not long after being on Stanley Blvd again, Kirsten and I passed each other, and with only enough time for a high five we each went on our way.

The next two to three miles were the toughest. They seemed to go on forever, mostly because we were on the long, boring stretch back to the trail, but also because you're still looking at five to six miles to go. I'd managed to pass a few girls during this time and I had started to thinking that I could possibly place in this race. I had looked at the race results from the previous year and I knew there might be a slight possibility if I ran a really fast race, but that was pressure I didn't want to put on myself. I just wanted a PR. When we finally got back to the trail it was right around mile 10. I always feel better at mile 10. Maybe it's because I've finally hit the double digits.

I managed to pick up my pace a bit in the tenth mile only to have it drop again in the eleventh. By this time the rain had started, not hard, but enough that we were all quite wet. I actually welcomed it. I don't mind running in the rain as long as it's not a downpour. Somewhere around mile 11 I had to slow down to take a sip of water since after all this time, I've still not perfected the art of drinking water while running at full speed. I'm not sure what my problem is, but if I don't slow down I end up either getting it up my nose if I'm drinking out of a dixie cup from an aid stop, or swallowing too much air if drinking from my water bottle which just has the side affect of giving me side stitches until I burp it out (something I'm not good at either). This is when the flapping bib girl passed me. I was pretty convinced I could pass her again so I just stayed a few seconds behind her.

When we hit mile 12 there was a lady calling out numbers. There were three of us running near each other, the flapper, a male runner, and myself bringing up the rear. As the two passed her, the lady yelled out 28 and then 9. I thought about it for awhile trying to figure out what they meant, when it dawned on me she was talking about what position we were in. The male runner was in 28th place, and the female runner was in 9th, which meant I was in 10th. I didn't realize I was in 10th, I thought for sure there were more females then that ahead of me, and that just made me run faster.

When we came back into Robertson Park, I gave it all I had (which wasn't much) and took off for the finish. As much as I would like to say I did finally catch the flapper, I did not. She kept up a good pace and ended up finishing 4 seconds ahead of me. I'd finished with an official time of 1:45:27, but my GPS watch clocked the course at 12.76. I asked two other runners what they had, and their watches agreed with mine. That's a third of a mile off which is substantial. I have to say, I'm slightly annoyed by this. I'd just PR'd, but in good conscious I can't say that my PR is 1:45:27 when the course was so much shorter, but at the same time, I'm not giving up my PR because they measured the course wrong. So I've decided the fair thing to do is to adjust my time for the last .34 miles at the pace I was running my last mile at. That gives me a 1:48:17 which is still a PR by a minute and a half. And I'm sure the PR had nothing to do with the fact that I was wearing my lucky PR outfit.

After I finished, I immediately got my sweats to stay warm and was hanging out at the finish line when they started to give out awards. I thought there was a chance I might place so I was listening when sure enough, when they hit the 30-39 age division placers, they announced my name for the 3rd place finisher. I got to go up and get my award while everyone was standing there clapping for me. As I walked off, everyone congratulated me, and I have to be honest, it was a great feeling. My award was a commemorative wine tumbler engraved with the race logo and below that it says age group winner. OK, it's not much, but it's my prize and I don't think I'll be using any other glass in my house for the next few months. I'm going to revel in my 3rd place division finish since I'm under no illusion that this will become something that happens frequently, if ever again. This was a smaller race, and while I do think 3rd out of 52 female runners in my age group is a strong finish, I do know that ultimately my times aren't fast enough to put me in the top three for anything but a small hometown race. Regardless, I'll take it.

Not long later Kirsten finished and after getting some warm hot cocoa refueling drink and some munchies, we decided to take off since the weather was so poor. Overall this was kind of a ho hum race, but I blame a lot of it on the weather. The course wasn't spectacular, it was actually kind of bland in some places (though the trail was nice), and the weather was so miserable they didn't have the wine tasting or music after that they apparently usually do, not that I can blame them. On the other hand, this race was also fantastic. Not only did I finally get a new PR, but the divisional award was just icing on the cake, and it was pretty great having a friend along for the fun.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nike Women's Half Marathon - 10/17/10

I've put my name in the lottery for this race for three years in a row and have never been selected. This year was no different. I didn't stand much of chance when so many spaces are reserved for Team and Training, and the majority of the other spaces in the so-called "random" draw seemed to favor people who registered in groups. I was disappointed the first two times, but this time I was just mad. I live in San Francisco, I'm an actual runner, and I deserve to run this just as much as anyone else, and to get denied three years in a row really pissed me off.

I did the only thing I could at that point. I made it my mission to find an entry. Somehow, I would get into this race. I searched on craigslist everyday for at least a month and half (not kidding). This was back in August/September before people realized that they weren't trained properly, or had since become unavailable, or hadn't been injured yet, so listings were scarce. Those that I did find were people who were actually trying to make a profit out of it, selling their bibs for $250 or more. I wasn't going to pay that for a bib, that just seemed ridiculous, especially when I wouldn't even get to run it in my own name. I even went down to the local running store, See Jane Run, when I heard they were raffling off an entry. I waited around for 45 minutes hoping my name would get picked, but it wasn't, not surprisingly.

Then one happy day, I saw a posting on Craigslist for an entry into either the full or half marathon with the runner getting to register in their own name, all for the regular price of registration. I was skeptical because I didn't know how this would work being that the draw was already done and people had already picked their spots. I contacted the lady and found out that she had actually won an entry and was given an entry code. All I had to do was take this code and plug it in and they would let me register for whichever race I chose. After three years, I'd finally made it into the Nike Women's half marathon.

The expo was in Union Square. As I approached it, I could see a giant hot pink banner hanging from Macy's advertising the race with the NWM logo. The expo didn't really have any outside vendors selling goods, everyone at the expo was a major sponsor. There was Safeway, Gatorade, Pom, Luna, a few others, and of course Nike's lineup of LunarGlide shoes and sports bras were all on display. And as typical with large races, they had a number of industry speakers lined up. For once, I didn't hang out. I just grabbed my packet and headed out. It was a zoo in there and I didn't want to deal with the crowds just to try a few samples of things I've sampled countless times before.

On race morning I ended up having to take a cab to get to the start at Union Square. I wanted to take the J Church or BART, but neither were running that early. After being dropped off, I immediately checked my bag at sweat check, and then had a slightly frustrating experience trying to get to the corrals due to the massive amounts of people. And that's when I started noticing all the men. Why are there so many male runners here?! Go get your own race, this is one is ours. Last year a man won the marathon which I think is ridiculous, it's called the Nike Women's Marathon. When I finally made it to the corrals, I was jockeying for position with women of all shapes and sizes. Some looked like runners, some didn't. I couldn't reach my pace group, it was too crowded and I couldn't get through, but I figured I was close enough. We were like packed sardines, which did have the benefit of keeping us all warm due to the amount of body heat that was being generated.

After some words of encouragement from Joan Benoit Samuelson, the gold medal winner of the inaugural women's marathon in the 1984 Olympics in LA, and the singing of the national anthem, 20,000 of us took to the streets of San Francisco. This is the tenth largest race in the country, and I would venture to guess every state and many countries were represented. At the start of the race, as with the start of most large races, I found myself getting very annoyed. The start is divided into pace groups for a reason, and when runners don't start where they're supposed to, it requires everyone else to weave in an out of them. For the first two miles I was running with people who clearly should have been much further back. Some were barely even running, and some were even walking. It's hard enough to get into a groove those first few miles, but when you spend them trying to shimmy in and out of all the slow runners who shouldn't be near the front in the first place, it just makes it that much harder. I'm starting to despise these people. Have some courtesy and start where you're supposed to.

Despite having a bit of an issue fighting with all the other runners at the start to acquire a satellite for my Garmin watch, I did get it set in time and felt great knowing I had it with me this race. I could finally pace myself again. The going was a bit slow until the runners started to break up after we'd been running along the Embarcadero for a bit. At mile 1.5, there was gospel choir all decked out in their long robes singing beautifully to get the runners off on a good foot. A mile later, as we approached Fisherman's Wharf, there were street acrobats doing flips and trampoline tricks. Not far after them, they're was a coat donation area, where the runners could shed their layers of clothing which would then be donated to the homeless men and women of San Francisco. I had nothing to shed, but it reminded me that I really need to go through my closet that's currently bursting at the seams.

By mile 3, I'd made up some of the time I lost in the herd that first mile or two. I was feeling good. I told myself that I was going to take it easy this run if I wanted to try for a PR next weekend, so I promised myself that when I started to feel like I might be getting fatigued, I'd pull back. Shortly after the 5K point, we encountered our first hills. They were one right after each other. They were fairly short, but they were steep. The last of which took you up and over Fort Mason to drop into the Marina. I run this one on my marathon training runs so I knew it was coming. It's always tough, but when you get to the top of the park, you get beautiful views of the Golden Gate and the city. For the next two miles we cruised along the Marina Green and Crissy Field. On this stretch there was a large cheer station with tons of spectators, giant speakers blasting the latest hip hop, and even a station with break dancers performing.

It was nearing mile 6 that it dawned on me just how good I was feeling. Even with the slow start and hills, I was on track to PR and I was showing no signs of needing to slow down at all. I knew though that I wouldn't be PR'ing. This was not the course for it, and the worse was about to come. Soon after, we headed onto Lincoln Blvd from Crissy Field through the Presidio. I've done part of this before during the Presidio 10. It wasn't easy. It was just shy of a mile of uphill where at its steepest, it's a 5% grade. I handled it much better this time then I did back in April though. My split time still went from 8:15 to 10:24, but it would've dropped much more if I'd had to walk any of it, which thankfully I didn't. It was around this point that I GU'd up, listening to the advice I received during my RunSafe analysis that I'm waiting to long to refuel during races. As with all things that go up, they must come down, and we had a nice long downhill section into Seacliff which enabled me to recover and make up some ground.

We then wound our way along El Camino Del Mar to 32nd which was another very tough uphill section that lasted about a mile. In the middle, which must have been shortly after mile 8, we hit a Kaiser aid station where the volunteers were dressed in all orange handing out the most juicy orange slices I've tasted in a long time. I gobbled one up and then grabbed a second. Yum! When we hit the top we ran along Clement, passed the VA hospital and ran into Outer Richmond. From there we took Point Lobos Ave along the coast and passed the Sutro Baths which was another very steep downhill. This was the third place they had giant speakers set up and this time Journey was playing. I sang. Well, sort of. It was more like yelling out words in between gasps of breath. The important thing to take away here was that I was feeling so good I was attempting to sing at mile 9.5, albeit poorly.

We came down the Great Highway passed the Cliff House as a huge steamer ship was passing by. Near mile 10, the Blue Devils drum line was there to greet us as we entered Golden Gate Park. Safeway being a huge sponsor in this event had signs on the ground that said "You own the road". Those were followed by volunteers holding other signs that read things like "because you gave up going out on weekends", or "because you gave up sleeping in". They were extremely motivational and really enforced the reason why you were doing this. We ran up John F. Kennedy Dr passed the bison paddock. It is a slight, steady incline for over a mile and I did everything I could to maintain a reasonable pace. When we hit mile 12, we separated from the full marathoners and turned and ran along the Polo Fields. I was surprised to see that the Polo Fields were no more. Instead of the big grass field, it was now just groomed dirt. Hopefully their finally putting in turf fields. This was also the chocolate mile where Ghirardelli was handing out chocolates to the runners. I passed.

As we exited the Polo Fields we ran down Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. which was a slight downhill until turning right on the Great Highway towards the finish. That was my fastest split. I ran a 7:33 mile. I figured I might as well take advantage of the downhill and make up some time I lost on the hills. When I turned onto the Great Highway, I could see the finish up ahead. I gutted it out and ran as fast as I could toward the finish line, finishing in 1:52:32. I had finished 65th out of 2,007 runners in my age group. That put me in the top 4%. However, I have no doubt that a LARGE number of entrants were first time half marathoners, and that there was probably a whole lot of walkers too. Regardless, I was very happy.

Now the fun really started. I was immediately given an aluminum foil blanket to wrap around me to keep warm and right after that there were handsome firemen dressed in tuxes with piles of little blue Tiffany boxes, handing one out to each of the finishers. My Tiffany necklace, which I actually like and will probably wear, is a simple, silver rectangle with the race slogan, "I run to be", printed on it. Next we were given recyclable shopping bags from Safeway and were funneled down the finishers chute, where we were given bottles of water, Gatorade, Chocolate milk, and Dole pineapple juice. And there was food too. Bananas, bagels, cereal cups, pop chips, and I'm sure many other things I'm forgetting at the moment. My bag was quite heavy filled with all of the goodies, so I decided it was time to go and locate the school bus that had my gear bag stashed in it, it was getting cold.

Being one of the early finishers had its advantages. Nothing was crowded yet. I got my picture taken in front of the Nike finisher's wall, was able to get my t-shirt before the line grew, and had free range of the Nike boutique that had all the NWM apparel before the crowds came. The finisher's shirt was cute. It's a magenta color, but being the dumbbell that I sometimes am, I grabbed an XL which is entirely too big for me and likely won't be worn. Maybe someone will answer my pleas on craigslist for a size swap (update: swap in progress).

I had been disappointed that at the expo they didn't have any clothes for me to buy, but I now realize they were actually very smart by having them at the end of the race instead. After the race everyone is feeling fantastic about their accomplishment and they'll more easily buy something to commemorate it. Me, eh, put something cute in front of me and I'll likely buy it. So I did. A hoodie. I felt a little like an impostor buying it because it said Nike Women's Marathon on it and I didn't actually run the full marathon, but they didn't have one that said half, and I thought it was cute and it looked really warm, and it was raining out, so I bought it anyway. I don't regret it.

After my shopping excursion I wandered around for awhile looking at all the tents they had up. There was a gatorade lounge, a lean cuisine lounge that was giving out chicken meals, a stretching area, and about 3-4 food vendors that were selling cheap, hot food like egg sandwiches, breakfast burritos, lumpias, and more. I had had my favorite post race snack of a banana and chocolate milk already so decided not to get anything, although the breakfast burrito was very tempting. It started to really rain and get crowded, so I decided to pop in on Emily and Rob who live around the corner. I caught the Haribo gummy bear on my way over and he gave me two packs of my favorite gummie bears ever. It was great getting to hang out in a warm house with home brew to enjoy while I got to catch up with them and play with their dog and new bird. After about two hours it was time to catch the shuttle home. Unfortunately, that required me standing in line for about 30 minutes in the rain having to pee. Thankfully the bus had a bathroom.

I'm going to preface this paragraph by saying that I think Team in Training is a great cause and they do a fantastic job of motivating and helping people who might not otherwise think they can run, to do great things. With that said, they sometimes annoy the hell out of me. They show up with their puff painted jerseys, adorned with lots of chotchkies and ribbons, all decked out in the latest running gear. They wander around pre-race, holding hands in a giant train, cutting everyone off and pushing anyone out of the way that isn't one of their own. From what I saw, they tended to be the biggest offenders of not starting in the right corrals, and then on the course, they have their fans who won't cheer for anyone not wearing a purple jersey. By the end of the race I was so sick of hearing "Go TEAM!" that I wanted to puke if I heard it one more time. Again, great cause, and I know it works wonders for some people, but it's just not my thing.

The bottom line is I loved this race and I'm thrilled I finally got to run it. The course was lined with spectators cheering you on (ok, maybe not the TNT folks) making you feel like a celebrity. Nike provided some great acts and motivation on the course to distract you, including the group of volunteers that were all wearing pink full body leotards handing out dry towels. The freebies and post race celebration was great. My opinion of Safeway has even improved. And it didn't hurt that I ran my second fastest half marathon to date. This was hard for me to believe given that it was a challenging course. Had it been flat, I would have definitely PR'd. Running is a funny thing. You never know when you're going to have one of those days where you just feel great. And this was definitely one of those days.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Primo's Run for Education Half Marathon - 10/10/10

I had to get back on the horse so to speak after my last race. I figured what better place to do it then at the Primo's run in my hometown of Danville. Even though it's been around for 27 years, I've never actually run it myself. Being the daughter of two runners, I knew about all the races in Danville when I was younger, sometimes even participating in a 5k. Growing up, one of my chores was to fold the laundry. I remember folding my parents race shirts, some of which were from the primos run. Primo's is an Italian joint in downtown Danville that I've been to countless times as child, often for pizza after soccer games with my team. Back in the day this race used to be called the Primo's to Primo's, but then the second Primo's in San Ramon shut down, so now they just make everyone run to a school in San Ramon.

I spent the night in Danville at my folks house so I wouldn't have to drive down in the morning. Plus, it gave me a good reason to hang out with them, and to offload some of the 8 packs of Tim Tams I still had from Sydney. I had a late soccer game, followed by a few beers, and then got stuck in major traffic, so didn't end up making it there until 8:30p. My dad, who knows me so well, had recorded the Men's USA vs. Poland soccer game, and saved it so we could watch it. We barely made it to half time before I decided it was bedtime. The race started earlier than most, at 7:15a, so I needed to be up by 5:50a and I was fairly exhausted so I figured why fight it.

This was a point to point course, which I'm typically not a fan of because it means having to take a shuttle to get back to your car. My parents were leaving for Utah to visit my sister for a week, but luckily my dad still had time to help me drop my car off at the finish and then drive me to the start so I wouldn't have to deal with the shuttles after the race. Much to my dismay, as soon as I picked up my bib at the start, I realized I'd forgotten my watch in my car. That makes two races in a row I've been without the use of my watch. I really needed it for this race if I was going to try for a good time and possibly even a PR, but at that point it was too late. I'd have to run without it. Sniff. Sniff.

As I stood around waiting for the race to start at Primo's, I thought it odd that even though this is where I grew up, I knew not one runner out there. Not one. A few minutes before the start, about 15 students sang the National Anthem, which was a nice change from the usual recorded version that smaller races do. And then at 7:15 on the dot, off we went through the streets of Danville. I have to admit, I was excited about running a race in familiar territory. It's something I haven't done in my adult running career, and I pretty much had the course memorized and have run the majority of it.

For the most part we avoided downtown Danville. We passed the old Danville library, where I spent a lot of time researching for papers when I was in grammar school, before the days of the interwebs. From there we headed back into the residential area surrounding Old Orchard. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried about this race. Before the San Jose Rock and Roll the previous weekend, the last road half marathon I ran where I was properly trained was in May. Part of me was worried that maybe that race wasn't a fluke, and I'd lost my half marathon mojo. Thankfully, I wasn't more then a mile or two in when I knew that wasn't the case. It was reassuring to know that I just really wasn't ready to race so soon after getting back into the country. I was feeling good and I knew it wouldn't be a repeat of the weekend prior.

By the time we headed down Old Orchard Rd, the race field had long since spread out and we had huge open roads to run down the middle of. There was a group of young elementary students cheering everyone on. They meant well, but they kept yelling out "You're almost there!". Um, do they know we're only on mile 2?! That's just cruel, we're not even a quarter into this race. Soon after we passed the mean children (ok, I'm being harsh, it was nice they were showing us support), we crossed over Sycamore Valley Road and headed into Greenbrook, which is the area where my parents house is. The same house I grew up in.

Not having a watch was killing me. I knew I was running fast, but I had no idea what my pace was. We hit the 4 mile marker and I could hear everyones watches beeping on the split which made me jealous. That's when I met Ron. I asked what our pace was, and he said we were averaging an 8:15 min/mile. I was apparently doing a decent job pacing myself, even though that was about 10-15 seconds faster than what I wanted to be running at that point. I liked Ron. He was a talker, and a racer. We started rattling off all the races we'd done recently and the ones we had coming up, finding we had a lot of overlap. He definitely rivaled me for the number of races he was running . He lives in San Ramon, and he said this race is a bit of a family event for them, and his wife and kids all participate somehow, either by running or volunteering each year. The race goes to benefit the San Ramon Valley Education Foundation and the money is disbursed to all the schools in the area. Last year, it raised over $175,000, and this year they were hoping it would raise over $200,000. Chevron, who is headquartered in San Ramon, is the biggest sponsor of the race, this year donating $35,000 to help put on the event which included nearly 7,000 registrants, though only 600 were running the half marathon.

I stuck with Ron for about two miles and he kept me updated on our pace. Despite having been hospitalized for gallbladder surgery just six months prior, I couldn't keep up with him. We separated as we ran through Osage Park at mile 6. This was one of the main parks were I played soccer as a little kid, and sure enough, two decades later, the park was already full of youth soccer teams getting ready for their games. I didn't want to leave Ron, we were going at a great pace, but I was just feeling I wasn't going to be able to sustain it, and that I should probably back off and save some energy for the end. As we exited the park, there was an aid station, so I decided it was time to try my new GU flavor, Chocolate Mint. I typically don't like chocolate flavored things, but apparently you add a little mint to it, and it's the best thing ever. I've already purchased a six pack of them. I was getting bored with my strawberry-banana flavor anyway.

We ran up El Capitan and turned onto Greenbrook again. This was the point in the race I was closest to my parents house. We were just three blocks away. I know my parents would've been there at that point to cheer me on if they hadn't already left for the airport. Unfortunately it was bad timing, and I would've loved for them to have been there. Maybe next year, and perhaps I'll even talk my dad into running it with me.

It was almost mile eight when we hit the Iron Horse Trail which runs along the former tracks of the Southern Pacific Railroad. This trail spans two counties and nearly nine communities, and his hugely popular amongst runners, cyclists, and walkers. Whenever I visit my folks, this is where I run. And down the familiar trail I ran, but this time as a runner in a race. I was starting to peter out around mile nine and I'm pretty positive this is where my pace really dropped, though I had no way to know how far I was letting it drop, and I couldn't monitor it to make sure it wasn't dropping to low. The problem is, later on in races, you ALWAYS feel like you're running faster than you really are.

When we hit Norris Canyon Road, we turned off the trail and headed down towards 680. It was then that we joined up with the 5k'ers. They looked like a solid cloud moving as one in their white t-shirts. I couldn't believe how many people there were. As we got closer, I could tell that it was students and their parents walking to represent their schools, all wearing the white race shirt, some with their school names written on it. Thankfully, they kept a side path open for only the half marathoners, as weaving through them would have proven impossible because the road was so dense with people. With the exception of the occasional preteens that would sometimes dart out in front of the runners, for the most part everyone stayed to their sections helping to avoid slowdowns and collisions.

I knew exactly where we were, and I knew were the finish was. I had maybe a mile and half left. Running alongside all of the people actually gave me additional motivation to push on. I was pretty tired at this point, but sucked it up and made it to Bollinger Canyon where we turned right before the Chevron headquarters. We made one last turn onto Alcosta and the finish sign was up ahead. I strained to see what the race clock said. For all I knew, I could've been running in for a PR, or I could have been way off it. Although I suspected I'd be somewhere in the middle, which I was. I finished in 1:53:49. Not a PR, but I was happy with it, especially since pacing was a bit of an issue without the watch, and the fact I had a late afternoon soccer game the day before.

I picked up my race shirt and got stuck with an X-Large which is HUGE, because everyone had picked up their shirts well before the race, and all the smaller sizes were taken. Not that it mattered much. The shirt was long-sleeve cotton which meant I probably wouldn't have worn it anyway. Usually I would've been disappointed, but cotton is understandable when they're trying to keep overhead low so that more proceeds go to the schools. I couldn't complain. I did have one hope left for a cool t-shirt though. The first 50 runners of each sex were awarded a tech shirt. I stood around waiting for the list to be published with the other runners. Some were over two hours, and I knew they wouldn't be close, but I figured I was right on the bubble. This field of runners was one of the strongest I've seen in a lot of races, and there were a lot of very fast females. The list was posted and I saw my name. Number 52. So close, but no t-shirt for me. I saw all of the runners that I'd spent a good portion of the race running with carrying shirts, and I joked that I shouldn't have stopped to tie my shoelaces back at mile nine. As it turns out, once the results were officially posted, I was actually number 54, which made me feel slightly better.

After I literally inhaled the banana, apple, cliff bar, and luna bar that came in my goodie bag, I hit the road feeling much better than I did the previous Sunday. I did think I'd be able to sustain a faster pace for longer than I did though, but I should've known running 6 miles at an 8 min/mile is far from being able to sustain it for over twice as long. I probably have one more good shot for a PR this year, and that's at the Livermore Grape Stomp which I know is a very flat and fast course. I'm beginning to wonder how I ran a 1:49 and if I'll ever be able to do it again. Granted, that was set while I was marathon training so I was putting in a lot more weekly miles. Perhaps I'll start working in a mid-week semi long run again. I should also probably look to find a running club to join. I need to run with people faster than me, and I need to do speed work, preferably with a coach.

Next up, the Nike Women's half marathon.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

San Jose Rock and Roll Half Marathon - 10/3/10

I did not have the magic in me. Far from it. Actually, I'm so angry about this race, I don't even want to write it about it. So I'm going to make this short (well, compared to most of my posts), and I'm not going to post any stupid pictures. OK, well maybe just a pic of my t-shirt, but no more! This was supposed to be a great day. I was going to set a PR, and then I was going to celebrate with beers afterward with my friends. None of this happened. A number of things that could go wrong did. It was a total disaster. The race itself was well done. Organization was good, shirts were cute and green, and the bands and cheerleaders were entertaining. But not even they could help my race performance.

I felt my PR slipping away as I lie in bed wide awake at 1:30a still unable to fall asleep. I think I ended up managing to get a little under four hours of sleep. The night before, which is supposed to be the most important one, wasn't much better. Flying business class to/from Australia did nothing to help me get over the jet lag. When my alarm woke me up at 5:15a, I could barely peel my eyes open. After finally deciding what shorts and shoes to wear after a long internal debate, I left to pick up Bellamy and her two friends, Brant and his boyfriend Mark, for the drive down to San Jose.

We got there just in time for a bathroom trip and to check our gear bags before heading to our assigned corrals. As I exited the bathroom it dawned on me that I'd forgotten the preprinted name tag that I was supposed to attach to the bag we were given at the expo for our stuff. Without it, my bag looked just like everyone else's, just with no way to identify the owner. I knew that wasn't going to work and I only had 20 minutes until the start of the race. That wasn't enough time to find gear check and ask the people working it if there was another option, and if there wasn't, make it back to my car to drop it. So after losing 5 minutes trying to figure out how to get to the other side of the corral that was blocked off by gates, off I ran to my car.

I knew I had to run. I only had 15 minutes to cover the distance and I knew it was somewhat far. I later measured it using my GPS watch and it was three quarters of a mile. So before the race even started, I had run, at not a leisurely pace, the 1.5 miles roundtrip to drop off my bag in the car. I could hear the national anthem being sung as I sprinted to the corrals knowing we were about to start. As I stood there, before the race even started, I already had sweat dripping off me. What was worse was that my GPS watch that I'd turned on back at my car was still trying to locate a satellite. As I stared at it, willing it to find a damn satellite (something I'd bitched to the Garmin reps at the expo about), the gun went off. Now I was running with a useless watch on my wrist.

Some may think not having a watch isn't a big deal, but I'm not one of those people. I depend on it heavily. It's like my security blanket. With it, I know how far I've run, I know my current pace, and I know my cumulative pace. Without it, I feel like I'm running blind. And that I did for the next five miles until it finally got a satellite, but by that point, I really didn't care. I knew my PR wasn't going to happen.

Within the first three miles of the race, while my pace was on PR track, I knew I wasn't going to be sustaining it. I can't remember the last time I'd felt that sluggish on a run. I had absolutely ZERO energy and was fizzling fast. I was also apparently very dehydrated as I polished off the cytomax in my 20 oz water bottle before I'd even finished mile three. In half marathons, I usually don't even take my first sip of water until mile six, but not this time. I couldn't get enough of it, every aid station I'd take 2-3 cup fulls. This of course led to awful side stitches for the entire race, something I rarely get, and even if I do, only for a couple of minutes at a time.

By mile six, I was actually still on track to PR despite the fact that I'd been bent over on the side of the road twice already choking back all the liquid that I was about to vomit up. That was a first, and second, and even later, once again, a third for me. It's something I don't want to experience ever again either. After mile six, things continued to go downhill. My legs were so tight, they felt like concrete pillars that I was dragging along behind me. I wanted to quit. I didn't care anymore, I felt horrible. I've cried during a race before. It was during the last 0.2 miles of my first full marathon, because I was so happy and proud that I was going to finish. Here however, I was extremely close to tears out of pure frustration and disappointment.

I've never had to walk as much as I did during a road half marathon (or training run) as I did at this one. I ended up finishing in 2:03:53. That's 14 minutes off my 1:49 PR. It was the second slowest half marathon I've ever run, but by far the most disappointing. The other was the SF half marathon in July, but that I'd expected being I'd just returned from overuse injuries and basically had hardly run in eight weeks.

At one point in the race, while I was walking after having my last vomit scare around mile 10, I heard someone say "you'll make it to the finish". I'm not sure he was talking to me or the person he was running with, but given my mental state, I of course assumed he was talking to me. I kept thinking, "I know your trying to be nice, but I KNOW I'M GOING TO FINISH THIS STUPID RACE!" And I did, even though it wasn't pretty.

The entire race I was baffled. What was happening? I was very well trained for it. I was convinced I'd set a PR. I'd been running religiously and was doing 8 minute miles for the last two and half weeks of my training. I even thought there was a chance I could break an eight minute mile overall pace. I was nowhere close, it was a struggle just finishing the 13.1 miles, something I'd done countless times in races and training. After thinking about it more, it was probably a combination of a lot of things. Maybe I was training too hard to close to the race, surely the jetlag and lack of sleep took a huge toll, obviously I was dehydrated and then drank too many fluids too fast, and I hadn't been eating very much the last two days. Given all that, my body probably just wasn't in a good state to race.

After the race, all I wanted was a beer and to forget about the whole thing. Since I had to leave my stuff in my car, I had to walk all the way back to get my ID and also my phone to contact everyone. The finish was farther away from the start, so I'm pretty positive I'd walked at least two miles round trip. Bellamy met her dad and got a ride home from him, but I knew Montina and Odi would be up for a drink. When I met them at the MGD tent back at the finish, shortly after, I realized I'd forgotten my ID in the car. They weren't serving you no matter how old you looked if you didn't have an ID. That was the last straw. I excused myself and made the one mile journey back to my car yet again, and headed home feeling defeated.

My friends did well. Montina set a PR beating her last one by 11 minutes! Odi also set a PR, and Bellamy came in just under 1:57 for her very first half marathon which is pretty incredible. I was happy for all of them, especially Bellamy, there's nothing like a first half, in particular when you do it in a great time.

This has definitely been a learning experience. Something I've always known, just never really experienced to this degree, is that if you run a lot of races, you're bound to have a bad one. It's going to happen. It happens to everybody. I need to realize and be OK with the fact that along with the highs of setting a PR, will inevitably come the lows of a bad race. Sometimes you just can't make your body do what it doesn't want to do. Not every race is going to be a good race, and the bad races are part of what makes the good ones so good.

I sit here now, a few hours after the race. I'm sore, I'm exhausted, but I feel better having written this, and having learned another benefit of keeping a blog of my races. I'm also thankful for my friends and family for helping me to remember that finishing a half marathon is an accomplishment in itself, no matter what time you finish in. I guess a 210th place finish out of 1120 people in your division isn't that shabby after all.

And now, I think it's time for me to sleep.