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.

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