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.

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