Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Giant Race - 8/27/11

A trip to Switzerland last year kept me from running this race, and after hearing all the good reviews on it, I registered early this year since I knew it would sell out, which it did. The timing fit in perfectly with my marathon training schedule as it was a recovery week requiring lesser mileage. After a typical Friday night these days of no alcohol and a pasta dinner, I went to bed looking forward to a flat and semi-shortish run (in comparison to what I have been doing) in the morning.

Being that I was oncall and needed to have a laptop nearby, Annelyse and I decided to drive down to McCovey Cove for the start. We picked up Zoe and Kirsten on the way, and encountered a wall of cars trying to get into the parking lots. We decided to veer off and park on the street in a two hour parking space. Zoe was doing the 10k, and I knew I'd finish the half marathon in under two hours, so we figured one of us could move it in time. The advantage of this was the start was a mere block away. And while we never actually moved the car and were well over our two hour limit, we lucked out and didn't get a ticket.

We left the car, checked our sweats at gear check, and ventured to the start where I got to wave a quick hello to Hannah, Meaghan, and Connie who were all running the 10k. I jumped into the corrals near the front and after a few words from Olympian Magdalena Lewy Boulet, who was running the half marathon, we set off in perfect running weather - cool and overcast. I had some lofty goals for this race. With the exception of the hill at Fort Mason, it was flat. I wanted a PR, and having looked at the race results from last year, I wanted to place in my age group. I went out fast and my first four miles were all under a 7:14 pace. The lanes heading out to Pier 39 on the Embarcadero were closed down allowing us ample room to run.

It was near Pier 39 that the 10k turn around point was, and where we split off. Myself and the rest of the half marathoners ran around Aquatic Park to the base of the hill that climbs up and over Fort Mason. While short, this hill is no joke. Luckily, it's one I run ALL the time, so I was more than prepared for it. And your reward for getting to the top is a downhill through the park to the Marina Safeway. Shortly after we passed Safeway, I heard some people calling my name, and realized it was two girls from my running group who were out on their Saturday morning run. I love my running group, and it was fun seeing some of them on the course.

As we ran along the Marina green toward Crissy field passed the Yacht Club, the wind picked up a bit. This is usually the case around this area, and while it wasn't that strong, I definitely felt it. It always just makes me feel like I'm working that much harder. My pace dropped a bit, and my legs were feeling fatigued from all the miles I'd been putting in the weeks previously. I took my GU earlier than usual this race thinking I would need it. Right after doing that, there was a water station at the warming hut where the turn around was. I took some water this time to wash down the GU, and being the horrible basketball player I am, when trying to throw my cup in the garbage bag that a small child volunteer was holding, I hit him in the face. I felt horrible, so had to go back and apologize.

We were now headed back to the finish along the sand path at Crissy Field. We had six miles left, and this is where I was feeling the worst. I was really starting to question if I was even going to be able to PR. As we came off the trail, we ran beside all the runners heading toward the turn around point. Almost immediately I passed Annelyse for a quick high five before continuing on. Further down the Marina Green, I saw Emily and her mom as well, and we yelled out a quick hello. I then saw something odd, the entire 2:45 pace group had stopped and were all taking a picture together. It wasn't until later that I was told Brian Wilson of the SF Giants was out there cheering everyone on and taking pictures. This clearly explained why Emily was so busy typing on her phone when we passed. I don't follow the Giants, but it was clear by his dress and the casualness of it, that this was something Brain Wilson did on his own accord. Big props to him for taking time out to give a bunch of runners a big thrill.

(Emily and her Mom with Brian Wilson)

Next, it was back up and over Fort Mason, and we headed to the Embarcadero. There were many more tourists and spectators out now watching us all run passed. I had no idea what place I was in. The field was very spread out and I was running with mostly men. One lady passed me at mile nine and she was the last female runner I saw for the rest of the race. I struggled the last few miles, and it took everything I had to hold a decent pace. This course I could run blindfolded. Not only does it follow the same route as a lot of my long runs I did before joining my running group, but I also run it at least 1-2 times during the week. I knew exactly how far I had left, and AT&T park couldn't come soon enough.

Finally, the stadium came into view, and slowly I began to close down on it. I ran by Red's Java House and soon after rounded the corner of the stadium where I saw Hannah, Meaghan, and Zoe waiting for all of us half marathoners to come in. The runners entered the stadium through a gate at center field and ran along the outfield in the dirt toward the finish in left field. I was finally done, and I was exhausted.

Before we were funneled up the stadium seats we were given our medals, yogurt, granola, and water and walked just outside the third baseline to the stands. It was pretty cool being on the field, but I will admit, my yogurt had all my attention. We then walked along the concession stands and gathered our goodie bags, race shirts, Tim Linecum bobbleheads, and even more food and drinks. I must say, the giveaways for the race were quite good, although I'm not sure what to do with my bobblehead.

I made my way out of the stadium to where my friends were, and was thrilled to run into Mary who had just finished the 10k. I slurped down my chocolate milk while waiting for the other two half marathoners, Kirsten and Annelyse, to finish. When everyone finished running, we all went for brunch where I had exceptional coffee, and maybe the best breakfast burrito of my life. Thanks to Kirsten for introducing me to Sunrise! Sitting there inhaling our food, we all realized (or those of us that kept track) that we each set PRs, including Annelyse who beat her PR by over five minutes, and Kirsten who is getting so close to breaking the two hour mark. Not a bad day on the race course!

In the end, even though my watch mapped the course at about .15 miles long, I did set a PR, but I didn't place in my age group. The field doubled this year, and there were some really fast runners (not to mention an Olympian). I did manage to pull off a fifth place finish out of 322 in my age group though. While I did PR, this was a much harder race than I anticipated, and I'm sure the 50+ mile weeks were taking a toll. I've also realized that while I'm running these high mileage weeks, if I'm trying to PR, I do much better when I take the day off before the race to let my muscles rebuild so they aren't so fatigued on race day. Another lesson learned.

Race stats:
Overall Female: 21st of 1405
Age Group: 5th of 322
Chip time: 1:37:49 (7:28 avg pace) - race was .15 long
GPS time: 1:36:47 (7:23 avg pace)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Big Gay 10K - 8/13/11

I've never run a 10K race before. Or at least I don't think so, but there is some debate about whether I ran one when I was little kid with my parents. I wanted to run this last year, but by the time I decided, it was sold out. This year I had a great reason to run it. Kirsten was getting a group of people to run it for her birthday, as she did last year. Obviously, I was in. In fact, it sounds like something I would do for my birthday, so I was quite excited for it. The only problem being I was supposed to run my 20 miler that day. So I did what any obsessed runner would do. I took a PTO day on Friday so I could fit it in while I was still fresh, and then give whatever I had left to the 10k the next day.

Annelyse and I arrived at the race start at Fort Mason, and everywhere you looked, there was glitter, tutu's, feathers, and some very flamboyant outfits on those hoping to win the costume contest. It reminded me of a Bay to Breakers for the LGBT community, but with proceeds benefitting the San Francisco AIDS foundation. Those of us on Team Handsome (aka Team Kirsten) were all wearing "Big Gay Birthday" t-shirts while accessorizing with a plethora of rainbow socks, wristbands, arm warmers, etc. We looked good.

I decided I'd start up near the front with the faster runners in hopes of placing in my age group. My legs were tired, but overall, I was feeling pretty good considering the long run I was coming off of. I wasn't quite sure how to run a 10k, so I just ran fast and hoped that I could sustain it. For the first mile I followed a guy wearing a green speedo with a cape on, and apparently I was flying along with him, because that first mile ended up being a 6:53. There was no way I was going to be able sustain that pace, and sure enough, I naturally fell into a more comfortable pace a bit slower along with the green speedo wearing superman.

As we ran down the Marina Green, the distance between myself and the only girl I believed to be ahead of me, kept shortening. I wasn't about to push myself to catch her though, I was just going to run my race and whatever happened, happened. Eventually, at about mile 2.5, I caught her along the Crissy Field trail. Soon after, we landed on the paved road heading out toward Fort Point, where we were greeted by barking sea lions in the bay. At one point, I even found myself enveloped by bubbles courtesy of some of the volunteers on the side of the road. The half way turnaround point was at Hopper's Hands, and we headed back to Fort Mason.

For the last three miles, I found myself keeping pace behind a guy with what looked like aluminum foil shorts, and a mesh shirt. One of the best parts of this race was watching all the tourists look on in astonishment as the craziness ran by. A 10k is a fast race, but I was very aware of every mile ticking by. I was tired, my legs were clearly showing their fatigue and didn't want to go anymore, but I knew I had to keep pushing. While I've placed first in my age group in other races, I wasn't going to let an opportunity to be the first place overall female finisher pass me by. It's easy trailing the lead runner because you always know where you stand, but the worst thing about it was I had no idea how far in the lead I was, which was a very disconcerting feeling. That is until we entered Fort Mason for the last quarter mile.

I briefly glanced back and saw another girl not too far behind me. I had no choice but to sprint the uphill to make sure I didn't get passed at the very end. This race was mine. That was the first time I ever felt the urge to puke while running. I passed under the pastel colored balloons, started to stop, until I was made aware that that wasn't the finish, and it was actually about 10 yards around the corner in front of me. I crossed the finish line to four cheering men wearing blue and purple glitter dresses with balloon breasts. A pretty spectacular sight. I was the overall female winner, and I soon found out that the only male member of Team Handsome, Sasha, was the overall male winner. We cheered the rest of Team Handsome in, and it was pretty fun watching everyone finish with (mostly) big smiles on their faces.

Now here's where the disappointment comes. Even though I was the first female across the line, the overall award was incorrectly given to the second place girl because her chip time was 10 seconds faster than mine. This was a USATF sanctioned course, and in accordance to rule 245.1 -"The order in which the athletes cross the finish line will be the official finish position." In other words, gun time should be used to establish the official overall winner, which was me. (chip times usually determine age group winners) The runners goal is to cross the finish line first, you shouldn't have to try and account for differences in start time, hence the disadvantage. This is why if you feel like you might win, you start up front. Had I known, you bet I would have pushed to make up the time difference. It was only 10 seconds.

The competitive side of me was not happy, I wanted the pink sash and tiara. However, this race was about having a good time, raising money for a good cause, and I did get to feel what it was like to be the overall winner of a race, so I can't get too bent out of shape about it. Hopefully, I'll have another opportunity to win a race, but for this, I settled for first place in my age group and a blue "Big Gay 10K" winner's ribbon. The course was more like 6.3 miles, and my time was 45:57 (7:17 pace). Based on chip time, I was second out of 247 female runners. Team Handsome did well, with the birthday girl herself finishing an impressive 7th out of 91 in her age group.

After snacking on lara bars and peanut butter sandwiched graham crackers, taking a whole bunch of pictures, and receiving our awards from Juanita Fajita, we all headed to brunch to do some more eating and celebrating with the birthday girl. What a fun day, and such a great event to get people together for a birthday celebration!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wildwood Trail Half Marathon - 7/31/11

After committing to going to Portland, Oregon for the four day long Oregon Brewer's Festival with a number of friends, my next task was to find a race in the area. I knew the exercise would make me feel better about sampling beer for so many days in a row, and what better way to see a new city then to run a race there. As luck would have it, Coastal Trail Runs, who puts on mainly California trail races, was doing a trail race right in Portland that Saturday. I went to work trying to recruit as many people as possible who were going to be up there to run it with me. Four of us signed up. Stacey and I were doing the half marathon, and Annelyse and Donna were doing the 10k. Like Seattle, this was turning into the perfect weekend.

I did my best to lay off the beer sampling on Friday, but there was just so much good beer to try, it didn't go quite as well as I'd hoped. Thankfully the race start time was 8a, and not 7a, like a lot of summer races. Annelyse reserved a zip car that we picked up right around the corner from our hotel, and the four of us made the four mile drive to Forest Park which is the largest forested city park in the United States. As with most trail races, parking and bib pickup was easy. The half marathoners started 25 minutes before the 10k racers, so Stacey and I lined up not long after arriving. After some instructions from the race director, we set off into the forest.

I'd done a bit of research on the race earlier, and I knew it was relatively low on the elevation gain profile, at only about a 925' gain. However, the difference between this race and other trail races I've run, was it was basically straight up for the first half of the course before turning around and running all the way back down, so I knew the real challenge would just be getting to the halfway point. We left the grassy patch at the bottom and entered the park on a single track path. After crossing a small bridge right at the beginning, the paved path quickly turned to a rocky, dirt path, and up we went.

I'm not much into warming up and running back and forth immediately prior to races, but I probably could have used it. My calves immediately cramped up during the first mile from the constant uphill (and likely a bit of dehydration), and it wasn't until sometime in mile two that they loosened up enough not to be an issue. The field of runners spread out really quickly which made running single file along the curvy trail not an issue. Within the first mile, I was already thankful that I'd decided to wear my ankle brace and that I had proper trail running shoes, as the extra stability was going to be much needed.

As we wound our way around Wildwood trail, we often found ourselves crossing small, low to the ground bridges, one of which had a giant plank missing, and another felt like it was about to give way when too many people were on it, all adding to the ruggedness of the trail. The course was actually over a half marathon, at 13.8, which fit in nicely with my training schedule that had me running a 14 miler that day. Since I'd just started to incorporate hill training into my workouts, this course fit in perfectly, killing two birds with one stone, my long run and a hill workout. The great part was that the uphills were very runnable, so you didn't have to stop and walk like you do with a lot of trail races.

After one last huge climb to the half way point, we found our first fully stocked aid station. I took a couple minutes to eat a GU, drink some electrolytes, and top of my water bottle. Shortly after I turned around to continue back down the same path we came up, I saw Stacey heading my way. It's always fun to see people you know on the course, because you know you have someone to compare notes with at the end of the race, and this hill was going to be one of them.

It felt good knowing that the course was mainly all downhill from there, however, within only about a mile, my surgery ankle was feeling it. The tight, downhill cornering, and uneven terrain was tough to take. Trying to make room for the runners headed up, and a few missteps on branches and rocks didn't help. I reminded myself there was no reason to take this last half of the course fast and hurt my ankle, so I took things nice and steady until the end. I won't lie though, my legs were tired from the climb, so the pace felt very comfortable. I did, however, come to the conclusion that my ankle is probably not 100% ready for this kind of terrain.

Since we were in an area so densely covered with trees, the natural canopy created a shaded trail the entire way keeping us cool despite the 80+ degree weather Portland was having. This also caused my fancy new Garmin 610 to keep losing satellite reception. I kept wondering why it was showing my splits as 13 minutes. I knew I wasn't killing this course, but I knew I wasn't going that slow either. It also explained why the miles on my watch kept ticking by so slowly.

The closer we got to the bottom, the rockier and steeper the course got which continued to take it's toll on my lower limbs. The trail was getting more crowded with hikers and other locals, so I knew we must be getting close to the bottom. I was pretty happy when the trail turned to asphalt, signifying the end was not more than a quarter mile away. Annelyse and Donna were at the end of the first bridge cheering me in, and I passed them to head out of the tree coverings and into the open, grass area of the park where the finish was. After I finished, I immediately indulged in the wide spread of goodies they had waiting. After stuffing enough brownies and pretzels in my face, I went to cheer in Stacey with Annelyse and Donna who came by only a few minutes later.

(this girl whizzed right by me at the end)

I finished the race in 2:07:24 (9:14 pace), and got 5th out of 39 in my age group. Except for me, this was everyones first trail race, and everyone did great on such tough terrain. Stacey, who had only run one half marathon previously, finished not long after me, landing 8th in our age group. The four of us all sat in the sun talking about our races while drinking ice cold Diet Cokes. I think everyone was feeling pretty good about our accomplishments that morning, and I'm so happy that I had such a fun crew who wanted to take part in the race with me. The best part about it was that all we had to do the rest of the day was go sample some beer while sitting in the sun, all the while knowing we got a good days worth of exercise in.