Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Walnut Creek Turkey Trot 10K - 11/24/11

I was thrilled when after asking my parents if they wanted to run a Thanksgiving turkey trot with me, they responded by saying they were both going to come out of retirement for it. This is not to say they don't run anymore, both still run numerous times a week, but it's been awhile since either have participated in a race. My dad's last one was nearly five years ago at the 2007 Kaiser Half Marathon (which was my first), and my mom's last race was 20 years ago. I think both got the itch to run a race again after watching my sister and I run the Primo's Half Marathon in Danville back in October.

Thanksgiving morning came and the big question was, "What should I wear?". The weather wasn't looking great. It was cold and raining. Not the downpour type of rain, but heavy sprinkling that could've easily turned uglier at any moment. After the Big Sur half marathon where I overdressed, and ended up being way to warm after just one mile, I decided that from now on, as long as it's 45 degrees or over, I'm wearing shorts and a singlet. I really don't like the feeling of being constricted by layers when I run. Talking to my mom, it was obvious she was a lot like me in that sense, so I gave her a lightweight waterproof vest to wear over her t-shirt. My dad on the other hand, not only was wearing a thick, long-sleeve shirt, but also decided that we should wear garbage bags while waiting for the race to start to keep us warm. I thought that was a fantastic idea, especially since it was wet outside. Now that everyone was appropriately dressed, all three of us turkeys were off to trot.

We arrived in Walnut Creek with plenty of time to ensure we got a parking spot close to the start at Civic Park. We all sat in the car awhile to stay warm, and when it was finally time to make our way to the start, my dad and I put on our garbage bags before exiting the car. There were a lot of people taking part in this race, not only because it was a fundraiser for the Walnut Creek school district, but also because it was such a family oriented race given the holiday. Strollers were even allowed, something I've rarely seen with any race. Some families were dressed in Thanksgiving costumes, some with pilgrim capes, turkey hats, and one girl was even dressed as a can of cranberries.

A couple minutes prior to the start I ditched my garbage bag and made a meeting plan with my parents since we were all going to run the 10k at our own pace. To accommodate the 4,000 participants of the 10k, 5k, and kids run, all of which started at the same time (with the exception of the kids run), the start line had pace time groupings so that everyone would line up according to pace. As I stood shivering waiting for the start, it was obvious people weren't paying attention to the pace times, and just lining up wherever. This made for a very ugly start of the race. Trying to navigate through children running every which way, strollers, and walkers definitely made everyone get off to a slow start. I couldn't be all that upset about it though given that this was a family event, and ultimately I was just running it to fully enjoy the heaping mound of mashed potatoes I would be indulging in later.

By the time the race started the sprinkling had all but died off, and sure enough within a mile, I had completely warmed up. Running through Walnut Creek was fun since for the most part I'd driven most of these roads. We ran out passed the Whole Foods where our first turnaround point was. By this point, I'd gotten far enough out where I had some running room, unlike my parents who were still caught in the thick of things when I passed them going the opposite direction. We then turned on Newell and North Main Street to run around Broadway Plaza, a place I've spent countless hours shopping at throughout my life.

After passing through the heart of downtown Walnut Creek, we turned on Lincoln Ave and headed into a residential area before turning onto the Iron Horse Trail. Iron Horse Trail runs through many counties and is a favorite spot of mine to run when visiting my parents in Danville. Although, I'd never run it through Walnut Creek so was excited to get the chance to do so. Just before going on the bridge that went up and over Ygnacio Valley Blvd, the turnoff back into Civic Park was on our left and those doing the 5k diverted to the finish. Those of us doing the 10k continued on the trail where we made a quick loop through the grounds of Walnut Creek Intermediate School before getting back on the trail and heading to the final turnaround spot near mile 5.

On the way back, a good portion of the trail was dirt, and since it'd been raining, was a bit muddy and slippery. I stayed to the right and ran on the leaves to give my old shoes some traction. I was getting pretty pooped since I was running at a pretty fast pace, and at one point, I heard my dad yell out my name as he passed me on the opposite side of the trail heading to the turnaround point. Soon after, I went up and over the bridge before peeling off the trail to head into the finish at Civic Park. The last .2 miles were pretty much an all out sprint to the finish while trying to weave in and out of the walkers who were just finishing the 5k.

I grabbed some water and then ran back and forth to the car to grab my jacket so I wouldn't miss my dad and mom finishing. Only a few minutes after lining up near the finishing chute with the rest of the spectators, I saw my dad coming in. He was easy to spot with his 49ers hat on. When we met up, we then both got to cheer on my mom who came in not much later. Immediately after the race we took some pictures with a the giant, blow up turkey to commemorate the day, and then all decided we needed coffee despite wanting to stay around to see if any of us placed. After trying unsuccessfully to find coffee, we came back for the awards ceremony, but it still wasn't being held, and since we all decided coffee and the football game were top priorities, we all took off and headed back to Danville while excitedly talking about all the details of our race.

Later that day when the results were posted, we all got our official times and were able to see how we stacked up to the rest of the runners. My dad had just missed placing in his age group by coming in fourth, my mom however, came in an impressive first in her age group, beating the second place finisher by nearly 20 minutes. I'd come in second in my age group with a PR time.

I've run a lot of races, but this has got to be up there as one of my most memorable. Not because of the race itself, but because I did it with my parents. Watching them both cross the finish line of a 10k while in their mid-60's is incredible. I'm so thankful that staying fit is an important part of their lives, and I know seeing this throughout my life has greatly shaped who I've become. I can only hope that when I'm their age, I'll still be out running every week like they are. What an amazing thing to be thankful for on Thanksgiving day, and this was really the perfect start to what was going to be a fantastic weekend all around.

Something tells me this might be the start to more family races down the line.

Race stats:
Overall female: 18 of 755
Age Group: 2 of 131
Chip Time: 44:15 (7:08 pace)
GPS Time: 44:35 (7:10 pace)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Big Sur Half Marathon - 11/20/11

It's been awhile since I've been really excited for a half marathon, and I definitely was for this race. I wanted to run it last year, but it sold out, so the day registration opened this year, I made sure to secure a spot even though I was still recovering from ankle surgery at the time. As the race weekend approached, my excitement only grew. My speed was slowly starting to come back, my body was feeling injury free, and I was looking forward to spending some time in Monterey with Annelyse who was also registered for the half marathon. Not to mention, the race organizers posting a picture a day from each mile for the thirteen days leading up to the race only confirmed how amazing the course was going to be.

Since Annelyse and I didn't have a whole lot going on on Saturday, we left for Monterey in the early afternoon so we could have a little time to walk around and enjoy the afternoon once we got down there. After checking in and picking up our bibs, walking down around the wharf, and taking some pre-race pictures, we discovered Peter B's BrewPub. We stopped in for something to eat and a drink, and watched a bit of the college football games before turning in early for the night.

My only concern for the race was that the weather forecast called for rain. All through the night I could hear the rain falling, and was thinking the chances of a dry race were slim. When the alarm went off at 5:30a, the rain had stopped. As we walked down to the start, I kept looking toward the sky and was pretty convinced that the weather would hold since the clouds looked pretty sparse. The race had a timed coral start, and I was in the first coral. I knew I wasn't back in PR shape, but I really wanted to give this race a good effort. Getting out in the first coral would not only ensure that I got ahead of the pack, but it would force me to keep pace with faster runners. After a live singing of the National Anthem (which I always love), coral A was off.

The first mile was nice and flat as we ran along El Estrero Lake in Dennis the Menace Park where a band was playing for us. Not only was there music during the first mile, but one of the residents had put out two life sized cardboard cutouts of Justin Bieber. During mile two, we ran through the Custom House Tunnel. As we approached, spectators were lining the bridge looking down at us and cheering us on. As soon as we entered the tunnel, you could hear a bagpiper that was playing on the other side. We hadn't even reached mile three, and I was already entertained; something that would continue throughout the entire course.

One unique thing about this race were the mile markers. They were created by a muralist, and each was sponsored by a business, or individual. Most had humorous drawings and pictures on them. Some of my favorites were at mile marker two, six, and thirteen. The first of which pictured a very overweight man drinking a 40 ounce beer and eating a giant pizza, while wearing a Big Sur Half Marathon "In Training" shirt. The one at mile six was sponsored by a local running store, and had a picture of an octopus getting fitted for running shoes. And the one at mile 13, was of two parents saying very energetically "You're almost there! We're so proud of you sweetie!"

At mile three we ran right down the middle of Cannery Row, passing the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It definitely brought back memories of going on field trips there while I was in grammar school. Next we found our way onto Oceanview Blvd where we had some uphill as we headed toward Pacific Grove. I barely noticed the uphill though since I was busy gawking at the very expensive looking houses to my left, and ocean on my right. There were a lot of Marines out manning the course road closures, and while most were very solemn, there was one female marine who was really getting into it. She was yelling for everyone at the top of her lungs cheering us on, and it was incredibly motivating. I really appreciated her enthusiasm.

We then ran through a portion of downtown Pacific Grove, and passed Lovers Point Park as we got back onto Oceanview Blvd. We headed out along the Pacific Ocean toward the turnaround at Asilomar State Beach. It was at mile six that the lead runners started to pass in the opposite direction. This race draws a number of elite runners, and I'm always amazed when I see them run. The lead women runners weren't far behind and they were all in an outright sprint. There were 20 elite male runners, and 20 elite female runners, and they were all incredible to watch.

We hit the turnaround just before mile eight, and we were now running back toward Monterey Bay. On my way back along the coast, Annelyse and I passed. We both agree how much fun it is to get to see each other on the course, and then compare stories afterward. Just as with on the way out, the next few miles were filled with incredible ocean views. At mile 11 we passed Lovers Point once more, and then immediately turned onto the Recreation Trail. This was a nice downhill section enabling me to save some energy for the end. There was a band playing here with a belly dancer entertaining us as we ran by.

Once again we ran down historic Cannery Row before getting back onto the Recreation Trail to head into the finish at Custom House Plaza. The harbor was on the left, filled with boats and even a few sea lions. The finish was up ahead, and I sprinted down the finishing chute which was lined with spectators. We were all given clay finishers medals which was a nice change from your typical metal ones. We were then given a brown bag filled with a variety of fruit, juice, and a fantastic cookie. I devoured a banana, and soon after the cookie. I later devoured a good portion of Annelyse's cookie as well.

I went and got a coffee, changed my shirt into a dry one, and then went to the meeting point where Annelyse and I decided to meet after the race. Our meeting place was a cutout of a giant runner that we found the night before. The result computers were right there, so I checked out how I did while I waited. While I knew I wasn't going to set a PR, I did want to finish with a time in the low 1:40's, and that I did, so I was happy. Just as I felt a few rain drops starting to fall, Annelyse was crossing the finish. Timing worked out perfectly, and we were able to enjoy the course with some early morning sunshine before the weather took a turn for the worse.

Annelyse and I went to Peet's so she could grab some coffee as well, and we sat down and rehashed the race. There was no doubt that we both thought this was an incredible course. The weather was perfect, the rugged coastline amazing, and the houses magnificent. I did have to admit, one of my favorite parts was getting to run right down Cannery Row. Twice. The on course entertainment was abundant, and featured everything from belly dancers, to keyboardists, to numerous bands. The race shirt was one of the best I've received, and they had free soup and free beer at the finish. And for the first time ever, I chose coffee over beer. And it was definitely the right decision.

The organization of the race was amazing, and everything seemed to go flawlessly. The spectator support was great, and the race organization even put out a race program that talked about the elite runners, the course in detail, the mile markers, and featured inspiring stories from some of the runners. There's no doubt that we'll be back to run this next year. What a beautiful place to run. My only regret is that I didn't get more on course pictures.

Race stats:
Overall female: 66 of 4,006
Age Group: 17 of 707
Chip Time: 1:41:32 (7:45 pace)
GPS time: 1:40:49 (7:41 pace)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

US Half Marathon - 11/6/11

When I found out that one of the sidewalks on the Golden Gate Bridge was closed for maintenance, and that the course would then be able to only utilize one side of the bridge for all runners, my desire to run this race dramatically decreased. It didn't help that the night before it was pouring rain. The only upside to this 7a start time race was that we got to set the clocks back and gained an extra hour of much needed sleep. Annelyse and I both agreed that if it was raining in the morning, we'd take that as a sign not to run it. When morning came, the weather was the exact opposite of the night before. The sun was getting ready to rise and the sky was clear. There would be no rain, which meant it was time to race. And when I say race, I use the term loosely.

We made our way to the base of Fort Mason with little time to spare, and immediately got in the sweat check line which was very long. One person to check in bags for over 3,500 runners isn't ideal. By the time we dumped our bags, the race had already started, and my idea of getting out front to minimize the risk of congestion on the bridge was now impossible. I wasn't that broken up about it though since I knew it would force me to run slower. There was no chance of a PR on this course, and frankly, even if there was, my training isn't what it needs to be right now to achieve one, so there was no incentive to run this race hard.

Annelyse and I said our goodbyes, knowing that soon we'd be sitting in a restaurant having breakfast watching the 49ers play the Redskins - a very important game to us, even though we both knew the 49ers would clearly be the victors. I fought the crowds for the first mile or two before the field spread out, and I finally had a bit of running room. I've run this race three times now, and for the most part the course didn't really change much. We battled the hills through the Presidio to make our way up to the bridge.

Usually I love running the bridge, but I wasn't looking forward to it today. On the way toward Marin, luckily, the congestion wasn't that bad for me. I was definitely running in a tight pack of people, and while passing was somewhat difficult, it was still possible. My pace definitely took a hit because of it, but at least I was still able to maintain a decent speed. The major change occurred after the end of the bridge. In the past, we'd drop around and run under the bridge to come back up on the other side and take opposite sidewalk back across. Since it was closed, the organizers had to add on some additional mileage which ran us up into the Marin Headlands a bit.

I've done a lot of races, and I can say that the climb up Conzelman Rd towards the Marin Headlands was one of the toughest sections of any race I've ever done (not including trail races). The grade of the hill was so steep I had to run a good majority of it on my tip toes. When we finally reached the turnaround point at mile 7, the view was spectacular, and in my opinion, well worth the climb. The great thing about going uphill, is that usually you get to go downhill right after. This is where you make up your time, and let gravity do the work while you recover.

We made our way onto the bridge heading back to San Francisco, and this is where the congestion really happened. The runners headed the other way were at a complete standstill for a good section of the bridge. Annelyse got stuck in this with a lot of other people, and I could read the frustration on their faces as I ran by. Having to stop during a race and lose your momentum is something no runner wants to have to do. Thankfully, I was ahead of the mess, but it definitely still impacted us, since it left us only enough room to run single file back the other way. There was basically no room to pass, and there were even instances when runners going the other direction would try to pass using our lane, which then slowed us down even more. I can't complain too much though, since at least I was able to keep running, even if it was at a reduced pace.

I watch the Biggest Loser. There, I said it. I love the show. It's incredibly inspiring to watch these out of shape, overweight people, completely change their lives and thrive in a healthy, new lifestyle. As I came close to exiting the bridge, I confirmed what I thought I saw at the start. One of this seasons contestants was headed the other way. Being that I've been watching this season, I knew she was recently eliminated. I also knew that that she was likely training for the marathon they were all going to have to run at the end of the season for a shot to to get back into the finals. There's no doubt she was using this as a training run. I was inspired, and wished I could have yelled out some encouragement, but unfortunately, once I realized it was her, we had already passed.

After coming off the bridge, the course was basically all downhill until the last climb at Fort Mason before the finish. I felt good, probably better than I had during a race in quite awhile. I've no doubt this was because I didn't push it, and took it a bit easy. This is somewhat hard for me to believe, but this race confirmed what I've always suspected. I like hills. Yes, they're tough, but it forces you to use different muscles through the course of the race, thereby not fatiguing those used just on the flats. I cruised to the finish at Aquatic Park with only one thing on my mind - getting to the Brick Yard Restaurant & Bar, changing into my 49er gear, and acquiring seats to watch the football game.

Annelyse joined me not long after, and we both agreed that running the race was the right thing to do. Getting a good workout in in the morning definitely makes you enjoy the rest of your day that much more. Seeing the 49ers beat the Redskins sure did help as well, a fact I'll likely keep reminding Annelyse about for the remainder of the week, if not the season.

While I wasn't really going for time, I was still happy with it considering the challenging nature of the course, and major congestion we faced. And even though there was some major hiccups with the route, I'll still run this race again, just hopefully next time the bridge's sidewalks will be back to being open in both directions.

Race stats:
Overall Female: 56 of 1959
Age Group: 20 of 654
Chip time: 1:46:25 (8:08 pace)
GPS time: 1:46:26 (8:01 pace) - race was .17 miles long due