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

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