Sunday, November 7, 2010

Race Recap: U.S. Half Marathon

We all have those races where we set high expectations for ourselves: Where we feel our training and our pacing is swiftly moving by; where we feel strong and excited heading up to race day; where we know -- weeks before -- we are on track to set a new PR.

And then the opposite of ideal conditions present themselves on race day, and we throw those expectations out the window.

After a beautiful stretch of warm and sunny weather, the rainclouds poured in and we lost our "perfect race day" this morning. But thankfully, my first San Francisco half marathon was still a good run with a new PR to my name.

The Prep

Since moving to San Francisco, the hills have given me good reason to be concerned. After taking time to establish myself, I re-introduced myself to running by finding the flattest terrain possible. I then moved onto running in Golden Gate Park where I made my way over some gradual uphills and downhills that reminded me of a glorified version of Minnesota. After that, I huffed and puffed (and walked) my way up the steep hills of the Presidio, up and over the Golden Gate Bridge, and along the Coastal Trail. Still, the hills were getting to me, my endurance, my lung capacity, and my burning calves. It was definitely not as much fun as is sounds.

And then my training slipped away because I was finding so many fun things to do and see and visit and be visited by. My first 3 or 4 weeks of my new time-based (rather than distance-based) half marathon training program deteriorated and I shifted workouts around all the time ... if not skipping them all together.

At the end of September, reality hit. I was registered for the U.S. Half Marathon, and the U.S. Half Marathon isn't exactly known for being flat and fast. Sure, the website tries to hide the obvious:


No need to be intimidated by the hills — they’re actually good for you! Hills allow you to engage other muscle groups — and award you with a fun-filled downhill.

(Nice try.)

I began re-focusing my training at the beginning of October and took my hill training and tempo runs much more seriously. I was rewarded with some blazing fast runs (by my slow standards), a newfound appreciation for speed training, some incredibly tiring -- but rewarding -- uphill runs, and an unusual confidence that, despite the hilly U.S. Half Marathon course, I could potentially beat my half marathon personal best. Then blam-oh: 100% chance of rain. Cold, hard rain.

The Race

Yesterday was downright gorgeous.

The view from the packet pick-up.
This morning downright sucked.

After the finish line -- can you even see the bridge in there?
RoadBunner, after coming down from her wicked 2010 marathon streak, still hasn't said goodbye to racing this year, and she picked me up at 5:30a.m. (thanks, Daylight Savings, for making this morning suck a little less). We found our parking spot in the Marina and met up with Karin and Ron. You may remember Ron from such races as, oh, well, you can find him out running and biking races a couple times a day. This guy is a true maniac, running something along the lines of 18,006* full and half marathons (plus more he's probably not telling me about) from the day we did the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure together in September to the U.S. Half today. *This figure is purely a guess.

Ron was not only kind enough to put up with my incessant text-messaging habit (the medium by which I expressed all my race nerves to him ... daily), he outfitted me for the day!

Punk Rock Racing now comes in pink!
I had the worst, most discombobulated start ever. We thought we were doing well on time, so we chilled out in the heated Safeway, used the bathrooms there, and slowly made our way over to the start. I switched on my Garmin as I found some semblance of a bag check -- it was more like a potpourri of random objects people were hoping they could find later. I then heard "2 minutes to the start!" as RoadBunner and Ron urged me to push my way to the front. My Garmin still hadn't found any satellites, I didn't have my headphones in, I couldn't get the garbage bag I was wearing over my head, I didn't organize my iFitness belt, and the group starting moving forward. I held back and waited for my Garmin to start since I wanted to accurately monitor my mile splits. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I was the official LAST PERSON to start this morning's race. So much for avoiding the back of the pack.

Even though the race was chip-timed, I felt a wave of panic knowing I was in last place. The first two miles were a pretty steady downhill and I was successfully able to make up some space in the pack. I looked at my Garmin after the first two miles and I realized I had gone out way too fast (mile 1 = 8:08, mile 2 = 8:01). I needed to pace myself better or I'd bonk before the halfway point.

I had no problems slowing down, as miles 3 through 6 were all the crazy hills leading up to the Golden Gate Bridge. I actually didn't think the hills were too bad; sure, they were tiring and much too long, but I didn't feel were as daunting as some of the hills I had trained on. So at least I had that going for me.

Miles 6 and 8 were the miles on and near the scary, scary bridge. As RoadBunner was quick to tell me, I actually wasn't that scared on the bridge because I couldn't see anything through the low rainclouds and the water blowing in my eyes. The scarier part was running in ankle-deep mud puddles on the trails leading down to the water on the Marin side; I felt like anyone could have come tumbling down the hill, knocking us down like dominoes, straight into the water.

By the end of my second pass over the bridge, I started to feel tired. I realized that I was on a good pace, but I started to feel physically cold. The wind picked up near Chrissy Field (miles 11 and 12) making the rain feel like bits of hail pelting against my face. In previous years, this course had a notorious history of being short; I was hoping that it would be short again this year. The flattest, windiest part of the course was harder than any of the hills, and these ended up being some of my slowest non-hill miles. I was ready to be done.

I sprinted down the final hill by Aquatic Park, expecting to see the finish line where it was supposed to be... only it didn't showed up. I tried to keep my momentum going until we finally turned a bend around Ghiradelli Square and the finish line was in site. I didn't even vomit as I barely squeaked in a new 40-second PR.

Ron had to show everyone up by tacking on additional miles DURING the race.
Me, RoadBunner, and Karin, sporting PRR gear and the fact we came out alive.
Bling bling.
The Cons

There were a number of problems I experienced with this race: When I went to pick up my packet yesterday, they had run out of t-shirts. They claim they'll mail it to me, but I'm not holding my breath. Today's bag check was a serious mess; they basically moved our massive pile of bags at the start down to the finish, and we were left to fend for ourselves and hope no one walked away with our stuff. Some of the later finishers didn't receive their finisher's water bottles or medal, and that really sucks for them. I didn't use any of the water stops during the race (I brought my own water bottle), but I heard they were poorly manned, understocked, and moved off of the course due to flooding.

Aside from that, would I do this race again? Perhaps... :)

The Results

Average Pace: 8:40 min/mile
Overall Place: 522 out of 2,973
Gender Place: 133 out of 1,620
Age/Gender Place: 70 out of 703

13.22-mile splits (1:54:30)
1: 8:08
2: 8:01
3: 8:20
4: 8:59
5: 9:19
6: 8:47
7: 9:14
8: 8:56
9: 8:13
10: 8:08
11: 8:44
12: 9:00
13: 8:52
.22: 1:41
Air Temp: 59F, heavy rain


  1.'re fast! I am unbelievably impressed with your speed...especially given the dreary conditions here in the city today!

    Congrats on your PR and awesome bling.

  2. Haha, I recently tried the "hills allow you to engage other muscle groups" on some girls I'm running a (hilly) marathon relay with next April. People see through it every time!

    Congrats on the PR. In those conditions, and having to fight your way through from the back, that is impressive! And over the scary bridge too. Big day!

    I hope you get your race shirt though, that would suck if you didn't. Although at least you have the PRR t-shirt to show for your efforts. And the bling, of course! :-)

  3. Way to go A!! Congrats on a great close to mine:) We could totally run together! I love the pictures and the medal is very nice! I love the red color of the ribbon and of the bridge on the medal. It looks a little chilly there too. We had another nice weekend but it is supposed to start getting cold. You know it's coming:) Miss you A! Hugs!

  4. Everybody is getting such awesome medals! I'm super jealous.

    Congratulations on your new PR!

  5. I would like to thank you for not complaining about the amount of time you had to wait for me to finish this race. I guess you did get some revenge by including quite possibly the worst photo of me ever. I would like to note that my BOSTON MARATHON sweatshirt does add 50-pounds (10 pounds in the face alone). It’s a fact, look it up.

    You had a sub 1:50 half marathon in you yesterday. This course is not easy and the crazy weather cost you time too.

    As always, it was great seeing you out there.

    All the best,


    PS - Did I mention it was a BOSTON MARATHON sweatshirt?

  6. AWESOME medal!! And wow, what a great time. Great job!!!

  7. That is a great medal. Too bad about the weather!

  8. Awesome job A - PR and a very nice finishers medal to go along with it. The hills are treating you well - pretty soon you'll be ready for mountains ;-) Cold rain running is no fun, though...

    BTW, might have found a substitute for Nutella that might fit your dietary plan - Justin's Chocolate Hazelnut spread from Boulder, CO. Maybe...

  9. Thanks for not judging me on the cheese pizza ;-) I've only been trying a vegan diet since the beginning of October. I'm a life-long vegetarian, so it's not been too hard, but I haven't been able to see how it works with running yet, as I'm injured. Hence all the gym work! I have just notice HappyTrails comment above though, and am visiting the states in 2 weeks, so that might be on my shopping list!

  10. Nice chip time. Congratulations!!


  11. Congrats on your PR. Sorry the weather was so crummy! My husband loves SF, nice to know there's another half there that's not in July.

  12. Holy moly! A PR in those conditions is amazing - you rock!! Congratulations!

  13. Great Job A! You are amazing...setting a PR in a race like that! I can't even imagine. I need it to be flat and the perfect temperature to PR.

  14. Found you through Rad Runner's blog. Way to go! The conditions sound like sheer misery...and you still PR'd . Awesome! :)

  15. Nice PR, you don't sound so average, might need to change your blog name!

  16. CONGRATS girl! The weather that day was insane! I ran the US half earlier in the year and the water stops were a mess then as well, so good thing you had your own water! I think they really need to get that situation under control!