Race Recap: Zoom Point Pinole Half Marathon

This past Saturday, I ran the Zoom Point Pinole Half Marathon in Richmond, CA. I signed up with the intent of treating it as a tune-up/dress rehearsal for MCM. It was affordable, local, and relatively flat for a “trail” race (more on this below). I had also managed to convince Cathryn and bt to register, which exponentially increased the excitement/fun index. And secretly, I was hoping to run a sub-2 hour half marathon, something that has eluded me on my last 3 attempts.

In addition to the secret sub-2 target, I had other goals in mind, which I tweeted about on Friday: tweetIn thinking about all of my road half marathons, one common theme prevailed: I always blew up in the last 2-3 miles. I remember wishing, on more than one occasion, that a half marathon was actually a 10-mile race. I’ve also felt the strongest at mile 6-7 at several half marathons. Obviously, none of these things are indicative of good race execution. I wasn’t sure if my tired, marathon training legs would get me the sub-2, but I was hoping that at least my brain would learn a thing or two about half marathon pacing.

Race Day:
Cathryn and bt drove up bright and early from the Peninsula to Oakland, and I drove the 3 of us to Point Pinole. Considering the heat wave that hit the Bay Area just the week before, we were very fortunate to have overcast skies, cool temps, and a decent breeze. We checked in, got our bibs, and collected our shirts in short order, then walked back to the car to deposit the shirts and make last-minute bathroom stops.

Cathryn was in on my secret sub-2 plan, and seeing as how she’s achieved that benchmark 3 times in the last year, we hatched a super secret plan to run together and have her pace/encourage me to the finish line. We also agreed that at any point, we would split up if it was becoming too much of a chore to stick together. This plan essentially threw half of my race goals out the window, but that was okay with me. It was all a fun experiment of sorts and I was excited to see how it would turn out.

The Race:

pp_course_mapThere were 3 race distances on Saturday: a 5K, a 10K, and a half marathon. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that two 10K’s don’t make a half marathon. I kinda assumed that the 10K must be longer than 6.2 miles and that the half marathon was 13.1 miles. Well, I was right about the 10K, but wrong about the half… but more on that later. All 3 groups started at the same time, with the 5K runners on the left side following the pink ribbons and the 10K and half marathoners on the right side following the orange. The half marathon course was 4 loops: orange, pink, orange again, and pink again. Before the race, I thought this might be annoying because I usually hate repeating loops, but I actually found this particular course to be okay.

We started off relatively conservatively for the first orange loop and chatted comfortably. I wanted to start easy, warm-up, and then turn up the effort. Neither of us had run in Point Pinole before, so we both took in the views of the water and Eucalyptus trees. It was quite pretty and peaceful.

This is what a lot of the shoreline looked like. (source)

This is what a lot of the shoreline looked like. (source)

Eucalyptus trees everywhere! (source)

Eucalyptus trees! (source)

I noticed that I seemed to be putting in significant effort without much in return. More than 80% of the course was on crushed rock/gravel, which made it really difficult to push off efficiently. It’s not nearly as bad as running in sand, but it’s similar to that feeling. I was afraid that I was the only one experiencing fatigue so early on, so I was relieved to hear Cathryn express that she also felt like it was hard work. My Garmin indicated we were off to a slow-ish start, averaging 9:20/mile for the first 2 miles, which contributed to the feeling that a sub-2 was not in the cards after all. However, I eventually realized that my Garmin was losing satellite signal, so I stopped paying attention to pace and just focused on effort.

Putting on our best smiles for the camera. (Photo credit: Zoom Racing)

Putting on our best smiles for the camera. (Photo credit: Zoom Running Events.)

We eventually finished the orange loop and started on the pink. If I had to be honest, I knew I was in trouble even though it was early on in the race — I was already feeling really tired after only 3+ miles. But I wasn’t going to give up, so I followed Cathryn as we began the first pink ribbon loop. About a mile in, we encountered the one gnarly hill of the whole race. I put my head down and pushed through it, knowing I’d probably have a much harder time the 2nd time around. I took my one Gu at ~45 minutes into the race and stopped at the aid station to get a cup of water. As the aid station was a bit off the main path and I didn’t want to run off with the cup, I ended up spending about 30 seconds of precious time drinking water there.

This looks like

View from the pink loop. (source)

We finished the 1st orange + pink loop in ~58 minutes. Without that number, I would’ve totally given up because I was feeling so tired already and we were only halfway done. But, as Cathryn pointed out, if we kept it up, I still had a chance at a sub-2 half. So, onward we went. I got a small boost of energy at the beginning of the 2nd orange loop, partially from the Gu kicking in and partially from Cathryn’s zany playlist, which she played from her iPhone. We bounded down the trail and passed some people, which also perked me up a bit.

From about mile 8 to the end of the race, it was a constant mental and physical struggle. I started to dissociate and daydream about the finish line and even what I’d write in the race recap. Eventually, I realized that wasn’t helping, and settled in on focusing on the present. I quickly realized that the mantra “I’m strong” doesn’t really work when you’re not feeling strong at all — not even the slightest bit. I ended up focusing on the mantra of “THIS MILE.” It didn’t matter what was going to happen later on, if I was going to get my sub-2 or whatever. What mattered was how I handled THIS MILE. So, I set my eyes on Cathryn’s purple trainers and just followed wherever they went. I also practiced surging, increasing my pace every once in a while, since that’s supposed to get you out of a rut. I don’t know if it worked, but at least I was running a little faster, even if it was only for a couple of seconds at a time.

The last loop was all a blur. One thing I do remember is walking up the last part of the gnarly hill and getting mad at myself because it was *nothing* compared to the hills I encountered just 2 weeks ago at Skirt n’ Dirt. Mostly, I just recall following Cathryn and going back and forth between counting down to the finish and trying to stay in the present. When we finally came upon the last little downhill that led to the finish, I looked down at my watch and realized that it would be close. Very close. I had less than a minute to cover what seemed like a tenth of a mile. The good news is that it was partially downhill; the bad news is that there was an abrupt right turn followed by a 50-100 m straightaway to the finish. Cathryn took off, yelling something as she went. I tried my best to follow, heaving loudly as I ran towards the finish. As I turned the corner, the race clock showed I only had 10-20 seconds left until the 2 hour mark. I knew it was going to be tight.

I stopped my watch as I crossed the mat. My Garmin read 1:59:59, but I figured that my official time was probably a little over because I saw the race clock go to 2 hours right as I finished. It ended up not mattering because I soon found out from Wendell, the race director, that the half marathon course was 12.95 miles. So, I didn’t run a sub-2 half or a PR pace after all. Slightly disappointing, but I was still proud of myself for hanging in there when times got tough.


Yay for running friends! (Photo courtesy of Cathryn.)

After catching my breath, I ate about 10 slices of watermelon and drank a few cups of water. Then, Cathryn and I watched as bt came through the finish chute looking strong. We celebrated our victorious day by donning our too-bright race shirts and meeting up with the Gypsy Runner for super delicious Mexican food.

After brunch and coffee at Tacubaya.

After brunch and coffee at Tacubaya. (Photo courtesy of Cathryn.)

So, let’s review those goals, shall we?

  1. Run by feel. I had taped up the pace display and planned on only looking at the mile splits. However, since my Garmin’s GPS was a bit wonky, I stopped paying attention to those too, so I sort of accomplished this by default. My watch ended up logging 12.7 miles for the course.
  2. Don’t peak at 6 miles. Well, I “succeeded” at this only because I peaked even earlier. Oops. Though, to be fair, Cathryn and I passed a fair number of people in the last half of the race, so at least we didn’t go out too fast. I think we only got passed by one person in the last loop.
  3. Save mantras for last third. I started thinking about mantras earlier, but didn’t start focusing on them until somewhere in the 2nd loop, so I’m going to count this in the win column.
  4. Respect the distance. Yeah, not sure what I meant when I wrote that, but I definitely viewed this as a 13 mile race… so yay?
  5. Mental fortitude in the last 5K. Definitely. CHECK.
  6. (Secret sub-2 hour finish.) No, but I know it will come. And even if I had run a sub-2 on Saturday, I would’ve had to put an asterisk next to it because it wasn’t a 13.1 mile course.

I’m counting this race as an overall victory: I gained a decent chunk of mental training, the course was scenic, the race was well-organized, and I had lots of fun with Cathryn and bt. It was a great day all around.

Official results:
time: 2:00:01 (9:14/mile)
6/19 AG, 13/54 F, 35/91 overall

About the race:

  • Organizers: Zoom Running Events
  • Cost: $45 (I received a free entry because I volunteered at a race in July).
  • Course: Point Pinole Regional Park. Mostly crushed rock/gravel, with short sections of single track and also paved paths. Elevation-wise, there was one noticeable hill with slight changes of elevation. Here’s what my Garmin read (650′ elevation gain):
    Pt Pinole elev

    The four repeated hills represent the section of trail that we had to run 4 times (down the middle of the park). No wonder I always felt so winded in that section!

    I’d hesitate to call this a trail race, but I wouldn’t say it was a road race either. It’s sort of a hybrid of the two, based on terrain, elevation, and scenery.

  • Parking: Free when we arrived at 7:20 (I think they charge once there’s a ranger stationed in the booth). The lot was a 5-minute walk to the start area.
  • Aid stations: 2 for the whole loop, which we passed 8 times total. They are a little off the path, so I definitely wished I had brought my handheld.
  • Bathrooms: Almost all outhouses. There were 3 by the parking lot (which were out of toilet paper!) and another 3 by the race start. I spotted a couple of outhouses along the course as well.
  • Swag: Short-sleeve tech t-shirt in an unappealing shade of yellow-green, though it is growing on me. I’m glad they reminded us to order a size up because the shirts run small. We also got medals and lots of snacks at the end. There was a random drawing, where winners got to choose from various prizes like water bottles and hats. Free race photos were posted on Picasa.

Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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Posted in Brain Training, Race Recap, Trail running
22 comments on “Race Recap: Zoom Point Pinole Half Marathon
  1. Cathryn says:

    So much in here that made me laugh..but the memory of those stinky loos all round the island was the funniest!!! Still gagging now. I’m so sad you didn’t get your sub-two – I feel like you were robbed. But you’re SO close that one day soon, it’ll come and you’ll not even notice it happening! Thank you for getting me to do this, I had so much fun.

    • Jen says:

      I *almost* put the part in about the stinky loos, but I decided to leave it out, so I’m glad you commented on it. Just imagine how bad they would’ve smelled in hot weather!

      I’m so very glad that you and T came to run this with me. And I definitely could not have run this race as strongly without you, so thanks again!

  2. JS says:

    I like your note about just focusing on “this mile” instead of “I’m strong.” I think I can apply that thought to many other areas of my life. 🙂

  3. The way I see it, here’s the brightside – the race was on gravel, the aid stations were off the trail, and you were struggling. YET, a mere .15 miles short of a legit half marathon distance, you managed to pull a sub-two hours (I’m going by your watch thankyouverymuch). Given the circumstances, you’re obviously going to get a sub-two your next half. Speaking of, did you register for Big Sur?

    • Jen says:

      Heh, thanks for the disclaimers. I decided against Big Sur Half because:
      – the cost: $125 not including Active.com fee, hotel, food, gas, etc.
      – it’s only 3 weeks after MCM. Not sure how fast I’ll recover from that.
      – I don’t know anyone else running it.
      – I’m running the Big Sur Full in April, and it’s much, much prettier than the half. Delayed gratification!

      Basically, I realized that I’d be pissed if I didn’t get a sub-2, or if it was horrible conditions, or if I got sick… any number of things. It just seemed to be too many expectations, and all in a negative sense. I’ve got my sights set on an easy, flat half in February though…

  4. KrisLawrence says:

    You have a great attitude! Running on crushed gravel for the majority of a race is brutal. It takes more out of your legs than you realize because you are using some of that muscle energy for slight balance. You did a great job and that sub 2 will be yours!

  5. Dominick S. says:

    You suck. But really, this course looks super annoying. Loose gravel and constant elevation change…terrible. Not really a course to PR so the fact that you came damn close should resonate on just how much progress you are making! As far as respecting the distance…I think what you meant was don’t look at 13 like it’s a walk in the park just because you have been crushing 18+ runs lately and doing crazy trail runs. 13 miles is what RUNNERS train months to complete once. The fact that you dropped that effort in second half of marathon training on tired legs…awesome. You need to be your own hype man…I won’t always be here Jen! I want you to add “Believe in yourself, your ability and trust your hard work” into your mantras. You’re a strong runner!

    • Jen says:

      Can I get you to make a recording of these affirmations so I can play them during races? Seriously.
      You’re right about the respecting the distance goal. I had previously gone into half marathons thinking they were nothing, but 13.1 miles is still a long ways!

  6. Mike says:

    Really, nothing about racing annoys me more than a short course, because like you said, you can’t legitimately compare it to any other race… if you’d crossed that finish line 2 seconds earlier, you’d still have lingering doubts because it wasn’t 13.1. So you’re absolutely right to disregard the time and focus on the many positives, like running one of your strongest races yet during the toughest stretch of marathon training. Come MCM, your legs will thank you for having rallied them around gravel-strewn Point Pinole. And although tougher to quantify (but no less important), you’re clearly honing your mental game at the same time. A solid day all around!

    On a final positive note, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding that race shirt in your closet…

    • Jen says:

      Ha, thanks Mike. I put the mental training into good use yesterday during an interval session of 8 x 800’s, so it’s already paying dividends.

      Re: the short course. I can understand that it’s harder to get exact distances for trail races, but I wished that it had been advertised as such so that I knew what I was getting into at the beginning of the race.

  7. Dan says:

    Something you probably didn’t notice, but one of my favorite parts about this post is the image of your tweet. Because underneath all your goals, as if right at the end, is “Collapse.” I think that should have been incorporated into your race plan 🙂

    • Jen says:

      Haha, good eye, Dan! Funnily enough, the alternative would have been “Expand.” Not sure what that would mean, but it could be quite philosophical/new-agey.

  8. Hillary says:

    I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. UGH GRAVEL. I’ve actually found that the “this mile”-type mantra works really well for me, as well. Proud of you for sticking to it at the end. I often find that, when you’re not feeling your best, those last few miles can be the most annoying miles in the history of running.

    Also, I know I’m a trail n00b when I look at a map and immediately notice things like “dynamite blast bunker” and think, “wait. seriously? is this course safe? do prospectors spectate?” 🙂

    • Jen says:

      Yes, “most annoying miles in the history of running” pretty much describes it. 🙂 At least I was able to follow Cathryn and not have to make any decisions — that saved me a considerable amount of mental energy.

      Re: dynamite blast bunker — thankfully, there were no explosions going on during the race — though maybe those mud run people might incorporate that idea into their next event! Before it became a public park, Point Pinole was where they manufactured gunpowder and explosives. So, I assume the bunker is a remnant from that time.

  9. Kira says:

    Great job, Jen! Sounds like such a difficult course. I suspect the event organizers got a special discount for those yellow shirts.

  10. […] for us, I decided to pull out all of the stops. I took a page from Cathryn’s playbook from Point Pinole and started playing music from my iPhone. It was surreal listening to Bruce Springsteen’s […]

  11. […] line, and sometimes I’ll start analyzing the race even before it’s over.  At the Zoom Pt. Pinole Half, I had used a similar mantra of “This Mile,” but for whatever reason, it hasn’t […]

  12. […] points: – Putting too much pressure on myself at the Oakland, SF, and Pt. Pinole half marathons to run a sub-2, which significantly decreased my enjoyment of those races. – Marine […]

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