Why I wanted to run this race:
With a marathon scheduled in April, I thought February/March would be a great time to run a flat and fast half marathon. I had narrowed it down to Kaiser or Bay Breeze, and when Cathryn said she might run Kaiser, that was the swing vote. I became more excited when I found out that both bt and Angela had also registered for Kaiser. Bay Area blogger party!! Unfortunately, both Cathryn and Angela came down with injuries and didn’t race, so I decided to not only go for a sub-2, but to run it for them.
– Time goal: come in under 2 hours (9:09/mile)
– Run with my Garmin covered so I can concentrate on running by feel.
– Try to pace an even/negative split.
In the week before the race, I found out that Roserunner was also running Kaiser, so we decided to carpool. For some reason, I decided to ignore the suggested parking instructions, which was to either park at the start or finish and take the free shuttle to/from the race. My plan was to park around 25th or 30th Avenue and jog ~1 mile to the start and then jog ~1 mile back after the race. When I made that plan, I assumed 2 things: one, the forecast for light rain would be just that — a mist or drizzle; and two, that we wouldn’t have too much trouble finding parking that far away from the start at 7:15 a.m. (the race started at 8 a.m.).
I awoke to a cold and rainy morning, and calmed myself by remembering CIM 2012, when I ran a full marathon in monsoon-like conditions. When I got outside, the first thing I noticed was it was raining harder than I expected and it was a lot colder than I expected (about 40 degrees). It might have been rainier and windier at CIM, but it was also about 10-15 degrees warmer at the start. I got to Roserunner’s place about 3 minutes ahead of schedule at 6:42 and texted to let her know I was there. Then I waited. And waited. Finally, at 6:48, I called her. She had never gotten my text message, and we were both waiting for the other person’s text. Stupid cell phones. At 6:50, having wasted 8 minutes, we were on our way to SF. All was well again… until I missed our freeway exit and we had to take a detour. UGH. Another 6-7 minutes wasted. As we got closer to Golden Gate Park (GGP), traffic became unsurprisingly congested. We finally turned on Fulton and drove down to 25th Avenue. It was already 7:35. CRAP. There were NO parking spots to be found. CRAP x 100. Roserunner wisely suggested that we find a barely legal parking space where we wouldn’t necessarily block anyone, so that we wouldn’t get towed. She proposed that if we got a parking ticket, then we would split it evenly between us. Deal! Desperate times call for desperate measures y’all. We finally found a very tight parking space, I pulled on a dollar store poncho, and we started jogging to the start (still over a mile away) a little after 7:40. I knew we’d make it to the race, but it was a matter of how much time would we have to use the bathroom and get into the right location in the start corral. (There were no wave starts, and this is the biggest half marathon in Northern California, so you can imagine how congested it is at the start.)
I pulled into the porta potty area and got in line around 7:53. The line wasn’t that long, and I sensed that I’d make it to the start in time. I breathed a sigh of relief and started looking around the area, when I noticed a familiar face about 5 people ahead of me in line. It was bt! Out of all of the porta potty lines, in all the world, she had to be in mine… Anyway, it was an awesome coincidence because I was afraid that we wouldn’t be able to see each other at all since we hadn’t made any specific plans, and also because I had gotten to the race so late. After I used the facilities, we walked over to the race start just in time to position ourselves near the 8 or 9 minute/mile pace signs (I forget which) and listen to announcements. I threw away my poncho, which wasn’t keeping me dry anyway and I didn’t want it to slow me down. Shortly after 8:00 a.m., the race started, and I crossed the start mat about 2 minutes later.
(For some great photos of race conditions, I suggest you head over to Angela’s blog. She came out to spectate despite the horrible weather. Even though I never saw her on the course, she was with me in spirit, and I’m sure lots of other runners appreciated her being out there. Thanks, Angela!)
The Race: GGP & The Panhandle (miles 1-7)
The first thing that happened was that the plan to cover my Garmin with electrical tape completely failed due to the wet weather. It didn’t end up mattering because there was a volunteer at every mile marker shouting out the elapsed race time, so I was going to get timing feedback whether I liked it or not. In the first mile heading out of GGP, I ran very conservatively. I passed people only when I had an opening, and I tried not to make any unnecessary movements. I used the road markings to make sure I didn’t weave like I sometimes do. At the end of the first mile, I couldn’t resist looking at my watch. 9:39 — too slow. Instead of freaking out, I reminded myself that I wanted to start easy and run by feel. There was plenty of time to catch up. Going east on Fell along the panhandle in the 2nd mile, I started settling into what I felt was the right effort. The rain had lightened up somewhat, but it was still quite chilly and I regretted forgetting my gloves in the car, as my fingers were getting more frozen by the minute. Whenever I passed an aid station, I took a hit of Cytomax from my handheld, even though I was never thirsty the whole race. In mile 3, my legs started feeling heavy. I reflexively whined to myself, “Already?! WHY?!” However, instead of dwelling on the negative, I focused on the fact that everything else felt great — my breathing was under control and my mind was still feeling strong. I also told myself that unless I actually felt acute pain, there was nothing to worry about. I had trained hard for this, and my muscles were ready. So, with that, I followed the course back into GGP.
Somewhere in mile 4, I picked up an extra 0.1 miles on my Garmin — there were a few turns, so maybe I didn’t run the tangents. Anyway, it was a good reminder to stay focused and stay on course. At the mile 4 marker, I took my first Gu. I was glad to have gotten some great advice about the course, mostly from Angela, so I didn’t freak out when I encountered the gradual inclines in this first section. I stayed focused on running by feel and knew that with every uphill, a downhill section would surely make up for it. Miles 6 and 7 were awesome — almost 300′ in total elevation loss over 2 miles. Not only did this section fly by, but I also took some satisfaction knowing that this was the same hill I had to run UP last June for the San Francisco Half Marathon. Take that, stupid hill! As we headed out of the park, I heard the other runners cheering and realized that the front-runners were already on their way back and less than half a mile from the finish. I let out a little cheer, excited for them as well as myself, knowing that I was more than halfway done and running right on schedule.
The Great Highway & the Finish (miles 8-13.1)
According to most accounts of this race, the Great Highway is the most dreaded section of the course. Over 5.5 miles of running on a straight path, wondering, “Where the heck is that turnaround?!” To combat the unchanging scenery, I heard a great tip: focus on each stop light, so that you have proof that you’re actually making forward progress. So, I had prepared myself mentally to tackle this section. What I wasn’t prepared for was the headwind. OMG. It was brutal! I tried my best to find someone to draft behind, but didn’t have any luck. At the 8 mile marker, I took my second Gu, which was difficult considering my fingers were nearly frozen. I pressed on, desperately hoping that the headwind would become tailwind at the turnaround. I had no idea what my mile splits were, but every time I passed a mile marker, I would look at the elapsed time on my Garmin and do the math. I knew I was very close to goal pace, and was encouraged at the fact that at least I wasn’t getting significantly slower.
To my great relief, the headwind disappeared at the turnaround. It was like going from a wind tunnel to a sound proof room… it was amazing! I don’t know if it was the headwind going away, or if it was my caffeinated Gu kicking in, but I felt great during mile 11. That moment didn’t last, however, as I started getting tired – the way one does after having run 11 miles at a hard effort. Somewhere around this time, I saw bt on the out portion. She cheerfully waved and yelled, but I was only able to return her greeting with a wave and a nod. During this struggle is where I had another epiphany: despite how tired I was, I still felt much, much better than I’ve ever felt this late in a half marathon. I knew I was still running strong; it was just taking more effort to maintain that pace, and that was OK. It’s how it should be, actually. I also knew that I was still cutting it close with the sub-2, and I would be so angry at myself if I let off the gas with only 2 miles to go and finished just over 2 hours. So I reconciled the fact that it was going to be a painful last 2.1 miles. I started trying to catch up to and pass as many people as I could, which is another thing I’ve never been able to do at the end of a half marathon.
After I passed the mile 12 marker, I focused on making it to the turn off the Great Highway back into GGP. I had heard that there was a steep hill on this section, and sure enough, in the last ~0.3 miles, there was a very noticeable incline. I fought tooth and nail to run, not jog, up that hill. A volunteer or spectator encouraged the runners with, “The finish is just at the top of the hill!” At the summit, I was hyperventilating loudly and wondering where the heck was that finish line? I rounded a bend in the road and there it was! I saw the official race clock turn to 2:00:00, but I knew I had a bit of padding since I started 2 minutes later. A couple of seconds later, I looked down at my Garmin and was SO happy and elated to see 1:58:56. I did it — after 4 tries, I finally broke 2 hours!! I would have jumped or wept for joy, but I was seriously exhausted and also frozen.
I made my way through the finish corral and found Roserunner’s smiling face toward the end. The poor girl had finished almost 30 minutes before me and had been standing in the freezing drizzle for that entire time with a heatsheet. She patiently waited even longer for me to claim my PR medal through SweatTracker. So, the thing is, Kaiser does not usually hand out medals because they would rather give a larger share of the registration fees to charity. Very commendable. Enter SweatTracker, a private fitness company, who offered medals to anyone who PR’d on Sunday. All I had to do was go to their site and pre-register with my information. I’m not usually one for bling, but getting one for a PR was pretty sweet – I felt like I really earned it. I also picked up my shirt and a bottle of water and made a quick pit stop. Then, we headed back towards the car.
And, oh the long trek back! This was definitely the most painful part of the whole day, as Roserunner and I walked through GGP in our soaked-through tank tops, shorts, shoes, and socks, with only our new long sleeve race t-shirts and flimsy heat sheets for warmth. Did I mention that the rain started to pick up again? We alternated between whining about and laughing at the situation. Well, it was definitely memorable! I have never been so happy to see my car (no parking ticket!) and turn on the heat full blast. When I got home, it took my toes another 4-5 HOURS to fully thaw — they were chilled to the bone! But none of that mattered because not only had I PR’d, but I also ran my first sub-2 hour half marathon, and I successfully executed my race plan by running strong, mentally and physically, throughout the entire race. Victory!!
– Finish under 2 hours (9:09/mile): Accomplished!
– Run with my Garmin covered so I can concentrate on running by feel: Garmin was not covered, but I still ran mostly by feel.
– Try to pace an even/negative split. Accomplished! 1st half split: ~59:30, 2nd half split: ~59:21
– Enjoy! I would say that I did, especially the first half of the race. I gave high-fives to spectators and remembered to take in the views. The second half for me was more about survival and less about enjoyment.
time: 1:58:51 (9:04/mile)
123/319 AG, 704/2163 F, 2051/4355 overall
About the race:
- Organizers: Pamakid Runners
- Cost: $55 for early registration, $65 closer to race day. No race day registration. Bibs and chips are sent by mail – no packet pick-up or expo.
- Course: First half is very gradually rolling, with a net downhill of ~150′ as you head toward the Pacific Ocean. The stretch on the Great Highway is flat, but is exposed to wind. The final 1/2 mile has ~75′ gain, which isn’t that crazy, but definitely seems very steep when you’re at the end of a half marathon!
- Parking: Because the start and finish are 2.5 miles apart, the organizers suggest parking at the start (for a fee) or at the finish (free), and taking a free shuttle to go between your car and the race. After what Roserunner and I went through, that would be my recommendation as well.
- Aid stations: Plenty of water stations spaced regularly along the course. The electrolyte stations (Gatorade) did not start until after the halfway point. No gel stations, but there was a random spectator at mile 9 or 10 kindly offering Gatorade chews.
- Bathrooms: Plenty of porta potties near the start. The course runs past 2-3 brick-and-mortar bathrooms in GGP and the starting line porta potties at mile 4.5. I saw ~4 porta potties each at mile 7 and again later in the race (10?).
- Swag: Not much, but to be expected considering the relatively low entry fee. Long sleeve cotton tee with a decent design, heat sheet, water, and a plastic bag with a few flyers and a mini-Clif bar. I got a medal through Sweat Tracker for PR’ing.
- Post race food and drinks: I didn’t walk far enough to get to any of the food, but I was told there were bananas and pastry/baked good samples.
- Post-race expo: There was a health and fitness expo at the finish. I didn’t walk through, but they were supposedly offering massages, foot checks, and other health services.
- Other notes/summary: Pros: Very well-organized. The course is scenic and fast, and the entry fee is very reasonable. I really appreciated getting my bib in the mail, which saved me a trip to SF. Cons: parking (not the organizers’ fault), weather (again, not the organizers’ fault), and not very much food at the end of the race. I would definitely run Kaiser again!