Race Recap: Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon 2015

Why I wanted to run this race, goals, and strategy:
Previously discussed here, but in summary:

  • I wanted to race with friends.  More specifically, it was Cathryn‘s “birthday race”. (You can read her recap here, and bt’s here.)
  • Time goal: PR, or finish in under 2 hours.
  • To try my best (foot willing; I had a lingering niggle from Foster City).
  • Finish.  Always a victory in itself.
  • Enjoy myself, even if it’s only during the first couple of miles, and to run with gratitude.
  • Not injure myself, even if it comes at the expense of the above “Finish” goal.

Pre-race:
I love that Kaiser is a no-frills race that’s organized by runners, for runners.  As such, there is no expo and bibs are mailed out about 2 weeks before the race.  Going into race day, I had taken taper extremely seriously, only running 8 miles the week before.  I babied my foot, being careful with my landings and wearing my more cushioned Altra Superior shoes for every run.  The night before, I had my usual pre-race dinner of baked chicken, steamed broccoli, and couscous, which has served me well since last year’s Oakland Marathon.

I awoke bright dark and early on race morning at 5:10 a.m., got dressed, and ate a breakfast of cereal and coffee.  In light of my lingering foot soreness, I opted to go with a pair of extra padded Thorlo socks that I received as a Christmas present and Altra Superiors over my usual combo of Zoot compression socks and minimal Merrell Pace Gloves.  I picked up JT en route to San Francisco, where we arrived at the lot near Fulton and Great Highway around 6:45 a.m., 75 minutes before race time.  I was adamant that there would be no last-minute running to the start line à la 2014.  As we organized our gear at my car, Cathryn and her two boys serendipitously found us, and the 5 of us headed toward the shuttles that would take us 1-1.5 miles to the start line.  By 7:15, we had arrived in the start area, used the porta potties, and had lots of time to kill before the race.  The weather was cool and foggy, unlike last year’s wind and rain.  I was really glad that I kept my heatsheet from the SF Half Marathon, because it served as a perfect pre-race layer, ready to be shed at race time.  While standing around, Brianna approached and introduced herself.  Despite being internet friends for months, this is the first time we got to meet in person.  She went on to crush the competition in the 5K, coming in 4th in her age group!

Eventually, we wandered over to the start “chute” which was more like a huge mass of runners than an organized start.  Since it’s such a large race, I really think it would benefit from having wave starts or better spacing between pace markers.  For example, the “Strollers” sign was not far behind the “9:00/mile” area, which — I’m not saying that there aren’t fast stroller runners, but generally, if it’s going to be crowded, I’d rather them start in the back.  Such is my bias.  Also, I’m not sure why the 5K starts at the same time as the half marathon, but that seemed foolish as well.  Somehow in this mass of people, we found Cate and bt, and chatted briefly before squeezing ourselves into the crowd of runners.

After a rather, um, unimpressive version of the Star Spangled Banner, the horn sounded and the crowd slowly moved forward.  I lost JT as I moved to the left curb to drop my heat sheet into the trash.  I finally crossed the start mat a couple of minutes later, and thus began my Kaiser 2015 adventure!

The Race: Golden Gate Park (GGP) and the Panhandle (Miles 1-7)
Last year, my first mile split was 9:38, so I knew I could start relatively slow and still come in under 2 hours.  However, I feel like I spent more energy this year weaving around people — the crowding seemed to be more of an issue for some reason.  After passing a runner, I’d start getting into a rhythm, only to catch up to yet another person running significantly slower than I wanted to.  For the first 4 miles of the race, this was the frustrating pattern that kept repeating itself.  I saw many people on their phones – talking or looking at the screen – or walking/jogging 2-3 across in the middle of the street.  It was infuriating!  I was really surprised to see so many “rookie” moves, as this is a race that draws a lot of serious Bay Area runners, not just weekend warriors or bucket-list groupies.  Despite all of the weaving, I managed to make it to the mile 4 marker only 0.05 miles over, which was good considering that last year, I had run 4.10 at the same point.   I hoped that focusing on running tangents would counter the slower mile paces that were showing up on my Garmin.
Splits (1-4): 9:41, 9:11, 9:24, 9:05

Not sure when this was taken, but judging by my relaxed pose and the guy behind me ON HIS PHONE, I'm guessing it's early on in the race.

Not sure when this was taken, but judging by my relaxed pose and the guy behind me ON HIS PHONE, I’m guessing it’s early on in the race.

As I passed the Mile 4 marker, I took out a Gu from my FlipBelt and washed it down with some water from my handheld.  The next 3 miles through GGP were my favorite of the course, as we passed the bison and Spreckels Lake.  It’s also mostly downhill, so it feels amazing.  Before I knew it, I was approaching Ocean Beach and the Great Highway.
Splits (5-7): 9:03, 8:35, 8:33

Great Highway to the Finish (Miles 8-13.1)
When I hit this stretch, I knew it was time to turn up the effort, mentally and physically.  I felt super strong for the first mile and was optimistic that I could keep up the sub-9:00 pace for the rest of the race.  I saw Layla with her “Team Cat” sign, which was a huge boost as well.  I waved and she yelled some encouragement in return.  After that initial excitement, however, I started to waiver a little.  I decided to focus on looking for JT and Cathryn on their way back from the turnaround.  I tried my best not to think about how many more miles I had left, or how this stretch of road seemed to go on endlessly.  Whereas mile markers came and went quickly for the first 7 miles, they started feeling like they were getting further and further apart.  Just past the 8 mile marker, I took my 2nd Gu.  I got to the turnaround without seeing JT and Cathryn, which was unfortunately likely due to all 3 of us being rather short and obscured by the tall shrubbery dividing the road.  I had hoped for a boost after the turnaround, but instead I started feeling more tired.
Splits (8-10): 8:43, 8:56, 9:00

The next 3.1 miles were painful.  My mantra for the rest of the race was “roll on home.”  It helped me focus on staying relaxed while accelerating towards the finish.  At the mile 10 marker, I saw that my total elapsed time was 1:30 or 1:31, meaning that going under 2 hours would be extremely close.  To distract myself from the fatigue, I started putting my sights on various people ahead of me.  I tried to either hang on or catch them.  While I wasn’t very successful most of the time, it did take some of the pain away.  My left foot, which had been quiet throughout most of the race, suddenly started whining at mile 12.  Luckily, it was nothing alarming, so I decided to press on.

Fighting hard at the end of the race.  Hey, at least I was beating the shirtless dude and the cat-ears guy.

Fighting hard at the end of the race. Hey, at least I was beating the shirtless dude and the cat-ears guy.

With each mile marker I passed, I noticed the sub 2-hour window getting smaller.  I think I had around 10 minutes left to run the last 1.1 miles, or 9:05/mile pace.  Mentally, I felt strong and pushed myself as hard as I could, even as I wished that the finish line would appear at any moment.  I didn’t dare to look at my Garmin and simply focused on going as fast as possible.  The last little hill up to the finish was miserable, but much shorter than I remembered from last year.  I crossed the finish line and looked down — 2:00:25.  Boo.  To make matters worse, my pace for the last 0.2 miles was 9:34/mile.  I could’ve sworn that it was closer to 8:45.  That’s how it felt anyway.
Splits (11-13.2): 9:15, 9:21, 9:32, 9:34 (for 0.22)

The finish from 2 different perspectives.

The finish from 2 different perspectives. On the left, I’m barely beating out the woman pushing not one, but TWO children in a stroller.  On the right, I’ve somehow sprung another set of arms.

Post-race:
After getting my medal (a Kaiser first), I hobbled about and found JT in the crowd.  We eventually reunited with our whole party and traded stories.  It had not been a stellar day for any of us, with the exception of Cathryn’s 5-year old son who won his age group for the 5K and set a new PR!  The rest of us quickly turned our frowns upside down with brunch at a nearby cafe.  On the way to my car, I stopped to chat with Kimra, another social media friend whom I’ve never met in person.  It was great to finally meet her!  All in all, a fun day of hard racing.  I spent the rest of day vegged out in front of the television, entranced by the Super Bowl ads.

Post-race refueling is my favorite.

Post-race refueling is my favorite, especially with such delightful company. (Photo credit: Cathryn)

As for my goals, let’s review:

  • Race with friends: accomplished.  Always so much fun.
  • Run a PR: nope.
  • Run a sub-2 hour half marathon: missed by 24 seconds.  Whomp-whomp.  After the initial disappointment, I was actually fine with it.
  • Try my best: accomplished.
  • Finish.  Always a victory in itself: accomplished.
  • Enjoy myself, even if it’s only during the first couple of miles, and to run with gratitude: hm, this is a vague one, isn’t it?  I did take note at several points during the race how nice the weather and scenery was, and I gave high-fives to spectators whenever possible.
  • Not injure myself, even if it comes at the expense of the “Finish” goal: accomplished.  My foot held up rather nicely.

I’ve decided also to start listing at least 5 positive things or lessons learned from each race. (Idea credit: JT.)

  1. I may not have PR’d or run a sub-2 half, but I did run my 2nd fastest time ever for a half marathon.
  2. I’m starting to free myself from the Garmin.  Throughout the race, I was able to look at the pace display and react very objectively – something I used to have a very hard time doing.  Towards the end of the race, it did put a fire under me to finish faster, but I’d say that’s a positive effect.
  3. I’ve become much stronger mentally towards the end of races.  In fact, I’d say that at Kaiser, I was stronger mentally than I was physically, which leads me to…
  4. Long runs are important.  Leading up to Kaiser, I only did one 12-miler and one 10-miler (with a 1-mile warm-up).  This really showed in the last 3 miles, as my pace dragged despite increasing my effort.
  5. I got to spend quality time with friends before and after the race.
  6. The weather was just about perfect.
  7. Logistics were much smoother than last year.
  8. I actually look like I’m running in my race photos!  (i.e., one of my legs is kicking back)  I take this as a good sign that my form might be improving?

In summary, I had an overall positive experience at Kaiser.  I’ll probably take a break from the race in 2016, but it’s definitely a race I’ll come back to in the future.

Garmin results:
13.22 miles in 2:00:25 (9:06/mile)
Elevation gain/loss (feet): 164/345 (total net loss 180′)
Heart rate — inconclusive data.  This is the only time the Mio Link has ever failed me to such an extreme, and I’m not sure why.

The strangest HR data that I've ever seen.

The strangest HR data that I’ve ever seen.  Looks like I decided to take several breaks, mixed with 5K effort, throughout the race.

Official results:
2:00:23 (9:12/mile)
122/324 AG, 708/2222 F, 2103/4566 overall

**

About the race: (more or less pasted from last year’s race recap)

  • Organizers: Pamakid Runners
  • Cost: $65 for early registration, $75 closer to race day.  No race day registration.  Bibs and chips are sent by mail – no packet pick-up or expo.  Prices increased by $10 this year because of medals.
  • Course: The 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.  We parked at the lot by Ocean Beach (Fulton & Great Highway) and took a shuttle to the start, which worked out wonderfully.
  • 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 or fruit stations.
  • 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:  Long sleeve cotton tee with a decent design, heat sheet, water, and a plastic bag with a few flyers and a mini-Clif bar.  New this year, they also gave out medals that double as magnets.
  • Post race food and drinks: Some fruit and free samples were given out at the health and fitness expo, but there was usually a long line
  • Post-race expo: There were tents giving out samples and others offering massages, foot checks, and other health services.

    2015 Kaiser swag: long sleeve t-shirt and medal that doubles as a magnet.

    2015 Kaiser swag: long sleeve t-shirt and medal that doubles as a magnet.

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About

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 Race Recap
10 comments on “Race Recap: Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon 2015
  1. Cathryn says:

    That four-armed photo made my night.

    Great write up. Basically you and I ran the same race. Le sigh. Next time!

  2. egb says:

    Great job! I like how you detail your goals and positive things. That 4 armed photo is great! 🙂

    • Jen says:

      Thanks, E! I’m trying to be more positive these days. I noticed I would often make statements like, “Well, I didn’t PR, BUT xyz…” Now I just skip the part before the “but” and focus on the positive!

  3. Jan says:

    It sounds like a really good race even if you didn’t hit sub 2-hours! Impressive! And great photos, ,especially the 4 arms. 4 arms would actually be so handy (pun intended).

  4. Grace says:

    Well, you did good; I like your positives-and-lessons approach. And you got some great photos out of it…not that I would pay for those, but think of all the things you could do with four arms: carry more gels, carry two water bottles and still have something left over to blow your nose on…you name it. Though it would probably mean double the weight training.

    • Jen says:

      Thanks, Grace. Good point about the potential benefits of having 4 arms but I think it would probably make me less efficient than I already am. Not to mention 2x the underarm chafing!

  5. Mike says:

    Given that your foot held up nicely and you all got to celebrate Cathryn’s birthday, I’d call the day a success! Plus you were able to further hone your mental game, which will come in just as handy (if not more) as any of the physical training benefits. The heart rate data is admittedly strange and suggests that either a) the Mio wasn’t making a consistent connection for some reason, or b) you ran 13.1 miles like a total spaz. I’m no cardiologist, but I’m leaning toward the former. 🙂

    • Jen says:

      Haha, perhaps I was a total spaz. I’m thinking that maybe the Mio didn’t charge properly or maybe it succumbed to performance anxiety??

      Good point about the mental game — that’s definitely something I think will benefit me in the future!

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