Background: I’ve been a long-time listener to the Marathon Talk podcast, and one of the hosts, Tom Williams, is an organizer of parkrun — a free, weekly 5K that started in the U.K., and has since spread all over the world. Last year, they started one in San Francisco at Crissy Field, but I was deterred by the long drive (45-50 minutes, without traffic) just to run a 5K. However, with the Oakland 5k coming up as goal race, Cathryn and I decided we could use a dress rehearsal 5K. Plus it’s free. Happily, bt and the rest of Team Ramsden (Cat’s boys) also decided to join us. (For their recaps, see Cathryn’s here and bt’s here.)
Goals: I didn’t have any time goals. I just wanted to go out, see where my fitness stood, and get into the 5k frame of mind — i.e., enter the “pain cave”. A secondary goal was to work on mental toughness and focus on pushing hard throughout the race.
Pre-race: I arrived at Crissy Field at 8:30 a.m., and found plenty of free parking near the Beach Hut. I met Dale, the enthusiastic and awesome Crissy Field parkrun organizer, as he was putting up the official parkrun signage. bt appeared shortly and we made a pit stop before embarking on a short, easy warm up. As we headed back to the start area, we spotted Team Ramsden. We listened to announcements from Dale, walked over to the start area, and took some group photos.
The race: This is a free event, so there aren’t a lot of frills – no chip timing or start/finish mats. The 40 or so runners formed a haphazard clump behind an imaginary start line, with Dale about 20 feet ahead counting down, “3-2-1, go!” At that command, the parkrunners took off. I noted which runners were part of our group, as it wasn’t a closed course and there were a lot of people out on the path. Since it was my first time, I wasn’t sure how well-marked the course was and I didn’t want to get lost. (Spoiler: I didn’t get lost.)
The lead runners surged west on the packed sand of the ocean front path and I followed. I wasn’t sure about the pace but I also didn’t want to go by my Garmin. So I stayed about 5-10 feet behind Cathryn for a while, knowing she was attempting a sub-25 pace. We got to the wooden bridge, which Dale had informed us was a quarter-mile from the finish line. I took a peek at my Garmin and saw 7:55/mile pace. That number (I was aiming for more like 8:10-8:20), plus the fact that I felt like I was working too hard for so early in the race, made me back off my pace. Still, I managed to pass a few people in the first mile. There were quite a few obstacles on the path, including water hazards (giant puddles) from the recent rain, not to mention dogs, strollers, cyclists, and pedestrians. I tried my best to not weave too much while avoiding most of the solid obstacles, and eventually ran through all of the puddles.
Early in the second mile, we took a sharp left on Fort Mason Road onto a paved, multi-use path. Transitioning from sand/gravel to pavement was wonderful. I picked up some speed, but I had no one to chase because everyone seemed to have settled in to their pace and there weren’t any runners in my immediate vicinity. After about a half mile, I made a left turn on the field and another left turn to make my way back to the start (in a triangular fashion). Just as I closed the triangle, I saw bt and waved, but she didn’t see me. I was breathing too hard to yell. After a couple of minutes, I passed Team Ramsden (father and son) as they were heading to the triangle, and we exchanged a quick hello.
I made a right turn to head east on the oceanfront path. Home stretch! I decided to focus on catching the two guys ahead of me. I closed the gap over the next half mile and passed the first guy, accidentally splashing him as I did so. Oops! Sorry, dude. I caught the second man shortly thereafter. Left without an immediate target to catch, I longed for the wooden bridge to come into view, as it would signal that there was only a quarter mile to go. It seemed like an eternity, but I eventually got to the wooden bridge. The next thing I looked forward to was hearing my Garmin beep that I had run 3 miles; then it would only be a tenth of a mile to go. I was hurting, but I continued to push. (Surprisingly, my photos don’t reflect the amount of effort I felt like I was expending at the time.)
I eventually saw the little finish corral, flanked by tiny orange cones. To the right of the cones was Dale, who (quite extraordinarily) managed to call finish times AND take photos simultaneously. Cathryn welcomed my return and exclaimed, “Second woman!” Wait, what? I hadn’t noticed at all during the race, but I quickly realized the only woman ahead of me was Cathryn. Oh, and not only did Cathryn finish first female, but she also PR’d! WOOT! (Also, for the record, I totally called the PR.)
Cathryn and I cheered in bt and Team Ramsden, then took photos before walking over to Dynamo donuts for post-race refueling. All in all, It was a fantastic morning. Not only was the race free, but the weather was perfect and the crowd friendly and supportive. Oh, and free photos too!If you live in or near SF, I highly recommend Crissy Field parkrun. (Note: while it’s a free race, you should register and obtain a bar code if you want an official finish time.)
My official time was 25:32, 7 seconds off my PR and my second fastest 5k to date. I’m extremely pleased with how I raced – I managed to negative split a 5k, for possibly the first time ever?? My mile splits were: 8:22, 8:16, 8:07, 7:18 (for last 0.11). That last split indicates to me that I may have been too conservative in the early part of the race. Having just finished How Bad Do You Want It by Matt Fitzgerald, some of the coping strategies (when facing high perceived effort/pain) were fresh in my mind. I don’t know if I was already able to implement the book’s advice, but it certainly didn’t hurt. With 8 weeks until Oakland, Crissy Field parkrun was a great boost to my confidence and 5k training!