Twitter version: Cool, overcast & windy (i.e., perfect conditions). Executed race strategy as planned, resulting in almost 2 minute PR (1:56:58)! WOOT!
If you want the long version, keep reading…
So, some of you might accuse me of sandbagging when I was doing race predictions, unsure about how I would do at the Summer Breeze Half Marathon. And some of you would be right. I didn’t purposely sandbag it, but I just wasn’t feeling all that confident going into race day. More discussion on that below, but first – the recap!
July had been a somewhat stressful and eventful month – both at work and in my personal life. I decided to take Friday off to sleep-in and relax. It was a great idea, as I woke up Saturday well-rested and ready to race, with a healthy dose of race nerves. I ate my usual race morning breakfast (English muffin with PB&J and coffee), got dressed, and headed to San Leandro Marina with plenty of time to park and pick up my bib.
The morning was overcast and cool. I was cold in just my RaceRaves singlet and shorts, so I kept my jacket on until halfway through my warm-up. After the pre-race bathroom stop, I ran into Jane, who decided to run the half despite recovering from an Achilles injury. I haven’t seen her in almost a year, so it was great to catch up. Plus, this was our “anniversary race” (we met via Twitter following the 2013 Summer Breeze 10k, where we both placed in our age group). She knew I was going for a PR (faster than 1:58:51), so she passed on the advice from Race Director Jasmine that there was a substantial headwind on the back portion (of the out and back). The cyclist who marked the course said it took her 20 minutes to go out and 30 to come back (the entire half marathon course). Yikes! However, I didn’t let it freak me out too much, as I’ve run this same exact course almost every weekend for the past 3 months. I’m pretty used to the headwind heading back, and I’ve practiced fast finishes on the last 3 miles.
We lined up next to the 2:00 pacer, Vin, who had paced the 1:40 group at the San Francisco 1st Half Marathon last weekend. Clearly, Vin is a speedy guy. He said he was planning on doing 9:09/mile even pace – headwind or no. I spotted Margot, who was running the 5K, very briefly before the race and we exchanged hurried hellos. After a nice rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, the countdown began and we were off!
Miles 0-3 (to Aid Station #2)
This is one of Brazen Racing’s biggest and most popular races. Over 380 people finished the half marathon. Most of the course is on the Bay Trail, which is pretty narrow in parts. The first mile was quite congested, and even though most runners lined up with/behind the appropriate pace group, there were a few outliers, as usual. I spent the first mile chasing Vin as he wove through the crowd. We started off at an easy 9:30 pace and finished the first mile at 8:3x, averaging 9:02 (maybe faster, because I started my watch with the gun and not with chip time).
I stayed relaxed and kept running with the 2:00 group, even though I sensed we were running a lot faster than 9:09/mile. The crowd had thinned out substantially by this point, so I spent less energy weaving around people. (Mile 2 @ 8:51)
Vin must’ve realized at the 2nd mile marker that he was going too fast, because he suddenly slowed down substantially. I decided to keep going at the same effort level, so I passed the pace group and caught up with Jane. We ran together for maybe two minutes before I left her as well. Since I wasn’t carrying water, my strategy was to take my gels 1/2 mile before each aid station. At 2.5 miles, I took out my Salted Caramel Gu and downed it before getting some water to wash it down at second aid station (at 2.9 miles). (Mile 3 @ 9:00)
Miles 3-6.55 (to AS #3)
I continued my plan to stay relaxed and not push too hard too early. I reminded myself to maintain good form and relax my neck, shoulders, and arms whenever possible. For the next several miles, I ran alongside a guy in a red shirt, who had also split off from the 2:00 pace group. We exchanged some pleasantries and I took it as a good sign that I was still able to make short statements without wheezing/shortness of breath. (Mile 4 @ 8:56, Mile 5 @ 9:04).
As I approached the turn-around, I started seeing the leaders heading back and cheered for them. I was excited to see that a woman was leading the race – woot! go, girl! – chased closely by two men. I yelled out a lot of, “Good job!”s during these miles, feeding off the positive karma. (Mile 6 @ 9:00)
I sucked down my second Gu as I go to the third aid station – I was halfway done! I noted my split shortly after the turnaround: 58:58. If I kept this up, I’d PR by a minute. That was a nice confidence boost, as I felt pretty decent — but don’t we all at mile 6.55 of a half marathon?
Miles 6.55-10 (to AS #4)
I continued to spread good cheer, though I reserved it for the women mostly (sorry, guys). This kept me focused on other people for another mile or so. (Mile 7 @ 8:51)
My pace started to drag a little bit after the cheering section ended, so I began to think of each mile as a mile repeat. I would give myself a little break at the beginning, and ramp up the effort until the end of the mile. This worked out pretty well and kept me engaged. I also started marking people ahead and trying to catch up to them. The headwind was getting more noticeable, so I drafted behind a guy in blue for half of a mile. (Mile 8 @ 8:57, Mile 9 @ 9:02)
Mile 10 ended up being my slowest mile. I think psychologically, I was coming down from the high after the turnaround, but not yet at the “5K to go” mark. Not to mention that I was getting tired! (Mile 10 @ 9:11)
Even though I wanted to really turn up the pace for the last 3 miles, I felt like I was dragging. Then, all of a sudden, a mantra from Sally McRae’s recent Running on Om podcast came into my head: “Stronger Every Mile.” I altered it slightly to “Stronger Every Step.” This sounds hokey, but I honestly felt energy “flowing” into my legs. I thought about all of the training I had done and that yes, my legs *are* strong and I can do this! (Mile 11 @ 9:01)
Because I’m so familiar with this course, I knew that I should take advantage of the last two miles on asphalt. After running almost 8 miles on gravel, I should be flying. Plus, I had practiced fast finishes on this very same part of the course. Unfortunately, the headwind had other plans for me. When I was in the more sheltered part of the trail, I was going along at an 8:4x pace. As soon as I went out towards the Bay, I hit some strong headwind. Then, another mantra/notion from Running on Om popped into my head. In a recent podcast, Lauren Fleshman talked about PRs and how they’re so cool because they represent the fastest that you’ve ever run in your whole entire life. I know that sounds obvious, but it struck a chord with me. And with less than two miles to go, I was NOT about to give up this fight! Eminem’s Lose Yourself also came into my head, and its lyrics were especially poignant at that juncture:
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime
I did some math (so hard this late in the race!) and knew that if I kept pushing, I could come in around 1:57. I had set myself up for a PR, the conditions were almost perfect (minus the headwind) so I decided that I better seize this opportunity and try as hard as I could. (Mile 12 @ 8:55)
Coming in to the last mile, I oscillated between various mantras and motivational songs in my head and also on catching the runners ahead. I saw there was an ambulance with its lights flashing about 1/2 mile from the finish – not sure what that was about, but I hope that person is OK. I started breathing really hard as I made the final turns to the finish line. A woman I had passed in the last mile passed me back up, as did another guy, but I didn’t care – I crossed the finish line in 1:57:xx! (Mile 13 @ 8:55, 0.05 @ 8:08/mile)
My Garmin read 1:57:08 for 13.05 miles, but that was gun time. I recall that my Garmin came up short at the 2013 Summer Breeze 10K as well. I’m counting it, regardless of what my Garmin says! The official chip time was 1:56:58, meaning I had taken almost 2 minutes off my previous PR (Kaiser 2014) and ran my 2nd sub-2 hour half marathon! Also, I managed to run a negative split by almost a minute, despite the headwind. WOOT!
I’m really happy with the result and the PR, obviously, but I’m even more proud that I finished strong – something that I’ve really struggled with in the past. I took advantage of great race day conditions on a foundation of solid training to pull it all together. I’m not sure I would change a single thing about my race execution.
Back to the pre-race lack of confidence: I think this was due to the fact that I’ve never trained so hard for a half marathon, and I had never felt so slow or fatigued during half marathon training before. I felt that I had built endurance over the past 10 weeks but lost a lot of speed from 5K and 10K training, so I wasn’t sure I would be able to sustain a PR pace for 13.1 miles. I believe that the volume did help me in the end, as did the fast finish long runs. I’ll probably write another post about my half marathon training in the next week. Stay tuned!
Time: 1:56:58 (8:55/mile)
13/38 AG, 31/184 F, 131/381 overall
About the race:
- Organizers: Brazen Racing
- Cost: ~$65 (I skipped the race shirt to save $5)
- Course: Starts at the San Leandro Marina Park and goes south towards the San Mateo Bridge on the Bay Trail. Paved bike path for 5 miles (beginning and end), and the rest is gravel. Flat as a pancake – I think the total elevation change was 6 feet.
- Parking: Plentiful and free, but the closest lots fill up fast. Allow yourself 10 minutes to walk from parking to the start line.
- Aid stations: 5 with water and Ultima electrolyte drink. I didn’t see any food, but I didn’t look either.
- Bathrooms: Two real bathrooms (with multiple stalls) in the park. There were clusters of 2-3 porta potties along the course as well.
- Swag: I’m not usually into medals, but I love this one – it had a whale on it. Lots of food afterwards, but seemingly less than in the past. It was too cold for It’s It ice cream sandwiches! Only in SF. There were lots of free race photos posted on their website.
- Misc.: We jokingly started calling the race “Summer Freeze” because it was so chilly! We really lucked out with the weather, because the next day was sunny and warm by 9am.