After such a tumultuous week, it feels strange and vapid to be filling up my little corner of the internet with a story of a race I ran on Sunday. But I promised I would, so here it goes.
The Vibha Dream Mile Half Marathon was my third time pacing the 2:20 group for the TriValley Running Club. The race was down in San Jose, along Coyote Creek Trail in Hellyer Park. I agreed to pacing duties because I had an 18 mile fast finish long run (FFLR) on my schedule, so I figured I could run 13 miles easy, then run 5 miles at marathon goal pace (MGP). Two additional reasons: (1) I had never run in this area before, so I would get to explore a new place, and (2) I heard that the post-race food was amazing.
On top of the “good feels” that I usually get from pacing and helping other runners, this race also benefited Vibha, which is an organization that helps underprivileged children in India and the U.S. As a result, there was a huge Indian influence on the race: about 80% of the field was Indian, there was Bollywood music playing non-stop, and an Indian catering company served up a delicious tray of spicy food post-race. So, from that perspective, it was a very unique race experience.
Previously, this race had been held in May/June, but due to a course change and need to obtain permits, they had to postpone it to November. There was a half marathon, 10K, and 5K. I heard the total number of runners was 800+, including quite a number of children run/walking the 5K. The half marathon field was quite small, with only 150 finishers. We had expected a larger field, and a faster one too, because the race director requested a 1:35 pacer instead of a 1:50 pacer. Seeing how few runners there were, I pretty much expected to run by myself for most of the race.
Pre-race logistics went smoothly: I arrived about 45 minutes before the race started, picked up my bib, and hung out with the other pacers until the start. I was sick, so I opted out of a warm-up. There was an official pre-race warm-up which was quite funny. It involved a 1-minute jog and some static stretching. Someone near me noted wisely, “I thought we weren’t supposed to stretch before running because we can hurt ourselves?”
At 7:29, we collectively walked up to the start line. There were some more announcements, but no official countdown or gun. The only indication that the race had started was when the people ahead of me surged forward. The race was on, I guess.
The first mile and last mile of the course was along roads cutting through an office park. Not that exciting. After a mile, we ended up on the Coyote Creek Trail, where we did an out-and-back to the south, then an out-and-back to the north. The trail itself is similar to many of the other paved trails in the Bay Area, though I thought that the southern stretch was quite lovely with nice shade.
At some point in mile 2, a runner named A came up next to me and told me that she wanted to stick with me. This was only her second half marathon; her first half had been only a month earlier at the San Jose Rock n Roll Half. She had run a 2:33 there and hoped to come in closer to 2:20 at Dream Mile. We spent the next few miles conversing about our running histories. We looped around a lake (which has no name, according to Google Maps, but it was lovely) and headed back north. As we ran past an aid station near the start/finish area, A decided to ditch the vest she was wearing. She said she would catch back up, but unfortunately she never did.
During my miles with A, I stopped paying as close attention to the pacing. So I realized at the next mile marker that I was slightly behind schedule. Oops. I picked up the pace and made up the time (about 10-15 seconds?). I found that a lot of people had started too fast and it was quite easy to catch people, even though I was keeping a consistent 10:40 pace. There was one woman who basically running fartlek intervals the whole race. She would sprint ahead, then jog or walk. Eventually, I caught up to her and as I did so, she would run ahead. She kept this up for about a mile and thanked me for motivating her. She had hoped to beat her time from last year, around 2:40-something, so if she stuck with me, then she’d be set. Unfortunately, she couldn’t keep up her fartleks. I had advised her that running a slower, steady pace would be less tiring, but she wouldn’t let go of her strategy.
On the northern out-and-back, it was quite lonely but the race was small enough to exchange pleasantries with each runner as they were heading the other way. I found a majority of the runners to be friendly, waving or smiling as I offered up a, “Good job” or “Keep it up!” This section did seem interminable though and I was glad to see the turn around at mile 9. I was able to see the few runners I had interacted with from earlier in the race and cheer them on. And there were *a lot* of runners behind me. I was wondering why they needed a 1:35 pacer? In fact, the last time I saw the 1:35 pacer, he was in 3rd place overall!
Nothing all that exciting happened in the last 4 miles except for this one runner who caught up to me at mile 10.5 and asked if it would be possible for him to finish in 2:18. I looked down at my Garmin and said, “Definitely. But you’ll have run a bit quicker than we are right now.” He sped up but then I eventually caught up to him again. I told him that he could do this, but he had to give it everything he had at the mile 12 marker. He responded with, “So, if I speed up and get faster, that means I can take a break, right?” I told him not if he wants to run a 2:18. Haha. (He ended up finishing just 10-20 seconds ahead of me.)
The last 1.1 miles were also notable from a pacing perspective, because the course marshal essentially let us cut the course without knowing it (at least according to my GPS). I think we were supposed to stay on the paved path and make a very sharp turn to leave the trail, but he had us cutting across the grass. All of a sudden, my Garmin went from being slightly longer than the mile markers (it would beep about 5-10 seconds before I hit the mile marker) to being short. So, despite my very careful pacing for the first 12 miles, I was going to have to purposely dial it back, or else I’d come in a full minute too fast. Since I didn’t have anyone running with me, I did just that – relaxed, smiled and waved at the kids finishing the 5K, and tried to motivate the runners around me to push hard to the finish. My official time was 2:19:46 (10:40/mile).
After crossing the finish line, I was given a nice medal (but the wrong one; they gave me the 5K/10K one), said hi to some of my fellow pacers, then grabbed some food. I decided to skip the 5 MGP miles because I didn’t feel great during the race and my heart rate seemed pretty high. I felt like the MGP miles would just prolong my cold, so Indian food it was! And OMG was it worth it! The food was amazing! I really like Indian food, and this was among the best Indian food I’ve ever had. I ate my food and hung out with the other pacers for a little while longer before heading home. Before I left, A found me and told me she finished in 2:29. Not what she wanted but still a PR!
About the Race:
- Organizers: Vibha Dream Mile
- Field size: 149 finishers in the half marathon
- Cost: $60-95 for the half marathon, depending on when you register. There was also a 10K and a 5K. Proceeds go to Vibha, an organization dedicated to helping underprivileged children in Indian and the U.S.
- Course: All paved. Starts and ends in an office park in San Jose. 11 miles of the race are along the Coyote Creek Trail, which appears mostly flat but actually has a long, very gradual incline from mile 3-9. Total elevation gain/loss: 111 feet (Garmin).
- Parking: Plenty of free parking at an office lot up the hill from the start/finish area.
- Aid stations: Aid stations were about 2 miles apart. They had Gatorade and water (and fruit?) at all AS and one of the later ones (mile 8? 9?) they had Gu.
- Bathrooms: About 14 porta potties at the start, no lines before the half because the field was so small. I think there was one or two bathrooms along the course.
- Swag: A nice die-cast medal, which was larger for the half marathon finishers than for the 5k/10k folks and a purple cotton race shirt (which I skipped).
- Post-race food/drink: Delicious, catered Indian food, as well as the usual spread of bagels, fruit, and coffee cake. Cups of water.
- What I liked about this race: Race logistics were super easy. Scenic course and decent weather. The community vibe was strong and it felt good to know that the race proceeds were going to a charity. The organizers seemed to really care and implement feedback from previous years. And the food, of course!
- What I didn’t like: While I usually like smaller races, this one was a bit too small – especially since I wasn’t running with anyone for 75% of the race and didn’t have headphones. Apparently, previous iterations of this event had attracted more runners. I think they are moving this race back to May/June, so maybe the number of runners will go back up.
- PR-ability: this is a pretty PR-friendly course and the weather was optimal (though it would be hotter in May/June). The one downside is number of runners and spectators – if you’re someone who is motivated by chasing down people or cheering crowds, this race isn’t for you.