While planning my long runs for CIM, I considered signing up for the Berkeley Half Marathon.
On the list of Pros:
- 2 weeks before CIM, when I had a fast finish long run on the schedule anyway
- local race
- easy bib pickup (on my way home from work)
- course goes through a lot of familiar territory (I lived in North Berkeley for 6 years)
- I knew a handful of friends running it
- could be useful as a marathon pace indicator
- keep my motivation up as I transition into taper/peak weeks (whatever you want to call it)
- practice fueling, try out race outfit, break in my new shoes, etc.
And then, the Cons:
- 2 weeks before CIM, so it was possible to go too hard and require extra recovery
- hilly course! maybe not the best practice course for CIM, which is net downhill
- the weather is always unpredictable in November
- expensive (relatively)
After a lot of hemming and hawing, I finally decided to sign up after Sesa posted a Groupon deal for $89. (I think the retail price at that point was over $100, with race ambassador discount codes floating around for $10 off.)
My race strategy kept wavering, due to various factors. I had a 16-18 mile FFLR on my training schedule. I decided to run 3 miles as warm-up (at an easy pace), but I couldn’t decide on a pacing strategy for the race, mostly because there are 2 pretty serious climbs in the first 5 miles, followed by an extended downhill stretch. By race morning, I decided to run by feel and try to keep my heart rate below 150 for the uphill sections and try to stay relaxed during the downhill portion. I would still aim to do a FFLR in the last 3-6 miles, but not go faster than 9:00/mile (that didn’t end up being an issue, ha). I had a general goal of finishing around 2:05. My biggest concern was that race day adrenaline would take over and I’d overexert myself, similar to what happened at Healdsburg, and take about a week to recover. Instead of being so aggressive (like at Healdsburg), I hoped to finish at a pace I knew would be reasonable and attainable, and would help me assess if that was translatable to a full marathon.
Besides the elevation gain, the other factor that came into play was the weather. The forecast was for showers and temps in the low 60s. Luckily, the winds weren’t supposed to be that strong – there’s a 2+ mile out and back along the Bay, so heavy winds would’ve sucked. Still, the idea of running in the rain for 2.5 hours (including the warm-up) didn’t sound fun. I decided to make a game-time decision on the pre-race warm up miles.
Fortunately, it wasn’t raining when I woke up on race day. So, I proceeded with my plan, more or less, and ran 2.5 miles before the race. I met up with Angela at the bag drop, which was conveniently located in the Berkeley High School gym. Then we walked over to the corral and met up with KH. It was still not raining, miraculously. Around 8:12, Wave 3 of the half marathon started and we were off!
Angela, KH, and I hadn’t really planned to run together, but that’s what we ended up doing, which worked out really well – especially later on in the race. We chatted and kept our effort at a conversational pace, which was smart considering how hilly it was. We weaved through downtown Berkeley and very quickly (it seemed) we came upon the 5K finish line. I think Jasmine from Brazen Racing was on the speakers there, providing a boost of positive energy.
From there, we started the long, steady climb up Shattuck Ave. It was fun to run through North Berkeley, though I had to be aware of potholes and crumbling roads (this was true for a lot of the course, unfortunately). Once we passed the shopping area, the real work began. I focused on the payoff that would come once we got to the top. I was feeling pretty good still.
Eventually, we finally got to Marin, where we made a left turn and WHEEEE! we descended on a really nice, extended downhill stretch to the flatlands. Again, I noted the “scenery” as we passed my old grocery store (Monterey Market, how I miss you!) and my favorite bagel shop in Berkeley (Berkeley Bagels). They handed out Clif Bloks at the aid station and I grabbed a package, not knowing which flavor it was. It turned out to be watermelon, which I typically hate. But the cheapskate in me couldn’t bear to toss it. As a result, I hung on to the package of Bloks for the rest of the race.
My spirits were still high as we ran west and eventually ran down the quaint commercial area of 4th St. It was somewhere between 4th St. and the University Ave. overpass that I began to tire. Maybe it was the first little hill on the overpass that brought it to my attention that my legs were tired, or maybe because the drizzle was turning into steady rain, or maybe because I knew the out-and-back along the Frontage Road was going to be a slog. In any case, things started taking a turn for the worse here.
We merged onto the Frontage Road, where there was a bit of confusion regarding the out-and-back. Some of the faster half marathoners on their way back were merging into our lane, and course marshals started directing us to go into the other lane. That was super awkward. Even though it was only a little over a mile out, it felt like an eternity. Then, on the way back, it became apparent that we were totally in the way of the fastest 10K runners. On the bright side, they finally cleared up the out-and-back confusion with a brigade of marshals on bicycles leading the rest of the runners in the correct lane. This was the one section of the course that was kinda crazy and poorly executed; the rest of the course was very well done, with volunteers at every turn.
At the 10 mile marker, Angela and I both noticed that it came up short, around 9.85 miles for me. Mile markers 1-9 had been nearly spot on, so I figured that maybe that one particular marker was put in the wrong location. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, as every mile marker consistently showed up more than a tenth of mile early. The rain started to come down harder as we climbed the overpass to head back into Berkeley. We discussed as a group whether a fast finish was actually going to happen. I was still hopeful that I could push a little harder than I had been, but I didn’t feel super confident about it. I said that I wouldn’t go faster than 9:00/mile, and both Angela and KH agreed that seemed like a good plan and they would follow my lead.
Somewhere in these last 2-3 miles, I just felt done. I wasn’t out of breath (though I was breathing heavier than I was earlier in the race), my legs weren’t cramping (though they did feel heavy), and mentally, I knew I could do it. But the rain, in combination with the short course, made it so that my mantra was the uninspiring, “Let’s just get this over with.” I would say the one highlight of this section were a group of about 4 or 5 little girls (around 5-7 years old?) cheering us on with instruments, signs, and shouts of, “You can do it!” and, “Use the force!”. With every turn or beep on my watch, I’d say aloud, “OK, only X to go” or “Only x minutes left” — as much for myself as for my companions, who seemed just as eager to be done.
Finally, I saw that we were closing in on Berkeley High School and the finish line. I tried to pick up the pace but my legs weren’t responding very well. As we approached the finish line, Angela had the idea to do a jumping pose for the photo. KH and I agreed and we did it. Unfortunately, the photographer only caught Angela sort of jumping and a portion of my arm and KH’s hand. Whomp whomp.
We got our medals and bottles of water. It was really coming down at this point, so KH bid us adieu to get to the BART station, while Angela and made our way to the gymnasium in search of dry clothes and shelter from the rain. I was really hungry but the only food they were handing out were energy bars, which didn’t sound all that appetizing. I ended up eating several of the watermelon Clif Bloks out of sheer desperation. They weren’t that bad, actually. Angela parked closer than I did, so she kindly gave me a ride to my car. I headed directly to Berkeley Bagels for some food and hot coffee. It was delightful and just what I needed.
I’ve already discussed my feelings about the race, as it pertains to CIM training. A few days post-race, I can say that I don’t think the Berkeley Half was optimal as a tune up race, or even as a FFLR, since the last 3 miles have a decent amount of incline. On the other hand, I’d say it was good for building some mental toughness. I finished not feeling great, but I knew I could’ve kept going if I had to.
Official time: 2:05:15 (9:34/mile)
116/394 AG, 683/1954 F, 2051/4211 overall
Garmin stats: 9:40/mile for 12.98 miles; 512′ elevation gain
About the race:
- Race website
- Field size: 4211 finishers in the half marathon. There was also a 5K and 10K that started at different times/locations. All distances were sold out the day before the race.
- Cost: $85+ for the half marathon, depending on when you register.
- Course: All paved, though look out for potholes and uneven roads. Two large climbs in the beginning and a gradual incline over the last 3 miles. Total elevation gain/loss: 512 feet (Garmin).
- Parking: There was plenty of free street parking north of University. You could also pay $20 to park in the Berkeley High School parking lot.
- Aid stations: Plenty of aid stations serving water and Nuun. They gave out Clif Bloks at one of the aid stations.
- Bathrooms: A lot of porta potties at the start/finish, and I saw several on the course.
- Swag: A nice medal and a green long sleeve tech tee. Each bib had a ticket for a post-race beer, but it was raining so hard that I doubt many people stuck around for that. GameFace took race photos and provided them for free.
- Post-race food/drink: I don’t know if this was affected by the rain, but the post-race spread was disappointing. I got a bottle of water and skipped the energy bars. I saw they were handing out chocolate milk too, but I’m lactose intolerant so I skipped that as well.
- What I liked about this race: It was fairly easy logistically, for a medium sized race. I thought the first half of the course was nice, though challenging. I wished that we got to run through UC Berkeley campus as they’ve done in previous years. The wave starts were nice to relieve congestion – which was still a problem in some areas.
- What I didn’t like: Two major flaws. First, there’s no excuse for the course to come up a full tenth of a mile short! Second, the misdirection and confusion on Frontage Road was also disappointing. Related to that, I felt so bad for the 10K runners who had to weave through the mass of half marathoners. It seemed like poor planning. I’m not sure I would run this race again due to the cost and the unpredictable weather.
- PR-ability: This would be a tough course to PR on, given the elevation gain and the very real possibility of bad weather. I think the motivation here would primarily be to run a decent-sized half marathon and do a running tour of Berkeley.