I’ve been putting off writing this recap because it wasn’t a goal race for me, so it’s not like I had any goals or expectations. Then why did I sign up? Because a friend (KH) texted me, saying, “I just missed my goal today at the Jackson Hole Half, so I’m flying to the Bay Area to try again in 2 weeks. Hopefully running at sea level will be more forgiving. Run it with me?” (Or something like that.)
Sure, it was $60 (after a discount code), but I know how races are more fun when you have a buddy. And after she guaranteed that I’d get some quality hang out time with her after the race, I decided to sign up. I admit that I’ve also been curious about the course since the inaugural race a few years back. It runs through the northwest part of the island that’s less traveled. My final reason for registering was getting a quality long run in, in a new-to-me location.
On Saturday, the day before the race, KH and I met up for lunch and then headed to the “expo”. We parked and walked towards the tents, and as we approached, we saw that it was a ghost town. There were about 15 tents set up, with tables under half of them. The only tent where there were any human beings was the bib and t-shirt pickup. We expected at least 1-2 running stores selling Gu and Body Glide, and maybe some local race organizations selling discounted registrations… but, no. Considering that we were the only people in line, bib pickup took a few minutes longer than usual. Then, I got yelled at for admiring the dark gray of the men’s race t-shirt. (“Those are the MENS shirts!”) So, if you can’t tell, I wasn’t too impressed with the expo/bib pick up experience. KH and I both hoped that this wasn’t a bad sign of things to come, in terms of race day organization.
Sunday, I got up bright and early for the 7am start. Parking was relatively straightforward. I got to the porta potty line just at the right time to beat the rush (about 6:20am). Then, I did a short warm-up and found KH. We made our way to the start where there was a group warm-up at 6:50am.
I lined up across from the 2:10 pacer and wished KH good luck. Then there was a countdown and an air horn. We were off!
Since this wasn’t a goal race, and since I wasn’t pacing, I created an artificial goal for myself to make it a progressive run. I’d start at 10:00/mile pace for the first mile, and drop down 5 seconds/mile with each passing mile, to end ~9:00/mile pace. The 13th mile, I’d run as fast as I could, and then I’d sprint the last 0.1 mile. I was pretty comfortable with the idea of running slower than 9:30, but the second half paces were just scary enough for me to know this was a good goal. Given that I had just run a 10K at 9:04/mile average pace, running 9:00/mile after 11 miles should be a decent challenge.
I started off just a tad fast, but not too bad — my first mile clocked in at 9:54. The confusing thing was that the 2:10 pacer (9:55/mile) took off like a rocket. I figured I’d catch him in the next couple of miles… but NOPE. It took me more than 10 miles to pass him, when I was running ~9:15-9:20/mile! He ended up finishing around 2:07, but that was on a long course. I was so tempted to give him an earful when I passed him, but I saw that his fellow pacers provided plenty of constructive criticism. Now that I’m a pacer, I get pretty frustrated and angry when other pacers don’t do their jobs correctly. It’s one thing if you’re injured, it’s another when you can’t seem to slow down… Maybe his Garmin was off, but that’s why we always wear bracelets showing time elapsed against mile splits.
Anyway! I’m ranting about that because there was very little drama otherwise. Some of the course was very industrial and ugly, some was scenic, and some was just meh. I think the problem with the half marathons in Alameda is that it’s too logistically difficult/expensive to have a course that goes through the nice parts of Alameda. At least this course was a loop, as opposed to See Jane Run which is an out-and-back on the shoreline (BORING). Oh, the other cool thing that happened is that I got to see some coworkers on the course who were running as a relay team.
The nice part of targeting progressive negative splits is that it kept me engaged. The miles flew by and I spent a ridiculous amount of mental energy trying to keep track of what my target pace should be. The good news is that I met my goal. I present to you, the most beautiful splits in the world (IMHO):
OK, so it’s not perfect, but I came awfully close. And I’m proud of that last mile plus the last 0.26 mile sprint. I had one woman pass me in the 13th mile, but otherwise I never got passed after mile 3.
Right before I made the last turn to the finish chute, I saw KH cheering. She joined me for a short bit before letting me finish on my own. As it turns out, she ran almost the same time as she did in Jackson Hole. She seemed happy with her performance though. The course was also long by my Garmin — 13.26 miles. So if it had been 13.1, she would’ve easily beat her goal.
There was a surprisingly decent post-race food spread: burritos, blueberries, granola, and bananas. We sat on the grass and KH granted me the post-race quality hang out time I had requested.
All in all, I’d say it was a good morning. I’m glad I ran the Alameda Half, but I don’t know if I’d run this race again. On one hand, it’s logistically easy (relatively), affordable (relatively), and flat (absolutely – my Garmin had about 70 feet of gain for the whole course). On the other, it’s boring in parts, lonely towards the end, and more than 0.15 too long. We were blessed by good weather – overcast and cool, though a bit humid. I think the 7am start helped a lot. I’d recommend this race for first timers and also as a supported training run for those in the middle of marathon training.
Garmin results: 2:04:59 for 13.26 miles (9:26/mile)
Official results: 2:04:56 (9:32/mile)
19/54 age group; 68/192 women; 203/410 overall
About the race:
- Website: Alameda Running Festival
- Cost: Registration for the half marathon started at $50 and went up to $75. My friend had an ambassador’s discount code that saved me 15%. There’s also a 10K and a 5K. Proceeds benefit Alameda Meals on Wheels and the Alameda Education Foundation.
- Course: A loop course that runs around the northwest end of the island of Alameda. Very flat (approximately 70 feet of elevation gain), but came up long on my Garmin. Mostly paved, but there were some areas of sketchy footing.
- Parking: Lots of free parking near the start/finish.
- Aid stations: Water and Nuun every 2 miles or so, but there was a bigger gap between 9 and 12. One of the stations was giving out a brand of gel that I had never heard of, so I skipped it. I was carrying my own water because I had heard there was a contaminated tap water issue in Alameda the week before the race.
- Bathrooms: Porta potties at the start/finish area, and 1 porta potty at every aid station. There are also public bathrooms at Crown Beach (miles ~6-8).
- Swag: Very soft cotton t-shirt, huge medal, and a reusable bag with some free goodies inside.
- Post race food and drinks: Bottle of water and a pretty nice food spread with burritos (chicken and vegetarian), salsa, blueberries, granola, and bananas. There was also free beer from local breweries (Drakes, Faction) that I didn’t drink, because it was 9am.
- Other notes: I think this is a race that’s still working out its kinks, but it’s got great potential. Some things I’d recommend to the organizers would be to streamline the event — for example, there was a 5K on Saturday and a 10K and Half on Sunday, with multiple bib pickups and expos. Since there aren’t that many runners, it seems like having all 3 races in one day might work. Also, I’m really confused about why the course was long — especially since there were large sections on narrow paths. It seems like it should be easy to run tangents, but from what I could gather from Strava, a lot of people came up with longer than 13.2 miles. It’s not a huge problem, but if it was closer to 13.1, then it would be easier to sell this as a PR goal race – fast and flat. I was very impressed by the post-race food and all of the volunteers on the course were friendly. Oh, and free photos! Gotta love that.