The down side to running back-to-back races is that you have back-to-back race reports to write. I am, as usual, a bit behind in blogging. Way behind.
On October 18, 2015 I ran the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco. I’ve run the full marathon here five times, but last year they changed it to a half, so this was my first time doing the shorter distance. Although some parts of the course were vaguely the same (it still started in Union Square), it was pretty much all new. Golden Gate Park was still in the race, but we ran in the opposite direction, so parts that used to be uphill were downhill and vice versa. It was familiar, but also totally different, if that makes sense.
This was also my first time doing the race on my own and not as part of Team In Training. I found a great place to stay at the San Francisco Downtown Hostel and managed to get a plane ticket with frequent flyer miles, so even though it was an expensive race in terms of the registration, the overall cost of the weekend was pretty reasonable.
The hostel was right around the corner from both the start line of the race as well as the race packet pick up, so I couldn’t have asked for anything more convenient. I had a room that was shared with three other women, two of whom were also running the race, so that was also good. The hostel is set up wonderfully for travelers. Our room had two sets of bunk beds and a private bathroom. Each bed had a box where you could lock up your luggage (bring your own lock). The headboard of each bed was also decked out for technology, with a light, a standard outlet, and two USB ports. They also served breakfast every morning, included in the price of the room–fresh bagels, fruit, oatmeal, etc. (I paid around $50/night for my shared room–for comparison, my total cost for three nights at the hostel was less than the cost for a single night at any of the hotels in the immediate vicinity. It was a real deal). I definitely recommend it if you are looking for a comfortable, clean budget option.
I flew in the Friday morning before the race. After I picked up my race packet I hoped on BART and rode out to Berkeley, where my friend Myong-Jae picked me up and took me to his house in the North Bay for the evening. I hadn’t seen him in many years and it was great to catch up and play a little music.
Saturday morning I got up early and walked around the corner to Union Square for a Nike-led shake out run. There was a huge group there–hundreds and hundreds of women. I didn’t know anyone but introduced myself to a few people in my corral (they had us organized by something–maybe pace? Not sure). We ran a couple of miles through the streets of San Francisco and it felt good to move a little bit after traveling the day before.
I had lots of plans to visit with friends, but all of the visits stacked up on Sunday, so I spent the rest of Saturday walking around San Francisco. According to Google maps, Fishermen’s Wharf was about a mile and half from the hostel. What I didn’t realize until I was about .5 miles into the walk was that it was all uphill for the first mile and then all downhill the rest of the way. My calves were not happy, and it was probably not the smartest thing to do the day before a half marathon, but there you have it.
I made it to the wharf and walked around slowly–I had my binoculars with me, so I did a bit of birding, looking towards the Golden Gate Bridge, ate some ice cream, and then decided to walk the long way home, along the water, so avoid those hills. I ended up walking more than 6 miles, but I think it was better than tackling the hills again.
I got some takeout for dinner and headed to bed. I’d finally started reading Born To Run a few days earlier and was down to the final couple of chapters. Even though I knew I needed to get to sleep, I couldn’t stop reading it and stayed up a little too late just so I could finish. In my defense, staying up too late reading an inspiring book about long distance running the night before a long distance race seems reasonable.
Sunday morning dawned bright and early. I got dressed, grabbed my banana and a bagel I’d bought the day before, and headed around the corner to the start. Holy moly–so many women! I found my start corral and got in line for the bathrooms. That’s my strategy, whether I have to go or not: get in line, go, and get in line again. With about fifteen minutes to the start time I checked my gear bag and made my way into my corral. As I was standing there I noticed another woman in a Oiselle singlet–I can’t remember her name anymore, but I think she said she was from Portland. We chatted for a few minutes as we waited for the race to start.
This race was way, way more crowded than I remember any other Nike race being. It was hard to settle into my pace. I found myself weaving around people left and right, jumping over trolley tracks, and hopping up and down curbs to try to find a little bit of clear room. There were also some early hills around mile 2 that got the old ticker pumping. These miles were slower than I was hoping, but at least I was warmed up.
Mile 1: 10:28
Mile 2: 9:53
By here things had thinned out some and I was finally able to settle in and run my race. It helped that these miles were either flat or downhill, but either way, I was able to make up for some lost time in those first few miles. This section of the race took us through Golden Gate Park. It was definitely a part of the park where I’d run in years past, but mostly going the other direction, so what had been uphill before was downhill instead. It was still beautiful and the wide roads let everything spread out even more.
Mile 4: 9:33
Mile 5: 9:30
Mile 6: 9:00
Mile 7: 9:09
Things got a little weird here, as the race organizers started shifting part of the runners around to an alternate course for a few blocks before meeting back up with the main group. I was at the front of the “alternate” group, so I had the weird sensation of feeling like I was in the front of the race for a few blocks. Basically they had us run around the other edges of the block, if that makes sense. I guess it helped thin things out a bit? Not sure, but it made it really hard to stick with my pace group, which got split up.
Mile 8: 9:49
Mile 9: 10:02
Around mile 9.5 we entered the Presidio. And Mile 10? Holy moly. I knew there was hill here, but damn! This was a long, steep 1 mile climb straight up. I was thanking my lucky stars for all of the times I’d run A-Mountain and done Via Entrada repeats. I went for it, though, passing lots of people who slowed down to walk. I remembered Coach Mark’s advice from way back in 2005, talking me through the hills at Sabino Canyon and giving me tips to keep my body moving. And it helped. It was a hard climb, but I never felt like I needed to stop and when I looked at my time, I was shocked to see that I’d run it in 10:19.
And at the top of the hill, my gosh, what a view! The Golden Gate Bridge was down below us, breathtakingly beautiful. It was a great reward after a tough climb. I couldn’t resist and stepped to the side to snap a quick picture and then quickly started running again–this time downhill.
Mile 10: 9:30
Mile 11: 10:19
My legs were eating up the downhill miles and I ran this in 8:56. I was feeling really strong and knew I had some kick left for the final push. When I hit the 20k mark I knew it was time to kick, and for once my legs responded. I ran the last mile in 8:47 and pushed to the finish, buoyed by the cheers.
Mile 12: 8:56
Mile 13: 8:47
Mile 13.1: 2:12
Finish time: 2:07:30. Nowhere near my PR, but I was just hoping to run under 2:15 so I was thrilled with this. More than that, I felt like this was my first long race where I had a strategy and it worked–my body didn’t crap out early and I had enough kick at the end to really run it in. My last two miles were the fastest. Ending a half marathon with your fastest mile is a good feeling. There’s strategy to training and racing, and I’m still working on figuring it out even after a lot of years of running.
It was weird to be on my own at the finish line–normally I’d go over to the Team In Training tent to check in and meet up with my teammates. I got some food, picked up my checked gear, and walked over to the shuttle to take me back to the hotel (aside: they had us walk probably three quarters of a mile to get to the shuttle–come on, Nike. You can do better).
Although I was feeling kind of alone at the finish line, almost as soon as I crossed I had a text from my running pal Sergio. He’d been tracking my progress all morning and sent me this awesome screen shot (below), along with some wonderfully kind words. Funny how a few texts can change your whole perspective.
The rest of Sunday I spent visiting friends in the area–lunch in the East Bay and dinner down south with people I hadn’t seen in far too long.
I spent Sunday night with friends in Oakland and Monday morning had time for a quick breakfast with a friend from my days in Kino. Then I got back on BART and headed to the airport and back to Tucson, just in time for another half marathon the following weekend. Race report in the works…