Monday, July 30, 2007

SF Half Marathon

I'll start with the pictures here:

The pre-race festivities started on Thursday afternoon with an SFRRC Happy Hour. What better way to prepare for a race than to have a couple glasses of wine, right? We all chatted about our goals and got to know each other a little better, which was nice. It was also the first time I’d seen many people in normal clothing – we all clean up pretty well!

On Saturday, Jack and I made our way to the expo to pick up our race packets and shirts, grabbed some free stuff, and checked out the cheap merchandise. I have to say, for as big of a gear freak as I am, and despite the good prices, race expos are the only place where I’m not tempted to buy a bunch of stuff. I don’t know if it’s the “shopping mall at Christmastime” atmosphere or what, but I managed to steer clear of any disastrous blows to my bank account. :)

After the expo, we relaxed and hung out on the beach with a few friends, and then we enjoyed a great pre-race pasta dinner at Il Borgo. We weren’t really tired yet, so we decided to stop into this cool place called Sauce for dessert. They have the craziest stuff on their dessert menu – chocolate chip pancakes, mini donuts, and all kinds of other fun concoctions, but we settled for their version of a PB&J, with spongecake for bread and a layer of ice cream in the middle. It was VERY tasty! After that, it was off to attempt to get a good night’s sleep.

Race day:
The alarm went off at 6:00am, and while I wasn’t happy about getting up so early, I was thankful that we weren’t running the first half (or the full) – they had already started by then! We ate our oatmeal and went through the regular pre-race rituals: Bodyglide? Check! Timing chip? Check! Bib number? Check! Gu? Check! And then we were out the door. We caught a bus that took us to the race start, and rather than waiting for the road block to clear, we got out early and walked through the fog to warm up our legs a bit. We cheered on some runners along the way, including Sarah from SFRRC, and then, with about 35 minutes to spare, went immediately to the port-a-potty lines.

COMPLAINT #1: When you have more than 2000 people running a race, it’s a good idea to have more than 15 port-a-potties available. After waiting more than 15 minutes, Jack finally convinced me that I wasn’t going to make it to the front before our wave was scheduled to leave, so I headed to the bushes. After my jaunt into the wilderness, I felt much better, and we headed over to the start area. The oatmeal still wasn’t sitting quite right in my stomach, but I figured it was just nerves, and I did my best to ignore it.

Once we were there, we ran into a big group of Red runners (AKA fast people) from SFRRC, and I found that Leslie, Pam, and David were all going for a 1:44. My original goal was a 1:45, so I figured I’d stick with them. Jack and I did a quick warm-up jog around Spreckels Lake and headed straight to the start. We said, “Good luck,” and before we knew it, we were off and running. I managed to stick with the Reds for about a mile and a half, but I knew there was no way I would be able to keep up their sub-8 pace for the whole race, so I backed off a little bit, doing my best to keep them in my sights. At the first out-and-back, I waved to Jack, who was looking great, just before the course split off again.

COMPLAINT #2: At the split, we joined up with the full marathoners, and shortly after that, I realized that there were going to be some problems. The next mile marker listed 15 miles for the full marathoners and 1.9 miles for the half marathoners, and so from that point on my splits were totally messed up! For some reason, the race directors couldn’t have figured out a way to make some little sign (jeez, a piece of white paper attached to a stake would have been sufficient) to mark the ACTUAL miles for the half marathoners. This frustrated me beyond belief, but I adjusted my splits to the signs, knowing that I would have to deal with .2 at the end rather than just .1 mile.

Anyway, I was getting really tired of running in the park, and not just because of the hills. I think I know the park a little too well...there’s something in the mystery of running in a place that you’re not familiar with – it’s easier to take the tough things in stride! As I headed up around Stow Lake and then toward the Conservatory of Flowers, I remembered last year’s full marathon, and how I basically hit the wall at mile 18. Not pretty. But I was feeling good this time around, so I kept right on going, knowing that Haight Street was just around the corner. As I left the park, I was happy to see Kirk standing at the park exit – his cheers of (something like), “Go Jenni! Lookin’ hot!!!” gave me a boost and helped me over that last little slope before the downhill.

I enjoyed the slight downward slope of Haight Street, and tried to ignore the names of the streets that I run by so often. It helped that I saw Kevin, Kate and Little John from SFRRC along this stretch! Then I took the three blocks of serious downhill and ran with them (no pun intended). I think I blew by about 30 runners in those 3 blocks (mostly full marathoners, whose knees, I’m sure, were feeling the distance), and I was running so fast that I didn’t even notice I’d passed my street until I got a whiff of the garlicky everything bagels baking at the shop around the corner from my place. This was also a good sign, because I knew if I was hungry, that pesky oatmeal (which had never really stopped bugging me) wasn’t going to come back to haunt me. I took advantage of the next flat section and a series of downhills across Market Street and into the Mission, and before I knew it, I was heading into Potrero Hill.

I’m thankful for the course preview that we did a couple weeks ago, because I was more than prepared for the hills that came in this section of the race. I blasted up them, and was feeling great as we were making our way south (which is disheartening because everyone knows that the finish line is in the exact opposite direction!). We made our final turns back the other way, into the industrial area south of the ballpark. It’s not the prettiest part of town (understatement of the century), but I knew there wasn’t much farther to go. I tried to dig in, but my legs were starting to feel like Jell-O.

COMPLAINT #3: This is the point where I was thinking, “Where in God’s name is everyone?!?!?” There is very little course support for this race, and I really could have used it right about then. Granted, it starts at 5:30am, and it’s not nearly as big, but I think this race has the potential to be like New York or Chicago. SF is a relatively athletic city, and there are tons of runners here, yet hardly anyone who’s not a runner (or supporting a first-time marathoner) will come out for the race. Who’s in charge of the PR for this thing??? That’s it for my complaints. :)

I walked through the final water stop, and then went for it. About a minute later, my friend Melisse passed me, and I was kicking myself for having walked through the water stop (I barely squeaked by her when I PR’ed in February). I tried desperately to stay on her heels, but I just didn’t have it. I had known for a while that I wasn’t going to make my 1:45 (goal #1), and I was suspecting that I wouldn’t make a PR either (goal #2), but I knew that I could at least beat my last “official time” (they didn’t use timing chips in my last half) of 1:48:23. As I came around McCovey Cove, where people were already waiting patiently in their boats in hopes of catching Barry Bond’s record-tying home run ball, I knew that I had to run as hard as I could for that last 1.2. The Bay Bridge still seemed so far off, but I kept pushing until I could finally see the finish line. One last sprint, and I was done.

FINAL TIME: 1:48:10.

No hands up for the cameras, no excitement, just sheer exhaustion and relief that it was over. But as I was trying to steady myself, I looked up, and there was Leslie, about 20 feet in front of me. I tried to yell, but I couldn’t get it out...I finally got her attention, and realized that we were in the same boat. Her 1:44 turned into a 1:47 just as my 1:45 had turned into a 1:48. And then, to my surprise, up came Pam. She came in about 30 seconds behind me. Apparently, it wasn’t a day for SFRRC PRs (at least not the group I talked to), but all in all a good race, we agreed. It was a little tougher than expected! Mostly, I think, we were just happy to be done.

But no time for rest, at least not for me...I knew Jack wouldn’t be far behind, and I wanted to find him before he crossed the finish line. I grabbed a bottle of water and my medal, and headed back out the race course (“Hey look, this one’s still running,” one guy said) in hopes of finding him. Thankfully for our bright orange SFRRC singlets, he wasn’t too hard to spot when I found him about 5 blocks from the finish. I jumped up and down and cheered for him, gave him a little water, and ran alongside him toward the finish. I left him at the chutes, where he sprinted his way past another runner to finish in 2:11:27 – An awesome time for a first race...I have no doubt that he will keep getting better (although I’m not exactly looking forward to the day when he passes me by!). :)

1) Golden Gate Park on Crossover Drive
2) Potrero Hill on Indiana, near Cafe Cocomo
3) Me and Jack, Happy to be done!

After the race, we got some goodies (my favorite was the cheese biscuit from ACME bakery!), greeted a few other SFRRC members at our booth, and then got a much-needed free massage (I think Jack actually drooled on the table). We headed back to my place, got cleaned up, and then had a beer and some delicious Chicago style deep-dish pizza at Patxi’s in Hayes Valley (highly recommended!). What a great day!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

SFRRC Coaches' Challenge 5k

Tonight my running club put on the first of a series of 5ks used to track our progress throughout the season.

We met at the track as we usually do on Tuesday nights, and then went for a nice warmup run through Golden Gate Park. It was actually a course preview, 3.1 miles. It was great, because the course was fresh in my mind (not to mention, these are roads I've run a hundred times before). I was a little worried, because I've never really spent that much time warming up, although I knew that I hadn't spent enough time preparing before my last race, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

Here's the course (forgive me, my hand's not too steady with the touch pad mouse!):

We all met back at the starting line about 30 minutes later, and Coach Kirk, Mr. Enthusiasm himself, sent us on our way. The first mile felt good - I stayed on the heels of Kortney, who runs with my pace group but I think has the potential to be quite a bit faster. A pretty good group of us stuck together for most of mile one - Some Silvers: Little John, Aida, Kortney and me, and some reds: Leslie, Pam, and Rob. About halfway through the first mile was the hill behind the Conservatory of Flowers, but it was followed by a nice, gradual downhill, making my first mile 7:21. Not too shabby!

The Conservatory of Flowers

Mile 2 was down JFK, which is mostly flat. The group started to spread out here. Leslie, Pam, Kortney, and Rob pulled ahead, and John, Aida, and I were close behind. We had a slight downhill just past the deYoung Museum (by the creepy purple head), and then a gradual uphill to Stow Lake. That one was killer! I somehow managed to pass Rob, who stopped for a walk break, and Kortney, and kept my focus on Leslie. I knew if I could keep her in my sights, I would probably PR. Mile 2: 8:18

Creepy purple head - the one in GGPark is just like this one that was featured at Burning Man.

Mile 3 started out as a piece of cake. A little bit of flat, and then a nice downhill out of the lake drive. The rest was back up MLK toward Kezar Stadium. Rob passed me up again, but I managed to stick to him until he stopped to walk again. At that point, though, I was all alone. Leslie had pulled far enough ahead that I couldn't see her because of the curve in the path, and I could hear distant footsteps behind me, but I didn't dare look back. I knew I had less than a half mile left, so I really kicked it into high gear. I could hear Kortney getting closer, and I tried my best to sprint up the last hill toward the finish, but I was feeling like I might puke, and she managed to pass me. I did my best to stay right behind her, and made my final sprint over the crest of the hill and to the finish. Mile 3.1: 7:51

Total time: 23:14!!! A new PR! That's 1:10 off my last 5k, just over a month ago! BTW, that's a 7:29 mile, in case you were wondering (I'm just a little proud of myself, can't you tell??). A couple of years ago I could barely break 30 minutes!!! We had lots of runners with really great times - most of Silver came in just before or just after me, and a lot of people managed to PR, so we all agreed it was a great race. The best part, I felt great afterward! Sure, I had to walk it off for a minute because I thought I might collapse and/or puke, but once that wore off, I felt awesome!

According to my pace card (and I know these things aren't always completely accurate), I'm right on track for a 3:40 marathon - BQ, baby (ooh, and I found someone who offered to pace me for the last ten miles of CIM)!!! But I won't get ahead of myself here...let's see how the SF half goes in a couple of weeks!

I wasn't really expecting to do so well...I had a REALLY bad day, and was also feeling rushed to get to the stadium for our warmup, but I used all that negative energy to push myself to a new PR. Running really is the best therapy!

Afterward, eleven of us went to dinner at Pasta Pomodoro, refueled and chatted about the race, running, the upcoming Sentinel Triathlon (which a ton of SFRRC members are doing), and just life in general. We have a really fun group, and it was a great night!