If It’s Sunday, This Must Be a Half Marathon

Race Recap: TransAmerica Rock ‘n Roll San Francisco Half Marathon

Generally speaking, you know an idea is a bad one immediately upon hatching it.  I mean, if it IS to go bad it’s almost always there from the start. Bad ideas rarely grow up to be good ones , so when you think something is probably not in your best interests, it may be time to go with your gut.  Abandon your path, take another road, or stay home altogether.

I could’ve used that advice on Sunday.  I should’ve heeded my own word and simply admitted I wasn’t up to the challenge.

But I didn’t.  And as it turns out, I wasn’t exactly unable to rise to the occasion, it was just not pretty. I kinda just drug my sorry self through 13.1 miles of San Francisco streets in pursuit of glory and a medal to prove I’d been there.

So went the 2016 TransAmerica Rock ‘n Roll San Francisco Half Marathon.

To pick up where I left off in the previous post, I found myself in a conundrum:  I’d scheduled both a Ragnar relay and this half marathon on the same weekend.

Problem?  Nah…the relay was Friday-Saturday, and this run was on Sunday.  Nevermind I’d flown 400 miles to and from the relay, stayed up all night, and returned to my home only to get up at the crack of dawn and drive another 100 miles to run this race.

Sounds like any given weekend, no?

To be frank, I did think about dropping the half marathon and probably would have if it hadn’t been for a friend of mine who was enthusiastic about going and who agreed to drive down with me at an insanely early hour of the day.  We’re probably both certifiable, but that’s also probably why we’re friends.

Anyway…I didn’t drop out, and at 2am on Sunday morning my alarm went off to wake me for the trip to San Francisco.  I’d fallen asleep around 11pm on Saturday, so I was fresh as a daisy with my three hours (I speak fluent sarcasm, obviously).

Hey, it was more than I’d had for all of Ragnar SoCal, so my weekend was already looking up.

I gathered myself, dressed in the running gear I’d thrown to the side the evening before (it’s a stretch to say I “laid it out” because I wasn’t even sure I had two socks and a shirt that matched my shorts, I just knew my important parts would be covered), brushed my teeth, and packed up a few things to throw in the car.  I was wise enough to remember dry clothing for after the race because when you sweat like I do, that’s one thing you never forget.

No one wants to ride 100 miles home drenched in their own sweat.

My friend arrived promptly at 3am and we set off on our journey.  The first stop was an obligatory visit to my local Dutch Brothers, because without coffee, I’m pretty much intolerable.

The drive to the Bay Area was smooth, probably because no one in their right mind was up at that hour on a Sunday.  Josh had prepaid for a parking spot near the finish line, so we sailed into the City and easily found the garage where we’d leave the car.  We both needed to use the bathroom, but the hotel where we left the car wasn’t having it so we set out in search of the finish line and (hopefully) port-a-potties.

We were lucky and found them a few blocks away, mostly still zip-tied shut. Yay for fresh potties.

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I think this was around 5am near the port-a-potties.  Important stop to document.

As it was a chilly morning, I kept my jacket on along with a long-sleeved layer and a tank top.  We made our way to the shuttle line, where it seemed people had started coming out of the woodwork.  Shortly we hopped on a bus and were whisked off to the beach where our race would begin.

Josh had run this race before and told me about his previous experience.  He told of how cold it would be on the beach as the wind blew off of the ocean, and to expect people huddled around the generators.

They were, and shortly so would we be.

Because I’d been out of town and unable to attend the race expo, I’d arranged for race-day pickup of our bibs (technically Rock ‘n Roll doesn’t do this, but they do sometimes make exceptions). We pinned our bibs on, found a generator under the lights, and huddled with the masses to await the start time.

Like all good runners, however, we soon found we had to use the bathrooms again.

We chose a line that seemed less than a million people deep and braved the cold for a bit, anxious for the race to start.  Up ahead of me, crossing the line, I saw a familiar face.

It was my friend Kim, the one who’d talked me into this race a year ago.

I yelled her name and she came over, followed by another friend she’d driven down with the previous day.  We chatted a bit before realizing the start gun was about to go off.  It was race time.

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Why is that crazy woman in the middle not cold??  Why, Kim??

We were in corral 11, far back from the start because a year ago I ran quite a bit slower than I currently do.  I’d put my estimated finish time at 2 hours 30 minutes to accommodate for the hilly course.

Given my exhaustion from Ragnar, I knew I’d need every minute of that time if I were to finish.

Sooner than I’d liked, our corral was up and across the starting line.  I’d continued to be pretty cold, so I started the run off in all three layers.  I knew that would prove to be a mistake but I wasn’t mentally able to deal with both the exhaustion and the cold.  A condition I have makes my extremities react poorly to the cold, and I just wasn’t having it. I needed my fingers and toes sans frostbite, and I was going to do what it took.

The sweat jacket lasted a mile, as did my ability to keep up with Josh.

I stopped to take the jacket off around 1.3 miles into the race as he was powering up a hill ahead of me.  He’d had the foresight to gear-check his sweatshirt and was running well. I knew I’d not see him again until the finish.

I’d also lost track of my other two friends, so I was doing this part of the run alone.  I had my earbuds in, music on, and a determination to simply just finish.  I didn’t care how fast, I just cared that I avoided my first DNF (Did Not Finish).

The first two miles of the run were agonizing slogs uphill.  I average between a 9 minute/mile and 9:30 minute/mile pace, but for that portion I failed to even break an 11 minute mile.  Climbing and fatigue were having their way with me.  I thought about all the other things I could have chosen to do, my warm bed, the errands I needed to do, and I decided that I’d rather be there feeling tired than doing any of that. So I lifted my chin, fixed my gaze forward, and vowed to just get it done.

Mile 3 was through a very pretty neighborhood on the Northwest side of the city, and I enjoyed looking at all of the homes I’ll never be able to afford.  I wondered how they felt about a few thousand of us running down their streets at seven in the morning.

I’ll bet they weren’t happy.

Mile 4 consisted of the steepest climb of the run.  We came up from Baker Beach to the Presidio before heading across the Golden Gate Bridge.  I admit to walking most of this part of the race, and while I’d run it in October for the Nike Women’s Half, I didn’t mind that I was unable to for this race.  I’d done a ton of climbing in Southern California less than 48 hours before, and my glutes and quads knew it. 200 plus feet of climbing later and I was at the bridge.

For people who live in northern California, the Golden Gate Bridge is pretty much a fixture.  We stop noticing it as a landmark and see it as part of our environment.  We cross it in a car on a regular basis and it’s not all that impressive.

That changes when you have the opportunity to run across it.

The crowding was bad on the bridge and people were elbow to elbow.  Some were stopping dead in the middle of traffic to take selfies, and I mean stopping without warning.

I’m not very good at selfies, so I didn’t even try. Even my race pics look bad, so photography during a race is not on my list of things to do.

One woman went down on her face, apparently, and required an ambulance. I never really got up a ton of speed, but it was a beautiful part of the run.  We left the City, crossed into Marin, and came right back across and down into Crissey Field.  My run across the bridge felt great despite being pressed up against 2,000 strangers.  I left the exhaustion behind, kept my head up, evened out my breathing, and mostly zig-zagged in and out of people the entire way.  I never stopped or even thought about slowing down, putting in a solid five miles.  My pace dropped to a 9:33 minute/mile once I cleared the crowds, and I really felt like I could pull this race off.

That feeling lasted until mile 10, when I hit my mental wall.

It happens to me in every half.  At mile 10, I start telling myself how awful I feel, why I can’t finish strong, why I should just walk…my mind begins to defeat the purpose of running entirely.  Oddly, this doesn’t happen at the same point on longer runs.  At a marathon distance, I never really hit it.  During 31 miles it happens much later.  But for a half, I always know to beware of mile 10.

This was a repeat of most half marathons I’ve run.  I saw an incline in mile 10 and just fell apart.

Every Ragnar mile I’d run over the weekend came back to me at that moment, making me feel more tired than I really was.  The previous 9 miles were good ones, but at that moment it felt impossible to continue.  Physically, I was capable of a good pace but mentally, it wasn’t happening.

I switched to a walk/run interval plan for a bit, and made respectable time.  Mile 12, however, was all uphill and I nearly caved.

I walked most of it.  I’m not ashamed to admit it.  That was the only way this race was getting done. It was uphill, I was tired, and it was just going to be that way. I actually thought I’d walk across the finish line, to be honest.

But I didn’t.

The last mile or so of the race was downhill.  I was determined to run it in once I saw that the climbing was over, so I gave it my all and got my pace down around my usual.  That wasn’t going to save the entire race, but it was going to bring me in stronger than I thought I could be.

After 2 hours and 26 minutes on the course, I finished. Under that 2 hour 30 minute mark I’d set the year before.  I was ok with that. As they put that medal around my neck, I reflected on the 30+ miles I’d put on my feet in those few days, and I felt pretty accomplished.

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Me, feeling accomplished at the finish line.  See why I don’t do selfies?

My friend and I met in our designated spot and headed home quickly after the race.  He’d finished over 15 minutes before me, so I’m sure he was ready to hit the road.

The Rock ‘n Roll was my slowest half marathon since the first year I ran, but given everything I’d done in the three days before the race, it wasn’t all bad.  The course was beautiful and challenging, and I’m happy to say I’d run it again – hopefully, a bit more rested.

Normally, at this point, I’d give points to ponder and lessons learned from this race.  Given the circumstances under which I ran, I really don’t have any because I was mostly incoherent.

I do have one, actually, one I just noticed upon reviewing this blog before publishing it. I didn’t give thought to this during the race, nor immediately thereafter, nor in the four days since.

Notice I never mention stopping for water or fuel.

I didn’t.

I was so tired and out of sorts I never took water at an aid station and never opened the Gu I carry for fuel every 5 miles.  The only thing I had in my system during that race was a large coffee and two breakfast biscuits Josh had graciously given me on the shuttle.

I ate half a bread-like bun at the finish line (awful) and drank some chocolate milk.  That was all the post-race fuel I could tolerate (running is an appetite suppressant for me, so I generally don’t eat afterwards).

I didn’t have anything substantial to eat until nearly 4pm that evening.  Poor choice, in retrospect.

So my advice (unheeded) is this: Fuel, and fuel often.  And refuel after a race.

Don’t be like me.

So that’s my recap of the 2016 TransAmerica Rock ‘n Roll San Francisco Half Marathon.  Great race, well organized, and fun, despite the delirium.  I’d do it again…on a few more hours of sleep.

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