Sunday, August 12, 2012

Cold Weather, a Bridge, Too Many Hills, and a SHINY NEW PR!

After I finally felt comfortable at the marathon distance and was able to push through some tough mental spots to meet my marathon goals this year, I knew it might be my year to achieve a new half marathon personal best. My previous PR was 1:59:26, set back in 2008 on a flat course. It was a great race, one I’m very proud of, but it was years ago. After 2009 I didn’t run another half marathon until March of this year…and came so very close to another sub-2 hour time…2:00:21. But tough weather conditions and a hillier than expected course made the difference in 2:00 hours vs a 1:57, which is what I wanted.

But coming that close to my goal and feeling pretty great for nearly the entire race made me realize I am perfectly capable of a 1:55. I had already signed up for San Francisco on July 29. Another hilly race, but I was going to be even more prepared.

I spent the next few months busting my ass in hill training and speed work. I tried my best to not let the warm, humid conditions of summer get me down and with the exception of a couple of runs, I remained strong. There really wasn’t anything else I could do to get to my goal on race day.

Our summer vacation to California was planned, with family time, a high school reunion, and a concert on the schedule...and really awesome weather. I was SO excited about the weather! We road tripped it out there...yes, from Austin to the Central California coast with 2 kids and a dog. It was pretty damn fantastic.

Greg and I were able to leave the kids in my hometown with my parents while we drove the 4 hours to San Francisco to stay overnight and do the race. We hit up the expo at about 1pm the day before the race. I was able to leisurely check things out with worry about the kids being bored, which was really fun although I didn't really buy much. I was able to meet a few people I had only interacted with in the running community online, which was fantastic. It's always nice to put faces with names. Loved meeting you Libby, Wes, Brent, and Renee!! I got to walk to Little Italy from my hotel and meet an old friend, Jen, for dinner. I hadn't seen Jen in years. The restaurant was perfect and it was the best gnocchi I have ever had, hands down. Perfect race fuel for me.

Me, Renee, and Libby
Me and Jen

We decided to stay at the host hotel, which was right at the start line. With the super early start time (5:42) I wanted to be sure I could get as much sleep as possible race morning and just being able to walk out of the hotel and right to the start without having to negotiate parking or possible traffic jams. It was a great decision.  Nice view, huh?
Bay Bridge and the Ferry Building...I love it!

We walked out of the hotel at 5:15am ready to go.

Runners need lots of crap

The start line was on the Embarcadero at the Bay Bridge. Brought back memories of driving into the city from Dublin when we lived there!

San Francisco weather was pretty great, at about 53 degrees in the morning, but the humidity wasn’t so great because of the fog. It can be deceptively tough to run in the fog even though the temperature is to your benefit. I hoped all my long runs in the humid conditions had prepped me for it.

Greg was running with me and his job was to make sure I kept my pace on target. I was afraid if he didn’t keep track of it (I hardly ever look at my pace during a run), I would burn myself out. Although I didn’t want to admit it before the race, the elevation chart had me a bit freaked out. Although the Embarcadero was flat and we’d be on it for 5 miles, there was a nasty hill to contend with at mile 6 and the Golden Gate Bridge supposedly feels uphill the entire way, although it’s gradual. For some reason, until the day before the race, I completely forgot the last two miles of the race were uphill.  But hey, I know hills…I live in Austin!

San Francisco hills are a bit different. As I would find out.

The race started off great. A 5:42am start meant getting up at 4am, but our hotel was right at the start line so we had no stress over trying to find parking and getting there early enough. The temperature was about 55 degrees, the fog didn’t seem too thick, and it was generally a very nice morning. We ran into a couple friends and were getting excited. It was going to be fun!

An uneventful first 3 miles, right on target, gave me a lot of confidence. Mile 1 came in at 9:40, which was my goal pace, and miles 2 and 3 were right around 9:12. Greg thought it was a bit too fast, but I wasn’t worried. I felt very comfortable and the pace seemed slower than it was…always a good sign.

We encountered a hill at Mile 4 I totally didn’t expect, and it was kind of yucky. I did my best to not slow down, and thankfully it was short. I knew the one after 5 miles would be the sucky one. My friend Libby warned me I’d want to walk it. Along the side of road during Mile 4 were the military of fallen soldiers, with their ages and when they passed away. I looked at every single one of these pictures to remind myself that I was privileged to be running in this beautiful city while these men and women sacrificed themselves. Right after the memorial, I encountered a runner with a sign on his back...he was running in memory of his wife. I noticed him carrying a rose in his hand. I patted him on the back, said "good job" and then spent about a 1/4 mile fighting back tears. I mentioned something to Greg, who said he was about to cry, too. Powerful moment...probably one of my most memorable of the whole race.

I had hoped to be right around 9 min even pace at miles 4 and 5, and they both came in at 8:53. We were a bit ahead of pace, so that was really good to know going into the hell of Mile 6….a long, steep 200 foot elevation gain over less than a half mile. Can we say OUCH? By the time we hit 6 miles we were on the bridge, and there was never any relief from the incline during that entire mile. It was 9:27…about 30 seconds off pace. But that was okay…I still was right where I needed to be for nearly halfway through the race.

The bridge most definitely feels like its on an incline for the entire length, which is just bizarre, but I tried to block that strange feeling out and keep my pace even. My hope was for Mile 7 to come in around 8:45-8:50 and it was on target, then mile 8, which offered a little relief with a couple downhills was at 8:30. We were back in business, and going back across the bridge. During mile 9 I definitely started to feel a bit of fatigue, but kept concentrating on keeping an even pace. An 8:44 mile 9 was a bit slower than I wanted, but still okay.

Coming off the bridge

I look so unhappy...and Greg is pretty much in front of me for the entire all the pics

Then I saw a hill I forgot all about.

I think the only thing that kept me from falling completely off pace but knowing that on the other side of this hill was a 1 mile downhill, with a 200 foot elevation loss. I really did not like this crappy hill…I wanted to punch it, but I did my best to get as close to 8:30 as I possibly could for mile 10. It came in at 8:43. Well, crap. I was certainly feeling some hill fatigue. My breathing, thankfully, was just fine, however. No wheezing, no overexertion. Just some muscle fatigue in my legs.  I wanted to be just short of 90 minutes at the 10 mile point, but it was over. 25 minutes needed for the final 5k…yikes.

Time to burn it up a little on that downhill, which would either be smart or incredibly stupid and kill my legs for the final uphill 2 miles.

That downhill was glorious and fun and I felt great all of a sudden. I wanted an 8:15 on that hill pretty badly and when my watch chimed an 8:11 at me I was thrilled. Thrilled for about 2 seconds, until the next uphill. And then another and another.  I needed a sub-8 minute final 2+ mile pace, and that was going to be incredibly tough.

My legs pretty much told me to knock it off, they were done, and I needed to go lay down. I simply could not push them to run any faster.

It was at this point that Greg stayed in front of me and told me to stop looking at my watch and just let him do the pacing. The poor guy wanted me at 8:15 so badly, knowing we needed to run faster if I had any shot at a 1:55. He would get up to pace and then had to back off because I simply could not keep up.

Hey look, Greg is still sort of in front of me

Mile 12 came in at 8:48….we were definitely off pace at this point. But I knew I was doing everything I could. Plan B was now to simply stay under 9 minute pace overall. I’ve never run sub-9 for a half marathon before….or even 11 or 12 miles, so this was an awesome and exciting goal to shoot for.

Once I knew we had only a little over a mile left my mental energy got a recharge. If I could maintain this pace we were golden. There were still hills during Mile 13 but they didn’t bug me as much. I started counting down the 10ths of a mile, and Greg did the same to me (by the way, HE WAS AWESOME COACHING ME!!!).

Mile 13 was in 8:38…it didn’t feel that fast and although it was originally supposed to 8 minutes even, I was a happy girl. Just 1/10th of a mile to go and I had a 1:57 and a sub-9 minute pace overall. It was actually raining a little at this point, which was just weird to me. July and it's in the 50s and raining on us.

That dumb last 1/10th of a mile was long, about .15 miles from the 13 mile marker. My Garmin showed a total mileage of 13.25 miles for the day. I always expect it to be a little long and I calculated what I needed to run based on 13.2 miles, so this was even a bit longer. I probably would have been more mad about that final sprint had it been the difference between 1:55 and 1:56, but I had a 1:57 no matter what the distance there. My final pace in that last 1/4 mile was 7:36...just about exactly what I wanted to run for that stretch. Somehow I found a little kick at the end!

I found my happy place...and a happy pace

My Garmin showed me at 8:52 pace for 13.25 miles in 1:57:32. Official race results are 8:58 pace for 13.1 miles...either way, I did it! On a flat course, I had 1:55 in the bag. More work to do for sure, but I'm getting there.

After catching my breath, the first thing Greg I scouted out was the Irish Coffee. Any race with alcohol at the finish is my kind of race.

A pic where I don't look like a complete dumbass
And one where I look like a total dumbass but you can see the whiskey!

We took the shuttle bus back to the start line, got cleaned up in the hotel, and decided to catch out the action at the finish line for the 2nd half marathoners and full marathoners, which was right by the start line. It was the first time I've actually watched the finish line of a marathon before and I wanted to be on the other side for once, to see the faces on these people as they accomplished something so awesome. We hung out for probably about 30 minutes. There were some interesting San Francisco characters, that's for sure.

This race was great. I will definitely think about running it again. Well organized, beautiful course, awesome finish area (the food was crazy! So much variety). But I'm pretty sure I'll try out the second half next time (net elevation loss!).

I'm pretty much sick of hills for awhile.


  1. You're speedy ho', aren't you?! CONGRATS- you worked hard for it.

  2. You rocked that race!!! I'm running a very flat half in November that I hope to PR on--maybe I need to focus on hills in training so the race feels easy!

  3. Hey! I made your blog post. :) Great job on your new PR. It's a difficult course so you should be very proud! So nice to meet you, friend.