Saturday, May 2, 2015

Hometown Race Weekend...Again!

In 2014 I had a great time racing my hometown marathon, the San Luis Obispo Marathon....their motto is "Small Town, Big Race," exactly my kind of race. I was looking forward to an even better race in 2015.

ITBS derailed my hopes for a full marathon, unfortunately, and I downgraded my registration to the half marathon. As race day approached and I couldn't run more than 6 miles without being in pain, I knew I had made the right decision. I was still disappointed. I would not be running through the most beautiful parts of the vineyard-dotted course.

But that didn't mean I couldn't fuel with SLO County wine!

I signed up for the 5k the day before and knew that despite injury I would have a very fun weekend. Plus, since I was only running a half marathon, I could run a bit harder during the 5k and pull a more respectable time this year. For the half marathon I had no time goal. I would run a comfortable pace and if I felt good would try to speed up, but I would still keep myself in check. No sub-2 hour goal or expectation this time around. I was definitely okay with this. The course is fantastic...and hilly...and brings back lots of childhood and teenage memories....and its freaking HILLY. I would enjoy every mile, although because of the hills (did I mention there are HILLS??), definitely some miles more than others.

Hello rainy race morning!!

The 5k was 3.1 miles of chilly rain through Madonna Inn property, a really great 5k course. There's one yucky hill that is run twice, but it's followed by a really nice downhill. Because of the rain I wanted to run as hard as I could just to be done but I held back a bit. I didn't need to aggravate the ITBS and truth be told, I was nervous about slipping on the wet road on the downhills. I still ran a strong 5k, far off my PR pace, but a negative split nonetheless, with a sub-8 mile thrown in. I even ran into an old high school friend!

Overall, I ran a 25:27, 8:11 pace , 8th overall woman and 1st in my age group. I was happy!

Water logged with the Cal Poly mascot

Now for the half marathon. I didn't want to be nervous, but it doesn't matter how many of these races I do...I still get nervous! Even without a time goal, my nerves were a bit shot. I wanted to have fun, but I also wanted to run a respectable race. And above anything else, I didn't want to be in pain.

Representing TEXAS!!

I arrived at the start right before 6am, when the full marathoners began their race. The half didn't start until 6:45, so I spent some time walking around, chatting a bit, and getting my nerves under control. I looked for friends before the race but sadly couldn't find them. It was a chilly morning and I waited as long as I could before taking off my sweatshirt and turning in my race bag.

By the time we lined up at the start and listened to the national anthem and race director's final words, my nerves were fading and I was getting excited for the race to start.

I lived in San Luis Obispo for 14 years, so to run through the downtown area and past the Mission was very very cool. I absolutely love the first couple miles of the race and can't help but smile. It was everything I had to hold back for those first two miles, especially since it seemed like everyone was flying by me.

I was right on target to where I thought I would be for those first few miles, before the first big hill hits. I felt good, wasn't running too fast, and was prepared to tackle "Cardiac Hill," a 3/4 mile long hill that gains about 140 feet in elevation. It's kind of a beast, but thankfully comes early in the race. There's a nice downhill after you crest the top so you can get your breath back. I felt pretty darn great when I hit 4 miles. I was having a blast!

Right about mile 5 is when we had a chance to see the leader in the half marathon, Cal Poly alum-turned pro athlete Ben Bruce. Part of the race was out-and-back, so he was at mile 9 when he flew by us. He was FAST, and there wasn't anyone even close to him. He was literally running away with the victory. Not too long after seeing him, we saw his 19 weeks pregnant (and also professional runner) wife Stephanie just behind the women's leader. You'd never know she was pregnant! Crazy awesome athletes and very cool to see them on the course. They both ended up winning.

Right before the turnaround at 7.3 miles is another nasty evil hill. It was at this point that I realized my knee wasn't hurting at all yet. I was running a fairly decent race, at about 9:35 pace overall at the halfway point. I was perfectly content with this pace, especially since the race gets easier after the turnaround. There's much more downhill and flat sections, so I felt that as long as my knee held up I'd be able to speed up and run a negative split.

I'm looking down but I still love this pic because

Aaaaand, I'm still looking down....

Hello, crazy awesome course! Nice hill, huh? (photo from SLO Marathon)

After the turnaround and with that nice downhill approaching, I really let myself relax a bit. I was honestly having a lot of fun, although running a half marathon is never really easy. The beauty of the course was breathtaking and I was soaking it all in. We also got a bit of a headwind after the turnaround that cooled me down a bit, not that it was very warm out. Really couldn't complain about the weather at all.

My knee finally starting snapping at me 9 miles into the race. Stupid knee. It wasn't bad pain, but it was annoying.

I think one of my favorite parts of the course, besides running by vineyards, is getting to go on the railroad bike trail. It's narrow, but it's away from traffic so it's relaxing to me. I know some people feel like it's a bit frustrating for the faster marathoners because they have to navigate the half marathoners as they pass us (they started 45 minutes ahead), and I can understand that. We did have a few of the marathon leaders weave through us, but the half marathoners started to move over to the right a bit more once we realized they were coming through. We are on this trail for about 1.5 miles and it ends on a railroad pedestrian bridge, with a switch back up to the bridge and a switch back down to the road. Because the winds were really picking up, the bridge was actually swaying and making me a little nauseous as we crossed it.

Jennifer Street Bridge at 11.5 miles

Once we were back on the street and I realized it was only about 15 minutes to the finish, I picked up the pace. My knee wasn't feeling any worse, so I didn't think speeding up by another 20 seconds per mile or so would be a big deal, and I felt good! There were lots of people out cheering us on through the neighborhoods and I was on a pretty big high knowing the race was almost over and it was going to be a good race for me.

With a half mile to go, I just smiled and RAN.


I can't begin to tell you how incredibly happy I am about that time. There was a point when I hated the thought of running another half over 2 hours, but I've gotten older and wiser since then. I ran over 5 minutes faster than my awful Austin Half Marathon in February. And this course is tougher. I'll take my 2:03 any day!!

Half Marathon #12 done and conquered. What a fabulous race!! My hometown always makes me proud.


  1. Great job Steph! And I love seeing all the pics of SLO! :-)

  2. WOW - I didn't realize you've done 12 Half Marathons!!! Thanks for the great article!

  3. Nice pictures and your blog post is awesome.I like your post and congratulation for this.