Tuesday, August 5, 2014

San Francisco Marathon - 2nd Half Marathon

Race satisfaction is all about expectations.

I didn't run anywhere near a personal best at the San Francisco Marathon "Second Half-Marathon," but I finished more content than I have at a race in a while.  I've had a lot of disappointments with races the past year, primarily attributable to feeling strong in my training but having issues ("injuries") with respect to my left leg that leave me unable to give it my all when the heat is on.

Without speed or hill training, and with months of low mileage (for me), I expected this race to hurt and to generally be disappointing.

Instead, I finished right at my "wishful thinking" time (1:30) and for the first time in a LONG time, I finished without feeling like my bad leg had been put through a meat grinder.

All was not perfect, but seriously.  My leg didn't feel abused.  That's a good thing.

Free race photos! Huge perk

The first half of the race was through Golden Gate Park, overcast, and I clung to my cheap, fog-attracting sunglasses since I thought they would fall off my head.  Oakley, call me.  (Or tell me what running sunglasses you recommend, I'm in the market).

It was far more humid than any weather I've run in this summer, because race day always brings weather obstacles.  Once the sun came out, the humidity felt extra special.

The first mile was downhill, and fast.  Somewhere around 6:15 for me.  After that, the race was steady up, up, up, DOWN SO STEEP SO SHORT, up, up, up.  At least that's how it felt to me.  The downhill portions were harsh!  Feet-slapping downhills.  The kind where you worry your quads will pay for that soon.

This photographer.  With his clever close ups. 
Even though this is one of the hilliest road half-marathons I've run, the most challenging part of the race was not the hills, but the mental exhaustion of weaving around marathoners.

The second half marathon throws runners into a stream of marathoners that are hitting their halfway point on pace to a 4.5-to-5 hour marathon.  

This is both cool, and very, very bad.  The cool part is that it is motivating to reel past other runners; it makes you feel strong as you pick other people off.  It is cool because marathoners might get a burst of energy from seeing all the fresh half-marathoners pulling them along.

It is bad because it is a mental challenge to constantly be alert and focused on how to pass all these runners.  So much weaving, so much running on the farthest tangent, so many water stops missed.  I ran a 13.32 according to Sir Garmin, and I'm sure this was partially attributed to all the weaving.  I also think I settled for a pace that felt fast, comparatively, because in some strange way the marathoners' pace was messing with my inner metronome. 

On the same note, it sucks for the marathoners who are probably thinking "shut it halfers.  I've been trucking for 2 hours and you and your spritely legs can go ahead and run the long tangent because I'm tired and have 2.5 hours to go."

This start schedule also meant I experienced what it is like to be in the caboose of a race in terms of water stops and volunteers....and it's rough.  Volunteers seemed to be running out of steam and few were handing out drinks.  The roads were a mess of cups.  People slowed and crowded to a stop for water, and I couldn't summon the energy to wedge my way in there (or otherwise failed to find a cup when I made an attempt).

Without any hydration, and the extra dose of humidity, I became overheated and/or dehydrated and boy did I feel it during the last mile. 

Miles 2-12 were all around 6:45-6:50.  Mile 13? 7:20.  I was hanging on for dear life.

6:49 garmin pace for 13.32 miles; 6:55 official pace; 1:30:52. 

I finished feeling pretty sick.  I drank everything in the world (water; coconut water; kombucha; a green drink) and couldn't eat food for several hours.  I felt so drained and needed to lie down with my eyes closed during a birthday barbecue we went to that afternoon. 

Things had been feeling ok until that last mile!  It was a flat mile, but exposed and shadeless.  I was just toast.

I felt the alarm bells of a potential calf "tangle" cramp, and the associated stiffening/locking of my knee, at the fourth mile; so I stopped and stretched at mile 4.5.  I stopped again near mile 8.  This method--stop at the first sign of a problem and stretch -- seemed to really work for me.  My leg issues didn't become a bigger problem like they have in past races.  I really wanted to stretch again during the last 3 miles, but I knew it wouldn't be worth it to find the impossible energy to start again at the same speed after coming to a dead stop.

I'm going to continue to subscribe to the running plan I've been on -- namely, no serious speed work.  My leg is feeling better, and I feel I'm on this precipice where I could slide backwards and lose these gains so easily.  I'm afraid of speedwork because of this.

I will be avoiding the track for a while (sad. I like it there) and focusing on continued but decreased treatment with my sports therapist, throwing in some comfortable tempo miles (7:00-ish pace) and some fast-finishes, something that seems so key and that I have never done.

Never done.

I also never finish fast in races.  Huh.

That's my new goal.  Stop finishing like the fading positive splitter that I am.  Finish strong.


  1. I feel like I may be commenting twice, but it's late and I'm not sure - so here goes.

    Way to go on battling it out in San Fran! I ran the Nike Women's Marathon there last October and I really didn't know what I was signing up for. It was really brutal. At least your weather seemed nice, albeit humid? In October all there was to look at was fog. I would kill to get your times - so speedy! Looking forward to reading in the future.

    1. Any race in San Francisco is likely to be hilly and hard! Exception: the Kaiser half is super fast. Hope you enjoyed that one even though it was "brutal."

      I would not call the weather at this last race "nice"....I'll take 40 degrees, overcast, no humidity, done deal.

  2. I'm glad your leg cooperated and that is such exciting news!

    I hate races that drop off two different distances to finish together. Normally the racers doing the longer event don't care for it either. That has got to stink for you doing the shorter and not being able to grab water as frequently. I understand it' easier for course directors and volunteers but it is such a pain when you are racing.

  3. I read about the starts for this race and that sounded so bad to me: too difficult to weave in and out of marathoners with such a pace discrepancy. Unless the course is very wide at all parts, that must just create a traffic jam.
    Really good news about your leg. Hope it continues to improve and you are eventually able to add some speedwork.

  4. Always love your race reports.

    Weaving is the WORST! I did the reverse of you and ran a full once where I had to weave in and out of walking halfers. You've got to be kidding me. I wanted to CRY.

    Sounds like a solid plan with the tempo stuff and fast finishes. Hope your leg continues to get stronger and feel better.

    1. I can't imagine weaving during a full. All your mental strength needs to be devoted to pushing through that damn wall, not how to pass people

  5. Oh the free race photos. Yours are FAB...I wish I could hire that guy to follow me around on the trails. Great race and good news about the leg getting stronger. I know exactly which STEEP short downhill bit you mean too...brutal!

  6. So glad to hear that your leg didn't feel grounded up post-race and that your current plan is going well for you! I'm about to start MAF/heart rate training and ONLY run slow for a while - it will be sooo boring but hopefully I'll finally build the aerobic base that I never dedicated any time to before. The last 2-3 miles of the 2nd Half SUCKS BALLS. I remember how hot it was last year, so I can only imagine how much worse it was with the humidity this year.

    Since you asked for recommendations, I have a pair of Native sunglasses from REI and like them a lot. They cost more money than I wanted to spend, but I'm hoping to make them last a long time. Plus, I have a tiny nose with no bridge, so it's hard to find glasses that fit me. The model I have is Eastrim, but it looks like they have a ton of models on closeout right now for like $60-70.

    1. Interesting....you don't think you have an aerobic base!? you're a marathoner? I don't think I understand how this science works.

      Thanks for the sunglasses tip! I have the opposite nose as you! That's 3x more than I've ever paid on sunglasses, but if it's worth it, I'll give them a shot.

    2. Re: aerobic base. Yes, I think I had it, but I don't think it was as efficient as it could've been. And I definitely don't have it now, after taking quite a bit of time off. Why I think my aerobic base was lacking -- for example, considering my PR paces, my easy run pace should've also gotten faster over the years, and it just never did. It's like my top end speed was getting faster (up to half marathons), but my base speed was staying the same (actually, it seemed to get slower). I think that's the other reason I haven't been able to do better at marathons (well, that, and picking hilly courses doesn't help!). I'm also interested in trying to tap into more fat burning vs. sugar burning... it would be helpful for dealing with fueling issues on long runs. The truth is, it's just a fun experiment to try and I don't have any goal races coming up. ;)

      As for the glasses -- the nice thing about buying them at REI is you can return them at any time.

  7. Great report - and lol on the Sir Garmin comment haha. Yea, I don't understand either why they throw the 2nd half marathoners into the 4.5 to 5 hour marathon people. Shouldn't they try to pace out the waves so we are running with people of the same caliber? The race is dangerous having to weave that much. Glad your race went better than mine, I imploded during mile 12.8 and spent 40 min in first aid tent. To me it partly comes down to having Nuun as the water stop sponsor - who thought it was a brilliant idea to have zero calorie water stops? I blame my implosion on 75% myself (since I didn't drink enough from my water belt fuel), and 25% SF marathon. But one reason I do races is to not have to run with a water belt. I think I'm done with doing SF marathon events until they change their water stops to calorie stops (gatorade, cytomax, etc). Full race report coming soon, I guess I don't want to write it since I'm still annoyed at myself, and still don't feel 100% healthy yet.

    1. Daaaaaaang, I hope you are ok, that sounds rough. And so close to the finish....what a bummer. I did that too once, but I flew all the way to Boston first ;)

      I had no idea about the Nuun business (since I didn't get any liquids in)! I should have known and done a full on roast. Will you do it for me? remind me and I'll link to your post

    2. haha here is my full post, Nuun is blasted mainly at the end lol

      Here is another post before the race talking about Nuun - and is oddly prophetic towards me bonking by not taking in enough fluids

  8. and yea, I was hoping to hear you roast Nuun over the coals in this race report lol

  9. Great race recap! Love the photos. Sorry to hear you felt like crap after though...

  10. I ran Bay to Breakers in 2008 and that course was crazy hilly. I'm glad that you leg is continuing to improve somewhat. Finishing fast is one of the things I try to strive for. Before I had my Garmin I would race marathons and try to bank time. Or at the beginning of half I would run the first 3 miles at sub 7 minute pace and then crash and burn.... I think having a Garmin has helped me to slow the eff down during the first 3 miles of a half. I really enjoy reigning in runners during the second half of a half. I hope I can someday use this strategy during a marathon. Wishful thinking.

    Sorry that the

    1. I also wanted to add, I'm sorry that the heat and humidity got to you. Heat exhaustion is no joke. It kind of sneaks up on you, when you least expect it. Stay safe :)

    2. I know exactly what hills you dealt with at Bay to Breakers, those are some good ones!

      I think heat exhaustion is my new future. I can't remember the last time I ran a race that wasn't "too hot" for comfort (over 65 degrees + sunny). Can't wait for fall and winter races....

  11. Hey it's you! You're back! As usual, I deeply enjoyed your race recap and I'm glad to hear your leg is feeling okay.

  12. Wow, that second race photo was amazing! As someone who runs and photographs (albeit not at the same time), I am impressed by what you both contributed to make that photo. I look like melting grape jelly (with glasses) in race photos ...


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