Sunday, September 16, 2012

Race Report: Giant Race Half Marathon 2012

The Giant Race Half Marathon begins and ends at AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. I had been looking forward to this race all summer, as the finish line is on the ball field, and runners get to hang out on the grass to cool down after the race. Plus, the course is pretty flat, following the waterfront on a tour from the financial district, through Fisherman's Wharf, Fort Mason, Crissy Field and spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge before turning back and following the waterfront back to the ball park. In addition to the awesome course, I had changed my plans from using the race as a long training run to actually racing and trying to set a new PR for the half marathon distance, 1:45 (8:00/mile pace).

KT Tape for the Achilles
 In the week since my last race, my legs had felt like lead. My pace was good, but I did not feel fluid or as comfortable as I would expect for any given pace. I made a choice to skip my Wednesday tempo run, and I visited my chiropractor for some A.R.T. on Thursday, hoping to loosen up any knots in my soleus and psoas. I took Friday and Saturday as rest days in order to feel fresh for Sunday morning's race.
 I began waking up hours before the alarm went off, but tried to relax and stretch a little while I dozed. Once up, I had my pre-race muesli (yogurt, raw rolled oats, berries, pears and nuts) and assembled all the gear I had laid out: race kit (I really dig the Icebreaker merino wool shorts for races and long runs), Garmin, Roctane Gu's, NuuN, Endurox recovery drink and Picky Bars. Traveling across the Bay was uneventful, and the traffic was flowing outside the Park, but beginning to back up out approaching the parking lots south of China Basin.

The 10K and Half Marathon start
Twirly dropped me off at 7:15 and then drove to Sports Basement at Crissy Field to get some mid-race video before driving back to the ball park to catch the finish, so I was left alone in the throng of participants. The 5K began at 8:00 am, so I got to watch 5000 runners queue up for that start, one for every meter. The race wasn’t long enough for the pack to spread out! Many of the 5K runners were finished before the 10K/Half Marathon start at 8:30, and the momentum of the event was palpable. I lined up in the corral halfway between the 1:40 group and the 1:50 group, near the 8:00/mile sign. Jumping around and trying to keep loose and warm, I did a quick body check and felt that the Achilles was 'talking', but not saying anything offensive. A couple of runners complimented me on on my orange and black Mizuno Ronin 2's, my go to shoe for road racing. I also wear them to Giant's games. Perfect shoe for this race. The crowd of runners counted down to the 10K/Half Marathon start. We were off. Sort of.
Not nervous... OK, a little
With thousands of runners behind me, the clock read 1:15 as I crossed the line and started my Garmin. The first mile began at 14:00 pace, but 8:43 later, we were one mile in and everyone had room to run. We ran down Embarcadero, under the Bay Bridge, to the cheers of volunteers and cheerleaders. I took stock and decided I needed to run about 7:52/mile over the next five miles to get on pace. I settled into a comfortably hard rhythm, kept my heart rate below 155 and cruised on down the road, enjoying the views of the Bay and city. Mile two ended 7:49 later, so I was pretty happy with myself at this point. I still felt comfortable and was having a great time. Everyone around me was having a great time. I would pass people, and other people would pass all of us, and it was easy running. The first four miles got faster and easier. Before I knew it, we were leaving Fisherman's Wharf and heading a block inland (and uphill) to go around Fort Mason. I felt strong on the little hill, and quickly got my heart rate back after cresting. I even managed to click off a 7:58 mile, not giving any time back against my goal. It was awesome. I celebrated with a Gu.  
The Golden Gate Bridge as seen from the course
The course flattened out again as we ran past the marina and its expanse of grass. I knew Twirly would be around 5 1/2 miles, and the thought invigorated me (the Gu helped too). The Golden Gate Bridge dominated the view of the Bay, its towers stretched unseen into the clouds. I could see Twirly down the road and waved to her from about a quarter mile away. She shouted some encouragement as I did my best Jorge Maravilla impression and gave her a thumbs up.   
Twirly also caught some video of the race winner, Brett Gotcher (1:04:19). Look at him go!  
The turn-around, which was remarkably close to 6.55 miles (the actual half-way point) changed the view from the Golden Gate and back to the city and the Bay Bridge beyond. I realized, as I admired the city from this vantage, that I had to run around all that I saw before I would be at the finish. That was the first pang of discomfort. The course followed the beach back to the marina, and I began to pick up the pace for the last half. My plan was to run a negative split (run a faster second half), which I always try to do, but have not really executed well. My split at halfway was about 52 minutes. I could run a minute slower in the second half and still meet my goal of 1:45. I picked up the pace.
Over so soon?
The return course took us closer to the water through Fort Mason, and along Aquatic Park before spilling into Fisherman's Wharf. As a result, the hilly section was a little easier, and I shaved 10 seconds off my previous trip over. At mile ten, I ate another Gu and did a body check. My feet were 'talking' and I could feel my hips, but my pace felt good, so I kept picking someone to pass, and reeling them in. I passed some runners that had passed me in the first half (some were walking now) and began to smell the barn.
I was amazed at how many buildings along Embarcadero look like AT&T Park! Big, imposing brick buildings were suddenly everywhere. Some runners refused to be passed, speeding up as I approached, only to slow down a minute later and repeat the oscillation. “Relax, run tall”, I reminded myself. When the Bay Bridge and the light towers of the ball park came into view, I knew my goal was in the bag. So I asked myself, how low can I set this PR? My last three miles were 7:34, 7:32 and 7:27, and I kicked the final 0.1 mile coming into the stadium at 5:36 pace! I was surprised at the finish because I thought we would be running around the warning track before crossing the line, but as I rounded the corner through the gate and onto the field, there it was at center field, and suddenly, I was across and done. My time was 1:41:13 by the timing chip, a new PR and 296th place out of 4000 finishers. I even pulled off the negative split: 51:25 out/49:48 in. They hung my medal around my neck and I grabbed a bottle of water, heading towards first base where Twirly was waiting to meet me in the stands. There was no fruit left, only bagels. I guess the 5K and 10K finishers needed some sustenance, but the planners could have rationed the refreshments better. I grabbed some figs we had brought, my recovery drink and some NuuN and went out onto the field to stretch, soak in the good feelings of a race run well, and enjoy the field while I could.  

Knowing I still had some in the tank

In retrospect, the volunteers were really supportive, the course was well marked, and I cannot say it enough, finishing on the field and getting to feel the grass, and look up into the stands... It is a really special race. I will probably try to talk Twirly into doing the 5K so we can hang on the field together next time.
The new PR gives me a lot to think about as far as how I expect to do at CIM in December, and I think my goal of completing the US Half Marathon in November in 1:40 is within reach. My father continues to provide me with some rationality in my goal setting. "I think trying to run a first marathon with a goal anywhere near 3:30 is impractical", he says. I'm tending towards 3:45, but know I could beat 4 hours. I feel like I have been setting my goals too conservatively, but then again, I missed a 21 minute 5K goal by almost 30 seconds last August. Maybe I'm getting better at knowing where I am in my fitness. Whatever is going on, time will tell.
Party on the ball field

Here is the Garmin data:

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