The whole concept of our family vacation this year was to include something that is important/enjoyable to each person in our family. My husband and son are huge baseball fanatics and have a goal of visiting all 30 Major League Baseball parks. My daughter is very interested in anything to do with the performing arts. The kids and I love the beach/ocean. And of course I love running.
So we settled on California, specifically Los Angeles, San Francisco/Oakland, and Santa Barbara! There’s Hollywood, there are plenty of baseball parks, miles and miles of beaches, and there happened to be a half marathon near Oakland, CA. Perfect!
We spent several days in LA doing all the touristy Hollywood stuff and had a great time. Then we took a leisurely (long) drive up to San Francisco, stopping a few times to see different beaches along the way. We even saw sea lions! Of course, at one of our stops I accidentally shut the car door on my right foot….figures, the day before my race…..
We arrived in San Francisco in the evening and it was cold! After dinner, I got all my race stuff out and everything that we would need for the baseball game after the race and tried to go to sleep.
After getting up early and going down to breakfast as soon as the hotel buffet opened at 6 am, we hit the road for San Leandro (near Oakland). Generally, I like to be really early to races, and since it’s usually just myself going to the race, it isn’t a big deal. But I felt guilty about dragging the whole family out too early (plus breakfast buffet wasn’t open until 6 am anyway) so I swallowed my anxiety and said it was OK if we got there by 7:15 for the 8 am start.
Things to freak out about: (a) I didn’t have my normal pre-race breakfast of sweet potato and scrambled eggs — there were scrambled eggs, but I had fruit instead; (b) hubby announces on the way that we need to get gas for the car or we might not make it to the Oakland A’s game after the race; (c) will the packet pickup and bathroom lines be long? (d) did I forget anything?
We arrived at the race site about 7:10, parked the car, and followed the crowd over to the race start area. I got in line for packet pickup, then got into the next line for goody-bag/shirt pickup. While in line, hubby and kids helped me fill my hydration bottles with coconut water (my kids think that’s gross), removed my jeans & sweatshirt to reveal the runner beneath, and pinned on my bib. I decided to pass on the arm warmers since I underestimate how hot I get and didn’t want something extra to carry around during the race. Everyone helped me carry stuff over to the portapotty area which fortunately was not yet crowded.
We passed by 2 photo back drops — one for the race and the other for age group winners. I joked that I wouldn’t need the age group winner back drop, and hubby replied, “I don’t know, I’ve been looking around at the other runners and I think this might be your day.” I translated that as, “I am a non-runner who loves you and thinks you’re awesome and am being supportive.”
We went over to the water to take photos — it happened to be our 17th wedding anniversary!
The family wished me luck and left me at the starting area while they walked to find a suitable spot on the race course to spectate and take photos.
After the usual race announcements and all, the horn sounded and we were off! As usual, it was crowded at the beginning yet difficult to hold back from going too fast. My strategy was to hold back the first half of the race then open the throttle the 2nd half.
Around the first mile marker I saw the family! They took some photos and cheered. I told them I’d see them in less than 2 hours.
It was REALLY hard to hold back as I saw runners passing me early in the race. I kept repeating to myself, “my race, my pace” and reminding myself that I’d probably be seeing some of these people again later in the race as they burned out while I still had energy stores (ha ha, that’s the theory, right?).
Our route was an out and back along a narrow mostly crushed stone path by the bay. Unfortunately (or fortunately perhaps) it was cloudy, there was a breeze, and the temperature was in the upper 50s. Actually, perfect running weather, especially for someone who was used to running in the heat and humidity of New Jersey summer.
I locked onto an older guy who was running ahead of me and ended up passing him around mile 4 on a wooden bridge. Ahead of him were a couple of girls in acid green shirts, and a woman in a pink shirt who I figured to be in my age group. They were targets, but I didn’t allow myself to speed up to pass them — if I passed them while holding steady, that would be great. And I did. We started seeing the leaders coming back toward us, and I’d yell out “good job” for about the first 30 or so. I started counting the women to get an idea of what place I was in amongst women. Most of them looked young……really young……
At about mile 6 I pulled out the raisins and started the awkwardness that is running/chewing/breathing all at the same time. I’m pretty sure now that I should be fueling sooner in the race though.
When I hit the halfway mark I knew I was in about 55th place for female runners. I checked my Garmin and it showed 58:19. Fuzzy race-brain math led me to believe that with negative splits my A goal of a PR was possible or at least my B goal of a sub-1:57 was possible. That’s when I allowed myself to drop the hammer.
There was an Asian woman in a blue shirt running ahead of me at a good pace, so I decided to follow her pace so I wouldn’t have to think. This may or may not have been a great strategy but at the time I thought she was going to be holding 8:45 or so.
Also, there was a guy (probably around my age though I’m so bad at judging ages) who kept changing positions with me. Sometimes I’d pass him, sometimes he’d pass me. The first time I passed him he said I was looking good and had a good pace and I thanked him and told him he did too.
Miles 7-9.5 were kind of a blur with hanging in there with the Asian woman and the guy. We passed a few people in the process.
But then I started feeling kind of crappy. Not terrible, just not as strong. I wondered if I’d hit the wall since vacation doesn’t really lend itself to typical diet. Still, I was determined to zone out and stay with my new race running buddies. My goal was just to hang on and ignore the crappy feeling (though I did start to wonder how I was going to manage 26.2 miles in a couple of months).
Around mile 11 I passed the guy for the last time and he shouted to me, “Go get’em!” and I vowed that I would indeed get’em. Blue-shirted Asian lady was still ahead of me and ahead of her was a woman in a gray tank top. I figured both were in my age group and vowed to hang with them. Blue shirt and I got closer and closer to gray shirt and I felt comfortable with that. I was hoping to be able to blow by them at the end.
At mile 12 I could see my family in the distance, and I started waving so they wouldn’t miss me. Of course, I’d chosen my shirt so that it would be bright and distinctive to ensure they wouldn’t miss me. I passed them with a huge smile as they cheered and my husband said, “Wow, you’re running a great pace and looking good!” I thought, well, duh, I’ve been training. Later it occurred to me that he has only attended a couple of my distance races and in both I was doing the death march at the end, so I guess I looked way better than he expected.
Then it happened. The foot that I had accidentally closed the car door on the day before started cramping charley-horse style. It felt like my toes were trying to curl themselves under my foot. At least I only had about a mile to go and having given birth to 2 kids I am able to withstand a fair amount of pain.
I knew that a PR was out of reach, but my B goal was within reach if I could ignore the pain and run strong to the finish. I watched the 2 ladies ahead of me move farther out of reach, but I also knew that I could come in under my goal. I pushed hard and crossed the finish line, feeling dizzy and pukey as I pressed “stop” on my Garmin. Garmin read 1:56:34 (official time was 1:56:31). As I tried to catch my breath and quell the dizzy and pukey feelings, I started to get choked up — no, not with puke, but with emotion.
It dawned on me that I had just pulled off my 3rd best ever half marathon finish time, and my best half marathon finish since 2010. I pulled out my cell phone and called my husband and related what had just happened and that I’d meet them in the food area. The 3 of them were making their way to the finish area and would meet me soon.
After hugs & congrats from hubby (he doesn’t care if I’m gross and sweaty but the kids wouldn’t come near me) we decided that we’d be able to drive to the hotel for me to take a speedy shower before heading to the Oakland A’s game. So we took off and didn’t hang around for race results or awards.
My foot continued to feel crampy but was easing up a bit. Normally I would take off my shoes after a race, but I was afraid that my toes would actually curl under without the shoe. After a couple of hours, my foot was better.
I asked what the 3 of them had done for 2 hours while they were waiting for me, and they said they had fun cheering for the half marathon, 10K, and 5K participants. They were particularly inspired by one woman who was running her first 5K. The first time she passed them, she said it was the farthest she had ever run, and they told her to keep it up. As she came back, they told her, “RIGHT NOW is the farthest you’ve ever run!” and apparently she was overwhelmed with emotion. How awesome!!!!!
They also relayed how some people were happy to have people cheering for them while others ignored it. As this course didn’t lend itself to having easy access for spectators I would have thought that more people would have appreciated the cheers!
We had a good time at the Oakland A’s game and headed back to the hotel. I kept checking my phone for race results, and finally they were posted. I went first to Age Group results and almost fell over! I had placed 3rd in the 40-44 age group! I told my family (I think my comment was something like, “OMG no freakin’ way, I placed in my age group!”), and my husband said, “See, I told you so!” I asked him how he had come to that conclusion, and his response was, “I didn’t see that many women who looked like they were your age and as fit as you.” It was surprising to me how many younger people ran the race. In NJ there are few people in the 20-29 age group but lots and lots in the 30-39, 40-49, and 50-59 age groups. I guess in Oakland the older ladies are doing things other than road races.
I have to say, this makes me feel good about my marathon training. Third best half marathon finish time ever, best in 3 years, and an AG award to boot!
(I’ll post pictures later — having technical difficulties)