Monday, February 7, 2011

Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon

I've run the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon more often than any other race I’ve done.  This year was my sixth (seventh?) time racing it.  I’ve always  liked it for many reasons:  it’s a fast course, it attracts a large crowd (10,000+ if you include the 5k) and so I see lots of friends, and it’s a good early-season gauge of my fitness level.  2010 had been somewhat frustrating;  although I had some successes (a new marathon PR) and some great memories (running with my brother during his first marathon) I spent much of the year sidelined by lingering running injuries that caused me to miss several planned races and adventures I had been excited about.  In the end I ran fewer than half the races I signed up (and paid) for last year because I was either injured or hadn’t been able to get in enough training due to injuries.  I am determined not to let this happen again in 2011.

So far the training is going well.  I am well into my training cycle for the Napa Valley Marathon in March (actually nearing the end of the cycle) and although I haven’t gotten my weekly mileage up quite to where I’d like it I’m trying to mix in more time on the elliptical machine at the gym and pool running, both of which I believe will help my training without increasing my risk for further injury.  I’ve also been doing semi-regular ART sessions which I seem to have solved the hip flexor probems I had at the end of last year.

So last Sunday I toed the line at the Kaiser Half healthy but with less of a training base that I had at the same time last year.  The other notable difference was the weather.  While most of the rest of the country was suffering through a series of especially bad winter weather (my parents, in particular, had received  four feet of snow the previous Wednesday in Wisconsin) San Francisco was enjoying what could only be described as summer-like weather.  The weekend of the race saw bright sunny skies with record-setting temperatures topping out in the 80s.  I knew it would be a hot one when I stepped out of my apartment at 6am and was already comfortable in shorts and my singlet.  For all the flack we get about our fog and our cold summers the city really does have a great climate, especially if you’re a runner.

I felt I was short on time Sunday morning, so I parked near the start instead of parking near the finish and taking the shuttle, like I usually do.  I trusted I’d be able to find a way back to my car after the race.  I arrived at the start line with plenty of time, did a quick warm up, greeted various friends, and got myself into race mode.

I started out a few rows back from the front.  Last year instead of starting out conservatively I went out hard from the start and that strategy paid off then.  I figured I’d try the same today and see what happened.  Mile one passed in 5:45.  Hmm, maybe a bit too fast.  That’s closer to my 10k pace.  Worse, I looked over and saw I was almost right next to Chikara.  Yep, too fast.  Mile 2 was almost as fast: 5:51.  Something I had noticed as soon as the race started was that I was incredibly thirsty, which was unusual, and not a good sign.  Dehydrated already at the start of a race?  I guess it really was going to be a warm day.  I made sure I drank as much as possible at the aid stations, more than I usually would.

As I reentered Golden Gate Park a girl on the side of the road called out: “Number 1406, you look HOT!”  Ladies, take note:  this sort of flattery is much more motivating than typical cheers of “good job!”, “keep going!”, etc. (or worse, the dreaded “you’re almost there!”)

The next few miles through the park went by fast.  I got passed by the first, second, and third place women between miles 4-5.  This middle section had a few turns that I had not remembered, and made we question is this course was really as fast as I had always believed.  I was also beginning to question my pace.  My sub-six minute miles were not going to be sustainable, but the gradual downhill miles through the park towards the ocean made it seem possible.

At Mile 7 the course exited the park and turned south onto the Great Highway.  Here there were no trees for shade and we were running more directly towards the sun.  Why had I decided not to wear my sunglasses?  I was here where I started to doubt myself.  I started to mentally catalog all the reasons why this race might end well.  Maybe I shouldn’t have gone out to parties both Friday night and Saturday night?  I didn’t stay too late at either, but the wine and heavymeals at both couldn’t be helping me now.  Maybe I shouldn’t have gone for that three hour bike ride the afternoon before the race.  That couldn’t have been good for me either, right?

My pace was holding steady at about 6:15/mi, but it was a struggle in the hot sun.  Most runners dread this section of the course, which seems to go on forever.  I usually like the out and back aspect, since you first get to the the race leaders coming back north along the great highway, and then you get a chance to see all your friends coming the other direction and say hi as you pass.  It’s something to keep one’s mind off those final few brutal miles anyway.

After I hit the turnaround at mile 10 I actually started to feel a little better, and although my splits show I started to fall off the pace, I felt stronger as I headed towards the end.  The organizers had moved the finish line slightly from previous years’ location, but the race still ends with a short uphill after you turn into the park.  I passed a couple runners during my last mile and almost caught a third within sight of the chute.  I could see the clock still read 1:19:xx as I approached, and managed to squeak in under 1:20 for an official finish of 1:19:51 (33rd overall, 7th age group).  A solid effort I was happy with, especially given the weather .

The race by the numbers:

Mile 1: 5:45
Mile 2: 5:51
Mile 3: 6:10
Mile 4: 6:03
Mile 5: 6:10
Mile 6: 5:50
Mile 7: 5:50
Mile 8: 6:06
Mile 9: 6:12
Mile 10: 6:10
Mile 11: 6:17
Mile 12: 6:27
Mile 13: 6:23 (0.1: 0:34)
Total: 1:19:51

Full Results Here

On a more somber note, this year’s race was marred by an unusual tragic moment when one a runner collapsed at the finish line and died.  This has generated quite a bit of controversy and investigation by the local media into the race’s medical support or lack thereof.  I don’t know all the details and didn’t see any of what happened so I won't speculate on what might have happened.  It’s always a sobering reminder of things that could happen though.  Condolences to the friends and family of this runner for their loss.

On a lighter note, as a Wisconsin native I have to give a shoutout to this fellow runner who was out there on the course supporting the Superbowl champion Green Bay Packers :

P.S.  If you saw me walking back to my apartment with 20lbs of ice after the race it wasn’t to get ready for a Super Bowl party – it was for my post-race ice bath  :-)

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