On Sunday I ran my first half marathon since 2009, the US Half Marathon, San Francisco. The course was beautiful, the weather was perfect, and I was quite satisfied with my performance.
I prepared for this race using the same Jeff Galloway training method that I followed for my previous two half-marathons, using run/walk intervals and planning to build up to a distance of 14 miles three weeks before the race. I ended up doing my 14 miler four weeks before the race, which turned out to be fortunate as the following week I had a (non-running-related) injury and took an entire week off as a precaution. I recovered fully and had no serious worries going into the race.
I was somewhat concerned that I wouldn't be able to make my time goal, which I set at a conservative 2:37, or 12 min/mile. This was a few minutes faster than my 2009 performance of 2:41 but slower than my 2000 performance, which I believe was 2:21. I wasn't trying to set a PR, but I did feel that 12 min/mile was a reasonable goal to shoot for, and I didn't want to run much slower than that because the race had a three hour limit (though a good number of people finished after that) and I didn't want boyziggy to be waiting around for me too long, as he was there to take photos of me at the finish line.
Having the race on the day the clocks reverted to standard time was wonderful, because getting up at 5 a.m. felt no worse than getting up at my usual time of 6 a.m. I got a full 7 1/2 hours of sleep the night before and felt well-rested. I left home at 6 and walked the 20-25 minutes over the Hyde Street hill to Aquatic Park. The weather was warm enough that I wore shorts, planned to check my jacket and later shed my shirt.
There was a bit of confusion at the start; I had trouble finding the gear check and, worse, there were no starting corrals or pace markers despite a field of several thousand runners. It wasn't even clear at first which direction the runners were supposed to face, and as is often the case at these events, the loudspeaker was inaudible from far back in the pack. Still, I was feeling good, especially as the sun rose over the water on a perfectly clear and beautiful day. I had a nice conversation with a woman from Tennessee who was running this and another half marathon the following weekend while visiting the area.
And then we were off, a few minutes late. I started my timer the moment my foot hit the timing mat, but forgot to start my interval countdown timer until we'd run for a couple of minutes. After that, I stuck strictly to intervals of five minutes running, one minute walking. I had to force myself to slow down as I passed the first mile in about 10:30, which was closer to 10K race pace; though I felt good now, I knew I would regret it in a few miles if I tried to maintain that pace.
Around mile three it was warm enough to shed my shirt. I drank water at every stop except for the last (at mile 12), and took four energy gels, roughly evenly spaced throughout the race. (I'd had no breakfast that morning, only my usual cup of black tea with sugar and soymilk.) I was worried that I might have to make a pit stop, costing valuable time and momentum and ruining my record of never having to stop during a race. I had needed restroom breaks on my most recent 12+ mile training runs, which was highly unusual for me. Fortunately, I did not need to stop during this race.
By mile five we were on the Golden Gate Bridge. Unlike in 2009 when I ran the SF Half under foggy and chilly conditions, this time I had a perfect view. We didn't get to run on the roadbed though, so there wasn't much room to pass, and a lot of the runners around me were stopping to take and pose for photos which was annoying. I managed to keep moving, and get my pace to the desired 12 min/mile by halfway through. Though I missed the mile six marker entirely - they were relatively small and low to the ground - and had to do some long division to figure out if I was still on pace.
Running into the Marin Headlands before going back over the bridge was a nice diversion. The trails were pretty steep though. At mile 7 a volunteer assured us that the most difficult part was over, and he turned out to be right. At mile 8 I was feeling good, and said to myself, "I got this."
By mile 11 I was feeling it, though. Having practiced deep, regular breathing during my walking breaks in the early miles, I was now beginning to struggle and pant. I was trying to run a bit faster to build in a safety margin, based on my calculation of my current race pace, though the mile markers turned out to be somewhat inaccurate as I realized later. Still, running back through Crissy Field and then the Marina, I knew that after a very short climb into the Fort Mason Meadow, there would be no more uphill segments.
Just before charging down the hill back into Aquatic Park, a fellow runner called out my name; it turned out to be my friend Ryiah, who had posted that she was running, but we hadn't made specific plans to meet up. I waved and said I'd meet her at the finish line, and that Ziggy would be there with his camera.
Having passed mile 12 in 2:26, I knew I had to hustle to meet my 2:37 time goal. I abandoned the walking breaks at this point. When in sight of the finish line, I poured on the gas. Sprinting to the finish is my favorite part of racing; such an adrenaline rush! I crossed in 2:37:33, pace 12:02; close enough for this distance that I can say I met my goal.
I collected my scary-big medal and souvenir water bottle, and some coconut water, and eventually found Ziggy. Ryiah found us and we posed for a photo. I was literally too tired to stand up yet, but after drinking, eating, and sitting in the sun for awhile, I managed to walk back over the Hyde Street hill with Ziggy, a challenging climb even when I hadn't just run 13 miles. And later that evening, after a lot more rest and food, I walked up another hill to my friend James' place, where he and his partner prepared a vegan Indian feast in my honor.
My race results put me pretty far back in the pack, compared to my recent 10K performances, but I'm not disappointed considering the half marathon distance is not one I race often. My age graded score put me at 44%, which is not too bad.
I was very pleased with my recovery from this race, especially compared with my first half in 2000 when I was in agonizing pain for days afterward. I did everything wrong then; not walking enough, and soaking in a hot tub after the race. In 2009 I recovered much better, and this year was better still; in yoga class this morning, I did just was well as if I hadn't raced 13 miles the day before.
Very pleased with this race. I've already signed up for my next half, the Kaiser Permanente 30th annual half marathon (and 5K), which is being held on my birthday, February 3! I've got several more shorter races in between, starting with the DSE Embarcadero 10K this Sunday. Wish me luck!