Thursday, October 8, 2009

R'n'R San Jose Half Marathon: The Re-Do

First off, I want to say a BIG "THANK YOU" to everyone who left comments on my pre-race post. All of your words of encouragement were much needed and helped me a lot. I seriously lacked confidence going into this race and everyone's miracle stories of holding fast paces during races which were unheard of in training bolstered my spirits. I also appreciated the "suck it up & concentrate" comments, too. I needed those as well.

This race was super special because my parents were in town visiting from Hawaii. They have only seen me run one race before (San Jose last year) so it was awesome to have them here to see me try to PR.

I took only one lame expo picture.

I attended a speaker at the expo who was supposed to go over the ins and outs of the course. It wasn't very enlightening (geared more towards first-time racers) but he said something that helped me get my head in the game. First he was joking about how there are huge "hills" on the course (it is essentially flat, just a few underpasses). He also mentioned how the weather was shaping up to be perfect. He then said: "Tomorrow is going to be a great day for running. You won't find a flatter course. You have no excuses." Umm. Did you catch that? YOU HAVE NO EXCUSES. Sigh.

He finished up with a little diddy that went something like this: "You challenge the day. You challenge your training. You challenge the distance. You challenge the course. You challenge the weather." And that, I think, pretty much summarizes what running road races are all about. I'm not sure what it was, but it got me ready to get this done.

The strategy: One thing I've learned about myself this training cycle is that I often take a long time to warm up. Paces will feel really hard the first few miles of a pick-up, and much easier towards the end. I went into the race thinking I wouldn't panic if I was in the 9:30s the first few miles. My plan was then to stay as close to 9:00 as possible until the last 3 or so miles where I would kick-it up a notch. A 9:09 pace is a sub-two half. However, if I ran a pace which registered as a 9:09 on Garmin, I would most certainly fall short since you never end up running just 13.1 miles during a race. Last year my Garmin said I ran 13.24 miles during the race so I calculated I needed my Garmin to say I was running a 9:03 pace so that after all the extra distance was subtracted out, I should hopefully be left with a sub-2 pace for the race.

The San Jose course has a lot of turns. Turns add to your overall distance since you can't perfectly run the tangents. The night before I tried to memorize as much of the course as possible so I'd know what side of the street to be on. Of course, I couldn't remember anything past the first 5 miles. Semi-fail. If I ever run this race for time again, I am definitely going to work harder on this point. There were a few times I'd think a right-hand turn was coming up so I'd allow myself to drift to the right, then realized it was actually going to be a left-hand turn so had to drift back. Perhaps this is a little anal neurotic, but when you've missed a goal time by 5 seconds, these things start to really matter.

Turn, turn, turn!

Surprisingly I was able to hit my desired pace from the very beginning of the race. Thankfully it didn't feel excruciatingly hard, either. In fact, until about mile 7 I thought my "Hold a 9:00, kick it up at the end" plan was going to work out. I saw my parents and Boyfriend cheering at mile 4.5 which gave me a nice boost. Somewhere around mile 8 my pace started to slow down a little. I had to keep telling myself to push a little harder when I saw it sliding into the 9:15's.

Somewhere around mile 10 I realized I was suddenly nestled in the middle of the 2:00 pace group. I panicked because I didn't know if I had snuck up on them or if they had snuck up on me. My mood was further depressed as I realized they were slowly but steadily pulling away from me! At one point they were a good 20 feet ahead of me and I realized that was not a good sign regardless of whether they had started ahead or behind of me. I wasn't about to watch this sub-2 dream die like a pink "2:00" sign running away from me into the sunset. So I started to dig a little deeper and slowly started gaining on them. I don't think I passed the group until right around mile 12 but I felt pretty good when I did!

Right before the last turn to the finish line I heard an ambulance come up behind us. As I turned down the homestretch I saw what all the commotion was about. There was a man, flat on his back, getting CPR less than 100 yards from the finish. I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone get their chest pumped before. Very scary.

This is how the last little push to the finish played out: Run hard, dry heave, slow down, run hard, dry heave, slow down, run hard, dry heave, slow down, see the clock read 1:59:57, run REALLY hard, cross finish, hit garmin, dry heave, keep moving, dry heave, look at volunteer and contemplate puking on his shoes, keep walking, dry heave, drink cold water.

That's me in the yellow shorts trying to simultaneously sprint for the finish and not puke.

For a moment my mind was sort of in a stupor. Garmin read "1:59:11" and I remember thinking I'd have to wait to see my official results to see if I had made it. Then I realized my pace might be off from what Garmin read (ended up running about 13.2 miles) but the TIME was golden.

I weaved my way through the grocery store of post-race food and met up with my parents and Boyfriend. My dad even treated me to getting my finish time engraved on the back of my medal! I was in a little bit of a daze and I think my family was more pumped than I was that I had made it. My tummy started to feel a little funny (a strange empty feeling like someone had punched me in the gut) but my legs felt really good. It has been a long time since I ran a half marathon and I'm more used to the utter fatigue post-marathon.

My fancy engraved medal :)

In reality I don't remember a whole lot about the race. It seemed to go by very quickly since I was so focused on keeping my pace. Last year I ran San Jose for fun and I remember taking in a lot of sights on the course, enjoying the spectators, and listening to the bands. This year was all business. The majority of the race I kept my eyes focused 4 feet in front of me so I wouldn't trip in any pot holes.

For the first time ever I wore an ipod during a race. I really think this made a world of a difference for me. I ran all of my tempo runs to music from Hella Sound. You can get songs whose beat per minute rate matches your cadence. The 180 bpm songs get me running right around a 9:00 to sub 9:00 pace. I kept an eye on the footing in front of me and let myself concentrate to the beat of the music. It took me out of the discomfort of the moment and totally saved me mentally!

I later found out that not only had that gentleman I saw by the finish line not pull through, another runner had passed away during the race as well. This made me really sad since I had run right by the guy and was really hoping he had recovered. I had been thinking of him all day and this really put a damper on the occasion. You can never take anything for granted.

My splits (every half mile)
Mile 1-7.5 (Feeling good):
Miles 8-12 (Holding on!)
Miles 12.5-13.2 (per Garmin's distance; Trying to kick)

So mission accomplished!! Going into this I told myself if I could hold a 8:59 official pace I would stop trying to PR at this distance (per Garmin I held a 9:02 pace, official pace was 9:06). When it comes down to it, I am more of a distance runner than a speed runner. I don't mind so much the pain of going too far but I am not so keen on the pain of going too fast. There is definitely something amazingly satisfying about setting a PR but I enjoy running these races for the fun factor so much more. So I still have one more word for 13.1 but that will have to wait for another training cycle and another race.

Coming up next... CIM on December 6th! I am hoping to PR at this race, too. I know, totally goes against what I said in the last paragraph. But I've heard so many great things about CIM being a fast course I always wanted to try to PR there. In January I have a whole weekend of just-for-fun races (5K Friday, half marathon Saturday, marathon Sunday) that will even out the balance on all of this PR-driven running I've been doing lately.

Here is Meb Keflezighi at mile 4.5 who won the race in 1:01:00. Holy. Smokin'. Cow.:

All muscle and kick.


Mica said...

Congratulations! I'm so proud of you for putting your mind to it and really running an awesome MENTAL race. I hope you feel really great about your race because you did a fantastic job. (I'm sure Mario is so proud of his momma!)

Also, I am so embarrassed I didn't know Meb ran San Jose because he's one of my favorite runners. I have a poster of him in the apartment to remind me to go running.

bunnygirl said...

Congratulations on your time! I'm surprised that two people died at that race, though. I read about that happening sometimes at full marathons, but not the half. Sobering.

Marlene said...

Thanks for sharing some of your pre-race prep/strategies. I definitely try to position myself appropriately for the turns, but it doesn't always work out for me either! Fortunately, my next half is pretty much STRAIGHT the whole way.

You ran such a strong race, staying focused and pretty even splits. You should be PROUD! Way to hang on at the end.

Congrats again!!!

d. moll, said...

COngratS, we've been off line, well the hard drive I'm just catching up. WELL DONE R'BUNNER :~)

Danica said...

This was exactly what I needed to read before this weekend. :) Seriously, great job girl and that is so mental what you did. It's all in your head and I'm glad you could hang on and reach your goal. :)

Yay to stay strong until the end and hang on and just bust it out! Sad about the two people who went down, but it reminds us that life is short, so we should run more? :) XOXO I'm so happy for you!!!

X-Country2 said...

Congrats! Sounds like you ran a really great physical and mental race. Glad your fam and bf were there to share in your excitement.

Nicole said...

NICE NICE Race! I'm so proud of you for sticking to it! You kicked that race mentally and physically!

You rocked it!!! :) :) :)

L.A. Daze said...

Good job and congrats! I'm really saddened to hear about those two deaths though. That is really scary.

Marathon Maritza said...

Congratulations!! You had some consistent and strong splits, girl!!!! Whoooooooo!!! (also glad you didn't hurl.)

And hellllooooooo where can I buy legs like Meb? Did you see for sale at the expo perchance?

Runner Leana said...

Congratulations on rocking your race and meeting your goal! A sub-2:00 half is awesome! I know you haven't felt that on with your runs, but I'm so glad you were able to pull it out on race day. The plan with all of the varying paces must have worked!

Nicely done!!!!

EndorphinBuzz said...


Rabbits' Guy said...

Good Show!

From your 1/2 mile times I would say you did go out a bit too fast at the start ... on many of your slower taining runs you found it easy to speed up quit a bit later in the run.

And! .. maybe you did imagine Mario encouraging you on to the finish as you could see the clock headed to 2:00:00 !

aron said...

AMAZING job girl, I am so excited for you!!!! you nailed this race and I am so glad you found the confidence and pulled it out! I think so much of racing, especially when you get to a certain point with PRs, etc, is mental and to be able to overcome the mental battles is HUGE.

ShirleyPerly said...

CONGRATS on your PR, Sandra!!!

I knew you could do it and you look to have run a very well paced race too. Love those last few splits.

Sorry to hear about the runner getting CPR. That could really happen at any event, athletic or not, though. Live life and enjoy it while you can. So glad your folks and BF could be there to cheer you on.

Alisa said...

WAAAAAAA-HOOOOOOOOOO!!! I take a bit of time to warm up too.

You ran smart and stayed strong. Way to go sub 2! I really think I should adopt your training plan or one similar for my next half (not Nike).

I tend to run all my runs at the same pace, to get faster I probably need some fast miles =).

Way to go!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!