This past weekend, I traveled to San Francisco to run the Nike Women's Half Marathon. This is a race I've heard great things about and was super excited when my name was drawn in the random lottery earlier in the summer. This was my fifth half marathon this year, but my second one out-of-state, which makes it ten times more fun since you get to make it into a mini vacation too.
Geof and I arrived in San Francisco on Friday afternoon and did the usual—checked into the hotel, walked and explored the city, ate delicious food and picked up my race packet. On Saturday, we grabbed breakfast at a coffee shop, switched to a hotel closer to the start line, ate pasta and wandered around the city some more. When we were walking through the San Francisco Centre, we randomly came across the Nike Braid Bar, where they had stylists there to prep and braid your hair for race day. I ended up doing this and it was great because it held up perfectly through my run and was one less thing to worry about on race day morning. I had a big bowl of noodles at Ajisen Ramen as my pre-race dinner—it's carbs but light enough so it didn't sit heavy in my stomach the night before.
On Sunday morning, I woke up around 3:30 a.m. and ate my usual race day breakfast—an english muffin with peanut butter, honey and bananas and drank a glass of nuun. We walked over to the starting area at 5:45 a.m. From there, I warmed up, parted ways with Geof, got into my corral, went to the bathroom and lined up on Post Street to wait for the 6:30 a.m. start. I didn't feel too nervous going in, but as the clock ticked down to the start, the anticipation and excitement began to build. There's something really powerful about lining up with 25,000 other women. This was the biggest race I have run size-wise and I could feel the energy all around me.
The race started while it was still dark out which was fun because you're basically running as the city woke up and the sun came out. I usually go into races without a strict pace in mind—just running by feel. This time, I wanted to break 2 hours on a hilly course (I've done a 1:54 on a more downhill course but never on a course with positive elevation, though I've come close twice at 2:00:27 and 2:00:31). I knew I needed to hit a 9:09 mile average if I wanted to do that.
We began with an uphill out of Union Square and zig-zagged through the surrounding neighborhoods. I did some weaving around people and didn't run the tangents as well as I could have, which is why my watch started to beep early before every mile marker (for this recap, I'll be using the official time provided by Nike and not what my watch said). The hills here didn't seem that bad and I ran them by effort, knowing I could make up time on the downhills. 5K—28:29.
The course then took us through Golden Gate Park, which was really scenic and pretty with stretches of longer straights and some slight uphills and downhills. There were marching bands playing on the sidelines. I don't remember much of this part other than how much I enjoyed it; I tend to zone out during races sometimes. 10K—55:23.
I was feeling pretty good here. I didn't feel too tired and my legs were moving quickly. This portion of the race took us out of the park and through more neighborhoods. There was a steeper hill after the park where we hit an 8% grade and I remember telling myself to just breathe and take consistent steps up. We then took some zig-zags through the neighborhoods of the Richmond District. I was still surprised at how good I was feeling overall. I was averaging an 8:56 minute pace. 15K—1:23:13.
Somewhere after mile 9, I began to feel the tiniest bit of fatigue in my legs and little twinges on the outside of my right knee. I knew my IT band was getting tight and just focused on my form and tried to take fast steps and not think about it. We entered the Presidio and that's where the big hill started. I had heard about The Hill at Mile 10 from other racers, where you gain around 250 feet over one mile, and knew this was coming. This is where I think trail running in Utah pays off. It doesn't seem like that much elevation gain, but after running 10 miles, it felt like a mountain. I climbed up the hill steadily and didn't stop once. My legs were getting tired but I just told myself to keep going. This was also welcome since my tight ITB didn't hurt going uphill. It was really cool to see Nike pacers here encouraging runners. I think they definitely helped keep me moving. Once I got to the top of the hill, I was excited that it was behind me but also not excited, because I knew the pain from my ITB would get worse on the downhills, which the rest of the course was. We ran by amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge and downhill headed toward the Marina. I intended to blaze downhill and would have normally appreciated the downhill shift and picked up the pace, but I was now starting to feel ITB pain in my left knee which was probably from my compensating for the pain in my right knee. My pace slowed a little. At mile 12, I took my first walk break (other than the brisk ones through the water stations) to let my knees recover a little. From here, I kept telling myself that I was almost there and to just take quick steps and I'd get there. My ITBs really didn't love me and thought otherwise. I had to take three more short walk breaks down the last stretch of the Marina. 20K—1:54:08
From here, I just wouldn't let myself stop anymore. I looked at my watch and knew I could still make it within my goal time. There were more bands playing and I could hear crowds cheering up ahead. I ran the rest of the way despite the pain in my knees and crossed the finish line. Looking up at the clock, I knew I was close to my goal but didn't know just how close until I found Geof among the crowds where he had looked up my results. Final chip time—2:00:36.
It was hard on me. I initially felt the rush of accomplishment when I crossed the finish line, but after finding out my time, I felt a wave of disappointment flood over me. I've never felt that way after finishing a race. I think I'm too hard on myself sometimes. I kept thinking that if I had just pushed through the final mile and not taken the walk breaks, I would have made my goal. And I would have. But I can only live in the moment and knew that walking was right for me then. I just have to remind myself that every race is a learning experience and every run (good or bad) will make me better. For that, I ended my weekend happy knowing I did accomplish something great.
Thank you San Francisco and Nike! It was a wonderful time. Also, a big thanks to Geof for being my support and cheering me on.