Sunday, March 24, 2013

San Diego Half Marathon 2013

L to R: Me, my wife Theresa, and my brother Bobby
After months of training and preparation, the big event preceding the REALLY big event took place over the weekend.  In other words, I ran the San Diego Half Marathon on Sunday.

Having put in the necessary miles over many weeks, I knew that I was physically prepared to conquer the 13.1 mile course.  I've completed training runs up to and including the full marathon distance of 26.2 miles, so conditioning wasn't too much of a concern.  There were, however, two major fears weighing on my mind in the week leading up to the event.

The first fear was the result of a YouTube clip I'd come across in my marathon research entitled "Guy Craps on Himself During L.A. Marathon."  I watched this video and, trust me, you do NOT want to be this poor bastard.  When I do my training runs (no pun intended), I know exactly where the restrooms are, and plan accordingly.  The S.D. Half Marathon course map included the location of "pit stops," but you still don't want to ruin a potential P.R. with an untimely number two.  Fortunately, there are a lot of good articles about nutrition for runners that minimize the likelihood of needing to do business during the race.  Starting a week in advance, I increased my intake of good carbohydrates like wheat bread, pasta, brown rice, and oatmeal, eliminated carbonated beverages, and completely cut out sugar (not that I eat much of that anyway).  Two nights before the race, we went to Olive Garden for spaghetti and breadsticks.  The day before, it was pasta for lunch, chicken Caesar salad for dinner and LOTS of water and Gatorade.  Too much, in fact, because on the two-hour drive from my home to San Diego, we had to make about three pit stops.  Note to self: don't start taking on fluids until you arrive in the destination city.

My second fear was the Washington Street hill, located nine miles into the race.  For the most part, the San Diego Half Marathon course is flat or downhill.  However, Washington Street is one major exception.  It's about a 3/4 mile stretch at a moderately steep angle.  We drove the course the day before to get a look at it, and in a car it wasn't too imposing.  Come Sunday morning, my perspective changed entirely.  But we'll get to that.

During my training, the fastest I'd ever run the half marathon distance was 2:09:47.  From what others have told me, and from my own experience with the Ontario Mills 10K in January, it is not uncommon for runners to improve upon training times by up to a minute per mile when they run competitively and the adrenaline kicks in.  Based on this theory, I thought I had a reasonable shot at running the S.D. Half Marathon in under two hours.  A lofty goal, perhaps, but a distinct possibility.  That's a pace of about nine minutes per mile, so I did the math and calculated that if I got to the top of the Washington Street hill by the 1:30 mark, I could get it done.  The last three miles of the course was all downhill, and a thirty-minute 5K is something I do with relative comfort.  But getting up the hill in time would be the hard part.

Waiting for the race to begin.
Theresa and I woke up at about 4AM, because I wanted to eat a small breakfast and give it a chance to run its course, if you know what I mean.  I had two Special K cereal bars and half a bottle of Aquafina water.  At about 5:30, we met my brother Bobby (who was running the half marathon with me) in the lobby of our hotel, and walked Theresa to the shuttle bus that would take her to the starting line of the 5K she'd entered.  Bobby and I then went back to the hotel to stay warm, and so I could make an attempt at downloading unnecessary ballast.  None was forthcoming, so it was on to the starting corrals for our race.

There were almost 6,000 runners entered in the half marathon, and to keep it from being total chaos at the starting line, participants are split up into "waves" based on their self-estimated finishing times.  When I signed up in November, I projected my time at 2:30, which put me in Wave 11 out of fifteen.  I knew I was now faster than that, but I stayed put.  Right there in the wave with a guy dressed in a seven-foot banana costume.  That's nothing.  Wave 5 included two Marines in bunny suits.

The waves were released two minutes apart, so by the time my brother Bobby and I got to the starting line, Wave 1 with the elite runners were already 22 minutes into the course.  Given their speed, a few of them were probably at mile four or five.  But it doesn't affect your finishing time because a runner's "chip time" doesn't begin until you cross the starting line.

About five minutes before the start time, I ran over to a Porta-potty to give it one last try.  Nada.

Back to the starting corral.

The horn sounded for Wave 11 and we were off.  I started my Garmin runner's watch, and took off at a comfortable pace.  After about 200 yards, I'd left the rest of the wave in the dust (including Bobby as well as the banana) and had the course pretty much to myself for the next mile and a half when I caught up to the Wave 10 crowd.  I checked my watch at the two-mile mark and saw that about 17 minutes had elapsed.  This meant I was already a minute ahead of schedule for the 2:00 goal I had in mind.  I settled into that pace, enjoyed the music pumping through my earbuds, and took in the gorgeous San Diego scenery.  Mile two through mile four took us right along the harbor with the USS Midway and various cruise ships.  And the weather could not have been better -- 65 degrees, perfectly clear, and no wind to speak of.

Somewhere around mile 5.
I hit the 5K split at the 25:40 mark, less than a minute off my best 5K ever, and a minute and twenty seconds under the pace I'd need for a two-hour finish.  I was still navigating my way through a lot of runners, but the field was quite spread out at this point so there weren't any real log jams happening, certainly nothing that would have a big effect on my overall pace.  I took the first of my GU Energy Gels at the four-mile mark, and chased it with a cup of water handed to me at an aid station.

Miles five through seven ran through the Marine base, which was my favorite part of the course.  We were greeted by the Point Loma High School Marching Band, and lots of spectators.  One lady held up a sign that read "GO, RANDOM STRANGER, GO!"  I thought it was nice of her to cheer me on like that.  At the six-mile aid station, I grabbed a paper cup of sports drink (grape -- it was disgusting) to keep hydrated.

I hit the 10K split (6.2 miles) at 52:56.  Still a couple minutes under my goal pace, but Washington Street was still looming on the horizon.

At about the eight-mile mark, there was a very short, but very steep hill.  This sapped my energy a little bit, but there was an aid station right after it where I took some water and the second GU Energy Gel to give me a needed burst for Washington Street.

And there it was.

While not incredibly steep, this part of the course ascended gradually for just under a mile, and the incline became greater in the latter stages as we went up the on-ramp onto University Ave.  Because Washington is a very busy street (a highway, really), the city did not shut it down for the event.  Instead, a lane was established with orange pylons for the runners to proceed along the shoulder.  The lane was about ten to fifteen yards wide, and due to the fact that about half the people going up the hill had chosen to throw in the towel and walk it, I really had to work through a crowd to maintain my speed, which had slowed considerably.  To get my mind off the increasing fatigue, I simply picked out a runner about twenty yards ahead of me and focused on catching him (or her).  When I caught one, I focused on the next.  And then the next.  After what seemed like an hour, I made it to the top.  At the ten-mile split, I guzzled two cups of water and checked my watch.


Only a downhill 5K to go, and over thirty-one minutes to do it in.  Could this really be happening?

Mile eleven went through the Hillcrest district of San Diego, lots of shops and neighborhoods.  Spectators lined the streets, including a very attractive woman holding up a sign that read "YOU HAVE STAMINA!  HERE'S MY PHONE NUMBER!"  Outside a small, family-owned convenience store, I noticed a girl of about seven holding a big bowl of Gummy Bears for runners to take to boost the blood sugar.  I grabbed a couple, thanked her, and gave her a fist-bump.

I turned right onto 6th Street, and you'll never guess who I caught up to.  It was the Marine bunny rabbits from Wave 5, who had started about fifteen minutes ahead of me.  They looked exhausted.  It was now about 75 degrees, and those furry suits could not have been comfortable.  As I passed them, I couldn't resist shouting, "MAKE WAY FOR THE TORTOISE!"

Jeez, I crack myself up.

Yeah, you could say I'm proud of my little brother.
As I cruised through the last mile, I saw my parents and my niece in the crowd, shouting encouragement.  Having them there was simply the icing on the cake.  I had no idea where my brother was at this point, but I hoped he was doing well.  He'd trained for the race, but only for about a month, so I had no idea what his time would be.  Knowing his competitive and determined nature, I had a feeling he wasn't far behind.

And then the finish line was in sight.  I saw my Theresa on the left, proudly wearing the medal she'd earned in the 5K.  As it turned out, she finished with a time of 31:20, a personal best for her, and 20th in her age group.  She's amazing.

I hit the finish line, and looked at my watch for my time.

1:57:04.  Mission accomplished.

I received my finisher's medal from a Marine (not one of the bunnies), and got a bottle of water, a banana, and a bagel.  I posed for a couple official pictures, and then met up with Theresa in the finishing area.  A few minutes later, my phone buzzed.


"Dude, where are you?"  It was Bobby.

"In the finishing area eating a bagel, where are you?"

"Down at the finish line.  Come down and let's get a picture together."

Bobby's time was 2:05:20. Pretty damn impressive.

We took several photos, met up with the rest of our family, and went to enjoy a big breakfast.  We'd all earned it, for sure.

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