Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mermaid Half race review (finally)

Last year I "competed" in the Mermaid Duathlon and decided that I liked the way they organized their races. I knew they held a half marathon in the early spring but it never fit with my schedule. This year the race had changed venues to the other side of the Bay, and was the day after my birthday. Since normally the only marathon/half marathon the weekend of my birthday is that famous one on the other side of the country (for which I will never run fast enough to qualify), I grabbed the chance for a (day after) birthday race and registered.

My training runs had been going well, even though my earlier half marathon in Oakland had, quite frankly, sucked (me, not the race). I was a bit concerned about the Mermaid Half since the pollen levels have been off the charts and my breathing has been poor. But the weather forecast was for a great day and I figured I'd enjoy myself no matter what.

I arose early, at 4:50 am, and forced myself to eat some breakfast. It's getting harder and harder to fuel before a run or a race; food of any type is completely unappetizing. I know I can't get past an hour of activity if I haven't eaten something like oatmeal but physically it's a struggle to choke it down. I met Anita, who had decided to run the race with me, at a parking lot in San Leandro and we drove together to Mountain View. I knew the start was in a park near Shoreline Amphitheater but the exact location was unclear. We did find the parking lot though, and were nice and early.

We parked and used the clean and fresh porta potties, then went to packet pickup. The goody bag was a very nice reusable bag, the tee shirt was good quality and cute. There wasn't much in the bag other than our bibs (with the disposable D timing tag), the shirts and a Luna Bar, along with a bunch of ads. The bag itself was the goody. And damn, for someone with borderline dyslexia, "goody" is hard as hell to type. It's also a very strange word to look at. Goody. Goody. Goody. Or, goodie.

Yeah. We went back and sat in the warm car for a while then waited in the rapidly lengthening line for the potties. It turned out that line wasn't long, it was the line to wash hands at the portable sinks, an option usually not available. Funny, at races without sinks everyone just walks away, but with a sink it become imperative to wash up.

In addition to the half marathon there were also a 10k, a 5k and a "mini-mermaid" race. The starts were supposed to be staggered with the half beginning first, but the loud speakers were very garbled and I don't think most women heard anything other than "start." There were clearly runners of the other races beginning at the same time as the half; the bibs were different colors.

We started off slowly in comparison with everyone else, but a bit quickly for us (like maybe 10 seconds per mile faster than optimal). It was overcast, breezy and cool and we knew it would warm up while we were out there. The crowd quickly thinned out along the path as we headed along the Bay.

The first part of the run was on asphalt trails and was very enjoyable. The scenery was lush and overgrown with the mustard plants taller than both of us. Other delicate wildflowers and grasses grew along the trail, leading to the Bay. All types of water birds (collectively to me as "ducks") and fowl ("geese") were watching us run past. We were enjoying the beautiful morning.

Then the trail changed to a dirt fire road. I immediately slowed down, even though the effort remained the same. The road at this point was well graded dirt and relatively easy for running (for someone who isn't as uncoordinated as I am). We continued winding along the road, slower and slower. Then the trail turned to ungraded, rocky rutted road, much harder to run on. I was sure I'd turn an ankle or fall if I didn't keep my entire attention on each step. Too bad, because it was really pretty along that part of the race.

The water stops were spaced a couple of miles apart and were manned by some of the friendliest students I've ever seen at a race. Normally anyone younger than 20's is a little grumpy at having to stand around for hours, but these (high school aged) students were wonderful and helpful.

The route was an out-and-back with a loop so we got to see everyone running back toward the start. There were a couple of incredibly speedy women and each one took the time to smile or wave to cheer for those of us plodding along at the rear. And plodding we were. By the turnaround my lungs were heavy and wheezy and my legs were tired from wobbling on the rocks. I couldn't wait to get back to the paved portion of the run.

Slower and slower, until I was sure that we were going to have the chance to be DFL, something I intended to take great pride in. But no, there were a couple of girls who were challenging us for that "honor." We ran when we could, walked when we couldn't. The sun came out, the breeze increased, and we marveled at the lovely scenery around us. We made up names for plants and birds, something easy for 2 middle aged women who don't see that well. Blue duck, huh?

We got back to the pavement and were able to pick up our pace a little but by then I was burned out. Then we saw the return route wasn't quite the same as the start; we left the pavement and returned to dirt. We could see the finish line and could also see we weren't last. Anita fell back behind me; as a birthday present I got to finish first. Heh. "First" being relative since 98% of the runners had already finished.

We were handed a bottle of water and a little bag containing our medal/necklace. There was a pancake breakfast but as usual my stomach was in no shape for food. There was fruit, pancakes, juice, candy. A group of booths were set up with different vendors including Luna, a big sponsor of the race. We wandered through as we cooled down, looking and tasting. The award ceremony had taken place some time before we got there. The last few finishers wandered across the line and the race remained open until they crossed.

I was again impressed with the quality of the race, especially considering how much cheaper it was than the big 'uns. Everything essential (water and electrolytes, well marked route, porta potties), good premiums (the bag, the shirt and the necklace), food at the finish, friendly support personnel. Throw in a gorgeous route in spring and I'd do this race again in a heartbeat - assuming I get my breathing under better control.

Afterward my lungs still hurt, badly. But I was heartily amused when I discovered that I was third in my age group; because Anita dropped back and let me cross first, I placed in the race! Too bad the award ceremony had taken place earlier and you have to be present to get any awards, but I still get a giggle that someone as slow as I am can place.

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