Monday, October 22, 2007

Run Together - Nike Women's Half Marathon Race Report

What a difference a race and 5 minutes makes. We had a mostly a great time yesterday running Nike through San Francisco. The weather was perfect, the scenery was spectacular and the necklace sterling silver.

I was one of the lucky few who managed to register online the day they had the "special sneak preview" registration, last March. I tried all day and finally was able to plunk down my $85 at Many people were unable to get through since Nike/active's computer couldn't handle the rush. In fact, the half sold out so quickly that many women signed up for the full, hoping they could run half and still get the bling.

Thursday night was a special packet pick-up for Bay Area women. The "expotique" (Nike can't have a plain old "expo," can they?) that night featured wine and appetizers, raffles for diamond earrings and the Nike+ system, speakers and a guest appearance by a famous runner soccer player. We decided it would be much less crowded on Thursday and the store would probably still have merchandise. We were right!

The expo(tique) had a couple of cute touches this year. In addition to the foot massage station (with long lines), the pedicure station (with longer lines), they were making pins that read "I'm running with ______" or "my power song is ________". Yeah, there's a big tie-in with Apple iPods and the Nike+ running system. There was a video camera taking down stories of why/how you started running. Free samples of mini-Luna bars, chocolate, jamba juice and tight grip hair bands were being handed out. There was (a long line for) free engraving of iPod Nanos and treadmills with assistants to help set up the Nike+ system. Packet pickup went smoothly, the bib and chip attached together. The goody bag had the usual coupons and a couple of little free samples.

Anita and I must have looked like alcoholics; we were given 3 extra tickets for free wine and hey, we couldn't waste them, could we? Before we drank all that we walked across the street to the Nike store to see what race merchandise was available. They had wonderfully cute tees, sweats, hats and more, all overpriced but a good selection (I was told that by Friday they were out of almost everything). The colors this year were pink and burgundy, and the slogan this year was "run together" (in the past it's been "run like a girl"). I tried on a couple of shirts but they were Nike-sized: way too small for me. I bought a running cap in pink, with the race logo on the side. Hey, I didn't have a pink hat in my collection. I wanted a shirt but didn't want to spend that much money on something that didn't fit well.

My alarm went off Sunday morning at 3:50 am. Yuck. I did my pre-race morning thing and hit the road. I was meeting Sandy and Anita at the Rockridge BART parking lot at 5:15 with the plan that last there would drive. I was last so they piled in my car and we headed to AT&T Park. The "nominal fee" for parking was $10 (I think -- it was early). We had no problem getting a good spot and walked over to the bus that took us to Union Square. They were using real coaches, not school buses, which was very nice.

The set up at Union Square was confusing, even with the signage, because there were so many people there. There were adequate porta-potties, and a table with glasses of water. Sweat check used the bags we had been given at the expo(tique) and was confusing. We asked one woman standing at a bus where we checked them and she told us it was a block and a half away. We walked to the very next bus in line and were told to check our stuff there. They gave you a sticker to put on your bib with the bus and window number so you could retrieve it later.

The corral system could have been better. We were in the 12-15 minute corral, meaning runners and walkers were crammed together. After the gun went off it took us, no kidding, over 25 minutes to reach the start line. There were oodles of walkers in front of us and my game plan was to not have to careen wildly around them all trying to get to pace. I wondered how the heck the walkers were still ahead of us after mile three - I heard later about an early start option.

The first several miles were a royal pain. Not because of the terrain, it was still flat, but because of the people. I'm a firm believer in the run:walk method but I'm an even firmer believer in race etiquette. I'll cut a little slack for newbies but when the race is geared toward first timers, and Team in Training first timers at that, their coaches have got to start teaching them how to behave in a crowd. First, if your group is more than two people you don't string out across the entire road, blocking anyone and everyone behind you. Next, if it's time for your walk break you don't just all of a sudden come to a complete and dead stop in the middle of the road when there are crowds of people behind you. Finally, when the signs posted all over the road say "slower runners to the right" they mean slower walkers too. Get your damn ass out of my way, quit tripping me, quit blocking me, quit impeding the race experience of every single person behind you. Have a little awareness of your surroundings and a little courtesy. Damn! Why is that so hard to understand?

Now I know why faster runners hate slower runners and walkers and don't believe we belong in marathon-length races (what, don't believe me? Check out the forums at places like runnersworld or runningtimes and see how they denigrate us). I also know why I like smaller races that tend to have more experienced racers who practice race etiquette.

So it was tough during the first several miles to do more than try not to trip over someone. I actually elbowed a couple of women in a group that blocked everyone behind them. Finally I just shook my head and decided to get over it, the crowds weren't going away any time fast and the people weren't all of a sudden going to develop manners. When we got to the first hill Sandy took off since she wanted to run it and we didn't. I had three goals for this race: have a good time, enjoy the scenery and get the necklace. It was a perfect day for scenery since it was beautifully clear and crisp. At the higher spots we could see forever and the views were incredible. It was one Anita-moment after another, turning corners and seeing the ocean, or hills, or trees. Even the neighborhoods seemed to sparkle. Since we didn't care in the slightest how fast we went, we would turn around and stare at the vistas or take our time during the beautiful parts.

The water stations were adequate but very crowded. They had trouble keeping enough glasses filled for the crowds and at some of them we had to grab our own drinks. There was confusion and road blockage at the coat check station that we passed at about mile 3. The station with mini-Luna bars and the new Luna-Bites still had plenty of supplies but since people were grabbing handsful they probably ran out before the last walkers went by. The oxygen bar was crowded. Oxygen bar. Good lord, what'll they think of next? No, we didn't stop there. The chocolate station volunteers had given up entirely; we were told to just grab what we wanted from the tables. Thank ya very much, I think I will.

The couple of miles through Golden Gate Park were beautiful, albeit almost entirely uphill. We took our time, running and walking, enjoying the day and the views. Really, how lucky are we to live in such a beautiful place?? I was happily surprised that I still felt very good, my breathing steady, no asthma or allergy problems at all. My legs still felt good and my spirits were high.

We finally turned the last corner and saw the finish line. Anita took off on her patented sprint and I ran my own pace to the end. The tuxedoed gentlemen with their trays of little Tiffany boxes are always amusing to see; I took my box from one tray since none of them seemed to want to hand one over. Oops, then I remembered to stop my watch which then said 2:56. I got a bottle of water, had my chip cut off my shoe, worked my way past the space blanket drapers, got the little Tiffany bag to put the box into. The bag was tiny this year; the past years you could stick everything you got in it but this year it barely held more than the box. I got my race shirt and continued through the lines for a jamba juice and yogurt/cereal, and then finally caught up with Anita. We saw Sandy there, and went to get our checked bags since it was much cooler than it seemed.

We decided not to hang around and walked over to the bus line. And kept walking, the line went on forever. After, no kidding, about 45 minutes in line we finally got on the bus which took us back to AT&T with a stop at Union Square. And a couple of other stops as the driver stalled the bus out by slamming on the brakes once too often.

I'm terribly disappointed by the shirt. Not how it looks. On the contrary, it's a really cute shirt, a technical cotton/poly fabric. No, it's the sizing that was done so poorly. Instead of race-sizing it like they have in the past, they Nike-sized it. As you can see from the picture it's much smaller than the shirt from last year. Although they are both the same size (xxl), the new shirt is 4 inches smaller at the bust and 5 inches smaller at the waist. But an inch longer. Hey, this race is geared toward newbies and walkers and many, many (many) of them are much bigger than I am. There's no way they'll be able to wear it if it's tight on me. Even little Anita took a large, and it was tight on her (she normally takes either a small or medium). Too bad since it's too cute and one of the only pink race shirts around. Maybe I should have taken one of the men's shirts, but even though they let you take whatever size girl shirt you wanted, they hesitated to give out the men's (probably because they didn't have many of them).

After getting back to Oakland we headed out for lunch. Yum, a great BLT with curly fries and a beer. Yeah, I'm pretty certain I consumed twice as many calories as I had burned earlier. Whatever, it was very tasty. Afterward I went home, showered and went back to bed. All in all a fun race, despite the crowds and shirt. I'm sure by next March I'll be ready to shell out my money to do it again!

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