Monday, October 20, 2008

Nike Women's Half Marathon Report

Nike likes to do things differently. Instead of a standard marathon expo with lots of vendors selling useful things like gels and body glide, they put on an "Expotique" with things like manicures and iPod engraving for the ladies. While I find this a bit condescending (I'm perfectly ok with the normal unisex expos and don't need my very own girly one), many of the women doing the race like it. On Thursday night I went to Union Square with Olivia and Jeanette to pick up our race packets. I didn't take any pictures of the expo(tique) and really, it was exactly like the one last year so you can read about it and see it here.

The goodie bag doubles as the sweat check bag, with an attached label showing bib number. Inside the bag were the bib, chip, ties, safety pins and instructions, a branded mirror, shampoo and conditioner, sunscreen, chapstick, lotion, granola and Luna bites. Outside the expo we collected a reusable bag and more granola from Bear Naked and a mini Luna bar.
The biggest difference from last year was at the Nike store where this year the merchandise actually fit me, in addition to being very cute. I'm not sure it was good for me though, I managed to drop a big hunk of change there (somebody's got to stimulate the economy!) on too many things. I ended up buying the long sleeved, zipped running shirt that I had seen, in black. I have one other black long-sleeved running shirt and it's getting worn out. I also bought a short sleeved tee shirt with the logo on it - the one that was for the marathon, not the one explicitly for the half (since I ran the full in 2004 I don't have a problem with wearing the full marathon shirt). I also loved the running cap and couldn't decide between the blue one with the reflective design or the white one. Then I discovered that if Olivia and I put our stuff together, and I got both hats, we'd each get a free shopping bag. Oh dear, that's what I did!Sunday morning my alarm went off at 3:55 am. I didn't manage to fall asleep until after 1:30 am so I was very groggy and tired. After hitting the snooze once, I got up and did all the normal morning things and then headed out of the house. I was very glad I had set out everything the night before and I just had to fill my bottles and grab everything on my counter. I had had some difficulty attaching the chip to my shoe; it was a new-fangled rectangular thingie that didn't fit well on my shoe. Every way I tried made it dig into my foot when flexed. Good thing I didn't wait until the morning to find that out.

This was the first year that I was going over to the race by myself; the past couple of years I've been with my buddies who didn't get into the race this year. (I didn't get into the race this year either, but that's another story.) The drive took a bit longer than I had anticipated since I was followed by a (bored, apparently) CHP officer for about 10 miles and had to drive the speed limit. Oh please, it was 5:00 am on a Sunday, the road was empty, you would have tried speeding too.

I managed not to get lost, which had been a worry to me because I'm not great at reading street signs in the dark and I'm directionally dyslexic. Parking at AT&T Park this year was $5.00 and the buses were lined up to haul runners and their family members over to Union Square. I arrived nice and early which afforded me the chance to walk around and see where things were before thousands of people arrived. It was cool out, lower 50's or upper 40's, with a breeze and a cold -- well, not really a mist, but more humidity than we're used to. I checked my sweats and put on my disposable gloves and plastic poncho which kept me warmer than otherwise, but I was still shivering by the time the race started.

While the anthem was being sung I found Claudia and Olivia and lined up with them; Rocky joined us although he could have gone in the earlier wave. This year I was in the corral before the walkers, the limit was 11:59/mile. Since I knew I'd start out that fast I wasn't worried. I think it was 15 minutes after the gun before we even compacted the corral, and longer than that before we crossed the line and started running. Yay, we were off! I felt good, strong, healthy.

It was no problem running along or just behind them (and at the same pace as the rest of the crowd; faster than some, slower than others) and I figured I was being speedy, even though I didn't feel I was pushing it too hard. It was incredibly crowded and people were walking off the bat. In the middle of the street. Lined up and blocking things. I won't rant about it again this year but it seems nobody took etiquette lessons again.

Olivia and Claudia split off after about a mile to hit the line of porta potties and I continued on. I was surprised, and a little concerned, when I saw my first mile split was slower than 12:30. I thought for sure it would be no more than 12:00 because I was pushing. Granted I was zigging and zagging around others, but I should have been faster. That turned out to be my fastest split of the day too. Obviously my effort wasn't anywhere near where my perceived exertion was. I zigged around people at the coat check area and continued on.

A new unwelcome feature this year was caused by a detour around Aquatic Park. The (flat) trail there is closed off for renovations to the museum and concrete bleachers so we had to head up the steep hill toward Ghiradelli. We then ran along one block, and headed up another steep hill! Another turn, a flat block, then a downhill leading back to where we should have been. I have no idea where they removed distance from the past route to make up for this detour, but I have a feeling it was just added on. The next mile marker seemed to be where it's been in the past and the marks on the pavement seemed to be old ones.

Seeing how I wasn't running as well as I'd thought I'd be, I decided to just go with it and walk up the real hills. Most of them I power walked, the very steepest I trudged. I was amazed this year that NOBODY seemed to be running the hills. In the past there's been a steady stream of runners threading their way up between walkers, but this year I either saw no runners at all on the hills, or maybe just 1 runner. Looking ahead and behind me, I doubt if 1 in 100 people ran the hills.

I'm not even going to say I ran this half marathon. I probably only ran about 60%, walking or power walking the rest of it. I never stopped, never had to even pause to refill bottles; relentless forward motion. The water stations this year were well equipped with water, some electrolyte drink (I never pay attention since I drink my own Ultima), cups and volunteers. At one point there were orange wedges (and the area smelled delightful with all the trodden peels) being handed out. I never saw the pedicure station (really, in the middle of a marathon) but afterward I saw that they had handed out new pink and white Nike socks to people stopping. I also didn't see the oxygen station but wouldn't have stopped if I had. Instead of gels there was one stop that passed out cups containing a few Luna Bites and the mini Luna Bars. I had my own fuel and didn't stop there either.

I took a gel right before the start, one after about 50 minutes and one about an hour later. I drank about 4 ounces of water at most of the stations and drank my Ultima the rest of the time. I didn't drink enough of the Ultima since I had some left when I finished, but I never felt dehydrated or electrolyte-challenged.

Along the way I saw some people I knew, either from the various TnT marathon teams I've been on or the tri team from last season. Mostly I ran alone, checking out the scenery. Although it was hazy we still had a fantastic view of the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Angel Island (although I couldn't tell that it was blackened from the recent fire).

When we finally got to Golden Gate Park, just after 10 miles, I was cooked. Nothing really hurt, I was just tired and worn out. Every once in a while I'd get a warning twinge from my knee or my back and I'd change my gait to something that felt better. I took downhills very easily and slowly so as not to jar anything. It felt better to run very slowly than to walk, so that's mostly what I ended up doing in the park. It was fun seeing the bison, more fun to see people's reactions to them.

After a couple of miles the full marathon split off from the half and we turned the corner to where I knew they had the chocolate station. "Had" was correct. The table was folded up, the volunteers picking up empty chocolate packets. Oh poo! I was looking forward to my chocolate. This is the second race that made a big deal out of providing chocolate and then they ran out. Bad planning! Bad organizers! Bad sponsors! Bad! (And in case you think it was because I was so far back in the pack, there were thousands of people behind me who didn't get chocolate either.)

The crowd never thinned out. I'm used to being a back-of-the-packer where there aren't as many people, even in the huge musical marathon races. Even when we had both sides of a road (which was most of the time) there were big crowds. Great for people watching, not for trying to move in a straight line or cutting tangents or finding the flattest part of the street.

The weather the entire time stayed cool and overcast. I kept repeating that it was a perfect day for a long run. I kept my gloves on until after mile 11 and only removed them because the cheap things were cutting off my circulation. I tossed them because I really didn't have a way to carry them, and they were damp and sweaty anyway. I was very happy with the shorts and short sleeved top I had on, I didn't feel over warm or over cool at any time while I was moving.

I finally exited the park and powered along the finish, passing several people who were walking. Hey, it's the end of a race (whether you raced it or not) and at least make it look good! Right when I crossed the finish line I had to come to a complete and sudden stop (not so good for a pounding heart from the sprint). It wasn't because of the tuxedo'd San Francisco Fire Fighters handing out the Tiffany's boxes, they were numerous and quick. The logjam was because of the people marking our bibs to show we had received the box. I think there were only 2 of them. Once past, I was handed a bottle of water, had my chip removed, got a space blanket. I got a banana and a half bagel and a mini Luna bar. Then I got to the shirt distribution place and my disappointment went through the roof.
Since the for-sale clothing was normally sized and in wonderful, vibrant, lively colors we expected the same for the race shirt. Nope. The sizing was maybe a teeny bit bigger than last year (or I'm a teeny bit smaller than last year); narrow and long. The fabric is supposed to be technical but it's 60% cotton and not only doesn't wick, it holds moisture tightly. The design is very cute. The color -- ughh. Dirt brown. Seriously, dirt. I managed to drop my shirt and step on it before realizing I had done so and when I picked it up the fresh dirt blended in. While I'm sure some people were happy with it, it's not a feminine color (and this race is all about the feminine) or even a stylish color (brown is so last year). I'm glad I bought the shirts that fit, in colors I liked, that I can wear while running.Next we were routed along by the people handing out jamba juice smoothies, then past the tables filled with bowls of yogurt and Bear Naked granola. Since the chocolate station disappointed me I grabbed a bowl with chocolate granola and moved on to the last freebie both where they were handing out Luna chapstick. I'm not kidding, lemon zest chapstick.

I may as well mention here that everywhere I've talked about "people" or "person" or "runners" or "walkers" I mostly meant women. Or girls. Men were such a vast minority that I often went more than a mile without seeing a male participant.

I was tired, cranky and getting cold so I retrieved my sweats from the bus and headed over to what I knew would be a long line waiting for the bus back to AT&T Park. I tossed away the smoothie since it had a very odd undertaste and nibbled my granola as I walked. The wait wasn't nearly as bad as I had feared, since I got there relatively early. After only about 40 minutes I was seated on the bus. I saw walkers still coming down the Cliff House hill, meaning that more than 4 hours after the race started they were only at mile 10. Ouch. I could see way up the hills, pockets of people slowly walking along.

The bus ride took another hour and by that time I was thoroughly chilled. It was still only in the mid-50s and overcast. I had to sit in my car with the heat blasting and my seat heater on for at least 10 minutes before I could feel my fingers enough to drive. Once again I didn't get lost going back to the freeway (despite contradictory signs all over the place) and crossed back over the Bay. When I got into Oakland the sun finally started coming out.

After I got home I stood forever in a hot shower, telling myself over and over again to get out, there's a drought! I didn't listen, I was too tired and cold to care about how big my bill would be. I was shocked at how wasted I felt, how wiped out. I was also shocked that nothing really hurt. I had no need or desire for any analgesic. My back was fine, my knee was fine. I was just exhausted.

It's now a day after the race and I'm still tired and still have no pain. Oh, of course I'm stiff, my quads and hamstrings and IT bands are sore, but it's a transient thing and expected from all the hills. I'm very glad I did the race; despite all the aggravation it's a lovely course and a beautiful city (and the Tiffany necklace isn't too shabby). I realized that although I thought my 3:02 finish was slug slow it was only 1 minute slower than 2 years ago. Still slug slow, but not unusual for me on that course. I loved being out there, loved the running I did (and even loved the walking). I'm almost ready to just declare I'm going to train for the December marathon. Almost!


  1. Congrats on finishing the race!

  2. Great report, sounds like a fun, if long (and ugly t-shirted) race. Yours is the third I've read, and I'm convinced I want to run it next year.