August 29, 2011

The Giant Race (Race Report)

Instead of my long run this week I got to run the Giant Race half marathon in San Francisco! My training plan called for 12 miles at marathon pace, so I figured a half was a great way to get in some faster miles. I didn't have a perfect day, but I pushed myself a bit more than planned and ended up with a PR by almost 3 minutes! The race itself had a few organizational issues, but overall it was fun and a great way to get my miles in!

I headed to the Bay Area Friday night after work so I wouldn't have to get up quite as early. We drove into the city from Berkeley and I was dropped off right by AT&T park then walked the half mile or so to the start area. I hit up the bathroom then headed to the start line and got situated in my corral. After about 15 minutes or so my watch showed 8am, the supposed start time, but the race didn't actually get going til almost 10 minutes later. Finally I crossed the start mat and started my Garmin and was on my way. I had considered sticking with the 2:00 pacer, but I'd lined up closer to the 1:50 guy, anticipating people starting further up then they should. This worked out well as I didn't have to dodge anyone and had plenty of space for the majority of the race. We wound our way out to the Embarcadero where we made our way along the piers, passing the infamous Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf. We also passed the finish line of the San Francisco Marathon(but kept on going!), and it took me back to last summer. I knew I was going a bit faster than marathon pace (9:00-9:09) because I was still pretty close to the 1:50 pacer, so I tried to slow down but kept clocking sub-9 miles. I decided to just go with it and hope that it didn't come back to bite me in the ass later!
waiting to start
Although I was maintaining a pace much better than anticipated, I didn't really feel great. My legs felt heavy and my quads super tight, and I never really fell into a good rhythm. While it was nice and overcast for most of the race, it was more humid than anticipated, leaving me nice and sweaty early on. When we approached 3.5 miles or so all the 10kers turned around and things thinned out a bit more. At mile 5 we hit our first and only hill of the course, short but quite steep. I started to run up it then decided it was smarter to walk the rest and save some energy. On the way up we had a foggy view of Alcatraz out in the bay. After we crested the hill we had a nice long downhill on the backside to make some time up.

Soon after I spotted a man up ahead in the middle of the street cheering on runners. He had a black beard and tattoos, dressed in sweatpants and t-shirt, and looked suspiciously similar to a certain Giants pitcher... As I got closer I high fived him and was able to see his face up close and the eyes confirmed that it was indeed Brian Wilson!! I was a little taken aback, and I looked around to see if anyone else recognized him and was as surprised as I was, but no one else seemed to notice! I started to second guess myself, thinking maybe it was a look-alike, and started to curse myself for not taking a few seconds to stop. I found out later it was him, and then I really cursed myself for not stopping! After a little Googling, though, I  did manage to find some pics to document the sighting. But the high five was still a big highlight of the day : )
it is him! 
whattup BW 

Not long after I passed an aid station and realized I was late on fueling, so I tried to quickly suck down a gel but ended up having a little difficulty taking the Gu and getting some water, spilling much of the latter on the ground. We passed Fort Mason and then Crissy Field, where on a semi-clear day you can spot the Golden Gate, but the fog was too heavy and the bridge was unfortunately nowhere to be seen. At this point you could see where the course turned around and continued along the opposite side of a large pond. It looked like it was close but it was a bit deceptive and seemed to be much longer than it appeared. Finally I rounded the pond and passed the mile 7 marker and began the trek back. The next mile was on crushed granite, and while great on the joints, the footing kind of sucked and I couldn't wait to be back on pavement.

On the way back I spotted Mr. Wilson again, this time off on the sidewalk, but for some reason, once again I didn't think to stop or even just take a picture in passing with my phone. Definitely going on my list of life regrets : / I was tiring a bit at this point and my pace had creeped up a bit. We approached the backside of that first hill and made our way up, and once again I chose to walk part of it to give my legs a break. I kept my eye out for the next aid station to take another Gu and salt cap and get more water. I wasn't drinking enough and found myself getting really thirsty. Back on the Embarcadero I began playing mental games with myself as each mile seemed to stretch on forever. I just wanted to be done! At that point I knew I was going to be close to a PR so I tried to do some mental math, but I couldn't focus. I started to let myself take 10 second walking breaks at each mile marker and focused on maintaining good running form with a high cadence. About 1.5 miles out we suddenly hit a sea of people - the back pack of the 5k, including many walkers and even jogging strollers! It made for quite the traffic jam and forced many of us halfers to do a lot of weaving. Definitely something to be addressed in future races.

Finally I could see AT&T park in the distance and then I was rounding the park and heading into the stadium with a final sprint on the outfield! I saw the clock and knew I was close to 1:55, but as I approached the finish line I came to a dead halt inches from crossing due to a traffic jam of runners. I managed to push my way across the line and just hoped that it read my chip, but I knew from my Garmin than I'd set a shiny new PR! Found out later my official time was 1:55:47, an 8:50 average, and came 17/115 of F20-24.
 a sweet new PR : )

Everything after was a huge organizational disaster. Since the mass of runners coming through the finish was moving so slowly, they just let us spill onto the field to make more room. I didn't drink enough water and was parched, so all I wanted was a bottle of water, but they were nowhere to be found. I managed to grab my (huge!) medal and take a few pics while we continued to be ushered toward the bleachers. I asked someone about water, and was informed that there would be more up on the concourse, as well as our shirts and bobble heads. When I got to the top of the stairs, however, I encountered a massive clusterfuck of sweaty people. All I wanted was water, but instead I was stuck in a crowd for a good 20 minutes while everyone tried to get their Tim Lincecum bobble head. Suddenly not moving, I got stiff and chilled very quickly, and once I got my bobble head I continued along the concourse on a search for water. To sum things up, I never did find any water. I couldn't believe that after a big race like this there was only one spot handing out water, and I know I wasn't the only one who missed it. I did, however, manage to grab a little bottle of coconut water that I downed in one gulp!
 the mass of runners spilling onto the field!

I finally made it out of the concourse and found my mom and aunt who were waiting for me, then headed back into Berkeley for a nice lunch. I had planned on adding 2 more miles on after, but I was cold and dehydrated, and after pushing myself so hard I decided 13 was enough for the day. On the way home later, we made a special stop in Walnut Creek at Lululemon to get myself a little reward for my new PR : ) While I was aware of all the hype, I'd never bought any lulu stuff, always deterred by the steep prices and not having a local store. But I walked out of there with a new pair of wonderful running shorts and crops, having exercised some serious restraint for the sake of my bank account.

I'm definitely psyched with my new PR, but wish I had felt better throughout the race. In the week leading up to the race (and even now) my legs have felt heavy and tight, so I think I just need to start recovering more after runs with my higher weekly mileage. It's nice to know that I'm capable of running sub-9 pace for a half, and that I'll have 20 seconds more per mile to go sub-4 in Chicago. The race itself has a lot to work on for next year, but overall it was a pretty good experience.


  1. Yay PR!! But boo poor logistics. Really seems like they need to do something about that mess at the end...

  2. Congrats on the PR!!! That is hilarious that it was BW and no one really knew. Glad you got your moment with him :)

  3. Congrats on your new PR! I think it's a good sign for your marathon if you can do that while feeling tired.

    It's always frustrating when races are a logistical nightmare like that at the end. All you want is some food and water so you can sit down and instead you are stuck in a massive crowd.

  4. looks like all that work is paying off. congrats on the pr!

  5. Congrats on the PR!!!

    I haven't been to a stadium-finish race that didn't have massive crowds and disorder at the finish; it must be something about the stadium logistics that makes it extra difficult.