2017 Race #2: Puerto Rico Half Marathon, San Juan, PR

Date: March 12, 2017
Gun Time: 1:40:02
Chip Time: 1:39:48
Placing Overall: 29th out of 760
Placing in Age Group: 4th out of 80 (M40-44)
Theme Song: San Juan“, Daniel Lanois

Note to self: don’t schedule a half marathon at the end of a vacation again.

If you’ve never been to Puerto Rico, get on a damn plane and go there now. I’ve been there four times, and the place never disappoints. It’s got everything: stunning beaches, verdant rain forests, winding mountain roads, great food, friendly people. Old San Juan is one of the most atmospheric locations in the Americas, and of course the temperatures in the 80s in early March are most welcome when the frigid north is being lashed by snowstorms.

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Half marathon? What half marathon?

Now, the problem with all this for me was trying to exercise some restraint in the days leading up to the race, which was, well, basically impossible given the many, many available enticements. Instead of juicing and eating light protein laden meals, I was guzzling rum and Medalla Light and chowing down on spit-roasted pig. I ate mountains of tostones and mofongo and justified it by telling myself I was carbo-loading. And, I decided to take a few days off running because I had a shin that was a little tweaked, but probably took more time than was necessary, to the point that I was feeling pretty sluggish.

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Ah, mofongo. My delicious, delicious nemesis.

When I did run, most of my outings were in a place called Betances where we had a house rented. On the one hand, it was great, because there was little traffic and east of town the scene became decidedly rural and beautiful, my route crossing rivers and meandering under 30 foot coconut palms. On the other, Betances, like a lot of places in Puerto Rico, has a rather large contingent of stray dogs. On the first day, they eyed the strangely pasty interloper in their midst suspiciously, but didn’t do much else. On my second run, though, there was a lot more growling, and I noted one bitch, some kind of hound with droopy nipples and weird grey eyes, was paying me close attention, following me for a few minutes. On my final run there, I met this same dog on my return from running a few blocks away from the house. Bemused, I watched it sprint away from me in the direction I was going, barking like mad, and then all of a sudden four other dogs appeared out of nowhere and the motherfuckers chased me for a block and a half, only stopping when I stooped to pick up a large rock and hurled it at one of them, my heart jackhammering in my chest. Later, as we left town, I saw a guy out running who was carrying a rather large stick with him. Lesson learned.

We traveled with another family, friends of ours, on this trip, and unfortunately a rather nasty cold was making the rounds among them, so I spent most of the second week of the trip bathing in Purell. Somehow I managed to avoid getting sick, and was up at 4:30 in the morning to make the drive from the Punta Las Marias area where we were staying to the Caribe Hilton and Sixto Escobar Park, which were ground zero for the race. I had not been able to catch the race expo, since we were not able to make it back to San Juan in time, so I had to spring for VIP packet pick-up on race day, which was quickly and easily handled at the front desk of the Hilton. I blundered around for a bit in the dark trying to figure out where to go, eventually locating the starting chute off the street, behind Sixto Escobar Stadium. The runners were starting to gather there, and I checked my morning bag and started to do a bit of dynamic stretching. This race has featured a marathon and half every year until this iteration, which dropped the marathon for some reason and added a 10K instead. About 1200 runners were gathered to do the two races, with the half set to start at 6AM just as first light was starting to reach across the sky and a bright moon hung in front of us like a fat, round lantern. In true island fashion, the gun was delayed about 10 minutes while the policia ensured that the course was clear. Here’s a pretty good video of the start taken by another runner with a Go-Pro (not sure how you’d run with one, but I guess people run with pacer signs too).

This was beyond any doubt the most beautiful race I have ever run. We looped up past the 15th-century Spanish forts San Juan is so famous for, Castillo de San Cristobal and El Morro, and around the outside of the old town’s walls, past prime examples of colonial architecture and over cobblestoned streets. The sun was rising over the towers lining Condado as we crossed the bridge over the laguna and headed into the convention center area. People were out in the streets even at this early hour to cheer us on, and I tried to maintain a steady pace as we headed south along Calle Marginal beside Highway 1.

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I still look pretty fresh here, but not for long.

A couple of things were becoming fairly evident by this time. One, there was no place on the course where the time was being displayed, so I had no idea how fast I was going. I felt like it was a pretty good clip, but I couldn’t be sure. Two, it was really, really freaking sticky and uncomfortable. The heat and humidity were way beyond what I trained in whilst in Cuba, so I adopted a strategy of taking two cups at each aid station, one of water and one of Gatorade. The Gatorade, I drank. The water, I dumped on my head. For the first 7 or 8 miles, this sufficed.

I took comfort in the fact that as I went through miles 7-10 I was actually passing people on the course. It seemed that some of the other runners were struggling even more than I was. As we bent west and headed through Condado on Avenida Ashford some old guy jogging ended up on the course and a bunch of us had to go around him. There didn’t seem to be a course marshal around to tell him to get out of the way, and I’m really not sure what he thought he was doing, as there was lots of space on the sidewalk (there was no indication that he was in the race at all).

Things started to get tough as I hit the Dos Hermanos Bridge at the end of Ashford and headed back toward Old San Juan. A crosswind was making life a little miserable and the sodden, heavy air was starting to take its toll. Also, the sun was high enough that it was really starting to get hot. I was grunting with exertion, trying to hold some kind of pace. We were starting to hit the last of the 10K stragglers now, and the route followed a bike path past the Capitol building and then bent right up a pretty steep hill to rejoin Calle Luis Munoz Rivera back to Escobar Park and the finish. I dealt with the hill all right, but all the juice seemed to go out of my legs shortly after. I had about a mile and a half to go, and I was completely spent. I slowed to a walk for a few seconds just to steady myself, and then gave it one last push. I always get energized to see the finishing gate at any race, and this was no exception, and I actually managed to work up a sprint and pass three more people in the finishing chute. Initially, I couldn’t even see where they had the finishing line clock; I turned around and noted it was just above 1:40. Damn.

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Little slower than I wanted, but I got there.

Collecting my medal, and a whole bunch of food (protein pack, various bars, the usual banana, no mofongo though) I sat in the park for a few minutes, exhausted, slowly dumping a bottle of Aquafina on my head. It was actually possible to go over to Escambron Beach and jump right in the water, but I was too damned tired to do it.

So, no PR in PR. (See what I did there? Heh.) In the end, I probably could have done better in this one, and indeed missed an age group award by a mere 32 seconds, but I’m going to treat it as motivation for next time. I really did enjoy this race, and with a little better preparation would definitely do it again. It was generally pretty well run and a lot of fun too. Puerto Rico, te amo.

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2017 Race #1: Re-Fridgee-Eighter 8 Mile, Waterloo, ON

Date: February 12, 2017
Gun Time: 57:29
Chip Time: 57:25
Placing Overall: 18th out of 76
Placing in Age Group: 2nd out of 6 (M40-44)
Theme Song: “Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow”, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

It seemed like it had been an age since I had last run a real competition, and I had been looking forward to 2017’s debut with great anticipation. I was in the midst of a training cycle for the Puerto Rico Half Marathon, which, this being February, had largely been inside on the treadmill. I did, however, buy a pair of those Yaktrax things that you slip over your shoes and have the spike-and-coil combination on the bottom for traction on icy winter surfaces. I was still ambivalent about them after a 10 mile run the weekend prior where it felt like my feet weighed about 50 pounds (the snow sticks to the bottom of them, you see) and it seemed they rendered running outside a choice between one of two evils. So, I was delighted to see, in the days leading up to this race, that it looked like the weather was going to be fairly benign, with a 45 degree Saturday the day before, and temperatures in the mid 30s on race day with, possibly, a little rain dampening the proceedings.

O, ye capricious gods of Southern Ontario weather, it seems you are still angry with me.

I awoke on race day to find that our yard was buried in 4 inches of fresh snow from a storm that no one predicted. Lori, no doubt hoping to stay inside next to the fireplace, asked me if I really, seriously, planned to run that day given the conditions, which suddenly were calling for an additional 2 inches of fresh powder over the course of the morning. I assured her that nothing would keep me from competing and watched her face fall a little. Trooper that she is, she helped me pack the kids into the car and off we went to RIM Park in Waterloo where the race was being held (normally we can drive up there in 25 minutes, but on this day it took us nearly an hour).

I’d signed Brendan up for the 3K the day before, and he was keen to run, having dropped some extra weight that he had accumulated last summer sitting around playing PlayStation (he’s deeply into basketball now and in much better shape). We sat in the community center waiting for the race to begin, and I sized up the competition. There was an 8K and an 8 mile being run, and the field in the 8 mile was shaping up to be a very fast one, with several elites taking part, including a couple of Canadian Olympic Team members. I went into this one hoping for a sub-56-minute time and a top 3 placing in my age group, and though the sub-56 seemed exceedingly unlikely I felt like I could still acquit myself fairly well.

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The snow let up a bit for the start, and we all crowded outside into the freezing cold. Brendan and I had been working on a choreographed pre-race handshake celebration thing that we busted out to the amusement of some of the other runners. “Gotta let them know we’re in the house,” as I said to B.

Anyway, the horn went and off we trudged into the heavy snow. The first 500 meters or so hadn’t been plowed and were very sludgy, but then we turned onto the road and things got a bit better, at least for a while. I rolled through the first mile at a 6:45 pace, down a hill and around a sloppy, slippery corner. I remember thinking to myself that if conditions didn’t worsen, maybe the race would be faster than I expected.

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Rounding a corner with a bit of a sly grin. I might not have been smiling if I’d known how much the course would deteriorate.

Worsen, they did, however.

The snow started to fall furiously shortly after, and to make matters worse the 8 milers had to detour through a residential neighborhood where the streets hadn’t been plowed at all. The footing was treacherous, and negotiating the white drifts was like running through heavy, wet sand. My calves and quads were getting pretty sore by the time we got through this section and into a second loop of the previous major streets, which by now were also snow covered. I was keeping my pace but starting to struggle a little at around mile 6.

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This should give an idea of what we had to deal with.

Meanwhile, B had blazed through the 3K (which wasn’t chip timed, but he didn’t care) and was the fourth to cross the line, and the first one under 18.

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The boy’s all right.

I put everything I had into the last couple of miles. I seemed to get a bit of a second wind with a mile to go, and managed to pass a couple of runners en route to the finish, and we were starting to catch up to the back of the pack of 8K runners, which meant steering around some slower people.  The last 500 meters was over the unplowed section again, which wasn’t the easiest way to finish. I think I let out a couple of fairly inventive cuss words, in fact. But, I managed to hump my way over the line in a little over 57 minutes, and was pretty much OK with it.

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Drafting. It didn’t help much given the footing.

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First race of the year, in the books.

We all went inside where hot coffee and pizza were waiting. A live band was playing, too, and Dana and Brendan got their groove on a little bit. I bumped into one of my former students who had run the 8K and we commiserated about the conditions. I was happy to see that I had a podium finish in my age group, and went to collect my medal. Somehow, the winner of the 8K had done it in a blazing 24 minutes and change, which was a bit mind-boggling to me. Everybody else struggled. Even Krista DuChene, an Olympic Marathoner, struggled to do the 8 mile in under 50 minutes. I figure I would have been about 3 minutes faster in dry conditions. Oh well. The next race I’m running will present a different challenge: Puerto Rico will be very hot and humid, though I did get 35 miles of training done in similar conditions last week in Cuba. Anything without snowdrifts will be a welcome change.

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“What’s a good 10K time?”

God, what a stupid question. But I asked it.

Idly whiling away the time on The Oracle recently, I submitted said query, and was pretty amused by the results. Let me say first that I understand “good” is entirely subjective. I don’t know what I expected to find, but it seems there are a lot of people with unrealistic expectations of how “good” should be defined. Some examples:

From Reddit: [Around] 32:00 is universally regarded as a decent 10K time. (underscoring mine)

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Dude, WTF, are you kidding me? You and I obviously have rather different notions of what the word “universal” means. Note that this poster went on to say emphatically that he was not trolling. Uh huh.

From Runner’s World: My dad always said 42 minutes was what everyone at his running club considered a ‘serious’ time.That was 30 years ago though, and I suspect 42 minutes would now be thought of as rather slow by the serious runners at my club. 

Have runners’ times really gotten that much faster in 30 years? Maybe at the elite end, but I’m not so sure about the average club runner. I can tell you that at my club 42 minutes would be considered reasonably fast, at least for someone older than 35.

From the same Runner’s World thread: 40-45 minutes is a respectable time but to be classed as a good runner…you need to do a sub 40 for it, dont [sic] you….

Um, no, I’m pretty sure you don’t.

From community.myfitnesspal.com: For serious runners a sub 40min is considered a good 10k time. Obviously age, genetics,weight, dedication etc play their part. Decent club runners will be in the low 30’s.

Where the hell is this notion coming from that a sub-40 is “good”? I saw this a few times. There was one poster who considered a 40-42 minute 10K to be a good time for “hobbyists”. Christ almighty. Look, at my age, a sub-40 is about a 75% age grade, which is, in my estimation, better than “good”. Personally, I feel that age grading is the only real way to gauge how well one runs, but translating that into good vs. not good is utterly arbitrary. If I run at a 70% age grade and I can beat 95% of the other competitors in most races, shouldn’t that be considered “good”? I think so, but of course that’s my own interpretation.

I’m aware the counterargument to this is that running times are getting slower due to the people who enter races mostly to walk, or slowly jog, their way to the finish line. And of course, there was some additional claptrap about what constitutes a “serious runner” that I found in various threads. People were actually arguing about this. Really, who cares? We are a nation of sedentary, overweight, carbohydrate-addicted people, and we’re getting sick because of it. Why would anyone want to disdain someone as not serious when they, unlike many of our citizens, are actually making an effort to get out there? I’ve heard certain people lament the “state of the sport” because of this, as if some sort of purity needs to be maintained in running that is being sullied just because Joe Six-Pack wants to say he did a 10K. Come on. Stop being ridiculous.

I think it’s important for us, as a community of runners, to be as welcoming as possible. I have never maligned another runner based on appearance or ability, and I never would. I think, by and large, we are a group that understands and supports one another. So, for those with their noses in the air about how “serious” one is about the sport, let’s consider being as inclusive as we can, shall we? It’s my belief that we, and our sport, will be the better for it.

Races, and goals, for the coming year.

So, it’s January again, and I’ve been back into the weeds at work, but I have been thinking a lot lately about running plans for 2017. I’m shooting for ten races of varying distances, and have put together something of a tentative schedule for the first part of the year. I’m sure this will change, but for now, it’s as follows:

January – No Events

This of course is the month where I choose to run inside to prevent being flash frozen. Our winter has so far been up and down, but the last three weeks have been pretty cold. We are going to get a thaw starting this weekend, so there is a slim chance I might be able to get outside for a run early next week. I will also get a reprieve due to a conference trip to San Francisco later next week, so I plan to at least do a couple of runs there. Although, I guess Northern California has been pretty rainy so I might get wet. I’ve already started a new training cycle for my next half marathon in March. It just sucks that I have to do a lot of it on the treadmill.

February – Re-Fridgee-Eighter 8 Mile

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Running in Southern Ontario in February is no picnic either, but it’s a bit better than January. In the past, I’ve always been somewhere south on vacation during the Re-Fridgee-Eighter, but this year it fits into my schedule. There’s an 8K and an 8 Mile – I’ve never run an 8 mile race before so I figure it’s at least good for a PR. Going to shoot for under an hour but I guess it will depend on the weather. Also, I get to complete my training cycle for the March race in Cuba at the end of February, which will be hot and humid and will prep me for the following month, where I will be taking on…

March – Puerto Rico Half Marathon

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We’ll be in Puerto Rico for the first two weeks of March, and I plan to make the most of it. The main worry I have is that I might, erm, overindulge before the race. I mean, mofongo! Lechon asado! Puerto Rican rum! So many temptations. I’m definitely going to shoot for a PR despite the fact that I will likely eat my weight in suckling pig and chicharrones. I think with the way I finished last year and my 10K times I should be able to crack 1:35.

April – OE Canada INC Run For Retina Research 10K

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I have some unfinished business at this race, because last year I wussed out. There was a big early spring snowstorm the week it was on and I just couldn’t get myself interested enough in running in the cold. Weirdly, we got more snow last year in the first two weeks of April than we got in January and March combined. Doubt that will be the case this year. Will also be starting a second training cycle this month for my June event. And it finally gets warmer at home!

May – GoodLife Fitness Toronto 10K

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No real reason why I chose this one, other than it fits into my schedule, and it’s always fun to come back to Toronto to run. May is usually beautiful in our neck of the woods, which is good, because I’m going to be doing a lot of preparation for…

June – Conquer the Canuck 25K

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This is put on by my club the Cambridge Harriers, and I couldn’t do it last year because I was out of town (and pretty bummed about it). It’s a trail run through Shade’s Mills, our local conservation area. June was super hot last year, and the course is pretty challenging. I’m stoked about this one and my goal is to break two hours. The weekend also includes a marathon, a 50k, and (for some reason) an 8.33k race. The marathon and 50K can also be run as a two-day staged race. No, I’m not doing it.

Still have to figure out the latter half of the year, but I think there will be another half marathon in there and at least a couple of 5K runs (gotta bust that 20 minutes).

Happy running everyone.

2016 Recap, and plans for 2017.

So, the holidays are upon us, and it’s time to reflect on another year.

I had some pretty grand plans for this year, and well, not all of them came to fruition. Nevertheless, I’m pretty happy with how things went. I ended up getting a respiratory infection that took me out for part of October, so I had to cut a couple of events, unfortunately. I don’t intend to do any more competitions until February, so let’s look back at 2016.

Going into this year I had a few goals:

PR in the 8K – Check. I ran 33:39 in the only one I did this year, the Cambridge Mill Race.
PR in the 10K – Check. Again, I only ran one, but it was 41:17 in San Francisco, an utter dismantling of my old PR.
PR in the half marathon – Check. 1:35:46 in Buffalo.
Sub 20:00 5K – Not quite. Best I did was 20:09 in Chicago.
Finish a marathon – Nope. Could not fit a proper training schedule into what turned out to be a rather topsy-turvy year.

So, in 7 races, I had:

One victory (in the Harvest Quarter Marathon)
Two second-place finishes (in the KW Kids with Cancer Run and the Lurie Cancer Survivors Run in Chicago)
Two top-15 finishes (Laurier Loop, Cambridge Mill Race)
One top-20 finish (San Francisco Giant Race 10K, which it should be noted had almost 6,000 participants. This is probably the race I’m proudest of this year.)
One top-100 finish (out of almost 4,000 in the Buffalo Half Marathon).

Not bad for an old guy.

As for next year, still some stuff to work on. Right now, the plan is to do the Re-Fridgee-Eighter 8K (or possibly the 8-mile, which is also part of the event) in February, the Puerto Rico Half Marathon in March, the Mercedes-Benz 10K in Oakville in April (if I can fit it into my schedule – they still haven’t announced the date), the GoodLife Toronto 10K in May, and a new local trail race, the Conquer the Canuck 25K, in June. We shall see if this holds up.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

2016 Race #7: Harvest Quarter Marathon, Wellesley, ON

Date: September 24, 2016
Gun Time: 44:14
Chip Time: 44:14
Placing Overall: 1st out of 60
Placing in Age Group: 1st out of 2
Theme Song: The Weeknd, “The Hills

This was actually supposed to be my second half marathon of the year, but I haven’t been able to train the way I wanted to lately. My wife landed in the hospital with a back injury and since coming home has been hobbling around like an arthritic grandma, and so I had to take on a lot (read:all) of the household duties for awhile, which is pretty heavy when you have two youngsters in elementary school. I didn’t want to run undertrained, so I decided to scale back to the quarter marathon distance, figuring that a) I was still in pretty good shape to run to what amounted to a 10K race with pretensions, and b) I knew that I would at least run a PR, since I had never run the distance competitively before.

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In fact, from what I can see, there aren’t very many quarter marathons run anywhere; aside from this one there is one other one in Ontario, the Durham Quarter Marathon in Oshawa, and a handful of them in the US in Hartford, Baton Rouge, Katy TX, Houston, and a few other places. Most participants on this day were going to be running the half, with a smaller number of us being bussed out to the midpoint of the course for our race. The origins of this race are quite interesting. It’s out in rural Wellesley Township northwest of the city of Waterloo, run on gravel roads in Mennonite country. Tarah Korir, nee Tarah McKay, is a national class 10K and half marathon runner from the area who married Wesley Korir, a Kenyan who won the Boston Marathon a few years ago. When the couple lived in the area, people used to watch Wesley tearing around the area on training runs (he claimed the rolling gravel roads reminded him of some of the tracks he was used to training on back home in Kenya’s Rift Valley). Tarah and Wesley now live and train in Kenya, but they set up this race three years back to benefit the Kenyan Kids’ Foundation, which makes all kinds of investments in co0peratives benefiting the education and health of African children.

So, I got to the hockey arena (naturally) in tiny St. Clements, Ontario, where the half marathon was to be started and finished as an out-and-back. The quarter marathoners were put on yellow school buses and shipped out half way to run a point-to-point. I’d looked at the altitude chart for the race and noted that it was a net downhill, with a net elevation gain of negative 27 feet.

Overheard on the bus, from a whippet-thin lady of about 50: “Well, it’s mostly downhill, so it can’t be too bad.” (She spent most of the rest of the ride talking about a recent high altitude race in Utah she and her husband just did).

There was a small field of about 60 people, and the timers synchronized our start with the start of the half-marathon. I threw caution to the wind in this one, and took off at the start like I was shot out of a cannon. I figured I’d get a reasonable lead, and then settle in to a groove and ride the mostly downhill course for the rest of the way. It quickly became evident that the course was… ah… not exactly a downhill. In fact, it was seemingly endless hills of loose gravel. I was settling into my pace, but it was pretty tough slogging. The other problem was that there was a headwind I was fighting against, though it was only strong enough to be a bit annoying and not really a problem. The beginning of this race reminded me a bit of the 5K in Chicago earlier this year when I went out really fast and then died at the end, but I’m in a lot better shape now, and I didn’t feel like I was slowing down much. Stopped for a quick drink at the first water station at about mile 3, and kept on running the long straight stretch of rolling hills.

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The half marathoners heading out, and me coming back leading the quarter marathon.

In short order I started to see the leaders of the half marathon coming in the other direction, and I tipped a few of them a wave. Several of the runners coming the other way shouted encouragement. Now as I mentioned, this is Mennonite country, and shortly I was in the unusual situation of having a horse and buggy as a pace vehicle, which was definitely a first. It was rolling along in front of me and I was slowly catching up to it, which meant that dodging piles of manure was quite possibly going to be an added hazard soon. The Mennonites in the area were evidently quite amused by Korir back when he was ripping around the area, and some of them even took to timing him, so they weren’t completely unused to runners puffing along the roads. I waved to a couple of them who were standing at the end of a laneway and they waved back encouragingly.

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Rollin’.

The buggy eventually turned off the course and I was alone again. I chanced a look back and noted that there was another runner (Jeff Martin of H & P, against whom I’ve run before) about 30 seconds or so behind me. I was getting pretty tired by this point, but I resolved that I was not going to let anyone catch me from behind this time. Skipping the water station with about a mile to go, I turned south along the course onto asphalt to head back toward St. Clements. Now, I had a police car as a pace vehicle (nothing like having some variation), and I absolutely put everything I had into a kick, gasping lungfuls of air while trying to keep my body as quiet as possible to conserve energy. As I crossed the road into the arena complex I could tell I had it in the bag as I had opened a wide lead, and I raised my arms at the finish line with a smile for the first victory of the season after enduring a couple of bridesmaid finishes.

Afterwards Jeff came up to me and said “Man, how fast did you do that last km? I was 4:14 and you just ran away from me”. I couldn’t tell him, since I don’t wear a timing device, but I imagine it was down close to 4:00 flat, which is pretty good for the end of a 10-or-so K. All the speed running I’ve been doing is paying off and I had a really good final charge. Plus, I led the race wire-to-wire, which made me pretty happy. The runners coming in were wheezing about the hilliness of the course, which was considerable, but I hope next year I can do the half marathon, as this was a fun little race for a good cause.

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2016 Race #6: The Giant Race 10K, San Francisco, CA

Date: September 11, 2016
Gun Time: 41:29
Chip Time: 41:17
Placing Overall: 17th out of 5497
Placing in Age Group: 2nd out of 260
Theme Song: Embarcadero“, Paul Desmond

My son and I are both big baseball fans, and several months ago we were having a conversation about which big league parks we’d most like to see a road game in. He is a rabid Toronto Blue Jays fan, and I’m, well, still a fan but slightly less emotionally involved than I used to be (22 years between playoff appearances will do that to one). As I recall, the list we came up with went something like this:

  1. Wrigley Field
  2. AT&T Park
  3. Camden Yards
  4. Dodger Stadium
  5. Fenway Park

We actually checked off the first one this summer on a road trip to Chicago, and now my son has a crazy plan to see ALL the MLB parks (he’s ten, so it may take him awhile). Much to his chagrin, however, his old man beat him to AT&T Park. Though, I didn’t see a game there. Perhaps I should explain.

I am not really a San Francisco Giants fan, although I have nothing against them – they play way over in the NL West, and we Blue Jays devotees tend not to pay much attention to the senior circuit. However, I do travel to San Francisco for conferences at least once or twice a year, and I love running there. Not only is the temperature usually ideal, but it’s a beautiful place, and though Nob Hill is a bit daunting, I could happily spend every day running up and down the Embarcadero (if I could actually afford to live in the Bay Area, which I can’t).

Running in San Francisco is not without its quirks, of course. Aside from the fact that the hills take some getting used to, I’ve been accosted by a schizophrenic screaming incoherencies at me at 5:30 in the morning (“What an asshole”, muttered a city worker to me, having observed said encounter, and I wholeheartedly agreed) and had my shoes thrown up on once by a homeless guy on another early run. These rather gritty incidents aside, at least going for a run in the city has the virtue of never being boring. Usually I’m in town in January, when events seem to be few and far between, but my recent September conference coincided with the SF Giant Race, which not only fit my schedule but was run right along one of my favorite routes in the world, and finished on the outfield warning track of AT&T park. Sign me up, I thought.

My son was envious, but mollified by the fact that I would take lots of pictures and would give him the Brandon Crawford bobblehead that was included in the race kit (he loves those things and I really would have little use for it). I took a break from my conferencing on the Friday morning before the race to visit the stadium and the expo and pick up my race kit, which gave me an early peek at the stadium and its environs.

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AT&T on a typically sunny San Francisco morning.

The kit pick-up was well organized, and I wandered through the concourse looking at some of the exhibitions, which included the typical pre-race odds and sods. It was a beautiful day, and I lingered a bit before heading to the lower level of the stadium to pick up the bobblehead, which was handed out beside the exit, and then left to return to conferencing. The race organizers suggested coming outside of peak times (identified as late afternoon Friday and Saturday) and I’m glad I did, since the various races included nearly 20,000 participants between the half-marathon, 5K, and 10K.

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Brandon, in all his bobbly head, scraggly-haired, short wearin’, flag-wavin’ glory.

Sunday morning dawned cool and cloudy, and I warmed up by trotting the mile and a half or so from my hotel down to 2nd and King in front of the stadium in anticipation of the 7AM gun. The race would start in waves, with the sub 45 minute 10K and faster half-marathoners in the lead corral, followed by two corrals of slower runners. It took me a ridiculous amount of time to find the bag check, as it was situated way down 3rd Street on the other side of McCovey Cove in front of Parking Lot A, but eventually I got my stuff dropped off after snapping a few blurry pics with my cruddy phone camera.

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Ooooh, twinkly palm trees.

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Team RWB, ready to roll.

This being Patriot Day, team RWB was given the prominence it deserved, leading the charge out of the start gate after the anthem was played. I settled into a fast pace with the Bay Bridge looming ahead. It was maybe 50 degrees by now, and the cool weather was a blessing after the heat I had been training in. I felt like I could be pretty fast, given that I’d been doing 35 mpw lately with a lot of tempo running. Settling in behind a team of four female runners who were moving at a good clip, I watched the landmarks roll by; the Bay Bridge, the Ferry Building, the various piers. In front of Pier 9, we were serenaded by a full-on marching band, which I thought was pretty cool.

I felt strong, was still comfortably using a 3/2 breathing pattern, and really quickly seemed to be getting closer to Fisherman’s Wharf where the turnaround was. As we branched off from the Embarcadero onto Jefferson and I saw the clock at the turnaround, I was initially a bit taken aback that it was at about 18:00. I hit the timing mat at about 18:30, but realized that actually I was a bit short of 5K, so I wasn’t quite as fast as I thought (though doubtless I hit the 5K mark, which was about 300 yards back down the street, in under 20 flat).

Coming back was, well, interesting. Because, see, when you have a combined 9,000 runners running up one side of a city street, it gets a bit crowded. By now there was a thin line of leaders in the 10K coming back to the finish, and we hit the glut of second wave runners head on at about the 6K mark. They basically took up the whole width of the street, which meant that we had to depend on them to get the hell our of our way to avoid flattening them. In theory, we were supposed to be given the extreme left hand side of the sidewalk; in practice, that really didn’t happen. I was slowly catching up to the runner ahead of me, and so in addition to cutting wind resistance she was kind of acting to part the crowds for me as well. The nice part was that we were getting tons of encouragement and smiles from the runners we passed, and that helped a lot as the legs started to complain.

I had switched to a 2/2 pattern by now and was trying to maintain the pace, but it was getting difficult with a somewhat brisk wind in our faces. Nevertheless, I still seemed to be passing people on the back stretch, and eventually the last of the slower stragglers coming in the opposite direction were out of our way and things were wide open to the finish. I had settled in behind another female runner as we approached the stadium and passed the start gate, and unfortunately for her she took a wrong turn, not going wide enough going around the corner to the entry gate to the stadium, and I was able to pass her (her consolation was she was the female champion anyway, as it turned out). I started sprinting as I hit the inside of the stadium and the covered warning track leading to the finish line, and noted with glee the clock was still at 41 minutes, and my PR was toast.

In the end, I was pleasantly surprised with my result. I guess San Francisco brings out the best in me. Second in my age group was a definite surprise, and I got a wicked award on posterboard that I can put in a frame if I want. This was a fun race, with lots of goodies, and I would absolutely recommend trying it out, whether you’re a Giants fan or not. And as for me, I can tick off a couple of my to do items for this year – I ran my age (and then some) in a 1oK, and I got to hang out on the field of a major league ballpark. Sorry, son. Hope you enjoy your bobblehead, though.

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