This was the first road half I have run since the same race last year, when I did not run particularly quickly, finishing in 1:36 or something like that. It was warm and there was some wind, but mostly I was having a period of slowness and scatter-shot training. This time I was coming off a satisfactory full marathon PR, and weekly track sessions that have really revved up my speed. Could I really run a half at better than 7 minutes per mile? (1:31:46 finish) I seemed to have a mental block about that which needed fixing.
The course is a net downhill but has enough uphill to make it not particularly fast. The main element of chance is provided by the last six miles, most of which consists of an out-and-back along San Francisco’s Great Highway. This road runs along the beach front facing the Pacific, and is very prone to wind.
I rode to Golden Gate Park with Debra and her friend John. We parked near the finish area and got on the bus to the start. Yes, this is a point-to-point race with shuttle buses. we were quite early so I had the unusual pleasure of be the first to use a porta-potty. It smelled nice, but I had to unwrap the toilet roll. Nothing is perfect.
Various familiar people showed up and we shmoozed for a while, then went to the bag drop and peeled off our sweats. It was brisk in a singlet and shorts, but OK. I went for a rather brief warmup and ran some strides. Nature was calling again, but one glance at the potty lines and I took a short jog into the trees.
There were pace signs to help everyone line up correctly, but they were worse than useless because the announcer kept their existence a secret until it was too late to move. This was a problem with nearly 9,000 people in the start area. At least they got the 5K runners and half marathoners properly segregated, with the 5K runners on the right. Their course would peel off after about half a mile, not to be seen again. I lined up level with the 7 minute sign and was dismayed to see the droves of slow-looking runners in front of me. Oh well.
The start bell rang, and 27 seconds later I crossed the line at a brisk walking pace and broke into a jog. This was not exactly the way to a PR!. I started to thread though the crowd and was soon at a comfortable pace. This first mile was slightly uphill, so I was pleasantly surprised at the split: 7:08. Oh, must be running a little hard to have done that. Mile 2, slightly downhill: 6:56. Better.
I found myself running next to three young guys who were discussing the splits. Their goal was 7:00 as well, so I ran with them for a while. Mile 3, slightly uphill: 7:02, Hm. My plan was to go slightly slower than 7:00 and make up the time by going faster on the downhills. Their pace was a touch aggressive for me so I let them go in the next mile. Half marathons are easier to pace by feel than fulls, since the pace is just far enough into the threshold zone that you have to push a bit, even in the early miles.
7:04 for mile 4, winding through Golden Gate park, rolling slightly.
5:13 – Wait, What? I know this is downhill but that’s ridiculous.That mile marker was way off!
8:22 – long because of the out-of-position marker, so average 6:48 for miles 5 and 6, which is just right because this is the downhill section. I hooked up with another runner here who also wanted to run a sub-7 average.
6:26 – More downhill in mile 6 before popping out onto the Great Highway by the beach. The spray from the breakers was blowing away from us, revealing that the wind, unusually, was blowing from the land. This was good news. The not-so-good news was that there would be no more downhill. It would be a flat slog from here until the uphill in the final mile. The nice thing about the 7:00 goal average was that there was no need for a wrist band. The multiplication tables were still lodged in my brain from primary school, and I could see I was nicely ahead of goal.
For the next three miles we ran south next to the Ocean, with a few wind gusts but nothing substantial until it blew from ahead as we approached the turn. 7:01, 7:04, 7:05 to mile 10. Pretty consistent there. Just before the 10 mile marker we turned around a pole and started to head back towards the finish. “I don’t know about you but I’m a lot more comfortable to be past the turnaround” said my companion. I know, It’s strange to be running away from the finish line. A shout came across the median “Go Jim!”. It was Debra coming the other way. I waved. “You’re Jim? I’m Eugene.” He said.
Time to apply myself. The road surface was a little rough, with cracks and an occasional pothole, so I ran on a concrete strip to the side which was smooth and level. I was overhauling other runners, and I could hear Eugene just behind. 7:01, 7:09 for miles 11 and 12. I think the wind was responsible for that 7:09, it was getting somewhat gusty, and perhaps I faded a bit. At some point Eugene dropped back.
The last third of a mile was uphill, quite steep, and for some reason they don’t put out a 13 mile marker for this race. I redlined it, and the 1.1 miles took 7:50, which was 7:03 pace. That was hard!