Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Rock N Roll San Francisco Half Marathon Race Recap

Well, two half marathons in two weeks have been clocked!  I had SO much fun on Sunday running the Rock and Roll San Francisco Half Marathon (my third in the RnR series!) and experienced a different type of race day experience.  Now, this race was not on my calendar for very long, I signed up just a week and a half or so ago to join my friend who has been training for this race as her first half marathon.  I have been talking with and coaching her through the half marathon training process and after her long run was really hard for her, I started thinking about if I could make it a possibility to come out and cheer her on.  And when I mentioned that to Allie, my friend, she said, "Will you run with me?!?" and I said yes.

You remember Allie?  She was my friend who was living in Paris while I was there for the Paris Marathon last year.  I don't know if this is a true statement but in the story I tell, seeing me run Paris 26.2 gave Allie the running bug :)

So, let's start from the beginning of the race weekend experience though.  And that is with the expo!

When I got to San Fran, I dropped my things off at my uncles house where I was going to be staying throughout the weekend and time on the West Coast.  I dropped my bags, freshened up, grabbed breakfast with some friends, and then went out to the race expo with Allie.  She had asked me the week before if I wanted to go or if she should just pick up my bib for me and I had given her an immediate, "DO NOT GO TO THE RACE EXPO WITHOUT ME!!!"  Which, I think got my point across!

This race for me was all about making Allie love the longer distance run.  I wanted her to get everything out of the experience and to me, the race expo is a part of that.  I started documenting everything right away and snapping pics of the expo in what I told Allie later,  would be the most well documented race experience ever.

I made sure that Allie posed for every picture opportunity possible and encouraged her to experience the race expos the way that I do.

Not that my way is the best way, but I encouraged her to buy things if she was interested.  I've never regretting buying something at a race expo - especially your first race.  And I like walking around, seeing everything, and then deciding what I was interested in.  Taking the free samples, and especially the free massages!

We had our bibs, bought some clothing, headbands and Gu's for the next day, and certainly had no shortage of pictures taken at the race expo at every spot and sign that was available.

And I got myself in on the action as well - don't think I wasn't going to participate in the picture taking as well!  Allie and I are both total hams for the camera so we could have been here all day.

Despite what you might be able to tell from the pictures, we eventually tired  ourselves out and went back to Allie's apartment to sit on her rooftop and talk about a plan for the next day.  I wanted Allie to set goals for the day, whether it was to just finish, finish in a certain time, finish smiling, not walk, etc.  I had told her my goals for the race were to finish with her happy, loving half marathons, wanting to do more, and also to feel like she had pushed herself out of her comfort zone and accomplished more than what she thought she could.  Allie set her goals to finish, finish strong, and not walk.  She hadn't done more than 10 miles in training and that had included a couple walk breaks.  Based on her past running times and paces, I estimated that we would finish between 2:30 and 2:40.

I was excited for Allie's first race and also starting to get a little bit nervous at this point, wondering, what if I was being cocky?  Hopefully I didn't die out there on the course trying to keep her going!

We went out for an early dinner as we were both feeling wiped and wanting to go to bed early.  The pre-race meal and the pre-race beer are a part of the race experience as well, so I was insistent upon doing dinner.  And just because Allie was not interested in the beer, doesn't mean that I didn't participate myself!

We went out for pizza, splitting a sausage pizza and having some burratta cheese on the side.  And oh man, was the entire dinner absolutely delicious!

We parted ways after that and I returned to my uncles, where I was staying, to relax, get some work done, and head to bed early since the AM was going to come pretty fast.  The Rock N Roll San Francisco had the earliest start time of a race I have ever done with 6:30 a.m. and also - as a side note - I learned that there weren't bands along the course, which is the usual signature of the Rock N Roll series.  Apparently the people of SF complain about the noise, so it's not allowed.  I was a little surprised at that, but whatever!  It's a beautiful city and I was looking forward to running it, with or without bands!

In the AM, I got up and did my shower and get dressed thing, agonized about what to wear, and headed out in an Uber to the start line, which was long the ocean highway.  Allie was coming over with one of her other friends who was running, and they were a bit later than I would have liked so I was getting a bit stressed.  I wanted her there to hype her up, take in the scene, and just be all ready and relaxed when the race started instead of feeling hectic.  It was also COLD in the morning and I spent my time waiting for Allie to arrive by huddling by the exhaust coming from one of the lights.  Definitely not the healthiest pre-race fumes to be breathing in...

Once Allie and her friend arrived, I was so happy to see all the energy she had and how amped she was to run.  We were bopping up and down, dancing, and of course, taking lots of pictures.  The race started at 6:30 a.m. as I mentioned, but the race also had an odd thing of having an early start at 6:15 a.m.  I have never heard of this before and never saw anything online about it, but apparently they started some people early.  Weird.

We crossed the start line maybe 15 minutes after 6:30 a.m. and we were off!!  The first half a mile was flat and by the ocean and then we turned a corner and here we go - the hills began!!!

I pulled my camera out and took a picture while we were running and then realized, hey, you know what?  I can stop and take pictures and then start running again!  Since I wasn't running this for time or for a goal or for training, why the heck not?

The race immediately got more fun for me as I realized that I could enjoy this race in a way that I never had before.  I was soaking in the scenery, taking pictures, and telling Allie how amazing she was throughout the whole first few miles of the course.  I knew from looking at the race elevation that the first 4 miles of the race were going to be very hilly.  I tried to keep Allie occupied these first few miles, told her she was badass during the hills, and when we got to the first really steep hill and lots of people around us started walking, Allie told me very determined, "I am not walking."

As we got to around mile 4 or 5, although the hills were still tough, the views got GORGEOUS.

I would jog ahead of Allie every now and then so I could turn around and stop and take pictures of her.  And a number of times I was so glad that I did because the views were just incredible.

Miles 5-8 we were up and across the Golden Gate Bridge which was pretty cool to be able to say we did, but it was also a bit tough mentally.  I feel like I can tell, stability wise, when I am running on a bridge, and also, the road was narrow, cars were going by and you were running so close to the runners going the opposite direction.  Since the bridge looks the same, you couldn't tell that you were gaining any distance, the course didn't have mile markers along the bridge, and it felt like you were just running on the Golden Gate forever.  But it sure was cool though.

Once you crossed the bridge, you looped around and turned back.  I started to get choked up for the first time when we crossed the bridge and I looked back at the city.  It was such a beautiful day and Allie was doing so amazing in this race.  It was tough and she was a champ.  She was smiling and happy when we were half way through and I knew she was going to finish this thing.  I was truly so impressed and many times when I would look over to her running, she would just be smiling away.

I stayed with her the whole time and we were averaging about a 12 minute mile.  The race I had run the weekend before I did at a 9 minute mile, so it was a very different feel from that!  But also so much fun.  At one point as we were just about to get across the bridge and finish that part of the route, Allie grabbed my hand, and I was just so happy to be out there running that race with her.

The few miles about 8-10 were a little bit boring as we got off the high of the gorgeous views and scenes from the bridge.  Again though, I was happy that I made the effort to run ahead and then turn around and take pictures because the scenery looking behind was awesome.

And it also was in an unshaded straight away that felt pretty hot.  I had been encouraging Allie to drink water throughout the whole race and I could tell she was getting hot and drained a bit around mile 9 and I encouraged her to have a Gu and drink more water or dump it on herself.

The only time Allie asked to stop was right before mile 9 when she said she wanted to adjust her must.  I told her to keep going a 10th of a mile to hit 9 and then she could stop to adjust her music if she wanted.  When we got to mile 9, she wanted to keep going.  I knew that the most she'd done in training was 10 miles and that she'd walked some of that training run.  We were getting close to that milestone and she was still looking strong so I was SO PROUD.

I also knew it was time to start pulling out some of my motivational magic or whatever I could muster and started telling her the things that I tell myself when I am struggling during runs.  We ran past the RWB Veterans cheering group at around Mile 9 and told Allie for the next mile to think about the military, soldiers, veterans, and all those who have served our country.  The people who have sacrificed so much to keep people like her and I safe and alive.  I told her to run for them and to run for everything they have done and gone through and their families.  I also told her this was the time where people were going to start dying around us and falling apart and walking, and that we could pick them off one by one and set our goal to pass each person who started walking or slowing down.

At mile 10 I told her that we were officially in new distance territory for her and every step she took was a step further than she had ever run in her life.  I told her to imagine herself getting stronger and braver and more powerful with every step she took.  And that her mind would give up before her legs did so to tell herself with every stuff further, every step stronger, that she could do it.

At mile 11 the 2:30 hour pace team passed us, I asked if she wanted to try and keep up with them and she just gave me a look like, "Are you kidding?" which was fine, we kept solid with our pace. I knew the hills were going to pick up again after a fairly flat stretch.    I wasn't sure if she knew it or not so I was prepared to prepare her and warned her at mile 11 that the hills would start again.  I told her to think about every boy who has ever hurt her, anyone who has ever made her cry, any time her feelings have been hurt, something has scared her, or she felt like she couldn't do something... and to think about moving beyond all those things.  That every step further was a step away from them and how she was stronger than any of that pain that had ever been around or she had faced.

The hills started to get steep at 11.5 and we were still running and Allie was passing people as we moved along at a steady pace up the hills.  She grabbed my hands again and we ran a bit like that, and I told her again and again how insanely awesome she was doing and how strong she looked.

At mile 12 I told her to forget about any of the pain or people who had hurt her and to spend the next mile thinking about how amazing she was.  About all the things she loved about herself.  How strong she is.  How brave she is.  How fearless she is.  And to think about these amazing and positive things because she was SO CLOSE.  Halfway through the last mile I asked her how she wanted to finish.  Did she want to cross the line on her own, did she want me to stay with her.  I warned her that there would be cameras.  She told me to stay with her.

I ran ahead and took pictures one final time with a quarter of a mile left and then put my camera away for the finish.

Right after I took a selfie with a drag queen that is.

We crossed the finish line together, me trying to get out of the way of the camera and give Allie the spotlight.

Looking at that picture above makes me so happy.  I was SO proud of Allie and how she finished.  She ran the WHOLE THING through some nasty hills and finished right on target for what we thought at 2:37:24, right under a 12 minute pace for the whole race.

As soon as we crossed the finish line I started to cry and so did Allie.  I am choking up now because apparently I am a lush, I just cannot even express how happy it made me to see her finish and how much I enjoyed being there and being a part of it.

As soon as she finished, I forced her to take an obligatory finish line picture, and also to keep moving, as she wanted to stand still a bit. We got some water and chocolate milk, and moved along walking and regaining composure, and meeting up with her friend Alex who had also run.

I wanted her to soak up the whole experience and Rock N Roll has a huge post race party so we head over that way to take a bunch of pictures.  The end of your first half marathon is not a time to be modest and I am more understanding than anyone on the need for pictures so I forced us to take a ton.  You only run your first half marathon once!!!

Allie wasn't interested in the post run beer at first, but luckily, Alex was right on board with me, and
with a little convincing, we got Allie over to the beer tent to grab drinks, sit down, and enjoy the sunshine and relax.  I forced Allie to stretch, have something to eat, and continue to drink water along with the beer.  Side note: doesn't that picture of the two of us laying on the grass look like we are in love or something?  It cracks me up so I had to share it.

We hung out in the sunshine for a while before deciding to pack it in and return to our homes to shower change, and then meet up for lunch.  The post race party was good with ample areas to hang out, lots of beer, and friendly people.  We made friends while we were there, talking about races and family and travel and work.  I just kept getting overwhelmingly proud of Allie and thought about how my coaches must have felt after I ran the half marathon in sub-2:00 the weekend before.  When I crossed the finish line I was in a bit of shock and wasn't really feeling excited right away.  I imagined Allie was probably feeling that way a bit but I told her over and over how amazing she did -- because she did!!!  She had never run more than 10 miles, crushed 13.1, powered through some tough hills, smiled, never gave up, never complained, and just was a rockstar the whole way through. When we left the post race party, I told her that she had better be wearing the medal when I saw her again and departed ways for a bit.  I could not tell you how proud of this girl I was for the race!!!  

Will share the rest of the weekend later, but wanted to just post my race recap and once again say an incredibly huge congratulations to Allie!!  And a big thank you to her too.  I had SO MUCH FUN running the race with her.  I feel so proud and excited of her accomplishment and I loved being able to experience it with her.  I loved running the race not worrying about my time whatsoever, cheering her and others on, I loved stopping to take selfies, documenting her race, doing a race side by side another person, and taking in the beautiful views.  I realized that I want my running and race calendar to be a mix of doing races like this and doing races to PR.  This race was just FUN.  Fun, fun, fun.

It's my sixth half marathon and every one is meaningful to me so far.  There was my first half marathon in Nashville.  There was my first half marathon where I pushed myself AND had a cheering squad.  There was the birthday blizzard half marathon that challenged my perseverance.  And the Palio half marathon that helped me get towards running my second marathon.  There was the Publix race the weekend before where I broke 2 hours, and then my first half marathon that was relaxed and full of joy and sharing the joy of running with another person.  She was such a champ and I am so thankful for her allowing me to be a part of this experience with her!!!

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