Nike Women's Half Marathon

I picked up Audrey a little before 5:30 am and we headed up to the City. On the drive up, I commented to her that there was quite a bit of traffic on the freeway for that early on a Sunday morning. I mean, I knew a lot of people ran Nike, but I expected that most of them came from out of town and were already staying in the City. We had planned to park at the Ellis/O'Farrell garage, where Audrey (a multi-year veteran of NWM) always parked on race morning. There was traffic getting into the downtown area but once we got to Ellis St, we found that it was closed off! No wonder that garage wasn't listed as a recommended parking area on the race web site. And here we thought we were being smart.

We drove around for several blocks (because you can't make a left turn in this City!) and eventually found parking at the Fifth and Mission garage. We got there just in time because there were only 248 spots left (and a long line of cars waiting to get in). The streets were filled with runners making their way to Union Square. We ducked in a boutique hotel to use the facilities - a nice advantage to having a race start in the touristy part of town.

We made our way over to Powell & Geary St to drop our bags off at Gear Check. And so did everyone else. It was a chaotic mess. A complete mob scene. I was crushed in every direction with nowhere to go. And there was no one from the race directing traffic. Being only 5'0" tall, I was overwhelmed and started to feel claustrophobic. We heard people saying that there were no crowds further up Geary St, but we didn't know how to get out of the crowd. A girl to my left grabbed her friend's arm (who was on my right) and started to plow through. Audrey and I latched on and drafted off of them to get out of there. Once we were finally out of the madness we found that just a blocked away, there were rows of buses and handfuls of volunteers waiting to help people check their bags and no one was there. Even worse, there was a whole block of porta-potties that weren't being used.

Once we dropped off our bags at Gear Check, we used the facilities again, and then made our way up towards the starting area. We had less than 5 minutes before the first wave started and ran up to Post St. We realized that we were with the 14:00 min/mile group and didn't have a prayer of finding the corral we were supposed to be in. Gah! We raced as far ahead as we could but somehow knew we were still in the wrong corral.

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{many runners ran with bags}

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{Audrey and I before the start}

Photos courtesy of Audrey

Just before we crossed the Start Line, we saw Kerry and were so excited to see a familiar face! She, Audrey and I started the race together and immediately began doing the bob and weave. Something I would do for the entire race. From the get-go, it was walkers galore. But I knew we had started behind our corral so I just patiently tried to make my way through the maze of people. Somewhere after the first mile I looked around and realized that I had lost Kerry and Audrey. I was so sad. I put on my earphones, turned on my iPod and continued darting around people.

We ran through the Financial District, then along the Embarcadero, through Fisherman's Wharf. We ran up 2 mini hills at Hyde and Polk Streets, which was a pleasant surprise. I thought we were going to run through the Aquatic Park, which is very narrow. With 22,000 runners, I was afraid of what the congestion would be like.

What I found was the congestion was saved for the aide stations. I've run big races before, but I had never seen such a massive wave of people clamor for Gatorade and water! It was kinda unreal. I tried to stop and get a cup of water, but it was such madness that I just continued on. I was so glad that I had decided to run with my fuel belt.

When we got to the Fort Mason Hill, I was determined, once and for all, to run up the entire thing. It is a short, but steep hill that kicks my butt every time. I trudged along, but the walls of walkers made it impossible to run. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore and yelled, "If you're walking, please move to the side." As soon as I yelled it there was a huge cheer from everyone else also trying to run up the hill.

Disclaimer: I walk during races. I walked during this race. But when I walk, I look over my shoulder and when it's clear, I move to the far side, and then start walking. I don't stop in the middle of the course, or travel in packs making it impossible for others to pass by.

Eventually I felt that I was expending way too much energy trying to bob 'n weave and realized that it wasn't going to let up. I finally decided to just go with the flow and enjoy the rest of the experience as much as I could. From here on out I walked, ran easy, and pushed the pace whenever I felt like it and when the crowds would allow for it.

I knew the course was tough, but I had no idea just how tough it was.

Elevation
Elevation

This was probably the toughest half-marathon I've run. It is harder than the San Francisco 1st Half Marathon. Although we didn't run across the Golden Gate Bridge, we ran up the hill to it, then turned left and continued up the hill that you hit coming off the GGB. I started to have bad flashbacks to my SFM 1st Half Marathon race where that hill was the death of me. I told myself to just make it to Mile 8 where Katie and the gang would be cheering.

When I hit the downhill, I wanted to take it easy. I heard someone yell, "Just let gravity do the work." I tried to just coast along and not push myself because I didn't want to shred my quads like I did after this year's SFM 2nd Half Marathon (it took me days to recover from that).

As I approached Mile 8, I spanned the crowds looking for my spectating friends. I was on the far left of the road and wasn't recognizing anyone. Then I heard the cowbell. You see, Katie had a huge cowbell at the Half Moon Bay race a few weeks ago, and I knew she'd have it with her again. I still didn't see them, but I heard the sound of the cowbell and gravitated towards it. First I saw Page in her Boston Marathon jacket. Then I saw Dennis, Jessica and Katie with her! I was so excited that I ran over and gave them hugs!

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{photo courtesy of Page, probably the only race photo there will be of me}

They picked the perfect spot to cheer - in the middle of a soul-crushing hill.

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{the sign they made to cheer us on!}

Seeing them was just the pick-me-up I needed to continue along. I think people underestimate the power of spectating - there is nothing more uplifting than seeing familiar faces during a race! I truly appreciated them being there.

The bobbing 'n weaving and hills continued (what else was new at this point), but the miles still seemed to fly by. Before I knew it, I found myself running down a huge hill (where a girl came to a dead stop right in front of me - she's lucky I didn't run her over!) towards the Cliff House. We turned left at the Cliff House and hit the Great Highway and I knew I was closing in on the final miles. The crowds were bigger and louder and I loved it.

When we turned up JFK Drive into Golden Gate Park I told myself, "You have this. You've been running this route all summer. It's a piece of cake." It was the easiest time I've ever had running up this hill. Then the course split - half marathoners turned right, full marathoners kept going straight. At that very moment I felt so sad for the full marathoners. The temptation to turn right would have been too much for me to handle. Kudos to every single full marathon finisher!

I glanced down at my Garmin and it read 12.56 miles and I thought, "I'm almost done!" Except when I looked up, I saw the 12-mile marker and realized that my Garmin was off by over half a mile, thanks to all the bobbing and weaving. This was the only point during the race that I felt defeated. I still had a whole mile left to go. Sigh.

But it was the "Chocolate Mile" where they handed out Ghirardelli squares. I grabbed one thinking it would be a boost, but then I got scared because I was super sweaty and didn't want it to melt all over me, so I ended up throwing it in a trash bin. There were a couple of people running along next to me as we ran down the final stretch on MLK Drive. We looked at each other and said, "Let's do this." We turned right, back on to the Great Highway and finally saw Finish Line. We sprinted towards the Finish and congratulated each other as we crossed it.

Official Time: 2:24:57 - not my best, not my worst, but good enough for the day.

As promised, firemen in tuxes greeted us. Personally, I think it would have been better if they were in actual uniform, but that's just my opinion. I thankfully accepted my Tiffany's box and made my way through the Finisher's chute collecting my food, shirt, etc. All of a sudden my feet hurt and all I wanted to do was sit down. I found a curb, plopped down and just sat there for a while drinking water and congratulating the ladies around me. I tried to text my friends to see where they were at, but the phone service was horrible and nothing was getting through.

As chaotic as the Start Line was, they did the Finish Line right. There was space to move around, and it was very well-organized. There was a tent for yoga and stretching (I stopped in for a few minutes), another one for massages, and the bag check buses were so easy to locate.

I collected my gear, then once again found Kerry. We sat on a curb for a good 45-minutes recovering and recapping our races. Somehow we managed to find the rest of our friends and we had a fun time sharing our stories from the day. For me, this was the highlight of the race - being able to share this experience with my amazing friends.

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{Cate and I}

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{Kerry, Jana, Cate and I}

Photos courtesy of Jana

I'm glad I got to experience the Nike Women's Marathon at least once in my life, but it's a "one and done" race for me. Believe it or not, as soul crushing (my new favorite phrase) as this course is, I didn't really mind it.

Map
Map

It's a good course for a training run, but it is too congested for the participants that this race attracts. That being said, kudos to everyone who finished. Both distances are accomplishments to be proud of - wear your Tiffany necklaces proudly!

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{Finisher's "Medals"}

Half-Marathon #15 is in the books!

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{Half Marathon Race Shirt}