Sunday, November 11, 2007

Silver Strand Half Marathon (and 5K)

Driving to this morning's event is a chore. There is no parking for half-marathoners near the start (Sunset Park in Coronado) nor at the end (Imperial Beach Pier Plaza). The only options are parking mid-course hoping to catch a shuttle bus that departs at 5:40am (open only to the first 200 participants) or having someone drop you off. Since my wife and friends are participating in the 5K, they can drop me off, but must give themselves enough time to drive ten miles to Imperial Beach, find street parking (there is no designated lot), and walk a few blocks to the start of their race. One would think the 5K would start later than the half marathon, but it does not. The 5K actually begins at 7:00am...a half-an-hour before my race! The event planners must assume that participants of the half-marathon do not carpool with people in the 5K.

Anticipating street closures between starting locations, we have given ourselves plenty of time to reach our respective courses. I get dropped at Sunset Park around 5:40am. It is cold...probably less than 60 degrees. I do not wear a jacket for fear of having no place to ditch it once the temperature warms up. The only place to take cover from the breeze are dozens of port-a-potties. I decide to grin and bear it, hovering near one of the light posts dotting the street. I can keep my hands and arms warm by touching the top of the post. I note that some runners arrive wearing plastic garbage bags. Clever.

Around 6:00am, my wife calls to tell me they have arrived at the start of the 5K. The streets have not yet been closed to traffic, so they did not encounter any delays.

The sun rises. Around 6:30am, sunlight slowly stretches across Sunset Park. As I thaw, I do some stretching myself. I also take a few short walks to grab cups from the water table since I left my bottle in the car. I would have been happier if event organizers invited Starbucks to cater the coffee sounds really good right about now.

The port-a-potties, which initially seem sufficient in quantity, are now backed up dozens of runners deep. Multiple lines weave chaotically within an area far too confined for such lengthy queues. Each visit now requires a fifteen minute wait. I am not sure if it is nerves or all the water I have consumed, but I frequent the facilities. There must be a better way to accommodate a few thousand runners.

The "wheelies" (hand cycles, wheel chairs, bicycles, and rollerbladers)
are now ready to race. The announcer keeps repeating "do not cross the mat" to rollerbladers who are obviously not paying attention. Doing so would cause the chip they are wearing to start recording their personal time for the race...they are only hurting themselves. Their race starts at 7:15am.

I grab another cup of water to wash down a Gu Gel. I feel ready. Since this event benefits disabled athletes, runners with disabilities including those wearing prosthetic limbs will lead our race...and will be recorded on IMAX film. I find a spot between runners carrying signs indicating a "1:45 pace" and "2:15 pace". I hope to finish the race within two hours.

My first half marathon begins at 7:30am. I find it hard to establish my own pace with this many runners surrounding me (as was the case during the Nike Run Hit Remix). The beach is to our right, where it will remain for most of the run. I pass the IMAX camera, but suspect it has long ceased filming. I start weaving through the slower runners, but must keep checking my watch to make sure I do not go out too fast. Doing sub-eight minute miles this early could hurt my chances of enduring the full thirteen miles.

Hotel del Coronado marks mile 1. I pass the famous landmark in 8:
17, a bit faster than my target (nine minutes per mile), but, since I feel comfortable holding this pace, I see no reason to alter my stride just yet. We are now on Southbound Highway 75 (Silver Strand Blvd) which has been closed to traffic so runners can spread across the lanes.

Around mile 2, I reach the first water station. I have decided to grab water at all stations and drink just enough to keep hydrated. I find it awkward to drink while maintaining my pace, but I do not want to miss a step. I have no idea how much liquid I actually imbibe before I toss my cup in the final trash recepticle.

As I near mile 3, I encounter a bit of headwind. A runner with whom I chatted earlier this morning warned that wind can be a problem, so I start regularly checking my watch to make sure I am maintaining my target pace. Sure enough, I have slowed a hair, but my three mile total is still under twenty-five minutes. I start wondering if my wife or friends were able to complete their 5K within this time...not a good thing to think about since I still have more than ten miles to go!

For the next few miles, the peninsula narrows so that beach exists on both sides of Highway 75. Mile 6 and stronger headwinds o
ccur around the first incline on the course. I push to hold my pace up the hill, down a Cliff Shot with water from the station atop the hill, and extend my stride on the decline. I am pretty happy about completing my first six miles in less than fifty-one minutes...fairly certain I have set a personal record in my the 10K. Despite having more than half of the race ahead, I am now confident that I can finish it in under two hours.

The most discouraging moment in the race accompanies the tenth mile. This is the first time I can see the leaders of the race...through a fence to my right. Not only do they look much faster, they are running in the opposite direction! I had seen the out-and-back loop on our course m
ap, but, from this spot, I could now better visualize the distance. That said, the beginning of the loop and the turnaround points are not within visual range. Have I mentioned how much I hate backtracking?

Before we reach the loop, our course briefly weaves through a residential neighborhood in Imperial
Beach. Residents lounging upon their driveways cheer us on with encouraging comments like "You're almost done! Keep it up". One of the runners behind me starts laughing. Easy for them to say...we still have four miles to go! Even worse, I start feeling my bladder. I am afraid to stop for fear of not being able to regain my pace. I grab water and receive a free Cliff Shot at a station just before the loop trying to ignore the nearby port-a-potties.

The loop takes place on an asphalt path through the United States Naval Radio Station. I pass a sign that says "5K Turn Around" and start wondering why I did not run with my wife and friends. I have no idea how much further I have to backtrack. After an incline, I encounter rough asphalt. I see a rollerblader remove his wheels, frustrated that he cannot roll through this segment of the course. I cannot let anything discourage me. I see the turnaround point and the final water station. After beginning the trek back, I slow just enough to polish off one last cup of water.

For once, I am thankful that I am backtracking. The earlier incline is now a beneficial decline that helps me regain a strong pace for the home stretch. Shortly after returning to the residential neighborhood, I see my friends, one holding a camera. Despite having run nearly thirteen miles, I somehow manage to pick up my pace. I overhear one tell the other to call ahead and notify my wife that I am coming. I now know she is waiting for me near the finish line.

I pass a few runners as the finish line enters view. I see my wife and give her a high-five as I go by. I achieve my fastest average pace of the day over the last two-tenths of a mile and cross the finish line strong. I am thrilled to learn that I have officially survived my first half-marathon in 1:53:35! I did it! And I am still able to walk!


Justin Monast said...

That's an awesome time you got. Now we need to get you up to 26.2 miles and then on to Ultra's!

akira3d said...

Ultras? Yeah, right! I need at least another half-marathon before I even consider moving up to a whole.

Unknown said...

What an exciting story! Thank you for the details and insight. I'm training for my first half (the same - Silver Strand) and your blog was an awesome read.