Tuesday, February 09, 2010

PR at the Kaiser San Francisco Half Marathon

Last Sunday, I joined 10,000 runners for a slice of San Francisco sunshine at the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon through Golden Gate Park. This race was the RRCA Western Region Championships, and had a history of bringing runners and walkers alike to enjoy the point-to-point course that included a downhill tour of the Park and an out-and-back section on The Great Highway along the beach. It was a perfect way to get a checkpoint on my speed work and burn some calories before the Super Bowl.

The sunshine was a stark contrast to the cold downpour at the Woodside 50k the previous day, where I volunteered at the first aid station to help out the 650 brave souls making their way through the mud. It sure was fun to see a race from the aid station perspective – you can go through three loaves of bread, two jars each of peanut butter and jelly, and two pounds of M&M’s in less than 30 minutes! Plus I learned how to open Payday bars when your fingers are numb to the bone. Plenty of adventure, and we all had a great time.

The Sunday coastal air in SF was unusually still as I parked my car and took the shuttle to the start. There were lots of eager runners and walkers packed into the bus, and we were all excited for this sunny break in an otherwise rainy month. Kaiser Permanente employees were everywhere in their special colored bibs, meeting and greeting each other at every turn. I loved seeing so many new faces ready to get some exercise, and was a bit surprised to not see some of the usual Bay Area trail runners lurking around.

(At the start, photo courtesy of Anthony Goto)

That ended quickly when I jumped into the front pack a few minutes before the start, and brushed up against Caitlin Smith. She was testing out her road legs, setting her eyes on qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Trials after concluding an amazing 2009 season on the trails. I let her know I was shooting for a 1:16:30 today – a 2-minute PR, but the training says I should be ready for it. I would even be running without a camera – this is serious! She gave me that look of “that’s fast!”, but I had a feeling she would be running 1:16’s by summer. Today, she would be happy with 1:20.

The gun went off, and the 5k and Half Marathon runners filled the streets. In what I thought was a sea of strangers along Fell St, I was surprised to be surrounded by trail runners! Chikara Omine was back from his semi-injured (but successful) run at the Bandera 100k, Gary Gellin was getting fast for the Way Too Cool 50k, and even my training twin Jon Kroll joined me for a mile. We hit the two mile mark in 11:10, much in thanks to the downhill grade, and charged back up the hill back to the Park.

(Everyone is going fast! Photo courtesy of Anthony Goto)

All of my internal alarms were screaming MAYDAY! from the wicked speed, but I’ve learned to ignore these ultramarathon-tempered signals that have become reflex from years of distance running. The mantra for today is burn, baby, burn. If your legs aren’t on fire, then kick harder. I hit mile 5 in 28:10, right on track.
The downhill through Golden Gate Park was glorious, and we soon connected back with the 5k runners and walkers who were pulling into their finish. Thousands of cheering runners were more than enough to push us through to the Great Highway (mile 8, 46 minutes), and a pleasant tail wind guided us down towards the San Francisco Zoo. A woman and her two running pals went by me like I was standing still, but my shame was short-lived when I saw the Olympic rings on her shirt (Magdalena Lewy Boulet, member of the 2008 Olympic Marathon team). Wow! Now that’s fast!

As the runners hit the turnaround and returned, I could tell I was a good two miles behind Crosby Freeman (defending champion) and it looked like the front four runners were on a sub-1:10 pace. I couldn’t figure out why they were all grimacing until I hit the turn around and caught the headwind like a left hook. The tailwinds and downhill were so nice, I had forgotten we had to come back! I hit mile 10 in 57:35, and desperately looked for someone to draft off of to no avail. Best to just tuck in and try and catch the guy in front of me.

(Lego Man was awesome, photo courtesy of Anthony Goto)

I could make out a tall runner about 200 yards ahead, but like a runners mirage, he always seemed just out of reach. I hit mile 11 in 1:04:24, realizing I had slipped to a 6:10 minute/mile in the headwind. I HAD to catch this guy! I leaned forward, swinging my arms, and missile locked my target. I caught him at mile 12 (1:11:10), but he was slowing too much for me to draft off of him, so I swung around and kept pushing into the wind. We soon traded the wind for a slight uphill to the finish. Before long we had the finish in sight, and I kicked past one more guy to finish in 1:16:40.

Wow. Did that just happen? I sure felt good, considering how hard I went in the last few miles. I guess that’s how PR's are supposed to work. You train smart, you race hard, and be open to the possibility that it will all come together. Past the finishers chute, I caught up with Chikara (1:16:10), Gary Gellin (smokin’ 1:14:50 for a M40-44 age group win), Kevin McGinnis (1:14:29, first Master), Jon Kroll (1:19:02), Caitlin Smith (1:19:30), and Will Gotthardt who correctly exclaimed that the ultra runners had a great showing today. Five of us under 1:20!

(Golden Gate Park is gorgeous)

My time was good enough for 3rd in the 40-44 age group, so I had some hardware to bring back to Sophie (she LOVES the medals). Crosby Freeman (1:06:08) had successfully defended his title, and Magdalena Lewy Boulet (1:15:08) won the Women’s division, and the RRCA handed out some nice trophies, plaques, and goodies to the overall, masters, and grand masters winners.

My thanks to Pamakids and all the great volunteers for putting on a flawless race. Especially for ordering the great weather! It was a great day, and I’m feeling stoked that the training is producing some undisputable results. Sometimes it’s fun to just go fast!

- SD


  1. Nice job, Scott. Congrats on the PR! I thought you looked fast.

  2. Great job Scott! You've got some serious road speed there! Enjoy the PR and the hardware.

  3. That's great you are hitting PR's at age 40! Who said Masters get slower?

  4. WOW - You are fast! Awesome effort, and the results show. Congrats.

  5. Way to go! I just turned 40 and hope I can hit a PR at some point...I had resigned myself to maybe PRA40's only. (P.R. after 40!)

  6. Congratulations on your PR!

    And thanks for helping at Woodside. That aid station was certainly a welcome sight during the race :).

  7. wow Scott you crushed it, Congrats to you and the other Ultra runners...way to represent!!

  8. Scott, you're a total badass!! See, it's all that track work, right? Speed baby. I love it! Love hearing about all the ultra trail runners at the front, too. You're in some good company there.

  9. That's an awesome time on what is not necessarily an easy half-marathon course at all.

    Also, thanks for the aid at Woodside! I think I did in fact eat a chunk of Payday at King's Mountain on the way out. All you guys looked miserable, but it was much appreciated by the runners, believe me.

  10. That's fantastic -- good for you for going for it. What kind of speedwork have you been doing leading up to it? I used to use this race as a warmup to the Napa Marathon, and now it intimidates the hell out of me.

  11. Good job! That's a lot of runners in a race.

  12. Congrats on the PR - looking forward to seeing you at Caumsett.

  13. Holy Cow! Nice run, and I mean that literally. Always nice to read of a fellow trail trotter performing perfectly on pavement!

  14. On behalf of Kaiser Permanente, may you continue to run (damn)faster, live long, and thrive.

  15. Wow! You're getting fast. Congratulations!

    also, thank you for getting me in and out of the aid station at Woodside. It was great to see you even though it took us both a moment to recognize each other.


  16. Congrats on a super run! Hopefully someday I'll be able to come close to that time :)

  17. You just keep getting faster! Congratulations! I hope you have a great season!


  18. Scott,
    How hard did you get breathing as you pushed those final miles? I ask because I tend to measure my effort by breathing -- aerobic = 2-2 (2 footfalls inhaling, 2 exhaling); slightly anaerobic = 2-1; all-out = 1-1. I've always wondered how hard you fast front-runners are breathing.

  19. Mark - Breath timing is a great idea for judging your effort! My hard steady state is actually a 3-2 (three steps, one inhale, one exhale) which gives me a little 3/8 rhythm to groove to. Anaerobic is 1-1, and I usually start panting like mad in the last 400 yards (more than one breath per step).

    Thinking back, I was 2-1 for the first mile, 3-2 for 11 miles, then close to 1-1 for the last mile (and definitely the uphill stretch).

    My legs were burning more than my lungs so I don't think the cardio was my limiting factor. When I finished, my glutes and hamstrings were on fire, but my heart rate was back to my resting rate in a couple of minutes. I think this mostly downhill course was more draining on the legs than I factored.

    Thanks for sharing your method! I'll have to keep an eye out for that benchmark.


  20. Great job Scott! Your training is definitely paying off. by the way, if you don't mind sharing, what kind of speed training do you do? How often do you do it? I've read about different approaches, but I think is more valuable to hear it from someone like you because I have witnessed your results.
    Nice job!


  21. Marco -

    It's primarily "Yasso 800's". I do 6-8x800 once a week with 1.5-2.5 minutes rest. I'm doing 4 week cycles - pick a target pace, then do 6x800 one week, 7x800 the next, and 8x800 the third. Then I ease up for a week (stepping down the long runs too), then start the cycle again with a slightly faster pace (and slightly longer run) than where I started the previous cycle. I can fit in about 4 cycles prior to a goal race. Check out the McMillan Calculator link to the right to find some goal paces.

    One thing I should note was that it wasn't until the third or fourth set of 800's that I felt my body was responding well. I'm pretty new to speed work and it didn't feel natural for the first month. Due to seasonal demands, I started doing the sprint sessions on the treadmill. This made it easier to track the improvements and work on form. And you can't ease off the pace!

    I also do a Friday fartlek, fitting in 2-3x1 mile at slightly less than 10k pace.

    When I get a month away from a goal race, I don't increase the pace of the 800, but instead cut the recovery time by 30-50%.

    Last note - I took some advice from Kami Semick, and made sure I was well rested for my biggest sprint and biggest long run each week. It feels like I get more out of them, and psychologically it's hard to back off if you know you're rested.


  22. Thanks for responding to my question. I've been doing some speed work during my lunch at work, but I've been using my GPS to track the distance and speed. I think I'll give the treadmill a try next. I just hope the other people in the gym don't kick me out when I start sweating buckets.

  23. Scott,
    For more info on breathing/training, see Ed Eyestone's 12/7/07 article at RunnersWorld.com entitled "BREATHE WITH A TRAINING PURPOSE."
    Thanks for the insight on your breathing -- that's exactly how my races go at that distance. Just not as fast! I think I need to do more speedwork.
    Congrats on a great race.

  24. Scott - congratulations! I saw you out there on your way back on the Great Highway. I came in at a lazy 1:27. Great job on the PR. See you on the trail.


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