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.
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.
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.
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!
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!