Race Report – 2011 Big Sur Half Marathon

The 9th presentation of the Big Sur Half Marathon took place on Sunday, 20 October 2011. It was my 9th time running the Big Sur Half Marathon.

The weather was a bit of concern for people commenting on the Big Sur Marathon’s Facebook page but I was looking forward to rain as long as it wasn’t a huge downpour. As it turned out, the storm passed through overnight and we were left with some residual clouds and the occasional shower.

I left my car at about 0640 to head to the start line because the race day instructions said to be in our corrals by 0645. The corrals seemed to be half full and that made sense when they announced that the start time would be 0705 – instead of 0700 as the race day instructions had said – and that the corrals would go off in waves 3 minutes apart.

The opening festivities were okay. One of the speakers told the runners that we needed to hurt as badly as we’ve ever hurt during the race and that would give us an idea of how our military members felt when they were overseas protecting the United States. I thought it was a silly thing to say because race pain is quite different from the pain of being shot or having limbs blown off by IEDs. That aside, I always get choked up by the National Anthem unless the rendition is particularly horrible, which it wasn’t. I suppose it doesn’t surprise me that there are a lot of people – both men and women – who don’t take their hats off for the singing of the National Anthem. It bothers me but it doesn’t surprise me.

In theory, the wave start made some sense to prevent the congestion in the early miles. In practice, the wave start needs some work. When the gun went off, the volunteers in our corral immediately took down the barrier in front of us and so, of course, we all moved up to the corral in front of us. When my corral reached the start line, we stopped because we knew that our wave hadn’t been called. But the announcer told us to get moving so we started running. We had barely taken 10 steps when the announcer greeted our corral. Disorganized.

The main thing that I didn’t like about the wave start is that I missed seeing the elite runners on their way to the finish line. But I did enjoy having people with me throughout the race, especially at the end.

The race unveiled new mile markers for the race and they were amusing. I missed a couple of the mile markers but saw the majority of them. It certainly gave me something to look at – besides the gorgeous scenery – and to look forward to during the run. I like them much better than the old cello mile markers that the race has used in the past.

The bands that came out to play were really good sports to be out there despite the threat of rain. There seemed to be a lot more spectators cheering us along. The drum band just after the Aquarium is always upbeat and comes at a great time – just after a little hill on the way out and just before the same hill on the way back – but I think they were missing a member or two. The taiko drummers right before the turnaround were not present and that’s too bad. I love the sound of drums when I’m running. I definitely appreciate all of the bands that stayed out there for us slower runners and all of the volunteers who manned the aid stations for us slower runners.

My last couple of miles were run in a light rain. I heard runners around me cursing the rain but my mom has always told me that rain is God’s blessing so I have a very positive view of rain. I really think that the weather was perfect for the half-marathon.

2011 Big Sur Half Marathon Finishers Medal

All of the volunteers on the course were great – big smiles and lots of encouragement. The Team-in-Training coaches who were on the course were very different from the ones at the Nike Women’s Marathon because they offered encouragement to everyone, not just the Team-in-Training participants.

This year, the food tent was very organized because instead of having food that we had to put into boxes, the volunteers had already packed up goodie bags that contained fruit, a cookie, and a juice. Bagel halves were handed out at the rear of the tent. I will say that I missed having bottles of water to pick up because the cups of water are cumbersome to carry through the crowds.

I tried to get a cup of soup because I thought a cup of hot soup would perfectly counteract the coldness from the rain shower but the soup line was long and there was only one soup tent. So I chose not to get soup or beer and instead headed off to the parking garage to make my way home to a well-deserved warm shower and rest.

I look forward to this race every year. I hope that next year the race director will have something special planned for those of us who have run in all ten presentations!

Happy running!

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Race Report – Nike Women’s Marathon

Sunday, 16 October 2011, was the 8th running of the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco.

You know from an earlier post that I was a Nike Women’s Marathon (NWM) lottery winner. As with the San Jose Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon, my health issues and life in general made me set of goal of just finishing. Based on my SJRnR experience, I was secretly hoping for a 5 hour and 30 minutes finish. Ha!

What’s important to understand here is that I didn’t train for a marathon. I didn’t train for a half-marathon. Before the SJRnR, my longest run was a 9 mile training run. Before the NWM, my longest run was the SJRnR.

I arrived in San Francisco on Friday afternoon. After checking into the Nob Hill Motor Inn, I settled in, checked the map, and then headed off to Union Square for packet pick-up and the expo. I made my hotel reservations too late and all the hotels around Union Square were full. But the Nob Hill Motor Inn is a cute little spot with free parking in a nice little neighborhood. So even though it was 1-1/4 miles from the expo and the race start, I would consider staying there again.

In general, this race was the most disorganized race that I have participated in and I’ve participated in a few over the years. The signage at packet pick-up was limited. Volunteers weren’t at their stations. The ones that were at their stations were distracted and not focused.

Could it be that the loud music and the darkly-lit tent played a role in that? Perhaps.

I was disappointed that there wasn’t an expo. I was especially disappointed because when I had unpacked at the hotel, I discovered that I hadn’t packed a shirt for the race. It was probably because I couldn’t decide whether to run in a long-sleeve shirt or a short-sleeve shirt, figured that it would be a departure-time decision, and then forgot to pack the long-sleeve shirt I decided on. I asked about the expo and was pointed to the Niketown store across the street. Duh!

Niketown was also loud, crowded, and disorganized. But a very helpful young man showed me where the women’s shirts were and I was cooking with gas. Even though it would feel odd to race in a shirt that said, “NWM11,” I was set. I ended up finding another sporting good store just around the corner from my hotel and bought a plain shirt to run in so I didn’t have to wear the NWM11 shirt and feel weird on race day.

On race morning, I left the hotel at 0545 and walked in the darkness to Union Square. As I got closer to Union Square, other runners began to join me on the street and the energy level began to rise with the chatter of family members and runners.

At Union Square, it was electric. The big screen broadcast, the crowds, the music – great atmosphere. Except it was once again lacking signage or volunteers to help direct people. It took me forever to find the gear check station and when I finally reached the gear check, I walked into my worst nightmare. Being pinned in a crowd of people, unable to move, unable to see, unable to figure out what was going on…definitely a scary situation. And it turns out, it didn’t need to be that way. I finally got out by grabbing onto the shirt of a lady who was just pushing her way through the mass of people and thank goodness for that.

I checked my gear bag and walked into a nearby hotel to use the bathroom because I had no idea where the port-a-pottie lineup was and had no desire to fight my way back through the gear check scrum. The hotel employees were very kind – I was not the only runner taking advantage of proper toilets! – and I was soon back on the street, just in time for the starting ceremonies.

Start line at the 2011 Nike Women's Marathon

I checked my Garmin to make sure that it was set to go and then looked at the other wrist to check my Nike+ Sportband. That’s when I discovered that I had lost my Sportband in the gear check scrum. Boo, hiss. I wasn’t going to go back to look for it so I just settled in to wait for the start.

I felt great for the first 11 miles. I stopped to take pictures, tweeting and posting them to Facebook, and just generally enjoyed the energy of the crowd. Although the water stops were disorganized and poorly staffed, they served as a good walk break for me.

Alcatraz Island as seen from the 2nd H2O stop, NWM

When the half-marathoners split off from the marathoners, I suddenly found myself in a smaller group. I liked that I wasn’t having to run around Team-in-Training groups walking 4 or 5 across. I liked that it seemed quieter and calmer and I could concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. But that was also when I started questioning my decision to run the marathon!

Motivation for the hills

The remaining 14 miles were a long slog. The chocolate mile is a misnomer because it’s not a mile of chocolate, it’s just the point in the race where volunteers hand out squares of Ghiradelli chocolate. The Team-in-Training cheer teams were pretty demotivating if you weren’t a Team-in-Training member because they would cheer for Team-in-Training members and then go silent as non-Team-in-Training members passed. I realize that Team-in-Training runners and walkers “pay” for this motivation by raising money for leukemia research but it seems a little tacky for the cheer teams to just stop cheering for people who aren’t in the purple singlets.

I crossed the finish line – upright and smiling. I got my Tiffany box with my Tiffany finisher’s medal from the tuxedo’ed San Francisco Fire Department fireman, got my neon yellow Finisher t-shirt, and then moved on to get my finishing photo taken with a pair of SFFD firemen in tuxedos. I have to say these guys were good sports to put their arms around the waists of sweaty women!

NWM Finisher's Medal ~ Worth It!

Then it was on the bus back to Union Square and then the trek back to the Nob Hill Motor Inn. All in all, it was a good weekend. I was proud to finish even though it took forever. Would I run this race again? Now that I know what I’d be getting into, yes but I would prefer to actually train for the race this time.

Happy Running!