Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Race Report: AFC Half Marathon 2011

ORN: 13.1 miles, 1:54:47, 8:46/mile

The Quick Summary

Wow, what a fun weekend in San Diego! We had huge fun running America's Finest City Half Marathon, and even more fun with family. On a perfect day to run, I had my quickest HM time in three years.

The Gory (and Pictorial) Details

A trip to San Diego from Indiana for a long weekend means a lot of early mornings. I was out the door at 4am on Friday morning and, despite a flight cancellation causing me to fly from Indy to Houston to Denver to San Diego, I got there just a little after lunch. My sister picked me up and we got to visit a wonderful agency where she volunteers in San Diego, The Tomorrow Project, which gives many job skills to underpriveleged women. It was terrific to see how my big sis was contributing in her retirement.

Her oldest son, John, is technically my nephew but we are way more like brothers. He picked me up late afternoon and we headed to the expo to get our bibs. Walking in, a strange, impish idea hit me. I asked someone "Just where are the bibs for the elite runners?" She pointed, we walked over and I explained to the volunteer that I was hoping to just stand there, that this was as close as I'd ever be to elite status. She grinned and said, "Shoot, why don't you just hold one?"

"Elite" runners?

And so we did! It seems the #2 had already been picked up, but #1 and #3 seemed just fine for us!! We got photographic proof of our brief touch with world-class status.

From there, John, a two-time veteran of the AFC HM, drove me over the last half of the race. This proved very useful on race day, as the course gradually climbed in the 11th mile, then found a long steep up-hill grind over the last two miles.

We then headed to enjoy an evening of Major League Baseball. We went to Petco Park to watch the titanic struggle between the Florida Marlins and San Diego Padres. Since both teams were at the bottom of the National League East and West, it seemed only logical to wear a Cubs jersey to represent the bottom of the National League Central.


Thanks for StubHub, we got terrific deals on seats just 6 rows from the field right at third base. We were so close to the field, we could analyze whether the container in the right hip pocket of third-base umpire Tony Randazzo was a tin of snuff or a small package of sunflower seeds. (During the middle of the 5th, we confirmed it was the seeds, fortunately). John and I love baseball and we were able to get so close and analyze all the ins and outs of a tight, 4-3 Padre win. It was probably the most enjoyable major league game I've ever attended.

Saturday was a relaxing day with my sister and brother-in-law, capped off with a great pasta dinner and long conversation with John and his wife. We hit the hay early because Sunday was going to be a long day.

And so it was. The alarm went off at 3:30am, John and I headed to Balboa Park just before 4 and were on one of the 106 bus loads of runners hauled from the finish line to the start point at Point Loma at 4:40am. At the Point by 5am, we had two hours before the 7am start. And this time was sweet. It was dark and we found a quiet spot overlooking San Diego Bay. The cool quiet was a terrifically pleasant experience. As the sun rose, the marine layer kept the temps right at 60F for the entire 2 hours of the race...perfect running weather. At the right time, we did a short warm up run, and walked to the start grid, positioning ourselves about a third of the way back from the front. Despite our very ordinary four-digit numbers, we were ready to go.

At the start

The race started on time, we crossed the finish line two minutes after the gun sounded and the race was on. John and I wanted to run the race fairly hard, so had decided to try to hold to 8:40 miles, run together through mile 10 and then see how we felt for the final uphill climb. The first two miles were rolling, then we had a nearly two mile run downhill. The course then flattened out and we settled into a rhythm. We hit the 10K mat together in 52:41, a pace of 8:30, feeling good. With the early downhill, we were pleased with this pace.

The 10K mat

We turned onto Harbor Island and ran the "T" section of the course, emerging at mile 8. We shared some M&Ms, stayed hydrated and kept moving. It was terrific.

At about this time, far ahead us, a 23 year-old Kenyan, Weldon Kirui, won the race in a blistering 1:03:18. Why was he so fast? Take a close look at his bib number:

The Winner #3

Yes, he wore Bib #3. If you zoom in on the original photograph, you can actually see John's fingerprints still on the corners of the bib. The inspiration was unquestionably the difference on race day. John is truly linked to running greatness, yet, in humility, did not want to detract from Mr. Kiruri's moment in the sun and so hung back in the pack.

Meanwhile, back on the course, we kept rolling along. Just before the 10 mile marker, though, I noticed John was rolling better than I was. We chatted about it and I sent him on his way with an encouraging fist bump. I watched him pull away steadily, looking strong. He kept a very strong pace, motoring up the two hilly miles in 8:13 and 8:11!

John finishing

John finished in 1:51:07. Breaking that down, from the 10K mat to the finish, he ran at an 8:29 pace. Wow...8:30/mile for first 10K of the race which had a big downhill, then 8:29 for the final 6.9 miles with a 2 mile grind uphill. That's an awesome finish and great pacing.

After John moved ahead, I hit one of those half-mile or so patches where I had to re-calibrate and reorient, both in mind and body. That seemed to help and then the hills began. The same two miles mentioned above took me 9:55 and 9:40, respectively. Such is the advantage John has by being able to train regularly on hills while I live in a remarkably flat area. That hill was just plain tough but I did run it without walking.

One of the most amazing experiences of this race for me occurred at the top of the hill, as we turned off the climb and onto the mostly flat final half mile in Balboa Park. I suddenly felt like I was accelerating...it's hard to explain but it was almost like coming out of a slingshot. I looked at my Garmin and saw a pace of 7:45 and it felt fine.

Joe near finish

I pushed hard to the finish, hitting the line at 1:54:47. I had wanted to go under 1:55 and had 13 seconds to spare. My pace after the 10K mat slowed to 9:00/mile but that's just the way it was on the hill.

John found me shortly after I crossed the finish line and we had a most wonderful time reliving the race. We hung out for 30 minutes or so, enjoying the entire atmosphere, even with our humble, four-digit bib numbers intact.


The rest of the day Sunday was more family. My sister, BIL and I joined John and his wife, daughters and boyfriends for supper on their new patio. What rich time together! It ended too quickly...up at 4am on Monday to catch a 6:30am flight home.

On reflection, the weekend was simply marvelous. It also says much. The baseball was perfect. The run was awesome. But, ultimately, baseball (like the Cubs) fades. Eventually I won't be able to run. Yet my family will always be there. And quality of the time with them eclipsed all the other terrific experiences of the weekend. Thanks, to all of you for your hospitality!

Persevere. Especially with your family.



Tammy said...

Awesome race! Love the perspective of an out-of-towner. I will be doing that in October!

Unknown said...

We loved having you here in San Diego with us, Joe. Great write-up about it all!!

cirita said...
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BikramYoginiRunner said...

Nice recap! I love the idea of holding the elite runner's bib. I should have thought @ that. I usually go to the starting line and grab the corral 1 sign but there was none, this time around. And how cool that the winner was wearing #3. Congratulations to both of you! This was my first AFC Half. My favorite out of the 3 races of the Triple Crown

Darrell said...

You two certainly executed that well. Congratulations. I hope you've adjusted to being back in IN.

Sarah said...

Sounds like a wonderful weekend all around!