Nike Women's Half-Marathon, San Francisco, CA – August 18, 2009
So here are the stats: 1:36:07, 2nd in 40-44 AG, 9th male.
Yes, half of the 15,000 participants walked, but I issued a huge beat-down to all those people. Some, I beat by over 3 hours, which is no small feat in a half-marathon.
I lined up in the middle of the 6:00 to 7:30 pace group, about 500 people behind the start banner. I hoped I was far enough back that I wouldn't get trampled.
No worry there. Most of the folks ahead of me thought the 6:00 to 7:30 pace coral was for marathoners targeting a 6:00 to 7:30 finishing time.
At the gun, the fast folks sprinted away while the pack in front of me jogged or walked at a leisurely pace for the first quarter mile. The fast runners with the sense to start at the front disappeared into the distance. Those of us too stupid to line up at the front weaved in and out of the mass of people, desperately trying to maintain a reasonable pace.
I cleverly jumped onto the sidewalk and ran behind the spectators lining the curb while hurdling the homeless folks sleeping in the doorways.
Other than the inconvenience of steeplechasing the first mile, I was running effortlessly onto the Embarcadero and through Fisherman's Wharf, holding a 6:50 pace. I had broken out of the pack and was running nearly alone, with just a smattering of runners in sight.
I figured that I needed to run fast to the 10k mark, because from 10k to the finish the Nike Women's Half Marathon goes from flatish to ridiculously hilly. Nevertheless, I'm not exactly Edwin Moses and I was surprised by how few runners were nearby. Even the folks at the aid stations seemed surprised to see us.
At mile 4, I saw a really slow split that made me think perhaps the mile markers were not entirely accurate. They weren't. It didn't matter. I was running as fast as I could and I wasn't planning on making any strategic pacing decisions, other than to keep the 3 or 4 guys who were running near me in sight.
I hit the 10k point in 45:05, a good, but not great pace – right around 7:10's. I figured this put me about a minute ahead of last year's pace, but I knew I would have to suffer hard to better last year's 3rd place and to slice time off 2008's 1:38:50.
Not being a great uphill runner, I unhappily began the trudge up the first big hill near the Golden Gate Bridge. I wasn't sure where I was in the pecking order because of my unorthodox start, but wherever I was, I wasn't moving up at that point.
Is it just me, or does anyone else dream about dropping a few pounds of body fat when you're running uphill?
Fortunately, he who runs up, gets to run down. And I love downhill. I assume it has something to do with the type of muscles you build as a tennis player, but whatever the reason, I pass a lot of people on the downhills. And there's no bigger downhill in San Francisco than the mile and a half from the Veteran's Hospital at mile 9 past the Cliffhouse and down to the Great Highway just before mile 11.
I moved up 5 spots in that stretch. Of course, I gave 3 spots back on the uphill in Golden Gate Park to mile 12, but then took a spot back on the downhill to the finish, and headed into a crowded finish area with fans screaming, music blaring and photographers snapping shots like I was about to win the Olympic Gold Medal.
That's when I nearly bowled over Joan Benoit-Samuelson, who had finished a couple minutes earlier and was already giving an interview in the middle of the finishing line. Cool.
I graciously accepted my Tiffany necklace from an uncomfortable dude in a tux and collected my pretty finishing shirt. Having done this race every year since it's inception in 2004, I have come to accept this weirdness.
In the finishing area, it became pretty clear that I had finished near the top of the mens' division. There just weren't a lot of us around. In fact, the finishing area was almost empty. Dreams of being on a podium for the second straight year danced through my head.
Unfortunately, this is when I learned that I had missed out on 1st place in my Age Group by 15 seconds. And then to rub salt in the wound, it turned out that the good folks at Nike had implemented a rather restrictive new podium policy -- the "if you're not first, you're last" policy. 2nd in the Age Group was first loser. No plaque, no trophy, no 15% off at the Nike store – nothing. Well, unless you count a 3 minute PR, the joy of knowing you gave it all you had and a free bottle of Aquafina. Which, given the current recession isn't all bad, I suppose.