Friday, February 21, 2014

Zombie Runner San Francisco Half Marathon race review.

This was my first Zoom Event and I am impressed for sure. If you are not familiar, Zoom is an off shoot of Coastal Trail Runs. The difference between the two is in the degree of difficulty for the races. Zoom is more geared toward the beginners or at least those who don't want gnarly rock and root strewn hills that climb to the heavens and back. Flatter courses with more paved bike paths and wide fire roads are the type of trail runs you get with Zoom. This particular event is sponsored by Zombie Runner, a running store/ coffee house in Palo Alto that is quite well known for both it's coffee and it's trail running-centric retail. I have shopped there many times and love the knowledgeable staff and great gear selection. It is the only place I know of that sells Ulrarunning Magazine, has running DVD's and is staffed by legit runners, not just regular retail people. For that reason I will make the special trip down to Palo Alto to give this locally owned shop my business. I vote with my dollars!

Something went wrong with the organization of this race at the last minute. All of the participants got an email telling them that the race was moved ahead to 7:05am instead of 7:30am. Not a big deal. I was up at 5:15am, on the road by 6am and at the Presidio in San Francisco by 6:45am. I waited in line to get my race bib for about 10 minutes and then a quick pit stop and I was off to the starting line. The start was located about 100 yards from where we got our bib and as I walked and pinned my bib on I heard the announcements being made in the distance. I started to jog thinking I ought to hear what is being said. By the time I reached the starting line I jumped in the crowd just in time to start the race. I was in the lead for the first seven steps of this race! #WINNING

Zombie Runner San Francisco Course Map
The course starts out in Crissy Fields right down on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. In the center of the area is a small pond that you have to circle, twice I found out. I briefly looked at the course map a few days earlier when I was signing up for this race and the lower elevation gain of this route, only 1100' and the fact that I had not run a Zoom! event made my decision easy. I did not "study" the map or read the course description turn by turn. If I had done either I would have realized we were looping the pond twice but after going around the pond once and then expecting to head towards the Golden Gate Bridge I was thrown off by the crowd turning left to start another loop. I have seen (and followed on occasion) runners that were going the wrong way. I had no way to know if this 2nd loop was right or wrong so I settled in to my pace and said the truth will be known when my Suunto watch stops at the finish line. If it is way off by a half mile or more I will know that the extra loop was a mistake. The good news was that this first 3 miles or so was pancake flat and I was able to run sub 8 minute pace which was exactly what I wanted. My whole goal for this race was to see if I could do a half marathon in 2 hours if it wasn't flat like a road race. My speed and my hill climbing have been getting worse lately and I wanted to see just how bad it had gotten.

After the two loops we finally headed towards the Golden Gate bridge. The course makes a sharp left at the far end of Chrissy Fields just past the warming hut and you immediately begin to climb a set of wood and dirt stairs to get up to the bridge area. This is draining to say the least. Once you are at the top you have to zig zag around the bridge area a bit and finally run under the bridge and head off in the direction of Lands End (Cliff House Area). This is a long downhill section that will help you make up the lost time from climbing up to the bridge. It lasts for about a mile and a half until you run through some sand and then pop out in the Sea Cliff neighborhood. The deep sand is definitely something to keep in mind if you plan to run this course for time. I was astounded at how draining it was on my leg strength. I made a mental note of that section knowing I would be back for another pass through on my way back to the finish.

The Sea Cliff neighborhood is beautiful with it's large homes and finely manicured landscapes. It does not last very long before you turn back onto the Lands End Trail System and head for the aid station at the turn around point in the Lands End parking lot. This section is the busiest section in terms of tourists and hikers and you can expect to do a fair amount of dodging to miss someone's off leash dog or super happy 6 year old. It did not bother me a bit. In fact it added to the huge grin I had on my face for no particular reason. I was very conscious of the fact that I was running with a huge smile on my face saying hello to everyone passing by, happy as could be and without a definitive reason for this behavior. I guess that's what a good run can do to you. The other feature of note on this section of the course is the multiple sets of stairs you will have to climb and descend on your way out and back. One of the sets in particular is a monster. You hit the downhill side on the way out and on the way back you walk up this beast. You can try to run it but the energy expense might not be worth it!

Back through the Sea Cliff neighborhood, through the sand and past the WWII military battery's and back to the Golden Gate bridge. I was feeling it by now but I knew I could hold on for a fairly decent time. Once I hit the bridge I knew it was all downhill and flat from there. I opened up as best I could and flew back down from the bridge to Chrissy Fields. I must have been running around 7 minute pace which was incredible. I was just barely over the 9 minute average pace that I wanted to keep and I hoped this fast section would make up the difference and put me back into sub 2 hour contention. It did not and it drained me a little more than I could handle. Once I hit the flats in Chrissy Fields my pace slowed considerably. I knew it was only 2 miles to the finish and I fought with myself to keep from going slower and slower. Not long into this mental exercise I had two runners come right up on me. One guy pulled ahead on my right by a step and the other pulled up a few steps behind me. I did not want to be passed! I tried to increase my speed to get the edge over the guy on my right but every time I increased my effort he increased his and we just went faster and faster. I sensed that he could not keep this up for the entire distance so I gritted my teeth and just kept pushing. To my surprise the guy behind us started to make a move and he shot out to a 6 foot lead in front of both of us. I immediately tucked in just inches behind him and hung on at this pace that was far too aggressive for me. The other guy fell off a bit and it was just me and the new guy with a half mile to go. I stuck to the back of him like glue as my lungs and legs burned for oxygen. We made a sharp left turn and entered the final shoot. It was a 50 yard dash to the finish and I shot the corner wide and hard coming around my leader with ferocious speed. I poured every ounce of will into that sprint and crossed the finish line ahead of these guys by 1 second!!!

What a tremendous racing effort to cap off a really fun run. I did not make my 2 hour goal. I ended up finishing in 2:09:13. That was good enough for 75th place out of 209 finishers and once again I grabbed 5th in my age group. I was pleased with the results. I knew the sub 2 hour goal was kind of lofty and to even come close was satisfying.

 Next up for me will be the Badger Cove Half Marathon in March over in Livermore. I'll do a write up on that one as well since I have never run in Livermore before. Let's hope it's a good one.