Riley on the Run

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The San Francisco 1st Half Marathon

Since I moved to San Francisco a few years ago and got back into running, I've been interested in doing a half marathon that crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. It's one of my absolute favorite things in San Francisco, and I usually run across it for longer training runs. It even feels magical in the fog — it's like you're running through clouds! That desire to run the bridge led me to the San Francisco 1st Half Marathon.

My Dad, who comes out to San Francisco fairly regularly for races, flew out for this race (his first Bay Area half marathon!). We spent the day before the race hiking to the summit of Mt. Livermore on Angel Island (active but tiring enough to encourage us to go to bed early!). Since it was vacation time for him, we enjoyed some wine the night before the race (some very tasty 2014 Walt Blue Jay Pinot Noir), along with homemade spaghetti and turkey meatballs. I don't typically drink before a race, but I think my experience here may make me change my tune about that! After two glasses, I fell asleep super quickly, even though we turned in before it was even completely dark outside.

Thank goodness I fell asleep quickly, too! Since the SF 1st Half Marathon starts with the full marathon, it was an incredibly early morning! In order to eat breakfast (avocado toast with egg), drink coffee, get an Uber, and get to our corral in time (they closed the entrance to it at 5:32am), we had to wake up at 3:15am. With the early evening the night before, I actually didn't feel too bad. It felt like it was closer to 6am (still early...but I guess not as horrendously early?).

Regardless of the hour, I suited up in some of my tried-and-true favorites: Under Armour capris, Nike T-shirt (from the Nike Women's Half Marathon), Ray Bans (which I really didn't need, given the whole starting to run before the sun comes up/San Francisco fog thing) and Yurbuds headphones. I also wore a newer favorite, my Nike Flyknit Lunar shoes (which I recently found out have been discontinued, so I may or may not have purchased quite a few pairs of them in a panic). I also wore some cheap gloves and a cheap sweater since it was somewhat chilly out at the start.

At the start, Dad and I met up with my friends Kim and Brent, who were running the full marathon. Despite there being a ton of people doing the race, the start was incredibly well managed. There were tons of Porta-Potties, gear check was set up in a very straightforward fashion, and the corrals were well marked. It wasn't as cold as we were expecting (no wind, which is pretty amazing for San Francisco this time of year), so I ended up ditching my sweater pretty quickly. After an obligatory pre-race selfie, we parted ways and headed into our respective corrals.

I wasn't the only one with unnecessary sunglasses!

My corral started at 5:52, right as the sky was starting to lighten up a bit. I was a little nervous that the start would be too congested for decent running, but, surprisingly, the crowd thinned very quickly. I cruised right on down the Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf without having to do much people dodging at all. Still, even though the start was very flat, lots of people were already walking by the time we hit the first mile marker.

The Bay Bridge...aka that other San Francisco bridge.

The real first challenge, though, was Fort Mason. Since I've run a few races that have dealt with that particular hill, I knew it was coming and was mentally prepared for it. It's a pretty steep, somewhat narrow hill, so it's a bit of a bottleneck on the course. A lot of people opted to walk up, it seemed. However, after that, there was a brief downhill and then a nice, long, flat segment along Marina Blvd. into Crissy Field, my usual running spot. Had it not been foggy, it would've been one of the best parts of the course for views, but it wasn't in the cards for this race!

Still rocking the gloves.

At the end of Crissy Field, we hit the real challenge of the race: the ascent to the Golden Gate Bridge. I hadn't planned on running this particular part of the course (I call it my "strategic Gallo-walking" plan), so as soon as the road started sloping upwards, I switched to power walking. Once it flattened out a bit, I started running again and didn't stop until I was done with the Bridge. It was pretty cool getting to run on the lanes of the Bridge that are typically reserved for cars. The less cool part, though, was the metal grates on the road. Most of them were covered up by padding, but a few weren't. Each time my stride landed on the grates, I cringed a little bit, worried that I would land a little off and twist my ankle. Fortunately, that didn't happen, and I didn't see it happen to anyone else, either! 

The Bridge can feel pretty long, especially since it's a lot steeper than most people think just from looking at it. It was an out-and-back, though, so I distracted myself from the incline by looking for my friends and Dad in the crowds of people already looping back. I didn't end up spotting them, but I did see a few acquaintances. Regardless, the people-searching helped me meet my goal of making it through the whole Bridge segment without any walking breaks.

There was another steep uphill after getting off the Bridge, followed by a substantial downhill that led to my fastest mile of the race. I was feeling pretty good at this point, but as soon as we started going uphill again, that quickly changed. Right around mile 11, I hit a wall. Fortunately, it wasn't as bad as walls I've hit in previous races, so I was able to power through with some run-walking. Less fortunately, the remaining 2.1 miles were pretty hilly and not terribly scenic. After the excitement of running through all of San Francisco's famous attractions, running through a residential neighborhood on a grey day felt pretty lackluster. I was pacing under my goal (2:25), so I was just trying to stick to whatever I needed to do to hit that.

Once I hit Golden Gate Park, it got a lot easier to turn on the gas. Granted, I had very little left in the tank, but I managed to eek out a little bit. As the music of the finish area got closer, I surged a little bit. I ended up crossing the finish line just over my goal, at 2:25:26.

The finish area was a bit confusing, with race officials directing us down a cordoned off sidewalk for medals and space blankets. I was able to pick up my second medal (for finishing both this race and the Berkeley Half within a year of each other) right by the finish, too. Post-race food was in an entirely different (and entirely too small) area. I eventually met up with Dad (who finished well before me), snagged a banana and protein bar from the super congested food area, and we walked back to my house. I would've liked to get an Irish coffee from the food area, but the lines were outrageous.

Both Dad and I were feeling great after the race...which was perfect since we had plans to head to the Giants game in a few hours!

Two medals for me!

So what was the verdict on the San Francisco 1st Half Marathon? 

First, the pros. The course is spectacular. You get to see just about all of San Francisco's most famous sights. You get to run the freaking Golden Gate Bridge! The hills are tough, but considering that it's San Francisco, it really isn't that bad. Despite the number of people running, the organizers have done a great job of making sure the course never gets too crowded. The water/electrolyte stops were plentiful and generally well-staffed. The photos are free (always a plus...although there weren't many photographers)! The race shirt is a nice technical long sleeve T, and this year, they were even labeled with your race distance (in the past, they've just used "The San Francisco Marathon" moniker on all of them).

And the cons. The early start is rough. And I mean really rough. I was probably more nervous about how I'd feel waking up at 3:15am than I was about the fact that I was about to run 13.1 hilly miles. Transportation to the start was also challenging because of the early took a few tries on Uber and eventually Lyft before I was able to get a ride to pick me and my Dad up. The finish area was also a little overwhelmingly crowded, so I didn't get to enjoy much of the things there that I would've liked to check out.

Ultimately, the San Francisco 1st Half Marathon ended up being one of my favorite races I've ever run. I felt great physically for almost the entire race, and it was a truly enjoyable running experience all around. If you're coming to San Francisco from out of town to run a race, this is absolutely the one you want to pick. I've run a lot of great races here, but this was well executed, scenic, and challenging without being overwhelming. 

The bottom line: this is just a great race. Now, where do I sign up for next year?!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Bay to Breakers: A Quintessentially San Francisco Race

A few years ago, I moved to San Francisco on Bay to Breakers weekend. Every year since then, my dad has flown out from Indianapolis to join me the annual run/costume party/longest consecutively run footrace in the world. This year was no exception! We even dressed up in costumes this year.

In addition to my dad, though, a whole group of friends joined us as fellow Waldos. Or, rather, we joined them. The Where's Waldo? idea came from my friend Kim a few days before the race, and it ended up being a pretty fun costume. All along the race course, we had people run up to us, exclaiming "We found you!" There were also a few other scattered groups of Waldos, and it was fun running up behind them and saying hello.

Now, onto the race itself...

For those of you who have run Bay to Breakers before, you probably know that it isn't a race to run for a PR. The number of people who run it is massive, so unless you're in Corral A (which I believe you can only get in with a proven race result of a less than 7 minute mile pace) or the front of Corral B, you're going to be surrounded by a sea of people for the entire 7.5 miles. Yes, it thins out a bit as people drop off to join raceside parties or just get tired...but it doesn't thin out all that much at all. I started in Corral C this year, and we were dodging people left and right to the very end. On top of the amount of people, it's also a hilly course, with the famed Hayes St. Hill right in the middle of the action.

Approaching Hayes St. Hill

What you do run Bay to Breakers for is the atmosphere and the people. I don't think you will ever find happier people at a race than you will at Bay to Breakers. At the starting line, despite the fact that most people have been crammed into their corrals since 7am, there's music blaring, people dancing, and tortillas flying (apparently no one knows how it got started, but it's a thing). 

There's plenty to keep you entertained in the corrals, too, since people get so creative with their costumes. There's been someone running with a basketball goal on his back the last two years (new corral game: try to make your tortillas in the hoop). One of my personal favorites is the MarioKart group theme, complete with balloons to pop. This year, political figures seemed to be out in full force. You might see a group of old men in bathrooms and neon hats (FYI, that costume in the corral usually becomes just the hat when the race gets started, for those of you who may not be keen on running next to naked people). Once you get started and the crowd mixes up a bit, you start seeing more costumes, as well as those of the revelers along the course (yes, people really get up at 7am to put on costumes, cheer for runners, and drink).

Since my dad is considerably faster than me, I spent the majority of my race with my friends Kim, Brent, Heather, and Nick. We ran some (including all of Hayes St. Hill). We walked some. We stopped a few times and took photos. It was the first Bay to Breakers for all of them, so they had a lot to take in! At the finish line, we all linked arms and crossed the line together. After grabbing medals, water, and bananas, we split up. Kim and Brent are marathon training, so they kept running even more. Heather and Nick had to get back to their car. I had to find my dad and navigate the disaster that was trying to get an Uber ride home (it took a 20 minute walk, a few cancellation fees, and downloading the app on my dad's phone, but we eventually got home).

As far as races go, usually Bay to Breakers is pretty well run. It's no small feat to deal with that many runners, but they've had enough practice over the years that they seem to have it down to a science. I did notice a few hiccups this year, though. The water stops were not well staffed, leading to pretty massive backups at each one. At the electrolyte stations, they were completely out of product by the time we ran through (and we were averaging around an 11-minute mile pace, meaning there were a ton of people still behind us). My dad had splurged on the "VIP experience," which meant pre- and post-race hospitality, but they sold entirely too many of those. By the time I finished and made it there (again, 11-minute mile pace, so lots of people still to come), they had shut down all the promised massages due to no slots being available and they were out of most of the food. That said, the food they did have was quite good, and the fact that the bar had both wine (including sparkling!) and beer was a very nice touch.

Overall, Bay to Breakers is one of my favorite races, and it's a quintessentially San Francisco experience. I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a fun race. Don't come here expecting to break any records, but do make sure you pack a costume :)

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon

Hey there! Long time, no talk. I've gotten into a (relatively) steady rhythm of running and yoga and, when you throw in the fact that I started a new job in January, I just have been tired and haven't felt like I've had much interesting to write about. But I did run my fifth half marathon a few weeks ago, so I felt like that warranted a post.

So, without further ado, the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon!

Probably my favorite post-race picture I've ever taken!

I signed up for this race in late December when my friends Kim and Brent told me that they were going to run it. What I didn't think of at the time, though, was the fact that Super Bowl 50 volunteering was going to end up taking up the majority of my free time in January. So, my training got a bit derailed. But, having just PRed the Berkeley Half in November, I wasn't too worried. I knew I was in decent shape, and I was completely okay with having to walk if needed. I was essentially just looking at this race as a motivator for keeping in running shape through the winter. 

So, when I woke up at 6 a.m., I was probably in the highest spirits I've ever been on a race day. I knew what I was getting into (Berkeley and its killer hills were still very fresh in my mind), but I had zero expectations for myself. The weather was also cooperating incredibly after a few rainy, El Nino-soaked weeks — it was 60 degrees and sunny! 

I threw on my usual Nike tank top and some relatively new Oiselle crops, laced up my Newtons and drove off to the starting line with Kim and Brent. We ended up parking a little ways away from the start, so we got a nice warm up walk in before kicking things off.

All smiles at the starting line.

When the race started, it was a bit chaotic. There was a 5k going on at the same time and, for some reason, they decided to start everyone at once. They also didn't have any real corrals for timing. So, even though they politely asked people to line up by their target pace, people really didn't pay any attention. Despite being lined up with the 9-9:59 minute/mile pace group, there were a ton of walkers in front of me from the very beginning.

So, the combination of the crowd, my lack of training, generally laid-back approach to this race and the fact that it was still pretty brisk in the morning (I wore a hoodie for the first few miles) meant that I started out quite slowly. And I was completely okay with it. I watched the other people. I looked around for anything interesting on the side streets surrounding the race course. There were plenty of things to look at, so it made for an easy start to the race.

However, my ankles were pretty tight and not warming up very quickly. So, around mile 2, I realized it was going to be a long race and took my first (albeit very brief) walking break. For the first half of the race, I was running 3-4 songs and then walking for maybe half of 1 song (I always time myself with songs while I run). When we got to the Great Highway portion of the race, the course looped back on itself, so I distracted myself by looking for Kim, Brent and my friend Jane (who are all three way faster runners than myself).

Lovely views, but I'm super glad it wasn't windy! That sand would've been brutal.

This part of the course got a bit tedious because it was one long, flat road with no variation in scenery for about 5 miles. It was, however, around this point that I realized that my pacing was way better than I had expected. In fact, I was pacing well enough to get a time below 2:30 again! So, I picked it up a little and put some pressure on myself to run rather than walk.

When I turned into Golden Gate Park at the end, the slight incline felt particularly cruel after 10+ miles of flat and fast running. However, I knew the end was near and, at this point, nothing was going to get between me and another sub-2:30 half marathon. I cranked the tunes up loudly, switched to a super upbeat song, and pushed through the pain for the last two miles. I was so in the zone that I didn't even notice Kim and Brent cheering for me at the finish line! 

I ended up finishing in 02:27:15, which was far better than I expected! I guess this means that I need to up the ante for my next half marathon (which I've already signed up'll be in July!).

Post-race, I had some chocolate milk, a banana and a little acai bowl sample with Kim, Brent, and Jane. We chatted and mulled around for a bit, then made the trek back to the car and home. All in all, with the walking to and from the start and finish, my Apple Health tracker thing clocked nearly 20 miles of steps throughout the day! Needless to say, I was a bit sore the next day.

So, onto my critique of the race itself. First, the positives. The course was great! It was very flat and had plenty of good scenery. There were a few parts that got a bit tedious, though (namely Great Highway). Had it been cold and windy, that portion of the run would've also been brutal weather-wise. But, with the temperature warming up to 75 degrees over two and a half hours, it was perfect. It was everything I could've asked for in race day weather. The course was also well-marked and the volunteers were lovely.

My biggest problem with the race itself was probably the lack of electrolytes on course. There were only 3 electrolyte stops the entire race, I believe, and they were all stacked towards the end. As someone who pretty much always trains with electrolytes rather than water, that was tough! I forced myself to drink water after not stopping at the first few water breaks in anticipation of electrolytes ahead, and my stomach was none too happy about it. Unless I missed it, they also didn't offer any gels or Shot Blocks along the way. That wasn't a big deal for me (I don't train with them and don't use them in races), but I'm sure it would be for some people. I was also a little unhappy with the race shirt — it was a cotton long sleeve T shirt. I wouldn't have cared at all if it were a 5k or 10k, but I definitely expect a technical tee for a half marathon.

All things considered, it was a great race that I'll probably run again. My grievances with the course are ones that I can resolve myself (I'll just know to bring my own electrolytes along next year!), and, for only a $65 registration fee, I understand why it was a little low in the frills department.

Onto the next race!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Berkeley Half Marathon

Last weekend, I crossed the finish line on my fourth half marathon, the Berkeley Half Marathon. It was a challenging one!

Although my posts have been a bit infrequent lately, I've shared (mainly on Twitter) that I had a few mishaps in training on the road to my half marathon. Some old tendonitis issues flared up again, which meant two weeks away from running. I also took a last-minute vacation to Australia and New Zealand and, with my busy schedule while there, really didn't have time to do much running (although I did a ton of walking, so I stayed in decent shape). By the time half marathon day rolled around, I hadn't run in two weeks! My longest training run was only a little over 8 miles. So, I was a bit nervous about how it was going to go.

It had a relatively late start for a half marathon (8am), and the starting line was conveniently located about 10 minutes from my friend Laura's apartment where I was staying. It was a great way to start the morning (and a nice change from the usual frantic routine of waking up early and dealing with either public transit or parking issues). Once in my corral, I only had to wait about 15 minutes before the race got started. It was such a welcome change from my last half! The elites went off, then the super fast people...and then it was my turn.

The start was rough. Immediately, the course went uphill for about 2-3 miles. I took it very slow, which ended up being a pretty smart tactic. Once we got to the top of the hills, I was anticipating a pretty steady downhill — but I was wrong. The next 3-4 miles were rolling hills, with lots of ups and downs. Those were not terribly fun!

After what felt like forever, we got to the steady downhill that I had been looking forward to. As far as downhills go, it was perfect — not steep enough to be painful, but substantial enough to feel like a nice break and opportunity for speed. It was sadly all too short, though, and spit us out onto a frontage road along the San Francisco Bay. The views here were wonderful (as long as you looked out at the Bay and not at the traffic backed up on the highway to the other side), but other than that, it was a boring stretch. It was difficult to gauge how far you were going, and the road seemed to stretch on forever. The one redeeming factor was the fact that, since this particular part was an out-and-back loop, other runners were coming towards us and it was a fun distraction trying to find Laura in the mix of them all.

Just after mile 10, the flatness gave way to a gradual uphill and I hit a wall. Hard. Up until that point, I had been motoring through everything at a slower pace than I would have liked, but I was still on target to finish below 2:30, my goal. I gave myself a few 30 second walk breaks here, keeping an eye on my time to make sure I wasn't getting too behind. Every time I began running again, I felt so incredibly slow, but I knew it was almost over. I tried to ignore the hills and just pretend like I was running on flat land, but when that failed, I just cranked up my tunes and tried to drown out the pain (sorry, ears). 

When the finish line came into view, I could see the clock counting down in the distance — the time was 2:40.05. Knowing I had started 10 minutes after the first wave, that lit a fire in me to dig deep. Unfortunately, I had basically nothing left in my tank. Still, I managed to find a little bit and half-stumbled, half-sprinted to the finish line while seeing stars and feeling like I could pass out and/or puke at any moment.

My time? 2:29.36.

I FINALLY got past that two and a half hour mark!

In the finish area, I immediately beelined for the results tent to verify that I'd hit my goal (my MapMyRun race results were a bit different from the official ones) and called my family to share my excitement. After a banana and some water, I found Laura and we painfully made our way back to her apartment — the hills were tough on both of us!

So, my final verdict on the Berkeley Half — it was great! I'm already thinking about signing up for it again next year. Although it was very challenging, it was well-staffed, well-marked and had a really great, positive energy. There were a lot of people running, but it had the friendly feel of a small race. As far as pre- and post-race activities go, they were very well organized. Packet pick up was speedy and easy to access and, although I'm not a post-race beer drinker, it looked like there was a nice, festive beer garden that people were enjoying (runners got free beer, too). I really loved that they sent you your race photos for free, and the shirt was nice. Overall, I definitely recommend it to people looking for a half to tackle next year...but make sure you prep for the hills!!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Half Marathon #4 in the Books

Today, I finished my fourth half marathon! And, despite some setbacks in training, I set a new personal record of 2:29.36! I'll be writing up a race report before long, but for now, here's a photo of me and my friend Laura who talked me into signing up for it.

A little retrospective on my history with half marathons...last year, I finished the Nike Women's Half Marathon here in San Francisco. I ran it the day after a friend's wedding so, despite the fact that I was on my best behavior at the wedding and reception, I still didn't have quite the finish I was hoping for. I don't recall my exact time (and can't seem to pinpoint it anywhere on the internet), but I believe it was around 2:40. EDIT: Found the time! I know why I didn't post it online anywhere haha

In 2013, I ran a half marathon in Utah with my dad. It was pretty much all downhill, which was incredible. I also had really been kicking ass in training (and the fact that I lived at a higher elevation than the race was pretty idea). However, it wasn't the most well marked course in the world and I ended up going off course right near the end (despite being on pace for a sub-2:30 finish). I crossed the finish line in 2:32.40. All in all, a good race!

And, last but certainly not least, my first half marathon in St. George, Utah. My roommate at the time Debbie convinced me to sign up and make a weekend of it. It was freezing! I couldn't feel my feet for the first two miles of the race! I didn't really train for this particular race, but, again, I had elevation on my side (I was also's amazing what a few years do to your recovery time!!). I ended up finishing in 2:33.40.

So, cheers to half marathon #4 and finally getting over that 2:30 time...time to set a new goal and find another race to sign up for!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

One More for the Weekend

Having an extra weekend day is just amazing! Why can't we have three-day weekends every week?

After a weekend of a bit too much fun, I decided to start my Monday off on a healthy note — with a run! However, I underestimated just how much San Francisco's oddly hot weather at the moment would affect me. Although it was beautiful outside, I was painfully aware of how little shade there is along my usual loop. Normally, we have a nice breeze coming off of the Bay, as well, but it was on vacation this weekend. So, by the time MapMyRun hit three miles, I was beat and called it a run.

Better than nothing, right??

tank [similar] - shorts [exact] - shoes [exact] - sunglasses [exact]

I haven't run in shorts in quite awhile! I'm typically not a big fan because I find they ride up quickly, and then I'm left with chafed thighs. Since I was anticipating that, I very liberally applied Body Glide before heading out. It worked pretty well for a short run. This tank top is also nice (despite being black and a sun magnet) during warm weather because it's so light and wicks sweat away very nicely. I'm not a huge fan of its cut (the neckline is a bit high for my taste, and it gets slightly tight through the hips), but the material is spot on.

Hope you all enjoyed your long weekend! How did you kick off the new week?

Monday, September 7, 2015

Working Hard on Labor Day Weekend

While most of my friends were heading out of town this weekend for Labor Day, I opted to stay home. San Francisco's weather has been hot and sunny, and I wanted to enjoy the city while so many people were out of town! 

I had another motive, too, though. I haven't been running a ton lately (usually just 1-2 times a week), but I registered for a half marathon in November. So, I wanted to take advantage of a long weekend to sneak in two quality runs to get back to work on my running base. I did just that! 

t-shirt [similar] - pants [similar] - shoes [exact] - sunglasses [exact]

My first run of the weekend was 4.5 miles on Saturday. I hadn't run that far in awhile, and although I thought the weather seemed perfect for running before I headed out, I was definitely thinking differently mid-run. It was hot and sunny (my usual route has little shade, too!) and I made the unfortunate mistake of wearing head-to-toe black!

Despite my less than stellar color choices in clothing, everything went pretty well on the run itself. I was definitely feeling the pain there towards the end, but it wasn't enough for me to head straight home! Instead, I indulged in some post-cardio shopping (and snagged a Free People jacket on sale from one of my favorite local boutiques...looks like it's on HauteLook, too!). 

Later in the evening, I indulged yet again with a trip to one of my new favorite restaurants in San Francisco, Sessions at the Presidio. I had some friends visiting from out of town, so I took them there for an evening of locally sourced food and incredible cocktails. It was a lovely way to end the day!

How was your holiday weekend?