Going into races it’s always tough to handle expectations. Heading into this race a month after a PR at RNRSJ, I was hoping for a repeat performance. With RNRSJ my first official sub 2 hour finish my legs seem to have realized that they can fly at 9 min. miles for an extended period of time. Bonus.

The other leg realization is that they can fly FASTER than 9 min. miles for an extended period for time. Since Oct. 2, I’ve been running sub 9 min. miles on my training runs. At first I thought it was just a result of being lower mileage (2-5 mile runs). But then I started building mileage back up for race prep. 8 miles at a 8:36 pace. Then an 11 mile run at 8:50 pace. So, of course my brain starts racing (pun totally intended): “How fast can I go at the US Half Marathon?”

Let’s find out!

The morning started with the typical rigamarole. Getting up early, packing my race supplies while the pup watches hoping to join me on a run. Sorry Mika, it’s just me this time.

Once I found parking near the start of the race (which can be difficult at any race, more specifically a race in SF), I made my way to the start. A few days before the race, I thought it would be a great idea to organize a meet-up at the start line. It was late notice, so I was hoping a few people would be able to wish each other luck pre-race.

I was able to meet Facebook friends Niko, Brian (and his brother Keith), Claudia and Ana. Also, my training buddy Leo and his fellow running-friend Brian. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to all organize for a pre-race photo, but it was great to meet everyone in “real life.” I came across another training friend Diana, at Mile 3, we ran together for few seconds and met up post-race as well.

As the race started, I planned on going out with a 8:30-9 minute pace. The elevation climb was going to be an issue at staying within that range, but I figured what slowed me down going “up,” I could make up going “down.”

It was extremely congested most of the course, but I tried not to expel too much energy weaving in and out early on. It typically thins out as the race goes along, so I was anticipating that. First three miles were right on pace: 8:55, 8:46, 8:48.

Mile 4 had an incline heading up to the Golden Gate Bridge, 9:52. Miles 5 and 6 fell victim to runner-congestion on the Bridge. Due to construction we were restricted to one side of the bridge (going up and back). This segment seemed to have slowed most people down and trying to pass people on a walkway that fit 3, maybe 4 across posed a challenge in passing runners. Miles 5 and 6, 9:57, 9:12. At this point I thought my hopes for a PR were shot. The bottlenecks along the bridge slowed most runners down to a walk, plus we were about to make a 400 foot climb on the Marin Headlands (photo from mile 7 above) side of the bridge. Mile 7, 10:19

As I was heading down the climb, I decided to give it more than my all on the way back and hope not to crash and burn at the finish. I knew I could cruise the remainder of the course and come in around 2:05+ comfortably. OR, I could haul ass and try to see if I could PR this bad boy. The downside to the latter was if I burned out before the end, my finish could end up closer to 2:10. Can you guess what option I went with?

Coming down the mountain, I was able to pick up some time that was quickly lost at a major bottleneck on the bridge. I was slowed to a walk, then to a standstill as runners were funneled into two single lanes (those coming across and those heading back). I could tell based on the faces of other runners, that this was a huge issue. Some tried to make the best of it… the race does not have control over construction, keep that in mind. Mile 8, 9:04.

After that, there were some downhill portions that I tried to quickly take advantage of. Mile 9, 8:35, back on pace. Mile 10 and 11, I kicked it into a gear that I haven’t seen in some time, 7:27, 8:01.

At this point, having home-field advantage, I knew exactly where I was and how far I had to go. Looking at my watch, I figured if I could keep sub-9 min miles, I had a chance. Doing math while running is always fun. “Okay, If I’m at 1 hour 36 minutes and have 2 miles to run at a pace of 9 minutes, carry the one, subtract the 5, x is equal to… look, a dog!”

Mile 12 was pretty solid, 8:26. Mile 13 had a minor climb (87 feet), quickly followed by a steep decline. The climb took a lot out of me mentally, but I was able to focus and nailed a 8:56. The final .1 miles, I knew I had the PR, it was just a matter of by how much.

I finished at 1:58:38, shaving almost a minute and a half off my RNRSJ time for a PR at the half distance.

Looking back, miles 4-7 is where my pace fell apart with the congestion and the incline. Coming off the mountain and back across the bridge, it was much easier to maneuver. Looking at my times, I was able to PR only because of miles 10 and 11. If my ideal pace was around 8:30, I shaved a minute off mile 10 (7:27) and 30 seconds off mile 11 (8:01) and that’s the minute and half I PR’d by. No other mile split was lower than 8:30 (mile 12 was 8:26, but ya).

After the race, I was able to connect with Claudia (left) and Ana who also ran strong races. This time, we were all about the photos (more to come)! I originally met Claudia a few years ago at this exact race.

I also met up with Niko again and snagged a post-race photo.

As more photos become available, I’ll be sure to share them. I’m sure there are some great ones since it turned out to be such a beautiful day. Thank you to everyone that wish us luck on facebook and twitter. You all rock and inspire!