San Diego Half Marathon RACE RECAP and a 4-min PR!

RACE RECAPI can’t believe the first half marathon of the year is already behind me.  What’s even more unbelievable incredible is achieving a PR four minutes faster than my last 8 years ago (in 2008)!  In January, during the second week of training, I had my heart set on a PR goal but lacked the confidence of it as achievable since I still had to put forth the work to improve my fitness level.  My training plan, nutrition, race day strategy and race day conditions (weather, race course) contributed to a successful outcome.  It’s the best feeling to accomplish what I worked hard for, and realize my fitness level had plenty of room for improvement.

Saturday night before I went to bed early around 8:30pm, I wrote down my 3 goals for race day, all of which are time-based.  To me, it’s key to focus on a specific time goal so I don’t completely give up if my primary goal becomes out of reach.

Believe journal Goal setting

Based on my tune-up races during the training period, I knew I had it in me to finish in 1:44 or even faster.  Both Mcmillan’s and Jack Daniel’s race predictor calculated between a 1:42 – 1:44 finish time after I input my time from the 10K and 15K races.  However, I had to be realistic and account for the unexpected.

Race morning was spring-forward Sunday, I was awake by 4:30am (slept my usual 7 hours except it was interrupted by my 2 yr old crying twice overnight which thankfully my husband took care of).  Checked the weather forecast to ensure I was dressed properly.  By start time it would be in the high 50s partly cloudy with light winds.  A friend who was running the race suggested I park by her place about a mile away from the start line.  It was a great idea as I avoided race traffic and parking issues plus the walk would be a good easy warm-up beforehand.  Also along the way, we decided to stop in a hotel bathroom instead of having to wait in line at the porta-potties which in hindsight was the best option as we arrived just in time to drop off our gear and get to wave 1.  As soon as we lined up, it was only a matter of minutes before the air horn sounded for the wave to start.


Downtown Gaslamp Quarter monument sign near the start/finish

Race Strategy
When I talked to my 5 year old daughter, Eyva about running a half marathon, she offered her advice as to how to approach it and in her words, she said: “First, you walk slowly, then a little run, then superfast to the finish!”  Exactly what I had in mind as I broke down the race into three legs, beginning (Start to 5mi – fast and flat), middle (5mi to top of the hill ~ incline started around 8mi and peaked at 10mi), and end (final 3 mostly downhill).

Beginning leg: The initial miles I focused on holding back, to stay within my planned pace, between 7:50-7:55/mi, the ‘slow walk’ as my daughter referred to it.  I was running at a comfortable pace, relaxed at about 85% MHR (160bpm).  It was a fairly quiet race, not too many spectators or entertainment along the course.  I did see my bestfriend around mile 2, screaming my name and I was happy to have a cheerleader out there for me.  Average pace for the first 5 mi was 7:48/mi.  (Slightly faster than planned pace but based on HR and effort, it felt just right so I rolled along with it).

Middle leg: As I approached the halfway point, one dude sprinted ahead of me screaming and yelling, ‘We’re halfway there, wooooohoooo!’  I thought a little too early to celebrate as we still had the hill to contend with in the next few miles.  The middle miles were the least scenic part of the course especially after mile 7 when we exited Liberty Station in Point Loma.  This is when I started to focus on the few runners ahead of me.  I spotted a guy from the track club whose name I didn’t know carrying a GoPro camera with him.  I’ve seen him during our Tues night workouts with his GoPro recording runners during the warm-up and part of the workout.  I sped up a little to catch up with him and greeted him with a “Way to go track club”.  He responded with “It’s the perfect weather to run”.  I think he increased his pace a little so I let him ahead of me until we reached the hill when I passed him and a bunch of other runners.  On the hill, I concentrated on my form as well as moving my arms quickly so my legs will follow.  I saw Jameson, the President of the track club less than 50m ahead of me and I knew if I stepped it up a bit, I can catch up with him.  And I did!  He was very encouraging as we passed mile 9, talked about how in 4 miles we would all be drinking beer.  I could see the top of that hill and had to surge forward to get up there as quickly as I could.  Mile 10 was my slowest at 8:23/mi.  However, my average pace during the middle miles turned out to be approximately 7:49/mi as I increased my pace from miles 6 to 8 (avg 7:42/mi) in anticipation of the slowdown on the hill.
Final leg:  Another 5K to go and it’s all downhill!  We ran passed Balboa Park where I spotted my bestfriend again cheering for me.  She was taking photos so I gave her the biggest smile as I felt awesome and knew I was on my way to a PR finish.

Waving at my bestfriend!

I looked at my watch when I realized I could finish in sub-1:40! Is it possible?  To me, the mile long stretch of a decline felt hard on my quads, as I paid attention to my form to avoid overstriding.  Yet I pushed through at my “superfast speed” with a 6:45/mi pace at mile 13 and sprinted towards the finish line at 6:36/mi. (Final 5K pace was 7:00/mi) I was so ecstatic to finish at a fast pace!

Not quite a sub-1:40, but a 4-min PR!

Fueling Plan:  2 hrs before race start, I had a bowl of oatmeal with banana and cinnamon (my usual pre-long run meal), with coffee and water.  I carried one GU – had half of it around mile 6 then the rest at mile 8.  I slowed down to a jog/walk at every water station with only two swigs of their electrolyte drink, Ultima (sorry not a fan but I probably should have tried it out before the race).  Fortunately, the GU was enough to power me through the finish.

What I liked the best about the San Diego Half Marathon race:

  • Quick bib and shirt pick-up and easy access location on Broadway Pier

With my girls at the expo

  • Start and Finish Line downtown
  • Scenic course through downtown, Harbor Island, Hillcrest area and a little of Balboa Park
  • Logistics – Gear check was located immediately after the finish line. I liked the water stations signs that indicated where the next water station is located (same for restrooms)
  • Military men and women handing out medals – thanks for your service!
  • Post-race goodies – I received a reusable shopping bag with a banana, pretzels, sample of Clif Bar and Lara Bar, and a bag of chocolate chip cookies (my girls loved!) Also, chocolate milk and water were available right after the finish line.

And what I liked least:

  • As I mentioned before, a very quiet race. More entertainment on the race course would have been nice – only one school band at Liberty Station around mile 7.  The spectators were sparse.  My friend who ran it each year since 2012 mentioned how there weren’t many people out to cheer – could have been the time change?…
  • It may just be my preference but the flavor of Ultima, hydration drink served, did not agree with my taste buds.
  • Less scenic middle miles with the climb up Washington St (7-10miles). I know it’s part of the challenge but that might be an ideal spot to have some form of entertainment.

Overall, it was a fantastic race and will consider running it again!

The road ahead:  Next half marathon race is Rock n Roll San Diego in June.  I planned to run Mountains to Beaches Half in Ojai, CA late May, but had to change plans due to a schedule conflict.  On a separate post I will discuss my 10-week training plan and goals as I try to figure out how to further improve my fitness to set another PR (sub-1:40?!)  The bar is set high so it will be quite a challenge.

What’s the likelihood of a sub-1:40 in 10weeks?  Any advice?