Happy Hump-Day to you all!
We are having amazing weather caused by crippling drought here in California, and in the last week, I have traded spending time behind the computer working on this blog with enjoying every bit of sunshine and warmth outside. Although this has meant that I’ve been out and about camping and hiking (more on that later), I am super late in reporting back on the first 15k I ran over a week ago now!
On January 12th I ran the San Francisco Hot Chocolate 15k. This is the longest run I’ve done to date and I was super nervous about being able to finish. I have been training more consistently, but unfortunately, I got sidelined by an ongoing back injury a few times in November/December. Needless to say, I didn’t feel as well prepared as I had hoped to be.
There was no race-day packet pick-up, so the day before the race, my friend, who had signed up to run the race with me, and I took the opportunity to meet up for the day to pick up our packets, catch-up, and hang out. I met her at her house in the East Bay and we drove over the new span of the Bay Bridge (first time for me!) into San Francisco.
Packet pick-up was hosted at the Presidio Sports Basement, and was quick and efficient. The race packet was one of the better ones I’ve received. It included a nice fleece hoody, a re-usable drawstring bag/backpack, and no extra flyers/ads that always end up being thrown away and are a waste of paper.
There was a tiny (read: 3 booths) expo during packet pick-up which we didn’t really peruse.We did, however, spend a good 2 hours looking around the store. I came out with a new running hat (at 20% off!) and my friend purchased a few energy gels.
We woke up early on race day and we were on the road and over the bridge into the city at around 7:30 a.m. The start time for the 15k was 8:20 and we weren’t quite sure what to expect parking-wise. In the weeks leading up to the event there were a ton of emails from Ram Racing, the folks who put on the event, warning runners that there would be ABSOLUTELY no parking anywhere within Golden Gate Park or in the surrounding residential areas. There were shuttles available, with tickets costing $8/person, plus an additional cost for parking. My friend was a bit nervous about the whole parking and shuttle situation, which RAM Racing seemed to really be shoving down our throats, but having run the Bay to Breakers Footrace in the past, I assured my friend that we would likely be able to find street parking or park in a local lot for less $$ than it would cost to ride the shuttle.
We circled the park and found a lot a few blocks from the start line that was charging $11/day for parking. We pounced on the opportunity and parked with enough time to enjoy a leisurely stroll through the park to the start line. We made it to the start at around 8:10 and waited for the race to begin.
The race started near the San Francisco Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park.
Map courtesy of: Ram Racing
The race had a wave start, with each corral starting a few minute after the one before it. I was in the last corral because I anticipated running at a pretty slow pace, and it took about 20 minutes for my wave to cross the start line. Even though it made for an extra wait at the start, I always appreciate wave starts at larger races because it helps with the crowding that happens as you cross the start line.
The first leg of the course ran along the southern portion of Golden Gate Park on a slight downhill slope. Just past the 5k mark we came out of the park and turned onto the Great Highway, a road that parallels Ocean Beach on the Western edge of the City.
Up until turning onto the Great Highway, the course was nicely shaded by Oak, Bay, Eucalyptus, and other trees in Golden Gate Park. Running the almost 4 miles on the highway turned out to be the toughest portion of the course. The road was long and flat, and the sun had come out by the time I reached the 5k point. Running on open asphalt was hot and a little bit miserable. This was definitely my least favorite part of the course as we had to run down the highway about 2 miles and u-turn to run back the next 2 miles on the opposite side of the road. One of my biggest challenges when running is fighting the boredom. Running out and back on the same road was definitely not helping! There were bright spots to this section though, especially around mile 5 when I ran past the ocean dunes and saw crashing waves on the beach. I stopped for a minute to take in the scenery, recharge, and snap this shot…
Right after this quick stop, I hit the 10k mark and started hitting the wall. I wasn’t winded, but my legs were definitely getting tired, sore, and tight. I decided to start alternating running and walking and held a decent pace until I turned back into Golden Gate Park and a uphill portion right before mile 7.
As I started back into Golden Gate Park, I was getting more and more tired. Seeing a long hill in front of me right before mile 7 was discouraging and I contemplated walking up the hill. This was when things aligned perfectly to get me over that hill. I had been listening to 80’s Cardio Station on Pandora and right as I was getting ready to walk up the hill, Salt ‘n Peppa’s “Push It” played through my headphones and got me over that hump! Crazy and awesome how things like that happen. After making it up the hill (running at a snail’s pace), my legs really started to scream at me and my right calf felt tight and then started cramping.
I resumed alternating running and walking, hoping that I could get through the cramping and finish the race strong. As I passed mile 8, my pace had slowed down A LOT. Halfway to mile 9 my legs couldn’t keep running and I started walking. That mile between 8 and 9 was the longest of my entire life and it seemed like FOREVER passed by before I saw the mile 9 marker.
I passed the mile 9 marker and instantly my right calf started cramping badly. I did my best to keep going, and despite wanting to run across the finish line, I definitely couldn’t run at that point. The cramping got worse and worse and by the time I had the finish line in sight, both my calves were cramping and my toes were involuntarily curling under and cramping. I’ve never experienced this before and honestly, it was pretty scary. I stopped, took my shoes off and massaged my feet and toes out. I was able to keep walking and finally limped across the finish line.
My original goal had been to finish the run in 2 hours, but with my slow pace, walking, and cramping, I figured I had not made it within the 2 hours. I found out later that I did manage to finish the race in 2:08 (just a bit past my original goal)
At the finish line there were volunteers handing out bottles of water and cups of gatorade (which I quickly downed, hoping that this would help with my cramping legs). I walked past the finish line area and under a bridge and quickly found my friend who had finished about a half-hour before me (Go Tammie!!). Instead of handing out finishers medals, the finisher’s prize was a souvenir mug filled with a cup of hot chocolate (duh!), chocolate fondue, and treats to dip into the chocolate. The surge of sugar was a welcome treat after having run and walked 9 miles.
All in all, I had a great race experience running my longest run to-date. Although I was tired and my legs rebelled against me, I had a great time and am looking forward to the next race!