Ever had one of these dreams where you’re trying to run, but no matter how hard you drive those legs and arms, you’re barely moving?
That was me on the final stretch of the 2016 San Jose Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon. Trying my best to outrun what I later found out were 19 seconds.
And so I will give you the spoiler right here and tell you that I finished San Jose RnR with an official time of 1:40:18. My goal had been to run my first sub-1:40 half marathon. My “dream” goal had been to run 1:37:XX, which at the time of signing up for this race — immediately after I ran 1:40:09 at the Hellyer Half six months earlier — I had thought possible.
Not every race goes your way, however, and this one didn’t go mine. It wasn’t the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
So now I have an opportunity to take stock of what happened. What went wrong and how can I fix it — and what went right and how can I improve it further?
First things first: if you stumbled on here looking for more info about the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose half marathon, you can find a more detailed course description and photos here. This year, I could barely hang onto my goal pace and the last thing on my mind was taking the phone out of my skirt pocket to take pics.
There are three main things to know about SJ RnR:
- It is flat. The total elevation gain my Strava registered for this course was 138 feet, although honestly, I doubt running under a freeway and back up the road amounts to that much. (Is “freeway underpass” a word? Can I call it that?)
Thanks to its flat profile and what I can imagine is a generous purse, the race attracts amazing professional and elite runners every year. Meb Keflezighi ran it in 2015, and this year, Sara Hall was among the professional women. (She finished second.) The course has a few out-and-back sections, and it’s always cool to get a glimpse of the elites flying!
- It is big. This year, there were nearly 11,000 half marathon and 10K finishers combined — and runners in both distances start together. I was in Corral 2 and when we looped back by the start around mile 5, people were still starting.
If you can’t make it to the start on time and end up in one of the later corrals, your race would likely involve a lot of zig-zagging.
- It can get hot. Indian Summers are no joke in Silicon Valley and when Octobers get hot, San Jose is usually where it’s hottest. Every time I’ve run this race, it’s been at least 80 degrees at the 8 a.m. start. Dress accordingly.
This year, the forecast called for cooler weather, but alas: it was nothing like a chilly, foggy or overcast morning in Santa Cruz or San Francisco. I was still too warm for comfort!
The Expo is just like all other Rock ‘n’ Roll event expos: big, crowded. I decided to get there right as it opened on Friday, to hopefully avoid the crowds. It turns out that hundreds of others had the same idea. Traffic going into the parking garage was nuts, the lines for bib pickup were already long. A “quick in-and-out” turned into a full hour – and I still consider this quite expedient
As it happened, I returned early Saturday morning to get my ankle Rock Taped and the crowds were much better. So, for planning purposes: if you can get to the Expo right as it opens on Saturday, do that.
It’s always fun to see San Jose transform into a city of runners on race morning. As this one starts relatively late – 8 a.m. is practically noon in runner speak! – I “slept in” until 6, got ready and got to the start area shortly after 7 a.m.
I had literally shoved some oatmeal down my throat before I got out of the car, so breakfast was taken care of — but water, that was another question. I was so. thirsty. Lucky for me, one of the moms in our local MRTT chapter (San Jose Moms Run This Town – join us if you live here!) had an extra bottle of water. I swear, those 8 ounces tasted like liquid gold spiked with pure ambrosia and blessed unicorn tears. Totally saved me.
- Lesson #1: Hydrate well the whole week leading up to a race.
- Lesson #2: Hydrate particularly well if you are planning on going to a birthday party the night before the race.
- Lesson #3: Beer does not count.
At the start, I met up with my training buddy Joe. Joe is a much faster and stronger runner than me, but he has a li’l problem with pacing. Namely, he tends to blow out the gate at a 6-something minute/ mile pace – which is sustainable for a few miles, but not over the course of a half marathon. (Not this year, anyway! One day soon, I’m sure.)
So Joe and I worked together: our pace was in the 7:30s (or so we thought). I was holding him back while trying to keep up with him. Ha.
By mile 4, the pace felt harder than it should have and by mile 6, I was starting to deal with side stitches. They say those are a result of dehydration, so I kept drinking water – a cup at every single aid station.
By mile 8 – as tends to happen to me during San Jose RnR – I was hating everything about this race, this course, this city, this running thing — just, everything. We were still running in the 7:30-something range, but I noticed that my Garmin was ticking off the miles sooner than the mile markers.
By mile 9, Joe could no longer hang back with me and took off like a torpedo. So effortless. Jeez.
I kept thudding on. My legs were heavy, my lungs were burning, stupid stitches. I yet again regretted signing up for that race and carried on…
As we made the right turn on Almaden Blvd, I looked at my watch and I saw it tick off 1:39. And I thought, maybe I’ve got this – maybe I’ll finish in 1:39:59. Maybe… And then I looked ahead and, I swear, every year I think the finish line is straight ahead on Almaden Blvd, but it isn’t. You take one more turn, left, on Park Avenue, and that is when you see the finish line. It is so close, yet so far away.
I pushed my legs as hard as I could in one never-ending long stride that made my lungs explode, and I crossed under the finish arch with an official time of 1:40:18.
Maybe if I had started that final kick a little earlier, I would have made it under 1:40. Maybe I could have pushed myself a little bit harder throughout. Maybe I would have, if my Garmin wasn’t slightly ahead with the miles (a pace in the 7:30s should get me across in 1:39:XX, and that’s what I was seeing on my watch). Maybe I should have at least tried to get a bigger cushion. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that beer the night before.
There is always a “coulda, woulda, shoulda” and lots of maybe’s after a race — but more often than not, those are excuses. The truth is, I did the best I could with what I had in me on that day. All my training leading up to this race was geared towards long distance triathlon or the marathon distance. My tempo runs and long runs in the weeks leading up to SJ RnR were all indicative of running a pace in the 7:40s — and only with luck and a very, very good day, in the 7:30s.
The way I see it, the 1:3X:XX half marathon is so, so close. I just have to work for some more. A goal for another day!