Race Report: 2019 San Diego Rock N’ Roll Half Marathon

It’s now been two weeks since my latest half marathon PR attempt, the time to soak it in has passed and get back to training! For me, this means “turn into a 5K junkie and call it a tempo run” for the next month. But first, RACE RECAP!

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2019 San Diego Rock N’ Roll Half Marathon: The Basics

Race Date/Time: Sunday June 2, 2019, 6:15a
Weather: 62°F, cloudy with a light breeze (aka perfection)
Course Type: Road
Elevation: Gain 2011 / Loss 2192 (a net loss, but some hills at the end make you humble)
Why I Chose This Race: Work Travel + SeaWheeze scheduling don’t jive this year 🙁

Outfit, Footwear & Accessories:


Hydration & Fuel Strategy

One goal I’ve yet to achieve is running a “hands free” half marathon. I want to be able to race strong without needing water above and beyond what’s offered on the course. It was a few degrees warmer in San Diego than it has been in Connecticut all spring, so while I fully ignored my handheld water bottle this season for all runs 8mi and under, I wasn’t ready to forgo the hydration pack without running that far that fast. I felt too good about my training to let an experiment ruin my PR potential.

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Lemon Curd Pancakes… UNICORN STYLE!

The day before, I carbed up with Lemon Curd Pancakes from Sugar & Scribe in La Jolla, and pizza for dinner. I’m drooling all over again looking back at this photo.

On race morning, I opted for Aeropress & Eggos, filled my Osprey Dyna 6 halfway as not to weigh me down, and shoved a packet of Honey Stinger Pink Lemonade Chews into the front pocket. My intention was to take one chew per mile beginning at the 10K mark.

Shout out to my friend Lindsay & her husband Willie for both dragging ass out of bed at 4am to brew me coffee and wish me luck before I headed out. <3


Pacing Plan & Mindset

I went out far too fast in both Vancouver and Hartford last fall. Having been more consistent with training this cycle and actually accomplishing a Fast Finish 11-miler and negative splits on a 5-mile tempo, I knew I had more in me this year. Instead of picking a goal finish time and calculating paces backwards, I mentally broke it down into seemingly attainable 5Ks and then did the math.

9:50 x3, 9:45 x3, 9:35 x4, 9:30 x2, 9:22 x1.1 = 2:06:08.

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Definitely laminated and scotch taped this around my wrist on race day.

*GULP*

The finish time seemed lofty given my then-PR of 2:09:42, but looking at the splits, I didn’t doubt I could push it in the latter miles of the race if I kept my composure for the first 10K. I tried not to say it out loud and hex myself in the week before the race, but I felt like there was no way in hell I WASN’T going to PR.

I felt that well-prepared, despite having trained for 12 weeks instead of the 17 and 18-week cycles from years past. I also found myself unusually under the weather not once, but twice in the last 3 months, so I missed a few miles here and there.

This race was BY FAR the most calm and collected I’ve ever found myself at a start line.


SHHHHH…

Want to know what else I did? I ran this race without headphones. ON PURPOSE.

Long ago, I used to ‘need’ them for every.single.run no matter how short or long. In the last couple of years, I’d set a little rule for myself that any outdoor run 6 miles and under didn’t need music. I felt that if I couldn’t keep myself from feeling desperate for a distraction, I ought to work on my mental game a bit more.

Halfway through this training cycle, I couldn’t decide on a playlist I liked as I headed out for an 11-miler. Instead, I queued up a podcast and set out. I didn’t make it out of the parking lot of my complex before I was like MEH I don’t want to listen to this either. I ripped the headphones out, jammed them into my vest pocket and continued on with my run. I ended up loving it, and spent the next 6 weeks without stressing over a music mojo. It felt freeing.

I was more attentive to my surroundings, more in tune to how I was physically feeling. I simply felt MORE in the zone without the extra noise. Go figure, I did an unexpected 180 on the very thing I always thought was so necessary to put me in said zone. I used to think that Joanna and her husband were nucking futs to show up at the SeaWheeze start line without so much as a phone. Now, I get it.

Nervous that I would be all bark and no bite on race day, I made a short 40-minute playlist and had my headphones tucked into a front pocket in case I folded like a napkin. Lo and behold, the thought didn’t cross my mind to stick them in once, even when I started questioning why the eff I race this distance in miles 12 and 13.


Pre-Race & Race Start Logistics

I admit it, I ponied up the $75 for pre-race VIP privileges. The race was a point to point in a city I really didn’t know much about, I was being a worrywart about parking, and it was a mile-plus uphill walk from the parking available near the finish to the start area. Shuttles were available to all runners for a very reasonable price for $6, which you could purchase in advance online or at the pre-race expo.

Given that my flights were half the cost of what Vancouver really is, there was no insane $1000+ shopping spree at a Showcase Store, and I was staying at one of my bff’s houses, this trip cost me significantly less than SeaWheeze normally does. Using that logic, I decided I could swing the extra few bucks for shorter lines, convenient parking, a special pre-race warmup area with breakfast, heaters, no lines at the porto’s, and specialized gear check.

I was in Corral 16, so I didn’t even bother walking over until after the first wave of Elites took to the course. The start line was a long lineup with very well-marked corrals and access points that gradually move forward as racers crossed the start.

5 minutes after the gun, I went to my assigned area and started to compare mine to the bib numbers on the people around me. Some had 15, 17, others were 8… 22. Ruh roh. Corral assignments are well-intentioned, but everyone seemed to want to run with their friends. I figured it would shake out after a mile.

After a few minutes in line and chatting with some runners next to me who said they were going to run/walk, I looked up and saw a RnR team member with a goal finish of 2:45 on a stick. In that moment I knew I had to get out and move on up. So, I exited the corral and walked alongside the outside of the fence past a few hundred more people to squeeze back in once I spotted a 2:15 on a stick.

From the race reviews I’d read in the past, waves were supposed to be let go every few minutes. As the crowd inched closer to the start line, I noticed everyone was moving steadily, albeit slowly.

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If you look closely, you can tell the crowd thins near the yellow safety vests about 100ft ahead of the actual start line. Look bottom left and say hi to yours truly in the purple.

As it turns out, the race start was a genius move by Rock & Roll to position bike rack so that runners were narrowed down to 3 chutes, in which one runner could exit at a time, about 100 feet ahead of the start line. Think of it like an hourglass. Everyone was able to get an unobstructed running start to the race, and not a single time throughout the entire course did I ever feel like I was on someone else’s heels, or they were on mine.

I can’t find the words to describe how elated I was in the moment I realized that the first mile of the race was NOT going to be a total clusterf*ck. The chutes helped me start the race off on my terms, without going however fast or slow the blob that surrounded me was going. EVERY RACE DIRECTOR NEEDS TO IMPLEMENT THIS START LINE STRATEGY.


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Mile by Mile

Mile 1: I was so worried about being swept up in some antsy crowd that I ended up a bit on the slow side for the first quarter-ish mile until I found my groove. Found that 9:50 and clocked in just under it. Chuckled at the guy with the “you’re almost there” sign about .4mi into the race. (Split: 9:45)

Note: It took me until just a couple weeks ago, but I started trying my tempo runs by following the lap pace estimation screen on my Garmin. For the race, I decided to keep my watch on the LAP screen instead of the overall timing screen. Overall shows you your pace in ‘real’ time and is much more volatile, and I wanted to really focus on running the mile I was in, without obsessing about my overall time. One mile at a time. It worked. I didn’t know what my finish time was going to be until I hit STOP while crossing the finish line.

Mile 2: There’s a hill somewhere soon. OH EW it looks like a wall of runners a half mile off into the distance. Grr. Maintain solid effort on the hills, but don’t blow up now. It’s too early for that. (Split: 9:49)

Mile 3: Feeling strong, feeling happy that it’s taking a significant amount of self control to stay up near 9:50 Not exactly succeeding. (Split: 9:39)

5K Split: Garmin 30:11 (9:42/mi)

Mile 4: Alright legs, you’re right on track. Keep doing this. Thank you to the man in the white outfit offering up Krispy Kremes, but I’m going to pass. Literally. I’ve read about the Mile 4.5 Bar, and as we ran by I was expecting a full business establishment. Nope, Mile 4.5 is an enthusiastic group of homeowners offering up tequila shots to those gutsy enough to partake at 7:00a on a Sunday morning. (Split: 9:38)

Mile 5: At this point, the course has flattened out and winds through the burbs. Holding steady, now aiming for my 9:45 pace and still coming in a little too far under. (Split: 9:29)

Mile 6: RnR has what they dub the Blue Mile, which there are no bands or cheer stations. It’s a silent mile of remembrance, lined by a ton of sandwich boards on either side of the course showing photos of soldiers killed in the line of duty. In imagining what if it was one of my friends in the military was on one of those boards, I started to get all emotional and choked up. At this point in the race, it was starting to feel more like a run than a jog, and I spent a quarter mile struggling to breathe. There were a couple audible gasps for air that had I heard them out of someone else, I’d have thought they were going down. (Split: 9:30)

Once I managed to get my emotions under control, it seemed like the official 10K timer was a little late on the course. The info fed to the online race tracker said I was at a 9:50-something, which I know wasn’t true. I tried to optimize tangents whenever I saw which direction the course was heading up ahead.

10K Split: Official 1:00:22 (9:42/mi) / Garmin – 59:52 (9:35/mi)

Mile 7-9: Okay, 9:35’s were fun when you were supposed to be running slower now than that. The wiggle room is gone, but I still feel okay. More taxed for sure, but still keeping my act together. At some point I forget what mile I’m even in because I’m in Energizer Bunny mode. It isn’t until Mile 8 that I realized that I FORGOT to start popping my energy gels. I was so in the zone, I didn’t even think about fueling up until I overheard another runner telling her friend to take a goo. (Splits: 9:32, 9:25, 9:34)

Mile 10: Uh oh. I mean, it’s cool that I just ran 9/13.1 miles feeling like a million dollars, but here’s when it goes into Balboa Park and gets interesting. At this point, I’m starting to worry if I made a critical mistake by forgetting to start refueling 4 miles ago. I know there’s a big drop into town late in the race, but at this point in the race I’m kind of not sure where it is. It’s starting to feel like Hartford all over again, but this time with foggy memories, gastrointestinal distress and chills. (Split: 9:47)

10mi Split: Official 1:36:52 (9:41/mi) / Garmin – 1:36:10 (9:37/mi)

Mile 11: There’s some sort of evil hill to go up that seems like it’s never going to stop. I put my head down, I bite my straw and muster every ounce of energy I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Forget pace at this point, just keep moving. (Split: 9:41)

Mile 12: FINALLY we hit the big downhill into town. A legitimate godsend. At this point in the race, mind and body are no longer connected and the finish line cannot come fast enough. The plan to pick it up to 9:30 for the last few miles? I stopped looking at the pace band miles ago. At this point, I was cursing each and every uphill around what felt like every corner. Mile 12 MVP goes to gravity for sending me down that big hill, it’s the only thing that helped me clock that mile under 10. (Split: 9:27)

Mile 13: I am HATING life at this point. New blisters made themselves known in mile 12, and the last 2 miles of this race felt longer than the first 9 combined. I know I was supposed to empty the tank here, but I did not have it in me. Every turn I made and didn’t see the finish line, I got more and more angry. (Split 9:38)

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Mile 13.1: With about 3 blocks to go, I finally saw the stupid finish line in the distance. I did what I could to pick up the pace to finish strong, but there was no spectacular Hartford sprint like last fall. My final .1mi was an 8:28/mi pace. Race face was UGLY.

Because I crossed the line about a half hour after the official race start, I didn’t know what my time was going to be, it was going to be a complete surprise when I hit STOP on my watch.

OFFICIAL FINISH: 2:06:41 (Pace: 9:40/mi)

Unofficial Garmin Ego Boost: 13.1mi in 2:05:44 (9:35/mi), 13.2mi in 2:06:46 (9:35/mi)

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Buh bye, old PR. I managed to shave a full 3:01 off of my previous half marathon best. I feel like it may have been a larger margin had I not screwed up my fueling plan, but the fact that I was able to keep all miles under 9:50 when feeling like hell… I call it a major win. Energy chew fail = lesson learned.

Did I spring for the $20 medal engraving because I was proud of my PR smash? Yes. Did I cry when I got home to the custom made signs Lindsay had put on the door to the house and my room? Also yes. I love this stuff.

4 comments

  1. Congrats on the PR Katy! So glad all the training paid off, and I’m sure the calm at the start helped too.

  2. Congrats on the big PR! I’ve had this one on my list for a while because it’s usually on my birthday weekend and I’ve heard great things. But this year, I just kept reading about all the hills.

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