After going through 2 marathon training cycles with no improvement in time, I'm so happy my hard work paid off in San Diego at the half marathon distance. I went into this race knowing I wanted to give it my all, and I did just that.
I signed up for this race a long time ago because Peter talked me into it. I was pretty convinced I wouldn't be racing a half marathon for myself until after Boston 2017, but he got me to do this one. It ended up being a great coincidence that some of my sister Kate's friends would be racing in support of both her and their other friend Matty P and their battles against the same type of Hodgkins Lymphoma. My dad also got in on the fun and signed up shortly after coming back from Zion and the amnesia that makes you forget how difficult your last race was, so you sign up for another one.
The even bigger coincidence was that Kate would be doing her final round of chemo the Thursday before the race, so she would be coming to San Diego with us, but would likely be sleeping in the hotel room because the chemo would knock her on her ass. BUT! They did a scan after her last chemo treatment and her doctor confirmed she is officially cancer free, so she could forgo this last round of chemo! Yes. Yes. Yes. MY SISTER IS CANCER FREE. I cannot even explain how trying this time has been on my family, especially my parents. I am unable to explain how much the support and good thoughts that everyone in this community has sent our way during this time have meant. I will forever be grateful because it made us strong as a family, and it made Kate stronger to fight this battle. Now, she is cancer free, and running for her this one last time meant kicking ass the way she kicked cancer. I can't thank her enough for the motivation she has provided to me and that I could finally make her proud at this race.
My parents and Kate picked up Ricky and I on Saturday morning. We got a little bit of a late start and didn't leave until 10 after stopping at Dunkin Donuts (duh). The traffic wasn't too bad, but it did take us longer than usual. We checked into our hotel just before 1 pm. We were staying in a newer hotel that was next to the Amtrak station. It was conveniently 2 blocks south of Peter's hotel. He walked over to meet us and then we walked down to the expo at the convention center.
We met up with Kim and ran into Robert, our GRVL leader. The expo was huge. This was my first ever Rock N' Roll race and they didn't disappoint with the expo. There were tons of vendors and free goodies to grab. There were also a lot of people because the Rock N' Roll races are HUGE. Big races aren't really my thing, but if you like good expos, there's was top notch.
After spending an hour or so there, we all started getting hangry and Kate had to eat, so we stopped at the Marriott next to the convention center and had a late lunch. We had to eat dinner in 3 or 4 hours, so it wasn't ideal. After we made our way back to the hotel, we went to the pool and sat in the sun for an hour to chill. We got ready for dinner and met up with Peter again at this Italian spot in Little Italy. It happened to be prom night apparently, and this joint was so mom n' pop they told us it would be a while for the kitchen to catch up since they were so busy from the prom parties that just left. Luckily the food was good because we waited for a while.
After a long day, it was finally time to sleep. Kate's friends made purple shirts for all of us to wear during the race that said "#KateKicksCancer" and "MattypIsCancerFree" to support both of them. After I laid out all my gear it was time to sleep.
Our hotel was really close to the finish line, so Ricky, Mom, and Kate could walk there. The start line was about 4 miles away, so Ricky was nice enough to be the person who woke up at 4:30 to drop us off. The sky was heavily overcast, but the air was warm. Dad, Peter, and I made our way to the porto potties as soon as we got there. We ran into Kim after walking closer toward our corrals, about 45 minutes from the start. I needed to pee again, so we waited in line again. The lines were SOOOOO long. By 6:15, we were clearly not going to make it to the front in time (the race started at 6:30), so my dad scoped out a hill behind the porto potties where tons of runners were peeing behind bushes. Perfect.
Once that was over it was time to get in our corrals. Kim and I went into corral 2 and Peter and my dad made their way back to corral 6 after we said goodbye. I looked around for some of my other Pro Compression ambassadors who would be wearing the same socks as me, but couldn't see anyone. Kim and I wished each other luck and ended up going out with Corral 1.
My goal in the half marathon distance is to get a 1:30 and I loftily set that for myself for this race. That's a 6:52 pace. My last half marathon I raced was May 2015 in OC and I did 1:34:34 which was a 7:13 pace. I thought back to how hard that race was, just one week after my first marathon, but also how strong I felt. I was going into this race with only one speed workout and feeling a little sluggish, but I also knew I was an even stronger runner now. I also had Kate waiting at the finish line for me and I wanted to PR badly since I hadn't done so the entire time she's been sick.
I went out fast, but it felt easy - logging my first mile at 6:41. Finally around mile 3, the crowd really started to break up. There were a few small rolling hills the first few miles, but I was focusing on getting through mile 6. That's where I kept hearing the final hill was and it appeared that way based on the elevation chart. The course had lots of support which was nice. I really enjoy the spectators so much more now that I don't race with music.
Finally we got through mile 6, and all I could think was, that wasn't too bad. I had no idea what was coming for me. I tried not to continually look at my watch as this is distracting and ruins my form. I only checked after each mile went off. All were sub 7 and I was pretty convinced by mile 9 that a 1:30 was in sight. And then there were HILLS. Killer hills. I came around a corner just before mile 10 that led into a downhill with a huge uphill in site. I gassed out on mile 10 going up the hill pulling in a 7:08 mile. Now that I was over 7 minute pace, I just hoped that I had enough cushion from the last 9 sub-7 miles to make up for it.
Meb came along around mile 11, and he was just gliding along so easily. He really makes running look beautiful. I didn't think I would make it to sub 7 again, until we came up on mile 12 and there was a huge stretch of downhill leading to the underpass for the freeway. It must have been just over half a mile long. I took it as fast as I could and mile 12 came in at 6:54.
The remaining mile was a stretch of small uphills and downhills as we made our way through the city to the finish line. I usually keep my watch on lap mode, so I don't get distracted by overall time. I turned it back to the overall distance mode and saw that I was still under 1:30, but not far enough for what I had left. I turned the corner to what I thought might be the finish line just before hitting mile 13 and I was disheartened to find another small hill. I pushed hard but my legs were beat. I turned the final corner and it was downhill!!!!!!!! YAHHHH. I pushed hard. As I came into the shoot I heard my mom and Kate yell my name! It was amazing!!!! I gave a final kick and saw the clock was just over 1:32 when I crossed. I couldn't believe it. I remembered to shut my Garmin off right away so I could get my actual time - 1:31:42. O.M.G. So close, but so far from 1:30. I'm still so happy that I could get a solid PR and an official finish time of 1:31:36.
After I finished, Ricky found me. He took a few photos and then went back on the course to capture some pictures of everyone else who was coming in that we knew. I found my mom and Kate and waited to cheer everyone on. Kim came in shortly after me and she looked great! I found her at the finish line and brought her back over to the spot with my mom and Kate. Peter came in at 2:17 which is awesome! He's been fighting through injuries the last few months and was nervous for this race, so I was very happy for him to do so well!
All I could think about was my dad and how hard it was going to be for him to get through those hills. The hills in the Zion Half killed him because he wasn't ready for it. We had a bit of a misleading elevation chart for San Diego and I knew he was hurting. Eventually it was about 2:30 on the clock and my mom started to get worried about him. I knew he had some wiggle room because they were in a later corral. When 2:35 came and he wasn't there yet, we all started to worry. Finally, we saw him! He had his headphones in and he couldn't hear us yelling and screaming for him. I ran up to him just as he started down the shoot and ran into the finish with him. I could see how hurt he was. His left foot was numb and he needed to sit down, but I was so proud.
After the race we all met in the finish shoot. My dad was in so much pain, so he and my mom went right back to the hotel after we took some photos. Ricky and I went to the finish festival and got a few Suja juices, and Kate went to find her friends. After the festival, we went back to the hotel for what felt like the best hot shower ever because I'd gotten so cold waiting in my sweaty shirt and I didn't bring a jacket for after the race because it was so humid.
I really wanted to meet up with We Run Social at the Pro Compression after party, but Kim invited us to her hotel since she had a late checkout so we could relax by the pool. Kim is just amazing and since I rarely see her, I wanted to spend the time with her relaxing. It turned into a gorgeous sunny day around noon after the clouds lifted and we all got enough sun to poop us out on the drive home.
I could not be happier about this race. I got to spend the weekend with tons of awesome runners, friends and family. I PR'd. Kate is cancer free. That last part though - I can't think of anything better than that. My heart is full.