August 20, 2013

America's Finest City Half Marathon Race Recap ('13)

Yesterday I ran in my 20th half marathon, the America's Finest City Half Marathon (otherwise known as AFC).  This is the third half marathon in San Diego's Triple Crown Challenge:  if you complete the Carlsbad Half or Full Marathon in January, the La Jolla Half Marathon in April, and AFC in August, all in the same calendar year, you earn an extra medal at the end called the Triple Crown.  I had never Triple Crowned before, despite doing numerous half marathons in San Diego.  I first did AFC in 1999, but as that was my first half marathon ever, I didn't know there WAS a Triple Crown. Heck, I don't even know if the Triple Crown Challenge existed back then.  When I started running again 3 years ago, I had intended to Triple Crown in 2011.....but couldn't run La Jolla due to a family obligation.  I then intended to do the challenge in 2012, but couldn't do it for other reasons. I was determined that 2013 would be my year.

The trouble is, I'm injured. I have written extensively on this blog about the sciatic nerve pain I've been experiencing for the past year and nine months, but haven't updated that I finally have the reason: an MRI showed a herniated disc at L4/L5. I do need to write a post about this, but suffice it to say I haven't been running long distances lately.  I had decided about a month ago, when treatment for the herniated disc was still not working, not to do AFC.  I made the painful decision to downgrade to the adjunctive 5k race; it wouldn't qualify me for the Triple Crown medal, but at least I would be doing SOMETHING.  And, as of this past Friday morning, I had planned on doing just that---the 5k.

But I was unsettled.  I was sad....I really wanted to do this race. Not because I had paid for it----there have been several events recently that I couldn't do, due to injury, and I didn't care.  Not because it was one of my beloved half marathons---I have sold my Carlsbad Half Marathon bib twice in recent years, due to injury or travel plans, without a giving it a second thought.  And not because I love the race---while AFC is an okay course, it is far from my favorite. The truth was, I really wanted to do this race for two reasons. First, it would finally let me complete what I started with the Triple Crown.  And second, it would be my 20th half marathon...and this would bring me full circle. As I mentioned, AFC was my first-ever half marathon back in 1999...and the first half marathon I did when I returned to running after a years-long hiatus. I  have also volunteered at this race the past two years, handing out medals at the finish line in 2011 and handing out Triple Crown medals last year.  I wanted THIS race to be my 20th; it was poignant perhaps only to me, but it was poignant nonetheless.

So, what to do? I wanted to run it...but I was injured AND untrained.  I haven't run long since my disastrous half marathon at the end of April in La Jolla, where I cried in pain half the time.  Since then, I have only run up to 5k (3.1 miles).  But in talking to some friends, I made the decision, literally at the 11th hour at packet pickup Friday afternoon, to try the race using a run/walk method.  I did some research on the Jeff Galloway run/walk method, and decided to try it (it went great in training runs).  I would try to run for 2:30 minutes and then walk for 1 minute....and lower the running if necessary. I always take walk breaks anyway, but never prescribed at intervals and this seemed to help me in practice runs.  And I read on the race information (and actually confirmed this with a race director at the expo)  that that if a runner couldn't complete the race for whatever reason, a van would pick them up and take them to the finish.

Aside from the injury, I haven't run long in months!  But, I figured, I am still fit. I have still been biking and swimming and doing some running and doing pool running and the elliptical. I knew I had the fitness to actually complete it.

The way I looked at it, I had nothing to lose. If I didn't go at all, I wouldn't complete the Triple Crown.  If I did the 5k instead of the half marathon, I still wouldn't get my Triple Crown. If I tried the half marathon and had to DNF (did not finish) the race halfway through, I wouldn't get my Triple Crown, but I would have tried.  And best case, I would complete the darned thing as painlessly as possible.  The more I thought about it, the more convinced I was.  I saw three separate outcome possibilities, and honestly, I would have been okay with any of them:

1) Possible outcome #1:  I finish the race, slowly and using a strict run/walk ratio. I don't have any more pain than I would normally have (with the sciatic pain and normal half marathon pain). I finish in their time constraint (3 hours) and I am able to complete the race and Triple Crown.

2) Possible outcome #2:  I finish the race, slowly and using a strict run/walk ratio. I don't have any more pain than I would normally have (with the sciatic pain and normal half marathon pain). I don't finish in their time constaint, so I don't get either the AFC medal or the Triple Crown medal, but in my mind I am a finisher. I don't do these races for the actual medals anyway, I do them for the feeling of completion and accomplishment, so even without the bling I would be okay.

3) Possible outcome #3: I don't finish the race. I have too much pain and need to use the sag van to get me back to the finish, or I need to call my husband to come pick me up. I would be okay with this....quitting if it was too much for me would be a victory and at least I would have tried.

Once I made the decision to attempt the half marathon, I was at peace.  I got my stuff ready (it had been sooooo long since I'd pinned on a race bib!) and went to bed by 8:30.  I set my alarm clock for 4:00, hoping to be out the door by 4:30 (the one thing I don't like about this race is that runners MUST be bussed from the zoo in Balboa Park to the start line at Cabrillo National Monument.  The last bus leaves at 6:00, with a race start of 7:00, so to ensure that you get through all the traffic getting into the zoo you should leave very early). 

Of course, typical for me, I was up earlier than the alarm. I woke up at 3:30 and was out the door by 4:10.  I hit NO traffic getting into Balboa Park, found a parking spot close to the shuttles and was soon on the bus.  Once at Cabrillo National Monument, I had a few hours to wait. I was glad I had an extra warm throw-away sweatshirt to keep away the morning chill. I just relaxed, ate a Luna Bar and a Honey Stinger Waffle, used the facilities, found one of my friends, and watched the sun come up.  Finally it was time to line up and run!  One cool thing they announced was that earlier that day, 24 (I think) soldiers in Afghanistan also completed a half marathon, and would be receiving the same medals and t-shirts that we did. I thought that was awesome!

I started the 2:30 run/1:00 walk ratio from the very start. It was weird stopping to walk so soon, but I wanted to stick to my plan.  The first few miles carries out out of the National Monument, past the military cemetery.  The next few miles, through Point Loma, are always the best, as the residents there take to their lawns to spectate.  Here I saw this hilarious sign (referring to our sex-crazed San Diego mayor) and saw two little boys offering an "energy station", giving high-five slaps. I stopped and asked them for double energy, and was rewarded with a double high-five from each boy. 

The next few miles were uneventful. We left Point Loma and headed toward Harbor Drive. Amazingly, I was feeling good.  I had a little bit of pain, but frankly it was the same pain I feel all the time, whether I'm running or just sitting!  Whenever it might have not felt good, a walk break came on. I was really enjoying the 2:30/1:00 ratio.  The weather was perfect (and I mean PERFECT; we didn't see the sun the entire day and I never wore my sunglasses) and I had some gorgeous views of San Diego, the bay, and the Coronado Bridge in the distance.

Beautiful San Diego
Around mile 9, I started to have some pain. Not really the sciatic pain from my herniated disc; this was more the normal pain one would feel from running so far, untrained. My legs were not happy. Cardio-wise, I was fine (thank goodness for all the cross-training I do!) but my legs were grumpy. At mile 9 I downgraded my ratio to run 2:00/walk 1:00.  Soon, I was walking a bit more.  I was a tiny bit sad, since as of the 10k split I had been on pace to do about a 2:45 half (most of my half marathons average about 2:35) but I didn't really care---I wanted to keep my promise and not hurt myself.  So, at mile 10 I walked more and more, and actually I ended up walking most of the last 3 miles.

The last bit is always brutal---it's 1-2 miles uphill---but I took it nice and slow, not really even walking, more like strolling. I knew I would be ok on time, and I wanted to keep the pain to a minimum.  At mile 12, I started to really hurt all over, but at that point I knew I could easily walk the last mile to the finish line.  If I had felt that bad (mostly super all-over muscle rebellion) earlier in the race I probably would have called for the van to drive me to the finish line. But at mile 12? Of a 13 mile race? No way. So, I strolled it in, and ran the last .05 mile, crossing the finish line as I heard them announce my name. I finished in a tad over 3 hours, far from a horrible time considering how much walking I did, and still got both my AFC medal and my Triple Crown medal.

At the post-race festival, I couldn't find gear check (I had checked my throw-away sweatshirt).  I'm sure it was there somewhere, but I was so sore I didn't care and left it.  One logistic for anyone wishing to do this race: park at the zoo.  I parked across the street from the zoo, at the naval hospital.  This was good, in a way, since it's directly across the street from the finish area and I barely had to walk to my car. However, getting out is tough. I only spent about 20 minutes trying to exit the parking lot, but I heard others took over an hour.  The zoo, while a bit of a walk from the finish area, would have been a much easier exit.

All told, I am very happy I attempted this half marathon.  Even if I had had to quit, I would have been proud for trying and listening to my body. That I finished, and met my ultimate goal, while doing a lot of walking and listening to my body, was awesome.


  1. Love that you pushed for a goal (and I understand its poignancy) and were just as determined to be smart about it. I'm proud of you for heading to the start line and so happy for you for finishing.

    WOW - 20!!!

  2. Congrats on #20! I'm happy you did it! It's great that you considered every aspect of how it might pan out. Glad you were able to finish too! The run/walk method was a perfect way to go about it.

  3. The important thing is that you finished! BIG congrats!


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