Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Race Report: Santa Cruz Half Marathon & 10K

Santa Cruz Half Marathon & 10KI've been avoiding the 10K for a long, long time. Like 10 years.

Psychologically, I'm cool with the half marathon because, for all that it's a long race, you spend most of it running relatively slowly, and when you do finally push the pace near the end, you're physically limited in how fast you can actually make yourself run. Likewise, I don't worry too much about the 5K because, for all that it's a punishing pace the whole time, it's over in 20 minutes. The 10K, on the other hand, seemed to embody the worst of both worlds: though the pace is slower than a 5K, it's not all THAT much slower, and you have to keep it up for more than twice as long. After 10 years, I don't actually remember previous 10K's all that well, but my amygdala has done a pretty good job since then of convincing me that I don't really need to. And while you're at it, no new memories either, please.

The original plan for this year was to spend January and February in physical therapy getting healthy again and then set my sites back on breaking 1:40 in the half marathon this summer or fall. I was excited about this plan. I was less excited about the advice I got from a long-time running mentor: "If you want to improve your half marathon, spend a few months working on your 10K."

No. I was definitely not excited about this advice. At all. But I respected it enough to believe it. Besides, I figured, it's been 10 years; it's really time to find out what I can do at that distance.

So I registered for Santa Cruz in February. I was in physical therapy at the time but felt sure I'd be done and cleared for serious training again by March; that would leave me plenty of time to get in good enough shape for at least setting some kind of reasonable benchmark. Within a few weeks, though, my hip informed me that alternate plans had been made. Unfortunately, it was too late to change mine.

My physical therapists were displeased but tried to be good sports, which I appreciated. All-out training was out of the question, so I decided that ~60% of the mileage I would've planned otherwise was probably a good compromise. Basically, I replaced all the short, easy maintenance runs in my schedule with PT work and did 3-4 high-quality runs (a speed workout, a race-pace run, a long run, and a tempo run if I could manage it) each week. Better than nothing, I reasoned. Then, to top it all off, I was down with a back spasm pretty much all day Saturday the day before the race.

But damned if I didn't finish 9th in the women's division, 5th in my age / gender group, and beat my projected time by over two minutes. :)

Location: Santa Cruz, CA, near the Boardwalk

Date: Mid-April (Apr. 10, 2011 this year)

Price: Half - $45 by 10/25, $50 by 1/1, $65 by 4/3, $70 after. 10K - $35 by 10/25, $40 by 2/28, $55 by 4/3, $60 after.

Deadline: 4/9, assuming there are spots; there is no race day registration.

Sellout Factor: Not sure. I wouldn't be at all surprised if it sold out, but I never actually heard.

The Expo: No expo, which is just fine with me. Logistics SC Starting LineVery few complaints here. As long as you arrive early, parking is easy and potentially free. The big Boardwalk lot is maybe 100 yards from the start and you can park there for $10. If you're running the 10K or are speedy enough to finish the half marathon before 10 am (gun for the half is at 8 & the 10K is at 8:15), then you can park by an equally close meter for a lot less (just be sure to drop in coins by 10 am for however much longer you plan to stay). Once more: Parking is easy, as long as you arrive early. I was earlier than usual due to the fact that I was staying in Carmel and had to make close to an hour-long drive that morning to a place I'd never been, so I hit the road early. Since I had no trouble with directions or traffic, I ended up arriving at the Boardwalk around 6:30 in the morning. At that point, the entire lot and most meters were completely empty, and people were just starting to arrive. Basically, I had my pick of anywhere I wanted to park and had plenty of time to grab my bib and have a nice, leisurely warm up. By 7:30, though, the line to park was around two blocks. There was still plenty of space as far as I could tell; there were just so many people trying to get in and park that it was taking a long time. So I definitely heard from runners who had to leap out of the car and book it to the start (and one who did so 11 minutes after the half marathon gun). So yes; I definitely advise arriving on the early side, especially if you don't have a driver with you.

Race day pickup was free (awesome), port-o-johns were plentiful, and the post-race spread was varied and generous. The reasonably small size of the fields (about 2500 in the half & 1500 in the 10K) meant pre- & post-race wasn't an absolute mad house. No sweat check, but since it's an out-and-back course and parking was so close to the start, this wasn't really a problem. My only real complaint is the posting of results. At many races I've run, preliminary results have been physically posted as soon as there's a top three in each category, then reposted completed once everyone has finished. In Santa Cruz, I think they waited until every single, solitary runner had finished before they posted anything. I can't say I really enjoyed waiting twice as long to see my official time as it took me to run the race; otherwise I would've been on the road back to Carmel by 9:30.

The Course

SC Finish LineI can't speak for the half marathon course other than the first & last 1.55 miles it shared with the 10K. Other than one reasonably sized hill right at the beginning, my impression of the 10K course was that it was very close to flat most of the time. I think there was a very, very slight uphill grade on the way out and a comparable downhill grade on the way back, with a few very mild rolling hills on the coastal trail, but certainly nothing overly taxing. Most of the race is on paved road and trail, except for the last 20 yards or so to reach the finish line on the beach. (Initially, I was worried about this, but it really was a very, very short distance and the sand was packed down quite well.) And speaking of the beach & coastal trail, it really doesn't get much more scenic.


Front of ShirtDefinitely for the half marathon, this is one of the better deals I've seen out there if you're all about the schwag (and are planning far enough ahead that you get signed up early enough to take advantage of the lower prices). $45 for a gorgeous half, a hefty medal (free engraving if you want), and a pretty nice shirt (albeit cotton) is hard to beat! At that price, you can even afford to pay the $15 to upgrade to a technical shirt if you want. 10K finishers receive a shirt, which for this price is pretty much par for the course. As I've said before, Back of Shirtit's tough to get all THAT excited about a cotton race shirt, but this one was actually pretty nice & tasteful (read: not covered in ads). Also, although I wasn't quite speedy enough to get one, the overall & age/gender awards looked quite attractive. There's always next year, I suppose. ;)

Overall, this was just a really fun race and a beautiful course. The 10K was great, and I would LOVE to run the half marathon sometime. For the next few weeks, at least, it's time for me to throw my poor PTs a bone, put my feet up for a while, and let my hips and tibia really, truly heal. I am still determined to get my half marathon back under 1:40 this year, which means I need to be solid and healthy and ready for a long, hard summer of 10K work.

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