Sunday, June 28, 2015

Race Report: Sunnyvale 10-Miler

This race was just a nightmare, start to finish. A lot of it was my own fault (or, if not my fault, having to do with me and not with the race itself), and some of it was about this particular race, which I will not run again.

Because I'm paranoid about forgetting things, I packed my bag the night before & laid out everything I'd need, double checked that my watch was plugged in, etc. I got up at 6am, ate & got dressed, went through the checklist one more time in my head, & was out the door promptly at 6:40.

Demoralizing event #1 occurred around Menlo Park (so, like, halfway through the 40 mile trip) when I realized that while I had been so careful of charging my watch, I had not, in fact, put it on my wrist or in my bag before I left. Much cursing ensued. You'd think with three Garmins, I'd manage to get at least ONE of them in my bag on race morning.

Since there was literally nothing I could do about it, I tried to convince myself that this could be a good thing per my habit of going out too conservatively, that without numbers to rely on I would be forced to run by feel and thus perhaps push myself harder than I would otherwise. (I did not really believe this, but I had no other option so what else are you going to do.)

I arrived at Baylands Park a little before 7:30, parked right by the start with no problem, and had my bib and shirt in minutes. (There were not many race staff, and most of them were wearing bibs, which made me wonder if they were hurting for volunteers.) Temperature-wise, it was unsettlingly comfortable, which in my experience almost guarantees an uncomfortably hot race, but it was also overcast with a slight breeze, so I allowed myself to feel optimistic.

I decided to jog down the course to warm up, which was when demoralizing event #2 occurred: after a half a mile on dirt & a short stint on pavement, you arrived onto the trail that the course followed five miles out and five miles back, and it appeared to be all gravel.

Actually, it was gravel with two car tire grooves, effectively turning the whole thing into a kind of "double track," where the two narrow runnable strips were uneven packed dirt with rocks sticking out and, oh yeah, a dusting of gravel.

I almost got back in my car right then.


How I should have been like

Seriously; no idea why I didn't just pack up & go.

Around 7:40 I got in line for the port-a-potties, of which there were two. (Realistically they probably should have had maybe 3-4, but it was a small race so this wasn't too awful.) I get to the front and the woman in front of me comes out of the port-a-potty & hands me a wad of toilet paper and all I can do is stare at her like, "You guys do toilet paper differently here in Sunnyvale, I guess."

"There's no more toilet paper," she told me. "This is the last of it."

"You're shitting me," I spout before I have time to realize that that particular phrase was perhaps in poor taste.

However, in addition to being a Woman of Action, I am also a Woman of Planning and of Avoiding Awkward and Uncomfortable Situations.

"I have some in my car," I tell her, except she really doesn't care at this point. I didn't want to abandon my spot at the front to go get it (although I'm not sure how much progress the line would have made without my assistance, given the situation), so I made due with the wad she'd given me and when I emerged told the line to sit tight. Much cheering ensued upon my return. If there is one thing that will make a crowd of strangers spontaneously applaud for you, it is providing them with toilet paper 15 minutes before a race.

I did a little more jogging but to be honest was still toying with the idea of skipping out entirely as I just did not see how this was possibly going to end well. Sadly my optimistic side got the better of me and at 8:00 I found myself standing at the start.

Having no Garmin, I tried to look around me for people who looked like they might be shooting for more or less my pace. Generally I am against judging people in this way at a race because you never really know for sure, but I needed all the help I could get. Near the front were two groups of ladies, one that looked more like those I tend to run a good bit faster than and one group that looked a little faster. There were no super-svelte-looking Thoroughbreds of the type that I generally know I have no hope of keeping up with, so I figured it was not the worst plan to at least try to keep that group in my sights & see how their pace felt. The clock hit 8:05 & off we went.

Demoralizing event #3 happened over the course of mile 1. I'd felt reasonably good warming up, but now suddenly my legs felt like lead and my stomach felt like I was about to be sick. I stuck with the faster-looking women for a while but eventually realized that it was incredibly unlikely I'd be able to keep up that pace (whatever it was) for 10 miles, so eventually I eased up just a bit but tried to at least keep them in my sites. Then we hit the gravel and in addition to feeling nauseous & quite uncomfortable in the feet/lower legs, I suddenly also felt like I was slogging through molasses. (Basically, I felt like I was unable to use my glutes for the entirety of the race because of the gravel; it was just too hard to push off & backwards without slipping.)

Demoralizing event #4 was when I remembered that this was actually two races, a 10-miler & a 5K, and since they both started at the same time, you had no idea who was running which race. Sure enough all but three of the fast-ish ladies I had been trying to pace with headed back at the 5K turnaround. I have no one to blame for this but myself, but if I'd at least remembered it, I might have been slightly less panicked and more reasonable in my pacing in that first mile.

Again, I almost quit right there. What even was the point of this? I knew I wasn't going to run well and that I was pretty much guaranteed eight and half more miles of utter misery. Well, you should at least finish so you get your 10-miler series medal, said a part of my brain, and although I've never really cared much about medals, for some reason at that moment it was convincing. Like, "Hey, I will have driven 80 miles today to even come to this stupid race, I should at least get *something* out of it!" So I figured, whatever, I'll just slow down & run it comfortably & try not to kill myself on all the rocks.

Only at that point I was already in race mode, which is nigh impossible to turn off barring utter catastrophe. So I just kind of resigned myself to trying to run right at the edge of what I thought I was capable of effort-wise, and whatever happened would happen.

In mile two-ish, I could hear two women behind me, maybe 15-20 feet back. They were chatting happily so I had a sense of where they were, and based on our relative positions (judging from how well I could hear their conversation), we seemed to be going about the same pace (though they seemed comfortable & I pretty much felt like I was dying). These two ladies became the one tiny bright spot in this race, because apparently only one of them was wearing a watch & the other would occasionally ask her for pace updates. The first time she asked was maybe around mile 3, & the woman with the watch told her, "We're running about 7:25 right now." As much as I wanted to not care at this point, I can't deny that I was a little relieved because that was even a touch faster that my A-goal (7:30 pace) & maybe, maybe, maybe I could even slow down a touch and still salvage something.

They started to gain on me as we approached the turnaround, and based on how easy and comfortable their conversation sounded, I fully expected that they would eventually pass me. But at least I knew I was keeping a steady 7:25-7:40 pace, more or less, for now.

They didn't, though. Around mile 6 they sort of tucked in with me & another dude & asked if we minded. I told them to be my guest but that they might drop me at any moment. I told them how I'd felt sick the whole time & was having a really hard time in the gravel and on top of all that had forgotten my watch. "We're right at 7:40," she assured me, and continued giving pace updates periodically.

Normally I'm not big into latching on to other people in races, but I was suffering so badly at that point that just having another body to follow was a huge motivating factor. I kept thinking, "I can't keep this up. I have to slow down." But I didn't want to be lame, so I'd tell myself, "I'll hang on til the next mile & then tap out. I'll hang on to the next aid station. To the next mile marker." In that way, I managed to stick with them.

Demoralizing event #5 happened around maybe mile 6.5-7 when the clouds suddenly burned off & we found ourselves running in full sun. GOD, this sucked. I think this & a little after was my real low point; at one point the woman with the watch said "7:50," & I was like, "Well, here we go. Blow-up time." This part of the race felt a lot like my GMP run a few weeks back where, cardiovascularly, I felt fine, but it was as if the message to my legs to keep running just wasn't getting through & every stride felt twice as hard as it should. (The gravel certainly didn't help with this.)

Around mile 8 something shifted a little in my brain, and although it was still hard, my body suddenly felt like it wanted to pick things up just a little. This has happened to me a lot of times in hard races, where I feel like I can't possibly run any faster, and then at a certain point the distance remaining gets small enough that it suddenly seems manageable. That combined with my desperate desire to end this miserable experience as quickly as possible opens a valve somewhere & suddenly I have access to physical & mental resources that I didn't before. As if my mind/body/whatever was holding a little extra in reserve in case of emergency but didn't want me to know it was there too soon lest I make bad choices. At this point I found myself gradually striding away from the two women and eventually even passed the dude in front of us.

Don't get me wrong, things were still pretty miserable & I was in a lot of discomfort. I still felt like I wanted to heave & so overheated that I was feeling lightheaded & getting chills, but the desire to be done is a powerful motivator. We passed the mile 9 marker & soon after I made the last real turn towards the finish. 20-30 seconds later, though, I heard people shouting. The two women I had been running with were now approaching the turn as well & yelling, "Wrong way!" Sure enough, I had gone left when I should have gone right. So there went an extra .1 miles.

I caught back up with them in not too long and gradually pulled ahead again. We were blessedly now back on the concrete stretch and suddenly everything felt 10x easier. Then it was back onto dirt for the last half mile, and I really did try to force myself to push hard and give it everything I had. The other two women finished pretty soon after me & we all shared high fives & thank you's & 'good race's & all that.

Once I'd walked for a bit & had some water & food & regained feeling in my feet, I noticed that a few runners were congregating around the timing table. Under the circumstances I no longer had the same level of interest in my time as I had before, but I hadn't noticed the clock when I crossed the finish, & I was curious. Given that we'd been averaging 7:25-7:50ish the entire time and I'd sped up some at the end, I was guessing my time was somewhere in the 1:16-1:18 range. When I told the woman my bib number, though, she told me it was 1:23:42 (8:22 pace).

This made no sense to me, given the pacing info from my impromptu buddy, both before and while I was running with her. Yes, GPS error is a thing, but most of the time (at least in my experience) that means wildly oscillating numbers, or wildly different ones at different points on the course. I've never seen numbers that even and that reasonable for that long a period of time on my watch and then found them to be off from the official results by 30 to 50 seconds.

I can't really speak for the men's times, but it also seems weird to me that the top three women's times were as slow as they were. Yes, it was warm & muggy & there was the gravel to contend with, but seriously, no women ran faster than 1:18? Really?

    {Someone else's} Garmin: 10.3 miles / ??? / ??? (Though realistically I ran probably another .1 on top of that because of my wrong turn.)
    Official: 10 miles / 1:23:43 / 8:22 pace

    Overall: 10/97
    Women: 5/52
    A/G: 5/18

I asked the woman I ran with what distance she clocked & she told me 10.3, & a couple of other people nearby concurred. This was before I'd asked about my time, though, so it didn't occur to me to ask what she'd gotten for her time on her watch to see if it jived with the official one. Now I'm really curious & wish I knew, because something here just does not add up.

To be honest, though, I can't really get that wound up about it either way because this race was such a cluster-you-know-what for me that the outcome is basically meaningless. (I mean, maybe? I was actually starting to feel pretty good about averaging maybe a 7:40 pace under such yucky conditions. But now who knows.)

So yeah. I pretty much ended up feeling like this race was a total waste of my time, mostly because of not having my Garmin, not knowing the race was 90% on gravel, and feeling sick at my stomach from the first mile on. I still don't have solid numbers to gauge my fitness, or even my performance at this particular race under the circumstances. And I won't have another chance to race before Santa Rosa (or time to fully recover even if I did), so I guess it'll all be down to how different workout paces feel.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*LOGISTICAL STUFF~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Location: Sunnyvale, CA

Date: End of June (June 28, 2015 this year)

Prices: 2015 prices from the web site:

Deadlines/sellout factor: At this point, it doesn't seem like it's in any danger of selling out. Spots in both the 10 miler & 5K were still available as of race morning.

Field Size: Quite small - 97 starts in the 10-miler & 42 in the 5K.

Staging:

The start/finish area was set up in Baylands Park on Caribbean Dr. in Sunnyvale at the trailhead. There really wasn't much to it: the start/finish, timing tent, a small food & beverage table, a couple for bib & shirt pickup, & an Oakland Running Festival tent. The race was so small that probably everyone could have lined up to get their bibs at once from the one guy handing them out & they still would have been done in 10 minutes. No need for a bag check since the parking lot was literally steps from the start.


Maybe ~20 minutes before the start

See above for the bathroom situation.

The Course:

This would have been a perfectly decent course (if not particularly interesting) if not for the gravel. For the most part it followed the Bay Trail, and wildlife (a flock of hissing geese, as well as a couple of rabbits darting across the path) were sited as promised. It's a pretty straightforward out-and-back without too many turns, so theoretically (again, gravel nonwithstanding) one could potentially run good tangents without too much effort. The downsides were a couple of unpleasantly industrial patches as well as one short stretch that smelled like poo.

Logistically, I think the course could be improved by 1) adding another aid station at or near the turn-around (there were two earlier in the five-mile stretch for a total of four opportunities, both with water & honest-to-gods Gatorade available), 2) placing course course marshals at any non-obvious and not-otherwise marked turns (see: the one where I made a wrong turn), and 3) double checking the distance. I think for a 10-miler up to a tenth of a mile is not that weird in terms of GPS error, but .3 miles is. (I don't know how the course was measured or if it was certified in any way.)

Another important thing to know is that there is NO crowd support and because of the small field size you can get REALLY spread out. For most of the race I couldn't see or hear anyone else but the women behind/with me & the one dude that stayed more or less in front of me until last couple of miles. (I don't need crowd support, really, but I am learning that having few or no other runners around to mentally fish-line is really hard for me and I don't know how many more times I will run races this small if the distance is over 10K.)

Parking:

Race day instructions told us that parking was available at Baylands Park but cost $6. The gate was open and I didn't see anyone anywhere collecting money or asking for any kind of parking permit, though, so I guess it ended up being free? The parking lot is not huge but the race was small enough that there was plenty of parking available right by the staging area.

Swag:

A reasonably nice tech T, plus snacks at the finish.

No medal for this race specifically, but the website says that runners who finish both this 10-Miler and the Foster City 10-Miler in January would receive a medal for running both. However, when I asked around about this at the finish, no one seemed to have any idea what I was talking about.

(UPDATE! On Aug. 26, I received the series medal in the mail.

Along with...two more shirts. And also a certificate for finishing 3rd woman??? So many questions.)

As with Foster City, one thing that was conspicuously absent was some sort of photographer situation. Again, I don't think that necessarily means they need to pay MarathonFoto a billion dollars or anything, but I think runners would appreciate even just having volunteers taking pictures out on the course in a few spots & then, say, uploading them to a public Picasa album that runners could look from. (This is what Brazen does and I think everybody loves it. There tend to be more photos than at big races who hire race photo companies, they're free for runners, and it keeps costs down.)

Overall Assessment:

I won't run this race again. In fact, it could be the cheapest, most awesome and otherwise perfect race on the face of the earth and happen right next door and I would still not run it because gravel pretty much makes me want to stab someone. Knowing that, I should have done the research to find out for sure in advance what the course situation was, although also I think a lot of non-trail races usually mention on the site if the footing is anything other than pavement for a significant stretch.

(Maybe they're thinking of this as a trail race, though? Though if that's the case, it should be marketed that way.) I do know at this point that it really ruins a race for me if it's more than a little, though, so if there's any question at all, I need to be sure to find out in advance. Also, it's the South Bay in the summer, and even though it's not THAT long of a race, you're always going to have some chance of unpleasantly high temps.

I don't know if there were timing or course distance issues or what the confusion was with the series medals, but part of what makes me excited to run a race is confidence that attention is being paid to detail & everything is going to go off smoothly, and I can't really say that that's the impression I left with.

14 comments:

  1. I guess at least you have a whole heap of new friends because of the toilet paper incident. Small silver lining?

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  2. I just have to comment on your post because I run the Bay Trail and the gravel sucks! Actually it is good for training and terrible for racing. On average I got 10-20 seconds per mile slower on the Bay trail gravel depending upon how it is packed. I don't believe that the course was USATF certified so as a rule you can expect those race courses to be long or short. Bummer. Good effort and way to push through on your part. The training effort was there and will count in the "big picture".

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    1. Heh, I think you warned me about that! I definitely should have done a little more reconnaissance because it was WAY worse than I was expecting. :-/

      I agree - I don't see how there's any way it could have been certified. Ah well!

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  3. Oh, and one other thing. Since Santa Rosa is not until August, in theory you could race in July and be recovered. You could do a half marathon at marathon pace as part of a long run or run a 10K to sharpen speed between now and then. My $0.02 :)

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  4. Oh bummer that it was such a bad race! :( I hate it when there are a bunch of mishaps like that and a long race is a huge bummer. :( I don't think it was a waste though...you definitely had a workout exercising mental toughness! That is worth a lot!

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  5. Excellent use of GIFs. I really like that tech shirt, actually, but it sounds like that might have been the only decent part of the day... at least you didn't injure yourself?

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  6. Ugh. I can't stand gravel either - no traction and you feel like you're working 1.5x harder. Sorry to hear that this wasn't the smoothest race, but I agree with those above who said that it was a good exercise in grit and toughness. And maybe you've expelled any and all bad race joo-joo/karma before Santa Rosa.

    Organizationally, this race series seems doomed. Corrigan doesn't seem to be putting in the same kind of thought or effort into these 2 races as their other events, but they're charging the same prices. Also, why they would put on a 10-miler in Sunnyvale in August (last year) or late June (this year) is beyond crazy.

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    1. Right? I'm so baffled about this. They go absolutely apeshit over ORF but seem determined to put the smallest level of effort & expense imaginable into the 10-milers. (Though Foster City was MUCH better than this one.)

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  7. Gravel is great! Heat is awesome! Wack timing systems are the best! And porta-potties without toilet paper... I am SHAKING with excitement! I am about as jealous a reader as you'll find right about now, and how you don't consider Sunday the best day of your racing life, I have no idea. The only thing better would be if Santa Rosa changes its marathon course to soft, ankle-deep sand this year!

    (By the way, your Sunnyvale experience raises the question... if we run to relieve stress, how do we relieve the stress caused by running? Corrigan clearly doesn't have their head in the game here, but you ran as well as possible and your body now knows it can hold that pace, even on unstable terrain and even if it doesn't know exactly what that pace was. I'd say chalk it up to both a physical and mental training day, and train forth knowing you'll eventually conquer because you endured. 10-mile PRs are overrated, anyhow!)

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    Replies
    1. GAAAAH I'm still so ANGRY though!!!

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    2. GAAAAH I'm still so ANGRY though!!!

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