Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Race Report: Windsor Green Half Marathon

So this happened:

This weekend has been wonderful but also long and exhausting; I don't have it in me to make you wade through paragraphs & paragraphs of dramatic tension to get to the payoff, so I'm just going to give it to you straight. This:

    Official: 13.1 miles / 1:39:45 / 7:37 average pace
    Garmin: 13.07 miles / 1:39:48 / 7:38 average pace

And this:

    Overall: 50/658
    Women: 7/399
    A/G: 3/82

And this:

Which maps pretty well to this:

If you enjoy le grand narrative, however, read on.

Lately I've just been trying to get better at half marathons skill-wise by scheduling one every couple of months or so, which is great because it takes away the pressure of running any particular time at a given race. Last week I made a few observations about this race vis-à-vis my ability to run it well & end up with a solid time:

  • I am notably, demonstrably in better shape than I was two months ago in Oakland & really, truly believed I was in shape to run a sub-1:40 half given the alignment of certain stars. (plus)
  • I would be at a wedding the night before. (minus)
  • It was likely to be a warmish morning. (minus)
  • The course was basically flat. (plus)

After the wedding Saturday night (where I did very little drinking & wore comfortable shoes), Don dropped me off at Hotel Jana, of Oakland Running Festival renown. Not only is Jana the hostess with the mostest, but she is also a former Santa Rosa area super-local and knew exactly where to go / park / etc.

We left at 5:30 Sunday morning & made great time to Windsor, arriving at 6:45ish with plenty of time to get our bibs & shirts, hit the port-a-potties, & meet up with Sesa, Aisling, Kristin, & Sima.

At 7:30, it was still quite cool, but I know from experience that if I'm down to my scantiest layer before the race and don't feel a bit chilly, it's probably going to be too warm for me to run my best. I was perfectly comfortable in my sports bra & tiny shorts so I'd pretty much accepted it was just going to be a slower race (which I'd been expecting, so it was fine.)

As I've done in my pace runs, I tried to start off in the 7:40s, which felt pretty easy. The gradual ratcheting down, however, not so much. In those first few miles I was definitely working a little harder than I had in those pace runs & a little harder than I was really comfortable with, and still mid 7:40s was the best I could do -- I didn't dare start pushing hard enough to get the numbers down this early-on. There were also a few rolling hills, which, while not a huge deal, were also not insignificant in terms of the effort required. "Huh, I guess there were a few rollers in the beginning," I thought to myself. "Guess I missed that." That was also about when it dawned on me that the reason I couldn't do better than 7:45ish at this effort level was because in addition to the rollers, the first few miles were making a subtle but relentless upward ascent (see above). What a relief it was to hit the massive downhill at mile 4 and see a 7:33 split!

"Phew," I thought, "glad those rollers are out of the way."

Mile 6 was the uphill that I did remember from the elevation profile. Again, it wasn't terribly steep but it was certainly the steepest yet, and the climbing was constant. (I can't tell you how hard I worked to get this mile split in under 8:00. Cannot. Even. Tell you.) This was also when the weather went from irritatingly warm to decidedly HOT. The temperature was probably only low 70s at that point, but we also had 70% humidity, direct sun with no cloud cover, and no shade for long stretches, so it felt much warmer than that. None of this helped with the ratcheting down of the pace. (I ran with a throwaway bottle of 50/50 water/Gatorade and was sooooo glad I did -- those early aid stations were few & far between.)

Not winning booze with your foot strike? Maybe you should try my patented edge-striking technique. Seriously, this is why I roll my left ankle at least twice a week.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this was where I kind of went, "Eh, it's hot, and kind of hilly (btw, what idiot told me this course was flat?!?!?! Ah, right...); if I can more or less keep up this pace & punch it in the last mile or two, I'll have a slight PR, and that's really probably the best I can do today."

We got some encouraging downhill in mile 7; then something clicked for me in mile 8. Even though we were going back up hill, I actually started to feel better than I had earlier in the race. I saw that 7:37 split, took stock of how I felt physically (response: um....weirdly good...), and thought, "I can run the rest faster than this. My body wants to run it faster than this." So I stopped looking at the Garmin & just kind of let my legs do whatever they felt like. Usually around mile 7 of a half I'm doing okay physically but really just can't let myself think about how much running is left; this time, I felt like I could've gone on forever, even uphill. Bring it on, snarled the runner brain. Six miles is NOTHING. Bring it right the hell on.

Even through miles 9 & 10, I felt really strong & like I was running the race, as opposed to Oakland where, even though I ultimately got a strong time & a PR, I'd felt like the race was running me from about mile 4 on. I wasn't thirsty anymore, just hot, & started dumping cups of water over my head at every aid station. Around this time runners started flagging left and right, especially up those last inclines, and I was able to do a lot of passing.

This gung-ho, bring-it-on feeling lasted almost exactly through mile 10. After that, it finally started to feel like a race, and I started to have to fight for my pace. I'd pretty much abandoned the idea of going for sub-1:40 because the early miles had been so tough and I thought that for sure those faster more recent ones weren't going to be anywhere near enough to make up for it. I'm terrible at doing pace calculations in my head mid-race, but I kept waiting for the time when there were enough miles left that I could determine with certainty that a sub-1:40 was no longer possible. But every time I glanced at my watch, I had to face the fact that, bafflingly, it was still too close to call.

You know, if you really wanted to, you could probably still do it...

Four miles left. Three and a half. Three. At every point, my race-addled brain inevitably figured that it was still just barely possible, if I was willing to hurt.

This was both elating and frustrating. Elating because part of me was thinking, "I could do it. Holy shit, I could really do it, today, hills, heat and all!" Frustrating because I knew that, if I were going to do it, I had make a decision ASAP, and start paying the price. I was always planning to race hard, but there is definitely a difference between racing hard and scraping every last drop out of the barrel.

At mile 11, my watch read 1:25. 15 minutes to run two miles plus a little more. Doable, but only barely. I would have to suffer for it. Greatly. Yeah, but just imagine how much you're going to hate yourself if you give only 98% & run a 1:40:10, said the runner brain, and though I think it was kind of a dirty trick, I couldn't disagree. It would ruin my week & that was really all there was to it. So I made the decision.

I started counting backward from 400 (which for some reason is what I do when it starts to hurt) and pushed as hard as I could manage. And harder. And harder. And passed a guy. And passed a girl. And fought it out with another girl, almost lost her, then pushed harder than I thought I had the capacity left to do and finally passed her. These were the death moments.

Proof. Also, in this picture I am just seconds away from dry heaving on the Green. Sorry, Windsor...

I stopped counting when I could hear the finish area, mostly because I was half-delirious at that point & didn't have the mental faculties to spare. I ran so hard. SO hard. I passed like four dudes in the last quarter mile. I turned a corner and saw the finish chute and a 1:39:40 on the clock which lit another fire; suddenly I was kicking it into a gear I didn't even know I had after 13 miles of hills and heat.

God damned if I didn't leave every last ounce out there. I know because I crossed the finish mat, stopped my watch, stumbled off to the side, and very, very nearly yakked purple Gatorade all over the Windsor Town Green.

I collected my medal and somehow managed to stumble out of the finish area, found a nice, cool spot on the grass in the shade, and collapsed.

I can die now, I remember thinking. It is finished.

* * *

A few minutes later I heard Sesa's name; by that time I was able to stand again and made my way back over to the finish chute & ran into Jana on the way, who had run a stunning 1:46 PR! (She told me Saturday night she was going to run a 2:10. OMG *SUCH* a sandbagger.) Sesa also ran a PR; she hadn't been feeling great, so to do that particularly on that course in that weather was incredible. We saw Aisling, Kristin, & Sima all finish not long after & spent a leisurely half hour or so chilling out in the shade, hydrating, avoiding dog poop, & taking silly pictures.

Sima, Kristin, me, Jana, Aisling, & Sesa

Now, normally I am on top of stalking prior years' results in my races to see where I can expect to place based on what kind of time I think I can run. With WG, though, I was greatly derelict in these duties & totally forgot to look until Friday or Saturday, & was a little surprised to see that if I had a really good race, I might be able to place in my age group. (Again, small race.) I'd kind of given up on that in the first half of the race the same way I kind of gave up on the 1:40, but once I finished I knew I at least had a respectable chance. Well, it turns out I came in 3rd, which got me a bottle of Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay! I am super pumped about this because a) I have never placed in a half marathon before, and b) this is the first time I have ever won a material good. Medals & certificates are neat & all, but I'm pretty excited about something I can actually put to use.

(Guess what was being served at my friend's baby shower that afternoon? You guessed it; a bottle of Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay. So obviously I had to try it.)

Also, 4th place was only 23 seconds behind me, likely one of the girls I battled it out with in that last half mile or so. And that's always a good feeling.

Oh, do you care about all the logistical details, btw? If so, read on. The exciting part is over. :)

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

windsor green half marathonLocation: Windsor, CA (just north of Santa Rosa)

Date: End of May(May 20, 2012 this year)

Price: This year, there was an active.com Schwaggle coupon in January or February where you could enter the half for $35. Barring that, the schedule was as follows:

  • Before Febuary 29th - 5k/$30, 10k/$40, 13.1/$65
  • March 1st - April 1st - 5k/$35, 10k/$50, 13.1/$75
  • April 2nd - May 1st - 5k/$40, 10k/$60, 13.1/$85
  • May 2nd or until full - 5k/$50, 10k/$70, 13.1/$95

There was also an option to sign up in groups of four at a discounted rate -- for example, four of us signed up in April for $255, which worked out to ~$65 a person rather than $85. If we'd been REALLY on top of it & signed up before March, we could've gotten four entries for $180ish / $45ish per person. So that was cool.

Deadlines / sellout factor: This year, you could sign up for all distances at the expo the day before, but not the morning of. As of a week before the race the half was 94% full; I don't know if they ended up selling out at the expo.

Field Size: 5K - 368; 10K - 487; half - 658. Small, but not tiny-small.

Expo: There was one the day before, but I didn't go so I can't tell you much about it.

The Course:

The half marathon course is a big clockwise loop along rural country back roads, so if you like races with lots of stuff to look at and cheering spectators and rock bands, this is probably not the race for you. There were some shaded parts, but also many long exposed stretches, so I definitely recommend checking the forecast ahead of time & dressing appropriately. It's 90% right turns, so it was very logistically easy to run, and because of the rolling hills I could almost always see them coming.

Speaking of the rolling hills, I looked at the course profile a few weeks ago and was all like, "Psssh, 1-2% grade at worst; that's pretty much flat." Um, no. It's not. If I'd run this course without looking at the profile, I would've guessed the uphills were more in the 4-6% range, but perhaps I am just a poor judge of grade. Hillier than Golden Gate Park, for sure. I'm also kind of wondering if the warm weather made them feel steeper & tougher than they were. Although technically all the positive & negative grades cancel out because it's a loop, I felt the effects of the uphills a lot more than the downs because the ups were long and gradual and the two big downs were short and dramatic. Granted, it's no Big Sur or SFM, but there were definitely more hills / steep grade than I was expecting and the effect on my effort level was noticeable.


The organizers really pushed expo packet pickup & warned about long lines on race morning, but at 6:45 we were able to walk right up & get our stuff with no problem. Even as it got later, I never really saw the lines get all that long. (Maybe that just means lots of people took their advice & went to the expo.) The bag check was literally two guys with a bunch of small drawstring bags & a couple of a sharpies, which worked great. I think I am the only one who checked a bag & everyone just left stuff in cars, which, given how easy & close parking was, made a lot of sense. Checking & picking up were quick, efficient, & problem-free.

Port-a-potties were situated kind of out of the way of the main staging area. It didn't look to me like there were all that many, but they seemed to be sufficient & we never had to wait in any lines. Again, the early aid stations seemed few & far between to me, but I carried a bottle so it didn't really matter. (Check the weather, check the weather, check the weather.) Around mile 9 or 10 there was a mimosa station.


A nice logo tech shirt & a very classy-looking medal for finishers. (We also noted that the ribbon was particularly nice, not unlike the high-quality CIM ribbons from last year.) The top three in each age group (5 year increments) each received a bottle of wine from Chateau St. Jean, which, as inexpensive wine goes, I must say I am a great fan of. The local fire fighters cooked a pancake brunch for runners afterward (unfortunately, I had no appetite), & there were coolers of water & also mimosas & bloody marys for sale.


Just a few. 1) More aid stations early on the course, especially if it's hot. I would've have been MISERABLE without my own bottle; 2) Have water available for runners in or immediately outside the finish area (rather than 50 yards away in a non-obvious spot); and 3) More shade at the finish. There was precious little, and runners were flocking together under the few trees that offered any. Once I finished, I wanted to hang out near the finish & wait for my friends, but all the shade was far away and I was just too hot.

All in all, a really cute, local, well done race, and I'm really looking forward to Healdsburg Half in October. :)


  1. Congrats on the PR! Sounds like you really did leave it all out on the course - tough conditions out there! Interesting on that pic about your left shoe striking the edge of the pavement - do you notice this happening often?

    1. Thanks! :) I don't notice it all the time (it's not uncomfortable or anything), but I roll that ankle CONSTANTLY & I've seen myself doing it in multiple pictures, so it's pretty clearly a chronic thing I do a lot.

  2. Great race! Your ankle looks so wrong in that picture. I've been reading your blog for a few weeks now but this post made me realize I've seen you before. I was at the Brazen Bay Breeze earlier this year and I remember seeing you dressed similarly to how you dressed for this half. My wife and I were wondering how the hell you weren't freezing your butt off! I wore a sweatshirt for the first half of the 10K, it was so cold especially being next to the bay. Really enjoying your blog, keep it up!

    1. Hah! That's so funny. Yes, I learned long ago that I tend to run really warm (ie, shorts & t-shirt in 45 degree weather) & if it's above 60 I'm better off going two-piece. Glad you're enjoying the blog! :)

  3. Congrats on the PR! I really admire the way that you put it all out there in the last 2 miles. I also appreciate the comments on the logistical aspects, as I just signed up for the Healdsburg half and I was curious about the organization of the wine country races. Anyway, I guess I'll see you in October!

    1. Thank you! I'm glad the logistical stuff is useful. I really did think it was well done overall, and love doing smaller races whenever I can. :)

  4. AWESOME! So proud of you!!!! Congrats!! Now, will you pace me to a sub-1:40?! ;) (And also will you teach me how I can get your abs!!???!! JEEZ WOMAN!!)

    1. Hey, it was running Oakland with you that convinced me I was almost ready to do it! Before I try to pace anyone I feel like I should do it more than once, but I'll run a half with you any time. :)

      (I blame karate & PT last year for the abs. They got me in the habit of doing lots of planks & crunches.)

    2. Haha, I understand the "wanting to do it a few times" before pacing someone. :) I KNEW you could do it -- so awesome! I can't wait to see you break 1:35 now... and then 1:30! You got it. :)

      I don't think I'm brave enough for karate.

    3. (That's not to say I have any objection to running with you on the next attempt!)

  5. Fantastic run...well done on the PR! I would run faster for a bottle of wine too!!!

    1. Thanks! My boyfriend has decided that this is how I should choose my races from now on. :)

  6. I knew you were going to run a sub 1:40- GREAT JOB!!!!! :D

  7. Yayyy! Congrats again. I had ZERO doubt that you would get your sub-1:40 at Windsor. Funny how it seems to happen when you've sort of already decided it wouldn't (same thing with me). I really like the events with sole races, too (mostly because of the wine).

    1. Funny -- afterwards I totally thought about how you said you ran your first sub-1:40 on a hilly course when you didn't think you would. Super bizarre, but I'll take it! :)

  8. WINE 4 PRs! Congrats! It sounds like a great race, and I'm sure Windsor will recover from the near-yakking on the lawn.

    1. Heh, thanks! I definitely think wine is the best thing I've ever won in any kind of competition. :)

  9. Congratulations!! That is so awesome for both the time and winning the wine.

    Sounds like a great race and I'll have to put it on the list. I ran the one in Healdsburg last Oct put on by the same group and really loved the event.

    1. Thanks! Yes, it was really well done -- just warm. I'm really excited for the on in October - it's good to know you had a good time!