Monday, January 7, 2019

Race Report: Silicon Valley Santa Run

Woohoo, last race report of 2018!!!

To recap the context: The plan this fall was to run a bunch of miles, race a bunch of short stuff under 10K, & get wicked fast. Alas life has not quite work out as I'd planned & there have been more than a few super frustrating weeks lately.

But, the nice thing about 5Ks is that there's not a ton of pressure at any given race. Unlike longer distances, finishing is trivial, and if you have a shitty 5K one week (or get sick, or life gets in the way) you can take another crack at it a week or two later. So this fall I'd signed up for three, one per month in each of October, November, & December.

Prior to OktobeRun in Redwood City, my physical niggles were at their worst so I was surprised to run 22:23, my slowest ever 5K race, sure, but not by all that much! I'd been worried my body wouldn't even let me break 8:00's, so even managing to run 10K pace kind of felt like a victory. After that I'd thought, "Cool, good to have a stake in the ground. I can build on this. Four weeks until Oakland Turkey Trot, plenty of time to get some solid training in & shave a few seconds off!"

But then life happened, I got sick, spent most of November traveling, California caught on fire, etc. etc. and I only managed to get a few workouts in during that time. Yet, somehow, I showed up in Oakland and ran 21:46. Again, it's not that this was a *great* time in the grand scheme of my historical 5K performances (in fact I think it's kind of right in the middle), but given everything and the fact that I really had not trained AT ALL since OktobeRun, a 0:37 improvement in such a short timespan just seemed completely insane. But hey, I'll take it! And once again, my thoughts were, "Hey, 3.5 weeks until Santa Run, I am DEFINITELY DEFINITELY going to get some solid training in and shave just a few more seconds off this distance in 2018!"

And once again, life happened (mostly work stuff), & those 3.5 weeks saw a grand total of about 75 miles. I was committed to showing up in San Jose & doing the Santa Run, but bearing in mind how little actual training I'd gotten in since the Turkey Trot, my goals were quite humble:

  • C goal: Beat 21:46 if only by a second (~7:00 pace);
  • B goal: Sub 21:30 (6:55 pace), something I've done many times but not in the last 4.5 years;
  • A goal: ~6:50 pace (~21:13ish) which would be a second-fastest-ever 5K, because you always need a wild-and-crazy-out-there stretch goal to shoot for in case the day is perfect.

This was a rare afternoon race, which, when I signed up, sounded fantastic. No getting up early! No worrying about missing an alarm! No going to bed at 9pm! On the day of, though, it was super annoying. Yes, I got to sleep in a little, but then I had to spend the whole morning a) trying to get stuff done around the house while b) stressing about the race, getting all my stuff together, my travel timeline, etc. In hindsight it's MUCH nicer to just get it over with first thing in the morning!

Also, I kind of just didn't want to go. I'd scrapped both my Friday and Saturday runs due to a billion holiday errands & commitments & cut my Thursday run short from 6 miles to 4 for the same reason. The weather was really crappy & it looked like Santa Run would be cold, pouring rain, & maybe wind. (ENOUGH OF THAT ALREADY THANKS), and San Jose is not a short drive from SF (about an hour each way). I kept thinking, I have so much to do and it's probably going to suck, I've barely had time to train for it anyway, I should just skip it & catch up on stuff here.

But, I'd already paid for it, I had plans to meet bt after, and there was still a part of me that said, Just go. That's why you paid for it ahead, to force you to go. Just go try. Even if it's not fast, just go and try.

So, I did, arriving about an hour before the 3:30 gun, just enough time to park, grab a coffee, get my bib, jog a couple of warm-up miles, & change into flats. The rain was intermittent but thankfully it wasn't too windy as I lined up a few rows back from the front (mostly skinny cross country-looking kids).

At that point I decided, "You know what? What the heck, let's go big." I decided to go out at 6:50ish pace and just see how long I could hold it, and if it wasn't the whole race, then oh well, I almost wasn't even going to run this anyway.

The course was pretty nice as local 5Ks go--a nice flat lollipop with very few turns. There was one underpass so you had to go down a short, steep incline and then back up it on the way out and then again on the way back, but other than that it was very flat and pretty easy to run tangents. My plan to "just run 6:50s" ended up being a little more problematic than I'd hoped; the pace on my watch was constantly jumping around between 6:25 and 7:15, which did not do much for my confidence. So after a while I pretty much just stopped looking at it & thought, "Just run as fast as you can at all times." (Well; not exactly. But just that little notch or two below fast-as-you-can that I associate with 5K effort.)

Hiding on the left somewhere

Honestly, this race was such a blur that I don't have much to say about it, especially mile-by-mile. I tried to run good tangents. I kept thinking to myself, "I really don't think I can run much faster than this but also it kind of feels like it doesn't hurt enough." It was hard, but the hardness felt more mental, the effort of keeping my foot on the accelerator and never letting up, than a legs/lungs kind of hard.

I found people to pace with briefly but then usually found myself naturally pulling ahead. I never saw my splits but I've run enough 5Ks to know where my weaknesses are--slowing down in mile 2 when it starts to get hard, for example--so I just tried to always be pushing a little harder than I wanted to, especially in the 2nd & 3rd miles.

There were several women/girls way ahead of me that I'd kind of resigned myself to never catching, and then suddenly in mile 3 a good number of them started coming back to me. I think a couple of fast dudes passed me in the last few tenths, but I don't think I was ever passed by a woman. Really I just kept chugging along, just telling myself, "Run faster, run faster, can you run faster? Then run faster!" I don't think I ever really sped up significantly, but I think constantly telling myself, "FASTER!" at least kept me from slowing down.

Now that's a face

When crossed the finish line and stopped my watch, I was stunned to see 21:21--Wait, what now?!?!--and splits of 6:51, 6:48, and 6:51. When the official results came out, my time was listed as 21:19--6:51ish pace, 6th woman, 1st in my age group--just a handful of seconds off of that crazy pie-in-the-sky pipe dream of 21:13, and yes, the second fastest 5K I've ever run.

    Overall: 60/2,577
    Women: 6/1,459
    A/G: 1/178

So, yeah. I don't know what happened exactly, but at 3.12 miles on my watch, I feel pretty confident the course was fair. It just doesn't seem like you should basically not train for two months and still keep getting faster at x distance, though I do think at least some part of it has to do with re-familiarizing myself with the distance and what it feels like to run at that level of effort. I think at OktobeRun I was maybe a little afraid of how much it would hurt if I really pushed myself, but I'm gradually starting to believe that no, it won't actually kill me. Yes, 5K race pace is hard, but it's really not all THAT bad. (Though, it might be if I were in good enough shape to push myself harder!)

In any case, I am really looking forward to a nice three week break completely off from running, where hopefully my body will heal up and I'll be able to *actually* for-real train this spring. And then who knows what could happen??

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

Location: San Jose, CA

Date: Mid-December (Sunday, December 16 this year)

The Deal: Like the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot (which is kind of a big deal Turkey Trot), this race is produced by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group Foundation (SVLGF) which provides the non-profit programming for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. (SVLG represents a huge group of Silicon Valley employers on community issues like energy, transportation, education, housing, health care, etc.) Over the past few years, municipal funding for two loved San Jose holiday programs, Christmas in the Park and Downtown Ice was cancelled, so SVLGF started the Santa Run in order to raise funds for these activities which would probably not happen otherwise.

Christmas in the Park post-race

In addition to the 5K, there is a costume contest and kids' "Reindeer Dash" an hour before, and a big Christmas celebration after with rides, games, etc. around the finish line.

Price: $45 (I think there were cheaper and more expensive rates but I don't know what they were; this is just what I paid when I signed up at the end of September.) I'm not personally that big into schwag, but I do have to admit that for a local 5K you get a LOT of schwag in this race, including age group medals three deep. Given that it's a community charity race AND how much stuff you get, part of me is wondering how the charity part even makes any money on it. Corporate sponsors, I guess?

Deadlines/sellout factor: People were still signing up at the race day bib pickup.

Field Size: Finishers: 2,577

Staging, Parking, etc.:

Bib pickup was available on Friday and Saturday 11am-7pm at Sunnyvale Sports Basement (along with a 20% store discount), as well as race morning at an indoor venue about a block away from the start on West Santa Clara Ave. The finish was at Chavez Plaza, in the same area where Rock N Roll San Jose is staged.

Since it's Sunday, metered street parking was free, though I did not see a ton of it. (I ended up parking about three blocks away.) There are paid lots but I really just did not want to fork out after the drive & after already paying $45 for a 5K.

The Course:

Other than that one underpass that you have to run on the way out and back, this was actually a really nice, fast course. We ran down The Alameda, made a lollipop at the end, ran back along the same road, then made a couple of turns to get to the finish. It was paved city & residential streets & easy to follow, with maybe one or two water stations (though, no mile markers that I remember).


Longsleeve tech shirt & Santa-themed medal, plus three-deep age group medals (though you have to go pick them up in SJ in January):

If you decide to run:

  • Don't miss that it's a 3:30pm start. I get that maybe this makes the race & associated festivities more family-friendly, especially if you live nearby, but I have to admit that I did not enjoy an afternoon race (relative to early morning) as much as I thought I would, especially given that it sucked up a solid ~5 hours right smack in the middle of the day, ie., prime "getting stuff done" hours. (Though, the drive and the weather did not help.)
  • Winter in the Bay Area means that the weather could do just about anything except get stupid hot or actually snow. It could be 60s & sunny or 30s & nasty, dry or rain, wind or calm, who can say??? So be ready for anything!
  • Give yourself extra time for parking if you don't want to pay for one of the pay lots/garages.

Overall Assessment:

From an experience standpoint, I thought this was a good race--well-organized, good communication, solid 5K course, nice schwag if you're into that, & just an all-around good vibe. I don't LOVE paying this much for a 5K, but I'm more okay with it if it's a charity, and I have to admit that participants do get a lot for the money. I think if I lived closer I'd be much more likely to do it again, and I'd solidly recommend it to any Peninsula/South Bay peeps, especially if you're looking for a kid/family-friendly event or a reasonably fast course that seems to be pretty accurate (or at least not short). But mid-afternoon an hour away makes it a bit less convenient than I'd realized when I signed up.


  1. Hey, nice job! Congratulations on a strong and fast race. I'm noticing you do really well when you have no-pressure races!

  2. Woohoo!! Great job! I agree with your sentiment about getting faster after you get used to racing the distance, without significant training. (I had the same trajectory between RTTEOS and Oktoberun.) I think this might only work for the 5K though.