Sometime late in 2014, I applied to be a social media ambassador for the San Luis Obispo (SLO) marathon + half marathon weekend, scheduled for late April ’15. Still being new to CA, these social media opps are a really easy way for me to meet other CA-based runners, and generally speaking, I will gladly race for free if given the chance. My intention and initial registration indicated that I would be running the full — my 26th marathon! — but after I learned that I was pregnant and would be 6 months/24 weeks come race day, I really wasn’t all that interested in running 26.2. I filed this under just because I *can* do something, doesn’t mean that I *should* do something … and at the risk of sounding like a complete ass, I wasn’t interested in running more than a 3:30 full. In addition, as the pregnancy has progressed, I didn’t know that I’d even be able to run at all by my 6th month — pregnancy kinda does whatever it wants, folks — so I just kinda figured I’d “train” to be aerobically capable of running 13.1 and if I felt well in the days and weeks preceding the race, I’d pregnant-yog 13.1; if my body were giving me um hell no signals, I wouldn’t run anything and would just defer to ’16 but still partake in the weekend’s non-running festivities. Fortunately, my pregnancy has been smooth, and “training” was fine, so I felt pretty confident that I’d be able to run 13.1 come race morning, barring catastrophe.
The nice thing about being a social media ambassador for a race, aside from the obvious perks like comped registration, is that once you can convince some friends to partake in the festivities, things become a lot more fun, and the race is practically a backdrop. Chicago galpal Erica, whose work is based out of the Bay Area, decided she’d be all in for a weekend at SLO and not only brought along her super sweet Chicago-based friend, Meryl, but also housed the three of us, plus my SJ-based friends Paulette (another TSFM & SLO ambassador) and her husband Kevin at E’s mother-in-law’s vacation home on the beach of Cayucos, CA, about 20 minutes or so from SLO. Twitter/Strava and SF-based buddy Travis and his girlfriend, Jen, were also in on the weekend fun, and together with Travis, Erica, and another TSFM friend, Tricia, we were the mega cool Team Rainbows and Unicorns.
Saturday – race expo, ambassador meet-up, and really good food
SLO’s +/- 200 miles from SJ, and late on Friday, as I was getting ready to leave, I learned that I’d be on my own for the weekend because both A and C opted to stay behind. To say I was pretty surprised is a bit of an understatement, especially since most of the time, I can’t go to the bathroom without a little three year-old following me in, just to check on things and keep me company because she “likes to spend time with [me].” (aw)
Anyway, after a late drive on Friday and eventually falling asleep to the sounds of the ocean — which was as lovely as you can imagine — Erica and I drove over to the expo at the iconic and kinda wild Madonna Inn on Saturday morning to meet-up with Travis and Jen for an ~5 mile shakeout around the Madonna property and on a bike path nearby. From what we could see, SLO was gorgeously situated in the central valley, buttressed by perfectly golden (though drought-laden) hills. We’d become even more familiar with those hills nestled in the valley on race day …
After the shake-out, I had a quick ambassador meet-and-greet and enjoyed reconnecting with some Bay Area-based runners, many of whom I knew from TSFM. Yay, social media! Yay!
Erica, Paulette, Kevin, and Meryl and I were in and out of the expo fairly quickly, stopped by The Natural Cafe for lunch (which, by the way, it’s awesome and vegan-friendly; the tempeh tacos were delish), went back to the property in Cayucos to get cleaned up, and then met Travis and Jen back in SLO at Sidecar for our senior-special 5pm dinner (and similar to TNC, Sidecar was great; the vegan hash was superb, and everything you read on Yelp about their brussel sprouts is true … even coming from someone who generally doesn’t enjoy them). Soon enough, all of us sans Travis and Jen were back in Cayucos and in bed by 9pm for a cough 3:30 cough wake-up.
Sunday – Race day!
When I’m not pregnant, life dictates that I routinely run predawn and am out the door sometime in the 4 o’clock hour, necessitating a 3:xx wake-up. It doesn’t matter how many times you do that, though; a 3:xx wake-up is super fucking early! Erica, Paulette, Kevin and I figured that we would catch the final shuttle bus that left Cal Poly (in SLO) around 4:45 — which would still put us at the start line shortly after 5am, even though none of us 13.1 runners would begin our race until 6:45 — and our plan went over swimmingly. What I’m still smacking my head about is the fact that it didn’t occur to any of us to look at a map and see what the distance was like between the shuttle bus loading area and the starting line drop-off area; had we done that, we would have learned that it was only 1.5 miles away — something that we could have easily jogged (or walked) as a warm-up — and given ourselves probably an hour (plus!) more of sleep. Ah well, live and learn. Getting over to the starting line as early as we did meant that we had lots of time to hang with other runners/ambassadors, chat up other Bay Area-based pacers (many from the RA group here!), get in a proper warm-up, and see off Travis, who’d be starting the full at 6am. Fortunately, the time passed by relatively quickly, and soon enough, it was our turn to go.
If you’ve been following along here for the duration of my pregnancy, I’m surely sounding like a broken record by now when I talk about what it has been like to run (and race and train) while pregnant. My resounding echo has been that I find it all rather refreshing — to basically let go of PR attempts and the training grind that I’m so accustomed to — and just run (and race and train) for nothing but my love of the sport and my appreciation to be able to do so while growing a fetus. That said, when I figured that I’d be able to pregnant-race SLO, my only legit goal was to enjoy the experience and the change in scenery. If everything felt great, I’d prefer *not* to PW (personal worse, a new verb) my 13.1 on the course, but if I had to, I’d have absolutely no problem putting aside my ego for my/my fetus’s health (duh). I figured my fitness pointed to a 1:55 +/- finish, but again, if anything felt off or shitty during the race, I would gladly accept that PW or DNF like a champ if need be. It is slightly weird to go into a race with this mentality — well shucks, I’ll just go as slowly as possible or drop out if I feel like shit, and I’ll still be a winner! — but whatever. Long term view and perspective on running (and health, and pregnancy, and pretty much anything meaningful) > short term, any day of the week, in my book.
Those beautiful, drought-laden hills I mentioned earlier, as well as their sisters some long-ass residential hills, constituted a lot/most of the HM course. My Garmin indicated almost 700′ in elevation, and I think the full runners had something over 1,200′. For a road race, for 13.1 or for 26.2, that’s no joke! The first three miles of the HM were through SLO’s super-cute, college town-y downtown, before we began the peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys, rinse and repeat cycle on the back country roads that abutted those beautiful Central Valley hills. I knew that the course would be hilly, but hello nurse was it ever.
On the (multiple, long-ass) hills, I focused more on even effort than on even pacing because this seemed to be the most sensible thing to do. I didn’t even bother to peer at my watch on the ascents because I knew no good would come from it — because Garmin doesn’t measure ‘effort’ — so I planned to just work with gravity on the ascents and descents. I had an interesting encounter running up a very long ascent in mile 4, wherein I was near, and eventually behind, a man I named The Grunter who was grunting so hard (and heartily, and frequently) that runners several paces ahead of us actually turned their heads to look at him, probably to ensure that he wasn’t going into cardiac arrest or something. He said something nonsensical, to which I could only reply hey man, what goes up has gotta come down, just go by effort on these and tried to get outta dodge from him. I’m kinda curious about his race strategy; maybe the grunting was like some sort of I am a strong man! mantra or something that he needed to vocalize …
Once we were on the back country roads, the HM became more or less an out-and-back and turned at mile 7 and change. I enjoyed the OAB because I saw pro runner Ben Bruce — who’d go on to win the half — his wife, pro runner and 5 mos. pregnant Stephanie Rothstein Bruce — who’d also go on to win the half on the women’s side (and with whom I shared a side-5 and a pregnant runners are awesome! catcall) — and then Erica and Kevin. Once I was on the ‘back’ side of the course, I enjoyed looking for other racers I knew and cheering for folks accordingly.
The final 3 miles were different from the first 3, and after a little descent, we eventually got onto a bikepath for a mile or so before having to run on a bridge — Chicago runners, think N Ave bridge, but with 3 or 4 levels … hard right, hard left, hard right, hard left, hard right, hard left, over the RR tracks, and then down on the other side — which was a bit annoying and disheartening because of the imminent pace breaking (and braking) it necessitated. Once we were off the bridge, though, we just had a little bit of SLO downtown/residential neighborhoods remaining before going up a this-feels-stupidly-steep-but-really-isn’t hill for a few hot seconds on that bikepath outside the Madonna Inn that Erica, Travis, Jen, and I had run on Saturday and a .5 or so descent into the finish line. Downhill finish FTW for sure, though not before I muttered a few hearty motherfuckers at that multi-level bike bridge and at that little incline outside the Madonna.
Throughout the race, I barely looked at my watch, but the few times that I did, I figured that barring catastrophe, I could pull off a 1:55 pretty handily. I felt so great! I let as many people as possible pass me, knowing that I’d try to pass many of them back on the final few miles of the course. Even on the never-ending ascents, I felt way stronger than I anticipated I would, and it was just all so … fun. #SLOfun. 🙂 Eventually, toward the end of the race I was even thinking that I could pull a sub-1:50 if I felt pretty good and depending on what was left on the course (read: how much more climbing we’d be doing) … and yes, it happened! 1:49:48 for 13.19, and I finished the thing with a smile on my face, feeling like I’d be good for another hour or so of running, and with everything feeling as okey-dokey as it did when I awoke at 3-freaking-30. Honestly, I know I’m not breaking records here or anything, but to have that much fun and to feel that good and strong over 13.1 hilly road miles at 6 months pregnant, carrying at least 15 more pounds than usual?! I was floored! (splits)
Soon after I finished, everyone connected and raved about the challenging course. Erica and I went over to meet and chat with a very gracious Steph Bruce about her race, her pregnancy, and what it’s like to be a pregnant professional runner. She was so sweet and down-to-earth and surely thought we were crazy but didn’t let on at all.
It was a great morning for everyone: Erica eventually learned that she pulled 2nd in her AG; Paulette had her second fastest HM ever (and broke 2 hours!); Kevin, Charles, Laura, and Tricia all ran strong races (the first post-injury bouts, for some); Travis dominated on the super-tough 26.2; and generally speaking, the post-race mood was cheery. Add the lovely mood to a sunshiney (and windy) morning, with the beauty of the Central Valley, to a backdrop of a well-organized 13.1/26.2 race … no complaints.
Overall, I really enjoyed my SLO half marathon race experience. The HM course is challenging and hilly, but I think it’s still possible to run well here, provided you train accordingly. The race had nice premiums (a red long-sleeve tech shirt, personalized bibs, unique medals), and the outdoors expo and after-race party were chill and enjoyable. This was only the race’s fourth year, and I think that its popularity will soon expand beyond the regional confines of the Central Valley here in CA. I’m really happy to have been able to run this race during my pregnancy (and to have so much fun in the process!), and I think this half would be worth repeating (not pregnant), should I decide not to tackle the full instead next year.
And yup, even though SLO comped my race registration for the half marathon as part of the social media ambassador program, the views are my own. It’s a good race. Look into it.