A week and change ago, along with a few thousand other runners, I ran the Berkeley Half Marathon through the mean streets and hills of Berkeley and the Cal (UC-Berkeley) campus. The same company that manages the BHM also manages the SF Marathon, and I was fortunate to be a social media ambassador for both races this year (and have my races comped — thank you!). My family and I have lived in the Bay Area now for nearly two years, but I’ve spent virtually no time in Berkeley (and hadn’t run there at all), so I was excited about the opportunity to run the “not flat” course, using it as yet another fitness/endurance assessment of how my running was faring at about 3.5 months postpartum. A big bonus was that Chicago-turned-Berkeley galpal Meredith lives a block-ish from the race’s starting/finishing area, and Portlander Austin (whom I somehow had managed to not see in over a year) would be in town that weekend as well. I had also learned that SF buddy Travis would be running, so we made arrangements to rendezvous pre-race at Meredith’s with Austin, Meredith, Travis, and Jen. Big Sis was also along for the ride on race morning, since she’d be hanging with everyone not running, so while there were a lot of moving parts, it was bound to be a good (albeit complicated) morning.
I wanted to get a decent idea of how my fitness and endurance were coming along, so while I didn’t actually train for this race as I properly should for a half marathon — I’m talking about both HM specific intensity (speed) and distance — I knew that the mileage and time on my feet I put in, a la long runs on the weekends, would more than likely cover me. Truth be told, I’ve never actually properly trained for a HM and have only run them during marathon training cycles, so without consulting with some experts, I wouldn’t know how to train for one … anyway. Tangential.
My goals for the race were two-fold: a) to finish the thing (always) and b) to post a 1:4x, probably somewhere in the 1:42+ range. I based that number mostly on whimsy but also somewhat on some very unscientific intuition and reflection. My thinking was this: my first half post-baby in 2011 was about 5 months postpartum and was a 1:44 on a very flat Chicago course, with a very different training/speed/volume history leading up to it (and with much more time off during pregnancy and postpartum). The BHM would be a tougher (hillier) course, no doubt, and I wouldn’t be as far along PP (about 3.5 months versus 5 months+), but my running training/speed/volume since 2011 looks virtually nothing like it did pre-2011. It’s not to say that I thought a 1:42 was in the bag (because newsflash, it never is), but my educated guess was that it would be doable, barring catastrophe.
On race morning, A and I arrived to Meredith’s shortly after 6:30 and chilled with everyone before Travis and I left for a warm-up. I was so excited to be running and racing again, and while I did my usual pre-run/pre-race song and dance and ate/drank my usual stuff, my body was still throwing me all sorts of the pre-race nerves, like making me think I had to pee or poop 1000 more times (negative) or that I wasn’t physically ready to run (nope) or that my milk was going to come in and make me all engorged for a couple hours (nada – fed the baby in the wee hours and pumped before the warm-up). Minorly annoying, kinda funny, but also strangely satisfying to have these feelings again before a race for the first time in a long time. You know what I’m talking about.
Travis and I had similar time goals, so we decided to start the race together, though we soon got separated after about mile 1 or 2. The “not flat” course posts most of the its hills in the first 5 miles (and many seemingly right out of the gate). The first few miles also weaves you through downtown Berkeley (I think … or a downtown that’s very near the Cal campus) before taking you through campus and some neighborhoods. It’s all hilly, but in late November, especially through some of the ‘hoods, it’s also quite beautiful with some probably hella expensive homes, the tree cover, and the foliage’s changing colors.
As I do for probably more worse than better, I rarely looked at my watch and instead just took everything on effort, especially during the first five-ish miles when it seemed like we were climbing hill after hill, with very few flats in between. I kinda vowed to catch back up with everyone who was flying past me on the few flats between each ascent, though I don’t think my vows actually materialized. More than anything, I felt in control, ascending wasn’t all that gruelling, and I was having a blast. Sometimes when I run in a new-to-me location, I feel disoriented because I don’t know where I am, nor do I know where I’m going, and even though I had no sense of direction or orientation during the BHM, I felt strangely liberated by it. (Sidenote: sometimes I wonder if I fare better at races where I don’t know where I am. Does anyone else feel this way??).
I took a few gels around 4, 7, and maybe 10 — I had written the mile markers/aid station stops on my hand so I’d remember when to take them — and felt pretty solid. I had begun catching up to people through the back half of the course and, from what I could tell, was ahead of more people than were people ahead of me (if that makes any sense). I knew I wasn’t going at what was once my usual HM speed, but I wasn’t dwelling on it or comparing how I was doing now versus how I did before. I was fine with where I was and told myself, at the risk of sounding kinda silly, that I belonged in the race and belonged at the paces I was posting. Fun and gross fact: in basically all of my HMs I raced (or attempted to race) in 2014, my stomach threw a veritable shit storm and relegated me to port-a-potties or bushes mid-race with wonderful bouts of diarrhea (you’re welcome, and sorry). I got nothing to say for it except that running can sometimes hurt like hell. Fortunately, throughout the BHM, my stomach wasn’t throwing me any Code Browns, so as far as I was concerned, I was winning the thing. Feeling in control, having fun, not feeling the imminent need to go defecate in public somewhere — what more could I ask for.
Around mile 10, on the out-and-back portion, I first saw Travis (and successfully side-5ed, wohoo!) and later, many folks in my RunningAddicts group who were there pacing. I kept feeling like my body was trying to surge and saw that I had dropped something around a 7:11 pace for mile 10, but I knew I couldn’t sustain that for the final 3 miles and kept trying to reign things in a bit. Though we had finished most of the climbs, there were still a little bit left, something like only 200′ over the last 3 miles — not much, for sure, but enough to make you feel it after running 10+ miles and climbing some in the first 5 miles.
For whatever reason, probably since I first learned my multiplication tables, I always tend to think that 8*4 is 36. I know it’s not, but for some reason, I always think that it is — I think everyone has a thing like this, be it with math or spelling — and around mile 10, when I started to feebly do some mental math, I initially got incredibly dismayed because I didn’t think it’d be physically possible for me to break 1:40, a goal that I had somewhat kept to myself because I thought it was completely unrealistic, if not irresponsible, for the training I’ve done lately. However, once I remembered the actual product to that 8*4 bugger, I damn near rejoiced because I thought that it was actually feasible — barring catastrophe — though I’d have to be very careful and intentional over the final few.
Those final couple hundred feet of climbing felt monstrous, though I was catching up to and passing people right and left (giving myself a huge confidence boost in the process), and ultimately, as I was coming down the finish chute (and after hearing Austin’s booming voice on my right) and saw Travis on the other side, I kicked with anything that I had left and came up with a 1:40:11 (fuck) for 13.17 miles — just missing breaking 1:40 and running almost-perfect tangents. Damn, how quickly I forget the feeling of “really happy but just a tad miffed.” Racing, how wonderful and tough you are, you sly minx. (Garmin stuff here).
As I suspected, it ended up being a really fun morning. Once I finished, I quickly connected with Travis and Jen, Meredith, Austin, and A, and grabbed A and walked with her and Travis through all the post-race vendor stuff. Travis and I each earned a special TSFM/Berkeley Challenge medal (for completing each race), which was neat, and before long, we all met up again and reconvened at Meredith’s before parting ways. While Travis and I were racing, apparently A and Austin, Jen, and Meredith were busy having a blast at some of the playgrounds nearby. Good morning for all 🙂
I’d definitely recommend the BHM. I had a really positive experience, and it definitely gave me the feedback I needed to figure out how things are coming along for me postpartum. Seeing friends always sweetens the experience, of course, and being able to bring Big Sis along also made the morning more fun. Thanks for the opportunity, BHM gang.
And with the feedback from the BHM (and the other races I’ve run this autumn as fitness/endurance assessments) in mind, and after a few more days of hemming and hawing (or heeing and hawing, because that makes me think of cowboys, which makes me laugh for no good reason) this eventually happened:
Thanks again to the fine folks at the Berkeley Half Marathon for allowing me to be a social media ambassador for your fine race in 2015. It was a blast, and if you find yourself in the Bay Area in the future during the BHM weekend, definitely look into the race. It’s a good one.