Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rock 'n' Roll San Jose 1/2 marathon: shorter but not easier

I ran the super well attended Rock 'n' Roll half-marathon this past Sunday in San Jose. Flat course, cool and overcast weather, very professional organization, one entertaining band every mile, exciting cheer leaders at the aid stations, amazing competition from all over the country, a few friends along the course or among the runners and even Agnès, Alex and Greg showing up on the course at mile 10: the perfect running party and recipe for success. And I needed the perfect race to meet my aggressive goal of going under 1:15 and setting a new PR. Surely very aggressive given that I ran a great 100-miler 3 weeks ago and an overall won at the Trailblazer 10K last week, not to mention the upcoming FireTrails 50-mile next Saturday...

I set my PR on the distance at the Paris Half-Marathon, 4.5 years ago, at 1:15:04. I was not blogging at the time but I will always remember being so close to the finish line, seeing the seconds passing and getting close to 1:15. I was giving everything out but could not sprint faster to break the symbolic 1:15 barrier. With a great season this year including several new PRs while I'm fighting the aging process, and a flatter course than Paris (apart for two underpasses, it is hard to beat San Jose for that), I was hoping to replace this memory with a time of 1:14 and change. Read on to the end...

The expo

It felt strange to join such a large crowd and busy expo after all the much lower key road and trail races I ran this year. I went to the expo 15 minutes before the doors even opened on Saturday morning but there was already a line. The check-in process was very smooth though, I was just impressed to see corrals and bib numbers going as high as 16 thousands. Looking at the results, I estimate that there were about 10,500 finishers with, yet again as this is now becoming the norm for road races in the US, slightly more women than men (about 5,800 women finishers).

Three particular booths that I want to highlight among the many vendors:
  1. First, my sponsor, Brooks, which had a major representation and almost half the expo floor. Nice technical t-shirt for the race with a color which will suit perfectly for the next St Patrick's Day ;-).
  2. Tim Borland who was selling a DVD counting his amazing series of 63 marathons in 63 days to support the fight against Ataxia-Telangiectasia, a lethal genetic disease that attacks children. If you have not already bought his DVD, please visit www.featmovie.com!
  3. Then, I stopped by a booth which I had never seen before: Athletes for a Fit Planet (www.afitplanet.com). The mission statement of this dynamic organization says it all "greening the planet one race at a time." It partners with the large road running, bike or triathlon races to protect the environment. Offering a sort of equivalent of what LEED certification is to green buildings. Something which I am very sensitive to given my interest for sustainable development. And my dear sustainable running theme...! Please visit the website yourself and take the athlete EcoPledge.
Anyway, I left the expo before the crowd came in and spent the rest of the morning shopping at Fry's, something which has been on my to do list for more than two months.

Race day

I carpooled with my running buddy, Bob, and found a very convenient parking spot just in front of the HP Pavilion, that is about half a mile from the start. We went for a 3-mile warm-up along the Guadalupe river and still had 20 minutes to kill before getting to the first corral. We had bib numbers in the low 1,000s, but there were probably less than 40 elite runners in front of us so the start was appearing as easy. However, a minute before the start, the 1:30 pacer lead moved forward, rushing with him many more people close to the line. Bottom line, it only took me 3 seconds after the gun to cross the start line, but had to cautiously navigate through slower runners to finally reach the lead women after 4 to 500 yards.

I passed the first mile just below 5:29 which felt a bit aggressive but a doable pace on such a flat course. I was still at the same pace at mile 2 (11 minutes), but starting to lose a few seconds per mile after that. Jose Pina was about 10 seconds ahead and I had no plan to track him as he is faster than me on 5 and 10Ks (and younger as he just turned 40 this year). The thing which really impressed me is when Linda Somers Smith passed me, I think around mile 3 or 4. At 48, she is an amazing local and national runner. She wins everything in her age group, from short and super fast cross-country races to winning her age group in a blazing 2:36 at the Los Angeles Marathon last March. A 5:59 min/mile pace...!

After that, I was only passed by two runners, one at mile 6 and one just before mile 10. We finished within 15 seconds so our pace was pretty even and stable. My GPS indicated 5:42 min/mile at the 10-mile mark which I passed in 57:35, better than most of my 10-mile long tempo runs at the track, although it has been a year since I did not do one. Not only did I feel good about that, but Agnès and the boys were just around the corner to cheer us. They had planned to be at mile 7 and 9 (same spot), but could not reach the neighborhood. I kept pushing to maintain that pace, although I knew that was probably not even for my PR as the distance was a bit off at mile 10 already (10.06 instead). At this level, every second and inch count...
Crossing the flow of the rest of the pack on the last two miles, on The Alameda, was really exciting with all the encouragements from the runners going through their 5th and 6th miles. I was under 1:12 at the 20K mark and still hoping to reach my goal until I realized that the finish line was not the same as the starting line (the arch of black balloons), nor after the Almaden Road corner, but farther on Park Avenue. Result: 1:15:53 and 19th overall, so long for a PR, yet a good performance for the quantity of running and racing I'm now putting in (most coaches would tell you that you can't have both quantity and quality at the same time...). The runner ahead of me by 6 seconds turned to me after crossing the line and asked for my age. He was happy, we had the same and he was ahead (Kevin McGinnis from Ravensdale, WA, bib elite #15). Apart from Linda Somers Smith who had taken 2nd overall in the women, Jose Pina was the only other Master ahead of us (1:15:14). Regarding Linda's performance, I actually looked at the USA Track & Field website for road racing records and found the W45-49 age group surprisingly missing for half-marathon, so I'm not sure if her 1:13:31 is eligible or not.
I waited on the finish line to see Bob crossing the tape in 1:23:27 and we headed back to the parking lot after receiving our nice, colorful and heavy finisher medals and picking some fruits, bars and pretzels from Whole Foods. We called Stephanie to see when the award ceremony was scheduled for but she saw on the web that awards will only be mailed in 4-6 weeks. The virtual ceremony... Stephanie came to see us at mile 5 and 12 and she said we were too focus in the last mile, so both of us missed her then.
On their end, Agnès, Alex and Greg waited slightly longer to see Monique passing by mile 10 on her way to completing her first half-marathon in 2:52.
It was my 173rd race and 25th half-marathon. Interestingly enough, and probably unlike some people think, shorter distances do not make race easier when you give everything you have in your guts. Like last week after the Trailblazer 10K, my stomach and intestine were upset and only recovered for dinner, not something I feel after an ultra marathon. Well, maybe I'm not pushing hard enough on trail races...

See a few other pictures of the front runners in my Picasa photo album (credit to Agnès), although some of them are blurry this time. By the way, the Brooks Hanson team placed 2nd and 3rd in the men race (1:07 and 1:08) and 6th and 9th in the women. And a few other Brooks Inspire Daily teammates also did well (13th and 14th in 1:11).

Additionally, and I'm not sure for how long they will keep these videos on the race website, you can find see you running at the finish. Here is my videos: before the finish and at the finish (click on the links).

Next week's match: FireTrails 50-mile

No time to rest, just a few days to tapper, next Saturday is another big event in our MUT (Mountain Ultra Trail) Grand Prix with a special match between the Tamalpa (T) and my team, RhoQuick (Rhomobile/Quicksilver, RQ). Just the M40-49 age group has an amazing list of fast runners in the registered entrants list: Dave Mackey (T), Gary Gellin (RQ), Victor Ballesteros (T), Karl Hoagland (T), Mark Tanaka (RQ), Geoff Vaughan (T), Thomas Reiss, Ray Sanchez, ... The pace will not match the 4:43 min/mile of half-marathon defending champion and winner, Meb Keflizighi, nor my 5:43, but this upcoming FireTrails edition promise to be very fast. Talk to you about it next week then, and Run Happy in the meantime!


Scott Dunlap said...

You are flying these days! Kevin out-kicked me at a 1/2 earlier this year - he's got just enough to stay on top.

Good luck at Fire Trails! That's quite an age group roster.

Jean Pommier said...

Thanks for checking, Scott. And making the connection with Kevin's SF 1/2 (1:14:29, wow!).

BTW, congrats on you national title at the 50K trail. Thinking on entering these events when turning 50, if I'm still in shape then ;-)

Good luck for your upcoming Ironman!!!

Anonymous said...

Linda Somers Smith is amazing! She has set age group records across the board the last 1-2 years... she was in the 16s for 5k a while back as well as some other very fast times. Really impressive stuff.