August 30, 2011

2011 America's Finest City (AFC) Half Marathon Race Recap

The 2011 AFC Half Marathon is 1 of 2 half marathons our Galloway group members trained for over the summer. We had several new members join us and AFC would be their first half marathon ever! We trained at the beach for the last several long runs to get acclimated to running in higher humidity conditions than the dry heat we run through when we train in Simi Valley (our home base city).  The course has a strict 3-hour time limit but I knew we'd be able to get everyone across the finish line - 3:10 at the latest I was sure of.

Team meeting on Race Day Eve at the Sheraton on Harbor Island
Based on the elevation map provided on the website, there would be a few small rolling hills in the beginning, with a relatively steep climb for about a mile near the very end, but then would level out for the last 3/4 of a mile where we'd bust loose for a strong finish! I knew that last hill would be a big push for us all, but at the very least, our beginners would be able to power walk through it. At our pre-race meeting on Saturday night, we talked about keeping our pace slow in the beginning and especially during the long, steep downhill segment, all of which would save our legs for the big push at the end. We had trained hard, tapered for 2 weeks - they were ready for this course - that is if the elevation map provided on the event website had been accurate.

This is what we were expecting:

Course elevation map as presented by the event organizers

THIS is what the course elevation actually is (from my Garmin data):

Ummm....minor details missing from the official map? Y-E-S!!! With a "strict 3-hour time limit" (as posted on the website), I would have appreciated a more accurate depiction of the course elevation changes. The grade of the big descent is clearly much steeper than presented on the website. Dropping almost 400 feet over 2 miles (see Garmin data) vs a 400 foot decent over what looks like nearly 3 miles (let's say it's 2.75 miles) on the AFC map is the first big discrepancy. 

Grade = elevation / distance (For reference, there are 5,280 feet in a mile.)
Big descent according to AFC map = 400 ft / (2.75mi x 5,280ft) = 400/14,520 = 2.75% grade (decline)
Big descent according to Garmin data = 400 ft / (2 mi x 5,280ft) = 400/10,560 = 3.79% grade (decline)

You might be saying to yourself, but that's only a 1% difference, what's the big deal? The big deal is the added stress and strain on your body, particularly your legs. Steep downgrades are killers on your quads and can zap your glycogen (sugar stored in your muscles necessary for endurance and speed work) very quickly if you're not holding back. I can't tell you how many runners were slapping their feet LOUDLY as we made our way down the hill. It is hard not to just let gravity pull you down, but it would be a big mistake to do so, especially if you have not been training to pick up speed on the downhills.

Big ascent according to AFC map - I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say their map shows the climb starts around 11.5 miles and ends/levels out at about 12.5 miles. So let's over-estimate and say it's a 1.5 mile climb over roughly 200 ft (I'll give them 250 ft in this calculation). 
Calculated grade = 250 ft / (1.5mi x 5,280 ft) = 250ft / 7,950ft = 3.1%.

Big ascent according to Garmin data - The climb actually begins an ENTIRE MILE before the AFC map shows, not to mention the course actually dips back down to sea level (not 50 ft above sea level) before the ascent begins. The blip at mile 11 isn't 'real'. We were running through city streets surrounded by tall buildings. I can pretty much guarantee you that we were not running anywhere near 8mph (corresponds with elevation blip at mile 11) up any of those hills! To be fair, I'll average the % grade over the entire hill (lowest point to highest point). The length of the hill is, in reality, 2 miles long, climbing approximately 325 feet.
Calculated grade = 325 ft / (2mi x 5,280 ft) = 325ft / 10,560ft = 3.1%.

I'm sorry, but this is a huge misrepresentation. Climbing a mile at 3% is challenging enough, but a 2 mile climb at this same overall grade is A LOT more work. By mile 12, you're already at 200 ft, not 125 ft like the AFC map indicates. Is it really asking too much to revise the "official" elevation map to show how truly long and challenging that hill is? Do they want runners down on the sidelines (as we saw) who were too exhausted to continue? I understand it is our responsibility to check out the courses ahead of time, and I thought I'd done my homework. Never in my life would I have thought that after 33 years of hosting an event (this was the 34th year) someone hasn't taken notice of it and revised the map.

Okay, enough complaining! Let's get to the race because even with these challenges, our group ROCKED this course - and it is a beautiful one. Click here to get to my Garmin data and see the route!  I was very impressed with the Expo (not over-crowded or jam-packed full of vendors). Since we had to be bused to the Start, everyone caught buses near the Finish (Balboa Park). This was VERY well organized. Buses were coming in every 30 seconds. Runners were constantly boarding buses and the volunteers were terrific!!! I also want to mention the outpouring of community support that this race has. I DO recommend putting this race on your Bucket List.

Here are a few pics taken in the parking lot where we gathered prior to being called to the Start.
L-R: me, Weronika, Pam, Kim, Kendal and hubby John

L-R: Weronika, Rachelle, Patty, Melissa and Kim

L-R: Kendal, Emily, Pam and Cassie
(with Cassie's hubby Robb in the background)

The first couple of miles are so peaceful and beautiful. I wish more races started off like this. The runners around me during this segment were running so quietly. You could barely hear the sound of feet hitting the pavement. I felt like we were running out of respect to and in recognition of the important role Point Loma played in coastal defenses dating back to the 1800's. Click here to learn more about this national monument.

My husband took this beautiful shot of one our pace group leaders, Pam, as they made their way through the park with the majority of our beginners.

Here are some pics our members and our group leaders took (with a few professional photos mixed in) as we made our way along the San Diego Bay and Harbor Island:

Likely not by coincidence, no one had (or at least shared with me) any pictures between about mile 10 and mile 12 ("The Hill" segment).  The final half mile was surely worth every ounce of energy it took to climb it, I must say (though others may disagree with me). :-)

These smiling faces say it all:
Hubby John with group member Melissa.
To read about John and Melissa's heroic display of strength , the power of group support , and an incredibly inspiring story, please visit Hubby's blog. Their video finish is one of the most emotional finishes I have witnessed.
One of the joys I get out of pacing a group or even just one person is that you get to focus on helping another runner achieve a personal goal. You throw your ego by the wayside and pour your heart and soul into setting another person up for success - not just for finishing races and long runs either. Every run is a victory in some way but there's nothing like crossing your first finish line, be it a 5K, a half marathon or a full marathon. 

With that being said, here are some of our Grand Finale moments - our post-race Finishers photos! And YES, everyone made it!! These medals represented so much more to us than finishing. It was the culmination of a lot of hard work, working through mental challenges and believing in themselves!!

Members Grant, Robb and me.
Congrats on finishing your first half marathon you guys!!
Pace group leader Rachelle with Weronika.
Awesome job on your 2nd half marathon!!
Me high-fiving member, Kim (Melissa's Mom), with Mom and Daughter team Kendal & Emily,and Pam to the right. Congrats to you all! This was a first for Kim, Kendal and Emily, and #2 for Pam! I'm so proud of you Ladies!
After an emotional and tearful finish, Hubby and Melissa are all smiles!
L-R: Kim, Hubby John, me, Melissa, Weronika and Patty
For the first time, hubby and I were able to take an official post-race photo together! I don't think it's physically possible for me to smile any harder. LOL!

We celebrated our victories at Tom Ham's Lighthouse with a delicious champagne brunch!

A big shout out to members we didn't get clear pictures of - Claudia, Joey and Jesus! You did it! :-)

Congratulations Everyone! Your perseverance and the experience itself will take you a long way in this world, both in running and your lives. I can't wait to see what you do next!!

1 comment:

Joe said...

Vera, great post! It was a fun race!!

I use Galloway for all my training too...really has helped a ton.

I blogged on the AFC at Feel free to see how it went!

Way to grind it out up that last was a bear!!