Yosemite Half Marathon 2019

In Running, Longform, Race, Travel

Most people who’ve run with me know the “original” reasons why I run: to change myself, to improve, to focus. To find myself again…

I often wonder if I’ve succeeded. Years have passed. I’m a different person now (I hope?).

But have I changed enough? Am I the best person I can be? Have I found my way?

When I lay in bed every night, the answer is always no.

During this dream of a weekend, and one blur of a race… it’s clearer than ever to me that I still stand at the trailhead of long journey ahead.

THE IDEA

This trip wouldn’t have happened without Zarni. In turn, I would’ve never met Zarni if it weren’t for Melissa. And I wouldn’t have (desperately) asked Melissa this time last year for help if I hadn’t been made captain of a Ragnar Relay team. And I wouldn’t have ended up doing Ragnar in 2018, if Ragnar Napa Valley hadn’t been canceled in 2017 (and I wouldn’t had been originally invited to *that* Ragnar team if I hadn’t run Ragnar in 2015!). Nor would I have met Melissa if I hadn’t joined SF Runs over 2 years ago.

The point being that I’m so constantly AMAZED by where life has taken and continues to take me.

These days, I like wearing something meaningful when I race. This time, it was last year’s Napa Valley Ragnar shirt.

THE LEAD-UP

I’m more active now than I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve never been so fit!!!

But, in the weeks leading up to this race, I was also feeling pretty down. So, leading up to this past weekend, the fitness felt so, so good. The sadness (?) felt deliciously intense.

“Formally,” this race came at the tail end of a base aerobic mesocycle for a late July goal marathon, and the start of a lactate threshold cycle. So in a way, this was kind of a good time for a race. But I really had no taper: 70 miles the previous week, then just easy, mental therapy miles the rest of the week. No change in nutrition or sleep.

THE NIGHT BEFORE

Normally, I might describe some kind of pre-race routine here. But, the only relevant story here is Linda’s.

I’ll leave it to her to write her own race report (?). But suffice it to say that, even as I write this now, I’m still shocked. At turning around at the expo, after telling her the race would allow bib transfers, to see her actually messaging strangers selling their bibs!!!!!!! And the second wave of disbelief when she quietly told me later, with a smile, back at camp, that she had “gotten a hit.” Then arranging the logistics of the transfer with the other runner.

For the average runner, race day registration wouldn’t surprise me. But not a runner averaging 4 miles a week, a runner asking me for a crash course on how to use gels the night before a race. Or a runner racing her first half-marathon (and second race) ever.

THE MORNING + PRE-RACE

The morning of the race was ALMOST a cluster, involving race-morning traffic, trying to find the guy selling his bib, a friend forgetting his bib after we had already driven 20+ minutes to get to the shuttles, a shortage of shuttles to actually take runners to the start line, etc. etc. Maybe I’ll write more about it later. 🙂

Long story short, everything worked out in the end: we all got to the start line (albeit after an hour of waiting in a parking lot and 20 minutes before the start), Linda managed to fill out an official paper registration form 13 minutes before start, we all got to use a porta-potty in time (shocking), I actually managed to squeeze in about half an hour of sleep on the shuttle, AND we all got to the start line with 3 minutes (!!!) to spare!

THE START

The first thing I noticed at the start line was that there were a lot of people. Even though I had checked the winning times from previous years, I had somehow missed that there’d be over 3000 people at this race! No wonder they divided this race into two heats! That said, even though the starting area was very compact, the usual start line chaos seemed adequately controlled. There was the usual tension in the air, everyone corralled up pretty efficiently, we actually started on time!

The second thing I noticed was that no one else was wearing Vaporfly’s. Not going to say much more about this, but this definitely made me feel a lot more self-conscious, as if I’d have to justify wearing them in the first place. This was definitely on my mind often during this race.

And finally, the third thing was that we were starting on trail. On their course website, the race organizer says: “The first 5 miles of our course will start on Fire Rd and is on a rough terrain trail. There is no steep uphill or downhill here, but it’s not exactly flat either.” Of course I had known about this before actually getting to the race. But for some reason, I had imagined an asphalt trail, or a surface akin to well-maintained packed dirt or gravel. Instead, the trail was actually somewhat technical, with loose dirt, rocks, fallen logs and other trip hazards.

So when we finally got started, the only thing on my mind was not to f’ing injure myself! Especially with road racing shoes on and residual weakness in my right ankle.

THE FIRST 5 (MILES 1-5)

My A-goal for this race was maintain to something around 6:15 for the whole race, for a 1:22 finish. The B-goal was to try to stick with anyone running ahead of me and hopefully place well.

As soon as the race started, though, the A-goal went straight out the window. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t keep any pace under 6:30 after the first half-mile!!! The terrain wasn’t TERRIBLE. My ankle wasn’t rolling (like it was still doing on trail up to a couple weeks ago). The only things I could think of were (1) not having warmed up AT ALL, and (2) the altitude (?). We *were* starting at almost 5500 ft, over a mile above my Bay Area training grounds (Jack Daniels’ altitude model estimates that I lost about 11 sec/mile at 5000 feet). I’m still not sure what happened. All I know is that these opening miles were TOUGH.

As for the B-goal, I was pleasantly surprised NOT to see too many guys start breaking away during the first couple miles — about 4 guys, I think. I was also somewhat disappointed since I also knew that, with 5 guys clearly running way faster than me, I’d have a poor chance at placing overall.

As our opening positions shook out, I ended up being part of a pack of about 5-6 guys, who I’d pass on downhills and who’d pass me on uphills. A couple guys even started having a conversation around Mile 2 — mostly complaints about how we didn’t have any time to warm up (because of the bus situation) and how the course just throws us into trail. This mildly annoyed me because I was having a hard time while they were chit-chatting… but eh, it provided some measure of entertainment and hey, what can you do? 🤷‍♂️

Ultimately, while I got passed quite a bit while struggling on the first 3 miles, I somehow started running ahead of the pack by Mile 4.

THE MIDDLE 5 (MILES 6-10)

Until around Mile 5-10. These miles are definitely the highlight of this course. I’ve NEVER run a course with such a long stretch of steep (yet runnable, i.e. negative 3-10% grade) paved downhill before. My god, it was kinda insane. Insane how fast I was going for mile after mile in the middle of a half marathon, insane how low my heart rate was throughout the entire time, and insane how sore my quads and knees started to get DURING the run.

There were also no speed-killing corners (as you’d expect on a mountain road). Only curves. The downhill-ing got to a point where I suddenly starting hoping to see a short stretch of flat (or even uphill!) every time I turned a curve: the constant pounding on my quads and knees was that tiring.

That said, even though I think I’m a fairly good downhill runner (and am glad I’ve had some good downhill experience on the trail), I still got passed by 2 guys during this stretch. And even as I continued to pound the pavement, they kept getting farther and farther away.

Amidst this craziness, it occurred to me that, hey, I’ve never run so downhill so much in my life before… I should enjoy it. But, as soon as I really started to really get into the groove, I got to the end of the road… and crunch time.

THE FINAL 3.1 (MILES 11, 12, 13)

Every distance runner is advised, at some point, to think of races as segments or pieces, especially at the end (e.g. the last 10K, the last 5K, the last mile, the last 800m, etc.). This course almost seems like it was designed with that in mind. Because the last 5K literally started at the end of the downhill; Mile 10 marked the start of a lake run around residential streets. And honestly, while I was running this last 5K, I thought about quitting. After some 45 minutes of running downhill, just running on flat ground felt like the worst uphill ever; the sensation was simultaneously sad, absurd and almost upsetting.

What ended up keeping me going though, was Goal B. Because, even though I ended up rounding out the downhill alone, I suddenly realized that I was gaining on the guy in front of me. Worse yet, I could hear a guy closing in on me (initially from the interval between spectators cheering for me then for him, then actually hearing his footsteps behind me!!!).

Fortunately, I managed to stay ahead of Luis (the guy behind me) until Mile 12. Then it was REALLY go time: I recognized the last stretch, the final turn; my legs were thoroughly trashed, but I resolved to pick up my feet as fast as I could. At Mile 12, I also realized that I was some 15-20 seconds behind the guy ahead of me. I really had no kick left, but I pushed.

Finally, I heard finish line. Then I saw it. As I approached it, I heard the announcer say “What you’re seeing now are all our elite runners finishing! These finishers are all going on the podium!”, followed by “Victor Yee from Berkeley!”. I saw 1:20 on the clock, with the seconds ticking by both stupidly slow yet stupidly fast, then found myself on the other side. I saw and congratulated the two guys who passed me during the middle miles, then Luis (who ended up finishing 16 seconds behind me).

Then I got ready to welcome Linda, Zarni, David, and Ozy.

POST-RACE

The “problem” with racing with friends is that once you race with them, you never want to race without them again. Racing is fun. But watching friends race is just as, or even more, fun.

Throughout the race, I wondered what I had gotten Linda into. Because, other than the crash course on-course nutrition the night before, she had also asked me what pace she should run. The problem was, she had incredibly little running history (again literally 0-4 miles a week and never more than 9 miles in a single session nor more than 13 miles in any week ever). That said, she had been able to run 9 miles with me before, at about an 8:30 moving average. But, she also didn’t have a GPS watch or any way to check her pace without taking out her phone. So all I could tell her, essentially, was to run by feel and enjoy the ride.

So, as I waited in the finisher’s area, I had no idea when she was going to show up. But I couldn’t miss her (and everyone else’s) finish. Ultimately, I didn’t have to wait long LOL. She ended up easily cracking a 2-hour chip time, looking solid all the way through the finish line.

NEXT UP

One funny thing about this race is that I almost forgot about this one. When Zarni brought up the idea of Yosemite, and booked a campsite, I agreed to come almost out of instinct. Then as winter and spring passed, it was almost a surprise to everyone (or at least me) that this trip, and race, had somehow snuck up.

This is the second time I’ve camped and raced (the first time being Humboldt Redwoods in Nov 2017!). Now I realize I want more.

But my race calendar for the rest of this year is pretty set; I’m only making adjustments now to my 2020 calendar. For now, it’ll be the East Bay Triple Crown (Tilden Tough Ten, Lake Chabot Half, and Woodmonster) — and the DOUBLE DIPSEA!!! — this summer. Then Jack & Jill in Washington, with Chris, in July; Skyline 50K in August; my first 50-miler at Dick Collins in October; and probably the Amsterdam Marathon, also in October.

I have a sensation that this trip might be yet another turning point in my life. It’s hard to tell. Big races often have this effect on me, though I never considered this race to be important at all! Will I be hiking more? Camping more? Growing closer with new people? It’s been a few days and I’m still trying to make sense of it all. But something spoke to me. My goal now is to figure out what was said.

STATS

Chip Time: 1:20:34.2 (6:09 min/mile). Gun Time: 1:20:37.6.
Overall: 7/3077. Male 25-29: 2/247. All Male: 7/1069.
Age-Grade: 72.5%. Age-Grade Rank: 27/3077 — not bad, I guess!
Bib# 4327. https://runsignup.com/Race/Results/38425/IndividualResult/QsNQ?#U22861352

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