Sunday started off on the wrong foot. Kennedy wasn't feeling well and crawled into bed next to me and proceeded to kick me and shove me for about five hours. I got out of bed around 4:15, got my stuff together and left for Huntington Beach, where I'd be trying to pace a runner from my pace group (Kuuipo) to her first sub-2 half marathon.
The drive was smooth. No cars, no traffic, cruised right into a parking spot. A little while later I was at the start of the marathon, where I'd been each of the last two years. This time though I was there to see two of my other runners off, including one (Dean) who had not run a marathon before.
After wishing them luck, I went back to my truck to gather a few things and then back to the start. Maybe this wasn't the best idea because it was a nearly two-mile round trip. I used it as a warm-up but still.... it was a long warm-up and hoped it wouldn't affect me negatively.
I found my friend who'd sold me a bib, put it on and texted Kuuipo. Before too long, she was bidding farewell to her family and we made our way down to the start. It was jam-packed but we got up near the front. I tried to give her some encouraging words but I could tell she was focused and ready to conquer the distance.
This is going to be fun.
Right away, I could tell Kuuipo was ready. She took off, was running faster than the 9-minute pace I wanted to keep for the first three miles. We passed the first mile marker in 8:39 and it certainly felt like it was a sub-9 mile. I'd told her to use multiples of 9 as a rough guide (Mile 1 in 9 min, Mile 4 in 36, Mile 6 in 54...) to help us finish our sub-2, so we were ahead of pace after one mile and after two as well. After three we were at 25:48, well under the 27 minutes we roughly needed to be around.
Can we keep this up?
The thought had poked at me. I was hopeful that we would be able to maintain this pace. It was certainly faster than I'd intended on coming out - I thought we'd be closer to 28 minutes after three miles. We did feel good though, felt strong and I felt like we had a lot in reserve. We were talking, Kuuipo and I, and we were not gasping for air or anything.
Up ahead I saw a fellow San Francisco Ambassador. Christina and I had been trying to figure out where each other was via text just before the race started and I realized she was somewhere in front of me. On the course, I spotted her wearing her SF gear. I finally caught up, patter her on the shoulder (which I think startled her) and got a high-five.
A little after that, blog/Twitter buddy Julie spotted me. I was surprised to see her and managed just a "HEY!!!" before shaking her hand and parting ways. Both meetings were great but way too short. Still, it's always nice putting faces to names.
Soon after, we got off the main road and veered inland. The full marathon runs you through a park, which I thought was one of the better parts of that race. The half though does not. I missed running through the park and was disappointed that we would have only major streets to run on. In the park, there are plenty of enthusiastic middle schoolers cheering on the runners, but we missed out on that. In some ways though, we were able to keep our focus on the road in front of us and the task at hand.
At Mile 4.5 we hit a water station and I took my first GU. I'd not had any at home so I bought two at the expo right before the race. I popped the Roctane GU, which I have became a big fan of. I had also decided at the last minute to not wear my water belt so I was downing Vitalyte at most every water stop.
Our miles were a bit erratic at this point, but that had to with the moderate inclines and declines. Mile 4 was 8:53, Mile 5 8:25 and Mile 6 8:57. The last mile though was our one and only stop as Kuuipo had to tie her shoe. We got back on Pacific Coast Highway at this point and headed up towards the turnaround. It was well up ahead, probably a good three miles.
All along, I knew that we were going to do it. I had actually told Dean before the race that I thought Kuuipo could do a 1:55, that she had been doing so well lately it was all but inevitable. I hadn't told her all this exactly but I did tell her I had a lot of confidence in her and I reminded her of it during the race.
This portion of the race seemed to take long. I don't know if I just wanted to turn around as soon as possible but the turnaround was quite a bit away. We finally reached it though and headed south, in the direction of the finish line. There were only four miles and change now, and we were still under our rough guide of 9-minute miles.
But I was unsure just how much we I had in reserve. We'd been holding a steady pace throughout: some of our mile times from the first nine miles - 8:39, 8:38, 8:41, 8:53. I thought about keeping this pace for the duration of the race.
"When do you want to pick it up? Mile 10?" Kuuipo asked.
Pick it up?!?
I was not sure if I had a pick-it-up in me, but I told her sure, that that sounded fine. Mile 10 we ran in 8:37 but Mile 11 featured an incline. It wasn't a hill (the people at San Francisco would smack me if I referred to that portion of the race as a hill) but it definitely was not flat. We threw in our first and only 9-minute mile here as we ran Mile 11 in 9:04.
But we did have a pick-it-up in us though. Mile 12 and Mile 13 were each 8:34. My legs were feeling the race, the previous 11-12 miles, and my feet were not quite throbbing but within earshot of that. I thought to myself that I only had to push hard for this last stretch and once we got to the finish I could relax.
I was feeling happy for Kuuipo who was very close to reaching her goal but I was also feeling quite exhausted, and that tempered the happiness a little bit.
"Just go ahead, take off!"
Kuuipo had insisted I run fast once we got close to the final mile marker. I hesitated but I could hear it in her voice - she wanted me to run fast. So I did. I took off, a few steps and I was hitting my top gear. It wasn't quite translating into speed but I was running faster than I had been.
This may have been her strategy though. I thought that I may have left Kuuipo behind but she came up behind me, having found her top gear. She looked strong and I was glad that I was able to help her find that top gear. She passed me by, I made no attempt to catch her and instead settled in just behind her. I thought it was only fitting to have her finish a step or three ahead of me.
Just before I crossed the finish, I raised my arms up, smiled and held it until I was past the photographers.
That was my me-moment.
The rest of the day was all about Kuuipo.