Nike Women’s Half-Marathon: Running a Race for Training is Weird

I ended up running the Nike Women’s Half-Marathon on Sunday sort of last minute — like Saturday night decision. Primarily, I wanted to go over to the race to interview some people and feel it out for a story. (Which by the way, you should all go over and check out my story about how races profit off free labor at Beacon Reader. It’s a new journalism platform where you can subscribe, get access to all the reporters on there and the money goes to straight to the writer — me!) But, also, I wanted to get in a long hard, marathon pace type run.

I know people do races for training all the time. But, it’s not really my thing. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever done it. I’ve done races where I didn’t expect to PR because it wasn’t a target race, but I still put everything out there on that day. When I race I race. Probably my number one skill in sports is being scrappy/bringing the race face. I’m not saying I’m super fast, but if we just measured the difference between how you perform in training and how you perform on race day, I’d probably be at the top.

So, I don’t usually waste that.

AGH, so many people and lights and speakers.
AGH, so many people and lights and speakers.

And, I guess, well, I didn’t. I definitely did NOT bring my race face to Nike Women’s. I got to the parking garage, about a half-mile from the line, at 6:08 for a 6:30 start. My regular race panic kicked in and I started bolting down the street before I remembered I was going to use the first few miles to warm-up. Also, everyone around me looked at me like I was crazy. Evidently, among the majority of the 30,000 racers there is less of a sense of urgency than I usually feel. After I got my bag dropped at bag check at 6:20, I spent the next 14′ scouring fancy hotel bathrooms for feminine products.

When I finally walked out of the St. Regis at 6:34, I realized we still had 6′ until my corral was scheduled to cross the start line. Because the bib I got from a friend of a friend came with a pace bracelet, I was in the 9:00-9:59 pace corral. It was interesting. I didn’t realize this is what the race looks like to most people doing it: more casual, more photos being taken, more stopping to talk and gossip.

Even running relatively easily, I had to weave like I was drunk. Lots of people did, though it is downtown San Francisco, so it’s possible some of them really were drunk. In the dark, nobody was out yet, so most people just jumped up on the sidewalk to run. This policeman was trying to shoo everyone back into the street, but it was a losing battle.

I sort of enjoyed the scenery and ran 8:23, 8:00, 7:48 for my first three miles. Then, my plan was to pick it up for the next mile (7:18) and run marathon goal race pace (7:00-7:05) for the last nine miles. I think I managed one mile actually in that range.

Since I didn’t bring my race face, I hadn’t really looked at the course. That meant I didn’t really realize, or I only sort of realized, I would be running my marathon pace miles over this:


I did a 6:55 mile along the water and then a 7:15 mile that included the big climb up from Crissy Field. Then, there was a 7:55 mile while we were going up and a 6:45 when we were going down. Somewhere around then I started to worry that this was really hard. Should it be this hard? It did not feel easy. And it definitely did not feel marathon pace-y. Then I did like another 8:00 while we ran uphill and a 6:35 down to Ocean Beach.

At that point I started to get really worried. My legs hurt and I just wanted to be done. I’d been hungry since mile 4. I was going, in theory, 45″ slower per mile than my half-marathon PR. But, it wasn’t easy. What the hell is that about?

I even had to buckle down, zone out and grit my teeth for the last three miles. Since they were flat-ish — up through the park and then back down and into the finish, I was the closest to the actual pace I meant to go: 7:15, 7:00, 6:50. But, when I finished in 1:36:47 I realized I didn’t feel wiped out at all. I felt fine and completely coherent. I changed clothes and started interviewing people.

So, I guess that’s the difference between a training race and a race race.

Running up, up, up.
Running up, up, up.

The race is really well-done, but also totally weird. It caters specifically to women runners — or rather a caricature of what women are supposed to be. They had chocolate at one aid station. What am I supposed to do with a chocolate bar in the middle of a race? (I stuffed it in my sports bra.) They were handing out baby wipes at other aid stations. I think to wipe off the sweat. Did no one tell anybody that women are supposed to sweat when they run? There were actual firefighters dressed in tuxedos handing out Tiffany necklaces at the finish. If that doesn’t scream me, I don’t know what does.

7 thoughts on “Nike Women’s Half-Marathon: Running a Race for Training is Weird

  1. Nike is a tough one to “race”, especially if you don’t start in the faster corrals because there are way too many people that don’t understand running etiquette. I’ve done it twice, but never again. It’s much nicer to run in the city when it’s less crowded 🙂

  2. “A caricature of what women are supposed to be,” is the perfect description for this race. Last year they had a sports bra booth around mile 7. To buy a new bra. During the race. I just don’t understand.

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