The San Francisco Christmas Relays: Race Review

The Christmas Relays are miserable. Everyone knows it. And, yet, everyone still does them every year. I raced the relays again this past weekend, for probably the fourth or fifth time.

It’s hard to explain why it’s so miserable. It’s supposed to be a fun holiday relay race, but there’s something about it that’s slow and long and uphill both ways and it’s mid-December, so everyone’s out of shape in mid-December. It just hurts. Steve did the race for the first time this year — we did it with another couple — and I tried to explain why it sucks. “It’s only 4.5 miles,” he asked, “What’s so bad about that?” Yeah, but it’s a mysteriously slow, terrible 4.55 miles.

After he finished, he basically had to admit that it is mysteriously awful.

Still. It’s the only $18 race where the field will be evenly split between people in costume and Olympic hopefuls. It’s a classic. You have to do it at least once.


The Expo and Goodies

This is a running race classic. That means you better not expect the same kind of scene as at the super-fancy big marathons. There was a brunch truck this year that you could buy food from. And, there are always a few Gatorade containers with water in them. The big new perk in 2014 was the beer tent: everyone got two free beers from 21st Amendment. (I even got three. Don’t ask.) And, they were good beers. Since you have all this time to kill while you wait for the other runners in your relay to finish their 4.55-mile leg, the beer was a nice touch. Who cares that it’s 9:30 a.m.?

The other cool feature is that you can opt to pay less and not get a t-shirt with your entry — which is a nice option if you have too many t-shirts. Winners get mugs.

The Course

The course is what makes the race so miserable. Allegedly, all you have to do is a run a 4.55-mile loop around Lake Merced, but there’s something about that loop that is all uphill.

Actually, it starts out slightly downhill, so you go too fast and blow up. Everyone does. It can not be avoided. Then, it’s all false flat up — just a small enough incline that you don’t notice it; all you notice is that you’re going a lot slower and it’s a lot harder. And, the run is all on sidewalk around the lake, which can get sort of annoying, especially as you dodge dogwalkers and Sunday morning joggers.

The first year I did it, we all wore costumes (see above) and I went out hard — really hard. Within a couple minutes I was overheating and wheezing. Since I was the last runner in our foursome and the field gets really spread out over the full 18 miles, there weren’t many runners around me. I was sprinting down a sidewalk by myself, in a very non-breathable leotard, weaving through walkers, and I looked over at the cars driving down the busy road next to the park and realized that this whole thing must look ridiculous to the drivers.

The Organizational Details

It’s a four-person relay, with each person running one 4.55-mile lap around the lake. Being the Bay Area, there will be lots of disgustingly fast relays. There will be one women’s relay made up of Olympians and future Olympians. Then, there will be another ten women’s relays that all still average under six minute mile pace. Be prepared for this.

Also, be prepared for spending a lot of time hanging out. It’s usually cold and it’s often raining, so two hours standing around in a parking lot may not sound like the most fun idea ever. (This is why the beer tent was such a nice addition this year.) If you go first or second, then you’ll be done and can hang out — extra bonus: if you go first or second, then you’ll probably have more people around you to run with too.

Grade: B-/C+

Winter in California

Saturday, when I re-joined the gym, it was sunny and fairly warm, you know, for December. At the pool there were people sunbathing. It basically looked like this:

Yep, obviously, that is me.
Yep, obviously, that is me.

Which, I mean, it was nice, but I don’t know that it was that nice. Still, after the cold weather last week (and, yes, it was cold, so there), everyone is going a little nuts with the sun and mid-60s. If it stays this nice until New Year’s, it’s going to get hella annoying with all the people and their short-lived resolution to lose the holiday weight. Of course, rain sucks too. Guess we’ll just have to decide which is worse: hypothermia or crowds.

Everyone keeps Instagramming photos of Christmas lights and trees and holiday spirit, which evidently looks a lot like a sepia filter of cookies. We actually don’t have any of those things at our house because our LED fake tree finally started to kill brain cells from the lead paint and Tupac the Cat would almost definitely eat the needles of a real tree, which apparently can puncture his stomach. Also, the lights on our porch are half out. So.

Guess we’ll just trade that for trail running in shorts and swimming outside or something.

Merry Christmas from (Northern) California.


Back to Training After Vacation is Exhausting

Today, I was back to my regularly scheduled programming, which was tough. I suppose it’ll be tougher tomorrow, when I have to actually go back to work. But, with the whole ‘working for myself’ thing, I haven’t made any money in three weeks, so back to work it is.

I ran ten miles today and barely made it the full ten. I even tripped over my own feet more than once.

I also had to dodge 60-70 mountain bikers on the trail. That isn’t an exaggeration. On the weekends, it’s a popular mountain bike trail, so there were a good number of groups and families out. The trail is also used for a program taking inner city kids into the outdoors — on bikes. Five of those groups of leaders + kids passed me, in addition to the regular mix of weekend warriors and small children.

At that point, I’m not going to stop for every single mountain biker. That’s not bitchy, right? I just move to one side and keep running. The only problem is some of these kids learning about the outdoors don’t have amazing handling skills. Not that I’m going to hate on anyone’s poor mountain biking skills. Kettle. Black. But, still, it makes it rough.

The kids are also practicing their trail etiquette, so instead of one person yelling, “Runner Up,” every single kid yelled it. It was cute/annoying.

About halfway through, I was doing a pick-up effort at about 6:30 pace and a group of kids + leader passed me going the other way. One of the kids yelled, “Jogger Up.” If I’d been near the end of the effort I might have stopped and done some explainin’. Look, kid, this is not a jog. I am definitely going harder than you are. 

But, I was too tired. So, I didn’t.

The main reason I’m so tired is because of all the visiting, and traveling, and being a tourist with my parents for the last week, and ‘skiing.’

Steve and I on the Pinecrest dam. "Hiking."
Steve and I on the Pinecrest dam. “Hiking.”


This is the only photo of me actually skiing. Eat your heart out.
This is the only photo of me actually skiing. Eat your heart out.

I say ‘skiing,’ because I don’t ski. I have skiied four times in my life and twice was in the Midwest, so that evidently doesn’t count. The last time Steve and I went three years ago at Dodge Ridge, it didn’t go well. We don’t talk about that.

So, this time, I started out very slowly and worked my way up the mountain.

Eventually, I was able to do a few long blue runs all the way from the top. I would say I only fell a few times, but it might be more accurate to say I only totally wiped out a few times. I fell plenty. Still, I only got a couple blisters and no new concussions. We’ll call that successful.

I also ran a little bit in the snow (and ‘hiked’), which was also exhausting. Doing drills in a semi-plowed parking lot, I accidentally ran backwards into a snow drift. Not a peril that I encounter regularly.

Back to normal it is.

Steve, me, my sister's boyfriend, Jake, and my sister, Maggie, near the top of the mountain.
Steve, me, my sister’s boyfriend, Jake, and my sister, Maggie, near the top of the mountain.