2016 Urban Cow Half Marathon Race Recap

2016 Urban Cow Half Marathon Race Recap

Any race where I: a) don’t get hurt and b) don’t have GI issues, is a good race.

This was my fourth running of this particular race, what I’d consider one of my hometown races.  I took last year off just because…I think partly due to injury but also possibly just from burnout.  Since I didn’t have much on my race docket earlier this year, I figured I’d sign up for this race on a whim.  I’ve always enjoyed it and the free post-race beer, plus you get a cowbell!

Summary:  Well organized race with little in the way for major gripes.  The race packet pickup is at the local Fleet Feet, which has 3 days of pre-race pickup (and they had race day packet pickup this year as well).  I elected to go on the first day (Thursday) of pickup right after they started (noon) so there was no line though the volunteers were still gearing up for the crowds.  This year every runner was given a nice tote bag (think grocery bag).

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Swag!

This is definitely helpful because earlier this year California banned plastic bags from supermarkets.  I guess there is still controversy as to whether or not the plastic bag ban really helps the environment, but we’ve bought into it and have been using reusable grocery bags for even before the ban.

I was a little nervous about this race only because I hadn’t properly trained for it.  A few days before the race I looked back at my training log and realized my last long run was back on August 19th (10.6 miles) and then after that my longest run was 7.5 miles at the beginning of September.  So I knew that I was definitely not going for a good time or going to push myself.  I also decided I was going to try a run-walk method that I had been reading up on.  I attempted this once in a regular run in September.

The night before the race I had my usual pizza except this time I made it.  I also elected not to have any alcohol, which is unusual.  Typically I have a beer the night before a race.  Also unusual was that I actually slept pretty well.  Again, usually before races I’m nervous and don’t sleep well – waking up every hour to check the clock to ensure I don’t oversleep.  This time I had about 6 solid hours.  I woke up and did my usual pre-race things – hitting the bano, having a bagel with peanut butter and just relaxing.  I also decided this time to head over to the race later than previously (it is about a 15-20 minute drive to the race start).

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Start area

I had a feeling that since I was heading to the race later than usual there would probably be a line on the freeway at the race exit.  For this reason I checked the map before heading out and elected to drive past the exit for the race and use the next off ramp and loop around.  Good thing I did because there were cars stopped for at least 1/2 mile on the freeway itself waiting to get off.  I found some street parking and walked over the William Land Park (the start and finish line).  They had a U shaped setup for their portapotties and even though I was there only 40 minutes before the race start, I found one with no line.  By the time I came out though the lines had started forming.  I walked around and there were numerous tents set up – from same day registration to various running groups and etc.

They had a two wave start for the half marathon.  The first wave took off at 7:30 and was for people expecting to run a sub-2 hour half marathon.  I had signed up for wave 2, which actually only took off 5 minutes after the first wave so not a long wait.  The early part of the course (~ the first 1.5 miles) weaves its way through the actual park before dumping into the residential areas just north of the park.  I felt a little strange walking after just the first 5 minutes so decided I’d start my run-walk race plan around the 15-20 minute mark. Now everyone knows that runners are a supportive lot and while I do appreciate it, sometimes it can be annoying.  Pretty much as soon as I started my 1 minute walk break, I had a runner come up next to me and pass me the whole time saying “come on man, you can do it!” and other such cheers.  Now I know he meant well, but I had a plan that I was following and not like you can explain that as the person saying it is already 20 feet ahead of you.

From the residential area, the course took us into the industrial part of Sacramento just south of the downtown area.  We also ran by the Front Street Animal Shelter and then north into downtown Sacramento.  We then made our way to Old Town Sacramento.  Old Town is kinda a kitschy throwback to the “wild west” days.  Cobblestone floors, wooden walkways and such.  In years previous, we ran down the main street on the cobblestone streets.  This year (maybe last year too but I wasn’t there) they altered the route so you didn’t run on the cobblestone at all (not sure if this was due to liability or what).  Then we reached the halfway point of the race as we ran southbound along the Sacramento river.  We following a bike trail down the river until we were dumped back into the residential area near Land Park (the start/finish).

Surprisingly I felt really good with my 5 minute run-1 minute walk method all the way up until about mile 9-10 when it started to become a little bit harder to maintain my running.  I aimed to maintain a run pace of somewhere under 10 min/mile pace and typically was hitting around 9:40 min/mile.  I was proud to maintain that overall speed because of my lack of proper training.  With no run longer than 7 miles in the 6 weeks leading up to the race, I knew that my legs weren’t technically ready for 13.1 miles.

That last 0.1 miles always gets to me.  I was doing an easy jog from miles 11-13 and then when I saw that finish line, I go into auto-pilot and start running quickly (aka sprinting).  In previous races, I’d walk through the finisher’s chute after collecting my medal and start picking up the usual post-race refreshments (bottled water, bananas, bagels).  I remembered to bring a plastic bag with me during the race so I’d have something to store the post-race goodies.  This year’s bounty certainly did not disappoint.  I picked up a bottled water, can of coke, 2 chocolate milks, some Kashi GoLean bars, and some pop chips.  They also had fresh strawberries and individual serving granola things.  This spread was a lot better than previous Urban Cows.  The highlight of my finish for this race is the beer garden.

This year’s beer was from Lagunitas (previous years it was Lockdown Brewing, which is located in nearby Folsom).  I picked up my free beer and also they had some chips out to snack on.

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Lagunitas IPA and chips

And a few minutes later…

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All gone

Finish time: 2:07:35 (9:44 min/mile overall pace).  I am extremely happy with that time given my conditioning going into the race.

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I’m wearing my RnR San Jose half marathon shirt from 2011 that was actually 5 years ago on this day. 

Here’s my collection of cowbells thus far (I don’t have any specific plans to do this race again since I’ve done it so many times and I want to try to do new races I’ve not yet done).

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-StewsCat

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2013 Shamrock’n Half Marathon Race Recap

The Shamrock’n Half Marathon is another one of my hometown races in Sacramento.  For whatever reason I’ve only run this race once in the 5 years that I’ve lived here.  However it holds a special place in my heart because it is where I have my PR in the half marathon distance.

As usual, the packet pickup was at the midtown Sacramento Fleet Feet store.

The start and finish line was at Raley Field.  Sacramento doesn’t have a MLB team though we do have a Triple-A affiliate team called the Sacramento River Cats.  Their home field is Raley Field in West Sacramento.  The first time I went to Raley Field was actually to see Incubus in a rock concert.  I like Raley Field because of its quaintness.  Compared to some of the other baseball fields I’ve visited (Dodger Stadium, Anaheim Stadium, Wrigley Field), Raley Field just seems more approachable and you feel like you can explore the entire area in a relatively short amount of time.  It has that small town feel.

Race morning I woke up at the usual super early time to do my business, eat, have coffee and then drive on over towards the baseball field.  Parking was at various places (baseball field parking, structures, street, etc.).  I chose to park in a structure about 1/4 mile from the stadium figuring it’d make an easier exit after the race.  After parking I walked over to Raley Field.  It was still dark out and I had a fair amount of time to just walk around the outside of the field along with the stands.

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Raley Field

As the start time came closer, we all lined up on the outside of the stadium.  One cool thing about the race is that you actually finish on the baseball field itself.  The other perk of the race is that you get to run across the famous Sacramento Tower Bridge – twice.  Right at the start of the race you run across the bridge towards the State Capitol building.  To be honest I do not remember a good chunk of this race.  Looking at the map did remind me somewhat of the course.  The first ~4 miles consisted of running around the Capitol building the streets of downtown Sacramento.  We then headed north to a bike trail that took us across the American River and into the very large Discovery Park.  We continued along the bike trail and then crossed over the American river again and this time ran on the east side of the Sacramento river.

We passed by the Tower Bridge because we needed to add in an extra 3 miles before making our way back to Raley Field.  As mentioned before, the finish line was on the actual field so it was fun to run into the stadium and onto the warning track of the baseball field.  The one cruel thing is that they made you walk up the stairs of the Field right after finishing the race.  Overall the course is very flat.

I hadn’t been particularly training to run a fast race, however about 3-5 miles into the race I realized that I was on pace to run a sub-2:00 half marathon.  I had been flirting with running a sub 2:00 half marathon for all of 2012.  The Urban Cow half that I ran 5 months before the Shamrock’n half was a 2:01:14.  Since I could tell that I was running a sub-2:00 pace, I decided to try to keep pushing it and see if I could run a PR.  At the time of this race, I had my phone in my waist belt and didn’t run with a GPS watch.  I had to rely on the on-course split timing mats.  This was a little difficult to do but I just kept telling myself to “push it.”  As I made it to the 10 mile mark, my legs definitely started to whine and I knew I’d be hurting the few days after the race, but I didn’t care.  I crossed the line and was a bit surprised how far under 2 hours I actually was.

Final chip time: 1:55:26 (Current PR)

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Blue Diamonds Almonds are headquartered here in Sacramento

I celebrated with a free Killian’s.

Killian's medal

-StewsCat

2012 & 2013 American River Parkway Half Marathon Race Recap

Race summary: Easy packet pickup at the local Fleet Feet.  Flat course running on the paved/graveled river trail along the American River.  The two possible downsides include the narrow river trail and levy as well as the possible heat when the race is run.

One of the huge perks of where we live is that there is the American River bike trail.  The trail runs for 32 miles from Discovery Park in Old Sacramento to Beal’s Point on the southwestern side of Folsom Lake.  Along the river there exists a network of paved bike paths along with graveled raised levies as well as single track  that runs between the paved bike path and the river.  Since moving to Sacramento in 2011, I’ve been using and running along the American River Parkway.  When I saw an advertisement for this race and saw it benefited the Parkway, I thought it’d be a great way to do a race and support the river trail.

Packet pickup as per most Sacramento area races was at the local Fleet Feet in midtown Sacramento.  For the 2013 race, I had signed up early enough that I qualified for a nice little perk – a race emblemed running hat.

One interesting aspect of this race is that there is a runner’s course as well as a walker’s course.  Having two separate courses for runners vs walkers is good because of the course and its width.  Since the race course runs along the American River bike trail levy, it is rather narrow.  If both runners and walkers were to run on one course, it would be so congested that runners would be quite irritated being stuck behind walkers.  Even with the two courses, there were definitely a few spots that seemed congested with just runners.

The races from 2012 to 2013 were vastly different.  The latter race date was moved back a week due to some problem that is evading my memory at this time.  However, this put the race into the first weekend of May.  The temperature in Sacramento in May can be nice or extremely hot.  The 2013 race for me was marred by heat.  The start (and finish) line area provided a large grassy area for porta-potties, various tents (run clubs, other races, refreshments) and plenty of room to spread out and stretch/warm up prior to race start.  One tradition of the race involves a bagpipe group playing just prior to the start.  The runner’s course heads west along the river toward Sacramento State University and Fair Oaks Blvd, while the walkers head east.  As mentioned before, the race start and initial few miles of the course are very crowded and you’re either following someone closely and/or someone is right behind you.  As I wasn’t aiming for a specific time goal either year this didn’t bother me as much.  If you’re thinking of a PR though you may want to line up in the early expected race times (they organize the start line based on your expected pace (6 min/mi, 7 min/mi, etc)).

The overall course is relatively flat save for the few areas where you move from the bike trail up onto the levy, or when you have to take the Guy West Bridge across the river.  The race is an out and back and one change from 2012 to 2013 is that the first year we remained on the north side of the river, while the second year we crossed over on the Guy West Bridge to the south side of the river trail and then came back over on the Watt Ave bridge.  The 2012 race went relatively smoothly and with the end of April weather, the temperatures rose up into the 70s.  The 2013 race was a slog and I really had to just keep telling myself to keep going as the temperatures rose into the 80s and then I think hit 90 by the time I finished the race.  Course support was okay with water and sports drink.  The supporters were scattered throughout and weren’t overwhelming.

Finish line perks at this race include a bag lunch (sandwich, apple, chips) as well as the usual bananas, water, chocolate milk.

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2012 Finish line

My times below are deceptive.  The 2013 race in terms of effort was much more than the 2012 race.  For the 2013 hot race I definitely found my mouth parched and there wasn’t enough water on the course that year for me to stay hydrated.  At one point with about 3 miles to go I felt like passing out.  The other downside was the fact they didn’t come up with a new medal from 2012 to 2013.

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2012 chip time: 2:12:50

2013 chip time: 2:13:00

-StewsCat

 

Urban Cow Half Marathon Race Recap (2014, 2013, 2012)

Urban Cow Half Marathon Race Recap (2014, 2013, 2012)

The Urban Cow Half Marathon is one of my hometown races.  It started out as the Sacramento Marathon a long time ago, then became the Cowtown marathon.  In its third iteration, the race was renamed the Urban Cow Half Marathon.  However, they dropped the full marathon distance when it was renamed and now offer a half marathon and 5K Run/Walk option.

Packet pickup is at the local Fleet Feet store in midtown Sacramento.  I like local races because the packet pickup process is usually fairly quick.  It helps that they have two days of packet pick ups (Friday and Saturday) before the race.  This is a non frills pickup and isn’t an expo by any nature.  Usually you go in and pick up your bib, t-shirt, and sometimes a small bag (not actual swag usually, just flyers for other races and products).  One year they had perks for people who signed up early (first so many runners) and in addition to the shirt, you received a handheld water bottle with the urban cow logo on it.

In the 3 years I ran the race, the course remained about the same.  The start and finish line are in Land Park (a large well-known park south of downtown Sacramento).  This is a nice start/finish area since there is plenty of room to have all the fun things for a race (lots of booths, tents, and beer garden at the finish).  Parking is also not terribly bad as you can park around the park and there are neighborhoods nearby that allow free street parking.

The first mile+ of the race courses through the park and then you head north into the neighborhoods.  These streets are lined with a variety of houses from the early 1900s to mid-century modern to more contemporary houses.  Typically the race is run the first weekend of October, which is great weather here in Sacramento.  It starts in the 40s or 50s and does warm up but not too terribly by the time the race is done.  After heading north through the neighborhoods we moved into a more industrial area of Sacramento just south of downtown.  You pass by the big Blue Diamonds almond plant as well as the Front street animal shelter.  After this we found ourselves in downtown Sacramento between the “sky scrapers” (aka taller buildings of the city – not really sky scrapers).  We run just west of the Capitol building so you get a nice view of it around 5.5 miles into the race.  Finally the turnaround takes place in Old Sacramento.

I feel like all somewhat big cities have an “old” part of their city.  Usually its very touristy and has some kitschy stores.  Sacramento is no different and has a bit of a Western theme.   There are some nice restaurants in this area and it also sits right on the Sacramento river.
We then continue south along the Sacramento river, passing by the famous Tower Bridge.  From miles 6 to 11, the course runs on a bike river trail along the Sacramento river.  This is a nice change of pace from running in city streets except if there are a lot of runners can get congested because the bike trail is fairly narrow.  Eventually at mile 11 we make our way back to regular streets and head north and then east back towards Land Park.  The last mile of the race is run through the park and that’s when you know you’re close.

I like the finish line because there’s always a large crowd of people cheering and they announce names of people as they reach the end.  The finish line refreshments are usually good – bottled water, chocolate milk, bananas, bagels.  The big perk is that all participants over 21 receive a free beer from a local microbrew.  When I ran the races, it was Lockdown Brewery from Folsom, CA.  Another unique part of this race is that the finisher’s medal is a cowbell.  Each year it is a different color.

Overall I like this race because of a few things:

  • Good weather – usually, global warming may change this though
  • Relatively flat course – the course is almost entirely flat except for a few areas where you have to climb short hills (in the city).
  • Good crowd support and course support
  • Easy packet pickup
  • Free parking
  • Free beer!!

I’m registered to run this race again this year after taking last year off.

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-StewsCat

2014 Davis Moo-nlight Run Race Recap

Race summary: Night race which is a change of pace, mostly flat course through neighborhoods except for crossing a long bridge going over the freeway, decent course support and spectators.  Free beer at the end!

My friend KP over in Davis asked me if I wanted to do this race with her and her friend.  I had never done a night race before and thought it might be fun.  Since the summers are so incredibly hot in Sacramento in the summers, a nice race seemed like maybe a good idea.  While the days are hot in Sacramento, it usually does cool off overnight (though sometimes it doesn’t start feeling cool until well past midnight).  The race’s name would make you think you’re running late at night, but in reality the race started around 7 pm (still daylight at race start).

I liked that they had a same day race packet/t-shirt pickup.  This was at the start of the race.  The race is held on the eastern side of Davis – most commonly known for its university (University of California, Davis).  The race start/finish and other fun things were on the DMG Mori Campus (I guess it is some manufacturing company).  I arrived about 90 minutes before the race start.  I picked up my shirt and bib and returned to my car to put away the shirt.  I met up with KP and her friend and we just hung out until the race.  The people estimated to take longer than 2.5 hours actually started the race 30 minutes before we did.  So we watched them start.  At race start, the temperature was still in the mid-upper 70s.  This is way too hot than I like but I figured since the sun would be setting within the next hour, it should cool off considerably.  This race was unique because we ran over a freeway bridge to get to the south side of highway 80 and run around south Davis.  The course mostly took us through various neighborhoods (with one section of a paved path through heavily wooded areas).  We ran the first half of the race south of the 80 and then re-crossed the 80 back to the north side.  By this time it was almost dark and there were volunteers handing out some glow necklaces.  This was a nice touch since many of us didn’t actually carry flashlights or headlights and at least made us somewhat visible.

Because I’m not used to doing a race at night, or running for distance in the evening, my body was a bit confused as to what I was doing.  Luckily I was running with KP (we had left her friend behind as she was struggling to maintain a good pace and told us to just go on without her) and its always easier to run when you have a friend to run with.  Around mile 10, there was a random person on the course handing out orange slices and this definitely helped as the temperatures still hovered in the low 70s and it was hot.

The last half mile took us through a field near the DMG building and this is where it was a bit treacherous as there was no street lighting and we couldn’t really see where we were placing our feet.  I was a bit concerned I may land in a pot hole incorrectly and sprain my ankle.  I was relying a bit on nearby runners who actually did have flash lights.  I luckily made it through with no injuries and powered to the end.

Final chip time: 2:13:16

At the finish, I had my free beer (why else do you do races, right?) and also half of KP’s beer since she wasn’t feeling it after the race.  The race medal was cool because it’s the largest one I’ve had.  It also glows in the dark.

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-StewsCat