Race Report: Avenue of the Giants Half Marathon

Representing my home state of Illinois and Golden Gate Running Club

Elusive 90 Minute Half Marathon

After a disappointing attempt in February to run a Half in under 90 minutes, Xavier convinced me to sign up and train for the Avenue of the Giants Half in early May. It seemed really simple, but in hindsight this training cycle brought me up to a new level of running.

Trees Older Than Time

The event takes place in Humboldt Redwoods State Park in rural Northern California and follows an immaculately paved road through an old redwood forest. It took us about 5 hours to get to the race start given rest breaks, so not a quick drive out of San Francisco.

The entire race has you ensconced in a backdrop of redwoods so quiet that you can hear the birds chirping away in the forest. There isn’t much to do besides hit the turnaround point and double-back. Luckily for me, races in this scenery are a Zen-like experience and a welcomed break from busy city streets and intersections.

Doubling The Mileage

April was a big month for me, clocking in at almost 162 miles. Historically I’ve never run more than 85 miles in a month, so training for this race was a new experience.

Slave to the Spreadsheet

I’ve never followed a structured training plan before and Xavier helped guide me through the process. We used a slightly modified version of Brad Hudson’s Half-Marathon Level 1 plan with a few days switched around to follow GGRC‘s (Golden Gate Running Club) Wednesday Track night and Sunday runs.

Running ~40 miles/week was new to my body and the first three weeks of increased mileage had me in a rut. I needed to eat more, sleep more, and my water intake increased to around 2L/day. I had my general meals, but also started to eat when I was hungry. I successfully kept the snacking to whole wheat crackers with peanut butter, nuts, and banana & berry smoothies with yogurt. There was also a healthy amount of dark chocolate, which I basically consider energy.

The main weekly routine was (1) Tempo, (1) Long Run, (1) Speed Session, and (2-3) Recovery Sessions. I only missed two or three recovery runs due to work, injury, or travel; consistency was the name of the game for this plan and it shows in my Strava log.

Travel, Sickness, and Injury

Late March, when the miles started to add up, I had issues with my TFL and Hip Abductors. Every day, regardless of my workout, I was on the foam roller and Lacrosse ball for around 20 minutes a day to help loosen up tight areas. The diligence paid off and I was able to coast into the last month of training injury free.

The hardest block of time for me was the week of April 16-30th where I spend a week in Sydney Australia and also somehow contracted bronchitis. The 15 hour flight, jetlag, casual drinking, and inability to exchange air when running took a toll on me. Luckily I was able to find some unobstructed running loops in Sydney and log miles before the rest of my vacation crew wanted to head out of the apartment for the day. Additionally, my airway cleared up a few days before the race and my leg strength was unaffected. I knew at some point during the training block I was going to be sick, and I was just going to have to roll with it!

Race Day

I arrived at the start line injury free, rested, hydrated, and with a settled stomach — always a welcomed way to start any endurance event. It was slightly chilly and overcast, perfect running conditions. Since Xavier and I had the same race goal, we decided to run together with an agreement that if either of us was feeling strong and wanted to push pace, that we should go for it.

The limited GPS signaling meant that our watches were all over the place. My watch was generally beeping at each marker, but became more skewed with each mile. If you do this race, write out the mile times on your arm so you can see where you are at given clock time. The course it a basic out-and-back with a turnaround at the halfway mark. We clocked 44:45 at the turnaround, so we knew we had to maintain speed and start to try to negative split the race.

Around mile 10, Xavier started to pull ahead of me. My heart rate was increasing and my breathing became more labored. The rolling hills for the last third of the race started to wane on my effort. I found myself outputting the same effort as the first half (6:50 pace), but running slower (7:10-7:15). My heart rate was trending upward so I pulled my pace back by 2-3%.

Soon the sub-90 minute goal was out of reach and got weighed down with negative thoughts. When I accepted that I was going to clock in over my goal, I decided to enjoyed the scenery, cheered for other runners, and even ended up picking off a runner a head of me with a last bit of pain-cave-dizziness-effort at mile 12. As I finished, Xavier was standing right outside the chute and I could hear him starting to yell at me to kick my brains out – a welcomed voice after being in a pain cave for the last 20 minutes of the race.

I finished at 1:32:13, 26th overall, 8/71 in my age-group, and cut over 4 minutes off my last Half attempt. Overall a big gain despite not being able to clock in under 1:30.


Have You Tried Running More?

The post-race emotional high had Xavier and I recapping our training experiences and what I could do the next attempt to keep me from waning at around mile 10. For both of us, we needed more sustained efforts on longer runs. I was using GGRC‘s Sunday run as my long run, which meant running out to the Presidio (5 miles), idling for 10-15 minutes while the group gathers, running 6-7 miles with the group that included water/regroup breaks, and then circling back home.  The longer runs should have been constant efforts, which would have helped me dig deeper for the final third of the race.

This event was a big step for me, and I finally feel like I can brand myself as a runner. There is going to be another push to break the 90 minute mark, and I’m going to achieve it. This latest round of racing taught me more about my limits, what tools I need to be successful, and a few more tricks to improve the cardio system.


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