49ers Rush 4.9K
It’s 5am when my twin alarms go off and for once I don’t have to resist the urge to hit the snooze button on both, if only because that would take some effort. Despite the early wake up I’ve slept well, which is weird because I don’t normally sleep well. But I don’t dwell on it too much as I stretch for the ceiling, feeling several audible cracks in various places, and proceed with my normal routine of getting ready this mornings race: the 49ers Rush 4.9K in Santa Clara (Because they’re the 49ers. Hahaha…oh forget it), which is the last of what I’ve been calling the Stadium Racing Set (The A’s Play Ball 5K in April, Sharks Fitness Face Off 10K in June, Giant’s Race 10K in August and the Raiders Back to Football 5K last week being the others). Once again I tape up my achillies as music from my laptop pumps up the beat, get dressed in my standard Forward Motion gear (a couple of friends suggested I run in Raiders and/or Seahawks gear, which makes me wonder if they’re trying to get me killed), double-check my bag to make sure that I have everything I need, both in terms of running gear and paperwork. After a quick post on the “Book of Face” I’m out the door and onward to my truck Silver as I drive on 24E to Walnut Creek, on a rare moment when the highway is actually not flooded with cars.
Wait a sec I hear you saying. Walnut Creek? Isn’t the race in Santa Clara? And you’re right. But the thing is Dear Reader, unlike most of the races I go to, this time I’m not going alone. Fellow Forward Motion member and badass racer Shawna Clark is also running this one, and we decided to carpool together after we discovered we were both going. So with that I park Silver in front of her place in Walnut Creek at 6am on the dot as planned, and after a quick hello we head to her car. “Hope I don’t scare you with my driving,” she says, “‘cause I drive fast.” As we tear onto the road towards Santa Clara I can see what she means, but I’m not worried in the slightest. The drive is actually quite smooth, although there are more cars on 680 than either one of us would’ve expected on a Saturday at 6am. The drive goes fast as we chat about the particulars of the race, how many people were there last year, what were the winning times, what’s the course like (It looks kinda long to me) and so forth. Both of us are professional in the sense that we like to be well prepared. Before long we’re in Santa Clara, which has changed a lot since the last time I was there (Getting a new stadium and Super Bowl will do that I imagine).
Parking is a lot easier than expected, especially since I spent the extra money when I registered to get a parking pass, and we arrive ahead of schedule. The sun is starting to make itself known and there isn’t a cloud in the sky as we traverse the slowly filling lot towards registration to pick up our race bib & shirt. I’m a little in awe actually, as I’d never been to Levi Stadium before. It’s quite impressive, and I could imagine it being a blast to watch a game. There’s a series of tents in which we collect our stuff, and though there’s a little confusion about the bibs at first, a quick check at the computer station rectifies that easily. I’m a little disappointed in the shirt though; it’s white rather than red and really not that impressive. But I put that thought away as we head back to the car, all the while checking people out to see who if anyone will be our competition at this race, for that is the one thing that is nearly impossible to plan for. I don’t see anyone at the moment, but then again it’s early.
We decide to warm up, jogging a long slow loop around the adjacent parking lot where a solid lane of cones and barricades clearly define a large loop that will encompass the first mile of the course. It’s starting to get warmer, something neither of us are thrilled about. We’re almost back to the car when I get a running hello form Zach Holtz, a fellow racer and member of The Fit Potato. Zach’s specialty is the 5K and I already know from experience that he’s faster than I am, so for me this race got more challenging. Back at the car we continue to get ready, though there are little differences in how that I find interesting. Shawna’s more about jogging to keep herself warmed up while I’m more abut stretching to keep myself flexible. The temperature is starting to rise, and we decide to ditch our sweats early and head for the start, lest we get stuck in the crowd. The starting line is thankfully under an overhang and after some maneuvering we’re able to get in the front along with Zach. There’s another tall fellow who recognizes me from the Giant’s Race a few weeks back, who introduces himself as Anthony and looks like a younger version of Niners QB Colin Kaepernick. The GPS on my timex watch fails to register (there’s a reason it’s my back-up watch) much to my frustration, meaning I have to use the stopwatch and calculate the pace as I go. We wait, that nervous energy that materializes the minutes before a race starts getting more evident. The Niner Drummers appear as we get ready to start, which is rather cool but make it nearly impossible to hear. Suddenly the countdown starts and we gear up for the simplest but oh so satisfying two letter word in existence.
The best way to describe the course is two separate loops on either side of the stadium followed by an inner loop in the stadium before finishing on the field. As the start blares we careen around the first corner 100 feet in, crossing a small bridge before looping back toward the registration tents and heading through the parking lot. Anthony has taken the lead like a pistol shot (Apparently he runs like Kap too) with yours truly in fourth, but it quickly becomes apparent that the other two people ahead of me were just trying to get a good start & I’m able to quickly overcome them as we start through the lot. Zach pulls up alongside as we move through the weird angular loop. The radio station in my head has nothing at the moment as I take the turns sharp and inside. As we whip back around heading towards the bridge Zach remarks we need to run this guy down as Anthony has a solid lead. So we push a little, with your truly wondering how long I can hold on.
Traveling over a second bridge to the cheers of the many, many volunteers we take a sharp curve onto Bill Walsh Way, hitting the first mile at 4:59 much to our surprise. I suspect it’s short, but without my GPS I can’t be sure. Despite the ever rising heat I decline water at the aid station as Zach starts to pull away a little as we head towards the second loop which take place around a large practice field. I decide to put on a small burst to keep up, and I cut the corner sharp to be able to get closer, getting to within a step behind as we hit another sharp corner on the square, the volunteer warning us to watch the curb as we slice through to head back towards the stadium. Zach starts to increase the lead (I’ve lost sight of Anthony by this point) on the straightaway, before we loop inwards and head on the practice field. There’s a lot of turns on this part of the course, but thankfully the years of road racing give me a slight edge here as I can slice the corners without losing speed, and as we exit the practice field I’m less than 20 feet from Zach. We hit the straightaway on Bill Walsh Way, blurring past the numerous cones and volunteers who cheer us on, before making our way to final loop of the course: inside the stadium itself.
The stadium loop was the part of the course I was most curious about, given I hadn’t been to Levi Stadium and didn’t know the layout. As we curve into the stadium (Shawna would tell me later that’s where the 2nd mile marker was. I totally missed it.) I approach with slightly widened eyes as I realize we have to run up a few flights of stairs to the second level. “Stairs!” I yell out with a laugh “Why’d it have to be stairs?!” which gets a laugh from the volunteers present as I fly up the stair two at the time. Hitting the top I turn right and zip through the inner portion of the second level. It’s thankfully shady and cool as Rihanna is currently blasting through the sound system so loud that if someone were to come up from behind I wouldn’t know till it was too late. I can see Zach ahead and continue to pursue, though my hips are not happy about the earlier stairs. But there’s not much I can do as I continue onwards. After running through the inner portion to the end of the stadium we curve around to the right and proceed on the outer portion which heads back the way we came, making a giant backwards C if you will. There’s no shade here though, and the heat is rough but I’m still pushing through as we head towards the final zig-zag of the ramp that takes us down to ground level. Once again I’m able to take the turns sharp and use the downhill to gain a little speed, though not with the wild abandon I was able to get at Trail Hog; the zig-zag’s a little too sharp for that. It’s not long before we hit the ground floor and head onto a slight uphill before leveling out on the grass and the finish on the side the field. Despite my sharp cornering, Zach has too big of a lead for me to make up at this point, but I still push forward for a top 3 finish, almost hitting a camera guy who took that moment to walk on the course.
I hit the finish line 3rd Overall with a time of 15:05, which I’m little stunned by to be honest. 4.9K is supposed to be 3 miles exact, so this had to be shorter, but with my GPS out, I’ve no real way to tell. After grabbing some water I hang out in the shade and cheer on as Shawna comes rushing in at 13th Overall and 1st Overall Woman. Ecstatic we make our way off the field, remarking about the course and the heat before grabbing some post race snacks. We hang with Zach in the shade for a bit, who agrees that it had to be short, though neither he nor Shawna were able to get their GPSs working, so none of us are certain. After taking time to stretch and hang out we try to figure out when awards will be as Top 3 get prizes, but none of the volunteers seem to know, so Shawna and I head back to the car to grab our phones and water. Making our way back into the stadium we notice that one of the concession stand is open and several people have a beer, so I walk over to find that initially all they have is Budweiser, but the gal at the counter mentions they’re making Mimosas, which she swears aren’t that strong (which ends up being total BS, and Shawna and I have a good laugh about that later). I snag one and we take a pair of seats and hang out in the sun, chatting a bit with Anthony when he passes by. The view the field as people walk in is pretty amazing, and I can only imagine how much fun a game would be here (Though I imagine the ticket prices at this level would make my wallet cringe).
It’s not long that the announcer on the PA mentions our names to head to the small stage on the concourse and we rush up the stairs, me careful to not spill my drink, to get our prizes. We get announced to applause as we take pictures with the cheerleaders, each of us flexing because we can (And yes, Anthony totally did the Kaepernick thing where he kissed his bicep, which was great). Both of us get Niners hats and autographed Mini-helmets, though I’m unable to tell who actually signed them. With the prizes done although there is a Challenge Event, which is an obstacle course with football drills, Shawna and I decide to head back to the car before the heat and traffic becomes an issue. As we head out and back on the freeway we talk about the race and the many ones upcoming for the rest of the year, as we’re both going to be busy; such is the life of a racer. But for now I’m just enjoying the drive, as this satisfying adventure has come to a close…