The hills are alive!

What the hill?!

What the hill?!

Sacramento is not known for its hills. As a runner, it’s difficult to find adequate hills for training. The best local inclines are on a treadmill.

So I have no clue how organizers for the Shamrock’n Half Marathon managed to find all the hills in Old Sacramento, downtown and West Sacramento, and combine them into one 13.1-mile race. Not an easy feat, but they managed to torture runners in every possible way: hills, extra-early start time, wobbly roads and a stair-climbing finish.

The sixth annual event, which hosted 5,000 half-marathon and relay runners on Sunday, coincided with the useless practice of changing our clocks. To avoid becoming a victim of daylight saving, I set four alarms. Yeah, paranoid. But eight weeks of training and $50 for registration does that to a person.

Sunday was the best possible race day. The sun was out, the temperature cool and wind almost nonexistent. But the event itself was a bit strange. For a St. Patrick’s Day race, there weren’t many runners decked out in Irish-themed attire. A couple men sported kilts, some women adorned green knee-high socks and sparkly necklaces, and there was one green beer-mug hat. But that was all.

The half-marathon also was the quietest race I’ve ever experienced. Despite the extremely crowded path and 12 bands stationed throughout the course, there were long periods of eerie silence, accompanied only by sounds of panting.

Perhaps it was because most people sported iPods (damn cheaters). I admit I used to be one of those people who freaked out when my iPod didn’t charge before a run. Then a friend who trains for Ironman competitions said real runners don’t wear headphones. So I ditched the Pod, and my pace has improved significantly. Music does make running easier mentally—zone out, ignore the pain, sing out loud to a favorite Tejano song.

Just before mile two, I crossed the Tower Bridge and came upon a man blasting Tejano music and singing loudly. Poor guy was a terrible and had a hard time singing and breathing at the same time, but it gave him motivation. Whether or not he made it to the end singing is another story.

Besides the hills, race organizers also picked the most uneven roads to test our agility, including Old Sac’s cobblestone and some of the worst-maintained neighborhoods in West Sacramento. There also were strategically placed smokers along the route, testing our lungs with nicotine-drenched air. One man in a wheelchair maneuvered to the middle of one road, where runners passed him while he chilled to smoke a cigarette.

We strode across the finish line inside Raley Field, but the torture wasn’t over. We had to hobble up the stairs to leave the stadium. Yep, the organizers managed to squeeze in one last hill.