Recap | 2023 Urban Cow Half Marathon

On Sunday, I ran the 19th annual Urban Cow Half Marathon. If I am honest: I am still riding this post-race high. I can’t believe how perfect this race went for me. 

I hadn’t been able to participate in a few years (because of travel and COVID), but it’s a local race with a fun, mostly flat course, and there’s really no excuse not to run it. The slogan is “Urban Cow – A race like no udder!”, haha. And did I mention that the medal is a cowbell? So fun!

The event has a long history, “despite being the capital city of California and having a population of nearly 1 million people, Sacramento had long been considered no more than the “Cow Town” situated between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. This was certainly still the case in 2005 [when the event was re-born]. […] Putting aside any objections to this distinction, the name, theme, and everything else associated with the event became all about cows. The first “Sacramento Cowtown Marathon” took place on October 2, 2005, with over 2,200 participants.[It was renamed “Urban Cow Half Marathon” and changed to a half-marathon-only race in 2010.]”

I have to admit that I was pretty nervous before the race. I can only tell after the first few miles whether it will be a good run, so much depends on your form on the day… and I wasn’t at all sure what kind of pace I would be able to maintain. Although they say you should trust your training, I always question how I am going to pull off a faster pace on race day when all my long runs are at an easy pace. It’s been proven again and again that it works, but I still always doubt it. 

The race was organized in three waves based on your estimated finish time: 

  • Wave 1 (7:30am start): Under 2:00 finish time
  • Wave 2 (7:35am start): 2:00 – 2:29 finish time
  • Wave 3 (7:40am start): 2:30+ finish time

At first, I had thought about sticking with the 2:00 pacer, because my main goal was to finally run my OFFICIAL sub-2 HM (I’ve already run two sub-2 half marathons but not at official races, but “only” at virtual races that I tracked with my Garmin).

After warming up, I went to the start line and decided to hang with the 1:55 pacer instead. I thought that I could try to stick with her and if I can’t hang on, then I just drop back and join the 2:00 pace group later. 

As previously mentioned, runners usually set A, B, and C goals for their races (The A goal is the “shoot-for-the-moon” goal that is possible on a perfect day, the B goal is the realistic accomplishment based on your relevant fitness and what you believe you should be able to accomplish, and the C goal would leave you satisfied, knowing you gave your best effort.)

My goals, which I literally made up the morning of race day, were:

  • A – hang on to the pacer and finish in 1:55
  • B – beat my non-official PR of 1:58:21
  • C – run an official sub-2

and as always 

  • D – just finish and have fun

We got off to a relatively good start and the pacer settled into the right pace straight away. It’s always a little tricky to get away from the crowds right after the start line, but I tried to stay close to her and not weave around too much. I felt good and was able to keep up and just relied on her lead.

I was somehow expecting that I might “slump” at some point and no longer be able to hold the pace, but that didn’t happen. Running in a group like this and following the pacer meant that it was relatively easy to keep pace without looking at your watch all the time.  

The nice, flat course kept us distracted, too. We ran through the Land Park neighborhood, towards the State Capitol, then turned around and caught a nice glimpse of the famous Tower Bridge, before continuing on the Sacramento River Bike Trail back towards Land Park.

I was running this race by myself, but I had shared my Garmin Live Tracking Link with a couple of friends so that they could track me, and I also turned on my Adidas Running (formerly Runtastic) app. The cool thing about the Adidas Running App is that people who follow you can send “cheers” (like “applause”, “Go, go, go”, or acoustic “La Ola waves”) during live events. My dad, mom and sister also use the app and were able to follow my race from afar, sending cheers at every mile marker throughout my run. I was so thrilled they could track and support me and I think I had a huge smile on my face every time a cheer came through!

When we reached the last mile, the pacer encouraged us to pull ahead if we felt good, or otherwise to just stick with her. At first, I thought, “oh, I’ll just stick with her”, but then I changed my mind. Of course, I was tired after 12 miles, but I felt good enough to give a little push toward the finish line. 

On the home stretch, I could see the clock over the finish line and it was at 1:54:something so I accelerated for the last ¼ mile to cross the finish line in under 1:55. Since the clock showed “gun time” and not my “chip time”, I knew right away that I had actually crushed my A goal (just didn’t know by how much). 

My main goal was to get the official sub-2, but I never, ever thought I’d be able to finish in under 1:55… everything just fell into place. I felt good, the weather was perfect (mid-60s) and I have never paid so little attention to my Garmin during a race. I completely trusted the pacer and just focused on staying close behind her. She held a steady pace for the whole race, which is exactly what I needed (I am a steady-pace runner, I do not care about negative splits). 

I went up to her later and thanked her and told her that she helped me get a huge PR. She was really happy for me and gave me a big hug!

As you might recall, I participated in two Team Wilpers Run Challenges over the summer and my last 20-minute distance test predicted an 8:38 min/mi half marathon pace for me. Never, ever did I think I could actually hold that pace for 13 miles. I thought that prediction was a little ambitious. But then I did EXACTLY that. 

I finished 14th out of 148 in my age group and I am currently still riding that post-race high!

What was that? Can you speak louder?


My Garmin splits:

Here are some overall thoughts on the race organization:

Registration and Packet Pick Up

I was able to register online and you could choose between race packet pickup or getting it mailed to your house. Since this was local for me, I picked up my bib + swag on Friday, but they also offered race day pick-up.


The course is nice and mostly flat; it went through the Land Park neighborhood, then we headed towards Downtown, before running through a small part of Old Town and continuing onto the Sacramento River Bike trail. There were enough aid/water stations (every two miles) and they were adequately staffed with volunteers who offered both MAGNAK electrolytes and water.

Finish line and Post Race Amenities

Right behind the finish line, you were able to pick up your cowbell medal. There were also free bottled waters, sodas, protein bars, croissants, mandarins, grilled cheese sandwiches and tater tots. 


The results were up instantly and there was a little tent with iPads set up, where you could check your official finish time. 


The race photographers did a great job getting pictures at multiple locations. The photos were available to look at online within 24 hours and they were available for FREE! Big bonus points! 

Here are a couple from the race. 

The race is small-ish (2500+ runners this year) but it’s well-organized and I’d run again in a heartbeat. It was really fun and since it’s local, it’s nice to just roll out of bed and get to the start line in 10 minutes!

The registration fee was appropriate ($82 — I registered late) for all the perks (microfiber race shirt, sunglasses,  live music on the course and in the post-race party pasture, cowbell finisher medal, age-group awards, ChronoTrack B-Tag Timing by Capital Road Race, post-race food and drinks and beer garden, and free race photos) and the course was just fun to run – flat and (somewhat) scenic. There were also plenty of spectators along the way.

When is your next race? Do you run local races?

  1. YAY YOU! I can only imagine how satisfying that was! Congratulations!

    I’ve never been a runner, but I enjoyed reading about your HM experience. :)

    1. Thanks so much, J. I appreciate that :)

  2. YES!!!! Congrats on your PR!!!!!
    There’s nothing better than the perfect race with a fun medal that oh yes also happens to be in your neighborhood;-)

    1. Thanks Birchie! I would 100% agree with that!

  3. Oh, my goodness. This was so much fun to read – I could just feel your enthusiasm and excitement coming off the page. Good for you! It was exciting to read all about how amazing this race was and yay so hard for that pacer!

    (Also, your post showed up in both Feedly feeds. Maybe it’s fixed?!)

    1. Thank you so much, Engie. I am glad I was able to relay my excitement… and yes, 100% yay for that pacer.

      (Also, thank you for the feedback! I’m having high hopes at this point.)

  4. This is such a huge accomplishment. Congrats.So happy it was so much fun for you and you wearable to crush it. And how amazing your family could digitally sheer you one.

    I was wondering though, do you take your phone on the race? And have time snapping shots?

    1. Thank you, Tobia. Having my family “there” was really extra special.
      And yes, I take my phone on my race. I start it and then it usually stays in my belt pocket, but I had to snap a quick picture of the Capitol and Tower Bridge ;)

  5. This was a pure delight to read first thing in the morning. You crushed it, trusted the process and are GLOWING. I’m so happy for you, my friend <3

    1. Thank you so much, Elisabeth. I really appreciate your support and kind words <3

  6. First off this post actually showed up on time so your feedly fix might be finally working!! Second and more importantly – CONGRATS!! I have had some races like that where everything clicks and you feel so good. It’s the best feeling! Congrats on your shiny new PR! This sounds like a great race. Sacramento is known for its CIM in December as it’s a nice flat course than many will try to BQ or PR at. The races around me are surprisingly hilly! Which surprises people as you don’t think of Minnesota as hilly! Our marathon in particular is challenging with lots of rolling hills and then there is a very big hill at mile 21 and the last 5 miles are on a slight upgrade!

    1. Thank you so much, Lisa. You’re right, Sacramento is flat and the CIM is (mostly) too… I have watched it (it goes by my street) and if I ever try my legs at a marathon, it might just be CIM because of the course profile, haha.

      P.S. I am so glad the post showed up on time. Fingers crossed Feedly is fixed!!

  7. big congrats for crushing your A goal! that’s amazing!!! i plan to follow a pacer this time as well, hopefully it will be a good race day for me too.

    1. Thanks so much, Coco. I appreciate it. And good luck in Chicago!!

  8. OMG! Congratulations! And yes yes yes to trusting the training. I always get in my head with thinking I won’t be able to run faster paces too. I am so so happy this went so well! And huge applause for that awesome pacer! How nice to be able to not have to look at your watch all the time .

    I loved reading the race history. That’s really fun how they got their name. And post race tots? And free photos? Heck yeah! Those are some great photos!

    Also… this showed up in Feedly on time? Yay!!!!!

    1. Thanks so much, Kim. I appreciate it. This race really went so well all around and I am extra thankful for that awesome pacer.

      Also, great news. Maybe Feedly has finally been fixed?

  9. Congratulations San! What a great race you had! That’s a fantastic pace and finish. I’m so happy for you! Crushing the goals!

    1. Thank you so much, Nicole. I appreciate your sweet words :)

  10. Congratulations! I love that the medal is a cow bell. How fun.

    1. Thank you, Lauren. I appreciate it ;)

  11. What an awesome race!!!! Congrats!!!!!! Love the race report!

    1. Thank you Sarah for stopping by and the kind words ;)

  12. Congratulations San! You really did a text book job of trusting the training, although I agree, it’s hard to imagine before a race holding the faster pace for the distance when all the long runs are easy pace.

    Running with a pacer who does a good job is such a help. None of the races around here ever have 1:55 pacers though. I once ran with a pacer who walked off the course at the 12km mark … I was not happy.

    Also, your posts are showing in my Feedly now. Hopefully it is fixed.

    1. Thank you Melissa. I was very lucky with this awesome pacer. I can’t believe you once ran with a pacer who walked off the course at the 12km park – was he injured? Otherwise, it’s unacceptable.

      I am so glad to hear from so many people that my posts are showing up again. Hooray!

  13. Congratulations! I loved this recap and you did an amazing job! Way to go! That race looks so fun – I really like sacramento and love when your posts include some Sacramento photos/love :-)

    1. Aww, thank you, Rachel. I appreciate it… and I am so happy I could put a smile on your face talking about Sacramento :) I should include more Sacramento posts in my schedule! :)

  14. What an amazing race. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such consistent splits.


    1. Thank you so much, Darlene. I am very much a steady-pace runner, if at all possible (like, when there’s pretty consistent terrain and no other obstacles in the way ;)). I was very happy with how it turned out.

  15. WOW! You really did crush it! Your training was really consistent, and this was the payoff. Sounds like an amazing day all around. I’m glad you had such great weather. And- that medal is awesome!

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