April 30, 2013

La Jolla Half Marathon Race Recap

This past weekend I ran in my 19th half marathon, the La Jolla Half Marathon.  Truth be told, I've been dreading this race. Although it's a local one, I'd yet to do it.  There is a huge hill in the middle that always scared me off, and I know that other parts of the course were hilly as well.  However, this race is part of San Diego's Triple Crown Series:  if you complete the Carlsbad Half Marathon, La Jolla Half Marathon, and the America's Finest City Half Marathon (AFC) all in the same calendar year, you get an extra medal after the AFC called the Triple Crown. I've done AFC and Carlsbad each twice, and this year vowed to get my Triple Crown.

a monster of a hill at mile 6
 I was extra nervous about this race because I've been injured, and going uphill hurts my injury the most.  The injury deserves it's own post, so I'll write about that later on this week, but suffice to say that I am under my new chiropractor's orders not to run, although he did know and give me the go-ahead to run this race.  It was also my first race to run after the Boston bombings, and that weighed heavily on my mind. It was not going to stop me from running, but I did give extra thoughts and worries to the runners and spectators.

Two days before the race I went to Road Runner Sports for packet pickup.  It was a very small expo, and I was able to get in and out quickly.  The only thing I was bummed about was that the shirt was really small! I ordered a medium, as always, but it looked tiny. When I asked if I could exchange it I was told I could on Sunday.  I had heard in past years that the shirt was cotton, so I was happy this was a technical shirt, but if I couldn't wear it, what's the point?  I did notice one change that was made in response to the Boston bombings: gear check.  This year a flyer was given to each runner explaining the new rules, that runners would have to put their gear in a bag given to them AT gear check.  The bags would be clear.  The fact that they wanted to see what was in each bag made me feel a bit safer.  A small, but really big, move on the race director's part. The night before the race I set out my gear for the next day, as I would be leaving the house at 4 in the morning. I settled on a shirt I bought when I was in Boston 2 years ago...a simple grey cotton t-shirt that said "Boston, MA" on it. While I never run in cotton, this year I really wanted to honor Boston. The "Boston Strong" shirt I recently ordered from Raw Threads hadn't arrived yet, and this was the only Boston-related shirt I had.

Now, this race is a point-to-point race, going from the Del Mar Race Track to La Jolla Cove. Runners have a choice of parking at the race track, running to the finish, and taking a shuttle back to the start....OR parking in La Jolla and taking a shuttle to the start. I drove with my friend, E, who has run this race the past two years.  She highly recommended the latter, as after the race the line to get on the shuttle is long.  So the morning of the race, I got up at 3:00 (ugh), was out the door by 4:00, and picked E up at 4:15.  We made our way to La Jolla in the dark, and hit absolutely no traffic getting there. We easily found parking and walked the two blocks over to where the shuttles were loading. I think we got on the second shuttle!  Very easy, very relaxing. We shuttled up to the race track where it was still virtually empty. That is the great thing about getting up extra early to go to a race; yes, it sucks to lose a bit of sleep, but it's wonderful not having the stress of traffic and parking. I assume that a bit later the traffic getting into both Del Mar and La Jolla was heinous.

Of course, now we were really early.  We got off the shuttle at the race track at 5:15, and the race didn't start until 7:30! That gave us plenty of time to hurry up and wait.  I used the port-o-potty (no line!), talked to E,used the port-o-potty a second time (again, no line!), chatted with the runners next to me, and posed for pictures.

Oh, and froze. It was very cold down by the coast.  I was glad I had a throw-away jacket with me, but I would have paid good money for a blanket!  Finally, it was time to think about getting into our corrals, so we used the port-o-potties one last time (this time a huge line) and wandered back.  I was supposed to be in corral 6, but stopped in #5.  Because I was so far back, I didn't realize that at the front they were having a moment of silence for Boston, and then singing "Sweet Caroline", a song beloved by Boston Red Sox fans.  I found out about that part after the race.  I randomly ran into a few people I knew and chatted happily until it was my turn to cross the start line.

And suddenly, I was running.

I hadn't run since the week before, as I was under orders not to run.  As soon as I started running, the pain in my hamstrings started.  I knew it was going to be a long and painful race for me, and decided just to grit down and get it done. I stayed with the 2:30 pace group for a few miles, as we ran around the race track and out into Del Mar.  We ran through the neighborhoods of Del Mar and it was really nice.  There were some rolling hills, nothing major.  I walked when I needed to, which was when the pain got too much to bear.  But overall, I was having fun and enjoying myself.

running views don't get better than this
A few miles in (4? 5?) we were running along the ocean, by Torrey Pines State Beach. Ah, now this was gorgeous. There is nothing like running by the ocean.  I ran into another friend around this point, and walked with her for a while.  Looming at ahead, however, at around mile 5.5 was The Hill. Torrey Pines.  The hill I've been dreading.  Right before I started up the hill I noticed Joe, from the Marathon Show. I've seen him during other races, running with a microphone and an "on air" sign. At the Carlsbad Half Marathon in January he interviewed two women running right next to me, and I later saw the footage--you could see me running---but I'd never been interviewed myself.  But this time, he saw my Boston t-shirt, and ran over to me and started interviewing! It was really cool.  He said "it's no mistake when you see people running with Boston shirts on" and proceeded to ask me a few questions related to Boston. Although he spoke to me for a few minutes, only a tiny clip made it onto a montage he made that he is dedicating to the people of Boston.  You can see me at 2:49 in the following clip by clicking here.  That interview gave me a mental lift and I actually ran up the first part of the big hill.

I should mention that there were lots of people, both running and spectating, in Boston gear.  Anyone who had previously run the Boston Marathon wore their shirts, and I saw lots of other shirts that paid homage.  Some people had signs on their backs saying "we are all Boston marathoner" and some people simply had blue and yellow hair ribbons, or blue and yellow shoelaces.  I myself got lots of comments on my shirt, not from other runners but from the spectators. A lot of people I ran by yelled out "Boston!" to me as I passed.

just one of the views

 So, onto The Hill. I'd never done Torrey Pines hill before, and it is pretty long and steep. I ended up walking most of it, although I had periods of running. At that point, I just wanted to get up the hill as painlessly as possible.  It was a scary hill in my head, but really, once I was on it, it wasn't bad. It kept going and going, and there were several switchbacks so I couldn't see where it ended, but I've done other races where I did hills just as steep--or steeper.  The Hollywood Half Marathon last year had an unbelievable hill at the end; last month's San Diego Half Marathon had a killer hill in the middle; and I did that Xterra Mission Gorge 15k in February with steep hill after steep hill.  So Torrey Pines, while long and steep, wasn't any worse than ones I've already done, which was reassuring in my mind.

The Hill from a distance
Nevertheless, when I got up to the summit at about mile 8 or so, I was hurting, and in a really bad way. My leg was on fire and my mind started to go to really dark places.  I just wanted to be done. Even though those next miles were flat or even downhill, I couldn't pick up the pace. It was just too painful. At mile 8 "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond came on my iPod. I don't usually listen to Neil Diamond while running, but I added this song, and a few others, after the bombings as it was played a lot and I forgot how much I loved the song. When the song came on, I immediately thought of my dad, who is a huge Neil Diamond fan and I used to sing this song with him when I was little while he played it on the guitar.  One thing my dad always tell me is that when I'm feeling scared, or nervous, or afraid, to look down at my hand and I'll see his hand in mine (meaning that he's always with me).  So when Neil sang the lyric "hands touching hands" I completely lost it and started sobbing. For that mile all I wanted was my daddy, and I wanted him to stop the pain.  We ran past UCSD, where I went to undergraduate school a million years ago, and I tried to concentrate on that for distraction.


At mile 10 we started a steep downhill down La Jolla Shores drive. I stopped to use a port-o-potty here (I had seen very few along the course and when I did there were always long lines; there was no line for this one). I didn't really HAVE  to go, but I knew if I went I would finish the race in more comfort...and at this point I didn't care about my finishing time.  After going, I felt better and just started chugging downhill.  Around mile 11 I saw a dad and two little boys, holding signs for their wife/mother. Right when I passed them, I heard the dad say "there she is!" and the little boys starting jumping up and down, cheering for their mother. When I turned back, they were running with her. When I turned back again, one boy had fallen---I hope he was ok! This scene, of a father and sons waiting for their wife/mother, made me cry again. It was such a beautiful scene, and at that moment I all I wanted was to hug my husband and kids.

Running right next to the beach

Mile 12 brought us to La Jolla Shores, a local beach, and we literally ran on the sidewalk next to the beach.  The sidewalk was covered in sand, and it was nice to look at the people playing beach volleyball and enjoying themselves.  A few turns and a bit later we were at La Jolla Cove.  This part was downhill, and on cobblestone, so I ran it carefully.  Ahead of me was the finish line and I decided to sprint it in, pain be damned. There were several spectators there and everyone was yelling "Go Boston!" because of my shirt. I crossed the finish line in immense pain and relief. My friend, Andrea, was there to hand out medals and I was in such a daze that I took a medal from someone else. When I realized my mistake, I handed the medal back to the girl and insisted that Andrea give me mine. All I remember is her hugging me and asking if I was ok and I kept saying no, I wasn't ok.  I really wasn't (and still am not). My finishing time was 2:55, which is one of my worst times ever. However, my goal was under 3:00 (they have a 3:00 hour cutoff base on chiptime) and I'm happy I made that, given my injury and The Hill.

I got a bottle of water, a bag with a banana, Clif Bar and pretzels in it, and found my friend E. She had tried to exchange my shirt for me (she finished way ahead of me) but they were out of larger sizes. Bummer! After resting on the grass for a bit, we made our way to the car, bypassing a LONG line of tired runners waiting for the shuttle to take them back to their cars at the start line.

All in all, although I myself had a bad race, the race itself was nice. The weather was overcast the entire time and I never even needed my sunglasses. Perfect running weather. It was a beautiful course, as you can see from the pictures. And I thought it was well organized. My friend told me that in years past it was a very unorganized race, and that this year it was much better, so I'm happy about that. My only complaint was that there should have been more bathrooms along the way, although I'm sure they were limited by restrictions put on them at Torrey Pines.  Now I'm hoping to heal myself enough to be able to run AFC in August and complete my Triple Crown---but if I'm not healed and unable to run, I will commit to doing this again next year. I know I can do better on this course if I'm pain-free.


  1. Way to tough it out! Sometimes those races tell us more about ourselves than the ones that go perfectly and we PR. I'm five days out from my first marathon in OC . . . starting to get jittery, but once I get going I'm sure that'll pass.

    How is Carlsbad, by the way? I'm strongly considering doing that one next year.

    1. Thanks! Carlsbad is the BEST! I've done it twice and love it each time. Awesome run. I've only done the half but I've heard the full is great too. Good luck this weekend, can't wait to read your recap!

  2. I know myself how hard it can be to push through those races when you are injured. Way to run strong and I hope things start feeling better soon. I'm glad you don't have another half on the calendar for a while.

  3. I'm glad you don't have another race on the calendar anytime soon. Way to push through and cross the finish - now rest and heal!!

  4. Get some rest and heal up...it is so frustrating...I KNOW!!!! but it's a great time to work on your swim and just think....SOON you'll be entering OWS events!


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