August 14, 2014

Balboa Park 8 Mile Race Recap

When I sign up for a race, I usually do my due diligence. More often than not, it's a race I've heard of before, and know something about.  If it's a new race, or new-to-me race, I try to find out some essentials---course, elevation, etc---before shelling out money to sign up.  For some reason, though, I did none of this when it came to the Balboa Park 8 Miler.  I saw an ad on Facebook for this race, which is put on by the San Diego Track Club.  It was ridiculously cheap---only $35 for an 8 mile race, including a t-shirt and medal.  As I'd never done a race of that distance before, and love running in Balboa Park, I immediately signed up. 
After I paid, I did some research, and found a few bloggers that had recapped last year's race.  The salient features that people were writing about were the HILLS and the TRAILS.  What?  I used to run in Balboa Park quite frequently---in fact, I did much of my marathon training there in 2003--and never ran on hills that were THAT steep.  Or trails.  Turns out, I ran in the wrong part of the park.  Balboa Park has a lot of hills, and a lot of trails, and that was where the race was to be.  I had a brief moment of consideration to drop down to the 5k, but I knew I could do this race.  After all, a year and a half ago I did the Xterra Mission Gorge 15k, and THAT will always be my benchmark of how difficult trails and hills could be. If I could do that race, I could do this. Plus, this race wasn't even going to be entirely on trail, just part of it.  I consulted with my friend Mihael, who did the Xterra race with me, and he reminded me of the best way to get down hills, and basically boosted my confidence.  The Xterra Race, and frankly most of my recent athletic endeavors, including my two half -Ironman races, and my century ride---have given me a feeling of fearlessness,  that I could do anything. I may be one of the slowest, and it may not look pretty, but I can do anything I train to do.

packet pickup

Race day came and I made my way down to Balboa Park.  I easily found parking  I hadn't gone to packet pickup the day before, so I went to the registration table. It wasn't crowded, and the vibe was very low-key.  In a way, it reminded me of the Xterra race---just a chill vibe in the air, without the feeling of frenzy that often comes with the big races.  Because I had parked so close, I was able to go back to the car to put my t-shirt away, relax for a bit, then make my way to the port-o-potties and start line.  The 8 milers were to go first, followed by the 5k runners a while after that.

start line
The race started. I turned on my iPod and started out.  The weather was perfect---absolutely perfect for running.  While it was a bit muggy, the sun never made an appearance from behind the clouds. In fact, soon after the race ended it started to rain, which is odd for August in San Diego, but much needed. The first few miles were on a combination of pavement and groomed trails, nothing technical at all.  Soon we made our way into the depths of Balboa Park---and found the hills.

before the race

For anyone who is reading this and contemplating doing this run, let me assure you the hills aren't that bad. Yes, they are on trail. Yes, they are relatively steep.  But they are not THAT steep, and certainly not that long. Nowhere near some other hills I have done (I'm specifically thinking of not only the Xterra race, but the Washington hill during the San Diego Half, a big hill during the Hollywood Half, and Torrey Pines during the La Jolla Half). It was very doable. Now, I fully admit that I walked up and down every hill, which was in my plan (I have a hard time running hills, it usually irritates my sciatic nerve)....but I saw many people running them.  And, the best part for me was that although they were trail, they weren't slippery, meaning that I wasn't slipping and sliding on the descent.  Sadly, I didn't take pictures during the race, but really, they weren't bad.

After a few miles on the trails, we were on a back on a sidewalk, and then grass, heading toward the zoo for the turnaround.  Here we had to run in the zoo parking lot, which was partially blocked off, but not too much of a worry since it was so early.  Back to the trails, running back the same way we came, until the finish line, which was by the Air and Space Museum/Puppet Theater in Balboa Park.  They announced my name as I crossed, I received a medal, and was offered water and fruit. A very low-key ending to a very low-key race.  The course was a bit long---my Garmin measured 8.18, and believe me, I was muttering to myself  "where the heck is the finish line?"--but that was ok.  I was done.

bling bling medal
I was very proud of myself for a few reasons. Obviously, I was proud of myself for finishing---it was definitely on the tougher side, and I finished strong. I wasn't last by a long-shot, and even in my age group there were many women finishing after me. I don't care TOO much about my time, especially for a trail race at an unusual distance,  but I'd be lying if I said I didn't care if I was last.  But more important, I was proud of myself for starting the race in the first place. It would have been so easy for me to downgrade to the 5k, and not even see those hills.  I knew I could tackle them, and I did. 

While I don't know if I'd do this race again, I can definitely say I recommend it.  It's a great mixture of trail, concrete, grass and asphalt, which is fun.  The views are beautiful.  And I cannot say enough about the volunteers.  They were not only at aid stations, but sprinkled throughout the park, making sure we didn't get lost.  The trail was clearly marked, which was good because there were a few times no one was in front of me to follow.  The San Diego Track Club put on a great event.