It had been awhile…like a year and a half. The last half marathon I ran was Rock ‘n Roll Las Vegas back in December 2012. By that point, I had made the shift almost entirely to CrossFit and hadn’t been running nearly as much as I did earlier that year.
When I got to California, I immediately took advantage of the warm weather and just how beautiful it is here, and I was running a few times a week. I’m pretty noncommittal so I usually put off signing up for races until the last minute, but this time, I signed up fairly early. Adam was super encouraging, so I signed up for the La Jolla Half Marathon, set to take place at the end of April. I was really excited about it, but failed to look at the course map before I signed up, which anyone who has run the race before knows was a mistake.
What’s that around mile 5.5, all the way through mile 8.5? A notoriously giant hill.
So with that in mind, but with limited time, I focused my training on distance and getting my mileage up before the race.
The Thursday before the race, as I set out for a short 5-miler, my knee began bothering me around 5k and I had to cut my run short. Naturally, I freaked out, since the race was Sunday morning.
On Friday, from 12-7 pm and Saturday, from 10 am-5 pm, runners could stop by Road Runner Sports in San Diego to pick up their race bibs. I had to leave work early on Friday to pick up Adam from the train station and Maeby from dog daycare, and since the daycare was right around the corner, we stopped by on our way home. We got to Road Runner Sports around 3:00 pm, and fortunately, we avoided much of the immediate rush, as well as those coming after work. We were in and out in ten minutes, and I picked up a foam roller before leaving.
I was told that it was really busy when the packet pickup first opened, and would be very busy on Saturday so my advice is to get there in the afternoon on Friday if you can.
After some research, I realized my knee problems were a result of IT band issues, so I spent Friday evening and Saturday foam rolling and icing.
I woke up at 5:30 am, though the race didn’t start until 7:30 am. My stomach began bothering me, but I ate my usual pre-long run fuel and then around 6:30 we left for Del Mar Racetrack, where the half marathon began.
The Via De La Valle exit was backed up over a mile on the 5 south and north, as race organizers directed runners to take these exits regardless of the direction from which they were coming. Fortunately, I work in the area, and I actually directed Adam to take a different exit and some side roads to get to the racetrack, which worked in our favor. He dropped me off about a quarter of a mile away, and I walked towards the venue with other runners who had the same idea. As the race began, from the start line I could see traffic still backed up on the 5, so if you’re planning on driving to the start (to park or for drop-off) I highly, highly recommend leaving early; we got to that exit on the highway around 6:45, so I recommend getting there much, much earlier.
The start of the race was very open for runners to walk around and there were a ton of port-o-potties for everyone.
Just before the start, the race announcer mentioned how last year (just after the bombing at the Boston Marathon), they played Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline to honor Boston, and this year the tradition would continue. I thought this was a really nice gesture. My stomach continued bothering me up until the start of the race, but I was more concerned about my knee.
We took off in waves, about a minute or two apart for each one. The beginning of the race was easy; everyone was excited and looking forward to getting started. Around a mile, you hit the first hill, which seems pretty minor compared to the others. Then, around mile 3, you hit a bigger hill, which is definitely preparing you for the notorious hill in Torrey Pines. At this point you’re running through side streets in Del Mar, with views of the ocean at each intersection to your right. There were a few families out cheering on runners, which is always nice.
Around the 5k mark, not surprisingly, my knee began acting up. I changed my stride a bit to put more weight on my left leg, since it was still fairly early on.
At this point, you continue your descent into Torrey Pines, with the ocean to your right and views of the ocean and the hill in Torrey Pines right in front of you.
It was around this time that I began getting cramps, which was pretty frustrating, since I literally never get those and haven’t gotten them since high school.
And then, around mile 5.5, you hit that notorious hill.
Now let me just say, I thought these people in SoCal were exaggerating. It’s relatively flat here so I kind of just assumed this hill would be just like any other. I was wrong, everyone else was right.
This hill was a mountain. I underestimated it.
I ran the beginning part of it, but with my knee bothering me, I chose to speed walk up it. To be honest, I highly recommend this method; I saw people trying to run up the hill at the same speed that I was walking, but they were exerting way more energy. Do your best to speed walk up the hill, and save your energy for the downhill and the hill that pops up at the end of the race. You’ll need it.
Around mile 6.5, you’ll have reached the top part of the hill in Torrey Pines. The view is beautiful.
Upon leaving Torrey Pines, you’ll head out to North Torrey Pines Road, where there is still a significant hill to climb. I recommend the same method here.
My cramps continued, as did the pain in my knee, and overall, I felt awful and wanted this race to be done.
It isn’t until mile 10 that you really experience any sort of downhill, but when you get to it, you’ll know. You literally turn a corner, and bam, there’s a view of an ocean and your body isn’t hating you anymore.
Continue your descent but take it easy; you’re going to need your legs for that last hill.
At mile 11, I saw some ambulances and people being put into them on stretchers, so that was reassuring.
Just after that, you literally run on a path right next to the beach.
You’ll come around and hit the last hill around mile 12.5, and then begin a downhill toward the finish in La Jolla Cove.
The announcer called my name as I finished, which must’ve been because I was, no joke, hobbling across the finish line. My knee was killing me, and I was so happy to be done.
Adam was waiting for me at the finish with flowers, and Maeby was excited to wear my medal after the race.
Despite being sick in the morning, having cramps for the majority of the race, and knee issues for 10 out of the 13 miles, and as a result having to walk for a lot of the race, I came out with a time of 2:20:42. I didn’t expect anything close to a PR, and even though I trained at a pace that was over a minute faster per mile, given the circumstances, I’m okay with my time.
Regardless of my time and my personal struggles that day, I can tell you that this race is amazing. There was water every 1-1.5 miles, and there were so many volunteers that made this day a good one. Between the people at the packet pickup and those directing traffic before the race, those at the water stations, and the volunteers that handed out medals and post-race snacks (including chocolate milk and a bag with a banana, protein bar, and pretzels)–every volunteer did an amazing job.
Don’t get me started on the course. Yes it was challenging, but it was so, so beautiful, and got me excited to run even more races in San Diego in the future. And you better believe I plan on running this race next year.