Local means a lot to me. So every year when the La Jolla Half Marathon comes around, I run it or at least cheer my friends on. And in all cases I celebrate with friends afterward. The race goes right down my street, La Jolla Shores, and finishes right at the Cove in downtown La Jolla. On top of the local flavor, there’s its beauty which astounds me daily, even having lived here for five years.
The La Jolla Half Marathon is a nonprofit event, run by the La Jolla Kiwanis. A lot of people complain about a lot of different things about the race: the hilliness of the course, the annoying day-before packet pickup, the too-small array of promotional vendors, the traffic and impossible parking in La Jolla, the uber-early shuttle buses due to the point-to-point course, the annoying need to bring in a postcard they sent you in order to pick up your race number, the fact that they send the discount coupon out to locals after the race is already full, that the volunteers know nothing about the race, that aid stations don’t have enough food options, and so forth.
True, the race is not super well-oiled, and probably lags ten (or more?) years behind the times. But I actually embrace some of those things (the difficult course, the point-to-point nature, the noncommercial nature). And for those elements that are genuine inconveniences, that’s the price you pay to support a local nonprofit. And I’ll buy it. It’s a challenge to get 8000 runners out there using only volunteers, so I think how they do it is good enough…
I like the race so much that this year I got even more local by volunteering at the race sign-in the day before. It was so fun to see an event from that side of the table. I was there ten hours, but it felt like only a few! Many runners were so excited, nervous. I liked their energy! I was just chillin’, handing out t-shirts, soaking in the La Jolla sun! Even forgetting that the next day I’d also be out there, cruising down the gorgeous Pacific coast on this Runner’s World top-10 recommended course.
I was again, for the 3rd time, signed up for the race, but I didn’t take it so seriously; my important runs are this weekend (Joshua Tree Traverse!) next weekend (PCT 50 in honor of Tim Ray), and of course, Western States 100 in June. La Jolla Half was off of my mind so much that I forgot to bring my road racing shoes from school (had to run in my Tri shoes) and only at the last minute selected my race outfit–unfortunately choosing a hot heavy cotton t-shirt! Not ideal on a misty morning… I took the race out slow, but was overheating in that heavy wet shirt even so!
Dousing myself at every water station, I was around 40th place on the first hill, and in 35th place getting to mile 5, at Torrey Pines hill, a 500′ climb. I ate a Gu my friend Matt gave me (I didn’t have any in the cupboard, I realized the morning of the race) and from there on, my competitive energies took over and I blasted off. Or maybe it was the energy from people cheering for my Lithuania Basketball tie-dye? Though my t-shirt was heavy, the psyche given by people cheering for me instead of somebody in a generic running singlet maybe worked in my favor!
Picking off runners one by one, I used home field advantage to pass at strategic points and work certain parts of the course. I cruised down La Jolla Shores, past my house, the way I run a couple times per week. I barreled by the last guy in front of me who was running with earbuds (an important thing to me) and forged ahead–and almost didn’t notice the great swell at Scripps pier and all of the surfers out.
Due to my recent ultras, for once in my life, I had an endurance base bigger than those runners around me. When the last mile closed, I knew I had both natural leg turnover and endurance strength, a really nice position to be in! I was only 1/4 of the way to puking and still moving fast (though the looks of the spectators, based on the noises I was making, seemed to indicate they thought I was closer to 95% of the way to puking…)
I wanted to keep reeling them in, but I finally ran out of energy on the last uphill, not quite able to pick off one more runner about 30 meters in front of me. Still, no one passed me in those last 7 miles and I crossed the line 16th!
More encouragingly, I crossing the finish line in 1:24:xx, which was my goal, a sub-6:30 pace on this hilly course, and my best time on the course despite not training much speed at all recently. I ran with a Naked Wrist as I have my last handful of races, so it was especially thrilling to see my time say 1:24 and know I met my goal as I crossed.
It was also very cool to see my friends in the finishing chute. Every year many amigos run it. UCSD Econ professors Allan Timmermann and Karsten Hansen were there as always. My friend David, who ran the Grand Canyon with me and Tim, finished 5th! And for some (like Pullharder royalty Josh and new friend Karen) this was their first Half. Very hard to top the beauty of this coastal run!
So while some complain that the race isn’t streamlined enough, or could be “better” if it were a “full” I think it’s perfect. My home course, my friends, a race going by my house and through Torrey Pines–one of my favorite place on Earth– and for a noncommercial cause. Sure I can run a race with a bigger schwag bag or more vendors, but I doubt I will be able to find one where I feel more comfortable and at home, especially not a race of this size or profile.
So I’ll run it next year, yet again. And maybe I’ll even volunteer again! For the cause!