America’s Finest City 1/2 Marathon in San Diego

Pre-Dawn at Cabrillo National Monument
Pre-Dawn at Cabrillo National Monument

The parking lot at the Cabrillo National Monument held all 7,750, ½ Marathoners and when the gun sounded the crowd moved slowly forward to the narrow exit.  I’d heard that the start of big races can be slow as people jocky for position and ease into their race pace. It took all of 6 minutes for me to get across the starting line and from there the race was really on.  No walking at the open.

As the crowd surged past the military headstones that line both sides of Cabrillo Memorial Drive, the woman’s voice from the bus ride to the starting line echoed in my head.  ‘The first few miles are downhill, use it to get a leg up,’ she’d said to the girl sitting next to her.  I usually start slow then pick up the pace as I run but today I wanted to finish the race in 2:10:00 or better.  That meant pushing.  Like the end of the Bix7 I let gravity do the work on the down hills.  Mile one was an 8:30 – blistering for my pace.

Cabrillo Memorial Drive
Cabrillo Memorial Drive

The announcer said several times before the sound of the gun, “The first pit stop is at the 2 mile marker, please do not run into the bushes before then…”  I couldn’t imagine trying to do your business in the open of a military cemetery but I guess some people have – thus the announcement.  As I passed the 2-mile marker there was a line of at least 5 deep waiting for the dozen or so portable toilets.  Seemed so silly to be hearing the call of nature so soon in a race – but there they were.

At mile three the hill got pretty steep and I let loose.  The course winds through a tree lined neighborhood and makes some abrupt turns.  ‘Wish I’d driven this thing,’ went through my head.  I’d worked my way to the left side of the pack.  It was easier to pass slower people out there and if I got cornered it was easy to hop on a lawn or driveway to make a move around.  As I made a right turn down Dupont Street I noticed a very athletic looking girl making her way to the left in front of me.  She had that seasoned runners look about her.  Everything was tight – even the way the number bib was attached to her shirt.  As we approached the next left turn at Gage, she abruptly stopped, grabbed the street sign pole and vomited on the side of the road.  I had to move into the crowd to avoid being sprayed – a lot of us did!  “There but for the grace of god…” I thought.  I never saw her after that and don’t know if she finished but for some reason that sight keeps playing over in my head.

A few of the locals were out and cheered us on as we made our way to the flats of the Embarcadero or North Harbor Drive.  At the 10k marker the photo service for the race got a snap of me.  10k was what I mostly ran on the treadmills in HK.  I was doing okay with the pace too.  The timer had me at 57 minutes. I got really excited as I was on pace to make my goal.  Then the racecourse did something I hate.  It took us down to the harbor and forced us to run down one side of a four lane road then round a car parked in the middle of it and return on the other side.   We were all doubling back on one another.  In my training I always look for ways to avoid this – it’s boring! – but for almost 2 miles of this race that’s what we did.  Oh well, at least for those two miles I knew what was coming next.  I took some water from the volunteers and dumped it over me at the 8 mile marker.  Felt really good!

After this little jaunt the course took us out to Harbor Drive again and we passed Lindbergh Field.  Wow are those jets loud when they take off.  The San Diego police had only opened two of the right lanes for us runners.  They were allowing traffic to flow on the others so we were forced to run inside the cones lining the street.  It was after 8am now so there were quite a few people out in their cars, most looking like they were going to the airport.  A few cheered us on and others blasted us with rap or whatever they were jammin’ in their cars.  Some were trying to turn left and cross the stream of runners – ‘good luck with that’ I thought as I ran past with several thousand runners still behind me.

As I rounded the corner at Ash Street (mile 10) another photographer got a shot.  The harbor looks great in the background.  I was fatigued and my legs were definitely feeling the early pace I’d set but overall I was feeling pretty confidant.  I had a few swallows of energy drink left in my bottles and if the hill the woman on the bus was talking about wasn’t huge I should be okay.  If it’s a killer though, I’m doomed…

The course winds it’s way through the city for a couple of blocks and then goes up ‘A’ Street. As we rounded the corner there the sun poked over the skyscrapers and blasted me square in the face. This is a fairly simple hill, comparable to the ones I’ve been training on in Studio City and should not have been a big deal.  Maybe it was the jet lag, too much wine or no sleep but I suddenly felt really exhausted. The racers ahead of me were disappearing around the corner so I couldn’t tell what I was about to encounter.  It’ll be a little hill I kept telling myself.

As rounded the corner the path to Everest lay out of ahead of me.  If there was an orchestra on the road at that moment it would have done the “duh, duh, duhhhhhhh” sting.  Nearly a mile of a 40º slope!  Ugh!  I’d been mentally trying to picture this for 11.5 miles and it was much worse than I thought.  I ran a couple of blocks and my thighs began to burn like nothing I’d felt before and I couldn’t get enough water.  Basically, I bonked and had to walk.

I walked about two blocks, ran some, walked, ran and finally got to the Laurel Street and turned right toward the park.  The woman from the bus had said, “If you make it to Laurel the rest is easy.”  I started to run again and just after entering the park there was another hill.  I kind of speed walked it and it finally leveled off then went down to the finish line.  I let gravity pull me across.  It was over!

I could’ve collapsed but the race organizers herded all the runners to the park.  I found some Vitamin Water and bread sticks waiting for me there.  Did a little a stretching and walked to the car where I changed into some dry clothes and drove back to LA.  When I got out of the car, I realized I should’ve stretched even more as the lactic acid had really set in on my thighs.  When I booted up the computer I was thrilled to see that even with the walking I’d achieved my goal.  2:09!!AFC_Results

A badge and t-shirt for the effort!
A badge and t-shirt for the effort!

tom lowe photo, llc

tacoma, wa 98406


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