While every distance race runner in California was headed up to San Francisco for the Nike Women’s Marathon, I, in my usual, offbeat style, was heading to San Luis Obispo for the City To The Sea Half Marathon, a visually pleasing run from downtown SLO, through the countryside, to Pismo Beach.
I had been up in NorCal for a few days prior to the run and the temp had dipped into what felt like arctic freeze. Honestly, it was only in the 50s and 60s, and, as a native Midwesterner, sure, it was nothing compared to sub-40 F cold snaps, but, after blazing hot daytime temps that seemed to dominate the late summer in L.A., it felt winter-y enough to me. Actually, the crisp air was kind of a welcome change after so much heat, and, honestly, I was just kind of missing REAL fall.
I had no reason to suspect anything but brisk winds on the morning of the race, but, even at 6 a.m., it was warmer there than it had been the previous afternoon. Although the race didn’t start ’til 7:30, people were already congregating to run this thing. Mostly college students from Cal Poly, I assumed, gathered on the stairs of a nearby shopping center, pinning their bibs and lacing their chips into their shoes.
The shirt lady took a look at me and said, “We only have women’s small, extra small and a few medium shirts left, but we have larger sizes in the men’s shirts.”
“What does the medium look like?” I asked.
“Well, they run small,” the woman said, holding up a medium. It looked fine, the same size as my other workout tees. What did she think I needed it for? As a dress?
“It looks like it will fit,” I said, smiling politely and snatching it up, along with a fairly nice canvas shopping bag that contained one tiny Cliff bar.
This was the first time that I waited around before a race without anyone to talk to. I piddled around the area, stretched, and checked email and Facebook on my phone about a million times. Most everyone there had running buddies. It made me realize how nice it was to have been able to train with a group.
The race start was uncorral-ed, but with pace markers on sticks so that everyone could find his or her place based on anticipated finish time. I placed myself somewhere between 2:00 and 2:15, knowing that 1) I wasn’t even sure what my non-injured pace would be (I was injured at the Disneyland Half and finished in 2:19), and 2) I was trying not to go all out, seeing that this week was supposed to be my recovery between 18 and 20 milers.
Before I knew it, the gun popped, and the herds moved out. As we hit the streets of San Luis Obispo, the sun beamed down in full force. After one mile or so, I realized, it was already hot. This race was going to need a lot of hydration and will-power to overcome the intense power of beach city sun.
The funny thing about a race start is that everyone knows that everyone always starts out running too fast, but everyone always does it anyway. I did my best not to speed up when people from behind zoomed ahead of me. Over and over, I had to remind myself, “I’ll see that guy again when he loses steam at Mile Five.”
Running energy comes in waves for me. The first two miles are always the worst, then things go great until Mile Seven, when I hate life and want to stop running. Things pick up again around Mile Eight, and go downhill again around Mile Eleven, when the half marathon is almost over, and I know that the finish line is within reach. Aside from the torturous miles, there was a lot to look at on this run, and a lot of eyes looking at us, too. Around Mile Three, a hawk got a front row seat, perched on a telephone line, and observed these crazy leggers as they tried to fly without wings. At Mile Four, a shimmering paint horse tossed its head and galloped back and forth across its pasture, as if to say, “Hey, I want a race number too!” Little kids lined up outside of their countryside homes to high-five us as we wound around their neighborhood.
The first several miles of terrain sloped downhill, and then, around Mile Four, we encountered a few rolling hills. They weren’t all that steep, but, after a while, with the sun scorching the top of your head as if someone’s holding a blowtorch to it, you begin to dread their presence.
The water stops were small, but well-maintained, with Gu’s around Mile 6 so that I didn’t have to dive into my own Gu pack. I glugged down as much water as I could from the cups, and often also grabbed a cup of Fluid to keep my salt numbers up. By Mile Nine, it was so hot, that I began dumping waters ON me as well as in my stomach, and I was glad that I did.
At Mile 10, a young woman had collapsed by the side of the road getting violently sick from dehydration, with a volunteer at her side, comforting her. Lesson to all you hotshots out there: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Think you’re too cool for a hydration belt? Well, you’ll look much less cool when you’re puking up your guts in the last three miles of your race. Hydration is sexy!
The last stretches of the race were roll-y, even though they claimed that the last three miles was “mostly downhill.” They forgot to mention that there were also uphills to be had. I was kind of over the uphill thing, but also considered that, with my trail marathon, there would be lots, lots, lots more hills than in this measly run. Phooey.
As they do with most races, they hid the finish line from racers. We wound around, and around, and around neighborhoods searching for a glimpse of it, while everyone and their mother made it a point to tell us, “You’re so close!” or “You’re almost there!” Do me a favor next time you’re on the sidelines of a race: don’t tell me stuff like that. When I think “almost there,” I’m imagining the thing is just around the next corner. At the end of a race, it is agonizing to turn a corner and discover yet more road and no finish line in sight. I’d rather not know how close I am, seriously.
I finished in 2:14:36, which wasn’t too terrible, considering that I didn’t push too hard in order to preserve my legs. I was ridiculously hot at the end, so, after grabbing two full cups of Fluid at the finish, I led my two friends who had come to cheer me on down a narrow beach stairway, removed my shoes, and stood blissfully in the coolness of the Pacific. Ahhh! Best ice bath, EVER!
Overall, it was a pretty race, with a nice t-shirt and a medal. I would definitely recommend it to someone looking for a scenic race and a beachy and delightful getaway.
Note: I stayed overnight in Pismo Beach at the Shell Beach Inn, which was a cute and cozy little place nestled along the beach route.