La Jolla Half Marathon Race Report

Pre-Race Emotions

Finally, the weekend was here. I hadn’t been this nervous about a race for years. For one thing, this was the first half marathon in years for which I actually trained seriously. All the long runs, all the speed work, all with the goal of running a two hour half marathon.  In addition to that, I had picked a challenging race in which to do it. The La Jolla Half Marathon is one of the hilliest and toughest races in Southern California. But frankly, the thing that really made me nervous though, was you.

Yes, that is true. You made me nervous. I had set a standard for myself, told you all about it. I felt like you had hopes and expectations for my race. Could I live up to all that? So yes, I was a little frantic nervous.


Backing up a bit. Alan and I drove in to San Diego on Saturday. This year the expo was moved to Roadrunner Sports, which was perfect. I had even told Alan that I wanted to stop there (big race=new outfit!), before I knew about the expo.

Off-topic for a moment but this just sprang into my mind. As you know, I have been asking for help deciding on an outfit for the Costume Party Run, my next event, for which I am an Ambassador. A couple people suggested a Dalmatian, which I though would be perfect and a great salute to my amazing 12-year old running partner Penny. White shorts/skirt, and top, add some spots, a tail, ears, and a collar. Easy (important for me), appropriate for running a July race (even more important), and cute (the most important). While at Roadrunner I happened to see a photo of the Shoe Dog and a little light went on in my head. Check out the similarities:

Penny Shoe Dog

Anyway, while at Roadrunner Sports I did pick up an outfit (with an extra 10% discount on top of my VIP discount-woot!) and my race packet.  While roaming the (2) aisles of the expo, I met Laura Mildon at the Island Boost booth.

Island Boost is a premium, all natural endurance energizer, which comes in a liquid form as opposed to a gel. It is formulated with glucose, a fast and easily absorbed energy source, and coconut water for electrolytes. This makes it perfect for quick assimilation during the run, but it also makes it very sweet.  The passion fruit flavor was delicious, but I had a little doubt about the sweetness of it during the run. Laura offered to let me try a sample, suggesting I take a packet right before the hill (she didn’t have to say what hill, if you have ever run the La Jolla Half Marathon you know she is talking about the Torrey Pines Hill, which is at mile 5.5 in the race), and at mile 10.

La Jolla Half Marathon

You may have noticed that I was on the verge of breaking one of the cardinal rules of racing: Nothing new on race day. There I was, the day before the race, planning to test a new energy replacement and buying a new outfit.

race report


I had to get up early on race morning. We were staying in La Jolla, which meant that I needed to catch the shuttle bus up to the Del Mar Racetrack for the start of the race. We were told that the buses ran between 5:00 and 6:00, but we needed to be in line by 5:30. Pretty easy, really, since our hotel was right across from where they would pick us up. But Alan, who was announcing the 5k, also need to get to the start line of the 5k. The first bus there would be too late for him, he needs to be there before the runners arrive.

In the past, he was given a ride on a motorcycle, which would then transport him back  to the finish line after the start of the race, so that he could announce the finishers as they came in. This year, the ride back was assured, but the right to the start was not available. That meant that we had to leave about 4:45 so that I could bring him to his start line. I then drove back, with plenty of time to spare, until I was almost back to the hotel. I expected to have to explain myself, because the road around the hotel was closed for the race. What I didn’t expect that I would be blocked by a bus loading runners for about five minutes. That was okay, still time to spare.

I finally got back to the hotel, parked my car, and went up to the room. I was ready to go, I just needed to drop off my keys and wallet, picket up my race gear, and head down to get in line. But then, my key didn’t work. So I marched back down to the lobby, had to wait several minutes because the desk was being manned by the security guard until the desk man got back. Still time to spare, though it was getting shorter.

The key machine didn’t work. After multiple tries, I was finally sent back to my room with the security guard, who let me in with his master key. I just had time to use the restroom one last time, grab my stuff, and head out the door. Good thing the line started right in front of my door!

When I arrived at the Del Mar Racetrack, I wondered what my hurry was. It was 6:10. The race didn’t start until 7:30. It was pretty cold, around 59 (yeah, I know, I’m from the desert give me a break), so I wanted to keep my warmups on as long as possible. I did go pick up my gear bag so that I’d have it when I was ready. Time moved quickly though, and soon enough, it was time to head to the start line.

Race Report

Can you see the start line? In all my years of racing, this is the farthest I’ve ever been from the start line. That is the result of time, injury, and my own words from last year’s race report

My suggestion? If you want to do a wave start, you need to corral the runners by their race pace or expected finish time. You can pre-screen on the application and assign race numbers appropriately. Then block off the corrals and either go with the wave start, or let the natural effect of corralling go to work: The fast runners are out front, and the slower runners are behind, and the walkers are at the back.






Actually, the race directors took every suggestion I made last year, and the result was a better race. I wonder if they read my post? The start was better, there were a lot of water stations, something La Jolla has never had, the exit after the race was much more open so that you weren’t standing waiting to get out of the finish area on tired legs. Part of this, I know was because the race was taken over this year and managed by InMotion Events after being run for years by the Kiwanis Club. But, a small part of me hopes that they read my post, took my suggestions, which created a better race. A girl can hope, right?

Race ReportRoadrunner Sports provided the pacers. This was the two hour pacer (sorry, I forgot her name).  This may give you a hint of my upcoming story, but I did not see her again after the race started.

Race Report

The Race

I was in wave number three (of six). When the race started, wave #1 took off, then there were three minutes between each wave. It went fast, and was organized, and when my time came, we were off. I was wearing my Garmin, mostly to give me an idea of my pace, to keep me from running too fast, and to let me know that I needed to pick it up if I slowed down. The challenge with a hilly race is that there is no set pace at which to run. Yes, I can say that my goal pace for a two hour half marathon is 9:09, but add a little elevation and none of that counts. And there was plenty of elevation.


We finally were off. And, even though I was surrounded by a bunch of potential two hour half marathoners, when I checked my Garmin about a half mile into the race, we were running eight minute miles. Um, better slow down.

Overall, the first three and a half miles were great. The course takes you out of the racetrack, through a pretty good uphill along Ville de la Valle, then a left turn onto the Coast Highway. Part of what makes this such an amazingly beautiful race is that much of it is run along this highway, which hugs the west coast of California, offering amazing views of the ocean and the shore. For me, though, mile 3.7 ish, wasn’t so beautiful, because that was my first “asthma incident.” I have dealt with my exercise induced asthma as long as I’ve been running, so this was nothing new, but it still slows me to a walk, puffing on my inhaler until the medication sets in. I probably walked about three minutes, right at the point the road headed back up to the Coast Highway, right before mile four.

When I felt recovered, I started running again, hitting mile four and this view.

race report

Here comes the hill. (That picture was from a couple years ago. I did not take any pictures during the race.)

Actually, I ran strong up that hill. Not fast, but steady, and I did not walk. As Laura instructed, I took my first Island Boost at the base of the hill, right before the water station. It was quite strong and sweet, but I liked the Passion Fruit flavor. And I did feel good after taking in the Island Boost. I felt the fuel kick in and it felt good. I had no stomach problems at all during the race. I was actually looking forward to my next “boost” at mile 10.

One of the things they don’t tell you about “the hill,” is that in addition to that .75 miles of about 15% grade, there is another mile of slight uphill as you run through the park. It doesn’t level off until you leave Torrey Pines park and get back on the main road.

I was running along fine at this point. In fact, miles 4 through 9 were about as good as I could hope for. My pace was good, even though the fear of the asthma makes me want to hold back a bit, and I felt strong. I was close to the mile 10 marker when the asthma kicked in again. Maybe I should describe it. It doesn’t feel like my airway is closing, at least not at first. I start to feel a little lightheaded, like I’m not getting enough oxygen. My extremities start to feel the same way, and my pace will slow down. At this point, if I try to push through, it will become a full-fledged asthma attack. If I stop, walk, and use my inhaler, I can usually recover completely.

When I started running again, I was approaching a water station and it was time for my second Island Boost. And I felt a surge of energy almost immediately afterward.

Of course, that was also partly because mile 10 is downhill. A long, glorious, relatively steep downhill all the way until you hit the mile 11 marker, dropping you down into La Jolla Shores, where you run briefly right along the boardwalk between the parking lot and the beach, causing surfers to make mad dashes between the runners. After that you enter a little neighborhood, where right before my favorite house ever (because it’s purple), I had to stop yet again and use my inhaler.

Purple House

I took that picture a couple years ago, when, I was having similar problems with the asthma (but was not in nearly as good of shape). That year I did a lot more walking and picture taking.

Shortly after I passed the purple house, I turned a corner and saw the 12 mile marker. I also knew that one more turn would bring me to the final hill in the race, one that doesn’t get talked about much, but is just as deadly because it is unexpected, steep, and much longer than you expect. It actually takes you from the 12 mile marker to only about a quarter mile from the finish. I heard a lot of groans (maybe one from myself too) as we turned the corner.

The last part of the race is downhill all the way to the finish. It’s kind of steep, and partly on a brick-paved road, so you have to be careful. I could feel the asthma starting again, but I wasn’t going to stop so close to the finish. I pushed through and finally heard the voice of my husband announcing as I approached the finish line, “Here comes my favorite person in the whole world.” We’d been asked to cross our arms across our hearts as we crossed the finish line, in remembrance of the Boston Marathon, and as I did so, my emotions welled up and suddenly my airway started to close. Fortunately, I was done, so I stopped, grabbed my inhaler, waved off the man who was approaching me with concern, and gradually recovered.

race report

Post Race Recovery and Reflections

After I managed my asthma, I grabbed some water, coconut water, and a little fruit and headed out to find Alan. Actually, he found me because I was still a little hazy. It’s nice to be right across the street from your hotel in these situations, so I headed back to the room, and after a quick photo-op trip to the roof, showered, ate a little and we got on the road. Because we had someone important to see.

race report

So, all that walking…how did I do with my goal? Well, you can probably guess I didn’t make my goal time of two hours. But, I am happy that in spite of the asthma issues that I managed to finish at all, and that I did in 2:05:41. I’ll take it. That was good for 21st in my division.

I didn’t mention this before, but I was running this race for two people. One was my mother, who would have been celebrating her 85th birthday that day.

Wilma 002

The other was my friend Jeff. If you recall, Jeff was diagnosed with stage four glioblastoma back in November. He had emergency surgery, where they found the huge tumor had actually pushed his brain stem aside. His fiancee, Amy, was given very little hope of his ever waking up. But Jeff is still with us, still fighting, still being amazing. He has been through radiation and is currently undergoing yet another round of chemo. After a recent hospitalization and another procedure for deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, Jeff was not able to get around much, so Amy asked all his friends to dedicate their weekend athletic endeavors to Jeff, who is an Ironman triathlete.

race report

Jeff and Alan appeared on the local tv station this morning to promote the Gem of the Desert Trail 5k which is on May 5 and will benefit Jeff. If you’re in the area, there is a link to the registration in the sidebar.

Thoughts of Jeff kept me going. Because, seriously, compared to what Jeff has gone through, what is a little asthma?

I know a lot of you were racing and at other events this past weekend. How did they go?

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    • says

      Thank you. It had been a while since I’d treated myself to a new running outfit (seriously, some of my running shorts are years old!). Running a long distance has so many variables. Hills, weather, asthma in my case, that it is hard to know if your “goal” is achievable (especially since I haven’t trained seriously for a long time). I can’t compare to my old times, because that was before a knee injury and about eight years intervened. That is a long way of saying that in this instance, 5 minutes over my goal time was pretty awesome. 🙂
      Debbie recently posted..La Jolla Half Marathon Race ReportMy Profile

  1. says

    Great job Deb and congrats!! My asthma has been bothering me a lot lately and I’m actually a little worried about it for my race this weekend. It’s never bothered me before when I was training for something or racing and not sure how to handle it now! Carry my inhaler with me?? I guess yes? PS I love your costume idea.
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..5 Favorite 30 Minute or Less WorkoutsMy Profile

    • says

      I always carry mine with me. I once made a little holster for it, using a big paper clip and the loop from one of those flashlight holster things. It was great until they changed the shape of the plastic holder things and the no longer fit.
      Debbie recently posted..La Jolla Half Marathon Race ReportMy Profile

  2. says

    Wow. What a story Jeff has and I love that you kept him in your thoughts throughout the race. Now let’s talk about that hill–15% grade is insane! Great job with the hill and with managing your asthma. Congrats on your race!
    misszippy recently posted..Treadmill desk updateMy Profile

  3. says

    Ah hills.. always my nemesis when I ran 5Ks when I was younger.. glad you are OK! More that I love how I read when you talk about your friend & that you are just thankful to be healthy… beautiful area to run though – well, me – I like flatter – although I am fine with the beach – worth the beauty! 🙂
    Jody – Fit at 55 recently posted..Why I DON’T Eat PaleoMy Profile

  4. says

    Dear Debbie

    I am the chair of the La Jolla Half Marathon and La Jolla Shores 5k. I read all the postings I could find from our 2012 race – including yours – and together with the Kiwanis Club of La Jolla (the race is still their baby but now In Motion is the race director instead of La Jolla Sports Group) and In Motion Events we tried to implement all of the improvements we could. We have more improvements to come for 2014. We should be able to get Alan on a motorcycle to the start again like we did in the past. Sorry for that inconvenience. Thank you for your participation in the race and I hope your friend Jeff heals and best wishes for your mom, too.

    • says

      Thank you so much for stopping by! I have loved the La Jolla Marathon for many years (I think I first ran it in 1997), but I will say that this year was the best as far as race management. Ever. I look forward to even more improvements, and also the few extra minutes sleep I will get if Alan has a ride to the start line.
      Debbie recently posted..Will I Run Faster If I Weigh Less?My Profile

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