California has a billion marathons and some fantastic race options. Since one is offered just about every weekend, I looked for a fast- ish course that fit well into my calendar. The Surf City Marathon in Huntington Beach ran along the ocean, so I figured that the course would be flat, and I have exhausted most of my February options for new states. Spending the weekend in Huntington Beach wasn’t a bad deal either.
We left for California on the heels of a Midwest polar vortex where the temperatures had dropped to five degrees below zero in Saint Louis, and school was cancelled because of the cold. It was the perfect time for a beach getaway. Sadly, we arrived on day #1 of a week- long rainstorm. (And not just a drizzle. There were flash flood warnings and everything. The weather was better in Missouri.) We stayed at the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort, which was a gorgeous hotel and did help to compensate for the shitty weather. The race started and finished on the beach across the street, so we also didn’t have to suffer any overly- long, rainy walks.
This was an interesting race in that there were approximately 1,200 marathoners at 8,000 people running the half. So basically, we were the afterthought…. The marathon began at 6:30 AM—just before sunrise. The first eight miles of our course took us through parks, nature preserves, and some neighborhoods. The rest consisted of two out and backs along the ocean—one on the highway and the other on a bike path. (Though only the marathon used the path.) On the first ‘out’ section, I just saw marathoners, but when we turned around at Sunset Beach, we started to see the droves of half marathoners who began their run an hour and fifteen minutes after us. I turned onto the bike path before getting overtaken by the lead runners, but most of the marathon participants did have to contend with this merge.
Despite the craziness of the two races converging, I liked this course. The initial eight miles took us inland and offered a change of pace and scenery, and the rest of the time we ran along the beach which had fabulous ocean views. There was only one substantial hill around mile six, and the rest of the time the elevation changes were minor. We did essentially run the same five miles four times (out and back on the highway and out and back on the path), so I can see how this could get monotonous. I, however, liked the predictability and felt that it allowed me to plan out my race more effectively.
While it was a bummer to hit Southern California on a rainy weekend, the weather definitely helped my performance. It stayed dry on Sunday morning, but we had a nice cloud cover for the entirety of the event. As there is essentially no shade on this course, I was very thankful that we were not suffering under a full, blazing sun. It started misting around mile fourteen, and we got full rain from mile sixteen to seventeen, but it was refreshing by that point. The bad weather also kept most of the locals off the bike path, so we weren’t weaving in and out of families or surfers while running.
The wind was really the only natural element we had to contend with. Running from Huntington Beach to Sunset Beach felt great, but every time we turned around, we got slammed with it. It wasn’t as noticeable the first time around, but the last five miles of the race were a real struggle. I had been keeping a fairly- consistent 7:45 pace through the last turnaround but added about 40 seconds to each mile after that. At least the wind affected all of us equally, as most of the field slowed down during this section. The breeze did help keep my cool, which will have to be my silver lining.
One additional benefit of the multiple out and backs and the staggered starting times was that for the last eight miles or so, I had views of runners going in four different directions: By this time, most of the marathoners were on our second out and back. The highway, which was directly next to us, was flooded with the half marathoners. It was really cool to watch, and when I got board of people viewing, I could always look in the other direction and take in the spectacular ocean views.
We merged back up with the half for the last half mile, but again, due to the staggered start times, I wasn’t weaving in and out of walkers. We also each had our own finishers’ chute to avoid confusion. I was very happy to have completed this race under 3:30 after such a fast run in Louisiana two weeks before. I would have loved to have come in under 2:25, which I think would have been very doable without the wind. But again, it’s hard to be too disappointed with a race run along the Pacific Ocean.
** An added bonus to Jim and my weekend were post- races massages in the hotel spa. Yuki, our massage therapist, gets my MVP award for the weekend….
Race Highlights: We had some pretty fantastic views of the Pacific Ocean.
The Downside: I was super psyched for my first marathon in an older age division. However, Surf City didn’t pull out a top 3 overall (or a top 3 master’s). They only gave out age group awards. The winner of the race was in my division. I came in 4th—13 seconds behind the girl who took 3rd….
Sub 4 State #38, BQ State #37, Sub 3:30 State # 17
Finish Time: 3:28:07
Overall Place Within My Gender: 11/ 436
Favorite Race Day Song: “Bitch of Living” from Spring Awakening
Total Training Miles: 7,682.8
Shoe Total: 25