Who am I going to run with???
The City to Sea half marathon is a point-to-point race starting in downtown San Luis Obispo, and finishing at the Dinosaur Caves Park in Pismo Beach. The largest fundraiser of the year for the Cuesta Cross Country team, this is a great event that usually draws crowds of a couple thousand. I was super excited for this race weekend, as Alejandra and her brother Herbert were running, along with my Dad and Kris.
Herbert, my dad and Kris all arrived on Saturday afternoon. Earlier in the day, I had made my way over to the Running Warehouse to attempt a check in for all of us. They are usually pretty stern with check in policies, making it mandatory that you either pick up in person or have a copy of the racers ID. Since I had none of these for my Dad and Kris, I was a bit nervous relying on my baby blues and Casanova style approach. Fortunately, my volunteer could care less about the ID’s or especially my baby blues and suave personality.
We had a nice Salmon dinner at the house on Saturday evening and hit the sack early, as we had a 5:00am wakeup call.
Stuffing in a quick breakfast and the fam into my car, we made our way downtown to attempt to find a spot relatively close to the starting line. Fortunately, we passed a cop and asked where he thought we should park. He directed us into the bank parking lot on Higuera, right across the street from Spikes. There was plenty of parking and no issues with leaving the car for a few hours. Definitely know where we’re parking next year!
We made our way up Higuera, ran a quick warmup, took a couple of quick pre-race photos and made our way to the starting line. Having a couple minutes to spare, I caught up briefly with a few SLDC runners. Prashant, an excellent local runner that has improved dramatically over a short period of time, was someone I planned to stay with. Not knowing a time to shoot for, since my pacing duties at the SLO Marathon were definitely not a good indicator of goal time, I was glad to see Prashant toeing the line. Unfortunately, the first words out of his mouth were, “I’m injured and am just going to take it easy today.”
DAMN, who was I going to run with?
Didn’t have to worry much about who I was going to run with because the lead packs took off like bats out of hell. Sitting somewhere in 20-50th place after the first couple miles and clicking off two 6:03’s, I felt comfortable but didn’t want to push it so early into the race.
For anyone thinking about doing City to Sea in the future, aside from the beautiful ocean views over the last 5k, running down SLO’s main street with no cars around really is a special experience. Aside from Farmer’s Market, which makes you feel like the last unlucky sardine stuffed in the can, there aren’t many opportunities to experience the heart of our city solely on foot. The course was also nicely modified this year, with the race director removing an out-and-back section, and replacing it with a mile of the Bob Jones trail.
Miles 3 – 6 were fairly comfortable, as I attempted to stay in the 6:00 minute per mile range and find a group to run with. There were 20+ racers steaming ahead, and I settled into a group of four runners that seemed satisfied with a 6:00 minute pace. We worked diligently to reel in several others over these middle miles, as many of the early trailblazers were starting to come back to us.
As is common in ultras, I tried to strike up a conversation with my newfound chase pack. Unlike most ultras, this group wasn’t too keen on chit chatting, so I shut up and trudged along with the group.
The first climb of the race occurred at mile 7 as we took a sharp right onto San Luis Bay Dr. Immediately after cresting this hill, there’s a moderately long descent that brings runners onto the Bob Jones trail. Our pack had stayed together for this climb and descent, albeit some of us hit the climb harder than the descent, and we managed to move into the top ten.
The Bob Jones trail takes runners several miles from the Biddle Ranch Winery tasting room, out to Avila Beach. A popular hiking, jogging and biking path that runs parallel to the creek and passes the Buddhist temple and golf course, the Bob Jones trail is a must for anyone visiting Avila.
Making our way onto BJ’s trail, one runner began to separate himself from our pack, gapping the rest of us by a few seconds. Now a pack of three, one of the runners from our group was really starting to labor.
Heavy panting… overextended strides, flaring arms… all the signs of an impending shit storm!
As we passed the 8 mile mark, smack in the middle of the Bob Jones trail, the abovementioned panter abruptly stopped and walked off the course. Now I’ve seen some epic DNF’s in ultras, from broken bones, severe dehydration and hyponatremia, to never-ending cases of diarrhea. However, I’ve yet to see someone essentially say “Fuck it,” and walk right off the course without at least a little complaining or relative attempt to fight on.
Not understanding if stopping in the back end of a half marathon because your tired is a normal occurrence in road racing, I asked the other runner what the hell was going on.
“That’s my pacer.”
Sure, we’re all competing for the best time we can muster on this course, but to recruit a pacer for a local half marathon that you’re definitely not going to win seemed a bit much for me. Hell, I don’t even think the Kenyans do it when they drop sub 1:00’s.
Still shaking my head in disbelief, we made our way up the second and largest climb of the race, which takes runners past the Avila Ridge and drops them onto Shell Beach Rd. With approximately three miles to go and a long straightaway, this was a great time to see the runners ahead. Not knowing where any frontrunners were relative to our group for the past 6+ miles, we could now see another pack of three that were starting to splinter .25-.5 miles ahead.
Mr. now sans pacer made a surge up the hill, as he likely assumed I’d spend the rest of the race berating him.
We made our way down Shell Beach Rd. passing the Cliffs and nearing MMMMMMMM road. One of the runners that had splintered from the pack in front of us started to slow dramatically. Not certain if he was injured or just blowing up in epic fashion, but I’ll give him credit that he fought to stay with all three of us as we passed him one-by-one.
Turning right on MMMMMMMMMMMM road at mile 11.5ish, racers are rewarded with 10 blocks of beautiful ocean view running. We continued past the 12 mile marker, completing these 10 picturesque blocks, and took a sharp left to head back up to Shell Beach Rd. The last mile is full of twists and turns as the race stretches to meet its 13.1 required distance.
The last mile was relatively uneventful, as I finished in 7th place in 1:20ish.
Before picking up the drop bag and diving into my premade 30 ounces of Physiophyx, I congratulated the runners from our pack and BS’d with the “Official Pacer” (Greg Scott led out on a bike and likely would’ve won the race outright if he decided to run and not bike). After a quick stretch and clothing change, I made my way back to the finish line to wait for my family.
Herbert finished with a PR at under 2 hours and Alejandra finished shortly afterwards. We caught up with Joannie, Trish and V, and I jogged backwards out on the course to find my dad and Kris. With a three hour cutoff, I was nervous the race would shut down and they wouldn’t know where to meet us. Running back a half mile, I was ecstatic to see them both looking strong and making their way towards the finish. We covered the last half mile together, and they finished a hair over three hours, earning their medals!
After some quick showers and an awesome lunch at Taqueria Santa Cruz, the best Mexican in SLO, we said our goodbyes to Herbert, Kris and my dad, and spent the rest of the day with Carly and Omar.
What I learned:
- Yes I’m making a BIG generalization, but trail runners tend to be looser and seemingly happier to chat than road runners
- Road running definitely hurts, and the constant pounding with little to no variation in terrain or grade compounds the hurt exponentially
- Consistency in pace is seemingly more important when road racing, as our group was within 5-10 seconds of 6:00 min pace throughout the majority of the race
- Time (pace, splits, etc.) is the main determining driver for road runners to pull value from a race. Effort level is added to time when determining the driver for trail runners to pull value from a race