(Originally Published on Runners World Loop 2/7/12)
I think we all wish we could live an “Endless Summer” on the beach. There’s something so naturally beautiful about the waves crashing on the shore, the abundant sealife, and of course the frolicking bikini-clad sunbathers. (Google Endless Summer if you don't know what I'm talking about). So when I decided to enter the Surf City Marathon, I knew I’d be enjoying more than just another run.
Held in Huntington Beach, California, the Surf City Marathon advertises itself as "California’s Classic Oceanfront Marathon". The course never strays far from the beach, and the last 9 miles or so are actually run along the paved beach path. The event website promises that runners can “Observe native surfers in their natural habitat”, and I did indeed see many boards on race morning!
Southern California is a reasonable drive from Tucson. My oldest son, Ryan, and I arrived late Friday afternoon and we went straight to the Expo. I must say that although the Expo was not the largest I’ve seen, it was definitely the most creatively decorated! Here’s me hanging out near the entrance:
I realized on Friday that I made a huge blunder and forgot to pack my running shoes! Normally I am very careful with packing but for this trip I messed up. They didn’t have my favorite shoes at the Expo, so on Saturday I spent a while searching for a new pair. I was rescued by ‘A Snail’s Pace Running Shop’, who not only found me a pair of my brand and model (Mizuno Wave Elixir 6), but sold them to me at a significant discount since they were last year’s model! On Saturday afternoon, we returned to the Expo where I met up with my buddy Alfredo. He ran his 93rd marathon this weekend and it was great to catch up with him again. This picture shows Ryan, Alfredo, and I:
The shoe fiasco got me stressed, but my biggest fear was a flu-like sickness that had been keeping me congested and coughing for several days. Without going into a lengthy story, I’ll just say that I’m convinced that the antiobiotics that I had to take for my jaw infection weakened my system enough to cause me to get sick (if you read my blog on the Houston Marathon a couple of weeks ago, you may recall that I had a tooth extracted right after that race). On the plus side, I planned to take it easy on this race anyway, given that it had only been 3 weeks since Houston. In fact my plan was to treat this as a “B” race, sort of a long, supported, training run, with no real time pressure – I figured I’d be happy with a 3:20 to 3:30 finishing time. As it turned out, I did do a lot of hack coughing during the race, which actually got painful at times, but I survived.
Sunday morning arrived with cool temperatures but no cloud cover. It was in the low-50’s at the start, and the first few miles were mostly shaded. Ryan rode his bike around and took a few pictures. I was feeling good so decided to push the pace early on, knowing that I would eventually slow down. Here’s a picture from around mile 1, as we ran along Pacific Coast Highway (I’m in the orange). You can see Catalina Island in the background:
The course did go into neighborhoods at about mile 3, and even took some interesting turns on paths in Huntington Central Park, including a very small amount of dirt trails. It was relatively flat, but there were a few hills and some gradual inclines. We came back near the beach around mile 9, and did an out-and-back for a few miles on the PCH, followed by an out-and-back on the beach path. By this point it was getting warm, and the sun shining in my face on the return portions was a bit rough. Here is a picture of me at about mile 17, right after I got onto the beach path:
There were about 2,400 finishers in the marathon, so at this point in the race I was running mostly alone. It might have been nice to be with a pack but I was just sort of running whatever pace worked for me at the time. However there were tons of runners around, including some 18,000 half-marathoners who were on the course, and there were also many spectators. The beach path was open to beachgoers, so it was common for me to be dodging surfers as they carried their boards across the path, or walkers and joggers out for their daily exercise. For example, in this picture, which was taken around mile 24, the guy next to me was not even in the race:
Some of you will be able to tell from that picture that my form was getting pretty bad by then. One of the real challenges of a marathon is to maintain proper running form throughout the race, and I certainly have not yet learned to do that. My legs grow weary after about 20 miles and I begin to exhibit all sorts of bad form – slouching shoulders, heel striking, rotating hips, etc.
In fact I really ran out of steam in the final mile. It’s mentally disappointing when you can see the finish line, but have nothing left even when thousands of people are cheering everyone on. A few guys kicked past me but I trudged my way in. However, I was pleased to clock a final time of 3:10:53, which was considerably faster than what I expected. Actually that is my 3rd fastest marathon ever. I got 71st place overall, and 8th in my age group, but more importantly I really enjoyed this marathon. The course was great, the organization was superb, and there were so many spectators along the way providing encouragement. It was a class act and I hope to run this one again.
After the race, I enjoyed soaking my feet in the ocean for a few minutes. Look closely in this shot and you may see the surfer crashing in the background:
The Surf City medal has to be one of the coolest I’ve ever seen. It’s attached to a wooden surfboard! I set it up in the sand for this picture and I think the seagull in the background was thinking about sneaking up and stealing it!
We hung out on the beach for a while, but since I had to drive back to Arizona I skipped the big post-race party and beer garden. During the drive I listened to the Super Bowl on the satellite radio. Overall it was a great couple of days and a nice short break in the midst of my busy season. And of course there is always the post-race reward to be enjoyed: