I was happily crawling along the edges of the Del Mar Fairgrounds when the electronic sign switched from greeting La Jolla Half Marathoners to expressing condolences for the victims of Virginia Tech. The nerves in my nose pinched and my eyes began to smart, then water. Not now, I begged.
My goal on this tough course was 2:10 to 2:20, which is about as good as gets for this mid-packer with so many “issues.” A 2:10 would be on par with the pace I’d held a few weeks ago at the El Cajon 20k, also known for its brutal hills. I haven’t done a big race since last year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, so it was kinda cool to constantly be surrounded by lots of other runners the entire way.
After circling the fairgrounds and moving through beachfront, I finally caught up to two girls in Tech regalia. One was an alumna in her 20s who had done the same marathon training program as me. We talked for a couple of miles and then I filed in behind them again just as we started up the big Torrey Pines hill. To my amazement I kept at a decent clip for such a steep ascent (see elevation chart). Soon, we could hear the cheers of the runners who’d just hit the summit and knew we were next.
I tried a new strategy this time, taking one block of Clif Shots just before the three consecutive, mid-race aid stations instead of all three at the one-hour mark. I think this really helped sustain my energy as I continued at a steady pace through UCSD, now passing some people I’d seen blow by me in the opening mile. As with last time, I refused to think negative thoughts, which began to get harder to do heading down the steep hill at Mile 10. I knew to shorten my stride, but not whether to lean into or against gravity, so I went back and forth as we all careened toward La Jolla Shores under picture-perfect conditions.
My favorite moment was just before we hit the boardwalk around 11.5 miles. Parked in a residential driveway was an orange ’50s convertible and Elvis with a mic. It was impossible not to enjoy this wealthy, distinctly Hispanic man with a deep tan cheer on runners in his white rhinestone suit, black wig --and real, graying goatee. “This is Elvis and today I’m coming out of hiding in beautiful La Jolla just for you!” he announced in his best voice impersonation.
On the final leg it was still in the high 50s with full sun. We climbed, turned and climbed some more. But the palm trees were looking particularly good to me as we turned right on Prospect and began the descent to the Cove. Just before the finish, I heard someone yell out “Go Anne!” and turned to see my friend Chris cheering from the noisy sidelines. My finish time: 2:09.
I’d forgotten everyone gets a medal, which came as a nice surprise. Meandering around the finish, I took in this healthy mass of humanity, with everyone smiling as they hugged, high-fived or helped out. First-timers looked especially proud, surrounded by enthusiastic supporters. By God, I think even the seals on the beach below knew today was exceptional. Once again, I felt the nerves in my nose pinch and my eyes start to smart, then my sunglasses steamed up. For a change, they were tears of happiness.