Guest post: Michael Rolnick
The San Dieguito Half Marathon might be the most underrated race in San Diego. Hosted by the local Hash House Harriers, the course winds through the Eucalyptus trees and orange groves of Rancho Santa Fe, one of the wealthy enclaves north of San Diego. The race is often a good check-in for how the locals are progressing with their Boston Marathon training, given the amount of hills you climb and descend. Plus, it has one of the best low-key beer gardens for that well-deserved drink afterward.
Entering this race, I had been starting to ramp my prep for Boston by doing weekly tempo runs with a group on Saturdays and long runs on Sunday’s. My midweek running had included some hill climbs and moderate intervals giving me a solid base to see where things were with about 9-10 weeks left before Boston. The problem was, I didn’t know what this race was supposed to be for me – “just a training run” or a real chance to see how my training was panning out. I thought it would sort itself out that morning since we had a pretty decent tempo run set for the day before.
They offered the chance to pick up our race bibs and long sleeve tech tees on Saturday afternoon at the main Roadrunner Sports store in San Diego, but since that’s a pretty far drive for me, I decided to pick up the morning of the race. There were plenty of volunteers at San Dieguito Park and pick up and collecting my tee took all of 5 minutes. A few vendors were set up in the park, but for a race this size, it is a pretty laid back affair.
Parking can be a bit tight if you are the type that shows up last minute. The organizer offers a shuttle from a remote lot which looked to be ok, but I don’t like taking the chance of being late so I had my wife drop me off with enough time to collect my bib, shirt and walk the half mile from the registration area to the other side of the park for the start. I also managed to get a quick warm up in before the gun went off. The hill you walk down to get to the start doesn’t seem so steep on the way down, but you do have to walk back up this thing to get your beer after the race. It was cool in the shade of the Eucalyptus, perfect for racing.
After a quick mile warm up and stretch, we started to gather for the national anthem. After Lady Gaga sang her performance from the Super Bowl we were given 30 seconds to the start. I still didn’t have a clue if was going to try and race this thing or treat it like a training run. Fortunately, I saw a friend who was going to go out with one of the pace groups (offered from 1:30 to 2:30+) and I decided to run the first part of the race with him. The out and back course starts off with a big downhill descent for most of the first mile and you drop 150 ft. over that distance (similar to Boston) before starting the first of 4 major climbs. But before you get too far you get a surprise “hellooo” from Queen Elizabeth herself, perched in her traditional spot in the middle of the road where the 5k event turns around. Apparently she makes time for this event every year because she likes the local IPA, but more on that later. After your royal greeting the course climbs from mile 2-4, gaining about 200 feet before dropping down 100 plus feet again to mile 5. Between mile 5 and 7, we passed through an aid station manned by men and women offering encouragement and water or electrolyte drinks, while wearing red dresses for Valentine’s Day. Somewhere in this stretch, my friend fell back off the pace and I made the decision to try and push myself for a few miles and see how it felt around mile 10 and take it from there. Right about 6.5 miles you top out at the highest point on the course, and then retrace the course back to the finish. Hitting the third climb, I watched the leaders fly past on their way back to the finish and felt inspired. I felt great from starting out at a controlled pace and pushed on the downhill, passing a few people and marking another person in front of me by about 20 seconds as my next target. One of the spectators saw my Boston Strong shirt and yelled that I “must eat hills for breakfast.” I caught my target right at the point where her royal highness was inspiring us homeward and with another turn we were just at the point we began the long climb back to the finish line located just inside the park. Just then, I saw a familiar looking runner who appeared to be suffering. Pulling alongside, I saw it was one of my tempo run training partners and offered to help him home since I wasn’t so concerned about my time. Working together, he found a way to dig deep and power back up that 150 foot climb and even kick it to the finish once we entered the park. Sprinting to the line we crossed together and both were under 1:29. A solid result and a course PR over my time at this race from last year.
It turned out that both of us ended up third in our respective age groups and won some nice 1/4 zip warm up tops with the race logo to go along with our finishers medals. We hung around long enough in the finish area to watch some of our friends come through and see some of our other training partners who had been ahead of us. But if you really want to know the best part of this event, and why it’s one of San Diego’s best races, then I need to take you back to the top of the hill at the front of the park (where you’ll find a fantastic beer garden). The Hash House Harriers provide tons of different styles of free chili, and Stone Brewing, Green Flash and Ballast Point each provided enough beer to keep everyone happy for a few hours post-race. Nothing beats all-you-can-drink free beer under some classic San Diego sunshine, while runners relive their race experience with each other on a race course where it seems you are always climbing or descending through some of the most expensive real estate in the area.
The race is a local’s favorite with good reason. It has a small event feel, with enough challenge and competition for the speedster set, plus a community vibe for those who find the half marathon a real accomplishment to finish. It’s also one of the few affordable SoCal half marathons where you still get a quality long sleeve shirt, finishers medal and a fantastic beer garden where you can hold your beer with your pinky out and drink with royalty.
Boston Strong tech shirt from New Balance
Mizuno 5.5 SQ shorts
New Balance Fresh Foam 980s
Pro Compression Calf Sleeves post race