Before writing this recap, I thought La Jolla Half Marathon was my slowest of 2022. It turns out I can’t remember what I ran two months ago, and Carlsbad was slower, and I ran the same time at Surf City. The key difference is La Jolla Half Marathon had about 900 feet of elevation, whereas Carlsbad had 400 and Surf City had 100. So I am probably getting fitter; I just haven’t tested myself on a flat, fast course. Or there is *something* else happening (Surf City, I had weird and unusual stomach issues). Anyway, I digress. I knew going into the race that it would not be fast. My goal was to run well and not fly and die. I did just that.
If you’ve never been to La Jolla, it’s a very hilly area. Most of the California coast is. With almost 900 feet of elevation, the La Jolla Half Marathon is known to be one of the hilliest half marathons in the US. You can see Strava here.
Before the La Jolla Half Marathon:
I’ve wanted to do the La Jolla Half Marathon for a while now, so I was excited when it finally fit into my schedule. I got to the race expo the day before, picked up my bib, and relaxed. At the expo, I found out the race was point to point (how I didn’t know that, I don’t know?). After that, I got a quick takeout meal from a local diner and headed to relax. Sadly, my online order for dinner resulted in my credit card number being stolen, but that is a story for another day.
I knew the hills would be brutal, and the 400+ foot climb in Torrey Pines would not be easy. But I chose to do it! I got to the race, start around 5:30 for the 6:30 start. Parking for the La Jolla Half Marathon was easy, and there was plenty of parking at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. I walked about half a mile to the La Jolla Half Marathon start and then just walked around a bit before.
The La Jolla Half Marathon Race:
The La Jolla Half Marathon went off at 6:30 am. There were about 2000 people who ran. I have to wonder if it was smaller because it was Boston Marathon weekend. Anyway, I seeded myself just behind the 1:35 pacers. I heard them talking that the course was slightly long and they would bank time. I knew there was no way I would be able to run a 7:15 pace up the Torrey Pines hills, so the strategy made sense…it just wasn’t the right one for me.
During the first couple of miles, I stayed with the 1:35 pacers. We logged around 7 minutes for mile 1 and 6:57 for the second mile. When we logged a 6:57 for mile 2 and were going slightly uphill, I knew that was not the right place for me; it was too fast. I let the pacers go and did what was best for me.
After that, I mostly ran the La Jolla Half Marathon by myself. I ran with a few people at times, but for the most part, I ran alone. The second mile started a larger climb. It felt manageable, and we crossed the train tracks. They said the train shouldn’t run through, but maybe I was still hoping it would (who doesn’t want a break).
We continued climbing for both miles 3 and 4. I knew these weren’t even the “bad hills,” so I was slightly worried when I ran a 7:10 and 7:32. I also knew we would get a screaming downhill before Torrey Pines, and we did. I ran mile 5 in 6:42 with little to no effort. When I ran California coastal roads that often have declines of 100 feet or more in a mile, it reminded me I have no interest in running a downhill race. The long pounding and the fact that I can run 30 seconds faster with zero effort are not for me.
Around 5.5 of the La Jolla Half Marathon, we headed into Torrey Pines. This was the biggest and most steep hill. From mile 5.5 to nearly 7, we gained about 450 feet of climbing. It felt like it never ended. Several volunteers said: “you’re almost there,” but we were not. We were not almost to the top or the end of the race. Parts of the hill were so steep, I averaged about 10 minute pace. I’ve never done that in a road half marathon. But I knew the hill was there, and in fact, I’ve hiked up a few times.
We finally reached the top around mile 7. I averaged 8:33 for mile 6 and 8:03 for mile 7. I was proud! The next couple of miles leveled off. You don’t go back downhill until mile 10. It took me about half a mile to catch my breath and find a smooth rhythm, but I didn’t feel “too bad once I did.” I took the next couple of miles to stay focused and ran 7:11 and 7:14. I was tired, but I didn’t feel terrible. Around this point in both Surf City and Carlsbad, I just wanted to give up.
Finally, I saw the screaming downhill and just charged down. I didn’t want to run down recklessly and fall or tweak something. I ran 6:30 mile with minimal effort.
We then headed to the boardwalk of La Jolla. The problem is, many surfers and beachgoers were hanging out, so we were weaving in, out, and out of them. The entire race had a headwind, but the only time I felt it was down at the beach. I felt like I wasn’t going fast, but it was nowhere near-desert wind. The rest of the time, it was welcomed because it cooled us off. I ran a 7:10 next mile.
The last mile goes back up about 100 feet. I knew this hill would be here, so I didn’t want to go crazy and need to walk up. Since it was in the last half mile, I anticipated that it would feel “the hardest.” I felt tired but strong and ran a 7:44. We were going next to traffic with several people honking and waving, so I didn’t want to stop there and have random cars asking me why I stopped.
After mile 13 of the La Jolla Half Marathon, you go back down a cobblestone path and finish. The cobblestone made me nervous (like technical downhill at the end of a trail race). I didn’t want this to be the reason I got injured either. I played it safe and didn’t charge the downhill. I just wanted to finish healthy. Once we reached the smooth ground, I charged towards the end and crossed in 1:36.50. It was an epic battle of me and some random dude. I was running 6:13 pace at the end (and believe me, that almost never happens). He won, but I had a rare kick, so I count that as a success for me.
I’m really pleased with my race. I felt stronger than any other half marathons I’ve done this year, plus I was 9th overall. With 900 feet of elevation gain, the La Jolla Half Marathon is the hardest road half I’ve done, but it was fun. It’s also incredibly beautiful. The nice part is I still averaged faster than the windy base 10k I did a few days before.
You can see more race recaps here.
Questions for you:
Have you ever done the La Jolla Half Marathon?
What is the most challenging race you’ve done?