USA Half Marathon Invitational (San Diego, CA)
Finish time – 1:28:05
Average pace: 6:43/mile
On Saturday, November 21, 2015, I ran the inaugural USA Half Marathon Invitational in San Diego, California. I approached this event very casually given the fact that it was just three weeks after my last marathon and one week before I would start training for my next marathon (The Phoenix Marathon - my first BQ attempt). My main objectives were to have fun, enjoy some sunny California weather, and run the race by feel. No goals this time around.
I arrived in town on Friday with plans to leave the next day a few hours after my race (spoiler: things do not always go as planned). Shortly after I arrived, I walked over to the expo, which was just a couple of blocks away from my hotel.
The expo was relatively small but efficient. In less than 10 minutes, I was able to get my bib and race jacket. This race offered official race jackets instead of the more common tech shirt offering. This was another big draw for me. Not only would I get to run in an inaugural invitational event, but I'd also have a free race jacket to commemorate the experience.
One small problem - The jacket that I received was vastly different than what was depicted on the website and, honestly, left much to be desired. There were at least five differences/shortcomings with the actual jacket: (1) the zipper was woman's-styled with the zipper on the left side of the jacket (2) The jacket was missing the horizontal reflector on the back (3) The jacket was missing the year on the front. (4) The entire front of the jacket was dual-colored instead of tri-color printed. (5) The rear of the jacket was missing the white piping. On top of that the material was completely different (see the picture below).
The bait and switch with the jackets is my only real gripe with this entire event... but it's a big gripe in my opinion.
The next morning I woke up, had some food and coffee, and stayed in my room until about 10 minutes before the race start. Thanks to my awesome hotel location, I was able to literally see the race start from my window. With 10 minutes to go, I left my room, did about 7 minutes of warm-ups/stretching, and slid in line close to the front.
Once I got to the start line, I saw my fellow BMR brother GK Smith. GK and I lined up behind the 1:30 pace group and in front of the 1:35 group. I still didn't know how fast I wanted to run this race, but I felt comfortable starting around this pace. GK drove the course the day before and told me that the biggest hill on the course was early in the race just after the first left turn. I figured I'd take it easy until then and then make a decision on my approach to the rest of the race.
Miles 1 & 2 (7:19, 7:23)
So as discussed, I took it very easy my first two miles. As evidenced by the picture below, the primary chunk of elevation gain took place just before mile two... this being the hill that GK warned me about. So I'm casually running the first two miles and the 1:30 pace group is in front of me the entire time; I can see them, but they've probably got a good 40 yards on me. The hill was definitely noticeable; however, I wasn't hurting from it because I wasn't running anywhere near the intensity that I normally do for a half marathon. Once I reached the top of the hill, I realized that I still felt amazing and the 1:30 group was still within site. In fact, I had actually gained ground on them. It was at this point that I decided to go ahead and race this thing.
Miles 3 & 4 (6:53, 6:54)
This portion of the course include lots of rolling hills. Nothing dramatic, just enough elevation gain and loss to switch up the muscle groups that I was using. Like I mentioned earlier, I had made up my mind to race at this point so my heart rate immediately shot up to the the 180-190 bpm range (typical range for me at the half marathon distance). If you look at the chart below you can see that I'm barely even working for the first two miles and then boom - at the start of mile 3, I start racing. Just before mile 4, I met a fellow BMR runner named Kyrah Ayers. The 1:30 pace group was directly in front of me, and he was gaining on them fast! He noticed my shirt and spoke as he ran by me as he caught up with the 1:30 group. Right around mile 4, we reach the highest point of the race, and I believe the street was aptly called "Hillcrest." As I crossed Hillcrest, I knew that I was going to have some crazy downhill for a few miles and then the last half of the race would be flat.
Miles 5-8 (6:35, 6:11, 6:31)
Miles 5-8 were the downhill portion of the race. You can tell by my splits that I was flying through this section and feeling great. Coming downhill at the start of mile 5, I passed Kyrah and the rest of the 1:30 group. This was a pivotal moment for me because I knew that I would refuse to let them pass me once I made my move. I knew I had run a smart race up until this point and felt like I could hold pace (or increase) through the secondhalf of the course.
Miles 9-13 (6:34, 6:42, 6:41, 6:35, 6:32)
The last five miles of the course were where I knew I could get in my zone. I train almost daily on my local high school track. For me, spending so much time running on a track gives me multiple advantages on race day. Namely, I'm very accustomed to flat, boring, straight up grinding sort of runs where you spend mile after mile just churning the same exact muscle groups with no elevation changes to give you a relief. The last 5 miles of this course felt like the track, and I was ready to grind. I spend a large portion of the section with the same group of people as we pounded out some pretty consistent splits.
There were a few surprises along this section. (1) surface changes: there were brief sections that were run on sand and rocks, and one of these sections had a sharp nearly 180 degree turn. While these sections were short, it was still a surprise and many people had to alter the way they were running in order to avoid falling. And (2) there was one more noticeable hill as we crossed over a bridge. I saw some people suffer here.
As I got to mile 12, there was a guy who passed me. Now this is the first person to pass me since mile 5, so it stood out to me. As he passed me, I told him that he was killing it down the stretch and I was going to try and follow him in. He said, "that's the best way to do it!" So I pushed down the stretch trying my best to hang on to my new motivation. The final stretch was along the coast, and it was beautiful (as was pretty much all of the course)! The guy I was attempting to follow in left me in about 10 seconds worth of dust, but he still motivated me to finish strong. Excluding the miles with downhill assistance, my final mile was my fastest on the course. I was very happy with that.
The finish of the course was excellent. The medal was awesome and heavy, with a beautiful ribbon! There was plenty of food and drink to replenish with post race and lots of lawn space to layout and stretch.
Shortly after finishing I met up with some other guys from BMR - most of which were local Californians. We had a good time talking and laughing it up as the rest of our friends finished up the race.
After the race, GK and I decided to stop by Quad Alehouse for some post run food and beer. This place is awesome! I had some chicken and waffles (which were on point!) and some good locally brewed beer. Me and GK were laughing it up with the bartenders when all of a sudden I get an email that would change the course of my trip. After having my departing flight delayed seven times, I received an email saying my flight was cancelled due to record snowfall in Chicago (the city where I was to have my layover. I called the airline to find out what was going on when they told me that the soonest that could have me on a flight out was Thursday (Thanksgiving Day)!!!
You're telling me that I was supposed to be home Saturday, but now I need to pay for four additional nights at a hotel in San Diego, with one change of clothes AND MISS THANKSGIVING WITH MY FAMILY????
Yea so of course I proceed to work my way up the supervisor chain while giving each person the business. No way I'm being stuck in San Diego for a week. It took 2 hours of conversation 4 different representatives/supervisors to get the matter resolved all while I'm still at the bar. Our bartenders are feeling bad as they can obviously hear what is going down on the phone. They are sliding me beer and free shots of whisky to keep my from completely flying off the handle. Like I said, this place was great! I will never visit San Diego without stopping by the Quad. Me and GK had to get shirts to commemorate the visit!
So the final resolution was that I'd have to stay one extra night in San Diego. Then I'd leave on Sunday with a 6 hour layover in Vegas and an overnight layover in Houston. GK let me stay in his hotel room the extra night in San Diego, and my in-laws live in Houston so I stayed with them during my Sunday night layover. Finally Monday morning I was able to make it back home to Atlanta. So what started out as a one night trip to San Diego, turned into a 3 night trip with stops in Chicago, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Houston. Crazy!
So overall, I really enjoyed this race. The course and weather were excellent! The race was very well organized, especially for an inaugural race. If it weren't so far away, I'd definitely do this one again.
Till next time...