Friday, November 23, 2012

Race Report - My First - The 2012 Silver Strand Half Marathon

The Silver Strand Half Marathon starts on beautiful Coronado Island, goes across the Silver Strand, and ends a few miles North of Tijuana in Imperial Beach. This is an area that the US Navy Seals know well, with several miles of the course crossing their hallowed (and feared) training grounds. The course itself is point to point (one-way) and open to to runners, walkers, skaters, hand cycles, and wheelchairs.

I had been told that this is a perfect course for my first Half Marathon (HM) since it is mostly flat and mostly straight. Experienced runners often complain that it is too boring - yes the views of the beach, palm trees, waves, and sun can get boring.

We started the hour drive to the race around 5am and watched the thermometer drop down to 39 degrees midway there. At the beach it was around 47 degrees with a slight offshore breeze. It was a cold morning by Southern California beach standards and I had not worn any additional warming layers.

First, I dropped my wife Alaina off near the HM finish which also served as the 5K start - then dodged the people setting out cones and closing down roads to get to the Silver Strand State Beach parking area. Here I left my car (around mile 5) and boarded a bus to the start line. 

It was a couple block walk to the HM start line where I meetup with others from the West Coast Road Runners (WCRR), my running training group. Although some were familiar faces from the Saturday morning long runs, some were not because they meet up in other locations around San Diego County. All of them were very friendly and supportive with lots of last minute advice and suggestions. Notice all of the blue 'road runner' shirts in this random race photo!
2012 Silver Strand Photo - notice the blue shirts

Here I am (on the right) with John, one of the runners from the Carlsbad WCRR group that I normally run and train with:

John (left) and Nick (right) pre-race
It has been really nice having so much support and help from the WCRR. I'm fortunate to have the advice, encouragement, moral support, and new friendships. The group is very diverse with members from all walks of life and backgrounds, although I'm the only paramedic so far.

The marathon I'm training for is still two months away and I've just topped the HM distance with a 15 miler the week before. After finding others from WCRR we took turns at the porta-potties (there were plenty of those!) and then stood around waiting for the sun to come up having friendly conversation about experiences and strategies.

When it was time I moved into the corral for the pace I wanted to begin with (11:30) and found the official pacer is also a coach for WCRR at a different location so we did not know each other. I felt bad for him having to do our pace (to finish in about 2:30) because he normally does HMs in under 90 minutes. He provided his young daughter (around 10yrs old) with some pre-race nutrition advice and she quietly told us it was her 3rd HM! She was amazing and wore what looked like her school backpack! As the race got started her dad also gave me some some coaching about pacing and starting off slow, which is really my greatest weakness at this point.

Just after the start the course goes around the historic Hotel Del Coronado and America's Best Beach of 2012. This is what it looks like from above:
Hotel Del Coronado near the start of the race
Most of my training long runs have been on the beach, not on the sand but the Pacific Coast Highway 101 that parallels the beach. The Silver Strand course is very similar to that, which means it is pretty flat, not much ground cover or trees for shade, and often a slight breeze coming in with the waves.

Needing something to concentrate on outside of myself, I found a runner to follow that had a unique gait compared to the others so I let him pace me for a while. That's pretty much how the first 8 miles went for me although I was struggling to stay ahead of a couple of jogger strollers most of the time.

At 8.5 miles the course moves through a neighborhood before entering the US Naval Communications and Telecommunication Station San Diego facility. This is an in and out 3 mile loop so I was facing the faster runners as they returned on my way in and vice versa on the way out. I found this to be the most difficult part of the race because now I could see the faces of all the runners and most of them did not look so good. 

Some of them looked like they were near death and I did not find that very encouraging. I made sure to greet the WCRR runners that I saw, and there were a lot, with a wave and a hello which helped my spirits a bit and hopefully helped them too!

As I left the base I found myself next to another WCRR runner from a different group, we had never met before. She was quite a bit older than I and was doing great. Anyone that was ahead of me was doing great! We ran next to each other for the final half mile when she encouraged me to go for it, to cross the finish line before her.

I had a very brief conversation with myself at this point, wondering if I had enough left in me to go or if the effort would cause me to collapse within sight of the finish line. I didn't want to get any special attention from the paramedics waiting near the finish, like I've done many times before myself. I decided to do it and picked up the pace.

I swear as I ran down the final straight away that Chariots of Fire music was playing

I was sure that I was screaming by all the others in that last half mile. I don't remember many details other than passing  a lot of people as I found my maximum pace for the finale (9:45). When I got to the finish line I saw the photographer and had enough sense to try to look victorious!

I did it!

At that point I was totally spent and  made it to the side where I had to stand for a few minutes to catch my breath and compose myself. My wife found me there, slightly concerned for me but we found a spot to sit down for a few minutes before the bus ride back to our parking spot.

My wife Alaina and I after the race.
My time was 2:32:46 so I have a new goal to break at the San Dieguito HM in February! I can't say at this point if I would do this race again, that would probably depend on how things go next fall and whether I can get up into the ultra distances (30+ miles). It is a beautiful course but not as much as where I normally train up the coast an hour (see, no trees in this pic!). 

So I would have to agree with the others who said it is a boring course although it is a great training course in that there are minimal course challenges to overcome. The challenges are 98% mental!

Shown in the photos are my RoadID Wrist Band Slim, Hoka One One Bondi Bs, Zensah Compression Sleevesand iPod shuffle.


  1. Nick, Congratulations on your first half marathon. That is a great accomplishment and a terrific baseline for future efforts. Oh to run in southern California where 47F is a cold day. In the months ahead I won't have many runs above 30F.

    Are you wearing a calf sleeve or a full compression sock? Do you wear on all of your runs or just "long" runs?

    1. Thank you Greg. I've been wearing compression sleeves for my 'long' runs because they feel good. I trade them for compression socks afterwards which seem to help keep the swelling down to a minimum.