The La Jolla Half Marathon
The La Jolla Half Marathon is the most hilly half marathon course in San Diego. If you Google “most difficult half marathon in San Diego,” the La Jolla half magically appears as the first search result. Above is an image of the elevation of the course. It begins at the Del Mar racetrack/fairgrounds and ends in La Jolla Cove. There is a 80 foot hill at mile 1.5, a 190 foot hill beginning at mile 3, a massive 420 foot hill (Torrey Pines hill – which is actually a hill that people hike up normally) at mile 6 (which doesn’t end until mile 7.5), and finally, a 150 foot hill to give you a swift kick in the ear at mile 12.5. At least the finish is downhill!
My Not so Friendly History with Hills
Historically, I hate hills. Let’s be honest, they are hard. Not only do I end up extra winded and my legs are burning, but my pace up the hill is an incredibly disheartening 1-3 minutes/mile slower than my pace on a flat surface. I’ve never had a desire to attempt to run up a hill until I started training for the AFC half marathon last summer. The half starts with a nice gradual decline but at about mile 11 or so, you must run up a pretty significant hill for at least a mile and a half in order to finish. Last year this hill deterred me from finishing under my goal time of 2 hours. I was right on track at a 9:10 pace until I hit the hill and my average pace crept up to a 9:19. Fail.
In preparation for AFC, my friend Asia and I ran up Mt. Soledad, a large hill with a similar grade to the La Jolla half. We also ran the actual hill that was in the race a few times. However, we didn’t get in nearly enough hill runs to make the difference.
Running Torrey Pines for “Fun”
Luckily, with the help of P90X, my legs are much stronger than they were last summer and my VO2max is higher, meaning that I can run faster up hills despite not actually suffering through them very often. In mid-February we ran up Torrey Pines hill once and I’ve incorporated some rolling hills into my mid-week runs. Most of my group runs with VAVI are in Mission Beach and are perfectly flat. Nice for long runs, but not good for training for the mother of all half marathons.
So, last night Mike and I decided to skip our Tuesday night run with VAVI and run up Torrey Pines (the park closes at sunset so before the time change we couldn’t actually make it there after work to practice). We decided that since our running schedule dictated a 6 mile run, that we would run up Torrey Pines two times. The steepest part of the hill ends about 0.8 miles up, so it’s really that beginning push that is particularly miserable. Once you hit 0.8, the road still inclines, but more gradually for the remaining 0.7 miles. I made it up to the 1.5 mile turnaround at an average pace of 10:30, which I was pretty proud of considering how steep that bad boy is. The way back down was a breeze – we ran at a pretty steady 8 – 8:45 pace, depending on the incline. By the time we had reached the bottom, my average pace had gone down to 9:45 or so. Round 2 up the hill was even more successful. After I met up with Mike again after the very steep part, I kept pace with him, running at about an 8:45 pace up the last incline. On the way down, I finished strong with a 7:45 or so pace, completing the entire 6 miles at an average pace of 9:21.
This run made me feel SO confident. The last two runs I’ve had have really proved to me that I have gotten so much stronger and that I do have potential for running the La Jolla half at a great pace, potentially setting a new PR. We plan to run the same route next Tuesday in lieu of the group run. Despite the pretty intense 1.5 miles up, the 1.5 mile run down is absolutely breathtaking and quite enjoyable – the nature reserve overlooks the gorgeous ocean, and last night it was illuminated by the setting sun.
I started writing this blog post with the intention of writing about the benefits of hill training, but I think I’ll save that for a later entry. Apparently I have more beef with hills than I previously thought; but perhaps my run last night gave us some common ground to work with!