America’s Finest City Half Marathon has always had a special place in my heart. I’ve run this race 5 different times – the first time being in 2010 at the beginning of my running journey. Over 1.5 years after my first half marathon (which I thought would be my last), I set a goal to break 2 hours in the half marathon at AFC and barely missed. This was the true beginning of my love affair with setting running goal and chasing them.
My boyfriend at the time, now husband, had a goal to run AFC every year for 25 years. This goal was inspired from sitting next to a man on the start-line bus who was on his way to doing just that. So, Mike and I ran AFC again in 2011, 2012 and 2013. In 2015, Mike’s best friend’s bachelor party happened during race weekend and the streak was broken and unfortunately, abandoned!
Returning to Running After Twin Pregnancy
AFC was my third half marathon since having the twins 16 months ago. After gaining 50 pounds during my pregnancy, I had a lot to lose and I have mostly focused on my home workout and nutriton programs to lose the weight, but of course I love running and had to put a race on the calendar!
I ran Rock n’ Roll Los Angeles back in October with a goal of breaking 2 hours (and did it!) and then ran Carlsbad half marathon in January, with the goal of breaking 1:55 (and did it!). My PR is 1:40:03, but I cleared out the PRs in my Garmin and have really enjoyed focusing on my improvement rather than getting too caught up comparing to my pre-kids or pre-twins running times. I have my moments of discouragement, but overall am content chipping away at my times and enjoying running for the community and the journey, rather than super fast times.
However, at Carlsbad I didn’t feel great at all during my race and did not really feel inspired to train for a while, so I took some time off of formal run training and dove full force into my Beachbody programs (Transform:20, 21 Day Fix Real Time). When the motivation hit again, it lined up perfectly for me to re-join the Seaside Striders running club for the more low-key summer session and make AFC my goal race! I worked with our coach, Jim, to come up with a training plan and made it to the Wednesday night speed sessions every other week. I ran long (10+ miles) nearly very weekend, with a few exceptions.
Full disclosure: I did contact the race and they provided me with a free entry for bring an ambassador and spreading the word for this race. As always, I ONLY work with races and brands that I genuinely love or have an interest to try.
AFC Half Marathon – Race Report
I drove down the expo on Saturday and it was simple and easy to get my bib! I even did a little shopping and scored some cute new shorts. It was actually a good thing to do the 40 minute drive downtown so I could get some time off my feet (which is really tough when I’m around my 3 kids 3 and under! Jim, my coach from the run group, called me that evening with my race plan and I rehearsed it in my mind a few times and then didn’t let it stress me out. I got to bed later than planned the night before the race, probably 9:30 and one of the twins woke up at 12:30 PM so I was up for a half hour in the middle of the night. My 3:30 AM alarm felt EARLY!
My friend Kelly picked me up at 4:10 AM and we were parked near the bus by 4:50 (there was some traffic getting off the freeway). We met up with my friend and fellow Beachbody coach Shelley and we took the bus to the start, which is at Cabrillo National Monument. It was still dark when we arrived and we went straight to the port-o-potty lines, did a quick stretch, checked our bags and were lined up and ready to go!
Half Marathon Race Goals
I had a few goals for this race. My first goal was to run a strong race that I was proud of. I wanted to be able to say that I pushed hard and didn’t slow or give up when it was hard. My main time goal was to run somewhere between 1:45 and 1:50. I thought on a good day, I could run around 1:45, and so I had decided my “goal pace” would be 8 min/miles. That being said, I also felt like if it wasn’t a particularly spectacular day I could still run under 1:50. Worst case, I really hope to at least run a course PR (under 1:52:24).
I knew from past experiences on this course that it’s not an easy course due to a couple miles of steep downhill near the beginning and a notoriously grueling 2 mile climb near the end. So realistically, I knew that I may be trained to run a 1:45 on a fast course on a cold day, when I’m feeling really great, but that 1:50 would still be a great time on this course!
If you’re new to my blog or if you’ve been reading a while, you have probably picked up by now that I’m competitive and really think through my training, racing and goals. I have struggled in the past with “giving up” mentally one I decide that it’s unlikely that I’ll achieve my race goal, so one thing I’ve really worked on it staying mentally strong even when things aren’t going my way.
We started just ahead of the 1:50 pacer, and once the gun went off, we started to run and there wasn’t much we could do but just stay with the pace of the crowd. I tried to not get frustrated by our slower than planned pace and just go with the flow (this wasn’t always easy). I didn’t have my headphones in yet and my friend Kelly pointed out that no one was talking. The first few miles are gentle rolling hills out of the monument and into the beautiful, tree-lined neighborhoods of Point Loma. It was nice and gloomy and all you could hear was the sound of runner’s footsteps.
After the first two miles ticked off at 8:30 and then 8:10, Miles 3 and 4 are the steepest decline of the course and my mile times were in 7:55 and 7:41. Once we got to the flat ground it felt like we were running up! At this point, I re-assessed how I was feeling and our pace so far and decided that the 1:50 goal was more realistic today than the 1:45 goal. My coach told me to run the first 3-6 miles at 20 seconds faster than goal pace and at this point that was putting me a lot closer to an overall average of 8:20 than 8 minute miles. If things went really well from here on out, it was still possible to get closer to 1:45 but I felt ok with 1:50.
Miles 5 & 6 didn’t feel great, but didn’t feel awful. I felt like we were pushing the pace a bit, running in the low 8s. At this point Kelly was talking to me more than I was talking to her, even though she told me she was starting to fade a bit. Once we made the turn onto Harbor Island, I made the decision to put in one headphone and give it a shot. It was now or never and even though I wasn’t feel fantastic, I was feeling the effect of my Gu and I knew that I had to pick up the pace if I was even going to come close to a 1:50 or a course PR.
The best I felt was during this segment. The view was gorgeous. I was passing a lot of people, cruising and really enjoying my music. It just seemed like all the best songs were cycling through my playlist. I was feeling optimistic! These miles were 8:17 and 8:05.
Once I exited Harbor Island things got harder but I was able to keep the pace at 8:17. But, my coach had told me to wait until I got to the Star of India (a ship on the harbor near downtown) and made the left hand turn into downtown to start doing small surges to lengthen out my stride. I just kept focusing on getting to the Star of India, which was almost a mile away, but I didn’t realize that at the time. This distraction paid off, because I remember looking at my watch and being surprised that I was almost to mile 10!
As planned, when I got to the Star of India, I picked up the pace a little bit (the goal was 10 seconds faster). After turning a couple corners though, I was forced to really pick it up when there was a Trolly waiting on the tracks for the runners to pass! I knew I had to get with catch up with the runners just ahead of me or I’d end up waiting for it to pass. Miles 10 and 11 were 8:29 and 8:17.
My next surge was after the second set of trolley tracks. Soon after this, we turned onto A street, which is where the incline begins. I did my best to keep up with my little surges at various points but my main focus was to just KEEP GOING! Once we turned the corner onto 6th avenue, the guy next to me said “Are you kidding me!!?” as the giant hill loomed ahead of us. I said to him and the others around me, “We’ve got this!!!”
All this time, I’d seen a friend of mine, Naci, from Arizona, who I met on Instagram but officially met in person at the Carlsbad Half back in January, just a little bit ahead of me on the course. At Carlsbad, she was ahead of me the entire time, but I had a surge of energy at the end of the race and sprinted past her. When I saw her on the hill, up ahead walking, my next goal was to catch up to her!
I kept my head up and kept running up that hill, even as others started to walk. By far the vast majority of spectators were on this hill and it definitely helped!!! I kept focusing on Naci up ahead in her pink shorts and striped top, and kept telling myself that once I got to the top it would feel SO much better! I used as much positive thinking and positive mantras as possible.
Once I reached the top of the hill, and turned the corner, heading into Balboa Park, I picked up the pace. At first, it wasn’t much faster as my legs tried to catch up to the new rhythm, but the closer I got to the right hand turn that takes you to the finish line, the faster I ran. And I saw that I Naci was only a couple hundred feet ahead of me. I set my eyes on her and really used her to pull me in to the finish!!!
Once we made a right hand turn and the finish line was nearly in sight, I picked up the pace and knew that Naci had too. I wasn’t sure if I’d actually pass her, but with just a few yards to go to the finish line, I passed by her and said, “Let’s go girl!!” She was so surprised to see me again at the finish line and picked up her pace and we finished just seconds from one another (she actually did finish ahead of me on her chip time though!). At the finish line we couldn’t help but laugh and said what great training partners we would be if we both lived in San Diego!!!
My finish time was 1:50:17, which meant that I beat my best time on this course by over 2 minutes!! Even though I missed my goal time, I was so thrilled to run my best time on this course ever, after having twins!!! Even more so, I was happy that I ran a strong, solid race and didn’t give up, walk or slow down when it was hard (which was the majority of the time!). And thanks to all my strength training, my legs are stronger than ever and I truly think that made a difference in my half marathon time!
After the race we celebrated in the beer garden with Ballast Point craft beer!
Despite the challenging course and early start time, I would still recommend America’s Finest City Half Marathon to anyone looking for a scenic, fun and challenging summer half marathon in San Diego!!!