Tuesday, September 20, 2016

'Race' Report: Half Moon Bay International Marathon (Half)

Back in June my friend L signed up for the HMBIM Half, which would be her first half marathon. Thus far she had not been able to pressgang anyone else into running it with her, & since I knew I had to run a gajillion miles that day anyway & am always looking for excuses to run them on a different loop, I signed up as well. (I've been curious about this race for a while now so I also figured it was a good opportunity to scout the course & see if it was maybe worth for-real racing sometime in the future.)

Half Moon Bay is a kind of surfer's paradise on the ocean side of the SF peninsula, right off of Highway 1. If you've heard of the Mavericks surfing competition, it's where that happens. (In fact, the staging area for this race was the actual harbor where it happens.) It is utterly gorgeous and I was really looking forward to a nice, easy jog along the seaside without any pressure to hit a certain pace or pick off the runners in front of me.

Complicating all this was the fact that the day before we had a football game at 5pm. This meant we didn't get home until around 10 & it was nearly 11 by the time I got around to throwing race things in a bag & then finally got in bed--not great considering my alarm was set for 4:30am. (Have I mentioned in the past that I am not a morning runner? I am NOT a morning runner.) It turns out that in mid-September you can get up at 4:30am, get yourself ready to go, drive for forty minutes, park, futz around with your gear, finally start running and STILL not see the sun.

The races were at 7 and 7:15 and the race site said that parking would open at 6. If I was going to get my 6 extra miles in before the half at 7:15 (19 miles on the schedule), I knew I needed to start running pretty close to 6, so I banked on the parking opening early & arrived at about 5:40. Sure enough, they opened the gates literally two minutes after I drove up.

Parking was .4 miles from the start/finish, so my original plan was to leave all my stuff in my car, run to the start & then out & back a little less than three miles, then run the race & walk back to my car. Alas, there were logistical issues I had not considered, like the fact that I would definitely want my sunglasses for the race but at 6am it was still dark, and also the fact it was still bitterly cold and I was not even remotely ready to ditch my jacket. Not knowing exactly what the set up was in the staging area, I finally decided on walking to the start with my bag, dropping it somewhere, & then doing my the miles out-and-back on the course.

This mostly worked except for the fact that it was like 6:20 by the time I started running & I only had time for about four miles before I really wanted to be back at the start to ditch my jacket, grab my sunglasses, & officially drop off my bag. Sigh.

It also didn't leave me much time for hunting around the start area for L, which I was resigned to doing because I completely failed to coordinate with her beforehand. I knew she had been having some knee problems recently and had not been able to train as much as she wanted, so there was a chance she wouldn't be running. I should have checked in with her on Saturday but things were so crazy with the football game that it completely slipped my mind until the next morning (I am a bad friend), at which point I did not want to text or call her in case the knee had gotten the better of her & she was enjoying a blissful lie-in. By the time the gun went off I still hadn't spotted her, so I figured I'd just keep my eye out during the race (though I was not sure what pace she would be running).

But you guys, it was so nice to run a half marathon, especially one as gorgeous as this one without having to think about it, to be able to just run at whatever pace I felt like & enjoy it. The views were breathtaking, and this was the first run in a long time that I can remember paying zero attention to my watch or how many miles were left. In general I am really terrible at enjoying the journey or whatever (SRSLY ARE WE THERE YET), but I was determined to enjoy myself the whole way no matter what happened (even if I did still have two extra miles to run after), and for a very very long time, I did just that.

But did I take time out for pictures???? Heck yeah, I did!

In spite of the fact that it was like 40° when I arrived, I knew the morning was supposed to be very sunny (though hopefully not too warm that early). The first few miles were refreshingly cool (sometimes even pleasantly cold in the shade!), but by the exposed middle miles near the turnaround, I was quite happy that I'd worn short shorts, my white RaceRaves singlet, and a white cap. Sure, it was warm and I doused myself with cups of water from time to time, but I never felt uncomfortably hot. (So many people around me were wearing leggings and jackets and just looking at them made me miserable. HOW.)

With just a few miles to go I was looking forward to being done, but not because I felt particularly bad. I know I ran a lot of the race faster than I really should be running long runs and my heart rate reflected that, but I felt just fine, so I didn't worry about it too much. The 2+ hours of pretty scenery was definitely worth the drive, money, & getting up early, but after that I finally started running into the usual that-was-fun-let's-get-on-with-the-rest-of-the-day long run impatience.

If you can't enjoy a long run here, you probably can't enjoy it anywhere.

Then, just as I passed the mile 12 marker, I tripped & took a huge spill onto the concrete! I think it looked pretty dramatic (I rolled several times into the middle of the road) but apparently I've become pretty good at falling because I was up again in a second (even managed to protect my phone, which I was carrying) & really got off pretty easily in terms of scrapes and scratches. (I mean, it's marathon training; what's a little blood here & there?) In fact I think the fall must have given me a surge of adrenaline because I ran that last mile way, WAY too fast (8:40, as compared to my usual 9:45-10ish long run pace) & (not to be too obnoxious) honestly wasn't even trying.

After crossing the finish line, I guzzled a coconut water, picked up my bag from gear check and dropped my medal into it, then headed back out onto the course to finish my last two miles. (Fun fact: People get really, really concerned and freaked out when you're wearing a bib and running *away* from the finish line. In retrospect I probably should have taken it off for the sake of everyone's sanity.) After running the finish a second time I still felt pretty good, so I decided to tack on an extra half mile to make it an even 53 for the week.

And honestly? Very probably the best I ever remember feeling after a long run.

Not gonna lie; feeling pretty darn good. :)

***UPDATE!*** Apparently L did indeed run, AND completed her entire first half marathon without walking (which she was worried about because of her injury)! She had a great time & posted many gorgeous photos. :)

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~LOGISTICAL STUFF~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Location: Half Moon Bay, CA

Date: Mid September (Sept 18, 2016 this year)

Price: Alas it looks like the info is no longer on the site now that they've sold out, but I think I paid $95 for the half in June or July or whenever that was. So, to be honest, more than I usually like to pay for a half. I wanted to support my friend, though, and since I'm kind of tired of doing the same old long runs and have been curious about this race for a while now, I decided to suck it up.

Deadlines/sellout factor: I don't know how it's been in the past (this was the 4th year), but it definitely sold out this year. (They had a note on the site but I haven't been checking it so I'm not sure when it happened.)

Field Size: Finishers:

  • Full Marathon - 173 finishers
  • Half Marathon - 617 finishers


Parking was at 333 Airport Road & the start/finish area was .4 miles away at 371 Princeton Avenue.

Officially the lot was scheduled to open at 6, but they opened at 5:40, which I appreciated. There were also shuttle buses running between the parking lot & start/finish area. Honestly it's a pretty short, easy walk, but I am sure many of the full marathoners appreciated having the option to not walk .4 miles back to their cars.

This is not a huge race, so the staging area was pretty compact, with the start/finish, a few sponsor tents, first aid tent, bib pickup, toilets, & bag drop all within a few dozen feet of each other. It was pretty easy to figure out & there were plenty of volunteers happy to answer questions & direct you to whatever you needed.

The Course:

The half marathon course was an out-and-back along a very nice, paved, virtually flat seaside path. Some parts were shaded but a lot of it was exposed. There were aid stations with water, sports drink, & sometimes gels maybe every couple of miles, and there were plenty of public bathrooms (mostly flush toilets) along the trail. (I believe the full marathon involves some non-technical trails and a few significant hills, because I accidentally ran part of it during my warm-up.)

It's hard to think about it when you're 45 miles or so into a 53 mile week, but I actually think this could be a decent PR course. It's flat and paved, and although it's kind of curvy (so you have to pay attention to tangents) there aren't too many actual turns. It probably won't ever be cold, but the fact that it's right on the ocean & starts early means it's unlikely to ever get terribly hot. (The high this year was 82° and there wasn't a cloud in the sky, and it was still fairly comfortable by 9-9:30.)


A pretty nice medal, and maybe a shirt? I honestly do not know as I really just can't with race shirts at this point. No one ever shoved one into my hands and I did not go looking for one.

Also free snacks at the finish, and all the full-size Zola coconut waters you could guzzle. (I had one before the race and one after and at the time it was THE BEST thing I had ever tasted in my life.)

If you decide to run:

  • Apparently it's selling out now, so don't wait too long to register.
  • The fact that it's an early start and takes place right on the ocean makes a huge difference temperature-wise, but still be prepared for full sun and moderately warm temps. It seems unlikely to me that this race would EVER be cold enough to warrant layers.
  • There is race day bib pickup (I did not know this ahead of time & wish I had).
  • There are shuttles between parking & the start. (Not that it's that far, but it's nice to know.)

Overall Assessment:

I enjoyed this race and had zero logistical problems with it. Yes, it is a bit pricey, but it's also gorgeous, and the flat, paved course & friendly weather makes it potentially a good PR course. I'd recommend it to anyone not on a tight race budget.

Basically my new life mantra/battle cry.

1 comment:

  1. Half Moon Bay is an amazing place to run, or swim, or surf or really just stand around doing nothing but staring at the ocean. Plus, it looks like the RDs smartly took full advantage of their surroundings in planning the course. Not many races I'd compare to Big Sur, but your photos pretty much tell the tale. And I could be wrong, but I thought I recalled this race not being held the past year or two? In any case, congrats on topping 50 miles in style, and here's to continued un-unswiftness!

    (BTW few things make me happier than seeing Stanford crush USC, and I can't wait to see them do the same to UCLA in the Rose Bowl this weekend. That McCaffrey kid is pretty good, they should get him the ball more...)