October 7, 2011

Pier to Peak Half Marathon (Race Report)

Well folks, considering it's now been over a month since I ran Pier to Peak, how about that race report? I'll try to keep it short and sweet!

We headed down to Santa Barbara after a full day of work so we didn't get in til pretty late. The drive wasn't as bad as I remember, but I did have some good company : ) We stopped by one of my favorite restaurants (Natural Cafe, holla!) and got some pasta to-go, then headed to my friend Tom's place where we were crashing. Tom is kind of like my running mentor. I first met him when I joined Team in Training back in 2009 and ran most of my first marathon and all of my second with me. He also is responsible for instilling in me a true love for running that's lead me to where I am today. I hadn't been back to Santa Barbara since I graduated in June 2010 so it had been a while since we'd seen each other, but it was a wonderful reunion. We had an early wake-up call so as soon as we ate it was off to bed!

The race starts downtown at the Dolphin Fountain at the start of the pier, right on the beach. I did so much of my training along that stretch of the beach it brought back some great memories. I miss running along the ocean! It was dark when we arrived, but a small crowd of runners were already milling about. It wasn't a huge race so after a quick trip to the potty and a brief announcement by the race director we were off!
waiting at the start

The first couple miles are actually fairly flat as they wind through downtown Santa Barbara, starting down the shopping mecca of State Street. I tried to keep it easy since I knew what was coming. Around mile 2 we passed the beautiful Santa Barbara Mission, shrouded in mist at the early morning hour. Just past the Mission we took a sharp right and headed straight....up.
Santa Barbara Mission
and up we go!
From here we started a steep climb that wound through a nice neighborhood. Around mile 5 we got our first glimpse of how high we'd climbed. The houses on the hills below us were nearly covered with a marine layer of fog. I was powering up the mountain up to this point, albeit at a very slow pace, but the second half of the race turned into more of a hike. The hill was literally never ending, and many sections were just too steep for me to run. I tried to distract myself with the views, which were more and more amazing the higher we climbed, but the fact remained I was running up a mountain and I just wanted to reach the top!
at least there were some great views!

Around mile 8 Tom texted me from the top to let me know that the winner had just finished...and it was Chris! I was not surprised in the least, but I was also slightly annoyed that he was now done and I still had so far to go. A couple miles later I got another text that Erin had finished second female. Again, I wasn't surprised, but I texted back that I was dying, and I still had three miles to go! There were many profanities uttered on my way up that mountain. It had warmed up significantly by this point and many stretches were in the sun, so I made sure to take advantage of every station by stuffing ice down my bra. This left me totally soaked, but was also absolutely brilliant.

Just around mile 11 I saw a bunch of runners coming back down the hill, and for a brief second I assumed they had already finished and for some reason were running back down. But then I struck up a conversation with a fellow runner who informed me that actually it was a short out-and-back, and that mile 11 was almost entirely downhill! As soon as I reached that turnaround I let my legs fly and it felt so good! I got to see my pace drop to single digits for the first time since the first couple miles and actually felt like I was getting somewhere. This stretch was greatly needed, physically and mentally.

The lovely downhill stretch eventually came to an end and we started climbing again with a little over a mile to go to reach the summit and finish line. I ran as much of it as I could and even managed to pass a few folks. Along the way I passed a couple hikers, and I couldn't help but think how much wiser they were than all of us runners : ) Then, as if the first 13 miles of the race weren't enough, the last 0.1 was up an incredibly steep winding trail leading to the summit, totally crushing your spirits. You're so tired at that point from climbing the freaking mountain, and then to have to finish on an steep stretch like that sucked big time.
last mile
trudging up the final stretch!

When I rounded the final corner I saw Chris, Erin, and Tom up ahead and didn't want them to see me walking when I was so close, so I gave everything I had to crawl up that last hill. Needless to say there was no finishing kick! Crossing the finish line was a little anticlimactic. More than anything I was just glad to be done.
here I come!

Going into the race I really didn't know what to expect from myself performance- and time-wise. I knew I would be much slower than with a normal half, but I think I also underestimated just how difficult it would be. It took me almost an hour longer than my PR - 2:51:12 - but it was also the most challenging race I've ever done. Seriously, this course is no joke. It's certainly a unique race that's not for the faint of heart. The swag kind of sucked - the "medals" were really just double-sided coins (really, how much does a ribbon cost!?) and the t-shirts were cheap cotton and unisex. But I guess that's what happens with small-scale races. And this is one race where you do it for the experience.
 finisher coin...hmm...

We chilled for a while at the top of La Cumbre Peak, taking in the amazing views of the surrounding Santa Ynez Mountains and Pacific Ocean, and looking 4,000' down below at where we started hours before. It was a tough race, but I was proud that I pushed myself and finished the damn thing. After a while we headed back down the mountain, this time via car, and as we descended I couldn't help but think just how far and high up we'd ran.
finish area at the top of La Cumbre Peak
 me and my speedy pals
 these kinds of views at the top *almost* were worth it ; )
elevation at the top

Once back downtown we met up with some of Chris' friends for breakfast on the beach where I inhaled some amazing strawberry pancakes. Then we made a quick visit to the dog shelter I used to volunteer at before heading back to Tom's to wash up before heading out for a little Santa Barbara fun. I took Erin and Chris into Isla Vista, the square mile housing most of the UC Santa Barbara population. We made a quick stop by my old sorority house, got some froyo, and took a stroll down Del Playa Dr. along the beach. Brought back some good memories! Then we ventured into the ritzy Hope Ranch neighborhood to meet up with Chris' friends again and spent the rest of the afternoon poolside with a killer ocean view. That evening we met Tom downtown at the pier (same one from that morning) for a nice dinner just as the sun was setting.
 doxie pup at DAWG shelter!
 Isla Vista beach
 our view for the afternoon
Tom & I
Santa Barbara sunset

We got back to Tom's and almost immediately crashed after such a long day. All three of us had to work the next day at 1pm, so we were up and on our way before the sun was even up. Luckily I didn't have to drive this time so I got a little nap in. It was a really short trip and I didn't get to do or see nearly as much as I'd hoped. But I guess that just gives me a good reason to go back again soon!

p.s. To get a better feel for this race check out this great video from last year's race!

p.p.s. Chicago is AWESOME! Be back tomorrow with some thoughts and goals for Sunday's race : )


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