3.5 Miles Short of Glory at the Surf City USA Half Marathon


As I mentioned yesterday, and have talked about previously, I ran in my 11th half marathon this past Sunday. The Surf City USA Half Marathon remains my favorite non-Disney half marathon! I entered this race hoping that it would be the half marathon where I beat my half marathon PR. The race is pretty flat (although not as flat as I remembered from last year) and runs along the beach. So, it seems like a great place for me to PR. Like all races, it all started with the Surf City USA Marathon/Half Marathon Expo. They hold the expo right at the beach!


As I made my way from my car to the Expo tent, I saw the mile markers on display. I liked this idea because you could get your picture with the mile markers without actually running past them! As I think about it now, I should have found the 26 mile marker and taken my picture with it. Maybe I could have claimed I ran a full marathon? Naahh!


The Expo was very crowded as you see above. Even with all these people, I was able to walk right up and get my race bib and race shirt without any wait. Looking at this picture, it seems pretty miraculous.


Right after you get your race packets, you head into the official race gear area.


I love the signage at this Expo! They always have such fun signs!


I’ve never been one to purchase the official gear at a race outside of the Disney races. Although, it is fun to see what other races put out. There were several shirts with this logo on it.


This one was a little tempting as well. The cost of the merchandise rivals the Disney races. Without my discount, it just didn’t seem worth it.


Again, I love the displays they set up at this expo (both last year and this year)!


Ah, Meb…carry me to a PR!

I didn’t stay long at this expo for a few reasons. First off, it was crazy crowded. I felt like every time I stopped, I was in the way of someone. Secondly, I had a lot to get accomplished before I went to bed at 9:30pm. So, sticking around would make it harder to get everything done. It’s always hard to leave the beach behind.


I woke up at 3:30am and left Pasadena for Huntington Beach at 4am. Why so early? Well, last year, it took a half hour to drive the last block to the parking lot. So, I took the race directors suggestion and tried to be there by 6am. You know what happens when you’re extra cautious? You have zero traffic problems. I was parked within an hour of leaving home! So, at 5am, I took a nap in my car. Eventually, I’d get out and make my way to the starting area. It was super cold out. Being by the water this early doesn’t help. However, the race organizers do a fantastic job at making up for the cold temps. They open up the Expo tent for you to wait in! I love this idea! As you can in the picture above, some of the vendors were even present early in the morning.


They say you shouldn’t wear anything new on race day. Apparently, a lot of people decided to ignore this suggestion.


I sat down and chilled out for a little while by this surf board. Yep. I was wearing a USC Trojans throw away sweat shirt because I knew it was going to be cold. Truth be told, I have nicer USC sweatshirts. So, this one was expendable. About an hour before the start of the half, I made my way to the beach rest rooms. Cool thing about this race is that you can use restrooms with working toilets and not have to depend on the Port-a-Potties! While in line, I saw a running friend named AJ. We chatted a bit about this race and our future running plans. He’s planning on doing the 2016 Dopey Challenge at Walt Disney World! Yikes!


I eventually made my way to the starting corrals. I was in wave 11!


This race attracts over 20,000 runners. So, it’s a little bigger than the Disney races. We had race announcer Rudy and the Marathon Show’s Joe as our race announcers. They are really fun together at a race! With it being Super Bowl Sunday, there were lots of folks showing their support for either the New England Patriots or the Seattle Seahawks. Well, mostly for Seattle. So, the guys had fun with that. Joe eventually asked how many Pittsburgh Steeler fans there were. I guess he got tired of asking about the two Super Bowl teams.


The Surf City USA Half Marathon posts when each corral will start. In each of my two years at this race, we’ve been behind the schedule. So, it was a little late, but we did get going a little after 8am. It was brilliant, sunny day out. The mood was great. I couldn’t wait to see how I would fare. The plan for this race was to run 30 seconds, walk a minute for ALL 13.1 miles. The night before, I broke down how fast I needed to be at each mile to hit my target time of 2 hours 40 minutes. I was seeking a 3 minute plus PR. I set up my playlist accordingly.


Unlike my other races, this would be the only photo I took while racing. This was the finish line! Shortly after passing by, I put my phone in the arm band and focused on the task at hand. Everything felt amazing for the beginning. I cruising along. I finished the first mile in just over 11 minutes! I was well ahead of the pace I needed. I held on to a similar pace for mile 2! Of course, I knew things would get more difficult as I kept going. So, there was no celebrating the first two miles.

Surf City USA Elevation

I thought this might be helpful as I talk about the race. It’s the elevation changes by the mile for the course. As you can see, the first few miles are pretty flat. Thus, I was feeling great and running strong. We turned off Pacific Coast Highway towards the end of mile 3. I knew that this is where the race got difficult. I crossed the 5K mark at 37:24 and was ahead of my goal pace! The next 5K is what I thought would determine how good I was. As you can see, the fourth mile has some hills to climb. I thought the last hill was just after the mile 4 marker. So, I kept the intervals going (even on the hills). I could tell my pace had slowed. This inland portion of the course is interesting. You can tell that it’s a nice area to live. Crowd support was pretty good. Even though I slowed a bit, I wasn’t too upset because I expected it. I knew that after mile 6 was over, it would get easier.

As we made our way back to PCH, there was a lot of downhill action. So, I think I made up some time on this mile. However, I didn’t make up for it all. At the 10K mark, I was at 1:13:29. This put me right about the pace I wanted to finish. According to the text alerts, I was given an anticipated finish of 2:40:33. So, 33 seconds slower that I wanted. Since I didn’t have my phone out, I didn’t know this. All I knew was that my time was close to what I had planned out the night before. I was keeping to my run/walk intervals without missing and I was running faster than any of the Star Wars races from two weeks prior. All I had to do was keep on running.

By the time I crossed the 7 mile marker, I saw that I was slower than I wanted to be at this point. That started to cause some concern. However, I knew that I had given myself about a 3 minute cushion for the half marathon PR I wanted. I was around a minute behind. So, it was still all good. From the previous year, I knew that the 8th mile was the most difficult. Shortly after the 8 marker is where we’d turn around and make our way to the finish. I felt much better this year and the 8th mile wasn’t so bad. However, I was giving up time. By the end of mile 8, I was almost 2 minutes behind. Not good.

We turned around just past the 8 mile marker and passed the Cliff station. Here’s a gripe I had this year. There was no Cliff gels given out or Cliff Shot Bloks while I ran. Last year, I got Bloks at 3 different spots! So, it was a major disappointment to not have them this year. I did bring sport beans and pretzels with me this year. But, it would have been nice to get the Bloks as well.

The ninth mile is where the wheels fell off in my PR attempt. It started right before we turned around. When I’d finish my run intervals, I felt off as I started walking. I have no other way of describing it. It was just off. By the time I got into the 10th mile, I thought all hope of a PR was lost. I thought that I was off my 9 mile goal time by more than 4 minutes. So, it didn’t seem possible. After I finished the race, I would see that the final check point, 9.5 miles, gave me an estimated finish time of 2:40:45. So, I had only given up 12 seconds on the estimated finish time over the third 5K in reality. From what I was seeing on my watch, I had given up much more time.

As I made my way through the 10th mile, I gave in and took some long walk breaks. I was feeling really hungry and my run intervals were making me not feel very good. Since a PR seemed out of reach and even beating my time from the previous year seemed out of reach, I didn’t feel like I had much to race for. The last 5K was more about finishing in under 3 hours than anything. I was bummed that I wouldn’t end the day with a PR. I was bummed that I was going to finish slower than 1 year ago. As we got to the mile markers, I would run to the mile markers and try to salvage as much time as I could.

By the time I crossed the 12 mile marker, I knew that I needed to run more if I had any chance of finishing with a sub 3 hour half marathon. So, I ran as much as I could. As we neared the 13 mile marker, I ran to it. Then, I was going to walk for a full minute before running to the finish line. However, the finish appeared to be closer than it actually was. So, I took off because I wanted to run across the finish line. It became clear to me that I would be running longer than 30 seconds and I almost was not able to run all the way. I was spent and gave everything I had to finish running.


I finished in 2 hours, 56 minutes, 46 seconds. My 4th fastest half marathon (about a minute faster than the Long Beach Half Marathon!). The smile above only came about after recovering. This is the first race where I didn’t even bother with the Marathonfoto finisher pictures. I just walked to the Expo tent to find a place to sit down. I was spent. Even though I didn’t get the PR I wanted, I couldn’t be too depressed. It wasn’t in the cards for me to PR on this day. I gave everything I had and didn’t get the result I wanted. So, how could I be too disappointed? Some days, all you have just isn’t enough. There’s no shame in that. After finding a chair to sit on in the Expo tent, I just sat there and watched as many runners and their friends/family would walk by. I tried processing everything. That’s when I saw the splits and realized that I was a mere 3.5 miles from the time I had set out for. I couldn’t help but wonder if it would have changed anything to see that while I was on the course. Unfortunately, my phone was in the arm band and I just didn’t see it.  So, I wonder, if I had seen the projections at 9.5 miles, would it have changed my mental outlook? I probably would have been shocked because I was convinced by the end of mile 9 that the 2:40:00 goal was out of reach. To see that it wasn’t might have been just what I needed to continue to battle even harder.


Oh well. There’s nothing I can do now except to be proud of another sub 3 hour half marathon and move on. I’ve now finished 11 half marathons! How did that happen? I will most definitely be back next year. I love running at the beach. After finishing the entire race, I now realize all the difficult parts. (I forgot to mention the crazy climb in the 12th mile). So, I’ll be better prepared for this race then. One big, huge lesson to learn from this race is that sometimes we run faster than we think we are running. The third 5K of this race went so much better than I felt like it was going. In my next half marathon PR attempt, I’ll make sure to carry my phone with me. That way, I can see the splits all race long. It might surprise me.

If you’re looking for a half marathon on Super Bowl Sunday, there is none better than the Surf City USA Half Marathon. It is a great race with amazing views of the Pacific Ocean almost the entire way!

2 thoughts on “3.5 Miles Short of Glory at the Surf City USA Half Marathon

  1. great recap-I have found what helps is for me to get the pace bands from the pacers and track myself. I always get off from the clock and my gps watch so that way as long as I remember what time I started (either look at the clock when I start or just subtract the time from when I pass the mile 1 marker on my garmin) I am able to have a better idea of how I can PR.

    anyways, I did a great job and made the course sound fun! It is definitely on my radar for next year or the year after

    1. You should absolutely do this race next year! Thanks for the tip on the pace band. I did write out where I needed to be at each mile on a post-it note that I had with me. That’s why I thought I was off. I think that the problem is that I was calculating how far I was off overall and not how far off I was in a “per mile” average. I’ll be wearing my phone in my arm band again for the LA Marathon. However, I’ll take the time at the mats to take it out and see how it’s going. Lessons learned!

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