Beginners and Beyond


Race Report - The Surf City Half Marathon: The View from the Back of the Pack (Read 139 times)

You Rang?

    Last Sunday, I walked the Surf City Half Marathon.  Yes, you read that correctly, I walked a half marathon.  The Surf City Marathon & Half is held every Super Bowl Sunday in Huntington Beach, California.  This is my hometown marathon. I’ve been running for roughly 18 months and run between 30 and 35 miles a week.  I’m not a stranger to this distance, having run several half marathons in the preceding six months.


    So Rick, Why Exactly Did You Walk The Surf City Half?

    Some of you may recall that my wife has health issues.  Her cardiologist instructed her not to run and to avoid strenuous physical exercise.  The doctor said that walking is good for her and running is bad.


    Most marathons and half marathons have a pace requirement of 16:00 minute mile/3.8 mph or faster.  That’s a pretty brisk walk or slow jog.  I suspect that without medical intervention and a whole lot of weight loss, my dear wife probably could not handle a 16:00 minute mile pace for 13.1 miles.  When I noticed that the Surf City Half had a 22:00 minute mile pace or 2.7 mph requirement, I asked my wife if she wanted to do it.  She said yes so long as she could walk the race and not run.  I registered the both of us and promised to stick with my wife through this race experience.


    The Course

    The course started on Pacific Coast Highway (commonly referred to as PCH) a little south of Main Street in Downtown Huntington Beach.  The course traveled north up PCH to Seapoint Street where it turns right.  The courses followed Seapoint up a hill, around a housing tract and then back down Seapoint to PCH.  The course then resumes its northward journey up PCH to Warner Avenue where it doubles back on itself and heads five miles south to the finish line.



    The Start

    The evening before the race, we dropped our ten-year daughter off at my mother in law’s house.  She would look after our daughter on race day.  While there, my mother in law asks us, “are you ready for the race?”  Simultaneously, I answer “yes” and my wife answers “no”.  It was funny in an awkward kinda way.  My mother in law then asked my wife if she was afraid of coming in last.  I answered that I intended to let my wife finish before me, I guaranteed that she would not come in last.


    With 19,000 runners between the half and the full marathon, parking is a huge problem at this race.  The final race instructions stated that there would be a shuttle bus between the start/finish line and various large parking lots around town.  Edison High School was the closest shuttle location to our house.  The morning of the race, I got dressed, stuffed two sleeves of Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies in my pockets and left for the race.  We arrived at Edison at 5:45 am and found the lot almost full and a line of 50 people for the shuttle bus.  Glad we got there early.


    We then milled around the expo until the start of the half.  Even though I was assigned a corral near the front and my wife was assigned a corral in the middle of the pack, as walkers, my wife and I seeded ourselves behind 17,000 fellow half marathoners, in the back of the very last corral.


    Milling About the Expo



    17,000 People


    Miles 1 to 4

    We crossed the starting line at 8:30 am and started walking north up Pacific Coast Highway.  After watching 17,000 people take off running, my wife and I settle into a 19:00 mm walk.  The first thing I notice is all of the building and businesses on the east side of the street.   There is a strange mixture of the new and the old.  The Sands Motel, circa 1950, sits next to a condo complex that was build two years ago. It’s kinda strange.  I’ve lived in Huntington Beach most of my life, and I’ve never noticed this.


    Around mile 3, we pass a house that is for sale. I trot over to the For Sale sign and pull the flyer for the listing: Two Bedroom, two bathroom.  Asking Price?  $839,000 Wow, maybe someday, but that day is not today.


    As we turned onto Seapoint Street, my wife and I formed up with a group of six other walkers.  Our group consisted of the elderly, the morbidly obese middle aged, and me.  I chatted with my fellow athletes as we walked up the hill, shared the thin mint cookies, and enjoyed the expansive views of the Bolsa Chica Wetlands and shoreline on the way down the hill.


    Bolsa Chica Wetlands


    Thin Mint?


    Miles 5 to 9

    Back out on the highway, things got a little depressing.  As we proceeded north up PCH, the bulk of the half marathon runners had hit the turn around point and was headed south. We watched them parade by.  Also, the overcast had burned off and the sun began to beat down on us.  We hit the turn around point and found ourselves very alone.  Our group had broken up and spread out across the six-lane highway.

    It's Getting Lonely Back Here


    Miles 10 to 13.1

    From mile 10 to the finish, things started to get rough. My dear wife did not look good.  Her face had turn red and her fingers have swollen up.  She had slowed to a 22:00 minute mile pace.  She had the additional complication needing to relieve herself only to find a whole bank of port-a-potties that did not have any toilet paper.  I don’t know and really don’t want to know how this problem was resolved.  I’ll save that for my wife’s race report.


    Although I did not say it, I was beginning to wonder if my wife was going to finish this race.  With two miles to the finish, my wife was not looking any better. At mile 12, my wife stopped and sat down on the guardrail.  She said she needed a break. I thought she was done. I was ready to trot up to the finish line to summon the SAG Wagon.  Three minutes later, my wife got up off the guardrail and started walking again.  As we entered the last mile, I watched the race staff tear down the finish line area.


    The Finish

    Four hours and thirty-two minutes after starting, my wife and I cross the finish line.  After clearing the post race formalities (medal, bag of runner chow & photo) we plop ourselves on a bus stop bench for a much needed sit.  While cooling down, we met Xanthe from RWOL, and had an impromptu FE.  Xanthe had just finished the full marathon.  We cut the FE short to  catch the last shuttle bus back to Edison High School and our car. We collected our daughter from grandma’s house with half marathon finishers medals around our necks.


    Across the Line!


    Finish Line!


    Xanthe after an impromptu Forum Encounter.


    Having walked a half marathon, I have a few observations:


    1.    Races are Messy

    While walking down Pacific Coast Highway, I saw lots of shot bloks, gummi bears, M&Ms and Twizzelers lying on the ground.   From the mess I saw, it appeared that a great many runners are unable to get their sucrose form of choice from whatever they stored it into their mouths while running.  I can’t really relate to this, as I typically do not eat anything while running, but I wouldn’t think it to be that hard.


    Then there was the water stops.  The streets were wet and there were cups everywhere.  I know that this mess goes with the territory, and that the only place that it is socially acceptable to litter is the quarter mile or so after a water stop.  I can’t claim that every cup or water or sports drink I’ve ever consumed at a race made it into a trashcan.  However, the four trashcans that the race organizers put out after the water stop were not adequate for the task at hand.


    Finally, even though the race organizers did not supply race nutrition on the Half Marathon course, there were empty GU packets littered all along the last eight miles of the course.  Lots and lots of empty GU packets.  I stepped on one full GU packet and shot GU across the highway and into the sand.  GU packets were not limited to the area in and around the water stops.  They were everywhere, and even though the City of Huntington Beach sent a street sweeper up and down PCH after the race, I’d be willing to bet that if I went and walked down PCH a week after the race, I’d find more than one empty GU packet.


    2.    The Back of the Pack is a Depressing Place

    While I’d like to think that my company added value to my wife’s race experience (that’s another topic for my wife’s race report), I must admit but I found the back of the pack to be rather depressing.  Maybe it is the recently awakened competitor in me, but found it depressing to watch the bulk of the runners run south down PCH as I was walking north.  I’m a runner.  While I do not regret my decision to walk this race with my wife, I couldn’t help but yearn to be in that pack.  No… I wanted to be in front of that pack.  I wanted to run this race faster than the last half marathon I ran.  I want to run the next race faster than this one.  I wanted to run this race faster than you did, dear reader.  That’s what racing is all about.


    Although the race organizers were very good about leaving a table of water and sports drink up for the folks walking the course, I found it wearing on my soul to watch the volunteers striking the water stops.  I know that they are more tired than I am, and that they like I just want to go home.  I don’t begrudge them for taking down the water stop while entrants are still on the course, it was just a little depressing to watch.  Watching the workers take the finish line area down was very rough to watch.


    3.    Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

    The running community bandies around the statistic that less than 1% of the US population will finish a marathon or a half marathon this year.  I’ve heard that from the likes of Mr. Galloway and Mr. Bingham.  I’ve read that statistic in Runner’s World and on running related web sites.  I heard it quoted in the shuttle bus back to Edison High School.


    Much like the mysterious 13.1 oval stickers, I perceive that the 1% statistic is used to instill a sense of exclusivity and pride into the running community.  Just like the oval car stickers, I have dismissed this statistic as so much puffery or poppycock.  I believed that 1% of the US population finishes a marathon or a half because that is the sum of the US population that is willing to plunk down the registration fee, show up on race day, and propel themselves across the finish line.  Really, finishing a half marathon isn’t that hard. I can do it.  How exclusive a club can it be?


    After walking a half marathon with my wife, my perspective has changed.  In evaluating the 1% statistic, I think I may have confused desire with ability. From my wife’s statement at her mother’s house the night before the race and my wife’s experience on the racecourse, I do not think my wife thought she had the ability to finish the Surf City Half.  I think that the shear force of her will got her up off that guard rail and across the finish line.  In those last two miles, the shear force of my wife’s will took the place of perceived ability to run or walk.


    Running to me is a hobby.  Yes, there is a fair amount of passion behind it, but at the end of the day it is just a hobby.  In my relatively brief running career, I have not needed to interpose my will on my body in order to push it beyond what I think it is capable of. I suppose if I am going to feed the competitor in me and run every race to my best of my ability, that day is in my future too.


    Thanks for reading!


    PR: 5k 25:01 (10/15) 10k: 57:44 (7/14) HM: 1:57 (5/15) FM: 4:55 (1/15)


      Great race report. That Surf City was my first half. We camped at Bolsa Chica and after my husband picked me up at the finish line we went back to the campground to pack up the trailer. I was in awe of all those people (both in the half and in full) that were still on the course when we left at 1pm. A friend is a BQ runner and met a Kenyon in Boston who had finished the marathon in a little over an hour. When he asked the guy how he did it, the guy turned around and asked my friend how he stayed on his feet running for 4hours. I am in awe in all those who walked for that long and still finished with a smile on their faces like your dear wife.


      As for the streets...when we left at 1pm we witnessed the amazing clean up crews. The area near the campground was clear of all trash.

      Bad Ass

        Great report!  I'm glad you walked it with your wife, even though you wanted it to run.  That was a great thing to do and I'm sure your wife appreciates it.


        And you met Xanthe!  I'm jealous.



        "The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire."

        It's always fucking hot in Miami!

          Great RR.  Was your wife glad she did it?  Congratulations to both of you.  Next year you can run, but I think it was great that you gave your wife the chance to experience a half.


          Skirt Runner

            Thanks for sharing! Congrats to your wife, and congrats to you for sharing the experience with her!

            PRs:   5K- 28:16 (5/5/13)      10K- 1:00:13 (10/27/13)    4M- 41:43 (9/7/13)   15K- 1:34:25  (8/17/13)    10M- 1:56:30 (4/6/14)     HM- 2:20:16 (4/13/14)     Full- 5:55:33 (11/1/15)


            I started a blog about running :) Check it out if you care to


              One of the best RRs ever. Great that you walked with your wife and even greater that your wife walked the 13.1.


              I like the way you were honest with your feelings.


              Annoying about all the crap left on the side of the road especially since it is a HALF marathon. Unless you're a diabetic, why the hell would anyone need to eat during that distance? If you feel you do then at least don't leave a mess.  The people who do that crap are probably the same who gripe about the public not liking runners and  road races.


              Whatever. Heck of a nice job. Very triumphant walk, Lurch.


                Awesome story.  Your wife is brave to do that without any prior conditioning and you are so supportive to stick with her.  What a great Valentine's day gift you gave her.

                  Nice report. I needed to read that. I am new to runnin and my wife wants to start running too. She wants me to slow down and wait for her. I need to remember that family is more important than a race. Way to go.

                  ”Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

                  “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.”







                    Annoying about all the crap left on the side of the road especially since it is a HALF marathon. Unless you're a diabetic, why the hell would anyone need to eat during that distance? If you feel you do then at least don't leave a mess.  The people who do that crap are probably the same who gripe about the public not liking runners and  road races.

                    The full runs on the same course. As for not needing to eat anything during the distance, are people who are on the course for the same length of time as the full marathoners. I for one wish I had eaten something during my 2.5 hours on the course since my blood sugar tanked at mile 11 and I almost passed out.

                    delicate flower

                      Good on ya, Rick.  I liked reading your thoughts on walking instead of running.  I can imagine how badly you wanted to be running.  For me, I'd feel like a dog on a leash at the dog park.


                      I try my damnedest to get my water cups and gel wrappers into a trash bin, and if I miss they are least in very close proximity.  It annoys the hell out of me when runners litter on the course.



                         I for one wish I had eaten something during my 2.5 hours on the course since my blood sugar tanked at mile 11 and I almost passed out.


                        That's a very good point. I shouldn't make that kind of judgement.


                        On the other hand, there's no excuse for anyone throwing the garbage on the side of the road. People can put their trash in the same place they carried the food to begin with.


                        levitation specialist

                          Nice job! Good RR and I love the last pic of your wife wearing the medal she earned!

                          A proud day indeed!

                          You Rang?

                            Thank you to all who read my report an replied!


                            Twinmom_112002 - Thank you for your thoughts  My long run tomorrow will take me over the bike path of Bolsa Chica State Beach and right by the campground.  I hope not to find any GU packets, but I'm not holding my breath.  BTW, I can't imagine camping and marathoning. Good for you for finding the abolute closest and cheapest accomodations in all of Huntington Beach for the marathon!


                            Docket - Thanks! Xanthe is very nice!


                            GinnyinPA - thank you for your comments.  Is my wife glad that she did it?  I'm not exactly sure.  Like so many other things in my report, I'll defer that to her report.  My wife has regitered on here under the userid Munchlax.  She says she is going to write a report, so watch this page.


                            robinde, Kristen10185 & T-Rod, thank you for your comments.


                            MrNamtor - twinmom is right.  This section of the course is shard by the half and the full, and the bulk of the used GU packert that I saw were at Marathon mile 8.  It was like there is something magical about that spot.  Hey its mile 8!  Pop a GU!


                            Baboon - Dog on a leash on a dog park.  I love that comment.  Heal fast my friend.


                            Nakedbabytoes - the picture of the young lady is Xanthe and not my wife.  My wife is my race photographer, but since she participated in this race, for the first time in my racing career, I purchased photos from MarathonFoto.  I was lead to believe that I would be receiving an e-mail between 10 minutes and an hour after finalizing my transction and hitting buy it now.  It's been three hours since giving MarathonFotos my credit card and I still don't have a link.  I'll insert MarathonFoto's picutres of the two of us just as soon as MarathonFoto gets off their wide behinds and sends me the photos I paid for.


                            PR: 5k 25:01 (10/15) 10k: 57:44 (7/14) HM: 1:57 (5/15) FM: 4:55 (1/15)


                            Barking Mad To Run

                              Very nice report!  Congrats to you for being there for your wife and congrats to both of you for your perseverance and determination, way to go!

                              "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." Theodore Roosevelt

                                I hope your wife, at some point, was happy for what she accomplished!  Congrats to her.

                                Take Charge. Train Harder. Suck Less. No Excuses.