Friday, March 18, 2011

Safari Park Half-Marathon Race Recap

After Sunday’s half-marathon, I now know why Kenyans are such amazing runners - Running through a quintessential African country landscape must be beautiful. San Diego is no Africa, but it came close in the Safari Park on Sunday. The morning haze, the mountains, the greenery, the lakes, the animals...It is all very Gorillas in the Mist. While running on a muddied trail, I look twice - no three times - at the postcard imagery to my left - a small vaporous lake, a beautiful sunrise, birds floating along, a mountainous backdrop – this is definitely a drop in the runner’s high bucket – this is why we run.

Let me start at the beginning. My friend Salome and I drive down to San Diego Saturday - My goal is to arrive at the Roadrunners store for packet pick-up by 3:00pm. I drove to San Diego last year for a race too –rock and roll – but the memory of the long drive was lost along the way or in my cramping haze. With my desire to get there, I deny Salome any food detours (except for a 7/11). We ran our first marathon together in 2009 – so if anyone understands a runner’s "crazy", she would (and my cousin Alex, who I drove much crazier last year).

Roadrunners is a monolith of a running store - somehow both large and empty-feeling. Here, there is a lot of show – large ads of happy runners and their signature brightly punctuated Dalmatian, several mannequins in runners clothes. There are a few treadmill stations hooked up to monitors for foot/gait determination and proper shoe selection. There is also a long line. I buy a new hand-held bottle since the strap on the one I raved about a few posts below, broke.

After my purchase and acquiring of bib and bright orange (favorite color!) tech tee, Salome and I forage(drive) in search of food, shelter and rest. After dinner amidst drunken St. Patrick’s day party-goers in Pacific Beach, we head back to the hotel. That night, I set two alarms (three including the front desk wake up call), and mentally prepare to wake up an hour early (thanks daylight savings). I end up waking up every 15 minutes or so - hotel alarms can be oh so confusing.

Sunday morning, I board a shuttle from our hotel at 5 AM. It is packed. We are at the Radisson - the official hotel for the half-marathon - occupancy of about 180 rooms - 170 of which are occupied by crazy people like me. The hotel is out of the way, nestled on the top of a hill in an office park area up the street from a Hooters.

The shuttle slowly enters the Safari Park (formerly Wild Animal Park) compound around 5:45am. I am a little worried. The race doesn't start until 7:00am. And it is cold. Shivering cold. Why didn't I bring my arm warmers? Or a disposable long-sleeved anything? I have one pair of gloves I rub together waiting for that fire to spark. I hope I can stay in the shuttle until the last possible minute. But the shuttle driver has no intention of hanging out. I deplane and go in search of warmer ground.

Insert Naz shivering for an hour here

This is the inaugural Safari Park Half-Marathon and the uniqueness of the course draws a sold out crowd – for both the half and the 5K. As I wait around listening to the announcers, I am thrilled by the sight of a happy looking group of Legger gals, including Board Member Rose and 11 mentor Michelle (who just ran the Napa Marathon last week!). It’s good to see some familiar faces, and I see more along the course.

The race soon starts, and I take it extra slow. I couldn’t find my Garmin charger the night before, so I count 5 minute intervals on my wrist watch. Whenever I feel like I want to turn up the motor, I hold back. I am not here to show off to anyone. I take extra walk breaks, especially on the downhills.

This course is beautiful, and rather hilly - steep hills, rolling hills – I remind myself that Naz love hills and this is good training. I pass a family of horses who are very curious as to what we are all running from. Is there a cheetah back there? Actually there is. The cows don’t seem as troubled.

My first 8 miles goes pretty well. I am surprised to see a large crowd of spectators cheer us on – unexpected and delightful. The course then proceeds to pass through the same areas, so the novelty wears out. I think we passed the yellow hot air balloon three times. I am re-energized by the end and finish at 2:51. It is my slowest time by 21 minutes, but I am fine with it. I have been having a lot of calf cramping since my 24.5 miler at the end of January, and my confidence had been shaky. My goal today was to finish, and to prepare my mind for next week. Mission accomplished.

After I receive my medal, I weave through the maze to get back to the front of the park and board the shuttle back to the hotel. Later, Salome and I return and spend the afternoon there. My registration fee included a free entry and her spectator ticket was $15 (down from $40). The Safari Park is a lot of fun. Especially for families – there was a bar and patio area around every corner!

Now I am getting ready for LA – the Safari park was beautiful, but the LA Marathon route will be a whole other level. The scenery is largely predictable - a lot of roads and buildings, but I am looking forward to the people. This is one of those few moments where Angelenos come out en masse as advocates for each other – That alone will propel me through Downtown, along Sunset blvd, and Hollywood, past the Walk of Fame, down Wilshire and Santa Monica, through the VA, down San Vicente and to the ocean. I hope I see your face amongst the cheering crowd. I can’t wait.

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