The La Jolla Half Marathon might just be one of the most scenic and visually stunning runs in the greater Southern California area. Think about it.
Coming out of the start line at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, the course runs along Coast Boulevard (two blocks east of the beach below) with glimpses of the ocean at every intersection. That is, until, runners proceed south to North Torrey Pines Road, and are a mere feet from the waves crashing from the Pacific. After a few miles of that, runners proceed to Torrey Pines Park Road, and make their way through the lush State reserve marked with picturesque trees that draw scads of hikers every day.
After a break from the scenery — for just a bit — along Torrey Pines Road next to UC San Diego, it’s down into La Jolla Shores, where the beachside boardwalk awaits. After some ups and downs (literally), the 13.1-mile race ends with a downhill jaunt into Scripps Park, overlooking La Jolla Cove.
“It’s beautiful and it’s challenging,” said runner Pam Medhurst. “It’s definitely why I enjoy it.”
Medhurst has run the La Jolla Half Marathon more times that she can count, including the first one, she said, and has been running marathons since the 1970s.
“This one is kind of special because of the course itself and the people who come out and support it,” she said. “You’ve got these great views and this oh-so-fun hill up through Torrey Pines that is beautiful, too. The finish is spectacular, as well, because the end is downhill. You can hear the seals barking and see people watching these crazy runners.”
Medhurst added while she used to run through the Torrey Pines State Reserve, she now power walks her way through and looks forward to taking in the sights. On the flipside, she said the most challenging portion of the race is also less scenic.
“It’s between the seven- and nine-mile mark,” Medhurst said. “You are on a road and there’s not a lot to see. That portion is where the mental toughness comes in. It’s not exciting and you have a ways to go. I find myself looking forward to the 11-mile mark.”
To train for this event — mentally and physically — she said runners have to practice running long distances and taking on hills of various degrees.
“Mentally, you have to just put yourself in a state of ‘yes I am going to do this.’ When the race day actually comes, you get caught up in the excitement, that’s a big part of it. But beforehand, you think about doing it no matter what. I ran it one year with a broken wrist, but I didn’t want to let that stop me.”
Over the years, she observes, the race has changed in small ways, from course adjustments to accommodate construction to better T-shirts and changes in technology.
“The race used to use little tags and we would have to put them on a stake so we could see who finished when,” she said. “Now, they have chips in your bibs, so there are no mistakes. Because of the chip timing, your time starts when you cross the start line. Before, your time was when the clock said it was, not when you start. But every year, it’s a really good event. It’s never easy to organize, but they take care of the runners.”
Behind the scenes
Kiwanis Club of La Jolla organizes the half marathon, and the next one is 6:30 a.m. Sunday, April 28 (starting one hour earlier to clear the streets that much earlier) at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
The accompanying 5K race also starts at 6:30 a.m., so half-marathon runners do not overtake the 5K participants.
Dubbed the La Jolla Shores 5K, the shorter run/walk follows the last 3.1 miles of the half marathon course. The race begins on La Jolla Shores Drive near Horizon Way and runs through La Jolla Shores and along Torrey Pines Road, Prospect Avenue and Coast Boulevard — before finishing at La Jolla Cove in the same location as the La Jolla Half Marathon finish. The course will close to 5K runners and walkers one hour after race start (20-minute-mile pace).
Both races, said Kiwanis Club former president Bart Calame, provide an “awesome, iconic view” of La Jolla, and of the proceeds he said: “Everything goes to charity or youth-based organizations. We will hopefully raise $200,000 or more that we will be able to give away to all the non-profits that apply. We work with almost exactly 100 groups, we try not to say ‘no’ to anyone. The heavy themes are the schools, YMCA, Scouts, etc.”