They gather on a chilly Saturday morning in the parking lot of Mission Bay High School just as the sun comes up. Some are walkers, some are runners. Some are fast, some are slow.
But they all have one thing in common: They’re all in training for their next marathon or half marathon. They’re members of the West Coast Runners Club, which kicks off its 29th season this month.
Dan Guillory, the head coach, said he started the club with one thing in mind. “I said we’re going to create something that’s big, that will allow members to train for whatever race they want to train for, year-round. And I tell the coaches all the time, it’s not about us, it’s about them.”
The club offers three local training locations to start the season — Mission Bay, Encinitas/Carlsbad and Rancho Bernardo/Escondido. Eight weeks into the program, the three groups merge and train as one entity.
“We offer you training on trails, hills, coastal, inland, roads and more,” Guillory explained. “But make no mistake about it, we WILL train. If you’re out of shape, we’ll get you in shape. If you’re in shape, we’ll get you in better shape. You name the race, we’ll get you a complete training schedule, a group to train with, great coaching, and we’ll help you achieve your goals!”
He pointed out that new runners start off running one minute and walking five minutes.
“Then, by the time their race comes around, they’re running five minutes and walking one minute. They do marathons that way, and they do very well,” he said, adding, “This is my passion, this is what I do. I just love to get in there and watch people grow.
“People come in and they tell me on Day One, ‘You know I can only run a mile. Do you think I can do it?’ And I just love that, because to me, that’s the first challenge right there. I say, ‘yes you can, because you’re motivated enough to be here and try it, and if you make the effort, you can do it.’ That’s what it’s all about.”
Members are divided into six different pace groups depending on their ability when they join. Many members move up as they train and improve.
Abhi Patil, 40, said he’s been in the club for six years, and moved up to the Marine Corps group, which runs a 9- to 10-minute mile.
“You get stronger, you get faster,” Patil promised. “I’ve seen the health benefits — my stamina has definitely increased, pain and stress have decreased.” So far, he boasted, he’s done 17 half marathons and 10 marathons. He has his eyes set on qualifying for the Boston Marathon one day.
All the training members go through culminates at the finish line, where the emotions are often overwhelming.
“I used to go to the finish line at all the races and it was a tearfest. I couldn’t handle it anymore,” Coach Guillory said. “I told everyone, ‘I’m not going there anymore! I’m going to be out on the course for you guys, and I’ll cheer for you out there, and I’ll come see you after the race is over.’ When you have 150 people or more doing particular races ... man, I’m worn out by the time that’s over with!”
Lorrie and Vern Snyder said they’ve been members since 2010. They’ve run two marathons together. Lorrie is currently in the middle of chemotherapy for breast cancer, but she still comes out and walks with Vern and the group. “The people draw us. When I can’t get out here, I miss it,” she said. “My body misses it. My soul misses it. We’re slower than everybody else, but we’re doing the same miles ... so that’s a lot of hours on the road.”
Vern pointed out that the camaraderie comes with a bit of healthy peer-pressure. “Some Saturday mornings, you really don’t feel like getting up. Then somebody texts you and says, ‘What time you gonna be there?’ and you’re like, oh crap, they’re going to be there, so I guess I have to go! We look out for each other and that’s the nicest thing about it.”
Sandra Mayberry, a 48-year-old divorce attorney, said she joined the club on a dare more than four years ago. “My stepdad, who at the time was 77 and still a runner, said to me, ‘you need to get rid of your stress. I’m going to challenge you to run a half marathon.’ I thought, all right, what the heck? He’s 77, if he can do it, I can do it.”
Mayberry said she finished that race and has since run 16 half marathons and one full marathon — and in the process, made the most amazing friends she’s ever had.
“In training, we run at a conversation pace, so you can talk and run at the same time,” she explained. “So we catch up on our kids and each other’s lives, and we jokingly call our partners our ‘run therapists.’ ”
Interested in joining the club? You get a free T-shirt when you join! Memberships run $70-$90 a season, depending on when you start. Annual memberships start at $140. The new training season begins early January to train for 17 different spring and summer half and full marathons. For more information, visit wcroadrunners.com