The first time Matt Stohl ran the hellaciously hilly 13.5 miles between Del Mar Fairgrounds and La Jolla Cove in 2000, he described the experience as an utter nightmare.
“I wasn’t prepared for Torrey Pines and two other significant hills,” he admitted. “I had to stop to walk once or twice. I took 16th that year."But, he persevered. During his third attempt in 2004, Stohl took first place over a field of 4,521 long-distance runners, 2,097 men and 1,670 women, capturing the 23rd La Jolla Half Marathon in 1:13:10.2. It was just a little less than seven minutes shy of the all-time course record of 1:06:23.4 set in 2003 by Nazario Romero.
A law student in 2000, Stohl took two years off before getting serious about running and re-entering the La Jolla Half Marathon for a second time in 2003.
“I wanted another good challenge to test my fitness,” he said. “I just wanted to place in the top 10 and ended up finishing third.”
Stohl was more surprised than anyone when he finished first in 2004 on his third try. “The field, compared to the previous year, was fairly weak. I ended up winning by four minutes or so.”
Fitness instructor Jo Ragen, now 57, has run the La Jolla Half Marathon most every year since the mid-1980s. Like Stohl, she wouldn’t miss competing because of the challenge. She has different motivations for running today than in the past.
“It’s a lot for me now to run up four hills,” Ragen said. “It’s gotten harder. I don’t run as fast. I don’t look for time like I used to. But seeing all my friends along the sideline. ... I just love to run and enjoy running the Half Marathon.”
Young or old, tortoises or hares, entrants come from far and wide to compete every year in the La Jolla Half Marathon sponsored by La Jolla Kiwanis Club. Race champion Stohl will return this year to defend his crown, along with more than 4,000 others, in the 24th running of the event Sunday, April 24.
There are two other events being run concurrenty with the Half Marathon: the La Jolla Shores 5K and the WindanSea Five Mile Stride. The 5K follows the final section of the La Jolla Half Marathon course, starting above La Jolla Shores and culminating in the park at La Jolla Cove. The non-competitive Five Mile Stride offers a less stressful alternative, with participants enjoying a relaxed walk through exclusive oceanfront residential La Jolla neighborhoods.
Free shuttles for runners are provided from the Cove finish line to the Del Mar Fairgrounds from 5 to 6:30 a.m. on race day, April 24.
On Saturday, April 23, the day before the trio of race events, there is a race expo held during the day at Washington Mutual Bank on Girard Avenue. About 20 vendors will be offering running and race-related products, services and information.
Also on April 23, contestants will be treated to a pre-race carbo load dinner, also at Washington Mutual Bank, from 5 to 7 p.m. The event is free to runners. Guest tickets can be purchased for $5 at the door. Race packet pick-up will also be available at the dinner until 6:30 p.m.
Something new has been added this year to accommodate race contestants. This year, medals will be given to everyone who finishes.
The day’s activities on the 24th culminate with a post-race celebration at the Cove. The post-race celebration also offers an opportunity drawing for prizes on the stage in the Cove.
Half Marathon event master of