La Jolla Half Marathon returns for 28th year

On April 26, competitors young and old will lace up their running shoes and tackle the 13.1-mile hilly, coastal stretch between the Del Mar racetrack and La Jolla Cove.

La Jolla Kiwanis Club’s 28th annual Half Marathon will commence with 6,500 runners leaving in two separate “waves” starting at 7:30 a.m.

The race will culminate for most at least 1 1/2 hours later with thunderous applause from a throng of well-wishers packing the Cove cheering on finishers as they are funneled into “cattle chutes” completing the course to receive medals and refreshments.

La Jolla Half Marathon is one leg of the 2009 Triple Crown Series, a combined 39.3 miles of foot racing, which includes the Carlsbad Marathon in January and America’s Finest City Half Marathon in August.

The course’s up-and-down topography makes it an endurance test.

“You don’t go there to run a fast time,” said last year’s men’s winner, former La Jollan Brian Culley, who finished in 1 hour and 21 minutes “You go there to be competitive and have fun.”

Culley had run the race at least a half-dozen times previously, starting at age 23. He was 37 when he finally prevailed.

“Don’t be discouraged if you don’t win,” he said, “because 15 years later, you might still have a shot. You never know how strong--or weak--the field is going to be.”

Culley talked about where the race is decided. “You get into La Jolla Shores around 11 miles, you know you’ve got that one big hill coming up,” he said. “That hill is long and so steep. It really wrecks you afterward. The race is going to be won--or lost--on that hill.”

The Half Marathon is La Jolla Kiwanis Club’s biggest yearly fundraiser. All club event proceeds are donated back to the community for worthy causes, Kiwanis President Trenton Bonner said.

“We raise over $100,000 a year and we give it all back to charities, primarily for children and other community youth-oriented endeavors,” he said.

There will be live music by a local band at this year’s event, Bonner said. The popular beer garden at the finish is also back by popular demand.

Also different this year is that event registration, the race merchant expo and the evening-before carbo load dinner for runners will be held April 25 at La Jolla Rec Center.

Kiwanis volunteer chairwoman Mary Talbot Fee said the Half Marathon requires between 300 and 400 volunteers to do everything from setting up and breaking down water stations to selling T-shirts, handing out registration packets, dishing out meals and performing crowd control at the finish.

There’s a whole new pool of volunteer recruits this year, too.

“We’re using a lot of the groups from the various schools--La Jolla High, Bishop’s, UCSD Circle K and Gillispie--to help run our water stations,” Bonner said. “We’re overstaffing them.”

The La Jolla Half Marathon, which started from humble beginnings as a weekend fundraiser sponsored by La Jolla Town Council, has not only grown in size but also in stature over time. With the help of La Jolla Kiwanian Ted Frapwell 18 years ago, La Jolla Sports Group, the event’s race director, which handles public relations, promotion and marketing of the event, took the Half Marathon to the next level.

“Our insight was to make it something it probably wasn’t at that time, but knew someday it could be--much more professional,” said Bill Uncapher, who, along with Barbara Baisch, runs La Jolla Sports Group. “It took five years, but race numbers increased and it lost its weekend casual flavor. As the years went on, the competition got much more fierce.”

The event is now nationally and internationally renowned, ranked by Runner’s World as one of America’s top 25 half marathons and one of the top 100 running competitions overall.

When the La Jolla Half Marathon first started, 1,000 runners were considered an exceptional turnout. Now promoters are having trouble capping the number of entries at 6,500.

The Details


28th annual La Jolla Half Marathon and La Jolla Shores 5K


April 26 (both events start at 7:30 a.m.)


13.1-mile Half Marathon begins at Del Mar Fairgrounds; 3.1-mile La Jolla Shores 5K and Windansea Five Mile Stride, for noncompetitive walkers, start at La Jolla Shores Drive at Horizon Way; all three events finish at La Jolla Cove (Scripps) Park

2008 Winners

Men: Brian Culley, age 37, 1:21:00.4

Women: Sherri Ellerby, age 44, San Clemente, 1:28:47.8

Record Times

Men: Nazario Romero, 2003, 1:06:23.4

Women: Erin Baker, 1990, 1:16:52.0

Want to watch the race or avoid the traffic? Download and print the official map: