Runners, on your marks

Whether they do it for fun, the scenery or the challenge, up to 5,000 runners will race in the 25th installment of the La Jolla Half Marathon on Sunday, April 23.

Presented by La Jolla Kiwanis Club, the annual 13.5-mile race, which kicks off at 7:30 a.m., starts at Del Mar Fairgrounds and meanders along the coast before climbing the summit of Torrey Pines State Park. The course then threads its way through La Jolla Shores down along the ocean boardwalk before culminating, accompanied by cheering throngs, at La Jolla Cove’s Scripps Park.

The finest athletes from all over turn out every April for the event, which is noted as much for its horrendous hills as its pristine scenery. Many of those who run, however, are not young or physical specimens. Quite a few are gray. Some have more paunch than punch in their strides. But most who compete share one thing: This is their hometown race.

After a quarter-century, La Jolla’s Half Marathon not only has put the Jewel on the map, it in many ways defines the community, reflecting its timeless scenery, the competitiveness of its inhabitants and their will to excel.

This will be the 11th year in a row Melinda “Pepper” Prieto, 46, has run the La Jolla Half Marathon. “I do not let myself not run it,” she said. “If I didn’t do it, I’d just be sick. It’s the best run in the world. I see everyone I know. Every year there’s Christmas and the La Jolla Half Marathon. It’s always fun, and hard, and every year I can’t wait till the next year.”

Kevin Ross, also 46, has been regularly competing in the La Jolla Half Marathon since it began in the 1980s. He’s even run when he wasn’t 100 percent.

“I’ve only missed a couple of them in 20 years,” he said. “I’ve run it a number of times with injuries, everything from an Achilles to tendonitis to hip problems.”

For Ross, who jogs with his dog along the beachfront 20 to 25 miles a week, running is as much lifestyle as avocation.

“I’m a constant runner. That’s my style,” he said. “I never really put on the competitive hat, although I’ve actually done well with results. I pretty much just wing it.”

Ross likes the La Jolla Half because it’s very scenic. But there’s something else, for him, that really sets it apart. “Ending up at La Jolla Cove, to me that’s home, kind of in my backyard,” he said. “I feel like I have to do it. Running, it’s part of my life.”

La Jolla Half Marathon also offers amenities other races don’t.

“The beer garden at the end, that’s the ever-luring part,” said Ross. “It’s pretty much a classic to have two or three beers. They also have very good T-shirts. The cheering of the crowd as you’re running down the old remnants of the cobblestone street, that’s the best part. “

Bird Rock Community Council President Pennie McLaughlin Carlos won the women’s side of the La Jolla Half Marathon in 1993. She said there’s nothing like the rush you get pushing the envelope in a race.

“Some of my best moments in life have been with an elevated heart rate, pushing a pace for mile after mile along a cushioned dirt trail with a group of friends trading off the lead,” she said. “There is a unity of purpose, a respect for effort, and a knowledge that we all have layers of pain thresholds that take us up to the next point.”

Carlos used to run all of the half-marathons in the region, starting with Carlsbad in January, San Dieguito in February and La Jolla’s Half Marathon in late April, which she described as special.

“I love the beauty of the course, and the inside climb up to the golf course,” she said. “The downhill that follows brings needed relief and allows you to make up some time, all folded into the flats of the Shores, before the final effort to the Cove. There is nothing like the unevenness of those cobblestones followed by the cushioned grass for the final strides to the finish.”

Sadly, Carlos will miss this year’s race because of a hamstring injury.

“I will be back next year to join in the effort,” she promised.

Attorney Bryan Snyder started running 25 years ago as a stress reliever while in law school. He said he has run the La Jolla Half Marathon five times, mostly to prepare himself for full marathons.

“I’m training for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in June,” he said. “It’s great training for that.”

Running is much more than athletic for Snyder.

“It’s become a social activity,” he said. “I have a group of friends I’ve been running together with for 15 years now. There’s a lot of camaraderie that’s a lot of fun as well.”

Snyder said the La Jolla Half Marathon is special for two reasons.

“It not only is a great scenic course,” he said, “but an incredible challenge. It’s very rewarding.”

All five siblings in the Rickard family, four sisters and one brother ages 20 to 33, ran in the La Jolla Half Marathon last year. Misha Rickard, 30, said it’s a fun as well as a bonding experience.

“We all started running the same pace