HALF MARATHON MAN: La Jolla running champ trains for the improbable

Three times a week, when it’s his turn to pick up his four kids at La Jolla Elementary School, Adam Dailey arrives an hour before the final bell. Then he runs 10 miles around the neighborhood.

Dailey, 42, won the men’s title in the 38th annual La Jolla Half Marathon on Sunday, April 28. And he feels like he wins another race every time he returns to his ideally parked Honda Odyssey minivan.

“It’s the only way to get a decent spot,” Dailey said in the midst of one of his training runs, during the half-mile window that this reporter could keep up (OK, fine, the quarter-mile window).

Dailey trounced 5,000 entrants — and his nearest comer by nearly 3 minutes — to finish the 13.1 mile La Jolla Half Marathon in 1 hour, 11 minutes, 36 seconds. The turning point was passing early leader Craig Curley on the bridge over Torrey Pines State Beach.

“He went out a little fast and I went a little faster than I wanted to go in the first two miles,” Dailey said. “So I went with him. But when we hit four miles, he was really slowing down and I ran five-minute miles down the hill, which dropped him. I wasn’t really worried about anyone catching me after that.”

Dailey, who lives with his wife and their five children on Mt. Soledad, dedicated the win to his real-estate investment business partner, David Baker, who encouraged Dailey to run competitively again in 2015 — and who often ran these same La Jolla streets with him.

“We’d have our partner business meetings during our runs,” Dailey said. “He was one of those guys you look up to, because he had it all worked out, in terms of the family/work balance.”

Baker was among five unfortunate souls to perish in a helicopter crash in Kenya on March 3. Dailey said he’s been trying to convert his grief into running energy ever since.

“I miss his laugh,” Dailey said. “Every time I look in my favorites in my phone, I see his name and it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.”

When he attended the University of Arkansas, Dailey was a five-time All-American track star who ran a 4:04-minute mile and a 28-minute 10K in the 2000 Men’s Olympic trials. In the 19 years since, however, running has mainly been a recreational thing.“After my wife and I had kids,” he explained, “I gained 50 pounds and lived a different life.”

It’s now Dailey’s dream to run in the 2020 Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials race, which will determine the U.S. team for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The race takes place Feb. 29, 2020 in Atlanta.

“Every four years since I did it in 2000, the thought has entered my head — maybe I should train for it again,” he said. “It’s never worked out, but (Baker’s death) made me think, if not now, when?”In Dailey’s immediate sights is his second full marathon, in Sacramento this December. (He’s run only one before, the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon in 2017 — on a dare from Baker, who jumped in at Mile 14 and ran the last 12 miles alongside his buddy.)

“I’d never run more than 14 miles in my life,” Dailey said. “I hadn’t run more than nine miles since 2003. So I was white-knuckling it. But after David died, it was like, ‘Now I have to pursue this in his memory.’ ”

Dailey admits that qualifying for a second Olympic Marathon Trials race is not a realistic dream. (He would tie for oldest qualifier with 43-year-old Kevin Castille, who ran the trials in 2016.) And Dailey would need to break 2:19 in Sacramento. (His La Jolla Half Marathon time, doubled, just missed that time.)

“It seems pretty far-fetched, actually,” he said. “But it’s something I can almost say with certainly that I wouldn’t be able to do four years from now. Physically, I don’t think that would be realistic — whereas now, it’s probably not realistic, but there’s a chance. And doing what I did last week, I feel like I’m on the right path.”

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