Just Ran the Santa To The Sea Half Marathon

Nine months ago I was 40 pounds heavier and if you would have told me that I’d run in and complete a half marathon before Christmas I would have said that you were crazy.

After 5 weeks of intense training, I ran in the Santa To The Sea Half Marathon race in Oxnard, California. When I found out that some friends were going to run the race I was very interested. I initially signed up for the 5K run but then chose to go for the half marathon.

The Santa To The Sea races have history here in the Ventura County area and the registration includes contributions to several charity groups in the area. We also dropped off a present for local kids. My wife helped me pick out the gift, a pink skateboard.

Race Day
The half marathon starts at a large Santa just south of Rice Ave in Oxnard, just off HWY 101. But first we had to park a couple of miles North where there was more parking at the new The Collection shopping center. As soon as I got to the parking lot I made a bee line for the nearby Starbucks to use the restroom. Unlike previous to training runs, I had a huge container of water before leaving home. I thought I might need the extra hydration but it ended up being more of a problem than it was worth, I think.

After pit stop #1 at Starbucks, I grabbed my sparkly skateboard gift and hopped on a shuttle to head over to the starting line. A few short minutes later we arrived and I had to hit the porta potty again. The actual finish line was about a quarter mile away so I made my way over and it was pretty packed. Over 2,000 would be in this race.

I dropped off the present and took some photos and shot video of the scene.

After running into a few people that I knew, I got in the 2:30 pace group and tried to get my Nike running app setup for the start. After fumbling around with the watch for a while it kept cutting out. I thought I got it going OK and started it a few seconds before the race started. Oh, and I had to pee again. Not good.

The race started down an unevenly paved road so I stayed in the middle of the road until we got to the Del Norte Ave bridge. As we ran over the bridge you could see the massive stream of runners out front as far as the eye could see. It was a beautiful site and several people stopped to take a quick photo. I didn’t want to mess with my running app so didn’t take a shot.

A few days before the race my wife, BelĂ©n, and I went out to drive the course so I was pretty familiar with all the mile marker areas but as the minutes passed by the running app didn’t call out the first mile. Then I hit the mile 2 marker and I knew my app hadn’t started correctly. This could have thrown me off completely since I’ve been relying on data to help with workouts and study my splits. I let go of the frustration and set out to just run my race.

I used my heart rate readings to help guide when I would slow to a brisk walk and when I would run. The plan was to run the first 8 miles just a bit faster than I did during training workouts then at mile 8 I’d take it up a gear. But, by mile 5 I really had to use the loo again and had to make another pit stop right next to Cesar Chavez school, around mile 6.

It was a comical scene. There were about 6 people waiting in line to use the bathroom and a great group of around 20 students were right next to the bathrooms playing mariachi music. Folks in line were shuffling from right to left, either to help “hold it,” to keep warm legs or a combination of the two – all to the beat of the playing music.

A song and a half was played before I got back to running. At this point I pretty much got rid of any hope of having a “really good time for a first time runner” race time. My original goal was just to finish but now it was very loosely to finish within 3 hours.

As I pulled away I noticed a woman who had also stopped to “check the tires” and she started to pull away. I kept to my pace and figured I’d catch up to her later since I had been hanging with her for the first half of the race.

Halfway Point
Just after mile 6 there was another bridge and this one is more of a climb, taking runners from the La Colonia part of town to downtown Oxnard. I walked a good chunk of the hill. The halfway point was at the top of the bridge and I was at 1:26 at that point. I was in good shape to come in under 3 hours even with the earlier pit stop.

Because I had to go to the restroom early on the race, I hadn’t been drinking any water, either from my water bottle or from the aid stations. By mile 7 I started sipping water again and when I got close to mile 8 I stated to feel as if my side was going to cramp up so instead of picking up the running pace I decreased the amount of time I was walking.

There’s a long stretch down Wooley Road that looked like it might be intimidating when we drove the course. It wasn’t as bad as I thought and just focused on my running form, the next steps and after a while I stated catching up to people who were in my running cluster before the pit stop. That felt pretty good but I noticed that some of those people were really having a tough time. Although I didn’t know what their stories were, I felt that those were “my people.” One couple that I recognized had the dude out front running then he’d slow way down to encourage his lady friend. They were cruising along fine in the beginning but they were one of the couples I caught up to and the lady friend was struggling.

Around mile 10 I passed a couple of very fit women who had been resting on the side of the road. Together, they were carrying a stretcher with a chair on it with a radio and a drawing of a big Santa. The thing probably weighed 25 pounds and they were carrying this thing the whole way. Pretty hardcore! I noticed they both had Ironman tattoos on their calves. This was a tough challenge but their spirits were up and they were still having fun.

By mile 11 I didn’t feel super strong so I kept at the same running pace and continued to keep the walking part short. I kept passing people up even those who were running at a steady pace. As I approached the one mile mark I recognized the woman who had taken off before me after the pit stop. I think I had seen her pull into another port o potty earlier. I tried to kick things into gear but feared that if I kicked too hard I’d trip or something so I kept at a steady pace.

As I was about 100 yards from the finish line I saw a dude who was limping badly and he had a smile on his face because he was going slow but knew that he was close to finishing. Just behind me I heard some women asking “how far along are you” and realized that the woman who had made the multiple potty stops was behind me and saw that she was about 2 months pregnant. That explained the multiple stops.

I finished in 2 hours and 48 minutes (chip time, 2:50 gun time) and still felt pretty good. I met two of my goals; I ran under 3 hours and ran a negative split, running the second half faster than the first half.

The next big question is which race will be next?

At the finish line!
Jesse Luna at the Santa to the Sea finish line!