California Running

Having recently returned from a 2-month work stint in the great state of California, and sorted all my photos I thought I’d write up a race report of sorts. Hopefully inspiring some Wanderlust and channeling my inner Gavin Finlay tour guide persona. Races in the US are expensive and charge for the photos so I don’t have much evidence of running outside Strava posts and a bigger box of medals.

When working abroad you work pretty hard, but with time off, this can seem like the greatest job in the world. I yearn for the beautiful scenery, the unknown, and the mysterious. Being able to simply tie on your running shoes and head out the door is one of the best things about running. No fancy gear or pricey gym memberships required! This ease also makes running the perfect exercise to do when you’re traveling, shoes are easy to pack, and you get an up-close view of all the cool things this new place has to offer.

Redondo Beach, California, the seaside town that introduced surfing to the United States in 1907 was where I spent the past 2 months. It’s one of the 88 towns that make up the Los Angelas metropolitan area. California is huge and varied with distinct geographical regions, from coast and desert to mountain. Pretty much, this is the perfect state to explore, with great roads, cheap gas and hundreds of gorgeous destinations, including over a dozen national parks to choose from.  You’re never going to run short of things to do in California!

The Pacific Coast Highway is well known as one of the most scenic drives in the world. I was lucky that my hotel was situated on the road as it passes through Redondo beach. 10 minutes from the hotel I had the choice of a 21-mile beachfront cycle path or the rolling hills of Palos Verdes Estates. It was quite the choice and I spent quite a few mornings getting lost on 6 AM runs in the hills. I also found a local track for a few fast 400’s at the end of some evening runs but it would usually involve dodging locals walking in lane 1.

It wasn’t until the end of week 2 that I realized I was going to need to look for some races to stay fit and to meet some other runners. This was also due to Delta Airlines losing my bag and I only had one pair of runners.

I found a site ‘Charlie Alewine Racing’ that organizes informal runs from 5K to full marathon every Saturday and Sunday morning. On Saturday the 24th of February I woke at 5 AM to drive to 5200 E. Eliot Street, Long Beach, California. After collecting my number I lined up for the 7 AM start. The half marathon distance was out and back two times. I like mixed races as you never know if the runner in front of you is taking part in the same race or is doing a shorter distance. On the morning,  one guy took off at sub 3.30KM pace which is about my limit for the half marathon so I had to let him go. It turned out he was only running 5K and ran a 17.30.  Realising that there was nobody else around for half a mile I decided to settle into a 3.45KM pace and go for a decent pace run. I finished in a time of 78 minutes just as it was starting to heat up. I now understood why they do this 7 AM start thing. 

LA is a city with incredible energy. Surrounded by vast mountain ranges, valleys and forests, the glamour of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, the Sunset Strip and the famous beaches have added to Los Angeles’s reputation as a Californian paradise. It’s nice to get away from the city and cruise down the PCH highway. The next day I drove North to Santa Barbara and went for a run. The scenery is unforgettable, with loads of trails for all levels.

We are what we repeatedly do. The next weekend I was back in Long Beach to run another half marathon. This time we were running into a much stronger headwind along the beach and had some bits on the sand so the times were slower. I came home 1st in a slower 81 minutes. A fun race along the full length of Long Beach. The photo below probably says more than I could describe. It’s a very built-up area of Los Angelas but they have some nice cycle and walking paths. Like much of the US the running surfaces are concrete so this area would not be good for the joints to run there every day.

Sunday I headed for Palm Springs to do a run and some climbing. With 360 days of sun-kissed weather and drop-dead gorgeous scenery, Palm Springs is like no place else and is making a comeback as Hollywood’s playground with a growing nightlife, burgeoning art scene, and edgy vibe. San Jacinto Peak is the highest peak of the San Jacinto Mountains. After a quick ride up on the Aerial Tram, I could spend the afternoon hiking and do a short run on the trails at 8000 feet. I didn’t make it to the top due to there being too much snow but the views of the desert below were spectacular.













The next weekend I wanted to go a bit further afield and try something different. I found a 30k trail run on Trail running is a continually challenging adventure triggering all your senses. The crisp clean air swirling into your lungs, the mud squishing under your feet, finding the proper foot placement, balancing on top of rocks, the water crossings, the views, the smells, the sounds. It sounds a bit like cross country but luckily for me, this was California and not Ireland so the mud was replaced with wet desert sand. More sticky than slippy. I invested in a pair of cheap brooks trail shoes as my Adios weren’t going to keep me alive on those downhills. Experience has taught me how important it is to just keep going, focusing on running fast and relaxed. Eventually pain passes and the flow returns. It’s part of racing. Get going … walk if you have to, but finish the damned race.

Completely out of my comfort zone here. The race took place in two of the most beautiful parks in Orange County. Irvine Regional Park, Orange County’s oldest park, offers runners a less technical course beneath canopies of oaks and sycamore trees. Runners then headed out onto the natural California flora lined trails. Santiago Oaks treated runners to an assortment of wide and rocky, to single-track trails with steep climbs and descents. The race continued on the Anaheim Weir loop then hook back onto the earlier course loop. Both parks were intersected by Santiago scenic Creek and shared acres of natural charm, an abundance of wildlife, and mountain vistas. The watch out for rattlesnakes and bear signs added to the atmosphere. The race was like running a marathon, luckily it was overcast on the morning. I had to walk on a couple of the uphill sections. Despite going the wrong way a few times I ended up coming 3rd and capping a very enjoyable morning with a new pair of Hokas. I stayed around for the prize giving and chatted to some of the local runners. A definite bucket list race this one.

After a sickly 4th place finishes at the local 5K in Redondo Beach on Paddy’s day Las Vegas was a nice diversion for Paddy’s day weekend. Las Vegas draws some 40 million visitors annually, including millions of conventioneers filling its 150,000 hotel rooms. The vast majority of visitors stay somewhere along the 4.2 mile Strip, which runs from Sahara Ave. to Russell Rd. Running in Las Vegas is a study in contrasts. The ‘Strip’ is certainly one of the more unique runs in the world, but if you can rent a car and get just outside the city, there are some great running destinations. I ran in Sunset Park near Las Vegas but on Sunday drove to the recently completed river mountain trail system, a 34-mile trail in the Las Vegas Valley surrounding the River Mountains. This trail connects Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Hoover Dam, Henderson, and Boulder City. The hilly, paved path is a great opportunity to run off-road and enjoy some spectacular views. Running across the Hoover Dam was spectacular.

The next weekend despite dying with a cold I went to Malibu with the good old days blasting from the stereo. Appreciative mood music if you will!  The Great Race is a self-proclaimed celebration of running that features six races including two half marathons: the incredibly scenic Chesebro Half Marathon mostly trail race and the gorgeous Pacific Half Marathon road race. There’s a race for everyone at the Great Race with the Deena Kastor 5K, Old Agoura 10K, Kids 1 Mile run and Camp Kinneret Family Fun Run. Try the 2-Person Team Marathon Challenge. I decided to do the Pacific Half Marathon which has won Best Half Marathon in the Nation by a number of times.

The race starts off in Paramount Ranch. The 1950s, Western Town was created for television shows, such as The Cisco Kid. The race also passed along the famous Mulholland drive and scenic Agoura Hills. I did not look at the course profile before the race started. The hills killed me. Two-thirds of the way in I was passed by about 5 runners, including the first woman and my pace slowed to a 4.00KM crawl. My pride was saved by finding out later that the leading lady came 3rd in the recent LA marathon. I battled home the last 10K and finished in 1:23. Another bucket list race through some of the most beautiful scenery in Southern California. I realized after this race that LA is a car city as there are so many hills. It’s the 10%+ that will put hair on your chest.

At this point, I’d seen nearly everything I could think of but San Diego. Whilst doing a bit of research on things to do I realized that the Carlsbad 5000, advertised to as the worlds fastest 5k was on tomorrow. For the second day in a row, I was up at 5 AM, driving two hours down the road to the small city of Carlsbad to take place in the Rock and Roll 5K there. The course records of 12:59.5 minutes for men (set by Sammy Kipketer in 2000) and 14:46 minutes for women (set by Meseret Defar in 2006) are the fastest times ever recorded for the 5 km road distance. These are recognized as world bests by the IAAF, and world road records by the Association of Road Racing Statisticians. I ran in the 30-39 masters section. It’s probably the most competitive US race I have ever run in with 4000 taking place in the race with 50 men running under 17 minutes. This is such a well-known race. I was delighted to get the chance to run but it was a massive struggle after the day before. I could barely walk getting out of the car and struggled to run 16:50. I couldn’t recommend it enough as a race to base your California vacation on. The atmosphere and organization at these Rock and Roll races are always fantastic.

On a picture-perfect spring morning for racing along the oceanfront streets of downtown Carlsbad, Great Britain’s Emilia Gorecka edged out American Sarah Brown to win by one second at the 33rd running of Carlsbad 5000 today in a time of 16 minutes, 4 seconds. A European champion was also crowned in the men’s race. Sweden’s Kalle Berglund made his first 5k a memorable one, outlasting Ethiopian Gebre Abadi to win the final sprint to the finish line in a time of 13:15.














3 half marathons, 30K and a 2 5K’s. I don’t have any intervals done for the upcoming track season but have a solid base. I had one more week to run around Palos Verdes, The Hollywood Hills and Redondo and then it was on to Chicago for 6 nights to run under Michigan Avenue and along the lakefront. The temperatures were a bit of a shock to the system at -5 degrees having come from 20 degrees but the setup for running in Chicago is excellent along with the lake. A highlight was running past the starting point of Historic Route 66. Two weeks earlier I had driven on Route 66 through the Mojave Desert, before returning back to LA through Santa Monica – the other end of Route 66. My next running adventure may well be the drive to Clontarf for the national road relays in April.