Race Review: Surf City Half Marathon

I have run the Surf City Half Marathon (there is also a full marathon and 5k) for the past several years. Huntington Beach, California is a great place for a winter destination race even on a weekend when locals would characterize it as “cold.”

I continue to go back because, well, for my boyfriend and I, it has become “our place.” I recommend it to anyone looking for an early February race getaway. The event is well organized and has all the amenities runners look for in a half marathon or marathon. It’s also Super Bowl weekend every year, which adds a party dimension.

Packet pick-up was easy. The long sleeve tech shirts are always outstanding. This year we were also recipients of “Longboard Legacy Club” shirts because this was our third consecutive year running. The expo also has a great selection of commemorative race gear for all price points. This year we picked up beach towels. There were also a good number of sponsors represented with lots of products to try.

One thing I love about Surf City Expo is the fun photo ops from Surf Boards and big beach chairs, to Vintage VW buses. On Saturday there is usually a contingent of real customized classic VWs and Woodies on display.

The expo is held under two connected large tents in a parking lot off the Pacific Coast Highway adjacent to the beach and embraces everything “Surf City USA” has to offer. The Expo, as well as the Start/Finish, is conveniently located near both the Hyatt Regency (where we stay) and the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort. The Pasea Hotel & Spa and Kimpton Shorebreak Resort are also on the PCH within a short walk to everything.

I recommend arriving on Friday, doing a short shake out on the beach path on Saturday morning and venturing over to the pier and Main Street. That’s where you will find the surf shops, nice boutiques, bars and many great restaurants. There’s also a nice outdoor mall, Pacific City, that has some typical mall chains as well as a few unique local shops, plus a nice variety of bars, restaurants and entertainment. Try Sancho’s Taco’s on the PCH for lunch. For our pre-race dinner, we usually go to Duke’s.

Race Day! The Marathon start is 6:30am, 5k: 7:00, Half: 7:45. So theoretically it’s possible to do both the 5k and Half. If you’re into that sort of thing. There were 1238 finishers in this year’s Marathon, 8147 in the Half. The race course for both is essentially out and back on the PCH with another out and back up to Seapoint View for the course’s only real incline, then north on the PCH with a turnaround in Bolsa Chica. From there, the half is a straight line of about 5 miles to the finish. At about 16.5 miles the marathon goes north again on the beach path until about 21.5 miles for the last turnaround. Marathon runners are then back on the PCH with a mile to the finish.

In that respect, the marathon probably has some better beach views. I’ve only done the half. Running along the beach and under palm trees is good for the soul. This year it was overcast, and we had some light rain mid-race. Some years we’ve had high 70s and sunny. While that may be more conducive for a post-race nap on the beach or by the hotel pool, the cooler weather this year was ideal for running.

One event they added this year was the Cowabunga Beach Challenge, a one-mile run on the beach on Saturday. All participants got a cape and finisher’s medal. Rain was in the forecast for the 11am start. The view from our room didn’t look good: high wind and people in winter coats and hats. We said to ourselves, “well it’s only a mile, let’s suck it up and get out there.” When we walked out of the hotel lobby, we were pleasantly surprised to find it wasn’t cold at all. Everything is relative, right? The previous week’s -21-degree days in Chicago where we saw wind chills of -50 prepared us for this. Donning shorts and singlets, we were Chicago strong!

As we ran that mile barefoot in the wet sand, the rain coming down, against 30mph winds, I found it exhilarating! It helped me remember what I loved so much about running. Running has brought me so many memorable challenges and unique experiences. Even when you go back to do a race over and over again there is something new about it.

The Surf City Marathon weekend never disappoints. It’s a new experience every year! Race organizers do a great job making it easy for runners to come back. There is always a new shirt design, incredibly unique Surf Board finisher’s medals, and lots of creativity! I’m already signed up for next year -actually the Marathon! It’s my Plan B in case I don’t BQ in Chicago in the fall. Or maybe I will and drop down to the half. And maybe we’ll run the 5k too. Whatever it is, it will certainly be a new adventure in our (same old) place.

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A windy, rainy mile on the beach. Huntington Beach, California. February 2019.

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