Thursday, January 29, 2015

Race Report: Inaugural West Hills Half Marathon

Canoga, Park, CA | January 25

I always like to preface this with, "If you're running an inugural race, know there's bound to be some kind of issue." I don' mean that as a bad thing, I think it's just the nature of the game and the way the cards are dealt. There is no way a perfect race can happen its first time around. Call it negative, but I find it hard. I've run a number of inaugural races (from 5Ks to relays to quite a few halfs). 

I was really excited about this race - I like small, local races, but also because I had the opportunity to serve as an official pacer for the race. While I've paced friends before, that's all been pretty casual and I haven't been one of those cool kids carrying signs for 13.1 miles... until now! So excited. And so nervous.

Canoga Park is just over an hour away... or, at least at 4:45 in the morning, it's about an hour away. I rolled out of bed at 4:20 on Sunday morning, thankfully had packed almost everything the night before, so I was able to literally roll out of bed, put clothes on, make my breakfast and head out. I got to Canoga Park just about 5:50, in time to fight the road closures and figure out where on earth I was going. After a tour through some neighborhood, I found the back way into the shopping center, where I later learned that if I had just shown the police/parking enforcement my bib, I could have just driven through. Good thing I didn't have my bib yet anyway. 

I found packet pick up pretty easily, and waited for a few minutes to see if I could find any of the marked pacers, either by pacer tees or race signs. No sighting. I asked a Race Crew woman if she had seen any of them and she goes, "Oh, we have pacers? Hm, someone asked me that yesterday at packet pick up and I had no idea. Good to know." Well. That's always an interesting sign. 

Headed back to the car to braid my hair, get my last things together and wait for Vanessa and the pacer team to show up. Finally, I got my hands on that coveted sign... team 2:30 checking in, ready to rock this inaugural half! 

The race also features a 5K and a 10K. The half marathon leaves first (7 am), followed by the 10K and then then 5K, in 15 minute increments afterward. The half marathon is two loops, so obviously the 10K at one loop, and the 5K had a turnaround point somewhere into the course. I've heard that it wasn't really marked and that volunteers didn't even know where the exact turnaround was - which would explain why I breezed by it and hardly noticed. 

At any rate: we started on time, just about exactly 7 am, which I always appreciate. Starting late is worse than just about anything, especially given that it was going to be warm and the Santa Ana winds were in high effect already, so dryness was already abound. The website said that waves would go every 2 minutes, but (assumingly) with such a small field (277 half marathon finishers), they let us all go at once. Not a major issue again, because of how small, but it made it challenging for folks to figure out where to position themselves in the start (pacers included). 

The beginning of the course is confusing and frankly, kind of dumb. The start line is at the front of a parking lot, and you run through the parking lot towards the back of the buildings, through the alley behind it, come out, turn right, make a U-turn not even 100 yards away, and then loop around the front of the parking lot again to head out towards city streets. This is where mass confusion occurred during the start of the second loop, but we'll get there.

I had a few folks hang out with me and stick with me nearly the entire way. My mile 1 was way too fast (splits below), so I made sure to say "Okay, we're backing off some..." just so they know I acknowledged where we picked up speed (which we did a lot!). Stuart was running his first half marathon ever, and Sonia wasn't, but wanted to hang around 2:30. Some other folks came and went, but my favorite was the guy who, upon looking over his shoulder and seeing me, said, "No offense, but I just want to stay in front of you!" None taken sir, none taken. 

Heading into mile 2-3 or so, is a looooong steady hill - the first part is a short incline, and then drops a little, and the second hill is steeper and much, much longer. We dropped off that hill for a bit for the turn-around water stop, then booked the whole way back down, which was pretty awesome. 

We cam back down to the start line for the turnaround poin, where we were told to go through the yellow chute (blue was the finish), make a U-turn, go back through the alley like we did at the start, and then continue on from there. As we left the alley, before heading into the 100-yard U-turn, one single volunteer was saying something like "half marathoners, do two loops through here!" Having no idea if she meant the alley, or if she meant two loops of the course (duh), and that she was the only one saying so, we just continued as how we started.

Beasted through the last hills, felt strong, even though this was at a slower pace than I'm used to for a half, I still felt so, so good. Which is always a nice feeling! As we came to the last stretch and turned the last corner, I looked down at my watch and saw that we had 1.7 miles to go. There's no way that grocery store is 1.7 miles from here, and I tried to rack up numbers and mileage in my head. No sooner than I just gave up and was totally confused, our 2:15 pacer came running back to me and told me that every one had the course about a mile short, and so all the pacers finished super early, but not to worry. Whew. 

I finished, hung out for a bit, and then ran back to find the 2:45 pacer and share the news (and get in a little extra  mileage), then came back around and ran some loops in the parking lot to get to at least an even 13 miles. The course, on my Garmin, was about 12.05 miles.

So much pacer love - what a fun way to run a race! Met some new friends, got Stuart to the finish line, and successfully completed my first pacing duties. I would love to pace again and am definitely looking for the next opportunity as soon as it comes! 

Race Pros
- Small, local race (if that's your thing)
- Awesome race shirt, medal, water bottle
- Great course

Race Cons
- Lack of volunteer communication
- Mass confusion at start line/turn around
- Short!  :(

What really impressed me was that while us pacers were gathered together for a bit, the Race Director came over and asked what we thought, wanted our feedback on how the race went. We all agreed that the course was great, but that it was short - he had clearly had already heard, as he nodded and add, "Yeah, that whole alley... not happening next year." I hope he had a way to add the distance, as I really would want to come back and do this one again!

Some of my finishers!
As for pacing? It's a blast. Finding people who are holding on to you for their support, or goal time, and getting to meet them and hear their stories as you chug along is so cool. It's definitely a reason I've always enjoyed running and getting to talk to other folks - there are so many stories and inspirational moments that come from who we are and what we're about.

Thanks for a great race, Elite Racing! Hope to see you next year for 13.1 miles!

Love the shirt design. Every color of the rainbow, so it matches everything!
Have you ever run an inaugural race?


  1. I would love to be a pacer at some point, I think it would be so fun.
    Short course though, uh oh.

    1. They're looking for pacers for the Palmetto Half on April 11! Want me to forward you info? :)

  2. First off I want to say how much I admire your enthusiasm for the sport, I get the impression you love running and I think you get the spirit of running a race. This race however wronged you, the race director took your money and you got nothing in return. You should expect more, at the very least the correct distance, I mean how hard is it to mark the running route? I will never ever participate in an event this RD puts on ever again.

    Why don’t the pacers know the course? The bike leading the overall winner didn’t know the course, the winner ran closer to 14 miles and no recognition from the RD.

    There’s a lot of pissed of USATF members too because the website said it would be certified and it never was.

    By the way, it was a local race but by no means is it a small race. Small races don’t have chip timing, or fancy shirts and goodie bags or unnecessary finishing medals. No this was a big production race that failed.

    Sorry for the rant. Thank you for the race report and wish all the best running this year.