Finishing the SLO Half Marathon

Let me paint a very clear picture of my background for you. I’ve never considered myself an athlete. In high school, when so many students my age played soccer, field hockey and water polo, I was busy memorizing Shakespeare soliloquies for theater productions or practicing the piano for an upcoming recital. I also painted my nails black and listened to tapes (yes, as in cassettes) of The Cure. In college, I spent a couple years smoking a pack of cigarettes each day and eating entire pizza pies.

I divulge this to assure you that, unlike Bruce Springsteen, I wasn’t born to run. In fact, competitive running didn’t enter my life until I was 28 years old. I stood in line at Jamba Juice, waiting for my smoothie, absentmindedly glancing over the fliers pinned to a nearby bulletin board. One of those fliers was for the SLO Triathlon, held every summer. As I read what participation in the event entailed, something deep inside me – from out of nowhere – said You could do that. And then I did. Twice.

After the birth of my two children (who are now six and three), I started to take running more seriously. Completing a half marathon was on my bucket list, and once I met that goal, I aimed for better and better speed. I’m a writer by trade, and writing feels a lot like running to me in certain ways. Both require stamina, training and the willingness to go a little hypnotic at times. Both can make me feel invincible or pathetic. And both can only be accomplished by placing one foot in front of the other, whether literally or figuratively.

My last race was the SLO Half Marathon, just a few weeks ago. The course was challenging, and my body wasn’t feeling at its revved-up best, but somehow I managed to shave several minutes off my personal best time and place sixth in my age group with a time of 1 hour, 43 minutes. As I crossed the finish line and saw my time on the digital clock, I screamed. Not a cute “woohoo!” but more of a scary “ohmygawd!” wail. Truly, I hadn’t expected to PR like that.

What was the key? I’d love to say I tried something new and exotic to get that time, but really it was just good, solid training. San Luis Obispo has abundant trails and support for runners, both new and seasoned, and couldn’t be a better environment for charging after that elusive personal record.

Here are a few of my favorite tips, tricks, methods and places to hit the road, along with a couple recommendations for refueling after the fact.

  • Make the time: With two little ones at home and a full career, time for running (or anything) is never going to appear. I have to make the time. For me, that meant waking up really early and asking my husband to feed the kids breakfast every morning.
  • Find the go-to 3-miler: Three miles is my go-to distance when I’m not training, or on days between long runs when I am. My well-trodden course takes me through Downtown SLO, around Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and winds back to my house around 3 miles later. For me, tuning out helps me to work hard, so I like to put my brain on autopilot.
  • Run with friends: On long weekend runs, I LOVE to run with friends, partly for safety in numbers and partly for the company. Some of my favorite courses include Poly Canyon, Lemon Grove Loop on Cerro San Luis, and Felsman Loop on Bishop Peak. If we’re feeling lazy, though, we’ll often just run out and back on Broad Street to get our miles in.
  • Get good tunes: Spending $10 each month for a Spotify membership was a tough sell, but ultimately it’s been a very good decision. I have a playlist called “Sweat” that includes a wide variety of pumped-up songs at my pace (between 180 and 185 beats per minute), like:
    • “Black Out Days” by Phantogram
    • “Wake Up” by Rage Against the Machine
    • “Back Pocket” by Vulfpeck
    • “Heartbeats” by The Knife
    • “Doin’ It Right” by Daft Punk
    • “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten
  • Catch the cross-train: Man (or woman) cannot live by running alone, which is why I made a point of including other sorts of movement into my exercise diet while training. Walking is a particular favorite activity, not to be upstaged by running. I do plenty of hiking on favorite trails like Johnson Ranch Open Space and the Irish Hills, but I also love a simple walk in Downtown San Luis Obispo. My son and I ride our bikes to drop him off for school, or we bike the Sinsheimer Bike Path to Beda’s Biergarten (more on that in a minute) for a bucket of fries to share and a Grapefruit Radler for me. I also incorporate yoga and rock climbing for strength training with classes from the SLO-Op Climbing Gym, as well as high-intensity interval training with Body by Colby, a pay-as-you-go trainer who works out in parks across San Luis Obispo.
  • Stick with the plan: My finish times changed drastically when I started using a training plan. There are several plans to use out there, but the one that really worked for me was Hal Higgdon’s Intermediate Half Marathon plan. I appreciate the structure of how it’s laid out, but even more so, I appreciate its flexibility to switch days around depending on life circumstances.
  • Eat something awesome: San Luis Obispo is an ace at casual dining for a good post-sweat refuel. I prefer the pairing of fries cooked “El Jeffe-style” at Beda’s Biergarten and a Grapefruit Radler (a blend of beer and grapefruit soda), the buttermilk-fried chicken salad at Big Sky Cafe, or the Heizenburger sandwich (meatloaf, chipotle mayo and brioche bun) at High Street Deli.

Now, it’s time for you to get outside and start training for your next run in San Luis Obispo! Discover the various running and recreational events happening in San Luis Obispo.

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