The sun peeked over the Santa Monica Mountains, and the crowd of runners packed behind the starting line at Zuma Beach was anxious to get moving.
Rain had fallen overnight, wetting the streets, but the day broke with just a few scattered clouds. The weather would hold. It was time to run the 2017 Malibu Half Marathon and 5K on this cool autumn day, the first Sunday in November.
I was anxious too. This would be my first half marathon and my first real race in years, although I had run several full marathons before. Plus, due to a busy work and travel schedule, I barely had time to train. Oh, except for a gorgeous six-mile run through Central Park in New York.
Then the countdown began and the runners surged forward. We burst out of the gate and, within a minute, we turned onto Pacific Coast Highway. The lane closest to the beach was blocked to traffic roaring down the hill. It was thrilling to run freely along this stretch of highway that I had driven on countless times before.
For 2017, race director Erica MacVittie worked with the city of Malibu to relocate the race from north Malibu, where there was little parking, to Zuma Beach. This year, the race started and ended at the famed surf spot, a big improvement over last year’s location. Parking was a breeze. And it was just the perfect beachside spot for family members, friends and other spectators to gather and cheer the runners as they crossed the finish line.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.
In previous years, the course has been described as “flat and fast.” Well, I’m not sure that description is still accurate. Those hills! The first half of the half marathon seemed to go in only one direction: up and up some more.
The first ascent started just after Trancas Canyon Road. It wasn’t an insurmoutabe steep climb, but enough to give you a slow and steady burn in your legs and lungs. I was feeling it, for sure. But I was also running on adrenaline, carried along by the clear, storm-swept views of the water and the collective energy of thousands of runners tackling these rolling hills.
This is how you #runbeautiful.
At each mile marker, spirited volunteers handed out water, Gatorade, and pretzels. And the Porta Potties at each stop were a godsend. Guess I shouldn’t have drank so much coffee beforehand!
Then the fastest runners at the front of the pack started coming down the highway. The crowd coming up cheered them on (how are they so fresh and happy?) and slapped high-fives. It was also exciting because you knew the halfway marker couldn’t be too far ahead.
Just when it felt like too much of a slog (for me, anyway), at the top of yet another hill, we turned around. Then it did seem like the rest of the race was pretty much all downhill or flat from then on. Thank goodness!
I was pretty spent by now. A nasty blister had formed on my left heel. My legs felt like two sacks of potatoes, ready to seize up at any moment. A few times I had to slow it down to a walk just to keep moving at all. Keep moving, that was my mantra.
We passed Trancas again, and I could see Zuma ahead. Then the beautiful sight of the finish line came into view. Hundreds of spectators, including my wife and two young ones, were lined up on both sides, hooting it up for their loved ones and friends. The announcer called out every person who crossed the finish.
I crossed the line and got some hardware around my neck. What an awesome feeling to finish! The runner’s high, indeed.
I quickly grabbed a Boxed Water, some watermelon and bananas, and a cool-down cup of beer at the beer garden. The post-race festival was jammed with runners and their biggest supporters. Hugs all around. People were lining up for massages, acai bowls, selfies in front of the marathon step-and-repeat banner, kombucha, coconut water, those tasty Dean & Deluca energy bars, aromatherapy treatments from Saje, and more.
I reunited with my family on the sand; the kids wanted to fly kites. Then we saw them — a pod of dolphins popped up in the water, so close that they could have easily swam ashore.
Limping back to my car, a fellow runner stopped me and asked, “Did you see them? The dolphins? They were amazing!”
“Yes, I did. And they were amazing.”
Thanks Malibu Marathon for a spectacular event! Until next year...