SLO Half Marathon Race Report

This past Sunday I ran the SLO Half Marathon, my spring goal race, and it was fabulous! We headed to SLO on Saturday morning and went straight to the race expo for the Ambassador meet up. The expo was held outdoors in the grassy field by the Madonna Inn, which was also the finish line area for the races. I enjoyed meeting more of the Ambassadors and seeing fellow SFM Ambassadors as well! We stayed with Erin, Erica, and Meryl in their Cayucos beachfront condo about 25 minutes from SLO (thank you so much Erica!) and had a blast hanging out with the group on Saturday and Sunday.

Most of the SLO Ambassadors in our new matching half-zips.

Dual SFM + SLO Ambassadors (Photo from Erin)

On Saturday afternoon, we hung out at the condo, visited the amazing Brown Butter Sea Salt cookie bakery (a serious highlight of the trip), and then had an early dinner at Sidecar in downtown SLO. Sidecar had the best brussels sprouts ever, not to mention a good beer list that helped me discover Libertine Pub sours. 

We went to bed around 9 pm because we had to be at the shuttle parking lot by 4:45 am, or so we thought based on the directions from the event. We woke up at 3:30 am (way too early!) and drove ourselves to the Cal Poly parking lot to catch the shuttle. This put us at the start line waiting area at 5 am for the 6:45 am half marathon start time; I wasn't as prepared as I should have been for the long wait in the wind and I was cold. Luckily, Erica is from Chicago and didn't think it was cold at all, so she gave me her pants. The frustrating part of this is that if we'd actually looked at the map, we'd have realized the shuttle parking lot was only 1.5 miles from the start line - an easy walk or warm-up jog - and we could have slept in significantly longer. Remember this if you ever run this one and you'll be a much happier camper than I was that morning. 

During our long time at the start area, we made the best of it by chatting and cheering for the marathon start. I met Travis, a twitter and Untappd friend, at our Sidecar dinner and he was running the marathon that day. 

Marathoners starting to line up.

Finally, it was time to start the half. I found the 2 hour half marathon pacers before the start and asked them about their pacing strategy. They said the first bit was downhill so they'd go out fast and bank some time for the climbs later. They mentioned the Johnson hill and that they'd slow way down, then take it pretty steady the rest of the way. Ok, that sounded like it would work as long as the 'going out fast' didn't leave me in the dust.

The race started and they weren't kidding about going out fast! We hit paces around 8:20 per mile for the downhill part of the first mile and I immediately had my doubts. I let them go a little somewhere in mile 2 when we started going uphill, annoyed with myself that I couldn't hack it but keeping myself around 9 minutes per mile. The course is hilly for a road race with a total climb of ~700 feet, so I knew I had to have something left in the tank for later.

Elevation profile via Strava.

Mile 1 - 8:31
Mile 2 - 8:54
Mile 3 - 9:10

All of a sudden I came back up on the second of the 2 hour pacers, Larry. He said the other pacer went ahead a little but he was staying on the 2 hour mark. I was able to pass him up the first big hill, aka Johnson hill, and then stayed just about 30 seconds in front of him for the next few miles. I had a small buffer but could still hear his encouragement, which was perfect. The climb starts at mile 1.2 and you hit the first peak at mile 3.4, the last 0.5 mile being decently steep. 

Mile 4 - 9:24
Mile 5 - 8:32
Mile 6 - 9:12
Mile 7 - 9:33

Mile 5 takes you downhill and then back into the rolling hills starting in mile 6. The rest of the course continues to roll up and down through the countryside and it's very pretty. I struggled with mile 6 to 7 because it's another long climb and the turnaround brought us a decent headwind, but I didn't give up. I was quite a bit ahead of Larry at that point, and a few of us who had been with him joked that we were safe as long as he didn't catch us. 

Mile 8 - 8:50
Mile 9 - 9:28
Mile 10 - 9:09

On the uphill part of mile 9, Larry caught me when I was fading and losing mental toughness fast. He said we have 35 minutes to get home, so let's do it. I stuck with him for a while, then managed to pull ahead a little again and stayed there for the rest of the race. I could hear him saying something like 'this is the 2 hour group coming through' and enjoyed the extra push. Around this time, people also started cheering for 'Grizzly' and that was nicely distracting to me. I think Grizzly is a running group, or maybe it was a person I was near? Whatever it was, it kept me entertained.

Mile 11 - 9:03
Mile 12 - 9:24
Mile 13 - 8:57

My legs tried to give up in mile 12. The elevation chart looks like you go downhill for the last couple of miles, but let me be clear that it does NOT feel like it. We went onto a bike path and then crossed a footbridge with winding ramps that felt terrible and caused a lot of crowding. The hills, although small at this point, kept trying to get me. About 0.5 miles from the finish, we went up this little overpass type hill and I felt like I just couldn't do it at that pace anymore, but I told myself 2:00:30 at the finish would feel a lot worse than that short little hill did at that moment in time. I was too close to let go.

After we crested that hill I could see the finish and it really was a slight downhill from there; at that point I knew I had it. Yes! I gave everything I could for the rest of the run and crossed the finish line at 1:59:31, a bit dizzy. I waited for Pacer Larry to finish and gave him an excited but sweaty hug for getting me to my goal. I was ecstatic I had managed to run a sub-2 hour half again, especially considering the hills on the course. I trained hills and track, and it paid off!

One very happy finisher!

I ran in my Team EMC singlet in solidarity with the many Team EMC runners who were doing the London Marathon that day. This is the charity I fundraised for with the NYC Marathon last year, and I love continuing to support their efforts. You can read more about my reasons for choosing them in my post from last April.

We stayed at the finish area for a long time to hang out with everyone and to watch the awards. Erica received 2nd in her age group, which was awesome! Steph and Ben Bruce took 1st in the half marathon; Steph is noticeably pregnant and ran a 1:23 half to take home the win!

Top Females in the half marathon.

Post-race group: Meryl, Jen, Travis, Erica, Kevin, Charles, Me, Erin. (Photo from Erin)

Now for the race details.

The Expo. The expo was held in a large tent near the Madonna Inn. It rained unexpectedly so it was a little muddy, but overall it wasn't a big issue. There was plenty of free parking in the open field and it was only a short walk to the tent. The expo had a number of vendors, including a large section for race sponsor Left Lane Sports to sell merchandise. There was no line to pick up my bib or shirt and everything was very easy from start to finish. That's definitely a benefit of small town races. 

The Course. As I'm sure you figured out from the recap, there are some hills on this course for a total climb of about 700 feet. I tend to do better on hilly courses and I love them, but I know it's not for everyone. The race starts out going through downtown SLO and then heads farther out where you have a view of the foothills; it's very pretty and definitely my kind of scenery. The hardest miles for me were the Johnson hill around mile 4 and the hill up to the turnaround in mile 6-7. Also note that the turnaround is past the big Clif arch; you can see the arch for a long time and I heard many people say they were sad it wasn't the turnaround due to the mental game. Overall, I really enjoyed the course and the scenery at this race.

The Support. The start area had water and coffee, and the porta potty lines looked intimidating but went pretty fast. As noted above, the start area is only 1.5 miles from where the shuttles pick up so you don't necessarily need the shuttle service if you prefer to sleep in and walk! Aid stations had both sports drink and water and were about every 2.5 miles on the course. I found it to be more than enough and didn't take water at all of them. They had Clif gels at multiple spots, including just before the half marathon turnaround. The only real feedback I have from the course support is that I'd rather see paper cups (they were plastic) because they are so much easier to pinch-and-drink when running. 

The Swag. I really like the design of the shirts and the medals. The half marathon shirts were a heather burgundy color and the full marathon shirts were gray. Both were long sleeve and unisex. The medals were a barn, very cute and unique. They also gave out Race SLO spike bags for all of the expo goodies. 

I really like the medals.

The other fun part of this race was staying out in Cayucos and visiting Libertine Pub in Morro Bay. We always love finding new breweries, and this brewery full of sours was a real treat! The scenery at both beachside communities was amazing, so I'll end this with a few photos. Happy running!

View at the Cayucos condo.

 Inside Libertine Pub.

Morro rock, our view from our table at Libertine.


  1. Sounds like you had a fabulous run weekend! Congrats in the sub 2 finish!

  2. Well done! That's a tough course for a sub-2, you are *very* fit!

  3. Great recap! Congrats on the awesome finish! I think both of our recaps were very similar, especially about the dang plastic cups. Great course, despite the hills, the views make up for it. Still deciding if I'll apply again next year, but it was a cool experience to be an ambassador! xoxo, ganeeban

  4. I love that you were able to think clearly enough to know 2:00:30 would feel worse -- that's a great way to think about it! From all I've heard about this course's hills, I'd say you've definitely gotten strong. Maybe it's time for a PR? :-)


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