Last week, Micah and I traveled to San Diego for vacation. His youngest brother lives there with his family, and we all went out to visit — the first time we had gathered since before the pandemic! I was super excited to see everyone and enjoy some beautiful southern California weather. And when I saw that the Balboa Park 8 Miler — San Diego’s oldest road race — was happening while I was out there, I eagerly signed up. I love it when I can run a race on vacation!
It was quite the experience. In fact, it was easily the most memorable race I’ve ever run — and I’ve probably run well over a hundred at this point.
There was pot smoking. There was pooping. Though I only did one of those things. In the end, I walked away with third in my age group and a time of one hour and 12 seconds — and believe me, those 12 seconds will haunt me for the rest of my life!
Here’s what happened.
The night before the race, I ate some Thai food– basil fried rice and papaya salad, to be exact. I didn’t drink anything except water because a bunch of us had gone out the night before that and a lot of tequila was involved, so I was feeling pretty dehydrated and hungover. That’s quite the departure from my typical veggie burger, fries, and beer that I like to have pre-race, but whatever, I was on vacay. And it’s not like I was running a goal marathon or anything like that.
The race was scheduled to begin at 7 am, and my Uber driver dropped me off at Balboa Park at around 6:15, so I had plenty of time to use the porta-potty. I lined up at the start line around 6:50 and felt a little rumbling in my stomach. Maybe I should go one more time, I thought. No, you are just excited, it’s fine. We started right at 7 and I went off at around a 7:10 pace. The weather was amazing (seriously, now that I am back in swamp ass Maryland, I am wondering why I am still living on the East Coast) and I thought I could break an hour in the race, though I knew it was relatively hilly. But I zipped through those first few miles, running a 7:07, 7:17, and a 6:56 (a lot of downhill in that third mile). It all felt comfortably hard and like I could sustain that pace for the entire race.
When I crossed the timing mat at mile 3, I noticed an older gentleman running beside me. “I’m having a hard time keeping this lit,” he told me, and that’s when I noticed he was running with a cigar. Well, that’s weird. Who freaking smokes a cigar while running a race? Then he asked me if I wanted a toke. OK, so it’s NOT a cigar, I thought. Even weirder! For the record, I have no issue with marijuana use and completely support its legalization for both medicinal and recreational purposes. But I’m not about to blaze up in the middle of a race, either.
“No thanks, “ I told him.
“Yeah, well, I’m already bonking,” he said. (You don’t say!) “I smoked a lot last night. Not good for my running.”
“Yeah, I guess not!” I said.
I have no idea what happened to him after that, but I can safely say that I finished well ahead of him.
So all that was bizarre enough. But then, my stomach started rumbling. And that was my literal oh shit! moment. Was it the Thai food? I wondered. Was it the tequila shots from two nights ago? (I’m at the age where two-day hangovers are a thing. Enjoy your youth, kiddos!)
I’ve had the runners trots before, most notably in the St. Mary’s 10 Miler a few years ago. In that race, they came on suddenly in the middle of the race and there was absolutely nowhere to go and no trees to duck behind, so I basically ran with my ass cheeks squeezed together and prayed I could hold it until I crossed the finish line and could get to a porta potty. Balboa Park had a lot of trees, but I was hoping I’d be able to wait until the finish again.
I ran mile 4 in 7:17 and mile 5 in 7:30. Once I was past mile 5, I knew there was no way I would be able to make it to the finish line. It was either squat behind a tree, or shit my pants. There was no other option. So, at some point around mile 5.5, I veered off the course and ran behind a tree. I tried to do it as discreetly as I could — apologies to anyone who had to witness this! But I … dropped trough and did my business. Yeah, it’s gross. But what would you have done?!
Afterwards, I ran back onto the course and up what is known as Zig Zag Hill. This part of the race was on a dirt path and it was really, really steep. And it lived up to its name, with multiple switchbacks. It was tough and even though I felt better after lightening my load, I was having a hard time getting back in the groove of things. My Garmin clocked a dismal 9:12 for mile 6.
But of course at that point, I knew I only had two miles left and could still finish around an hour and probably win some type of award. So I rallied, with a 7:38 for mile 7 and a 7:16 for mile 8.
When I stopped my watch after crossing the finish line and saw I’d failed to break an hour by just 12 seconds, I groaned! If only nature hadn’t called me so loudly!
I was excited to win third in my age group, though. I knew the race would be competitive, given that SoCal is teeming with extremely fit and active people. So I am pleased that I was able to hold my own — bathroom issues and all.
And overall, I LOVED this race and highly recommend it if you’re in the area. First of all, eight miles is an unusual distance — this was my first time ever racing an 8-miler — so that’s fun if you’re used to running 10Ks, half marathons, etc. And again, the weather is pretty ideal even for August because San Diego is a utopia with almost zero humidity. SUCH a welcome change from Maryland in the summer. The course is also really cool. It was a bit hilly, though the worst of it was Zig Zag Hill. The majority of the race was on paved surfaces, but some of it was on a dirt path (including Zig Zag Hill.) Kept things interesting. We ran across the historic Cabrillo Bridge twice, past the San Diego Zoo and several of the museums in Balboa Park, and around a botanical garden.
So I would totally run this race again. And hey, I got a great story out of it!