Do you run the same races year after year to see how you’ve improved? It’s always a great way to gauge your progress. Well John is back and recapping his second year running the Laguna Hills 10K…his improvement is quite impressive. Read on to find out how good!
In my previous column, I shared with everyone my story of how I got into running, and of my first 10k, the Laguna Hills Memorial Day 10k, back in 2013. I shared how I finished the race with a time of 10:07 per mile, and how I was looking forward to running the race again, with the goal of shaving 30 seconds off my time. Well, the 2014 Laguna Hills 10k was this past Memorial Day, and I’m sure you’re all dying to find out: how’d I do? Did I beat my own time? Did I manage to meet my goal? Did I once again survive what is arguably the hilliest race in Orange County? The answer to all your questions is, in the words of the Bruce Almighty, “Yes, to all!” If you’ve ever run a race more than once, you’ll understand that feeling of familiarity one has with a race: the organizers, the course, the availability of water stations, the parking, the offerings at the expo, etc. One starts to develop a certain expectation, reasonable or not, when running the same race more than once. So, that begs the question: How did this year’s Laguna Hills 10k compare with last year’s? Let me count the ways!
There are large races, and small races. With about 3500 participants, the Laguna Hills Half Marathon event fits into the “just right” category. Not too crowded, but with enough of a crowd to feel like a worthwhile race. Renegade Racing, the race organizer, does a professional job with all their events, and this is no exception. Everything from pre-race check-in to the post-race expo was reasonably organized and executed. They don’t corral the runners separately, but simply setup designated markers before the starting line based on your estimated time. All the participants start together: 5k, 10k, and half marathon. The start of the course is nice and wide, but there were still a few groups of runners that had bunched up, which I had to work your way around. The first 5k of the course is roomy. But the reason the city is named “Laguna Hills” is because it’s truly hilly. The 5k portion has numerous upgrades and downgrades, which can easily slow the novice runner.
My one gripe is that there was only one water station along the 5k portion. Most 5k’s I’ve done have two. As all the runners reached the 3 mile point, the 5k runners veered off to the right, directly to into the Finish Line area. All roads were very clearly marked with arrows directing the 10k and half marathon runners. Renegade does a great job clearly marking the course for all runners involved. Many of the 10k and half runners would call out cheers of congratulations to the 5k runners, and they likewise return cheers of encouragement. Just after the 5k mark, I finally came to the second water station. With the 5k runners gone, the course got a little quieter, and more serious. But just as I got to that new vibe, the 10k racers, of which I was one, peeled off to the right, with the half marathoners continuing straight ahead (again, the course was very clearly marked). “Go half marathoners, you can do it”, some of us shouted. “We’ll see you run with us next year,” one of them replied.
This is where it got rough. The rest of the 10k course was through a narrow wilderness greenbelt. There were a lot of very sharp hairpin turns, quickly descending trails, dark pedestrian tunnels, and steep inclines. There was even the occasional low hanging tree branch. The course was now a narrow trail, with little room to pass other runners (word of warning: be polite when passing your fellow athletes; they’re just as tired as you are). One major difference between this year and last year was the weather. It was very mild and cool this year. Last year was slightly warmer, and I witnessed two racers on the side of the course receiving medical attention. Not something you wanted to see in your first-ever 10k.
Once I passed the 5 mile marker, that last burst of energy seemed to come out of nowhere. But it didn’t last very long. The last ¼ mile was a steep incline which made me feel like I was pre-qualifying for the Everest Challenge. Trying to keep a reasonable pace while traversing this last bit of course qualified as one of those “if you didn’t have bulging neck muscles before, you will by the time you reach the top” moments. But suddenly, there it was, the last 500 feet, a nice even flat surface. With relief, I poured on that last bit of speed, crossed the timing pad, and received my medal from the volunteer. Did I beat my time? Yep, 9:39 a mile. 28 seconds per mile faster than my time last year. A quick “woohoo” and it was off to grab the obligatory water bottle, slice of orange, and half a banana!
The Laguna Hills 10k is no Disney race, but having run it twice, I’m rather happy with how it’s organized. As noted earlier, one gripe is the long distance between water stations on the course. While there is some enjoyable entertainment at the finish (local pre-teen band Rikochet entertained us, and they’re quite talented), the on-course offerings are all but absent. It would be nice to see an occasional high school pep squad or drum corps cheering us on. Another gripe is the distance between the start and finish areas. The race starts at the Laguna Hills Mall, but the finish is about a mile away at the Laguna Hills Community Center. They have a shuttle that transports runners and spectators between the two locations, but the queue for the shuttles can be lengthy.
However, the course is well-thought out. Their medals are nicely designed. One special draw is their new medal series this year. The organizers have started a series of five medals over five years that honor a different US armed forces branch (this year’s is the US Marine Corps). If you race every year for the next five years, runners in 2018 will earn a “Joint Chiefs of Staff” medal commemorating runners who have run all five races in the series. So it looks like my next four Memorial Days are booked for me!
But first things first. For now, it’s time to look ahead to the Avengers Half Marathon later this year. And now, with the advent of the Star Wars Half Marathon weekend next January, it looks like I’ve got a Rebel Challenge in my future!
John grew up in the Orange County area of California, always living in the shadow of the Disneyland Resort. Known as the consummate storyteller to his friends, he has had an admiration of Disney since childhood, and is most interested in the Company’s history and heritage. His favorite memory to date is setting foot in Walt’s apartment over the Main Street Firehouse. John lives by what he calls the three F’s: faith, fun, and fitness. Being healthy isn’t about adding years to your life; it’s about adding life to your years. Nothing sums that up more than making Disney races a goal in every fitness plan.