USA Half Marathon San Diego {Recap}

I’m so freaking proud of this race.

It was tough and it was ugly but I finished–leaving nothing on the course. Nothing.

I knew from seeing the course elevation map that it would be hilly in the beginning, but I was really unprepared for how hilly it actually was. I knew as soon as I started that my goal of sub 2 hours would be a long reach.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 4.17.57 PM

I began with brf Runner Jenny and we took the first hill slowly–it was seriously right at the start. And the next one too. Except it wasn’t really all that slow for me as the first two hilly miles were 9:35 and 9:42–for me, that’s a really good pace going up.

For Runner Jenny though, that was cruising and at mile 3 I told her to go on her own. I just couldn’t keep up. I could see her every now and then turn around to see how far back I was ❤ , but I kept falling farther and farther behind. And then I couldn’t see her anymore 😦

So I decided to run my own race, only checking my watch when the mile would beep.

At mile 3 I settled in my own pace and miles 3 and 4 sounded off at 9:21 and 9:25. I had left my goal behind at the start so I didn’t have that pressure of trying to maintain a certain pace–I was just running. But I surprised myself at mile 5 with an 8:51.

Mile 6 was a downhill and I just rolled with it. Again, I wasn’t looking at my watch and when it beeped, I was shocked to see 8:03!!! Whoa!!! Slow down, Hell!

It was right after this mile that as I was running along, I saw someone on the sidelines cheering people on. He had no sign or crowd and seemed to be cheering everyone, not just one particular person.

It was Meb!!!

I veered to the right so I could high five him! I was surprised he wasn’t surrounded–I totally would’ve stopped to take a pic if I had had my phone.

Mile 7 sounded off at 8:54 and I was shocked again to see it be a sub 9–the downhill definitely helped.


It was here that the course seemed to flatline but there were still some baby hills along the course. I cursed each and every one of them.

I managed a 9:13 mile 8 and was really happy to have it be a lowish 9. I started doing some math (I’m really not good at it) and I realized I still had a shot at a sub 2–I’d have to work though.


Mile 9, 9:24. Not as low as I would’ve liked but still good.

Then the cramps started.

Miles 10 (9:40) and 11 (9:42) were me struggle bussing but I refused to stop. I stuck my tongue out at the photographer at the top of a hill (because really, who puts a photographer at the top of a hill?) The 2:00 pacer reached me at mile 11 and I told myself I could stay with her for two miles. Just do it, Helly.


Mile 12, 9:01.

And then……. the mile from hell.

I knew I had one mile left. If I could just get through this mile, I’d get a sub 2. It would be ridiculously close, but it was possible.

Except it wasn’t. My legs cramped up into rock solid masses of crampage–it almost brought me to a complete stop. I was in so much pain, pain I hadn’t felt ever in a race. I saw the pacer roll past me and I wanted so badly to hang on. But I couldn’t. For the life of me, I could not run faster.

I turned the corner towards the finish line broken. My teammates were on the side line and I yelled for them to call for my husband. I knew it was going to be an ugly finish. I was limping, dragging my right leg (that one hurt the most). I had cramps everywhere–toe cramps, foot cramps, ankle cramps, shin cramps, calf cramps, hamstring cramps–my entire legs were cramping.


The announcer saw me approaching and said through his mic, “I don’t care if you walk, limp, crawl across the finish, just do it!!”

And that’s exactly what I did, screaming in pain and collapsing as soon as I crossed.


I was immediately picked up by the medics and my husband found me not too long after. I was screaming so loud; I’m sure there are people who I traumatized, but the pain was so intense–I felt like my muscles were ripping apart.

I was giving water and electrolytes and they placed ice all around my legs and it was a while before I started to feel better. Just when I thought I was in the clear, the cramps came back on both legs in full force. Screams again.

The medics asked what I had consumed throughout the race and I told them I had been carrying Tailwind (electrolytes) and had taken water at a few of the water stations as well–even my Gu at mile 7. I had no idea why this was happening; I felt like I had done everything right.

I know I need to get myself checked. I think my diet might be my issue–maybe I’m deficient in some vitamin or nutrient?? I don’t know, but it was definitely scary what happened to me and I def don’t want it to happen again.

I ended up crossing the finish line in 2:01:15 and I was so proud of myself for getting that close to two hours on a hilly course I was so unprepared for and with cramps the entire last mile (which I ended up running in 9:13 and realized I really had no chance of a sub two unless I had ran an 8 something last mile–I’m really bad at math).

Several of my teammates walked away with PRs (included Runner Jenny) and my husband snagged a new PR as well 😀 It was nice to have so much good stuff to overshadow my awful ending and once I was out of the medic tent, I was all smiles.

my AZTNT team

my AZTNT team

with my favorite <3

with my favorite ❤

The Bad:

  • The Expo left A LOT to be desired. Granted, we got there on the second night about 30 minutes before it closed, but there were maybe 5 booths open?? I saw nothing with the race’s name on it that I could purchase.


  • Little to no crowd support. But you got Meb and maybe that’s really all you need.
  • The jacket is of poor quality (in my opinion) the letters look like they’ll fade after a few washes but it’s cool to have a jacket –even though it has no pockets 😦 and they gave it to you in a cheap plastic bag (no race swag bag). So yeah….
  • They said they’d cap the race at 5,000 but only half registered. I definitely felt there was very little hype about this race. Someone needs to hire a social media person (I’m available, USA Half Marathon!).
  • Very little crowd support.
  • San Diego is expensive. (Holy cow, parking=$)
  • Finding your official time after the race was confusing. The website said “Coming Soon” the entire day–I was able to find it through a friend who registered for tracking through Chrono Track.

The Good:

  • The race had a 2:30 time limit so you really felt the competitive atmosphere (which I liked). Going uphill, I seriously saw no one walking and that motivated me to not walk.
  • Meb.
  • The medal is pretty sweet. It’s nice and heavy and the ribbon is pretty.


  • Free pictures. Soooo nice in a day and age where race pictures cost a fortune.
  • Post race snacks a plenty!! They had so much left over, they let runners take boxfulls home with them–made for great road trip snacks.
  • Shout out to the medical staff! xoxo!
  • San Diego is beautiful. The weather was absolutely amazing–I mean, 70 degrees in mid November? Yes, please!!!
  • The host hotel, The Westin San Diego Gas Lamp Quarter, was beautiful and worth every penny.


  • This is a qualifying race so for my age group 30-35 I had to have ran a sub 2 hour half marathon. They plan on making the requirements more competitive in the future but I’m not sure if that’ll happen soon considering they barely got half of their estimated entries this year.
  • I would do it again. 🙂

–Have you ran an inaugural race before?

–Do you like the idea of a qualifying half marathon?

–Ever high-fived an elite?




31 responses

  1. I am so damn proud of you!! There are going to be days when your giant heart is just stronger than your body. You never gave up and ran an incredible race! I always admire your endless determination, dedication and effort. You are a force to be reckoned with my friend. Proud to run with you…always! ❤️

  2. Wow, way to push through despite the incredible pain of the cramping…I’ve cramped pretty bad before at the end of a race and on some long runs, but not quite to that extent…incredible job just to finish. I started using S-caps, which really helped; they are a small does of potassium, magnesium, and sodium that are easy to take when running…at Chicago, I alternated every 30 mins or so after the first 6 miles between s-caps and gels and despite the heat towards the end, didn’t have any cramping issues.

    We just ran an inaugural 5K this past weekend in Redmond WA, and are also running the accompanying inaugural 10K this coming Thursday in Mukilteo, WA! We are also hoping to run an inaugural full marathon/half-marathon that is being hosted in Boise this year to check Idaho from the state marathon list.

  3. I have had bad cramps before in a race, and I can tell you that they are no laughing matter, so the fact that you pushed through them in and of itself is HUGE. And you ran a fantastic race until that! And then ran a race of strength after. I would be very interested to hear what docs say about your cramping.

  4. First of all I had tears in my eyes (would have let them drip down if I didn’t have to look presentable for work!) reading about you pushing through the pain that last half mile. Shit like that is soooo inspiring to me. Way to go. You should def get checked to see what is going on with you- it sounds like you fueled and hydrated properly, so what gives? Maybe you can find some answers! I CAN’T BELIEVE MEB WAS JUST RIGHT THERE! He seems like such an awesome guy. Congratulations on a great run on a tough course. You rock, Helly!

    • Meb was SOOO awesome. He was just chilling there. No posse. Just high fiving everyone.
      I have an appt tomorrow–I’m thinking I might be deficient is some vitamin or something??I mean, I eat a shit ton of bananas, lol

  5. Yikes, those cramps sound so scary and awful! I had some pretty nasty cramps during my Spartan race back in September, but nothing that bad. Hopefully you can figure out what’s up so next year you can kick ass!

  6. So incredibly cool that you high fived Meb. INCREDIBLE. I’m not sure what’s up with your leg cramps. I’m sitting here racking my brain, like why would that happen to your entire legs, you know? I’m so frustrated for you because you have put in so much time and training. I remember I had cramps like that once when I ran the Tuscon marathon, because it was literally an all downhill race. My legs just took too much of a beating and seized. Man, I wish I knew the answers for you so I could help!

  7. OMG Helly!!! Your posts keep making me cry! Quit being so damn inspirational! What I really mean is CONGRATULATIONS AND WAY TO PUSH IT, GIRL! DAMN! These pictures tell 1,000 words & that’s so cool they were free!! Great job again! I love reading about your running adventures.

  8. Wow, I wonder what happened with your legs!!! That is really scary. Great job pushing through and finishing, even if it was ugly. I’ve never experienced anything like that, and it’s scary to think it can happen for no apparent reason, since you fueled and hydrated correctly!!

    I’m impressed with your determination!

  9. Helly, this was an incredible victory considering how much pain you were in! I admire your bravery and strength.

    Sorry to hear the race didn’t quite live up to the billing. When they announced that they were creating a Boston-style qualifying half marathon, I was a bit dubious about its success, just simply because Boston didn’t become Boston just by having qualifying standards. People wanted to do Boston and qualifying standards was the route the organizers used to control participants. The demand for going into Boston was already there. For this race, there is no demand to get in because it’s an inaugural race that no one knows about. Unfortunately doing more marketing isn’t going to fix it. I doubt the race (with its standards) is going to last much longer.

    • I’m hopeful. I like the idea of having a qualifying half-marathon and there were definitely good points to it. I don’t think (or I hope, anyway) that they mean it so literal as to compare it to the caliber and prestige of Boston (because no race could ever really be comparable in that way) but more of a race that has qualifying standards. Beyond that though, they still have some work to do to make it a race someone wants to do even beyond being able to qualify.

  10. Interesting that it’s a qualifying half marathon. I had no idea those existed! So sorry you had that experience friend, cramps are no fun and to have them all over? Glad the medics were at least helpful. Way to push though too, I probably would have quit but you kept pushing. Rock Star. Love that group photo of you and your friends and you are kissing hubby on the cheek. Very sweet 🙂

  11. Really, really impressive, motivating finish. You have the heart of a champion! I hope you’re able to figure out what causes the cramps soon. Fingers crossed for you.

    So cool that you got to high five Meb! I love that he was out there cheering everyone on. He seems like such an amazing guy, always so hyped for everyone else!

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