The International Surf Festival Dick Fitzgerald 2-Mile Beach Run: that’s quite a mouthful for such a short race. I normally wouldn’t think to enter a two miler, except the event benefited my son’s high school cross-country team. In a show of support, I registered.The Beach Run is an out-and-back that starts at the Hermosa Beach Pier, heads north to the Longfellow lifeguard tower, then doubles back to the start. With mile one in dry sand, and mile two in the surf, the course is uniquely challenging. Since it was such a short race, I decided to leave my training schedule intact and include the Beach Run as part of my Saturday long-run. I did not prepare or taper, and decided to race at my tempo effort.
Over 200 runners lined up for the start. Weather conditions were good, slightly overcast, not too hot. We set off at eight o’clock sharp, and that’s when my troubles began. My feet sank into the sand after every step and the loose footing prevented me from finding any rhythm. I had hoped to begin at my tempo pace- just under a 7:00 minute mile- but was already laboring. I checked my watch to make sure I did not go out too fast and it read 9:30. Crap. I had only covered a quarter mile. Double crap. The race was quickly becoming a salvage effort.With my shoes full of sand, I zig-zagged and stumbled to Longfellow, made the turn, and sprinted to the firmer wet sand. My feet found a bit of purchase and I began to recover. Unfortunately, the tide was in making the beach slope toward the ocean. I was not aware of veering seaward until the first wave hit me, soaking my sand filled shoes. I course corrected but not before running into two more waves.Only a half mile remained, and thankfully the race was about to end. I found myself running alone, in front of the pack but behind the runners who were better prepared to run on sand. I noticed only one person ahead of me but I was unsure if he was in striking distance. I decided to find out. Despite my earlier exertions, the short course left me with enough energy to kick. I began to close the gap. It was going to be a close finish, too close to call.
The last 100 yards were some of the most thrilling I’ve ever run. I had a chance to catch him, and it would go down to the wire. I didn’t realize until after the race that my opponent had the same name as me. His friends were cheering him so I heard, “C’mon John! Go! SPRINT!” That supplied the last bit of inspiration, and I surged and passed the other John inches before the finish line. It was electric. Never mind my overall poor race, all I could think about was the finish. My legs felt like they woke up and days later they still had some spring.
Turns out that John number two did all right. He placed first in his age group, a decade above mine. I came in 18th overall and fifth in my group. I ran my slowest race mile ever but also recorded my biggest negative split. If I race next year, I’ll need to practice running in the sand and maybe running barefoot. There’s a lot of room to improve my time but it will be tough to top this year’s finish.