Year-round running weather and a plethora of scenic trails make San Diego a haven for runners. From La Jolla to Chula Vista, from Ocean Beach to El Cajon, runners of all ages take to the streets, parks and beaches every day for a piece of the pavement-pounding action.
To get a pulse on the nature of San Diego’s running culture and find out what it takes to complete a long-distance road race, this reporter joined the Team VAVi Running Club (TVRC) for its 18-week program that trains participants for the La Jolla Half Marathon and the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. One of almost 170 running clubs in California (more than in any other state by far), the organizers of TVRC have to work hard to keep a corner on the market that helps so many San Diegans stay in shape.
Training coach Blake Miller, who started the running club in 2003, describes the twice-a-week program as “middle of the road.”
“We are not ultra, hardcore runners busting our brains six days a week, yet we are not casual joggers that go out once or twice a week,” he said.
The program consists of three general training schedules for both half-marathon and full-marathon trainees: advanced, intermediate and run/walk. Geared toward runners (and non-runners who want to become runners) who either want to complete a marathon, improve upon an existing personal record or just enjoy the social aspect of running in a group, the program has experienced considerable growth since its inception. Miller said his first group of trainees consisted of 34 runners. This season, TVRC has more than 330 participants.
Miller incorporates more than just increasing mileage into the program. Most training runs are followed by clinics, with subjects ranging from running technique to nutrition to injury treatment and prevention, including a session on acupuncture.
The La Jolla Village News will be following four La Jollans through their journey as they take on the challenge of adding mileage week after week in order to eventually cross the 26.2 mark. Here are their stories:
Danielle Kochman Kochman, a transit planner for the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), began running in 2008 after recovering from knee surgery following a skiing accident in February 2007. Six months of training led her to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, after which she told herself she would never run another marathon because, as she said, “It was torture!”
After completing another half marathon, however, Kochman, a resident of University City, felt that 13.1 miles was just not enough of a challenge. After finishing the Carlsbad marathon with a significantly faster time than her first, Kochman decided to take on the goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon by running 26.2 miles in under three hours and 40 minutes (the requirement for women ages 18 to 34).
After a tumultuous running season, consistently stuck just short of Boston’s requisite time, Kochman took on a personal trainer and set her sights on the Nike Marathon, held in October in San Francisco, as her last chance to qualify for Boston 2011. The pressure, however, nearly cost her the race. After she broke down and cried because she was sure she would not qualify, Kochman and her trainer decided to take things down a notch.
“We decided that I was burnt out; I needed a break,” she said. “Since I had trained, I would go to Nike and have fun, but not put a lot of pressure on myself.”
Without the pressure, Kochman ended up setting a personal record. She finished the Nike Marathon in 3 hours and 38 minutes, enough to participate in the exclusive Boston Marathon in the spring.
“I was overcome with unbelievable joy for about five minutes, and then I realized I had to run another marathon in April,” she said.
Now preparing for the race through TVRC’s program, Kochman said she is trying to train on a lighter note.
“Nike just took so much out of me,” she said. “That is why I joined VAVi. I had really gotten too caught up in this whole Boston thing, and I needed running to be fun again.”
Franklin, a 56-year-old specialist in business process and customer management, said she decided to take on the training program as a “special challenge” to herself.
After some turbulent changes in her personal and professional life, Franklin said she had to make some decisions about herself and what she wants. When her close friend, Shannon Mulvihill (also a subject of this series), mentioned doing a marathon, she jumped at the chance to take on such a lofty goal with a partner.
“I just thought we could do something outside of our comfort box,” she said. “My friend came to the program with the idea of doing the half marathon, but I said, ‘Let’s push ourselves and do something really hard.”
Franklin, who has lived in La Jolla for 19 years, said she has never been a runner. Although she has walked between two and five miles every day for the past 10 years, a marathon, she said, was definitely a chance to push her “outer limits.” Many trainees in TVRC are younger than her, but she said she appreciates the energy in the atmosphere during the group runs.
Her two daughters, she said, are amazed by her enthusiasm. Her younger daughter has even promised she will come down from San Francisco and run the marathon alongside her mother. As for her personal goal of finishing the marathon, she is aiming to combine running with jogging and walking while keeping her time under 12 minutes per mile. “When I look at it, it’s a huge commitment,” she said. “And I think I can do it. I’m absolutely confident that I can finish.”
A Muirlands-area resident for 21 years, computer consultant Mulvihill had a health scare three years ago when she had to be rushed to the ER and have her heart restarted. She found out she had a congenital heart defect called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, and doctors told her she may continue to experience episodes of rapid heartbeats, so she underwent a cardiac ablation. After she recovered from surgery, Mulvihill said she was apprehensive to attempt any sort of physical activity.
“For a long time, I was afraid to even walk along the beach or in the mountains, anywhere that was not within three minutes of emergency medical care,” she said. “I just didn’t want to push it too much.”
Eventually, Mulvihill, who had been an active walker and completed the Alaska Midnight Sun Marathon in 2001, was assured by her doctors that her condition was taken care of, and she was once again free to pursue an active lifestyle. Though she said she could have simply joined a gym, she felt like she wouldn’t be motivated enough to get the kind of workout she craved. When she and Franklin attended the TVRC marathon orientation meeting, the pair decided to go for it. Being part of a diverse group and meeting others who have health challenges has inspired her, she said.
“There’s a real sense of camaraderie to meet other people who are overcoming health issues and trying to get past all that,” she said. “It gives me a lot of motivation to know that there’s a bunch of people who are going to go through this too. I feel like when I get through this, I can do anything.”
A native of University City, Phillips used to be an avid runner. She joined the University City High School cross country team, but burned out on the long training hours and quit running altogether when she left for college at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Now 23 and back in University City, she took running back up last summer to get in shape.
With the goal of improving her half-marathon time and taking on the challenge of completing her first full marathon, Phillips said she likes that runners in TVRC’s program are left to follow their own pace and schedule.
By following the program’s advanced training schedule, Phillips is attempting to improve her pace with lactate threshold runs, a training technique that intensifies runs to raise the point at which lactic acid is produced and processed by the body. This, in turn, raises the threshold for runner fatigue. After staying away from running for a few years, Phillips said the lactate threshold are challenging. But challenge has proven itself invaluable in terms of attitude, she said.
“I think that my training has allowed me to fall in love with running again.”