Last year as I rung in the year 2010, I declared the bold New Year’s resolution of running a marathon, or in the least, a half-marathon. After watching that dream sweat profusely and exhaust itself right before my eyes, I have instead resolved this year to just stick to writing about marathons, races, fitness, and so forth. That’s right. I’m going to marathon write in this chair and let all you ambitious folk know where the best runs are and how to successfully cross the 26.2 mile finish line.
Living in the great and golden state that we do, marathon opportunities filled with picturesque sights in some of the most popular cities are endless.
Experts recommend an 18-week training period, alternating between slow long runs, cross-training, and resting to improve muscle strength and endurance without burning out too quickly. Online training guides suggest gradually increasing mileage over the 18 weeks while continually allowing breaks between longer runs. Be patient with yourself and know what you are capable of completing. Half-marathons are an ideal place to start, and 5Ks are perfect for the inexperienced hopeful.
This may be the only place you’ll hear this, but eat plenty of carbs, especially those rich in complex carbs and vitamins. Low-fat diets work best and fluids, of course, are essential. And as with most obstacles in life, it’s all about the mental goal setting. Think positive and put your mind over matter. Marathon running takes time - practice and diligence. It’s a fresh year— time to literally and figuratively finish the race ahead of you.
Discover the ultimate guide to best marathons in California and beyond.
Best San Diego Marathons
Tri-City Marathon in Carlsbad: January 23, 2011
The Tri-City Medical Center Marathon in Carlsbad is one of the only winter races, approaching this January 23rd. The course itself winds down the coastline, while support stations, entertainment and volunteers encourage participants along the way. This marathon is uniquely known for its individual catering and quality, so you can expect a helping hand to push you forward. Starting and finishing at the Westfield Plaza Camino Real in Carlsbad, the race passes through Buena Vista Lagoon, into the village of Carlsbad to Carlsbad Boulevard (Highway 101). Veering south, then inland for a few miles, the path then reaches back towards the coast and up north to the finish line. There are frequent high and low points, the highest elevation situating at 308 feet. For some fine finish-line celebration, Los Angeles singer-songwriter Jakob Martin & Friends will provide musical entertainment and family fun. The Carlsbad Marathon works with 19 official charities to help raise funds and awareness for their organizations. Learn more at carlsbadmarathon.com.
La Jolla Half Marathon: Sunday, April 17, 2011
With rolling hills and ocean views, the La Jolla Half Marathon both challenges and inspires runners each year. It’s notorious for taking racers up endless hills, but beloved for its magnificent views and charming vistas. From the Del Mar Fairground entrance, the course weaves along the coast and into the summit of Torrey Pines State Park, then through the residential areas of La Jolla Shores to the final stretch at the park in La Jolla Cove. A pre-race Carbo dinner is offered to runners on the evening before the big day. At the completion of the 13.1 miles, celebration will ensue with food and drink, including a Beer Garden, and over $5,000 in prizes awarded to those in attendance. 100% of the net proceeds of this event benefit the youth, senior and community programs of the La Jolla Kiwanis Foundation. Learn more at lajollahalfmarathon.com.
Safari Park Half Marathon: Sunday, March 13, 2011
This brand new half-marathon takes its course through the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The race weaves in and outside the park and along San Pasqual Valley’s beautiful country roads. It’s a relatively flat route, with only one small hill to conquer. For non-competitive runners, the event holds a scenic 5K Family Fun Walk to walk along park grounds. Walkers will have the opportunity to be up close and personal with giraffes, rhinos, zebras, cheetahs, antelope and other safari animals along the Africa Tram Safari route. As a congratulations to all those who finish strong, all participants will receive free admission to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park on race day. The race proceeds go towards building a new habitat for tigers as guests learn how to decrease the severity of the tiger population’s decline. Learn more at sandiegozoo.org/halfmarathon.
AFC- America’s Finest City Half: Sunday, August 21, 2011
America’s Finest City half-marathon sums it up pretty adequately within its name. The race brings visitors from all parts of the country to experience a scamper in our own gem of a city. Beginning at the historic Cabrillo National Monument, the route follows scenic San Diego Bay and Harbor island along the Embarcadero, and winds through downtown San Diego ending in Balboa Park. The essence and appeal of our city is experienced along the track, giving visitors and locals alike another side to the San Diego they know already. The race was inaugurated in 1978 and has been held continuously every year since then. It’s a race that is as much a part of our city as the significant monuments that line the route. Learn more at afchalf.com.
Rock N Roll Marathon in San Diego: Sunday, June 5, 2011
One of the most interactive and vivacious runs in our area, the Rock N Roll Marathon supplies runners with a kickin’ soundtrack to cross the finish line to. The course runs through various attractions in San Diego, starting at 6th Avenue and Palm Street. Live local and regional bands on 30 stages set the pace for the race, keeping you energized and spirited. Voted Best Race and Best Post-Race Party by Competitor Magazine, the Dodge Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon & 1/2 Marathon is a unique event that combines running with entertainment. Participants can expect entertainment stages with live music from the start to the finish of the race and one free beer at the end of the course. The course is mostly flat and scenic, with new music at every mile. Learn more at san-diego.competitor.com.
San Diego Mud Run (5K): Sunday, March 20, 2011
The San Diego Mud Run may at first appear a breezy 5K in some good ol’ seaside dirt, but don’t be fooled. This course proves to be quite the challenge with hills, obstacles, 4-foot walls with mud, tunnel crawls, slippery hill climbs, and endless mud pits. It’s a unique run that runners can choose to finish individually, within multiple age division, or as a member of a 4-person team. Team members must register together and cross the finish line as one, as well. The mud run starts at 12pm in La Mesa. The race calls for some team spirit in the costume contest held beforehand on the Main Stage. An exhilarating race, participants can expect to go home with proud mud stains to flaunt their victory. Learn more at sandiegomudrun.eventbrite.com.
Best California Marathons & then some
Surf City Marathon in Huntington: Sunday, February 6, 2011
The Surf City Marathon holds true to its name by infusing the long race with plenty of surf fever. Starting and finishing to the tune of the Beach Boys’ Surfin’ USA and the cheers of local surfers from Huntington Beach’s original surfing club, participants in this marathon will move to the rhythm of the waves down the spectacular Oceanside scenery. The course leads through the famous Huntington Beach pier and continues to Huntington Central Park. The race then takes you close to the surfers who own the sand as runners head beachfront on Bolsa Chica State Beach. Surf bands also fill the way, along with cheers from more than 2,000 volunteers. The ocean breeze will push you straight to the finish-line. Learn more at runsurfcity.com.
Napa Valley Marathon: Sunday, March 6, 2011
Sunday, March 6th
The Napa Valley Marathon is renowned for its beauty as well as its meticulous organization and details of the event. Sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, the inspiring course winds between the hills and luscious greens of the Napa Valley. In its January 2002 issue, Runner's World Magazine named the Napa Valley Marathon one of the Top 20 Marathons in the U.S. In the January 2005 issue of Competitor Magazine, Napa was named the Best Rural Marathon in America. As runners ascend through the wine-growing region, they begin at Calistoga, wind south along the historic Silverado Trail to finish at Vintage High School in north Napa. Panoramic views of the valley and dormant vineyards flood the runner’s scenic perspective. Learn more at napavalleymarathon.org.
Catalina Marathon on Catalina Island: Saturday, March 12, 2011
We all know Catalina as a nearby destination with tropical bliss mixed with natural beauty, and a 26.2 mile run over the island is no exception. Through mostly dirt trails and roads, the challenging race stretches over hills and through brilliant wild life. USA Today picked the Catalina Marathon as one of the 10 best winter marathons and Runner’s World named it the #1 off road marathon in the world. If you’ve trained well in advance for the stretches of upward hills, you’ll be able to fully enjoy the unbelievable splendor of the island of Catalina. Learn more at pacificsportsllc.om.
Hondo City of LA Marathon in LA: Sunday, March 20, 2011
The Los Angeles marathon is legendary for its route through beloved California landmarks, and this year’s course promises to include even more historical aspects. Runners will start at the Dodger Stadium and finish on Ocean Avenue, near the Santa Monica Pier. The 2011 marathon will stage City Block Parties on the day of the race in each of the key locations along the way. Each City Block Party is a large community celebration located directly adjacent to the marathon route, including live music, food, beverages, exhibits, and much more, open to everyone. A 5K is also an option this year, held at the Dodger Stadium the day before, looping around the neighborhoods of Elysian Park around the Stadium and finishing adjacent to the starting line. Learn more at lamarathon.com.
Big Sur International Marathon: Sunday, May 1, 2011
Runner’s World magazine recognized Big Sur as one of the three best marathons in America, as well as the nation’s Best Destination Marathon. Renowned for its spectacular sights and greatg heights, this Northern California race brings competitors from wide and far to run through the natural wonders of Big Sur. Live music along the course as well as food and drink throughout supply runners what they need to finish strong. The course stretches along Highway One, the nation’s first nationally designated Scenic Highway. As one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, runners will experience everything from rich redwoods past Pacific Ocean views. Learn more at bsim.org.
Orange County Marathon: Sunday, May 1, 2011
The OC Full Marathon descends through the striking coastal communities of Newport Beach, Irvine, Santa Ana and Costa Mesa. The first ten miles of the course unravel along the Pacific Ocean and Newport Beach Back Bay. The good news here is the course is relatively downhill from start to finish. A brief upwards hill mounts along mile 9.5 and again at 11.5. The half marathon, also available as an option, starts at Newport Center Drive, adjacent to Fashion Island and follows the marathon course down Pacific Coast Highway. The course boasts a blend of chic coastal scenery, tranquil nature and sophisticated arts along the way. Learn more at ocmarathon.com.
The San Francisco Marathon: Sunday, July 31, 2011
The San Francisco Bay Area races offer a full marathon, two differing half marathons, as well as a 5K to incorporate all levels. The 26.2 mile marathon is a one-of-a-kind loop course, starting and finishing on the Embarcadero, near the Ferry Building. Winding through one of the most lively and lovely cities in the state, the course runs through Fisherman’s Warf, the Marina, across the Golden Gate Bridge (and back), through the Presidio and into Golden Gate Park. From there, runners will head down the infamous Haight Street and through the Mission, Potrero and Mission Bay Districts, then behind AT&T Park and under the Bay Bridge to the finish line. The San Francisco Marathon is a qualifying race for the Boston Marathon, so many come with their game-faces on. It is produced by the non-profit Committed 2 Community (C2C) and all net proceeds from the event benefit C2C programs. Learn more at thesfmarathon.com.
E.T. Full Moon Midnight Marathon in Las Vegas: August 13-14, 2011
Just a few hours out of Las Vegas, starting in the city of Rachel, Nevada, the Midnight Marathon stretches along Area 51, the stretch of highway 375 that has an overwhelming amount of reported UFO sightings. At towering elevations of 4,000-5,600 feet, the high desert will provide cool temperatures amidst gorgeous vegetation. The Extraterrestrial Full Moon Midnight Marathon, half-marathon, 10K and 51K are run the weekend closest to the full moon, starting at midnight. Runners are required to wear reflective clothing and carry a handheld flashlight or wear a headlamp. At the finish line, participants will be rewarded with a breakfast spread at the Little A’le’lnn Restaurant. The quiet and eerie race awaits those brave enough to take on the unknown. Learn more at calicoracing.squarespace.com.
Disneyland Half Marathon: Sunday, September 4, 2011
The Happiest Place on Earth also assumes the potential to be the happiest 13.1 mile run on earth with their annual half-marathon. Starting in the Disneyland Park and heading right into California Adventure, runners move together onto the streets of Anaheim and into a magical finish by the Disneyland Hotel. No other race takes you both through the park, the Disneyland Resort, and lively streets of Anaheim, right over Walt Disney’s own footsteps. It’s the happiest run you’ll be able to take, with joyous spectators, uplifting music, and plenty of cherished Disney characters to keep your spirits lifted. Learn more at espnwwos.disney.go.com.
Lake Tahoe Marathon: September 23-25, 2011
The Lake Tahoe Marathon starts on Sunday on Commons Beach in Tahoe City and finishes on Pope Beach near South Lake Tahoe. On Friday, willing participants can run the Emerald Bay Marathon and on Saturday the Cal-Neva Marathon with the Tahoe Triple Marathoners. The weekend is filled with family fun events to make a trip to Tahoe more than just about winning a medal. You can run all three through the extent of the weekend or pick and chose whichever courses you prefer. The course is stunning, reflecting all of Lake Tahoe’s illuminated natural beauty. Be prepared for some elaborate hills that will take you up to new views over the lake, while spectators and volunteers cheer all runners along. Learn more at laketahoemarathon.com.
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