Where I’ve Been

Running reviews

CityRace Santa Monica


Course Map

NOTE: This only shows the game boundaries



After the sub-par Devil’s Gate Dam 5k, we needed this race. I signed us up for the Chinatown scavenger hunt but due to the +100 heat that day I had them reschedule us for Santa Monica. Man did that work out well for us. I was unsure what to expect so I had brushed up on some random facts about Santa Monica and fully charged my phone.

The starting point was a great overlook right next to the California Incline. There was a large group of people with 30 teams ready to scramble across Santa Monica for the next three hours. We named our team Team M&M, put on our City Race Buttons, got clues and  the rules:

  • Stay within boundaries
  • You can use locals, phones, guards, whatever you think will help you solve the clues.
  • The questions are not set to any order and can be done at random.
  • Three hour time limit. Teams will lose 10 points every ten minutes over.
  • While there are optional questions, if you want to finish in top 10 you will need to do them.
  • Run now!
CityRace Button
As Melody would say: “BUTTONS!”

With that we were off! I told Meghann we should split off from the group and find a spot where we can figure out a game plan. She suggested we walk and talk while making our way towards the 3rd Street Promenade since most of the questions would be centralized there. Smart gal.

We walked over to the Promenade and I began to Google the simple ones. One question referred to the seasonal rain storm in south-east Asia, a monsoon, and wanted to know the address of the restaurant with the same name (+10). Another asked about the city code that prohibited defacing public property (+15). We breezed a few but we quickly hit a wall.

About seven questions were linked to each other and the first clue asked how many Buddha statues were on top of the entryway. Google only found one reference to Buddha in the area, some random coffee shop but the entryway lacked Buddhas… trick question perhaps? We decided to skip the question for now.

One hour in and we were half-finished and completed about two laps of the area. I was nailing every bar reference and Meghann was solving a few on her own. I had a tendency to make every question complex… she would quickly ask me to take a breath and think that the simplest answer was probably the correct one. Ah, Occam’s razor proved quite handy.

We kept running into other teams and noticed they were also struggling with the Buddha question. Some began to yell at each other and were starting to complain about the heat. While the distance wasn’t too bad, the 90 degree heat and backtracking would be the biggest obstacles.

There were times where I could tell my nerves were starting to fry and hoped I would not take it out on Meghann. Think of trying to solve a crossword puzzle with your partner while walking down a busy random city and only one of you could hold the clues. As was walked from block to block and back again, I kept trying to solve the one question while Meghann would ask me another. I would have a “EUREKA!” moment and try to explain my answer only to have her completely debunk my theory. It was grueling.

By the 1.5 hour mark we were down to just the seven Buddha linked questions and about 6 that focused on the pier. We shifted our focus to the bonus questions, luckily they were simple “buy x from y” questions so the only taxing part was paying for it.

Then… as we stood by the same block we had been on about four times and in the middle of a conversation with a local… I finally saw the fat bastards.  I yelled:


They were on a door frame across the street. I don’t think we even thanked the local as we quickly began to cross off the other questions. One by one we were knocking them out of the park but hit a snag on one that asked about guardians of a “mystical place”. Even with the Buddha clue, I couldn’t think of what mystical place the question was referring to. We had made a note of it and decided to not get caught up on this one question. Two hours in and we ran towards the pier for the big finish!

The pier questions were quite easy. A few “name this” questions or ones that asked about the number of items in a certain locale. The most difficult one had us look at the age of the two cannons located right before the pier. That just involved some sprinting to each gun.

We looked around and only spotted a few teams at this stage of the race. We knocked off more bonus challenges, such as taking a picture in a photo booth (+5) with a stranger (+5). When we took the picture the guy wished us good luck and hoped the prize was worth more than the $8 we spent on the picture. Meghann and I looked at each other and concluded we didn’t care about the prize. We were just having fun running around Santa Monica. The total cost of the items was about $17. More than reasonable for the amount of entertainment we were getting.

With about 30 minutes left we had wrapped up every bonus question but needed to find a kid to cross the finish line with us (+5) and still had to answer the mystical place question. Meghann was double checking the answers and corrected a few. Still.. mystical place… I let my brain go blank and… bam!

There is a hotel named that and it had some lions in front!

We made sure every question was answered and made our way to the finish! We climbed the steps up to the finish and turned in our score card. We got credit for 15 out of 20 in the bonus questions. The results of the rest of the questions would be announced twenty minutes after the cutoff point. We high-fived and took a moment to just relax and look at the ocean.

CityRace - Santa Monica: Post Race
Team M&M. As Meghann said: We have the best dates!

As we sat there going over our answers and recapping the morning, another team was finishing up and they had a kid… bastards had bribed the kid with a free pail (another bonus question) and had told his parents why they needed him. The tourists loved it and took pictures of their child walking up and turning in the scorecard. Bah. A few more teams came in but it was obvious a good amount of teams had just quit. I only counted about twenty teams at the finish line. The couple that was fighting over which direction to go did not make it to the finish…

The announcer thanked us for coming and congratulated those of us who finished. He began to read the answers. Through ten questions we were perfect! And then this…

We asked you to play Jeopardy for one question…
and in that show you answer with “What is…”

Boos were yelled, a few teams walked out, and I looked around for a pretzel to throw at the announcer. Yea that was all that we screwed up on. They named the Top Ten and we came in tenth with 175 out of 190. The other teams were between 180 and 185. If we had just gotten that what is… bah! Still it was a great time and we celebrated our finish with dinner at Barney’s Beanery. We signed up for another scavenger hunt for November, this time we will run around Olvera Street in downtown LA… and this time I will drag a kid to the finish if it means another 5 points!

CityRace - Santa Monica: Top 10 Finish!
Top 10 Teams… we got screwed by Jeopardy!

Devil’s Gate Dam 5k


Course Map


We signed up for this race after seeing a flier for it in our race packet during the Aquarium of the Pacific 5k. It was a local race, just 5 minutes away from home, and the money benefited Danny’s Farm which is a great cause. I was a bit hesitant to give the race organizers another shot after the poor management of the Aquarium of the Pacific but the cost was low enough, $30. I also managed to talk Hugo and Janeth into joining us.

This time around the parking situation was better managed, though we got there early, and the bib pick up took no more than 5 minutes. We stood around for a bit and I went into my pre-race routine of stretching/pacing. Thanks to Runner’s World and random handouts from running stores, I actually knew what I needed to do to get ready. The start was also a lot better organized. Just one vital part was missing… the course map.

I checked out the website daily to see if the map was available. Even to this day the website still says “Coming Soon”. A few minutes before the start, someone drew the “map”  on a white-board. Just looked like a giant U to me. We had tried to get a preview of the course the week before but it seemed like the course would be a turn-around and not a loop. The call for the starting line didn’t take as long this time around but I made sure to get as close as I could to avoid having to dodge the walkers.

After a brief Aztec ceremony, the company is named Aztlan Athletics, we were off!

Devils Gate Dam 5k: Starting Line
And so begins the dirtiest run yet…

The picture above made it seem like a nice start but as you can tell by the kid in the green shirt, things got hectic fast. You see, when you mix such a large group of runners and very loose dirt you will get a nasty dust cloud. By the time I reached the first curve all I could see was a giant dust trail in front of me. I quickened my pace more than I wanted to just to try get ahead of the dust cloud. The first hill provided enough of a gap for me and I charged ahead. Looking back at the main pack, I knew Meghann, Hugo and Janeth were probably covered in dust… poor bastards.

The route we took wasn’t very scenic nor easy to navigate with such a large crowd. A wave start would have helped ease the traffic. Screwed again by this damn race organizer. I made a mental note to avoid any runs organized by Aztlan Athletics.

Once I got to the dam it was smooth sailing. The route still was lined by teenage volunteers, who somehow were even less enthusiastic than the previous race but the trail was well marked and there was actually a water station and marker at mile 1. Things were starting to brighten up. I still found it odd that their official mile maker was about a quarter mile behind my Endomondo app. I wrote it off as my phone having GPS problems.

I found someone to keep pace with and fell into a nice pace. Again, it wasn’t much of a view. Other than the signature dam in the beginning and JPL at the turn around, it was mainly dust and a dry lake-bed…. oh and a lot of horse crap on the trail. By the time I reached the turn around, I was covered in dust from head to toe. It was a bright and sunny morning so the sweat was starting to turn the dust into a nice paste. Bleh.

I reached the Mile 1 marker on the turn around, guess one marker is better than none, and noticed my playlist had reached the final song. I had set up a playlist to try to keep tempo with… I still had the dam an an entire mile to go… so while Van Halen was telling me I was running with the devil (what? I thought it was fitting!) I was actually about a mile away. So that song ended and it went to a random song in my library…. it landed on Black Eyed Peas “Shut Up”. Fuck you music app! I couldn’t get the damn thing to skip so I just went with it.

When I was coming up to the final bend I noticed this hipster (American headband dude in picture above) kept passing me on the hills. I was unsure of my time or really how far away I was so I just kept an even pace. To be honest, I was feeling quite tired due to the uneven terrain. The treadmill had helped with flat courses but just a few hills and the initial charge to get away from the pack had drained me.

I finally saw the finish line and two women in front of me began to push and shove each other to get to the finish. No they weren’t friends. I decided to just hang back and let them duke it out. Then out of nowhere comes the hipster charging ahead to pass me at the last minute. The refs were pointing to him and telling me to stand in line behind him. I was a bit confused as to what was going on. I was just happy to get a chance to drink some water and wipe off the dirt.

I looked at my app and the final time was around 32 minutes… 6.16km! Somewhere along the course the race directors had added a mile. Others around me were also pissed off about their times and checked their apps to confirm it was longer than a 5k. I grabbed some water and food while I waited for the race results and for Meghann to come in. Hugo and Janeth had decided to walk the course so I wasn’t expecting to see them just yet.

Again I stood right next to the cat mascot and got him to cheer Meghann in…. and again she didn’t notice us. I noticed she was having a tough time breathing and asked her if she was ok. Turned out all that dust had caused her to have a minor asthma problem. Despite that she finished at 48 minutes. She was pissed off about the time until I told her that it was actually a 6.16km run. That evened out our paces to 8 min 34 sec for me and 12 min 32 sec for her. I was quite proud of her since she kept about the same pace from the last race despite all of the set backs.

We looked at our results… I came in fourth in my class! That’s why they were so adamant that the hipster had come in right before me. I missed out on a medal due to me giving up at the last stretch. Bah!

We stuck around long enough to see Hugo and Janeth finish up. It so far is the worst race I’ve been to. I really hope Danny’s Farm got a good chunk of money from it as they are a great cause. However, if they don’t switch organizers for next year I highly doubt we will be back. It’s safe to say we are done with Aztlan Athletics.

Aquarium of the Pacific 5k



Just shortly after crossing the finish line at the Pasadena Marathon: 5k I decided I would sign up for another 5k as soon as possible. At the Pasadena Expo I had grabbed a couple of fliers and looked for one that would also appeal to Meghann. This race was by the waterfront in Long Beach and granted access to the Aquarium of the Pacific after the race. Yeah it didn’t take much convincing to get Meghann on board. So off we went!

As opposed the fantastically organized City of Pasadena Marathon, this one was contracted out to a local small time running organizer… the difference was noticeable from the get go. Parking directions were ambiguous at best. High school volunteers manned the packet pick up booths, who looked about as eager as cat after being fed the noms, i.e. blank stares all around.

Still we got our bibs and free stuff with plenty of time before the race. Like before, my mind went into panic mode. Here are a couple of thoughts that went through my head:

Does the course loop back? Where is the starting line? Oh god, what if I fall into the water??? Should I stay on pace with Meghann?

As if reading my mind Meghann told me to stop panicking and to not wait for her during the race. I love that woman. So as we lined up for the start we began to notice that it was less than 5 minutes away and yet there was no announcement. Nor was there a starting line. Turned out the starting line was towards the back… we had to figure this out. The awesome volunteers were busy checking their phones. To the back we went.

I began my usual pacing and stretching. Again, I looked towards the seasoned runners and copied them. I knew then I would have to start researching proper techniques. I made a mental note to subscribe to Runners World and to look for local running groups.

It was now ten minutes past the listed start time and still no announcement. People began to ask each other if we were at the right spot and if we had heard anything. Some asked the volunteers, they just shrugged and walked away. Awesome. What felt like another ten minutes passed before they finally set up the speakers and let us know that we were at the starting line and that race would being in 15 minutes… arg.

Meghann began to look bored at this point. I began to wonder if we should have just stuck with the larger races. My first race went so well that I wanted Meghann to have a similar experience. Yet here we were, standing around for an hour with very little guidance. Again, as if reading my mind she just smiled at me and told me everything would work out and we would get started soon. I really love this woman.

Eventually, we got call to line up for the start…. and since this was a run/walk there were strollers and people taking pictures in the front… I really wanted him to tell the slower people to move back but no luck. I was going to have to bob and weave my way through.

Aquarium of the Pacific 5k - Start
And off we go! Well not for me… I’m way back…

As you can see in the picture, those right up front had no problem. I was mid pack and still had to walk to the start line. Once I crossed that chip start marker, I made it a point to find a clear path or follow a fast runner. Out of nowhere came the woman who will from now on be known as “Mullet Lady”. Yes, she is about mid 40s and still rocking the mullet. She was on a mission as well and took the inside lane. In the picture, that would be to the left of the trees. I kept pace with her for about the first mile. She kept running at full pace and I decided to slow it down to a steady pace. Thank you Mullet Lady!

Once I broke away from the strollers, I looked around and took in the sights. The boats in the harbor. Beautiful ocean a few steps away. A lighthouse in the distance. This is where I wished I had stayed by Meghann’s side. I looked back to see if I could spot her but there was still a mass of people behind me. I pressed on.

About half way through I began to notice there was a woman with her personal trainer ahead of me. The trainer started off nice with lots of encouragement, including telling the woman she needed to keep pace with me since I was keeping a steady pace.

But around the 4th Kilometer, I’m only guessing the distance as the route was void of markers, she began to berate the poor woman. The woman had hit the wall and her trainer would not let her hear the end of it. I passed her and here is what I heard as I sped away:

Oh come on! He is leaving us in the dust! Pick it up! Don’t quit on me now! We didn’t come out here to quit! Damn it girl I said no walking!

Yeah it was pretty brutal to hear. I just kept my focus on finishing strong. Thanks to the poor course marking, I only knew I had passed mile one awhile ago and went by landmarks to estimate how much I had left. Then out of nowhere one of the helpful volunteers yells out we are only half a kilometer away. I kick it into high and I run by another volunteer who cheers me on and says I am only a kilometer away! Wait. What? I’m confused and ease back to jogging pace. I really wanted to break my Pasadena 5k time but the confusion lead to a few false sprints.

Finally, I see the fountain near the fake start and realized that was the finish line so this time I kick into high gear. I come running around the corner and up the last incline… 25 mins 45 sec! Damn! So close! Still it was a good pace and the views were totally worth it. I also earned a special medal for being among the top 100!

Aquarium of the Pacific 5k: Top 100
Top 100 Finisher!

After picking up some food and drink from the finish area, I head back to the finish line and wait for Meghann. She clocks in 36 mins and 4 secs and completely misses me standing next to a cat mascot whom I got to cheer her on. She was completely focused on finishing strong. We rest up for a bit and head to the Aquarium of the Pacific.

The Aquarium itself was absolutely amazing. For pictures of Aquarium see my Google+ album. We had a great time and the entry ticket made up for the organizational mishaps before and during the race. Meghann also had a great time and we quickly started looking for another race to sign up for. To wrap up this recap here is a picture of Meghann posing with the penguins.

Aquarium of the Pacific 5k - Meghann Post Race
Meghann felt right at home… even if the little penguin was checking out her butt

Pasadena Marathon: 5k


This was my first race…. ever… well to be fair I did a race in a random PE event in elementary school; I finished 6th and earned the coveted “Great Effort!” medal. But the Pasadena Marathon: 5k was the first race I truly took serious. It had only been about 6 months since I started running regularly, just getting to the starting line would prove  difficult.

The night before the race I was very nervous and hardly slept. My brain tends to panic and worry about every possible thing that I can go wrong before any big life event. Naturally this time I worried about making it to the start on time, if there was enough parking, if I would get lost on PCC’s campus, if… yeah my brain was in full panic mode that morning.

Despite all that could go wrong we managed to get to the starting line without any delays. In fact, we were about 30 mins early. I looked around and was immediately intimidated. It seemed like everyone had on enrolled in cross-fit classes for months in advanced and in a massive group had cleaned out the local running store. Meanwhile I stood among them wearing my Target clearance rack shirt, well-worn soccer shirts from my earlier days as a piss poor intramural goalkeeper, and my beat up Nike cross-trainers whose only glimpse of cross-training was a short run two days a week. Meghann noticed that my demeanor had changed and quickly got me back on task by telling me to stretch… only 10 minutes until start time.

Meghann did her best to keep me calm... and made me take a goofy picture
Meghann did her best to keep me calm… and made me take a goofy picture

As I tried to remember what yoga moves I had learned early in the week, I quickly realized I should just copy whatever the people around me where doing. Cross-fit had to have shown them how to get ready, right? When they lunged, I lunged. Squat? Alright. Downward-dog? Now you’re talking! Weird plank thing with legs crossed… ok back to stretches I remembered from PE 101. I paced around like a golden retriever waiting to play fetch. Thankfully by my fourth lap around Meghann the announcer gave notice that it was time to line up:

Walkers and slower runners move to the back. 8-12 pace middle. Below 8, move towards the front. If you don’t know what your pace is, MOVE TOWARDS THE BACK!

I moved towards the back. At this point I just wanted the race over with. I began to doubt why I was even here. Why had I paid $45 to run through the same neighborhood I ran during the week? Why did I drag my ass out of bed so early on a Saturday when there was a perfectly comfortable bed with two over-sized cats waiting for me? Well when I finally got to the back it hit me. I looked around and saw people with over-sized sweats, tennis shoes, and most were preoccupied with taking their latest Facebook picture.

I moved towards the middle. I had not woken up at 5am every Monday just to show today and take a stroll through Pasadena. I had signed up for this race to see where I stood. Next time, I would improve my time. Next time, I would wear the proper gear. Next time, I would know what my pace was. Why look at that, I was starting to think about “Next time”. Now I was fucking ready to run!

As soon as I heard the signal I looked for a path to weave through the walkers. By mile marker one I had managed to find a fellow JPLer and tried to keep pace with her… and despite my best efforts she left me in the dust by mile marker 2. I didn’t care. I looked around and saw the cheering crowds, the wide open streets, and the pissed off drivers who didn’t read the countless warnings about road closures. I had found my happy place. From there I just kept a decent pace and took in the sights. I recall being annoyed by the show-off trying to hit on the cute girls around us but that’s about all the interaction I can remember. I was busy aiming for a good time and to see Meghann cheering for me at the finish.

I rounded the corner at Hill/Colorado and saw the finish line in front of PCC. Strangers were cheering my number and encouraging me to bring it home… And so I did. I sprinted despite my knees starting to tense up. I controlled my breathing while my lungs begged for more oxygen. I ran towards Meghann! Or so I thought it was her. I had told her I would probably make it in 30 minutes. She was barely making her way towards to the line at 25 minutes when she saw me come running by.

As I crossed the finish I looked towards the clock… 25 minutes 35 seconds… new personal best. FUCK YEAH! I took my medal like I had just beat Usain Bolt to the finish. It didn’t matter that I had seen about five teenagers run past me with ease. It didn’t matter that the man who was taking medication mid race managed to pass me twice. All that mattered to me was that I got out there and enjoyed every minute of it. Except for that terrible coconut water they handed out post-race. I couldn’t drink more than a quarter of that crap.

Pasadena Marathon: 5k
All of the Finisher medals looked the same. Hoping I can rightfully claim the 10k and eventually Half-Marathon ones.

Afterward, I met up Meghann and we headed towards the nearest bar! It was closed… so instead we celebrated with breakfast at our favorite café. She was quite proud of me and talked up the fact I had come in well below my expected finish. Seeing that smile of hers motivated me to look up other races nearby. This time I would try to get her to experience the race as I did. Amongst the crowds and running through the streets… in my happy place.