Race Report: Heartbreak Ridge Half-Marathon

Sorry its taken to long to get this up. I’ve been busy doing some home improvements my loving wife has requested and work has just clobbered me. I ran the  Heartbreak Ridge Half-Marathon at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California on Saturday and the bad news, well maybe good depending on how you look at it, is the hills were not the Reaper or Old Smokey, it was not muddy and it didn’t rain! score!

HeartBreak_579910That’s not to say this race didn’t just kick my but; the hill’s were murder but the course was not technical at all; outside of the elevation/incline. It was a waste of time to have worn my trail running shoes, my Brooks would have been way more comfortable.

The run was an out and back so the first and last 3/4 mile was on pavement the rest on some gravel but mostly dirt roads that were heavily traveled by military equipment so the dirt was mostly uneven but packed. I was surprised that the road was not muddy since it had rained all week and the day before. But it was a nice surprise.

The elevations going in had a rise from under 200ft to 500ft in less than a 2 miles, on the way out it was mostly a gradual up and down climb with some flats until you got to the 10 mile point and you had to dig in to get over that last extreme rise to the peak.


I made a couple real amateurish mistakes during the run, the first was wearing shoes I hadn’t even tried on before the race and the other was my in race nutrition, but I’ll get into in just a bit.

It was my fathers birthday the day before the race and as I predicted his passing 3 years ago hit me again on the evening of April 8, the eve of this run. I sat and talked to my Dad and decided that I would run this race for him (as long as he came for the ride; that was the deal) I told him that if he hung out with me in the race I wouldn’t walk the hills.

If you have been reading my blog for any amount of time you will have noted that I have a problem with processing sugar, I’m “Insulin Resistant,” which means that I have to be extremely careful so I really had to dial in the gel packs I was using for my run. I was able to get it down to two gels for a half-marathon taking the first at 6 and the second at 10. I also battled finding gels that didn’t have processed sugars. Then I found out that almost all of the gel packs contain Maltodextrin which is highly processed and even worse then processed sugars; to make things worse its exempt from labeling as a sugar and allowed to be listed as a carbohydrate. Maltodextrin has a glycemic index of 130, while table sugar is 65.

Because of this ‘revelation’ I decided that I would roll back the use of Cliff Gel Packs to ONE for the entire race.(mistake two)

I was up at 4:30AM so that I could get to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton at 6:00am. I was out the door a little after 5:00am I arrived at the base gate around 6:10am and drove from the gate to the race area some 5 miles further.  Since I was early I was ushered to the furthest point in the parking lot away from the race area; which wouldn’t have been so bad had I not had to walk back and forth to my car three times pre-race for such things as leaving my ID in the car not knowing I needed it to pick up my bib and to drop my warm cloths off at the car before the race. I didn’t notice the bag check until after the race LOL. What it did do is give me a great warm up 🙂

The Kids 1K stated at 7:30AM followed by the Military Running corral for the Half-Marathon at 8:30 and Civilians at 8:40. I was in the 8:40 corral time and while waiting for the corral I met three gentlemen, two were in the 50-54  and one was in the 60 – 64 age groups, I was in the 55-59 group. Seems all three of us came to the race alone. Tony was the person I seemed to gel with the most and ending up talking to him prior to and in the corral.

My plan was to start at the back of the pack but some how, because I wasn’t paying attention and talking too much we all ended up 12 feet back from the start line right in the thick of things.

At the horn we took off at about a half mile I looked at my watch and noticed that we were running a 8 minute mile pace. I told Tony and the others that I was rolling back my pace and I watched as they ran off into the abyss, lost to me in the masses that followed behind them. I wanted to roll back to a pace between 9.30 and 10.00 because I knew that I would need to worry about the hills coming up.

Mile 2_5

Mile 2/3

I caught the first one of our group at about the 2 mile point on the first hill, his pace had slowed substantially. The hill was steep and I could feel the burn in my legs as I worked my way up the hill. Although I was not the only person running a number of the people on the hill were already walking. At the peak there was an aid station, there were actually allot of aid stations along the routes; more than I think I’ve ever seen in a race. I carried my own water so I didn’t stop at any of the aid stations until I ran low on water and that wasn’t until after mile 10. I caught the second of our group as I came down the hill in the 3 to 4 mile stretch.

I dropped in to “the zone” I figure just around mile four; ear phones/buds use was not allowed on this run so I was inside my head and totally oblivious to the heavy breathing of runners near or passing me or even the fact I was running. It was not until Tony shouted “Hey Bill!” as he passed me some where in my mile 5/6, his mile 7. It took awhile for Hey Bill to register and he was at least 20 feet passed me by the time I yelled Hey Tony! back to him. Mile 6 I downed my one and only gel.

Somewhere around mile 6.6 I hit the turn around point and head back toward not only the race stating point/finish line but into the 500ft climb.  I was still feeling good at this point my legs felt good as well, but I knew I was in for a long gradual ascent. The trail would be a series of small rises, some sharp, a few ‘short’ flats and a lot of dips.

Mile 10.5 Hilltop

About 10.5 Miles – Top of the hill

Mile 8 and 9 I stated to feel the onset of fatigue in my legs. In the distance I could see the sharp incline at mile 10 and I was dreading it; as I neared it I stated to question if I had the energy and legs to make it up; almost no one was running up that hill; I’d have to say maybe 1 in every 10 at best ran up it. At its base I decided I was gonna power up the sucker and mustered up the will and dug deep. As I was going up I noticed Tony in front of me and said, though huffs and puffs…. HaHAY Tatony.. Tony was shocked to see that I had caught him.  Making it to the top of that last big hill was exhilarating, I had conquered the worst of the run. I grabbed a cup of water at the aid station slowed down just enough to gulp down half and poured the rest over my head.


Then like a bird in flight raced down the back side of the hill, my feet pitter paddering as fast as my legs could take me; I was in the moment and enjoying my accomplishment and then as the trail flattened and I was using my legs again it started to hit me. Mile 11.43 I bonked bad it was if my legs weighed an extra 20 pounds each, the energizer bunny in me was blinking “LOW BATT.”. I was at that point I knew that I had taken another gel I would not be having this problem, but it was too late taking one now, even if I had one would have been pointless.



I struggled to mile 12 and that’s where it turned into a mental run; everything in me wanted to stop and rest, I had tingling in my arms and top of my head but I couldn’t bring my self to take a rest. I knew if I did, I would be for the worse. I kept repeating to myself just a mile and some change. I had to dig deep.. Then a Marine yelled  1/2 mile more…EASY DIG! When I had the finish in sight I rallied what little energy reserves I had left and tried to finish strong.

I was never so happy to cross a finish line.  If I had taken that 2nd gel I’m sure I would have PR’ed  but I finish so I ll take it. 10:35/avg. mile





My corral at the starting line


Active Duty Military Corral


Kids Returning from the Kid 1K




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13 Responses to Race Report: Heartbreak Ridge Half-Marathon

  1. runrodrun says:

    Congrats Bill!

    Racing always teaches us something we didn’t know we didn’t know, huh? Or at least reminds us again of something we thought we already knew.

    Great fight for sure! It’s interesting that you were telling yourself to hold on for that last mile and change. I do something similar when I need to dig deep at the end of a race or run. But I use time as opposed to distance. For me I can battle for 15 more minutes. But a mile and change seems so far to me. Even if 15 minutes and a mile and change are the exact same thing!

    Funny how we’re all wired a little differently in what helps us to dig deep and finish a tough race.

    • usabaker says:

      Hi Rod, Yeah I don’t know why distance rather then time was the marker for this race. Most races I am using minutes based on pace but for this distance is what was in my head. Maybe because I bonked and my mind was fixated on distance. I had never bonked so it was a new experience for me. I was surprised that it happened because I run way more then 13 miles easy. I think it was the hills and the constant rise in elevation and my mind set to not walk at all. Who knows.. does tell me though I need to work elevation more if I plan to to a 50K trail Ultra. It was a blast though and after I had rested I was ready to go again LOL

      • runrodrun says:

        Do you follow Diabetic Dad Runs? He’s about to do his first marathon and is looking to develop into a multi day ultra runner. He’s in Britain so I’m not sure if some of the products he may using to fuel are available in SJ, but you may want to see what he’s doing that’s helping him to stay energized without spiking his blood sugar.

        Here’s his site:


      • usabaker says:

        I’ll check him out! I found a nutrition company in the UK as well that sells a product called 33shake that has a natural Chia Energy Gel i’m going to order and try. http://us.33shake.com/
        Thanks for the link!!!

  2. Congratulations and well run! Particularly a good job on overcoming the bank. I’m in your camp on the distance vs time. The clock always seems to tick over slower than the odometer. Goes to show we’re all wired a little differently.

    • usabaker says:

      I’m one of these people at thinks about getting to the halfway point and then once there getting to the end point. I never think about start to end… I guess its like knowing its all down hill once you get to the top.

      Wanted to talk to you about trail running; I’ve got the bug bad and have been thinking about signing up for a 50K Ultra but don’t know if i’m ready for that and have no clue what doing one entails http://dirtyfeet.us/trailraces/twinpeaks/

      • I meant “bonk”, not, “bank”, just in case that caused any confusion. I’m I’m not all that experienced, having only 3 official ultras under my belt, but to me, a 50k is not all that different to a trail marathon, it’s just another 6 miles or so (I think? I’m a metric person), so for that event, the main challenge for you will be in coming up with a strategy to prepare yourself for the hills and the technicality of the trail, which are the main differences to the road marathon you did earlier. Looking at the winners times for the 50k, at 5-6 hours that tells me that the hills are probably very steep and that the trails might be a bit technical. In contrast, I did a 56k in January which had only around 4500ft in elevation and was really not very technical at all. The winners there finished between 3-4 hrs. The short answer as to what is involved is thus that you’ll basically just be doing training similar to your marathon training in terms of distances, but you’ll need to do a significant portion of it in similar terrain (hills and technicality) to your chosen event.
        In the end, running a trail ultra isn’t really that complicated. In the end it’s still all about moving forward , managing your nutrition, and most importantly keeping your mind strong. Particularly for the 50 milers and above.
        This probably should be a whole post in itself, so you know what, once I finish my trip report, I’ll do a bit of a post for you on what it was like for me transitioning to my first trail ultra and some of the things I learned.
        All that aside I’m super excited that you’ve got the bug. Its a whole new world out there to explore once you start putting some serious trail miles in!

      • usabaker says:

        Thank you for all the information and help. I noticed that unlike road races the aid stations are few and far between. But my guess is that 50K its not that big of a deal as long as I carry enough water for the in between. I did notice in the longer races people have “crews” or “aid bags” which I find incredible for some reason.

        I guess my biggest question about trail running is the running/fast hike techniques how to know when it the right time to run and hike. I fear that I would push myself too hard in the first 15 miles and have nothing left for the 15 to follow.

        Best way of course to know is to enter and run…

  3. 50in50marathonquest says:

    That looks like a crazy tough course with those climbs – great job getting out there and getting it done…new shoes on race day though, C’mon Man!!!! Seriously, nice job though…those trail runs and races are drawing you in, Cheers!

    • usabaker says:

      LOL yeah new shoes.. I had Saucony Xodus 4.0 so I thought the Xodus 5.0 would have no issues; Kind of wrong there, a much stiffer shoe then the 4.0’s they need a little more break-in and the toe box was a little to tight so my feet hurt a little starting around mile 6 or so.

      I got the trail running bug.. so much to learn about them. Thanks!

  4. my26pointtwo says:

    Another gargantuan effort!! I hope you are feeling justifiably proud and motivated for your next challenge. 😀

    • usabaker says:

      The totally rocked! After I recovered I was ready to run again. I’m still trying to figure out how to run it better without bonking. I know the hill were part of it and partly nutrition but there is something else I’m missing that I can’t put my finger on yet.

      Have the Run for Autism 10K run on April 30th and then Ragnar May 12 and 13. Looking forward is your race results! Have you thought about an ULTRA?

  5. drdanweb says:

    From one 50+ guy to another, I enjoyed your write-up! Best wishes to you….BTW, in my last blog, I mentioned running “with” my Dad as well!

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