EAS America's Finest City Half Marathon: A Race With History and a View

In 1542 Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo discovered what is known today as San Diego Bay. About 300 years later in 1850, San Diego was declared a city. And in 1972 former mayor Pete Wilson gave San Diego its nickname, "America's Finest City."

That concludes today's history lesson, but it is closely related to the subject du jour: The EAS America's Finest City Half Marathon on August 19, 2007, a race with its own storied past now in its 30th year and San Diego's oldest major running event.

The 30th annual America's Finest City (AFC) Half Marathon starts at 7 a.m. from the Cabrillo National Monument at the tip of Point Loma, where San Diego's history all began.

The certified, point-to-point course follows scenic San Diego Bay and Harbor Island along the Embarcadero to the museum ship Star of India...and before we go any further, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention something special about this race: the view.

True, it's a road race not a sightseeing tour, but it's worth running with your head up--at least in the early miles--to enjoy one of the best harbor views in the world.

"For the first couple of miles runners can look out at the Pacific Ocean and see to the horizon and towards San Diego Bay," said Neil Finn, the race's longtime director. His company, Neil Finn Sports Management, Inc., owns and manages the race. "It's a big, beautiful panoramic view, and it is spectacular."

From the tall ship Star of India, the course winds through downtown San Diego before rising among the historic buildings of the 1915 Pan Pacific Exposition in beautiful Balboa Park where the race finishes.

Speaking of Balboa Park, an accompanying 5K run/walk will start (at 6:45 a.m.) and finish there at the half-marathon finish area in front of Balboa Park's Hall of Champions. The 3.1-mile course traverses the park's grounds.

The 5K field will be capped at 1,500 entries, and the half-marathon will be filled at 7,000. As testament to the AFC Half Marathon's (and 5K's) popularity, the races are filling up fast.

"The current half-marathon entries are about three times what they were at this time last year," said Finn, noting the race has grown from about 3,000 entrants in 1978 to last year's record-high of 8,324.

The AFC Half Marathon is the largest and perhaps most competitive half-marathon west of the Mississippi and 10th largest in the United States. Finn expects the race, which attracts runners from nearly every state and 20 countries each year, to be sold out before August.

The fleet of foot will compete for over $10,000 in prize money, plus course-record bonuses of $1,000 in both the open and master's fields. In addition to being a popular and competitive race, America's Finest City Half Marathon is also a philanthropic one. Several foundations benefit from the race, including the Cabrillo National Monument Foundation, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and other local charities.

Information on registering, running for charity and donating to one of the race's charities is available at the race's website: www.afchalf.com.

The course

We know the course is spectacularly scenic, and the AFC Half Marathon is also well-marked, well-clocked (times displayed at each mile mark) and well-stocked with seven aid stations.

It's also fast, as evidenced by the course records. Kenyans Peter Githuka (1:02:24, 2000) and Margaret Okayo (1:10:37) hold the open course records, while Mexico's Antonio Villanueva (1:05:20) and Russia's Ramilia Burganulova (1:14:45) are the master's course record holders.

And for those in the Active.com world who also enjoy People magazine, Oprah Winfrey clocked a tad over two hours in her first-ever road race in 1993.

"The first couple miles are rolling. Then from two to 4.5 miles the course is downhill, dropping about 450 feet in elevation," said Finn, noting that Mexico's distance-running great Alejandro Cruz once ran a speedy 4:12-mile between miles three and four.

"After the downhill (at 4.5 miles), the next 6.5 miles are flat before runners go up about 250 feet between 11.25 and 12.25 miles," Finn said. The average temperature at race time is 68 degrees.

Be aware that runners cannot drive their vehicles to the half-marathon start because private vehicles are not allowed access to Cabrillo Monument on race morning. Runners will take shuttle buses, which leave Balboa Park between 4:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. on race-day morning.

Information on the shuttle buses and a course map may be found at www.afchalf.com.

Lodging and expo

The Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina at 13800 Harbor Island Drive is the official race headquarters hotel. The Sheraton is offering a special race package that includes bus transportation to the race start area on Port Loma and return to the hotel after the race.

The Sheraton is located at the water's edge along San Diego Bay and not only offers the aforementioned view but also is only a short jog/walk/drive from some of America's Finest City's most popular attractions, including Sea World and the San Diego Zoo.

"There's so much to do in San Diego in the summer," said Finn, noting nearly 50 percent of the race entrants are from outside San Diego County. "There's a reason why there's a 95 percent hotel occupancy rate in the city during August." The Sheraton is also the site of the two-day AFC Fitness Expo on August 17 and 18 and the race's pasta dinner on August 18.

To contact the Sheraton, call (619) 692-2265 or (800) 325-3535. Information on the Expo, other hotels in San Diego, and the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau, may be found at the race's website: www.afchalf.com.

Race nuggets

Cabrillo discovered San Diego Bay, but who "discovered" the AFC Half Marathon?

"In 1978, as the original running boom was about to take off, then-San Diego mayor Pete Wilson thought it would be a good idea to have a running event as a part of the 'America's Finest City Week' celebration, which took place each August," Finn noted.

With assistance from the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club, the race, which has raised millions of dollars for charities over the years, was a hit from the get-go, as over 3,000 entered and Marty Cooksey of Orange, California, set a women's American record for the half-marathon in 1:15:04.

Runner's World magazine has touted the AFC Half Marathon as one the country's best races, and this year's 30th anniversary is expected to be its biggest.

A few years ago, "America's Finest City" was also dubbed "Sportstown, U.S.A." by Sports Illustrated--and for good reason: With 70 miles of beaches, 100 golf courses and picturesque mountains, San Diego is a happening place for active people.

Run America's Finest City Half Marathon on August 19. And remember: Keep your head up. You don't want to miss the view.

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For information on the America's Finest City Half Marathon, visit the race's website: www.afchalf.com.

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