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A professional writer's private thoughts

No place like home: 2013 SB Wine Country Half Marathon


When I got to the finish line of the 2013 Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon, the announcer welcomed me home.

Which was pretty cool, considering that I was crossing the line on the main street of the town where my grandmother, mother and I all grew up.

Did you know that you can’t have a baby at the hospital in Solvang? They don’t do obstetrics there anymore – they haven’t for about 30 years. Now, I imagine that if you were so far advanced in your labor that you didn’t have time to drive to another hospital, they wouldn’t turn you away. But I’ve always thought it was kind of funny that I was actually born in Solvang, while my brother had to be born in Goleta. That was OK. After my parents checked into the hospital they went for a walk on the beach.

I’m not sure what this has to do with my race last Saturday. But it was something I was thinking about, just one of the little details about my hometown that not too many people running probably know.  Like the fact that Santa Ynez, where we started the race, used to have the nickname “Buzzard’s Haven.” Or that Los Olivos, last call for the Pacific Coast Railway, was named for the olive ranch started nearby by Alden March Boyd. There’s still some phenomenal olive oil being produced in the Santa Ynez Valley – and its legacy goes back long before any grapes were ever grown here.

This was the seventh Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon, and it attracted 3,000 runners from all over the country and five other countries, too. There was a big group from Norway participating, which was really cool.

One of the things that made me really happy was to see people who lived on the route out in front of their homes or driveways to cheer us on. There weren’t many spectators, except for in Los Olivos, so the few who came out to say good job were more appreciated than usual. As I was making the turn at the flagpole I saw one of my high school track teammates, Mark Herthel, with his daughter. It was awesome to see a familiar face who recognized me right away and called out my name.

The best part about this course is that from the top of the hill at Ballard Canyon you get to fly down three miles of fast downhill. I planned my race so that I wouldn’t be too wrecked at the top of that hill and could proceed to do just that – and it worked. My pace per mile dropped about 20 seconds per mile during those three miles. There are a couple more hills before the finish, but the last two miles into Solvang were so packed with memories for me that I barely noticed them. We ran by the senior care residence where my late grandmother Marion was the director of nursing. We passed the park where I competed in high school cross country meets. Then my junior high and elementary schools, where I ran my very first mile in the fifth grade. Across the street from the Solvang Elementary campus is the house where my great-grandmother raised my grandmother Doris and her three siblings. And then that final turn off Atterdag onto Copenhagen, almost to our children’s store. I had a huge smile on my face when I crossed the line. (Thanks, announcer guy, for the warm welcome.)

If you grew up in the Santa Ynez Valley, or have any kind of emotional connection to it and happen to be a runner, too, you should do this race. It’s a little surreal to see 3,000 people out running on the rural roads of the Valley, when on a normal day you might see two or three. And I felt pretty lucky when I thought about how I grew up amidst this beauty, with the agriculture and animals, nice people and picture perfect little towns.  There really is no place like home.



  Dadster wrote @

Great column!

  Ralph wrote @

Thanks, Leah. This shows me that I don’t really know the SY Valley, even after decades.

  Liz wrote @

Was one of the other countries represented Denmark?

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