Sunday, January 31, 2010

An awesomely muddy half marathon

Mrs Notthat and I joined four others from our SJ Fit winter walking group (plus an unlikely cheerleader) to participate in the Brazen Bear Creek Half Marathon. The race was at Briones Regional Park just outside of Orinda.

There are three things that a runner/walker wants to know about a course this time of year: Are there hills (oh my yes), is there mud (does the pope poop in the woods?), and will there be rain. Of these three, the rain is the most dreaded by me, and to that end we needn't worry - it was a beautiful day with lots of sunshine. (The night before there had been a substantial shower though.)

As anyone who lives in the Bay Area knows, there has been a stunning amount of rain over the last couple of weeks. Since trails within these sorts of parks do not have curbs and gutters or pavement (thankfully!), they are significantly impacted by the rain. When the Brazen people went out to verify the course earlier in the week, they realized that some of the trails would require the runners to wear scuba gear to get through the mud, so they had to make some last minute changes.

The end result was a half marathon trail that was maybe 70% very solid, 15% somewhat muddy, and 15% YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING!!! That last 15% dominated talk about the trail and is what everyone will remember.

Mrs Notthat and I were heading back to the car after getting our goody bags when we heard someone call "Hey, it's that Notthatlucas guy!" It was Mas (not his real name - he's the guy in the black hat on the left) who runs these Brazen events - I was stunned that he recognized me (well, my hat actually) from the Lake Chabot event post.

Here is my traditional porta-pottie picture. There were a number of these scattered around so the lines were not too bad.

This is looking back at the start/finish area.

Here is the whole group of SJ Fitters just before the start of the half marathon (Hteb Yram, none of these are real names, did the 5K - the rest of us did the half). Note the nice clean shoes. Coach Luap had the good sense to wear gators (those green things above his shoes) and Uidualc had the good sense to wear proper hiking boots. And Mrs Notthat brought her walking sticks, which prompted a lot of people she met on the trail to say how much they wished they had brought theirs.

Mrs Notthat and Nna walked together the entire way. The trail started with a mild out-and-back section that was mostly mud-free.

In general, I am not a fan of out-and-back trails and prefer loops where you don't have to cover the same ground twice. In practice though, out-and-back trails mean that you get more interaction with other participants. We were able to see each other a couple of times on this course - if it had been a loop (as it was originally configured), I would never have seen anyone again after the start. Also, it's not like I'm so observant that I see everything that needs to be seen the first time I walk the trail. So I have changed  my position on out-and-back, and actually really liked that there were two of these sections on this run.

This is one of the reasons I miss some things while walking the trails. This park is infested with cows, and apparently nobody has bothered to train them to poop in the fields (or the woods like the pope). Sadly, I saw evidence of a number of these that ended up being stepped on by a runner that was admiring the scenery. If cows could smile...

That is Coach Luap's back you see. Those kids belong to a guy in back of me who I believe was there to support a significant other participating in the race. The kids were clearly enjoying being a LOT faster that Coach Luap.

(A disturbing thing; not long after this picture I could hear what sounded like a very distressed hyena crying out from somewhere near. It turned out to be Coach singing along with his iPod. I don't want to know what he was listening to.)

And then the trail had one of its extremely muddy stretches. These sorts of events generally have aid stations, where you can get something to drink and eat and catch your breath, about every two miles or so. At the top of this muddy hill was the first one, and it was an important one since it was where the half marathon and 10K courses spilt. Normally the aid stations are set up very early using vehicles to haul in the tables and supplies. But this trail was impassible by vehicle - I'm not even sure an ATV could have made it (at least not without doing significant damage to the trail). So the volunteers at this aid station had to hike their stuff in. They started out with a wheelbarrow, but ended up abandoning it halfway up the hill since it just couldn't be pushed through the deep mud. They ended up making a number of trips carrying the tables and such up to the top.

Us runners had nothing to complain about.

This is that aid station.

A fierce-looking cow guarding the trail. I swear it was watching just to see if I would slip in the mud and land in one of its cow pies.

And then came the biggest surprise of the  day - Mrs Notthat and Nna were still on the half marathon trail. Mrs Notthat is not a fan of mud or cold. Brazen Mas had told us that once you made it up to the first aid station and had navigated that first treacherous stretch of mud, you could decide to follow the 10K trails and spare yourself from seven more miles of the same. I would have bet a LOT of money that Mrs Notthat, being much wiser than me, would do just that. I had not considered the influence of Nna though - the two of them were really enjoying the walk and pleasant weather and decided to do the whole half. (This was on the second out-and-back section, which is the only reason I knew they had decided to do this.)

I don't think this picture does justice to the conditions, but it's worth a try. This mud was thick and gloppy and stuck to your shoes like glue. People with nice deep lugs on their shoes ended up with the same traction as the rest of us, but with a LOT more weight to carry around.

I chose to wear my normal running shoes, which did about as well as anything else, although I think my hiking boots would have kept me a bit drier.

But then there were the views (often missed since a lot of time was spent focussing on either the mud or dodging cow poop). I think that is Oregon in the distance. (Of course I'm kidding! I believe that's Suisan Bay, which is mostly still in California.)

A half marathon is 13.1 miles. Once you pass that 13 mile marker, you know you are getting close, and your spirits pick up. In this case, you could hear the music and fun going on at the finish line. However, that last tenth of a mile seemed like at least a whole mile. There was a very slippery downhill part that I cleverly navigated on my butt, this creek to cross, those steps to climb, and all of this followed by more uphill trail.

I was the first of our group to finish the half marathon, and there was Werdna cheering me on. He had just walked the Arizona Rock and Roll marathon two weeks earlier, and so took this one off. (You can tell by his clean shoes and absurdly clean white pants.)

This is a happy me. I ended up falling twice and nearly a third time (catching myself before ending up in a rain-filled gully). The funny thing about falling the mud is that it did not even vaguely hurt - while that muck is hard to walk through, it is  very cushiony to land in.

Uidualc was the next to finish. I was impressed that he was still relatively clean and had not fallen at all.

This was followed by a long wait for the others. I received a phone call from Mrs Notthat saying her and Nna were somewhere between the 10 and 11 mile markers and having a great time, but taking it easy through the rough sections.

After a bit of time there started to be some concern. We had not heard from Luap and the sweeper that Brazen sent out to follow the last people on the course had arrived and said there was nobody left on the course. This sweeper woman had caught up to Mrs and Nna and was great - she encouraged them to take their time and have fun and held way back in order to not pressure them. Unfortunately, Mrs and Nna ended up missing a turn, most likely due to being in deep conversation, and wandered off the course. Weirdly, Luap had done the same thing well ahead of them, but had not realized it until well off course. (He was also fighting cramps, which have a way of deflecting your focus.)

In the end, before a search and rescue operation had to be mounted, Laup caught up with Mrs and Nna and between them they worked out a good direction to head in, which lead to them meeting up with the last aid station, who had been alerted to look out for them. All of them came in using a much kinder trail than the hill and creek filled one I talked about earlier since the trail markers had been picked up by the sweeper.

Here is Coach Laup making his way to the finish line. Mostly mud-free.

Then Mrs Notthat and Nna showed up. That ridiculously fit woman with her back to them was the sweeper that had been trailing them.

Finishers! And mostly mud-free!

They hadn't fallen either. I turned out to be the only one that managed to do that (which was the price I paid for being first in our group, not that I'm competitive).

And this was our reward: a great shirt (the bear is saying "Who's afraid of a little mud?") and a great medal.

This was a blast. Apparently several people had missed turns along the course, which leads to even more confusion since you see fresh tracks going the wrong way - if you are at all distracted by conversation, "singing," or cow pie avoidance, it was possible to miss a turn. I missed one but quickly realized something was not right, went back and saw the clearly marked turn. I have no idea how I missed it.

Considering that this was not the normal course used for this event, due to the normal trails being impassable (wow - it is really hard to imagine anything worse), I think Brazen did OK. Maybe a few more signs at the more confusing areas, although this being the first time with this course meant they didn't have any experience on what the confusing areas were. (They rely on colored ribbons identifying the course, and cleverly use striped ribbons just before a turn to warn you of it. These, and signs for that matter, can be missed if you are otherwise focussed on things like your footing.)

I've had enough mud to last me a while, but still really enjoyed this event. I did manage to lose my sleazy gloves somewhere along the trail (no chance I'm going to go back and try to find them - probably the cows would have eaten them by now anyway), but otherwise came out unscathed. Mrs Notthat ended up with a blister on her big toe. Coach Luap's cramps took a toll on him, but he will be fine. The others had no issues at all.

And now the clock is ticking on the Bay Breeze event coming up on February 20th. Mrs Notthat cannot go, but I might go if Weird Haired Mom (mother of our grandkids) decides to go. This event is flat and mud free. Which would be a nice change, if a bit anti-climatic.

That's it (finally!) - move along...


notthatlucas said...

There were around 370 total participants, with around 100 finishing the half marathon. Considering the conditions, this seems to be a good turnout. There was a chance that two of the three parking lots were going to be closed due to mud, but the week's relatively nice weather (thankfully) meant they were available after all.

DAK said...

The photo closeup of the mud gives me the shakes. You came in first, just like the Dodgers did last year! (I will pay for this, I know.) And congratulations to Ms. NotThat for keeping up with you and not falling even once.

(Got to tell ya the truth -- this one doesn't look like much fun.)

Mrs. Notthat said...

It WAS great fun!!!

homey said...

Thanks for the post. I loved the Hyena comment! You made this race look easy! It was a challenging and kicked the stuffing out of me. I look forward to the next trail run to redeem myself ;) A great big thanks goes out to Mrs. Notthat who really helped there at the end!


mary ann said...

Oh that mud is horrible! Congrats on doing such a fine job. Thanks for the porta pottie and cow pie photos, very cool. I love the shirts.