I'm a sucker for a race close to home. Last November, when Coastal had a sale on their various races, Mrs Notthat and I signed up for the Coastal Crystal Springs event, which was the weekend following my double Half Marathon.
Naturally, I needed to take it easy and sign up for a shorter distance at Crystal Springs. Naturally I didn't do that, and instead signed up for the Marathon (Mrs Notthat wisely chose the 11 mile distance). I had done a race on these trails before and was reasonably familiar with them. I knew that, while you spent most of the first five miles climbing, it was not tendon-snappingly steep. I knew that the trails were some of the best in the Bay Area - lots of single track and lots of trees.
And then I spent the week before the race fighting a cold. I even took a sick day at work (very rare). So the talk with Mrs Notthat during the week involved a lot of "If I'm feeling like excrement at this point, I can shorten the race by doing this" type scenarios.
That is the Marathon course elevation chart. Lots of climbing at the start, a cruel dip in the middle, and then the final insult - a small climb a few miles from the finish. Not an easy course at all, with 3790 feet of climbing. And a cutoff - you have to get to the second aid station (just before the cruel dip) in a little over three hours or you would not be allowed to do the rest of the Marathon course, and instead, would have to settle for the 22 mile race (which is what I did previously, and it's very challenging in its own right).
Tough course? Naturally, Einre (not his real name) would be there. He too was signed up for the Marathon. Note my running uniform - I wanted to make it as easy as possible to find my body.
Some of the running women friends in the race. From left to right, Weird Haired Mom, Arabrab (not her real name), Not a Canadian, and Mrs Notthat. WHM started the week dreaming of also doing the Marathon, but I talked her out of it, so she did the 11 mile race (barely). Arabrab joined me in the Marathon while NAC was the smartest of all and did the 5 mile race.
The race starts with a mad dash down a short hill to the first trail which quickly backs up as people squeeze onto the first bit of single track. Fast runners that have done this race before know to sprint that first two hundred yards or so just to avoid this. Experienced slow runners know there is no value in rushing from the start line, so we sauntered along, enjoying a bit of sunshine.
Much of the course was like this - lots of trees and dry dirt trails. Some of these had runners going both directions, so there could be a bit of congestion at times, but this was not much of an issue.
This was the first aid station, and the 11 mile turnaround point. It would have been easy to downgrade to the 11 mile here, but I was feeling fine, so I kept on going. (The aid stations were great, by the way. Lots of things to eat and encouraging words to help you along.)
I had as a minor goal to make it to this aid station before being passed by any of the 11 mile runners (they started 45 minutes after us) - I ended up being passed by only two of them.
The only mud on the course, which I chose to believe was caused by the race's namesake Crystal Springs.
From that first aid station to the next, you spend 5.7 miles running along the top of Skyline ridge. This is a stretch for strong runners (not me!) to make up some time, and most did. It was also a stretch for most runners (me!) to get really cold, as the stiff breeze brought the wind chill down to the teens. (I made that up, and I'm sure it was not nearly that cold. But it felt like it could have been.)
The second aid station was the critical one. For the Marathon runners, you had to get here in three hours, fifteen minutes or get turned around. I was sweating this a bit and wasn't sure I would make it. (The park closes at 5 PM, and the woods get really dark well before then, so the winter version of this race has pretty tight cutoffs.)
I made it with fifteen minutes to spare. As did Arabrab and her friend that showed up fashionably late, Ecarg (not her real name either). Ecarg was only going to do the 22 mile race, but Arabrab used her peer pressure skills to convince her to upgrade to the Marathon. Very weirdly, shortly after leaving this aid station and heading into that cruel dip, I got ahead of them.
At the bottom of the dip I caught up to Refinnej (not her real name either), who was doing just her third trail race. The two of us walked up out of the dip and back up to the second aid station together, saving several banana slugs from near certain death along the way.
Seriously, how can you not love these things?
A tree across the trail. There were lots of small branches on the trail along the ridge, but this was the only tree. We chose to take the risk and go over it rather than turn around and retrace our steps.
A rocky section of trail.
As I mentioned earlier, while there is a lot of climbing, it's reasonably gentle, with a LOT of switchbacks.
A few miles from being done and the unnaturally perky Arabrab and Ecarg finally caught up to me. Up to this point I had been dreaming that I might actually beat them, but I knew better.
The finish line! But first you have to cross a playground, where fortunately, there were no kids to hurdle (I had no energy left to hurdle anything in any case).
Mr Coastal was reading off the list of age group winners when he came across my name. "That can't be right" he said as he went back to recheck the results. (This was my first trail marathon finish with a sub-seven hour finish - I was just as shocked as he was.)
But it was true - I won third place in my age group! The really cool thing was that, for the first time, I actually beat someone to win this age group medal! (Granted, he was fighting bad cramps when I passed him earlier, and he certainly deserved it more than me for sticking it out and finishing while in lots of pain, but I'm going to keep it anyway.)
Speaking of finishing in pain, WHM reenacted her emotion-filled finish (maybe adding a dramatic touch or two). The 11 mile course had eaten her up and she really struggled to finish. But she did it, even though it would have been easy to drop or switch to the 5 mile race.
Mrs Notthat, meanwhile, got down with the number two. Her bib number was 222. Her finish time was an impressive 2:22:02.
It was a great race with good (if a bit chilly at times) weather and wonderful trails. Everything went smoothly and the race was a blast.
And a number of banana slugs lived to see another day.
That's it - move along...
PS: Here's a link to a bunch more pictures I took.