Saturday, April 28, 2012

Hunting for grizzlies (hopefully they're cuddly)

When I think of trail runners in most other parts of the country, I should feel a bit embarrassed by the riches we have in the Bay Area. But then I get over it and start trying to choose my next race.

In addition to hundreds of miles of amazing trails, we have many great companies that put on top notch races on most of the best of those trails. And now there's a new entry to that list of companies, NORCAL AR & Trail Running Series. Before this year, they only organized adventure races involving a mix of running, bikes, orienteering, and kayaks. This year they are also putting on trail races.

Since I have been fighting with a knee issue, we decided to run their 10K course (their shortest - there were also 17K and 35K distances) at the Grizzly Ryder Trail Run out of Huddart Park in Woodside. I figured if things went badly, I could walk the whole thing and hopefully still beat one or two 35K runners.

There are two main reasons I love doing trail races out of Huddart Park: The trails are fantastic, with lots of single-track and MANY trees; and it's relatively close to where we live - about a 20 minute drive.

There were about 150 runners total, with the 10K distance being the most popular. I wisely chose to start at the back of the pack. Note the sunshine - if this had been on exposed trails it would have gotten uncomfortably warm very quickly. But almost all of the 10K course was shaded by trees.

I managed to keep Mrs Notthat in sight for the first mile or so, but she slowly pulled away. The trails were nice and soft after the rain from earlier in the week. There were lots of wildflowers and much greenness.

We spent a lot of the first mile or so running along a creek. We started with a bit of downhill, some rolling hills, and then the Main Event - a 1200 foot climb.

I've done this climb a number of times, so I know it's not particularly steep, but it is relentless with many switchbacks. Before you knew it (HA!) though, you were at the split where the longer distances kept going up while the 10K runners started heading back down.

In an effort to let my knee get better, I have not been training like I need to be. So I was ready to give this guy, directing traffic at the 10K split, a big sweaty hug. But he looked like a nice guy so I decided to just thank him and start heading down the hill.

And before I knew it, I was done. I had feared a finish time of around two hours, so I was thrilled with a sub 90 minute time. Mrs Notthat only beat me by a few minutes (she's standing next to the clock trying to look like she's been there FOREVER).

I must not have been too sweaty since Mrs agreed to let me touch her for this picture.

From there we headed to Bucks in Woodside. Mrs Notthat ordered these. They were great, but, YIKES!

We had a great time at this race! The medals were great and, in lieu of shirts, we got really nice pairs of socks.

The course was reasonably well marked, although there were a few intersections towards the end that I had to stop and figure out a bit. Even with that, I never had any doubts that I was on course the whole race. The 10K course had no aid stations (which is typical for this course, which I believe is identical to the PCTR version of this race); the 17K had one aid station at the turnaround, and the 35K ended up with three aid stations. So I can't vouch for how well stocked they were, but given the food at the finish line (standard aid station goodies) I suspect they were fine.

Their next race is the rescheduled Mercury Mine in Quicksilver Park - another park with many great trails (the original race ended up being cancelled by the park rangers due to heavy rains the day before). This is the day after I'm running Brazen Wildcat, but if I'm feeling up to it, I'm hoping to make it out there.

Left knee willing.

That's it - move along...

PS: Here is a link to some other pictures I took.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Diablo: Epic indeed!

Ever since my DNF last year at the Brazen Diablo Trails Challenge, I have had the date circled for my rematch. Last year's version was epic - absurdly cold, windy, rainy; it was an amazing test.

Unfortunately I injured my left knee sometime after Way Too Cool a month or so ago and realized that there was no way I could face off with Diablo for my rematch. Fortunately though, I knew a LOT of the runners that were running the 50K and Half distances, so I knew it would still be an emotional day filled with much fun.

And it didn't disappoint.

(WARNING: This is a VERY long post. And that's after I pruned a lot from it. Sorry.)

Mrs Notthat and Weird Haired Mom both signed up for the Half Marathon while I signed up for the 5K. This picture was at about 8:30 AM and it was already getting a bit toasty.

One of the 50K runners mentioned that he had no idea there were so many people doing the other distances. The 50K runners left this area by 6:30 AM - well before most of the other runners showed up. Altogether, there were nearly 1000 finishers (50K, Half, 10K, and 5K). The start/finish area was a bit of a zoo for most of the morning.

Mrs Notthat and WHM almost one tenth of a mile into their race. So far so good.
Yes, they look fierce and have "looking for trouble" written all over them, but they are actually, well, no, that pretty much sums them up about right.
A fun thing about there being a 50K race going on was that you could really take your time for the Half and not have to worry about a cutoff. There were a fair number of sticks in use today.

The 5K course goes out 1.55 miles, turns around, and comes back. Sounds kind of boring (I have never before done a Brazen 5K), but this is probably the greatest 5K course you will ever find, with rolling hills and six creeks to cross. Twice! Twelve creek crossings in a bit over three miles has got to be a record. (All of the races had to cross these creeks - and more. A part of the 10K/Half course was actually in a creek, not crossing it!)

Brazen Marie took this of me during my race. Between my stopping to visit and shooting all the movies, my finish time was definitely not a PR.
The crossings were very entertaining. For the first couple, most of the runners were careful not to get wet. After the fourth or fifth one though, most had accepted that their feet were going to get wet and just charged on through. You can see a video I made of all six creek crossings here.

The 10K runners started 15 minutes before us, so I had a tiny hope that I might finish my 5K before anyone finished the 10K. I didn't even make it to the 5K turnaround before 10K runners came streaming past me. This particular one, Esoj (not his real name), missed a top ten 10K finish by less than 10 seconds. He then headed out to the halfway point of the 50K course to pace a runner in. Totally amazing!

I SO loved this! I could just picture all the encouraging words my son or daughter would have been giving me at that age, most along the lines of "Are we done yet?" and "You call this running?" To do what this guy did in this heat was nothing short of astonishing.

I was afraid I wouldn't have an arch nemesis to pit myself against for the 5K, but then I found Eam (not her real name) and the race was on! I ended up trouncing her by 13 seconds. (If you look at the creek movie, she was the one that had a bicyclist fall on her when he failed to get all the way across the creek.)

Also finished with her 10K was Eilsel (not her real name - none of these will be real; it amuses me to use this nearly unbreakable code, sorry). She caught a short breather then headed out to crew for her husband and others that were doing the 50K. Her bags of ice and other frosty goodies made the 50K course a lot easier for them to handle.

Since I did the short race, I volunteered to hang with Hoover, who's dad was running the 50K. This dog was so much fun to hang around - everybody both loved him and feared for his safety in this heat.

This was one way to deal with the heat. (What people really needed to fear was Hoover sneaking a bite of their burger. He loved hanging around the BBQ area.)

These two, Htenaj and Aluap, ran Monday's Boston Marathon. The one with record heat. I think it's fair to blame them for the heat we had for this race. (Htenaj had minor knee surgery after she got back, so was stuck taking pictures - Aluap ran the Diablo Half as a "recovery run" and won her age group!)

Not a Canadian, who has been fighting a nasty calf issue, successfully finished this Half. And yes, I take at least partial credit.

One feature of this Half Marathon course is that the first bit of it is also the 10K course, which means that it's reasonably easy to choose to switch to the 10K if issues come up. Reffinej wisely made this switch.

Two years ago I worked this race's Burma Road aid station (mile 28) with a group of ultra runners. It was my first exposure to a 50K and is what put the thought in my mind that I could do this. The winner that year was the same guy that won this year, Mit. I was stunned at how calm and not-tired he looked when he came through the aid station in 2010, which is exactly how he looked this time, finishing in well under five hours and breaking his previous course record.

People were a bit shocked to see a 50K finisher this early.

In the meantime, a few more Half friends finished. Ytsirhc did great styling her way around the course.

Enitsirhc was determined to not get sucked into the 10K shortcut option, but after going a mile or two past the 10K turnaround, she thought better of it and ended up with an ultra-10K.

As she neared the finish line, the second place 50K runner, The Ultrarunning ER Doc, went flying past. (Check his blog for a likely shorter recap of the race.)

My normal arch-nemesis, Yram, coming in from her Half. I'll get you in the next one Yram!

And then in came Mrs Notthat! I was SO happy to see her finish - it was hard not worry a tiny bit about the runners out in this heat, and I had already heard of a number of issues.

This was a picture Mrs Notthat took at the Horseshoe aid station (a little over halfway for the Half Marathon and mile 23 for the 50K) - the helicopter has a dehydrated runner in it. Most runners heeded the pre-race warnings about carrying lots of water and staying hydrated, but a few failed.

That thing around Mrs Notthat's neck is filled with beads that hold water for a long time. You soak it, put it on, and it will help keep you cool. 
WHM caught up to Mrs Notthat at this aid station. Mrs had been having issues and wisely spent a few minutes here, getting rehydrated and letting her body cool off a bit. WHM's first thought was "I hope mom's OK" followed quickly by "Holy cow! I might beat her!!!" They stayed pretty close when they left this aid station, but then there is a long downhill stretch, and Mrs likes her downhill and easily beat WHM.

WHM came in a few minutes after Mrs Notthat. The finish line was like this all day, especially as the day got later. It could get very emotional waiting for runners to come in. One great thing about this race is that it is EXTREMELY well supported by a huge number of search and rescue, medical, and sheriff teams - all coordinated by a group of ham radio operators. Each runner's progress through the various aid stations and checkpoints was well tracked.

Even with all that, it was a huge relief to see whoever you were waiting for cross that finish line.

Mrs Notthat enjoying a bit of rest, shade, and Hoover.

I totally missed Irual finishing her Half, but did see The Endorphin Dude finish his (look closely and you can see he is growing horns - Diablo does that to people!).

Irual placing an ice water soaked towel on a 50K runner's back.

Werdna made it in...

...and found the massage guy (who was VERY popular).

Shortly after Werdna finished, Ahtreb came storming across the finish line.

We had heard that several runners had not made the five-hour cutoff at the Finley aid station (mile 15.5 of the 50K). It was about this time that they showed up in the finish area after being driven here. Nobody is ever happy about getting a DNF in a race, but almost all trail runners have had that happen and accept it as a challenge for next year. Ardnassac, with the HUGE smile and her own bottle of icy Coke, took it in stride. Enaid (with the black hat) really wanted to keep going, but grudgingly agreed to stop. Ultra Woof was the most affected by the heat, and also ended up being cut short.

Two others, Hteb and Nairb (on the right) also did not make it. I would have bet a small fortune that they would at least make that cutoff, but this weather took a bigger toll than expected.

After a bit, I stated seeing the remaining 50K runners I knew finishing their races, led by Hoover's dad, Sirhc.

I don't know if Sirhc is a running guy with a social problem or a social guy with a running problem, but he managed to take a lot of pictures while going around the course and, by the end of the race, knew most of the runners.

The last Half Marathon finisher. No, he was not fast, but anyone who managed to keep going for that long in that heat was awesome.

I would not have wanted to be the guy to tell Einre that he had missed the cutoff and would have to stop. But he was fine - after all, he had just gotten in a nice 15.5 mile run and could now have BBQ and ice cream.

Enaid providing competition with me for goofiest hat. I think this turtle wins though.

A determined Nad finishing the race. He finished it last year too, under WAY different conditions.

The hose was popular.

All of the 50K DNF runners still received medals with free engraving. Here Ultra Woof is working out how many expletives will fit on the back of hers.

Kidding! She settled for a classy "DID NOT DIE".

Nire, who also finished this race last year, getting it done! Look at that smile!

About one mile from the finish, two things happened: She fell (look at her right side), and the insole came out of her shoe. They had just gone through the stretch with all the creek crossings when she told Etep, her squeeze and pacer, that she was going to take off for the finish line. And promptly tripped over a tiny rock on a (nearly) smooth part of the trail.

That's Etep holding the insole.

Llib finished strong shortly after Nire.

Followed shortly by Nerak! She looked tired...

...but not too tired to give a victory yell!

Nire and Etep relaxing in the shade. Etep swears that dirt spot on his shirt was from helping his darling up when she fell, but I can't help believe it has something to do with him breaking out laughing.

Mas the Sweeper did not sweep this race, and instead ran it, finishing in fine style.

This is Lorac, also finishing the 50K. I was SO happy to see her finish this!

I met Lorac at last year's version of the race. You'll have to take my word for it, but that's her going around a puddle that needs a lifeguard. We went the last couple of miles together into the Finley aid station, where we were pulled from the race, having missed the official cutoff by a few minutes (although they had started pulling runners 30 minutes early due to the bad conditions).

This is coworker Mit finishing within the ten hour cutoff. This was his first 50K and I was so impressed that he managed to finish under these conditions.

There was one more runner I had on my list of friends in the race, and the longer we waited, the more we wondered what was happening. And then suddenly, she was here! Yay Arabrab! (With three pacers!)

How in the world, after more than ten hours of this heat, could Arabrab still be smiling like that? Oh yeah - she's a trail runner.

There was one more runner out there, and we were all anxiously waiting for her. Some became goofy during the wait.

Some tried to work out whether they should have one more piece of pizza. (Brazen Second Born looks more like a trail runner every time I see him. This kid is a handful, but mostly in a good way. I think.)

And then Nosila made it in, paced by the amazing Esoj (who had wandered off to the ice water already).

This was an epic race on an epic day.

Nad had some shirts made to honor Caballo Blanco (Micah True) that several of us wore today. (Yes, they were black. Who would have thought it would get this hot here in April?)

Even now I get a bit emotional looking at these pictures. Every runner that toed the line for any of these distances was awesome. But I have a very special place in my heart for the back of the packers - the ones that have to deal with these kinds of adverse conditions for more than twice as long as the faster runners. They are all SUPER AWESOME! Maybe even SUPER DUPER AWESOME!

So a HUGE congratulations to everyone that started a race here. And a HUGER congratulations to all the 50K finishers. And MASSIVE thanks to all the volunteers, search and rescue, medical, radio operators, and Brazen for putting on an epic event.

And of course a huge thanks to the Save Mt Diablo people for coordinating this event every year! This park has some of the best trails and views in the world, and it's a blast to get to do these events here.

That's it - move along...

PS: You can see more of my pictures, if that wasn't enough(!), here and here and here and here.