So this year I paid attention and signed both Mrs Notthat and I up for the 25K distance - the shortest they had. A bit oddly, 25K is also the least popular distance; most wanted to run either the 50K or 50M distance.
Sadly, the weekend before this race Mrs Notthat damaged a random leg muscle and on the Wednesday before the race gave up on being able to run it, which turned out to be good news for whoever was the next runner on the wait list.
This left Weird Haired Mom and I to battle it out on the 25K course on our own. Well, along with a LOT of friends doing a variety of distances.
The 50K and 50M runners headed out two hours before those of us running the 25K, so by the time we got there none of them were to be seen. Yrrek (not her real name) was there though, along with this amazing puzzle board she made, with each piece dedicated to a different runner. At the end of the race, each of us were given our piece - this was so cool! (And naturally my piece was the best of them all, although just as naturally, it was along the bottom.)
Next to her is Aluap (not her real name either) who chose to do the 25K race so that she could cheer in her squeeze Ekim (not his...sorry; I'm not letting this go), who was doing his first 50K, and pace Eiram (who did the 50M) for a bit.
And then there is WHM, wearing a sash because she read in Trail Runner that they protect you from poison oak. (Spoiler alert - they don't.)
The race starts by teasing you with a couple of hundred yards of gentle trail before forcing you to climb a steep hill, where I passed WHM. She was going to walk most of the race so it was a given that I would beat her. By a lot. I waved goodbye, she jiggled her sash, and I left her behind.
This is about four miles into the race, and there is WHM hot on my tail. So much for walking most of the race.
After the brutal climb, you get some downhill before heading out on the best part of the course - the New Almaden Trail with its great single-track fun.
And vindictive trees. WHM was just a little bit behind me when, while watching ground for rocks and roots, I managed to run right into this branch. My legs went out from under me and I landed on my back. If you look carefully you can still see the cartoon birds circling my head in this picture. I would have given a LOT of money for a chain saw at this point.
WHM, being an almost nurse, at first showed grave concern for my health. ("How many fingers am I holding up?" she asked. "Fourteen. Maybe twenty. What was the question again?")
She also saw a chance to beat me and took off.
As I pulled into the first aid station at about mile 6.5, I was greeted with a lot of smiles and a rousing chorus of "George of the Jungle" ("Watch out for that tree!"). WHM had tipped them off about my adventure and they were actually a bit concerned - I managed to convince them I was fine (no finger counting thankfully) and headed out to try to catch WHM.
It took a bit, but I actually did catch up to her at the next aid station, mile 9.7 (over halfway!). The wonderfully nomadic Eilsel happened to be at this aid station to support a group of the runners doing the long distances (including Llib, her husband) - she's the one talking with WHM in the above picture.
This was a busy aid station that some runners hit three times.
Eilsel took this picture of us before we headed out together.
|Father, with frogs on his hat, and daughter, with her right arm in a cast. We were a bit hard to miss out there.|
OK, this might be tougher than I thought - she was moving pretty good and was now well ahead of me.
This was the third and last aid station for the 25K course. The volunteer running it was an angel. I was crashing badly at this point - way overheated, upset stomach, and starting to get a bit tingly. All bad signs. So I sat here for a minute or two. Or twenty. She had a bucket with water and sponges and I used them to cool off. I took a salt cap and ate a ginger chew. She gave me a bunch of ice, told me I only had 1.2 more miles to go, and cheered as I finally wobbled back out onto the trail.
I had one small hill left to climb, and when I stopped to take a picture of the top of it, this amazing runner saw the camera, stopped, and gave a great pose. You might think she was being perky because she was also nearly done, but that wasn't the case. She was nearly done with the first 31 miles of her race - she still had 19 tough miles left (she finished the 50 miles in under ten hours), but couldn't resist stopping for an impromptu picture. Trail runners are just plain not normal.
I'm not sure who took this picture (I think WHM), but it's proof that I really did finish, and not by being wheeled in on a stretcher. Not that I would have turned one down. The last half a mile or so has several steep downhill sections that caused my calves to cramp like they've never cramped before. I ended up turning around and walking backwards down one of the hills. My extended aid station visit resulted in WHM beating me by a bit over 28 minutes.
This event is legendary for it post-race BBQ and ice cold beer. While it took me a few hours to get to the point where either of those sounded good to me, the shade of a huge oak tree and hanging around a bunch of runners soon had me back up and raring to go. (Well, back up anyway...)
There were a lot of remarkable performances out there this day - one of my favorite was by Htenaj. She was signed up for the 50M. Here, she has finished the 50K and is waiting for another runner to come in so that they can do the last 19 miles together. Except when that runner came in (30 minutes after she did), he chose to call it a day and be happy with a 50K. So now Htenaj had a choice to make: Also be happy with the 50K or head back out on her own to finish the 50M.
One of the hardest things to do after pausing for an extended bit of time is to get going again. Especially when you don't have to. For Htenaj though, there was no doubt. She jumped up, filled her hydration stuff, and took off to get that 50M done.
Similarly, Llib (squeeze of Eilsel, who you saw earlier) chose to get the last 19 miles in.
You might recognize the guy on the right. Mit ran his first 50K at the blisteringly hot Brazen Mt Diablo race a few weeks ago. And he followed that up with his second 50K at this blisteringly hot race, beating his previous time by over two hours. (I asked what his next race was going to be, figuring that it was also going to be blisteringly hot, but he wouldn't commit to anything.) Naw, on the right, ran his first 25K (and finished well over an hour ahead of me) and Ffoeg (in the middle) also ran the 50K.
Ekim (in the chair) finished his first 50K in great style.
Etep (with a cold adult beverage - also note the salt lines on his face) finished his first 50K as well, although with a lot more excitement than hoped for.
This is his squeeze, Nire, who had signed up for the 50M. At about mile four, the bottom of her hydration pack's bladder failed, dumping all of her cold, sticky fluids down her back, leaving her with nothing to drink. Fortunately, a volunteer at the second aid station had an extra water bottle, so she was able to keep going, although in less than optimal condition.
And then at about mile 17 or so she took a bad fall, resulting in several painful scrapes, cuts, and bruises. (It is NOT true that she was cited for not picking up all the bits of skin and bone left behind.) So instead of the glory of a 50M race, she got the glory of finishing the 50K with Etep, which left her with enough energy to toss in a few Riverdance moves. (I'm telling you - trail runners are NOT normal!)
This is Eiram finishing her 50M in fine style, with Ydna her pacer trying to keep up.
And Llib finishing his, with his pacer Etnad also trying to keep up. I loved how the runners would find a sudden burst of energy when they spied the finish line.
I walked out a bit and ran into Htenaj as she was heading down the hill to her finish. She looked awesome but was ready to be done.
Speaking of ready to be done, we were down to waiting for the last two runners to come in.
Einre, who you could not stop with a Mack truck, came in to the finish. He was a bit wobbly and more tired than I've ever seen him before, but danged if he wasn't smiling and totally happy.
Which left Ahtreb. I've known Ahtreb for several years now - she joined San Jose Fit the same year I did, also in the walking group, and was one of the three of us that finished the 2009 Silicon Valley Marathon. When I first heard that she had signed up for this 50K I was thrilled - I knew she could do it and I looked forward to calling her an ultra-marathoner. Of course, I also knew it would open up new opportunities for me to tease her. (One of the things that makes this an attractive 50K is the lack of a cutoff, since there is no way anyone would take longer to finish the 50K than those running the 50M. At least, not until this year, when the last three runners to come in were all 50K.)
And she really did finish. The guy holding up the STOP signs was a fun touch. And the race director did an amazing thing - instead of being at least secretly bitter about how long they had to wait for this last runner, the RD called on everyone to stop what they were doing and to cheer in the last runner, making it an amazingly emotional and fun finish.
It was hot, but that's not that unusual for this south-bay race. The aid stations and volunteers were all great. The trails were very well marked, although this was my first trail race that didn't use ribbons - instead, there were obvious flour markings at each intersection, along with volunteers directing traffic at key places. I never once was concerned about not being on the course, although I did hear of a few people that missed a turn and ended up adding distance.
The BBQ and beer (and many other things to drink) were plentiful and great. It really was a party with lots of runners hanging around far longer than normal after a trail race. The shirts, medals, and glass were also all top notch.
I will definitely do this race again, but hopefully at the 50K distance. As for why I had so many issues late in the race, I'm pretty sure I just wasn't taking enough salt caps - this was my first really hot run of the year and I failed to account for that (I also hadn't counted on taking nearly five hours to finish this race).
WHM is still glowing from her victory - I've now been soundly beaten by everyone in the family. How cool is that!
That's it - move along...
PS: Here's a link to a lot more pictures I took.