Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sand, water, and flamingos - sounds like paradise!

Mrs Notthat and I did the 30K course of the Inside Trail Racing Santa Cruz race. I chose the distance because it covered all the trails and included two river crossings. Mrs Notthat originally was only interested in the 10K course since it was the only distance without any river crossings.

But then she surprised me and decided to do the 30K after all. Not only did this mean she would have an opportunity to swim a couple of times, but she would be going a distance longer than a Half Marathon in a race for only the second time ever, and the first time on trails. I was thrilled she was willing to do this.

I've wanted to do a race in this general area for a long time - Coastal Trail Runs does a version of the race that has the same river crossing (San Lorenzo River Race) that I have always missed due to a conflict. That race is earlier in the year when the river is higher, which of course still makes it a must do race in the near future. The ITR version starts in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and has three basic loops.

All distances do the first loop, which has significant climbing on trails that are infested with deep sand. This was not a lot of fun, but there was the potential of a nice view up on top.

The 10K runners head straight to the finish after this loop - all other runners make a left and head for the river. Loop 2 is fairly gentle. If you are running the Half Marathon, you get to head back after that loop - all 30K and 50K runners head onto the UC Santa Cruz campus, which has some nice trails above the main campus. This loop had the most climbing, although it was not steep.

The really tough part of the course came just after you crossed the river while heading back to the finish - that steep little hill was not particularly fun. (50K runners had to go back out and do the first and second loops again, and were spared the third loop.)

Mrs Notthat and I decided to spend Friday night in Santa Cruz. The idea was to go the Beach Boardwalk Friday Night Concert, which had a version of the band "Santana" playing. Once we checked in though, we realized that neither of us was motivated enough to go to the concert, so we went out to dinner and headed to bed early.

This meant we were able to sleep late and still get to the race plenty early. The checkin process was smooth and there were a lot of people we knew there.

Etep, Mas, and Nad (not their real names) were all doing the 50K distance. Ytsirhc joined us for the 30K

Nahgem was also there with Akire (not their real names) and also doing the 30K, but MUCH quicker than the rest of us.

This is the kind of sand we had to deal with for a lot of the first loop.

The reward of that sandy loop were the views once you got to the top. Well, actually the views we would have seen if the marine layer wasn't so low. (I loved the family eating breakfast at the picnic table on the right. They just kind of stared in amazement at all the wacky runners passing by.)

Also, note that Ytsirhc and Mrs Notthat are not that far ahead of me. I was shocked that I was keeping up with them.

I even got ahead of them for a few feet.

And then we were at the river crossing. By the time I got there, Ytsirhc was already across and Mrs Notthat was nearly across.

ITR volunteer (and hopefully certified lifeguard) Kcirtap (not his real name) took a video of both Mrs Notthat and I crossing the river. Above is a frame of the video as a happy Mrs Notthat leads a group of runners safely across.

Wisely, no runners followed me across. And happily, neither of us fell in. At least for this crossing.

I took this picture when I was about halfway across. Ytsirhc is using every tool in her superpower arsenal to will me to slip and fall, but to no avail. And because of that, I had caught back up to them!

One of the fun things about ITR races is that you will usually see flamingos along the trail just before you get to an aid station. Flamingos end up being one of your best friends.

The first aid station, mile 6.6.

After that stop, we headed off to the second loop, which was quite tame compared to the others. Above, Mas is just finishing that second loop as we are heading into it. It was at this point that I lost track of Ytsirhc and Mrs Notthat - they had survived the course's biggest dangers and no longer had any need of me or my map reading skills (the trails were very well marked, with signs, flour, and ribbons, including blue ribbons marking wrong turns).

This perky volunteer was here to make sure the 30K and 50K runners went up the third loop while the Half runners streaked for the finish line.

Weirdly, as I was entering the third loop I was again met by Mas who was just finishing it.

The second aid station, mile 10.5. I'm pretty sure that I was the last runner to come through here.

Whenever you get a chance to do a race in the Santa Cruz mountains, you need to do it. There are a lot of beautiful trails with lots of massive trees.


And the third and final aid station, mile 14.5. Both Kcirtap and All Day were there to tell me that I was getting my butt kicked by Ytsirhc and Mrs Notthat. They didn't even bother to say "if you hurry you can catch them." They knew better.

When I got down to the river, there was a new lifeguard. "Please don't drown" she said.

I know it shouldn't matter, but for some reason the crossing was easier going in this direction. Just head to the pink ribbons. And try not to step on a trout.

From the river, it is less than three miles to the finish, but man, the first mile and a half is tough, especially on tired legs. And I was very impressed with all the 50K runners I ran into (such as Nad, above) - they all had already finished the 30K and headed back out to do the Half course to get up to 50K. It takes a special runner to do that.

There were quite a few bike riders on the trails, but for the most part they were not much of an issue. More of a worry were the horse riders since the last thing you wanted to do was surprise a horse. Fortunately, this wasn't a problem for me since they were going the other way and I just had to stand to the side and let them go. It's a tougher problem if you want to pass one on these narrow trails.

Eventually I found my way to the finish line.

First, I was the Dead Last Finisher for the 30K. I'm OK with that. There was a guy I had past back on loop three (he's in the tree picture) that I thought I had put some distance on, but the combination of me crawling up that last hill and him smelling the finish line pushed him to not only beat me, but one other guy too. Talk about a strong finish!

Second, I missed breaking five hours by thirteen seconds. Five hours is fairly pathetic for a 30K, but while this was a short 30K (about 18 miles), it had a fair amount of elevation gain (3200 feet). And I lost some serious time with the river crossings. And stopping to take a lot of pictures. And avoiding getting trampled by a horse. So I'm OK with my time.

Third, I got second in my age group! I love getting an age group award while being DLF! Mrs Notthat also got second in her age group.

These two were FAR too perky at the finish. Why they are flashing some sort of gang sign I'll never know. (Brats!)

It was kind of funny how, for a non-muddy trail race, your shoes got very dirty. (A number of runners stopped to take their shoes off before crossing the river. I've tried that before and it really didn't work for me - I've learned to just splash on through and it will all come out OK. Eventually.)

It was a great event, and I think we picked the perfect distance. Mrs Notthat now has a new distance notch on her running belt (even if it is a bit wet). The weather was cool and perfect. The volunteers were awesome. And the salsa at the finish line kicked butt!

And my shoes will hopefully be dry by next week.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.


Lia said...

Great report, I bet that sand was rough. It's such a fun run and my FAVORITE river crossing!

mary ann said...

well, that was a REAL river crossing and I too loved those flamingos!

Ivette said...

Great race report! It was nice meeting you and Mrs. Notthat at the finish. And I agree, the homemade salsa rocked!

Beth said...

Oh, that sand looks brutal, but that trail in the trees would totally make it worth it! Looks like a great course, for sure getting put on our to-do list!