Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Running with the Kiwis - Take One

As we approached our 25th anniversary, Mrs Notthat made me promise to take her to Hawaii. Events transpired that made that not happen, so when our 30th anniversary came around, I was determined to make up for it. In the meantime, we had started doing a LOT of trail races. A bit oddly, Hawaii does not have many trail races though (other than the famous HURT race, and, well, neither of us are up to taunting death like that quite yet.

Then my thoughts turned to New Zealand. We had never been there, it was their summer time, and there were several trail races that we could do.

But would Mrs Notthat trade Hawaii and its sun-infested beaches for New Zealand and its mysteries?

Yes. No problem. "I can be packed by lunch" she said.

Our first race was along the gorgeous Clutha River; the Kathmandu Clutha River Track Race. A 13 km point-to-point course with unknown elevation, but since it followed the river, how much climbing could there be? (Not a huge amount, but a bit more than expected as it turned out.)

It was a fairly small race, there were 54 finishers, and everyone looked WAY fitter than us. (One thing we had noticed was that the various tracks we had run across list a return time and almost always say something like "easy track with great views." We have found that what they describe as an "easy" track is something that would kill 60% of middle-aged Americans, and the return times are for someone not in mall-strolling mode.)

We arrived early since I didn't manage to get lost, as had been expected.

Mrs Notthat was thrilled to be able to enjoy a cup of coffee before the race started.

Diane and some locals having a laugh at either my hat or chances of winning. Must have been the hat.

"So, ummmm, you don't look like you are from around here." This is a reporter for the local newspaper. She took our picture and said that if the editor wasn't too frightened, it might make the local newspaper. Her daughter was also running the race - her first trail race. She was a bit nervous. (Spoiler alert - she had no reason to be nervous. At all.)

We headed out of the registration area to the start line, which was about 0.5 km away. The idea was to get people spread out a bit before the track narrowed.

I think the reporter person was horrified that I stopped to take the picture, and maybe by the fact that I really thoguht this was funny - Mrs Notthat tripped on a huge hole and fell nearly 20 feet into the race.

Mrs Notthat recovered quickly and we passed through the registration area and onto the rest of the course.

New Zealand has a fascination with swinging suspension foot bridges. I hate them (and anything that's not solid). I loved that this stream crossing had a solid proper bridge. (Granted, it would have been even better if we had been allowed to just cross through the stream - this wasn't the Mighty Clutha yet.)

The trail largely looked like this - not really single-track, but close enough to be really fun. And Mrs Notthat is still in my sight.

We had one aid station at the 5K point - these volunteers were a blast!

For a lot of the course we were a bit elevated from the river, but for several stretches we were down at river level and it was amazing. This tree is so made for laying under on a nice warm day.

The river was flowing pretty fast at points.

Seriously, how could you not love dashing through this? (One odd thing - there were several places along this course that made me think of how prime this was for snakes. But they have no snakes over here. There is actually nothing in the wild to be afraid of - no mountain lions, wolves, coyotes, bears, or bobcats. The worst thing you might face is an irritated stoat.)

There were no course markings as we are used to, but there really didn't need to be - it was almost impossible to get off the trail (short of deciding to go for a swim). Each intersection had a volunteer at it to make sure you didn't wander off course. (It was shortly after passing this point that took my fall - I tripped over a rock that must have been sticking up two inches maximum. I only had minor scrapes and wasn't slowed much at all. International trail rash!)

This volunteer asked if I wanted my picture taken (everyone seemed to get a kick out of me whipping my camera out and stopping to grab pictures). I normally don't bother with pictures of myself, but with this backdrop I went for it.

And it came out amazing!

The river is large and fast and beautiful. Such a fun thing to run along.

Finally, the first turn off the main trail, and only a short distance from the finish line. But why is that volunteer on the right so tall?

Oh - that's why! I guess as a kid I might have been brave enough to stand on a post like that, but if I tried that today I suspect an ambulance would be required in short order.

The final bit of "trail" was a mad dash across this sheep field, following along the orange cones.

A kind volunteer was there to open the gate for us (and presumably tackle any sheep that tried to run us down).

And all of the sudden, there was the finish line. Eight miles of fantastic trails in the books.

This is the reporter's daughter (Eelyak, not her real name, but it would be a great name if it was) - 6th female in the open division! Nicely done!

The woman with the cup, Nagem (not her real name), was the only person I beat, and I think that was because she was showing me pity (I think she saw my fall). The volunteer on the bike was one of the sweepers.

And finally here comes the second sweeper.

Because this was a point-to-point run, our car was not waiting here for us. We caught a ride back with one of the race people. I thought about begging to ride back in one of those port-potties, but figured that by the end of the race, they were likely not all that pleasant anymore.

The race was a blast! Everything went very well - they even drew race bibs at the end to hand out random prizes.

Next up is the Shotover Moonlight Mountain Half Marathon on Saturday. I can't wait to see what it's trails look like - if they are half as good as these were, it's going to be great.

And maybe a beer truck instead of a coffee truck.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Fort Ord and gokarts?

Mrs Notthat and I were anxious to see the relatively new trails at Inside Trail Racing's inaugural Fort Ord Trail Run. Up until 1994, Fort Ord was an army base that provided basic training and easy access to Monterey Bay's beaches, where the crack army surfing team buffed up their skills.

When it was (mostly) converted to civilian use, it became the first nature preserve created for a bug (a butterfly, or so claims Wikipedia). In 2012 it became a national monument.

Another thing that made this race special was that it was my first real run since I shut down after the Coastal Crystal Springs race four weeks earlier. At that time my achilles was bugging me and I was a bit nervous heading into this event, not knowing how it would react. (I had done two three-mile runs the week before this race and all went well, but this was going to be nearly 17 rolling miles, and a great test. I hate tests.)

Note the finger of fog in the background.

The race was based out of an area next to the famous Laguna Seca Raceway. All was quiet when we got there, and it was reasonably fog-free.

Heading down to the start.
The "fog-free" bit didn't last long though, and soon you could barely make out the raceway.

This is about a mile into the race and I was still managing to keep up with these three. It didn't last long though. 
Mrs Notthat and I did the "25K" (a term loosely used to mean "shorter than the 50K"). It was a loop with a lollipop about halfway around it. There was a gentle downhill grade for the first three miles, which made for a fast start.

Loved the moss hanging from the trees.

It was foggy and cold at the start, so long distance views were nonexistent, but short distance views more than made up for it.

The first aid station was at mile 3.0, and marked the base of the lollipop stick. We would see this aid station again in 6.4 miles. Sadly, they were unable to tell me what the lollipop flavor was. ("Sandy" would have been a pretty good answer.)

Drannyl heading through some more moss infested trees.
A lot of the course was nice single-track, although there were also long stretches of gravel road and a few spots of pavement.

I did the first half of the lollipop with Drannyl (not his real name).

Lorac spending some time at the beach.
I was determined to not push it too hard, so after a bit Drannyl managed to pull away from me. Shortly after that though, Lorac (not her real name) caught up to me and we stayed together for the next few miles.

"All Day" (should be his real name) the sweeper heading out to clean up the lollipop course.
This picture shows a fresh trail that was made just a few weeks earlier by the BLM, who are now managing this park.

Originally the 25K course was to be about 14.8 miles, which would be a bit short of the 15.5 miles it should have been, but that's the way it goes in trail racing. Then the BLM moved in and condemned a few of the trails we were to use since they were too steep (trail runners are like delicate flowers that need to be protected from themselves, I guess), and instead added some new, less steep trails. The end result was that the 25K course was now long. A lot long at about 16.8 miles. And the overall elevation gain increased, although it was still modest at less than 2000 feet.

Photo by super volunteer Yrral (not his real name).
Naturally, Mrs Notthat was well ahead of me. This is her heading back into that aid station at the base of the lollipop, mile 9.4 now.

Photo by super volunteer Yrral (still not his real name).
Not so shortly later Lorac and I arrived at the aid station too (Lorac with several abandoned jackets she had picked up along the way back down the lollipop stick). You can also see that the fog has lifted, and while it wasn't really sunny, it was a lot more pleasant than earlier.

At mile 10.6 we made it to the last aid station. This was also where the 50K runners split off from us and headed off to spend quality time with horses.

That third aid station was about halfway up a long mild hill. About a mile after we left it we hit the top of that hill. And the end of my ability to keep up with Lorac, who I bid farewell as she started running down the hill, her giggles bouncing off the hills.

Most of the course was very exposed with sporadic bits of trees giving some shelter. I really liked this course, but man, it would be a bit brutal on a sunny summer day.

The final bit of the race required you to trot up a paved hill.

Ttocs (not his real name), who finished his 50K way before I finished my 25K, making sure I didn't fall apart heading up that last hill.
A bit of a surreal moment: 

Most of the 25K runners and several of the fast 50K runners had already finished and were hanging around the finish area. All of these I am barely worthy to tie their shoes.

Imagine their puzzlement when someone noticed me struggling up that last hill and started a loud synchronized "NOT THAAAT" chant. For an old, wildly out of shape guy who was nearly the dead last 25K finisher. 

I paused and considered turning around, but in the end, the finish line was too tempting and I went ahead and stumbled across the line.

One interesting thing about the last few miles of this course is that it is near the Laguna Seca racetrack, and we could hear the sounds of tightly-wound two-cycle engines screaming occasionally. And just before the end, you could actually see what was making all that noise - these tiny "superkarts" that are capable of 160 MPH.

Mrs Notthat got third in her age group, and all non-50K runners got a coffee cup.
Mrs Notthat finished in an astounding 3:27. This was less than a week from her third Full Marathon. I came dragging in with a 4:20 finish, which was pretty pathetic, but after I thought for a bit, I was really quite happy with it considering that I really didn't push myself too much since I really didn't want to re-aggravate my injury. And the best news was that it worked, and I came out of this in flying colors, injury-wise.

If all goes as planned, our next two races will be in New Zealand (a 13K and a Half Marathon, both on the south island). And then Way Too Cool becomes the main focus.

Oh man this is going to be quite a spring.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here and here.