Friday, October 25, 2013

Quicksilver's hills are still hard

I've twice run the 25K race that the Quicksilver Running Club puts on in May. It's hard. Fun, but hard. (The 25K is the short distance at that race - the real events are the 50K and 50M distances.)

They also put on a Half Marathon in the fall (there is also a 10K option), and this year Mrs Notthat and I decided to run it. A Half is a bit over two miles shorter than a 25K, so it should be a lot easier.


The Half course is significantly different from the 25K course - we ended up on new (to us) trails about half the time. Note that I didn't say "easier" trails - I'm pretty sure there are no easy trails in Almaden Quicksilver Park. If you look at this elevation chart you see very little flat.

That last big hill was cruel. That little hill after it was crueler.
We were there early enough to see this big, gorgeous moon. I loved that there were a lot of people in the parking lot taking pictures of it!
One fun thing about this fall race is that there is a good chance you can park in the actual parking lot (as opposed to somewhere in the surrounding neighborhood, where we always end up parking for the May race, mostly because the long distance runners start REALLY early, and there are a lot of them).

As I mentioned earlier, there are two distances: Half Marathon and 10K. (There is also a kid's race later that looked like it was a blast!) Two things made this interesting: Both distances started at the same time, and the two distances take off in opposite directions.

In my mind I pictured a start line with the 10K runners on one side facing the Half runners on the other, with a full-contact start when both took off trying to climb over the other. Sadly, that's not what happened - we each had our own start line and we each took off in our own direction, with nothing but hills blocking our way.

For reasons that escape me, I like to be the last one to start. Generally that means I will get to pass at least one person somewhere before the finish.

But not always. For this race, I ended up holding on to last place from wire-to-wire.

I would be back at this intersection later. MUCH later.
A unique thing about these Quicksilver races is that they don't use the usual colorful ribbons to mark the trail - they rely on lots of gypsum markings, a few signs, and perky volunteers to provide the guidance you need. This all works out very well - even though this was a new course for me I never even vaguely felt like I might be off course.

The first part of the course is exactly like the 25K course - you spend an absurd amount of time going up a hill, but then get to spend an absurd amount of time going back down that hill. At about 2.5 miles into the race, you have looped around and are actually pretty close to the finish line. If you miss this left turn, you will end up running a race of a bit less than a 5K.

I consider this my safety valve - if my race is going very bad, this is my chance to call it quickly before more hills get tossed at me. The problem with calling it quickly is that there are always a group of race people blocking the trail, cheering wildly but also prepared to tackle you if you try to keep going straight. So, unless you've actually got a bit of shattered bone sticking out of an important appendage, you will be turning left.

The best part about turning left is that you get to leave the fire road and start in on some of the best single-track the Bay Area has to offer. These trails are a blast.

It's possible you could miss this turn, but you would have to put some serious effort into it.

Seriously - how can you not love this trail? (Even if it is uphill.)

Refrigerator trees!

Eventually I made it to the first aid station, at about mile 4.7. From here we go up a hill and circle around to make a loop and end up right back here. The best thing about this was that I would get to find out for sure whether I was in last place. (Like there was much doubt.)

That reservoir desperately needs to get hydrated.

I arrived back at that aid station (about mile 8.1) feeling really tired. But I was perked up by the news that I was, indeed, dead last.

A bit over a mile later I came upon another aid station, a bonus that was not on the Half map (it was to support the 10K).

I assume somebody had to come along later and sweep up these markings, but I sure got a kick out of them.

Reaching the top of the last big hill is a great moment, and fortunately you get to celebrate it with these volunteers at the last aid station, about mile 11. (Granted, in this case they were probably mostly happy that the last runner had finally made it, and their day was done.)

From that aid station, it's mostly downhill (sometimes treacherously so), with a small but fierce hill along the way, just to keep you on your toes. It was great to reach the finish line in less than four hours - I had been slogging so much on the later uphill sections that I had expected to take a bit more than four hours to finish.

Mrs Notthat, who finished way ahead of me and won second in her age group, got a quality work over while waiting for me.

Your bib gets vandalized at the last aid station to prove you didn't take a shortcut and skip them.
As usual, the Quicksilver Running Club put on a great event. Everyone was supportive and encouraging, and the aid stations were great. Races in this park are known for being hot, and although it wasn't too bad for this race, it was nice to have ice at the aid stations.

A HUGE thanks to all the volunteers at this race for patiently waiting for me to finish (I was about six minutes behind the next to last place finisher) and making this a fun morning.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Honey Badger don't care 'bout no flesh wound

The Bay Area has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to trail races to choose from every weekend. A lot of that has to do with the number of amazing parks and trails we are surrounded by, but a lot of credit also has to go to there being so many people willing to put on a trail race.

Last year I heard about a trail race company called Sasquatch Racing - you have to like a race company named after a (probably) mythical creature. There was a race of theirs in the fall that we decided to try out. Sadly, I put off signing up for a week or two and when I finally got around to it, the race had sold out. Which caught me by surprise - I have been doing lots of Bay Area trail races for several years and had only just heard of this company, and they were already selling out their races?

So when their Honey Badger race came up and it fit in our schedule, I didn't hesitate quite as much and signed us up (and a few days later the race was sold out). We went into this race not really knowing what to expect, but there was a promise from them that things would be fun and a bit quirky, there would be a shirt and a medal (for the Half runners) that could be used to open your finish line beer, and that at the very least we would get to be on some great trails in China Camp State Park.

We saw this guy while walking from the road to the start/finish area. A sign this was going to be a great race.
The race had three distances: 5K, 10K, and Half Marathon. (Only the Half runners received finisher medals.) Each distance had their own start time, which was wise since most of the trails were single-track.

The RD explaining that honey badgers actually care a great deal.
There were a bit under 300 runners total, each one listening carefully as the RD went over the rules, especially the one about not drinking the beer until you actually finished your race.

Within 50 feet of starting we were all funneled onto a single-track trail.

This course has some wildly treacherous trails in places (you'll see an example in a bit) - this stretch was fairly smooth and worry-free. Which is probably why, about five minutes into this race, I took a header and ended up spending the next three hours tying not to get too much blood on the trail. (I'm continuously amazed that RDs still let me into their races.)

Any potentially confusing intersection had a volunteer there to direct traffic.

At about one mile into the race, we hit our first aid station. The aid stations had water, electrolyte, and an assortment of GU gels and chomps.

I've heard lots of words to describe a honey badger, but never "adorable!" She was hiding behind this sign and jumping out to frighten the runners. (The only things I know about honey badgers are what I learned from the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy II. Definitely not adorable.)

At about mile 1.5 we ran through a campground. This had two things going for it: Easy access to bathrooms and a few campers that got into the spirit of the race and lustily cheered us on while wiping s'more dust from their cheeks.

The Half course has two main hills, and the first one is a doozy. It's reasonably steep but wide enough so that faster people had no problem going around the carnage of us runners struggling up it.

Eventually you really do get to the top where a volunteer congratulated you and sent you on your way.

Now THAT'S a sturdy aid station table.
The second aid station was somewhere between miles 3 and 4. It had a lot of (loosely) motivational signs as you came and went, plus another honey badger.

Shortly after that aid station we met up with Sasquatch (who apparently is into mountain biking). I gave him a high-five, but Mrs Notthat has an unnatural fear of people dressed up in large furry costumes so she gave him a wide berth.

There were many places along the trail where, if you were bold enough to look up from the gnarly trail for a second, you would see some great views.

There were lots and lots of switchbacks.

The Half course is actually a long 10K loop (that the 10K runners also run) followed by a 10K lollipop, mostly on different trails. (The smooth bit of trail I fell on was covered three times by the Half runners. Sheesh.)

So as we came into the finish area, the 10K runners stayed to the left, finished their race, and headed to the Beer Table. The Half runners stayed to the right and hit aid station number three.

From here we headed up the stick of the lollipop.

And got to see some turkeys.

And some Half runners finishing up their race. (Above are the second and third place finishers.)

She was the first woman finisher, and not far behind the others.

This was the end of the stick - now to go around the loop at its top.

This is an example of how technical the trail would get in places. Most of the time the trail was pretty easy to run, but once in a while…

This loop had the second big climb, but it was much gentler going up than the other hill. On the flip side though, it had some pretty scary downhill.

The course was well marked with ribbons, flour, and a lot of these sorts of signs, which were great at making you feel comfortable that you were still on the right trail.

It's hard to believe anyone would have missed this turn. It would be harder to explain how you missed it though.
I loved this turn - this bit of downhill was not much fun (steep, deeply rutted, and lots of rocks laying around) and I was eager to get off of it and back on some single-track.

Yes it is football season.
Before long that loop was done and all I had left to do was head back down the stick.

About a mile from the finish was my fifth aid station (the third time I hit this same one). I filled up my bottle - it had been nicely cool at the start, but it was warming up now and I was slowing down.

Eventually I made it to the finish line, where Mrs Notthat and, as a complete surprise, Eilsel (not her real name) were waiting for me. (Mrs Notthat beat me by a bit over 13 minutes.)

I wore my Blerch shirt and met up with another guy with great fashion sense.

And now that I was done, I could finally have my trail rash looked at. (The shirt came out of this fine, although I don't know how - I had scrapes on my right shoulder, back, and hip in addition to what you see here.)

My daughter, Weird Haired Mom, spends a lot of her weekends providing medical support for events like this. She's swell and very competent and all that, but I was thrilled to not have to put her through fixing me up - there's no way she wouldn't have had a major giggle-fit while attending to my wounds. 

Why is that honey badger missing a shoe?
I have not the faintest idea how I ended up with bib number 1. I'm the opposite of elite, so maybe they did the numbering in the reverse order (although that wouldn't explain how Mrs Notthat got number 2). Alphabetically, I'm the middle of the pack. And I know I wasn't the first to register.

In any case I loved getting the full Alegna Yebba (not her real name, and unless you can break my secret code, this will make no sense) treatment.

The medal and shirt were great. They don't do age group awards or Mrs Notthat would have gotten second (and beaten three others!).

In the end, Sasquatch Racing seems to put on great events - everything was well organized, friendly, well marked, and fun. I'll certainly try to do more of their races (and be careful to sign up early to avoid being shut out).

Plus, I really need a picture of Sasquatch riding that bike.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

Monday, October 14, 2013

How to run K2 but avoid running K2

For many trail runners, Auburn CA is an important town due to its access to great trails, its hosting of many great trail races, and being the finish line of the Western States 100. Mrs Notthat and I had never run a race out of Auburn before (although we have both run Way Too Cool, which is close), so we jumped at the chance to run Inside Trail Racing's K2 event.

Originally we were both to run the Half Marathon, which includes the infamous K2 climb. However, my summit of Mt Diablo the previous day left my legs feeling a bit like rubber, so I dropped to the 8M race (which would bring me to the base of K2, where I would suppress a giggle, turn around, and head back to the finish) while Mrs Notthat stuck with the Half.

Htirdle and Leahcim (not their real names) were soaking up a bit of sunshine (there was a LOT of that in their near future) before the start of their 50K races. I get a huge kick out of Htirdle and think of her whenever I'm at that part of the race where I start questioning whether I'm too old for this sort of thing - she emphatically answers that with a "stop whining and get moving kid!"

Also running the 50K was Lehcar (not nearly her real name). She had run a tough 50K the week before, apparently as a taper for this 50K. Lehcar is not normal. Note how she doesn't have time for a proper picture since she is already locked in with Htirdle. (Spoiler alert: They finished about 16 minutes apart. Htirdle beat her.)

The shorter distances started 30 minutes after the longer distances, so we had time to pose for a picture.

All distances started with a fun downhill bit. Sadly, this meant all distances ended with a maybe not quite so fun uphill bit, once you are good and tired.

That's Mrs Notthat in the center of the picture, way ahead of me.

We kept going down until all of the sudden we had a great view of the American River! From this point to the 8M turnaround, the trail was reasonably flat with a few rolling hills. And lots of great river views.

The trail also had this suspicious looking boulder. It's not like it was big enough to hide a band of thieves, and for that matter, trail runners are generally not going to be a profitable group to ambush, yet I still approached it with caution. And survived.

One totally unexpected trail feature was a creek crossing. Even more unexpected was…

… this nice waterfall right next to the creek crossing. I took several pictures of this waterfall and none of them showed how cool it really was.

The 8M course was an out-and-back while the Half course was a lollipop, with the stick being the 8M course. So this trail had some two-way traffic, but it was pretty light and was never an issue. (There were a lot of non-race runners out there as well - it was great to see so many people taking advantage of these trails and the great weather.)

The 8M turnaround is right after crossing No Hands Bridge. The above picture shows two bridges - fortunately it was the lower one that we would cross.

Most runners know this bridge as No Hands (apparently due to someone a long time ago daringly riding her horse across it with her hands in the air back when the bridge didn't have handrails and was generally a lot more frightening), but these signs all refer to it as Railroad Bridge or something boring like that.

Once I got across the bridge I arrived at the aid station. These two were particularly perky about being out here.

They took this picture of me in front of the trail that headed up K2. I then giggled (no chance of stifling it) and headed back across the bridge towards the finish line.

The river looked amazing from the bridge.

And as improbable as it sounds, there were a few runners behind me - Lehcar's daughter Einahpets (also not her real name) was proudly waving her hands as she crossed the bridge.

The run back was largely uneventful until I hit the uphill and started slogging up it. It was at this point that a couple of Half runners blew past me, flying up this hill faster than I ran down it. It was awesome to see.

Eventually I made it to the finish line.

Mr ITR really struggled to look enthusiastic while handing me my first place age group award. (I actually had a top 10 finish! Although if you look at the small print, the 8M race only had 13 finishers total, and I was the only one in my age group; but still - a top 10 finish!)

Irual (not her real name) was enjoying watching Mr ITR sweat out handing me that medal while she waited for her popcorn to pop.

Race timing nowadays is child's play, apparently.

I headed back out a very short bit on the trail and made myself comfy while I waited for Mrs Notthat to come in. Within seconds of me sitting down she came storming up that hill looking for the finish line.

She conquered K2 and still had energy to burn!

When we left the race we drove the few blocks to this hallowed place - the finish line of the Western States 100 (Mrs Notthat had never seen it before - that's her with her seat picked out way up in the nosebleed seats).

And that's about it. The race was a blast, with great trails and greater volunteers. I was satisfied with dropping to the 8M race after the previous day's Half at Mt Diablo, but there was a tiny (but obnoxious) part of me that wishes I had taken on K2.

There will be other races though, and K2 will be mine then. Maybe.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.