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.


Big Johnny Burton said...

Great race re-cap! And I loved all of the great photos.

mary ann said...

Last place from wire-to-wire and you are justifiably proud. Good job, it looks like a tricky race to me.