Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Some sand and pavement, but oh the views!

Back in 2011, Mrs Notthat and I ran the Coastal San Francisco Half Marathon (this was pre-Zoom) and loved it - the trails were interesting and the views outstanding. We wanted to run it again but conflicts kept coming up. Until this year.

It's now a Zoom race, but is still basically the same, although the start has been improved a bit.

There was trail construction going on that forced a small change to the course and routed us through the Golden Gate Bridge visitor center. Because of that, the race had to start at 7:05 so that we would not be bothering the tourists there after 10AM. This meant that everyone had to get up a bit earlier and many arrived while it was still dark.

The start line is about a quarter mile from the finish line, and since there were no taxis around, Mrs Notthat and I strolled out there just in time for the start.

Mr Coastal Zoom reiterating that we had to do two laps around the lagoon, and that five was way too many.
What I had forgotten about this race until I looked at my old race report is that it originally had you start by running away from the bridge for a bit, then turnaround and come back. That was a bit awkward since we would end up passing through the 10K start area which could cause potential congestion.

The modern version of this race now starts with two laps around the Crissy Field Lagoon (about one mile per lap). Getting loopy isn't my favorite thing, but it was a much better option than the old way of doing this.

This is looking back across the lagoon. If you have good eyes you can see runners that are WAY ahead of me.
Toddler Coastal trying to talk me into just sticking to the lagoon. 
One bonus for doing these loops was that they had a small aid station set up at what would be the finish area so you could rehydrate a bit, or more usefully, dump some jackets and such that you no longer needed now that you were warmed up.

After the two laps we were set free on the real course, headed towards the Golden Gate Bridge and past these interesting sculpture things by Mark Di Suvero (not his real… oh wait - that really is his real name!).

After climbing a small hill, we came to the construction area. And turned left to avoid it.

The race's detour took us up to bridge level, where we looped through the visitor center (that I didn't even know existed), waved at a few cars, took a few pictures, then headed back down to go under the bridge.

Passing under the bridge is an odd thrill - locals probably do this multiple times a week, but for me, this was only the second time in four years I have done this, so I took a lot of pictures. Even proper tourists told me I was dawdling too long.

The course, after the two lagoon laps (which only the Half runners had to do), is an out-and-back. This meant I would get to see all the other runners as they headed back. This guy, Saerdna (not his real name), won the 10K.

I hoped to make it to the 10K turnaround before the Half leader passed me on his way back, but I wasn't even close to there when Wehtam (not his real name, and from the UK!) blew past me.

One thing that I remembered from all those years ago was the deep sand you had to plod through to get to the first aid station. The sand was a bit damp which helped, but it was still challenging.

Htenaj (not her real name), redefining "easy open package." There may have been some bad words uttered.
The first aid station (mile 5.4 for the Half runners) was at Baker Beach. It was also the 10K turnaround point.

After leaving the aid station, we had a bit more sand and then were spit out in a residential area. This bit of the course is not my favorite, but does have a bit of charm in that, well, there is no sand. Going this direction, you are still going uphill, although it's a pretty mild climb.

After wandering around a bit through the neighborhood, we headed back to the trails and entered the Land's End area.

This area has stunning views and is a lot of fun. It's also when I started seeing some of the runners that I knew, as they had already hit the turnaround and were headed back.

The first I saw was Trebron (not his real name). Just as he was going past I realized who he was, and when I turned around, he stopped for this picture. (I hope I didn't cost him an age group award.)

Next I saw Enidualc (not her real name) dancing down the hill.

And then Nairb (not his real name either). There was one more person I was looking for, and the longer it took before I saw her, the smaller her lead was on me.

About 0.4 miles ahead of me, I finally saw Mrs Notthat. There was no way I was going to catch her, but I could try to keep her lead from growing too much.

That's the Cliff House restaurant off in the distance.
Not long after going past her I could see the Half turnaround aid station (mile 7.7) near the Sutro Baths. (A nice change is that we were not routed down to the beach and forced to climb back up to the aid station as happened the last time I ran this.)

Those are the steps we had to climb up to get to this aid station previously. The view is amazing though.
Eventually I was done admiring the view and turned around to head back.

These steps were a lot more fun when I came down them a bit earlier.

These steps were a lot more fun now than they had been earlier.

I believe Htenaj is on the phone to whoever made that package she couldn't open on my first time through.
The residential bit went very well since it was downhill going this direction. And before I knew it I was back to this sand-infested aid station (about mile 10).

No toll for runners!
After that aid station, there was a bit of wandering around, a dash under the bridge, a blast through the visitor center, and it's all downhill from here.

It's funny how, after all the hills (and my whining about them), when I finally got to the flat bit just before the finish line, I really started to struggle.

Regardless, I made it to the finish line just a bit under three hours.

Mrs Notthat had finished about 11 minutes ahead of me and had already received her first place age group award! (She ended up beating one other runner in her age group.)

The thing was that there were a lot of Half runners, and almost all were faster than me. I knew I had no chance of an age group medal.

And then I heard my name called. I had forgotten that Coastal/Zoom will change from 10-year age group intervals to 5-year intervals when there are lots of runners. I ended up with a third place medal (out of three in my age group).

I'm trying real hard not to sweat on Mrs Notthat. And she's holding a foot thing that she chose for me as my prize in a random drawing.
The medals were great, and I loved having the option of an XXL shirt!
This race was a lot of fun. Yes, there is too much pavement and too much sand, but the rest of the trails easily made up for that. And then there are the views - they were stunning as usual.

(And I'm not going to admit that the early start actually turned out to be a good thing since it meant we had more of the day left when we got home. Like for lawn mowing.)

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

PPS: This race happens again in May.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Do rattlesnakes swim?

Mrs Notthat and I enjoyed the Sasquatch Racing Honey Badger race so much that we automatically signed up for the Rattlesnake Ramble race. The Rattlesnake Ramble was at Lake Chabot, where we have run many races, but this one was to use some trails that we had rarely been on before - some single-track trails that almost never get used for races.

And then, on the Thursday before the race, we got an email saying that they had to change the course due to the expected storm that was to hit us over the weekend. Honestly I wasn't surprised - I know other races have tried to use those trails and been forced to change if there was any chance it might be moist out.

The new course turned out to be very similar to the Brazen New Year's Day race - a clockwise loop around the lake on fire roads. In addition to losing out on the single-track trails, we ended up with nearly double the climbing. (The 10K course had a similar change; the 5K race was unchanged since it was all on pavement.)

On Friday night the weather professionals were giddy with forecasts of epic rain, so Mrs Notthat and I showed up prepared for just about anything (short of carrying an inflatable raft).

We arrived to a very light drizzle, and even that soon gave up altogether.

It was cloudy, but there was little wind and it really wasn't that cold. I'm not saying that a sunscreen booth would have been busy, but I've been at summer races with worse weather.

Mr Sasquatch giving pre-race instructions, mostly about how rattlesnakes are not good swimmers.
I wasn't sure how many runners to expect at the race - I'm sure the weather forecast kept some runners away - but there was a pretty good crowd all ready to go by the civilized start time of 9:15AM.

We started with about a mile and a half of pavement along the lake.

A honey badger threatening runners with a rattlesnake if they chose not to head up the hill.
Right after crossing the dam, we left the pavement and started up the first real hill.

The fire roads for the first part of the race were really in pretty good shape, for the most part.

There were a few scattered puddles, but they were easy to avoid.

I told them there were only a couple of runners behind me. A dance routine broke out.
The first aid station was at about mile 4.2. The weather was still dry and a bit cool, so I grabbed some GU Chomps and kept on going.

One great thing about this race was that they had absurdly enthusiastic volunteers at many of the big intersections.

A fun thing about these trails is that we spend a lot of time among the eucalyptus trees, which helps distract you from the rolling hills.

One difference on this course is that we wandered what sounded like a LOT closer to the firing range than normal. Apparently the threat of a bit of rain did not dampen people's enthusiasm for making lots of noise.

I asked her to make this look like miserable duty, but she still made volunteering look fun!
Eventually I got to the second aid station, about mile 7.8, and the start of a long downhill stretch. This was also the 10K race's turnaround point, although most of the 10K runners had long since finished their race.

OK, she wasn't actually at a trail intersection, but she still made sure I knew which trail to go on.
This downhill stretch, mostly on the infamous Live Oak trail, can get a bit sloppy when it rains. It also has some steep bits that, even when dry, can be a bit challenging to run down.

Since it hadn't been raining for a bit, the mud was very sticky and quickly added multiple pounds of bonus weight to your feet. Fortunately there were just a few stretches that were like this. Also fortunately we only had to go down this bit - the 10K runners had to both climb up this and go back down it.

Eventually I made it down the hill, remarkably without falling, and made the turn to the only bit of this course that terrifies me.

The Bridge of Death. With what appeared to be a Bridge Troll guarding the exit. And just to add to the spookiness, it started to rain a bit.

The Bridge Troll was fierce, but I'd rather take my chances high-fiving him than going back across that bridge. 
Mrs Notthat is terrified of people in masks, and she nearly chose to run back the other way rather than risk trying to get past this guy.

At this point, the 10K runners turned right and ran the rolling, mostly paved hills to the finish line. The Half runners, though, turned left and headed up their last real hill. And by now (a bit over 9 miles), the rain was getting a bit more serious.

This volunteer was congratulating us once we made it to the top of the hill.
The rain made the trails a bit sloppier, but they were still pretty solid.

I think he's telling me there's two more miles to go.
The third aid station, about mile 9.8, signaled the start of a fairly long downhill stretch that is fun to run since it's not that steep. The rain made it pretty slippery, but it wasn't nearly as bad as I had feared.

I loved that these swans got out of the water to avoid getting wet in the rain. Or something like that.
At the bottom of the hill we were back on pavement and slogging along the lake in a fairly heavy rain.

And before I knew it (HA!), I was at the finish line.

It was great to be done. It still wasn't all that cold or windy, but by this point I was completely soaked and ready to change into some dry clothes. (Mrs Notthat had come in a bit over 11 minutes ahead of me.)

The very nice shirt, the medal/bottle opener that the Half runners received, a rattlesnake cookie, and the beers that had been iced earlier.
The race was a blast, even with the soaking that we got towards the end. The funny thing though, was that if you ran the 5K, 10K, or a moderately quick Half, you stayed dry; it was only us slower Half runners that ended up getting caught in the rain. (Well, and all the volunteers and other race people.)

Something I find interesting - there were three distances (5K, 10K, and Half) and, by a significant amount, the Half had the most runners. I would have guessed that a lot of people that signed up for the Half would have dropped to a shorter distance because of the predicted weather, but it doesn't appear that happened.

In most races I've run, the shorter distances usually have more runners than the longer distances, so why didn't this race work out that way? I suspect one thing that affected this is that only the Half distance runners received a finisher medal.

Bling is a surprisingly effective motivator.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

PPS: This was the first real test of my new waterproof camera, and I loved that I didn't have to worry about it.

PPPS: Those of you that ran the Coastal Golden Gate race have my sympathies. Compared to what you faced, we had a sunny summer day. It's amazing the difference 20 miles can make.