Saturday, November 22, 2014

Blown away by the Malibu Canyon views

Once in a while, Mrs Notthat and I decide to go on a minor road trip and run a race where we've never been before. Being in the Bay Area, we're blessed with a ridiculous number of amazing trails and races, and it can be easy to forget that there might be other areas with great trails.

It's just that it's really hard to imagine LA as one of those areas.

The opportunity to run our first So Cal trail race presented itself in the form of the Coastal Malibu Canyon race. A bonus for us was that it was just a bit north of LA, which made getting there easier. We knew there would be a river crossing and an aid station where bits of the TV series M*A*S*H was filmed, but that was about it. It was a 25K lollipop with a really short stick and a few serious climbs (just under 3000' of climbing total). Mrs and I signed up for the 25K distance (there were also 10K and 50K options).

We drove down Saturday afternoon and stayed in the historic town of Calabasas, home to many actors, sports heroes, musicians, and Meat Loaf.

I'm happy to say that the post-race BBQ had absolutely nothing to do with the golden arches.
The coolest thing though was seeing the Coastal Van in a grocery store parking lot.

The next morning we got up and drove the ten minutes to the race start, in Malibu Creek State Park.

The thing about running an out-of-town race is that you end up not knowing any of the other runners. Well, almost none of them, as it turned out, since Retep (not his real name) was there to run the 25K. Retep  had run a road Marathon the day before, so he said he was mostly just walking this course. (Ha. We never saw him again once the race started - he finished over an hour before me.)

"On your marks!" A pre-race race.
One fun thing was that Coastal First Born recognized Mrs Notthat and I and Mrs got to spend a lot of time with him before and after the race. I love how grown up he's getting and how funny he is.

Mr Coastal: "How many of you have heard of Meat Loaf?"
There was no chance of rain, but there was a great chance of wind. The infamous Santa Ana winds were starting up that morning, which put the entire area under a red flag warning (red flags are apparently vulnerable to these winds). Being a Bay Area guy, I assumed that these winds, which originate in the dry deserts to the east, would be warm or even hot.

I was wrong. The desert gets really cold at night, so first thing in the morning, these winds were actually quite cold. At the race start though, the winds were still getting themselves together, so it was actually reasonably pleasant.

Mrs Notthat thoughtfully wore a bright yellow top so that I could easily spot her out ahead of me. For a while, anyway.
There was a small climb in the first two miles that got us nicely warmed up.

Again, the bright yellow spot is Mrs Notthat, her lead on me growing.

At about mile 2.2 we came to the river crossing. In a normal year, this would be at least mildly formidable, but not this year. Many chose to hop across on the rocks, but I've learned that I'm not that coordinated, so I just stomped through the water.

The first aid station, about mile 2.7.
The first aid station marks the start of the real climb.

I don't know for sure that we climbed that peak, but I think we did. Or at least its mean cousin.
It was along this climb that we started to really get some cold wind gusts to deal with. Most of the time we were pretty protected, but then you'd round a corner and get blasted with a sandy gust. I quickly learned to hold onto my hat when reaching turns.

For the most part, the trails were a mix of wide single-track and nicely graded dirt roads, although you had to pay attention on these roads since there were many rocks with a single-minded desire to trip you up.

These rocks were harder to trip over.
As you climbed, you started to see some great views and rock formations.

One good thing about the winds is that they really cleared the air, and you could see for miles.

It's not easy to make out, but that's the ocean on the horizon. We got to look out over that for many miles as we ran along a ridge top.

A few of the famous Malibu Migratory Rocks.

As you can see, there was a LOT of exposure on this course. It was sunny, but with the highs only in the mid-70s, it was not hot, and we had the winds to keep us cool in any case.

Wait, what? We really go up there?
When I first saw that climb above, and saw runners going up it, I assumed that they were just going on a side trip - there was no way the race course would make us climb that thing.

But it did.

It wasn't nearly as bad as it looked from a distance, and it was actually pretty fun (since I wasn't in a particular hurry).

Coming down the other side was a bit treacherous though - LOTS of ankle-twisting opportunities! What made it worse was that you really wanted to look around and soak in the views.

If you look carefully, you can see the next aid station in the distance.
It should be pointed out that we were not actually done climbing yet, so this bit of challenging downhill was about to be rewarded with some more uphill.

The hugest surprise of the whole race was getting to the second aid station, about mile 8, and seeing our very own Bay Area Yrral (not his real name) running the joint!

Unfortunately, they were in a very windy area and had to improvise a bit.

No, that's not too much starch in the trail ribbon.
About a half mile after that aid station we were at the top and ready for a long dash down the hill. It was mostly very runnable trail, and I knew that Mrs Notthat would be flying. What I didn't know was that, about two thirds of the way down, the ground gave out under her as she rounded a corner and she ended up with some nasty trail rash. And no, that didn't begin to slow her down enough that I could catch her.

At mile 12.4 we arrived at the M*A*S*H aid station.

This signpost was rebuilt in 2008.
The 10K course was an out-and-back that actually headed the opposite way around the lollipop loop than we went, so this was pretty close to the 10K turnaround point.

I was using my Tailwind Nutrition so I didn't need any of the food here, but they were very insistent and I ate a potato. (The Tailwind worked great, by the way.)

According to Wikipedia, that's an ambulance that was used in the TV show.

Leaving that aid station, there are about 2.8 miles of fairly flat trail left. It turned out that this was a pretty popular stretch of trail though, with lots of normal people hiking out to see the M*A*S*H area.

I spent time looking for these ribbon nubs left behind by evil people that rip the ribbon down. 
Historically, this stretch is highly prone to course marking vandalism, so it's the last to get marked. Fortunately, there aren't a lot of intersections, so it's pretty straightforward where to go.

When I first looked at this picture, I thought I must have had dirt on the lens, but then I remembered that I took this during a big wind gust. The worst thing about the wind was the sand and dirt it blew into your face. The good news was that this only happened occasionally.

The wind was blowing over the traffic cones! (Probably not really, but it sure looks that way.)
Eventually I made it to the finish line! My original goal was to finish in around four and a half hours, so I was happy that I got in with a 4:12. I was also dead last out of 82 runners.

My other goal was to not get lapped by a 50K runner (they ran the 25K loop twice), and I succeeded (but just by three minutes - he was hot on my tail!).

When I finished, Mrs Coastal asked if I had seen Mrs Notthat and CFB cheering for me. I hadn't - somehow I had gone past while they were busy doing something else, so I headed over to where they were to let them know they didn't need to keep waiting for me.

CFB's hat blew off so he decided it was safest to just carry it. He was more than a bit surprised that I had already finished; he knows me well enough to keep expectations low. Really low.
The age group award was for the Coastal Lake Chabot 5M race I had done the week before, where I was not DLF and did not win the award by default! Really!
This race was a blast! The trails and views were amazing - it's still hard to reconcile them with the fact that we were so close to LA.

It was about a six hour drive for us (with stops), and the drive back home Sunday after the race was not exactly pleasant for my tired muscles, but the weekend was a lot of fun and a nice change from the normal.

In talking to some of the local runners, apparently last year's version of the race was very different, with a storm moving through leaving behind some very muddy sections of trail. All were much happier to have to deal with the wind instead.

But it wouldn't have surprised me to see a tin man, scarecrow, and lion skipping down the trail - Hollywood's not that far away, after all.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.


mary ann said...

wow - beautiful !

Nafets said...

Nice report. I always enjoy reading them. Looks like a great trail run. I like that they have a theme based aid station.

I did not find out what DLF is.

We both had the same idea to go south for a run: I ran a HM in LV that same weekend.

See you at the Nitro Turkey, hopefully.

notthatlucas said...

Nafets - DLF is Dead Last Finisher. Something I know a LOT about. We won't be at Nitro Turkey, but will likely be at Quarry Turkey (and likely another attempt at ageless wonder, although that's not quite an ideal course for that).

I forgot to mention that I fist-bumped a guy wearing a Dodgers hat. And I didn't get any cooties from it!

Clara Sic Alonzo said...

Awesome report!!! Beautiful pictures! I bumped into you around mile 9ish. Nice meeting ya out there!

Chic McArthur said...

Wow, great description of the event!! This was my first 25K trail run and I too had a blast!! Thanks - Chic

Beth said...

Beautiful pics of beautiful views! Looks stunning.

Laura said...

One of these days I'm going to have to do a road trip to a race our local race companies do that's farther afield than Marin or the East Bay. Meanwhile, I'll just live vicariously through you!