I know better.
I've started this race five times previously, and I know how hard it is. I know that it really messes with my mind, which makes it even harder than it deserves to be. I've lost more sleep on the night before this race than any other race.
I don't have to run it. I can skip it. Or volunteer.
But Mrs Notthat is all about the coaster, and that made skipping this race pretty much a non-starter. (Ha ha - see what I did there? Oh never mind…)
To get the coaster, you have to have run five of Brazen's toughest Half Marathons, and then at least start Rocky Ridge. (I found out in 2013 that, even if you DNF at Rocky Ridge, as long as you have completed the other races, you still get your coaster.)
Mrs Notthat had run her required five races much earlier in the year, before she got injured. (That's not exactly true - her fifth one was Badger Cove, which she ran even though she was in pain and already injured. That was in March, and was her last Half until starting Rocky Ridge in October.) She was feeling much better by the time Rocky Ridge came around, but really, she should not have done the race.
But the coaster. Was. There.
So we ended up starting the race together, with both of us vowing to be fine with a DNF if that turned out to be the smart thing to do, especially for her.
|Mrs Notthat dropping her drawers before the start. It pays to show up early!|
|I like how the start requires you to parade past the porta-potties, providing one last temptation.|
|"Which way do I go?" She really couldn't believe I was so dense I had to ask.|
You wander through some rolling stuff for a half mile or so before you start the first real climb. As is normal, I started at the back and was obsessed with going out slow.
After a little over a mile, I caught up to Laup and Llib (not their real names). I walked with them for a bit before I managed to slowly drift ahead of them. Llib captured this picture of me as I wandered ahead:
The best part was how later, Llib said that I "charged up the hill." Believe me when I say I charged up nothing.
There are parts of that first climb that are kind of pretty. The bad part is that, looking at the above shot, it looks like the hill is done shortly. Ha!
If you hang in there though, you really do hit the top of that first climb, and the views really open up for you. For me, the best stretch of this course is from mile 2 to mile 6 - there is a lot of downhill, some nice woods, and no serious climbs. This is the stretch I normally go too fast on, which leads to me blowing up when the next real climb starts.
But not this time. This time I was determined to play it cool and chill on that stretch.
|The Blur running the first aid station. He is wise and volunteers at this race every year.|
Between miles 4 and 5 is when the fast runners from the normal start go blazing past me. That's one thing I really like about the early start - it gives me a great view of all the elite-level runners in their element, which is not something I would normally see.
|"Seriously! If we hadn't showed up to hold down this rail, it would have run away!" I, for one, wasn't buying it.|
There's an aid station at mile 6.5 that provides a brief respite, but everyone coming through here knows what's ahead.
By now, there is a fairly steady stream of faster runners from the normal start going past me. It never fails to amaze me that I had a full hour head start, and here we are, maybe 7 miles into the race, and they are already passing me.
|Mt. Diablo mocking us. "You want climbing? I got your climbing right here!"|
|"Del Amigo" my butt. What a stupid name for this trail. "Del Diablo" is much more like it.|
And to make it worse, there's a short break in the climbing for some steep downhill. If you still have some legs left, you end up feeling a bit cheated since this downhill is fairly treacherous for mortals to run.
But that's OK, since it doesn't last long, and then you resume your climb.
At one point on the second part of the climb, someone came up behind me and latched on. I didn't know who it was, so I blindly took this shot. It was Htenaj (not her real name), who claimed she was letting me pull her up that hill, but in reality she was shoving me up it.
After climbing forever, you see this - a number of switchbacks taunting you, making it clear that you are not nearly done with this hill.
|Getting wienered by Truman, his real name. Again. The Dirt Diva tried hard not to giggle as they blew past me.|
When you finally hit the top of that climb, about mile 8.5, you have a long stretch of very runnable downhill. For me though, I'm usually toast by this point, and nothing is runnable, which makes going down this bit of trail that much more torturous.
Just to make it a bit harder, you can see that you are actually quite close to the finish, if you want to DNF.
At mile 9.36, you are at the only aid station with a cutoff. I was a bit over an hour ahead of that cutoff, which meant I would have made it even with the normal start.
This aid station is the place where you have to decide whether to keep going or not. It's the base of the last big climb, and it's a joyless, mostly paved and exposed climb that is a huge test. This is where I had expected Mrs Notthat to call it a day if she was struggling, but she didn't - she kept going (I was told; she was well ahead of me).
Eventually you have to decide, and I decided to keep going. I watched Ylrac and Nad (not their real names) get the sponge treatment, then got my own, and headed up the hill.
It's not really a steep climb, but it is relentless and very sunny. And by now, it was pretty warm. I had to pause multiple times on this climb. It took forever.
|The Dirt Diva is also an artist, of sorts, and drew this at the 5K turnaround.|
|I had never seen runners sitting at this point before. It was warm and the hill was eating people up.|
Eventually you really do get to the top of that last hill, but then you are faced with many smaller hills on the rolling trail. While it was very exposed, there was also a nice breeze, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been.
The last aid station, mile 11.2, was a treasure. I sat for a few minutes, got my head sponged again, and then was accosted by this volunteer that wanted to take my picture.
I cannot believe how fresh I look in this shot. Trust me - I was finding it hard just to be vertical by this point.
After that aid station, you still have a mile or so along the rolling ridge, then you make a left and head down some serious downhill. After slogging along a bit, I was surprised to find I could actually run, after a fashion. So I did. Not fast by any means, and there were still WAY more rolling hills to fight through than was fair, but I was moving relatively well.
And then the finish line appeared.
|Picture by Ecinreb, not her real name.|
|Not a real check, but almost!|
For us mortals, the important bit is that you get the coveted coaster. Mrs Notthat and I now have four different coasters each, and they really are quite impressive.
This wasn't my slowest time ever for this race, but it wasn't far from it. I did capture Mrs Notthat on video saying that we don't have to do this race again next year, that we have enough coasters, and that she will be perfectly happy to never visit Del Amigo again.
But we all know how this works - a little bit of time will pass, memories will fade, and visions of coaster five will begin to sharpen.
And that's when I'll break out the video again.
That's it - move along…
PS: You can see more of my pictures here.