Friday, July 27, 2012

Wharf to Wharf 2012

I run very few races on pavement, but there's one little race that Mrs Notthat REALLY loves: the Santa Cruz to Capitola Wharf to Wharf Six Mile Run (And Don't You Call This a 10K Buster!). I have to grudgingly admit that I get a kick out of it too.

We've now taken three different approaches to running this race:

In 2010, we got up at some ridiculous hour to drive down to a parking lot in downtown Santa Cruz, took a bus to the start line, ran the race, then took another bus back to the parking lot. This was not fun, although most of that was the early wake up time and the LONG wait to get on a bus to go back to the parking lot.

In 2011, we found a B&B that was more or less halfway between the start and finish, walked to the start, ran the race, then walked back to the B&B. I liked that, but the walk back at the end was a bit long and not as much fun as you might think.

• In 2012, we stayed in a motel near the start line, ran the race, then caught a ride back to the start line with Weird Haired Mom, who had managed to park her minivan near the finish the night before. This worked out well, but meant that WHM had to have someone follow her to drop off the minivan, and then had to have someone drop her off at the start on race day morning. Heroically, her father-in-law stepped in and did both things. So this method worked well, but had some overhead.

I've got no idea how we will handle this next year, but I know we will book the motel room a LOT earlier though - paying twice the going rate for the room just because of the race is absurd.

On the Saturday before the race, it was very hot in the Bay Area. We had chosen to drive down to Santa Cruz along the coast, which was a bit busy, but not bad. Until we got to Santa Cruz, where we met all the people that took the freeway into town.

We were stopped in heavy traffic on a narrow road when the unmistakable sound of a train horn blared at us. It turned out that the road we were on moonlighted as railroad tracks for the Big Trees train that brings hundreds more tourists into Santa Cruz each day. We managed to edge over and let the train go by.

Sand Sharks are dangerous and are one of the reasons I stay away from beaches.
What should have been a 10 minute drive to our motel took nearly an hour, but we finally made it, and were happy to be able to get out, do some walking around, and eat dinner.

The next morning, we slept in a bit before the 8:30 race since we were about a five minute walk from the start line. WHM was dropped off at about 8:00 and we meandered down to the massively crowded starting area.

That anemone beat me by 18 minutes.
This race is sometimes compared to the Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco, but it's really far tamer than that. You see a few costumes and some assorted goofiness, but for the most part, you see a lot of people that are just out for fun, including a lot of families. (They say the roads are opened at a 15 minute/mile pace, but the race takes a LOT longer to end than that. The last finisher this year took over two and a half hours with a 26 minute/mile pace.)

Once the race started, it took us a bit over three minutes to make it to the start line. (Mrs Notthat aggressively had us start with the 7 minute/mile group.)

The race was billed as having 50 bands along the course. The definition of "band" was never made very clear though. There were a number of one-man-bands (and most of these were pretty good).

There were some two-man-bands (these guys were great - look ma; no amps!).

But mostly you had bands like this - some with young guys hoping for a gig, but most with middle-aged guys just out to have some fun and make a LOT of noise on a Sunday morning. Most of these were a blast.

And then you had this "band" - they were great and are out there every year, strumming their ukuleles to the latest AC/DC song.

 Oh yeah - the race. There were a lot of runners. Fortunately, the roads were wide and it wasn't too hard, after the first mile or so, to go at about whatever speed you wanted. I was already quite a bit behind Mrs Notthat and WHM (I had an early wardrobe malfunction that nearly caused my shorts to fall off), so I didn't stop very often to take pictures. (I still took a lot of pictures, it's just that I kept running while taking them, so a lot of them didn't come out very nicely.)

One slightly disappointing thing - they didn't have the balloon arches to run under at each mile marker like they've had in previous years. Instead, they had eight-foot stacks of balloons with the mile number on top. Not as glorious as the arches, but I think I heard there's a helium shortage so this was likely a compromise. (And it didn't dampen our enthusiasm when we saw them and knew we were one mile closer to the finish!)

I was amazed at how many runners were behind me. I ended up finishing in the top 50% this year!

Loved the percussion groups.

This was the only band on the route that played anything like country music - they were playing a bluegrassy version of a Johnny Cash song as I went by.

And then we were in Capitola and at the finish line.

Mrs Notthat beat me handily, but WHM was not in yet. Somewhere along the way I had managed to pass her and didn't even know it.

She came in drinking a beer. There were a couple of guys about a half mile from the finish passing out "adult Gatorade."

We knew of a number of people that were running this race, but in the massive crowds, we saw none of them. But then, as we were headed back to the minivan, we saw Knarf (not his real name) steaming towards the finish!

Looking back from the minivan towards the finish line.
It was a lot of fun, as usual. The weather was perfect and the bands were largely in tune. The race is capped at 15,000 runners, and there were about 12,000 official finishers. One report said that, including all the bandits that run the course without registering, they estimate that there were nearly 20,000 runners altogether.

The bands help make the race fun, but it's also all the people that turn out along the course to cheer, wave signs (almost none of them are rude), and spray water on the runners that make this a fun event.

Fittingly, on the way out of town, we had to stop for the train. Again.

That's Mrs Notthat modeling this year's shirt, which is quite nice (both her and the shirt).

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see a lot more pictures I took here.

PPS: I debated about whether to do this or not, but in the end decided to go for it. This company called MarathonFoto sent out an email before the race telling you to tell all your friends and family to not bother bringing a camera since they had the pictures covered. They had one cherry picker about a quarter mile before the finish line and they got two pictures of me. They got none of Mrs Notthat.

In any case, they are always here and it's always the same (not to mention that you end up getting a LOT of "Last chance to order pictures before we delete them and they are gone forever!" emails). I've never had a picture taken by them that was even vaguely worth considering paying the $30 they want. Until this year, when I hammed it up (a bit) and got this picture of me pretending I'm crossing the WS100 finish line. (Who am I kidding - if this was the WS100 finish line I'd likely be crawling.)

So I'm likely going to spring for this picture and just pretend it's from the end of some grueling race.

And not the end of a six mile long party.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Coastal Golden Gate take two, sort of

Back in February, I tried to run the Coastal Golden Gate Full Marathon, but was beaten down by the course. I had been looking forward to the summer version of the race and taking a shot at redeeming myself. Unfortunately, that Saturday was double-booked, and Mrs Notthat and I only had enough time to run the Half Marathon. (Other options included 5 mile, 30K, Full Marathon, and 50K.)

The race starts at Rodeo Beach. In July. That meant it was about 50 degrees at the start, with no hint of blue sky. The race starts out with about 30 feet of fast flat before you head up a long, relentless hill.

Normally this would mean I would be able to keep up with Mrs Notthat at least until the downhill starts. But for some reason, Mrs Notthat decided to sprint up this first hill, which meant this, about 100 feet from the start, was the last time I saw her until I finished. (Yes, Ytsirhc - not her real name, and being wildly perky in pink - also took off and I never saw her again either. But I'm used to that.)

While we could see the string of runners ahead of us, we could not see the tops of the hills we were heading up.

After climbing about halfway up the hill, I turned around and wistfully looked back on the start area.

Soon we were in the clouds, and the climbing didn't seem so daunting since you really couldn't see it.

This runner is after my heart - I love that she stopped to take a picture of this bit of the trail.

This is what she was taking a picture of - the steps ascending to the heavens. (Funny thing; this blog post has a picture of me heading up these same stairs! She must have seen me taking a picture of this woman taking a picture!) After a lot of climbing we were rewarded with a lot of downhill that took us to the first aid station.

Drannyl (not his real name) and the other volunteers were busy directing runner traffic and keeping everyone hydrated and fed. The sad thing was that from this aid station, we had a long (if reasonably gentle) uphill climb.

One of the best parts of the course waited for us up there though - a fun trail through a eucalyptus grove. The fog made it a bit surreal - it sounded like it was raining as the water condensed and fell from the leaves. The trail was actually fairly muddy. I loved it!

After we emerged from the woods, we had a long reasonably flat stretch of trail that barely clung to the edge of a hillside, which was working like a wind tunnel and blowing my dripping sweat back onto my glasses, making it really hard to see the trail.

I think that is highway 101 and Sausalito down there. We could clearly hear the traffic and could almost tell what station the car's radios were tuned to, but we couldn't see a thing.

Eventually the second aid station showed up. A cool thing about this aid station (that makes it WAY better than the first one - sorry Drannyl) is that there is about a mile and a half of gentle downhill coming out of it.

But then that's followed by one more hill that has some nice trails…

… followed by some uphill pavement.

Finally the uphill is done and all that's left are some steps and a dash to the finish line.

And here was the scene of my great internal debate last February; if you are doing the Full Marathon or 50K, you get to glance at the finish line while passing it by so that you can go back out and do it all again. I certainly felt better at this point this time than last, but a large part of me was happy to get to take a right and run up the finish chute.

Picture by Coastal.
Diane beat me by nearly 20 minutes.

Picture by Coastal.
No, I don't whistle while I run.

I'm totally blaming Mrs Notthat for my not winning this race. About two minutes before we started, she turned and handed me a sticky crown from a molar; she had been chewing a GU Chomp when it came loose. Since she had no free pockets (she says), I ended up carrying it with me for the whole race. Naturally, that made her lighter and faster and me heavier and slower. Yes - that's why I didn't win. (After the race, she called our dentist, the fantastic Dr. Edwards in San Carlos, who turned out to be in the office doing paperwork and said to stop by on our way home. He's so cool - he didn't even make a gagging face when we walked in all sweaty and dirty.)

And that's about it. It was a great event with a beautiful well marked course and nicely equipped aid stations. Parking is always an issue at this beach due to the number of spots that have to be left open for normal people, but if you can carpool with at least one other runner and get there a little bit early, you get to park close. Also, there are bathrooms at each aid station (at least on the Half course).

But please be careful when eating your pre-race Chomps - I've only got so many pockets.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Getting a dirty dozen done

Some people really like timed races. Hours on end slogging along on a one mile course is their idea of fun.

I'm not one of those people.

Which means running the Brazen Dirty Dozen Endurance Race should be pretty low on my bucket list. But then there's no way Brazen's going to put on a standard timed race and there's no way any slogging will be allowed.

The Dirty Dozen event includes two timed races, 6 and 12 hours, and four distance races, two 5K and two 10K, timed to coincide with the ends of the 6 and 12 hour races. This put runners with fresh legs out on the same course with runners that have been slogging going strong for the last 6 or 12 hours.

And an all-day barbecue. It was less an endurance race and more a running festival.

Mrs Notthat's inner cowgirl came whooping and hollering to the race. Photo by World Famous Etep.
The festival was held at Point Pinole Regional Shoreline - the same place we've done numerous races in a wide variety of weather conditions, a lot of them cold and wet. So we brought a tent to use as a changing room and shelter. And some chairs. And a wagon to haul the stuff back and forth (it was about a half mile to the parking lot).

Our hideout sign; photo by Brazen volunteer paparazzi Atir (not her real name).
While I ran the 12 hour solo, Mrs Notthat and Weird Haired Mom teamed up for the 12 hour race, which meant that while one of them was running the course, the other was hanging out, eating BBQ and cheering in other runners as they came through.

Not a Canadian signed up for the 6 hour race, and decided to do some pre-race loops for a warm up. Or maybe she was just dodging my camera.

Eirelav (not her real name), whose heart is in Berkeley but is currently keeping her towels in Miami, came out to run this race.

Seriously - someone get this woman a pony!

The course was 3.37 miles long and had a variety of surfaces to run on. There was a nice stretch along San Pablo Bay.

And a fun little bit of single-track that was added just for this race.

Which revealed this pier that I didn't even know existed.

The twin arches made an awesome sight each time we finished a loop. (The 5K and 10K races used the arch on the right while the timed events used the one on the left. This led to a bit of confusion later when some 12 hour runners opted to run one of the 5K races so they could get its unique "blob" medal - after many hours of going through the left arch, they had to remember to end that loop using the right arch. Hi there WHM!)

There were two aid stations - the one in the festival area and this one at about the halfway point of the loop. And that's Eirelav's squeeze Yrrej (not his real name either) working that aid station for the whole 12 hours. (I also liked how the station became a bit migratory, moving to follow the shade as the day wore on.)

Photo by Not-Normal Sirhc. 
We all looked pretty perky early in the race.

The Brazen Sherif and her trusty steed Spokes wandered the trails all day, looking for varmints or slogging. And also putting out a wide variety of motivational signs as the day went on.

The Neraks (not their real names) taking a break. They were part of a three person team, which meant a LOT of time was spent doing quality control on the BBQ. I became intensely jealous of the team concept after about six hours.

The most famous runner there was The Walking Diva, Guinness world record holder for most marathons in a year. I loved that she had a slice of pizza in each hand while out on the trail. I am in total awe!

Ardnassac and Mrs Notthat slowed down and walked a loop with me. Which was all well and good until my arch nemesis, Yram, came up behind us. Yikes!

At the end of Mrs Notthat's loop, she tagged WHM, who clearly had gotten plenty of rest during that slow loop.

Photo by Needs Cool Name.
It was quite sunny and warm during the middle part of the day.

Photo by Alegna (not her real name)
But quite cool at the end. Note that my arch nemesis is photo bombing this picture - but that's OK since I beat her! (Granted, she had a very specific goal and reached it relatively early and could have easily beat me if she wanted, but still; I BEAT HER!)

Photo by Not-Normal Sirhc
The awesome Enitsirhc getting her first 50K done and The Endorphin Dude showing their bling. (The ED was one of those that switched races for one loop just to get that "blob" medal.)

So, yes - this was a timed, looping race. But it was different and a lot of fun. MANY runners hit distance PRs, including many that will be getting their name in Ultrarunning Magazine for the first time! Mrs Notthat managed to get a bit over a marathon distance in 6:13:09 - the longest she has gone since 2010!

A huge thanks to the people at Brazen and all the wonderful volunteers that put in such a long day - everything went flawlessly and and a whole bunch of fun was had by all.

And unlike last year, the medic never looked twice at me (that I know of).

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more pictures here.