Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Stinson Beach comes through again

The thing about Stinson beach is that it's a long ways away (well over an hour for us) and a lot of the drive is on a narrow windy road filled with road bikes, and this time, with road construction equipment.

But then you get there, see the beautiful beach, and know that, for the next few hours, you are going to be on some of the most stunning trails in California. I've done one other race out of Stinson Beach and have been dying to come back and do another. The problem with this particular Saturday was that we had to be back shortly after noon, so Mrs Notthat and I decided to do the short distance (12K that ended up being nearly a 13K - BONUS!) of the PCTR Stinson Beach trail race and be happy with that.

This was also our first race with the newly reborn PCTR and I was anxious to see how it would go. (Spoiler alert: It went great.)

Looking at the list of pre-registered runners, I saw only one name that I knew - Ffoeg (not his real name). Ffoeg cannot resist a trail run in the Marin Headlands, so it wasn't a surprise to see him here.

A great surprise was seeing Anoda (not her real name) here too! Ffoeg did the 50K, so I knew we wouldn't see him again once the race started. Anoda was doing the 25K. I doubted we would see her again since we would have to leave soon after I shuffled across the finish line, and as slow as I am, I figured I would still be able to finish my 12K before she finished her 25K. Maybe.

The race started with an enthusiastic burst up a short paved road followed by a halt on Highway 1 while we squeezed onto the actual trail.

We spent most of the first half of the race going uphill on the aptly named Steep Ravine trail. The trail wanders along a noisy creek in an amazingly lush forest.

We had a bit of rain earlier in the week, but the weather seems to have little impact here. The trail was damp, but not muddy, and while the sun was shining brightly, in here you were drenched in cool shadows.

The Steep Ravine trail is infamous for its ladder. It's not a long ladder, but it does add a fun element to the course.

Yes - the trail goes right between those two trees.

After about three miles of climbing, you come out of the woods at the Pantol Ranger Station. Normally, this is where the aid station would be, but the Park Service has decided that it added too much congestion to this area (there are a LOT of people that come out and hike these trails), so a bonus out-and-back bit was added to our 12K.

The first cool thing about the out-and-back was that it meant I would get to see how far ahead of me Mrs Notthat was. The simple answer was "not that far"- the more correct answer was "it doesn't matter since she is going to blow me away on the downhill that's next."

I love that this aid station is at the  top of Cardiac Hill.
The second cool thing about the out-and-back was that we were rewarded with some great views. The weather was stunning - completely clear with very mild temperatures.

That pink loop of ribbon on the trail marked the location of a nest full of enthusiastic wasps. It was wise to give them a wide berth.
After making it back to the Pantol area, we crossed a road and then spent some time running along a ridge that was determined to distract you with gorgeous views.

The ridge is followed by going back through that forest, this time downhill on the amazing Matt Davis trail. This trail is steeper than the Steep Ravine trail, and has many switchbacks that are infested with steps. And roots. LOTS of roots. Anyone thinking they are going to make up a lot of time blasting down this trail is likely to be surprised (and maybe a bit bloody at the finish line). I had no chance of winning, so I took my time and enjoyed the scenery.

Before long I was at the finish line and my race was done.

Mrs Notthat beat me by a little over ten minutes. She also managed to become "one with the trail" (weirdly, during a relatively flat section - not the steep meat grinder part).

Just as I'm busy patting myself on the back for not getting beat by any of the 25K runners, in came the first place man followed closely by Anoda (I ended up beating her by a whole eight minutes. Sheesh.)

If you are a trail runner and have never done a race up here, you really need to add it to your to-do list (and hope really hard that the RD is able to arrange great weather like we had). If you aren't a trail runner, you still need to get out here and spend a day on these trails. Stinson Beach is a fun little town, there is a large parking lot and many fun places to eat.

The PCTR people and volunteers were all great and the course was well marked. We had a great time and are looking forward to coming back to do a longer distance.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures from the race here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

All this for a coaster?

The Brazen Rocky Ridge Half Marathon had nearly beaten me twice already. The last time, I swore I would join the wise runners and stick to the 10K distance.

Fortunately I will never have to figure out how to get one of these to fit in my car.
But Brazen knows marketing, and it knows the appeal of bonus hardware. So it came up with the Brazen Ultra Half Series. You only had to run four of their tougher Half Marathons (out of nine scheduled - I ran all of them but got a DNF at Drag 'n' Fly) and finish the Rocky Ridge Half, and you would get a bonus coaster to commemorate the accomplishment. Faster runners were also in the running for cash prizes, in the form of those huge checks that give banks nightmares.

So both Mrs Notthat and I signed up for the Rocky Ridge Half, but decided to do the early start to give us plenty of time to finish. (One of us ended up needing that extra time; the other is awesome.)

The Rocky Ridge Half course is memorable for a number of reasons: it's beautiful, has lots of great views, and has nearly 4000 feet of climbing. On this day, it had another thing going for it; weird fog/low clouds sticking their noses in random places.

"Tree Over" or "Over Tree"? I know of one rebel runner that actually crawled under the tree. Ytsirhc (not her real name) is not good at playing by the rules. 

At one point, I was faced with this - a vicious man-eating cow standing in the middle of the trail. As I was working up the nerve to try and sneak past her, two much faster sacrificial runners flew past me. They didn't have much meat on their bones though, plus they were fast and would be hard to catch, so the cow kept her steely gaze on me. So I slowly made my way up to her, whispering how much I loved  chicken. Somehow it worked, and I was able to continue on with the race.

The best parts of the course are spent in the trees, with the trees often actually becoming a part of the course. Cool temperatures made even the exposed bits of course quite pleasant (not counting the fact that they were almost always up a steep hill).

Mas (not his real name) is often the course sweeper, so seeing him come up behind you can be a bit alarming. But today he was not Mas the Sweeper. He wasn't even Mas - he ran as Pete the Awesome. Very few people knew that at the time, and it wasn't until well after the race when I was busy memorizing the results that I realized he had run with Pete's bib. Awesome is not a big enough word to describe this.

"Get up! You're killing the asphalt!" Only Occor (not his real name) would choose to take a nap at this point.
At mile 9.45 there was an 11:45 cutoff. Mile 9.45 is also where the last hill starts, with a long climb on pavement. I easily made the cutoff, thanks to my early start, and as it turned out, I would have made it (barely) even with the normal start.
Mt Diablo in the distance with the hills that make up the first two-thirds of the course in the foreground.
Up to this point, the weather had been perfect. Even when you were in the sunshine, it was cool enough to not be a bother. As we approached the top of that last hill though, the coolness was taken to an extreme as we entered the clouds.

Photo by Brazen volunteer Michael.
This was Mrs Notthat's first time on this course. All she had heard for weeks was how hard this course was. All she did during the race was fly!

Photo by Brazen volunteer Michael.
This is something you will rarely see - K-Dub and I running neck and neck this close to the end of a race. I must point out though that there are two pretty good reasons for this: I had an hour head start and  K-Dub had ran a 50 mile race a week earlier. Shortly after this picture was taken, she was out of sight and leaving me way behind. Like normal.

Photo by frostbitten volunteer at the fourth aid station.
Photo by frostbitten volunteer at the fourth aid station.
About the only thing Mrs Notthat and I had in common during this race is that we both arrived at the last aid station, mile 11.2, with our glasses in our hands. I've done nearly 90 races, some of which were very rain infested, and this is the first time I had to remove my glasses to be able to see where I was going.

The heroes at the fourth aid station. It was not nearly as pleasant out as this picture makes it look.
All along the ridge at the top of that last hill we had to run through a thick, ridiculously moist and windy fog. I was cold and soaked, but I got to keep moving. The volunteers at this aid station had to stand up there for hours, and then had to hike back out since their were no proper roads around there.

Coach Luap (not his real name) finishing just ahead of me. He was great on this course and had to be restrained from going out for another lap.
Finally, after over five hours (!), I made it to the finish line. Mrs Notthat had beaten me by well over an hour. I actually ended up with the longest finishing time of all the Half runners (several finished after me, but with shorter times since they did the normal start). DLF with an asterisk.

And I'm fine with that. This is a race that you just want to finish - the time is irrelevant (unless you've got your eyes on one of those huge checks).

The medal and shirt for this race were very cool, as normal. (There were also firecat tattoos handed out that many of the runners wore throughout the day.) And of course, there was the coaster. Ten pounds of fierceness that should have come with a warning label.

The back of the shirt shows the elevation charts. Note that their scale is adjusted for each distance, but still - those are some nasty elevation profiles.

I love that the coaster is challenging to use; miss by a tiny bit when setting your beer on it and the can will end up with numerous puncture wounds.

While looking at the coaster's teeth, it occurred to me that they actually matched the course's elevation profiles. I have since confirmed that that was indeed the intention. Way too much fun!

So I have survived my third Rocky Ridge Half Marathon. And posted my worst time ever. The odd thing was that I felt better at the end of this race than I did at either of the previous two (and WAY better than at the end of the two road Half Marathons I did the previous weeks) - I started the race determined to take my time and to enjoy it, and I was quite successful at that.

Last year I said that I was going to do the 10K this year. I now know better; I know that, as mean and torturous as this course is, it needs to be done.

So here's to next year.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see many more of my general pictures here. Because I ended up getting passed by nearly every Half runner, I was able to get pictures of most of them (yes, I'm the dork that took highly unflattering pictures of you as you climbed those hills). They are posted here.

PPS: Here is a link to the Ballad of Rocky Ridge thing I did before the race. I was FAR too kind to the race in that song. Thanks to Mr and Mrs Brazen for allowing me to do this race in spite of this thing.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Running the Redwood City Oktoberun Half Marathon

Saturday was the second road race in a row for us, although this one had the bonus of only being partly on roads, with some paved and some not-so-paved trails mixed in.

There were several other fun races also going on this day (Coastal Horseshoe Lake and the Golden Hills Marathon to mention two), but we get few chances to run a race that's ten minutes from our house and benefits the local schools like the spelling-challenged Redwood City Oktoberun does (that name frustrates the heck out of my computer's spell check - it is all but calling me a moron for allowing that spelling to live on).

Trail running thugs getting their goofy on.
Mrs Notthat and I ran this race last year, so we pretty much knew what to expect. Namely, a flat, out-and-back course with minimal dodging of traffic.

The one glitch today was the lack of porta-potties at the start. There were a few toilets available in the area, but a lot of the highly caffeinated runners really needed some relief. The race was held up for 12 minutes, and then we were sent on our way.

Some of the 345 runners that finished the Half Marathon, ready to head out.
The first aid station, which also served as the 5K turnaround.
Last year, Mrs Notthat was running the Nike Women's Half Marathon the day after this race, so we decided to walk most of the course, and ended up getting passed by the lead 5K runners just before we made it to this turnaround.

This year we were well past this point and neither of us ever saw a 5K runner (there were 605 of them that finished the 5K - nice!).

My shoes giggled when they came upon this short stretch of dirt trail.

The only change from last year was the stretch of road in front of the dealerships that had to be added  due to construction on the trail that runs behind them. This was also the only stretch where the runners were challenged by cars, some of which were VERY determined to get into the dealerships.

After that bit of road, we were mostly on paved trail for the next few miles. While the trail runs along the freeway, it does have some nice marshland you can look at.

Putting up a stop sign for the aid station seemed to be a bit of overkill.
At the end of that stretch of trail, we had the second aid station and another short stretch of road, this one being fairly calm as it passed by the San Carlos Airport.

I liked that the airport had their fire tuck out just in case one of the lead runners burst into flames.

At about mile 4, the emergency backup porta-potties provided some needed relief.

After that short stretch of road we ended up on the best part of the course - the trail along Steinberger Slough in Redwood Shores.

Even better, the trail turns into gravel a bit before the third aid station.

Mrs Notthat flying back after the turnaround. 
One big thing I like about out-and-back courses is that you end up getting to see all the runners, from the  absurdly fast to the one or two going slower than me. And so that is why I was able to work out that Mrs Notthat was about seven minutes ahead of me.

Having a motorcycle officer at the turnaround to chase any rebels that refuse to turn around seemed a bit extreme.
The three volunteers at the turnaround were awesomely perky and noisy - a great boost to the runners. I was halfway done, hadn't fallen down, and was ready to head back to the finish.

There were an amazing number of volunteers along the course, almost all yelling encouraging things ("Geeze dude, you sure you're all right?") and generally helping make this so much fun.

I felt a bit bad when going through the aid stations since my trail roots require me to carry enough water for half a dozen runners, and I never needed any of their cups.

Finally I made it to the finish line. My goal had been to finish in around 2:45 - my legs were still a bit tired from the previous weekend's San Jose Rock n Roll Half - but I somehow ended up beating last weekend's time and finished in a bit over 2:34. (Mrs Notthat was significantly slower than last weekend, and only beat me by three minutes - I picked up four minutes on her from the half turnaround point!).

Three happy finishers!
The Endorphin Dude wanting someone to hold his medal while he takes advantage of the  fashionably late porta-potties.
For reasons known only to him, The Endorphin Dude ran this race incognito (which is not easy for him).  The cool thing though is that he set a PR with a stunning 2:07 finish.

An accordion-based band playing many AC/DC and Black Sabbath hits.
A fun thing was that the finish line was right next to the Oktoberfest event. I would have loved sampling the many fun looking beers, but my calves were in extreme need of icing.

The race was a lot of fun. Again. The coolest thing though was that 78-year-old Knarf (not his real name) was allowed to finish, even though he was well past the four hour cutoff.

Knarf on the trail steaming along, with the sweeper behind him on the bike.
Knarf is not fast, and his running style is somewhat alarming. But I've done many races with him and I can only hope to be as cool as he is when I'm his age.

I know it's not trivial to support the slower runners, especially on a road race, but since I'm one of them,  they have a warm spot in my heart. And that this race let Knarf finish puts it in my warm spot too. (It's not as bad as it sounds.)

Thanks to everyone that made this race possible, from the organizers to the police and all the volunteers that helped make this safe and fun.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.