Thursday, May 15, 2014

Everyone loves an absurdly well marked course*

* Except maybe the sweeper.

We signed up for the Brazen Wildcat Half Marathon a bit over a month ago. A week before the race though, I had a cyst removed from my back and ended up with about a dozen stitches. And orders from my doctor to not run.

My plan was to walk the 5K (I had walked the 5K the weekend before at Brazen Western Pacific as well). Then I got an email from the Brazen Rabbit asking if I could help sweep part of the Wildcat course.

Trail races generally have a sweeper, which is a person that follows the last runner around the course. There are several duties for the sweeper:

  • Pick up all the trail markings, such as ribbons and signs.
  • Rub out all the trail markings (usually flour).
  • Pick up any trash the runners may have left behind.
  • Be the Ray of Joy for the aid stations since they get to be done once you arrive.
  • Do NOT be the Sweeper of Doom and cause the last runner to panic or worry. (This can be challenging, but when you are as slow as me, the last runner tends to not even know you are there.)

As slow as I am, my encounters with sweepers have been few, and only once (Way Too Cool in 2012)  did I have a sweeper actually catch up to me as the last runner. But I have always wanted to be a sweeper.

So I happily agreed to help sweep part of the course.

That horse on the right was laying down completely, and did not raise his head as we went by. It was not normal.
A fun thing was that we ended up with the grandkids for this race, and so The Big Wind volunteered to take them and direct runners at an intersection near the top of the first mean hill, about 0.6 miles from the start. Rather than waiting for the Half race to start, I headed up that first hill with TBW and the grandkids so I could watch the runners go whooshing by.

We had been told that there was a horse that wasn't looking good laying on the trail. When we got to that point (about a third of a mile from the start), there was a horse that really wasn't looking good, laying down next to the trail, surrounded by his buddies that seemed to be in protection mode.

This did not look good.

We got past the horses and stopped so I could call back and let them know back at the start what the situation was. But the horse sat up, then stood up, and suddenly looked fine. As it turned out the horses all wandered off the trail well before the races started and were never an issue (although they really wanted to get up close and personal with me later).

So is the leash on Jax, The Big Wind's dog, or Grandkid Second Born? They are looking back at the horses.
Enidualc, not her real name, showing proper hill running technique.
We were only about 0.6 miles from the start, but there is a lot of climbing in that short distance. I hung around to get a few shots and try to guess who was going to be the last runner that I would be chasing around the course. People's pace picked up when they saw me with the broom - the humiliation of getting swept my me would not sit well with any of them.

Mrs Notthat stopped sprinting up the hill so I could get this nice picture of her.
One thing you'll notice is that it was amazingly clear, but it wasn't nearly as warm as it looks. The views were outstanding as you wandered around this course, but the cool breeze along the ridge tops kept you moving forward.

The first aid station is the 5K turnaround. They were sad that I wasn't the Ray of Joy telling them they were done.
I hung around until most of the 10K runners went by so that I wouldn't be in their way and to give the last Half runner plenty of room ahead of me. I then headed out. I would not actually start removing markings until about three miles into the course since the early bit is shared by the 5K and 10K runners.

The second aid station, and for the Half runners, also the fourth aid station.
The second aid station is where the 10K runners turn and head up their last hill. Up to this point I had to be careful not to pass a Half runner, but by starting late, there was little chance of that. From now on the only runners I would see would be Half runners.

The Bermuda Triangle of this course, with runners coming and going from four different directions. (Bermuda Quadrangle?)
Eventually I made it to the start of the short out-and-back. My hope was to see one or two runners on this, which would mean I wasn't too far behind the last runner. If I saw no runners, that meant I was significantly back (which meant the various volunteers would be staying quite a bit longer than necessary, which is not a good thing). I could see a few runners that had just finished the out-and-back and were heading up the hill you are rewarded with, so I knew I wasn't horribly behind.

Shortly after I started out though, I saw this runner and knew my timing was pretty good.

The Brazen Rabbit and her trusty steed Spokes, ready to tackle any Half runners that forgot to turnaround here.
At the turnaround, the Brazen Rabbit was waiting for me. The two of us started back out, pulling ribbons, picking up signs, and rubbing out flour markings.

Then a funny thing happened - another Half runner appeared! Ekim (not his real name) had started late, well after the 5K runners, and had been warned that there might be course marking issues. As you can see, he was really stressing over that. HA!

Those of you with good eyesight will notice the runners going up that hill in the distance. That would be me in a couple of hours or so.

Once we reached the end of the out-and-back, I waited for Ekim to pass me before I headed up the hill that starts this loop. Then I got down to serious business. These are the kinds of signs I had to pull up and carry in a bag.

These are the kinds of ribbons I had to remove along the way. Brazen uses clothespins to attach the ribbons (as opposed to tying them directly to the trees, shrubs, or cows) which makes them easy to remove. The tradeoff is that it also makes them easy for vandals to remove, and in fact that first mile or so ended up having very few ribbons (they were found later, tossed in some berry brambles). The good part was that this bit of trail had no real intersections, so the ribbons are really just for confidence (which is a good reason to have them, but not critical).

Now you see it…
I carried a little broom with me to rub out these sorts of flour markings.

… now you don't (mostly).
The third aid station. I was their Ray of Joy!
I kept Ekim in sight for a bit, but the rubbing out thing started to slow me down. By the time I got to this aid station I was told he was about ten minutes ahead of me.

Refinnej (not her real name) on her way back. I was her Ray of Joy, although the magic of text messages had beaten me to give her the news.
From that aid station there is a mile and a half or so of paved trail. There is a sneaky left turn off the pavement onto some fun single-track that could be easy to miss, so Refinnej was stationed there. That area took me forever to unmark since Brazen REALLY didn't want anyone to miss that turn.

Eventually I made it all the way around that loop and was able to be the Ray of Joy for this volunteer that had spent a long day directing traffic at the Bermuda Quadrangle and taking lots of great pictures.

Picture by Bermuda Quadrangle volunteer photographer. 
Mrs Notthat came through here hours before I did. She ended up getting second in her age group!

Picture by Bermuda Quadrangle volunteer photographer. I set him free! (And note a bonus of having the ribbons on clothespins - a ribbon skirt!)
Miles and miles of trails and hills. They never end.
Sadly, I failed to get a picture of the fourth aid station when I showed up there. Probably because I knew that, from there, I had a nice long climb. I was only about three miles from the finish, but it was a tough three miles.

When I passed through the horse area, they seemed to delight in coming up to me and listening to me scream like a little girl.

By the time I made it to the finish, the gate had been locked and everything torn down and put away. Except the porta-potties.

That was fun. I might not be invited back since it took me so long, but in my defense I also would have been a tiny bit faster if I could have run a bit more. The thing is, when I started jogging I would get into race mode and nearly forget to grab the ribbons. (To my credit, I only had to backtrack once to get a ribbon I missed. I hope I didn't miss any others, but it's quite likely one or two escaped me.)

There is great honor in volunteering at these events, and I always thought working at an aid station was the best way to do that. But after doing the sweeper thing, I think this is the way to go. I was able to cover the entire course and bring joy to a number of volunteers (although I wished I had been a tiny bit faster and brought them joy a bit quicker).

And the best part is that nobody ended up getting humiliated by having me catch them.

This time. (Cue spooky music.)

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

What would you expect from a race named after Sasquatch?

The first time I heard of Sasquatch Racing was when I read about the 2013 Sasquatch Scramble. It sounded fun, so I tried to sign up, but it was sold out. I was stunned - I run a lot of trail races in the area and had just heard about them; how can a new group like that manage to sell out a trail race?

Granted, sold-out trail races are becoming more and more common now days, but still - I was determined to not get shut out for the following year's version of this race.

Mrs Notthat and I signed up early for the 2014 Scramble. And we were not disappointed. Worn out and tested, but happy.

The Scramble is held at Redwood Regional Park, just outside of Oakland. It's the home of many fun races that are often among the most challenging around. But looking at the Scramble's website showed an elevation profile that was far from fierce - somehow these guys had managed to work out a tame race for this park.


This is what their website showed, along with saying there was a bit over 1100 feet of elevation gain on the course. I'm thinking trail Half PR!

But then I noticed that the French Trail was on the course. Which lead to the West Ridge Trail. And even though Stream Trail is pretty mild, you still have to do some climbing to get to Skyline Gate.

This is what my Garmin came up with for the elevation profile:

It's actually about the same as the website's, but with a bit of a different scale. And those hills felt a lot more like this second chart. (The really jagged bit in the middle is the French Trail - it has no flat and is constantly dragging you up or down.) According to my Garmin, there was a bit over 2600 feet of elevation gain; past experience has shown me that the corrected elevation values are usually within a couple hundred feet of the actual value, so I would say this race had about 2400 feet of climbing.

And no chance of a trail PR for me.

Sasquatch wears sunglasses. Who knew?
A trademark of Sasquatch races is that you will have a run-in with a Sasquatch at some point in the race. And a Honey Badger. For most, these are fun times. For Mrs Notthat, they are the stuff of nightmares since she has a fear of people in scary masks.

So it was kind of funny that we were checked in by Sassy. Mr Notthat warned him that she would not be giving him a high-five out on the course, and likely would scream a bit and run off the trail just to avoid him.

We didn't know many people at the race, but we knew Yllek (not her real name) who you may remember from our HURT adventure back in January.

Honey Badger knows the way! This was at the 5K turnaround.
After a very civil 9:15 AM Half start, the race headed out on the Stream Trail, which is really pretty mild, at least at first.

If you look really hard, you can see Mrs Notthat up ahead of me.
The trail is wonderful and pretty tame. You are climbing, but a proper runner would hardly notice it.

At the first aid station, Half runners turn left towards the French Trail/West Ridge loop while 10K runners turn right and head back to the finish.
The first aid station is at about mile 3, near the top of that first climb. And I was gaining on Mrs Notthat - she was not going up the hills quite as fast as normal and the door was open for me to beat her. (Ha ha ha - no.)

I had hoped to make it to this aid station before getting passed by any 10K runners (we had a 15 minute head start on them), but ended up getting passed by two of them. I'll take it.

"Your date with the French Trail is ready for you!"
The (Pardon My) French Trail is a bit infamous in the Bay Area. It's gorgeous and a blast. It will also eat you up - it would be interesting to know how many sprained ankles and twisted knees it's responsible for. Not as interesting, but a much bigger number, would be how many bad words have been uttered by runners as they navigated the thing.

I was keeping pace pretty well with Mrs Notthat, and even managed to pass her on a particularly steep uphill bit. She smirked a bit since she knew that every uphill has to be followed by a downhill, and she is a master of sprinting the downhills and leaving me in the dust. Still, I enjoyed this brief bit of triumph at about mile 4.

And there she goes. I didn't see her again until I finished.

Yllek joked that this race was part of her HURT 2015 training. We laughed a bit about that, but seeing this sort of thing often on the French Trail makes you realize that it really is good training for HURT.

"Which way do I go?" Arrows? What arrows?
Eventually all good things end, and we were done with the French Trail. But now we faced the big climb of the race - the West Ridge Trail. This trail is wide and relatively smooth, but it's also pretty relentlessly uphill from here.

The second aid station, near the end of the climbing.
After being in the shade for much of the race, the exposure of the West Ridge Trail took a bit of getting used to. Eventually though, we made it to a bit under mile 9 and the second aid station. At this point, there was not much climbing left - just some small rollers - and you could relax a bit knowing the worst was over.

They were happy to see me since it meant their day was almost done.
A couple of miles later, a bit less than mile 11, we were back at that first aid station. There was only about 3 miles left, and a large chunk of that was fun downhill trail.

"Hey Sassy! I like what you've done with your right hand!"
Sassy was waiting for us at the turn to a really nice downhill trail. About two miles to go now.

At the bottom of the hill the Honey Badger was ready to direct me to the finish. There is not much left now - maybe a mile and a half - but it seemed to take forever. It was mostly flat(ish) and included some pavement, but even the couple of mud puddles didn't help make this stretch go by any faster.

Finally, the finish line appeared. Mrs Notthat had beaten me by a bit over 10 minutes and my sub-3 hour finish turned into a 3:34 finish. My watch showed a distance of 13.9 miles while Mrs Notthat's showed 13.7. In either case, even taking into account that GPS tracking can be tricky with lots of highly shaded switchbacks, this was definitely an ultra Half Marathon. Combining that with the bonus climbing left me feeling pretty good about the race.

And that's about it. Half finishers get a fun medal and all runners get a nice shirt and great cookie. There is also Red Hook beer and other things to eat at the finish.

The race was a lot of fun and worth the wait to get in. It was also the third in a row that we've run with Sasquatch Racing (Honey Badger and Rattlesnake Ramble were the others), and easily the hardest. The fourth race in their series is the Bobcat Blitz, which we were told will likely be on August 3 in Huddart Park. This is the Sunday after a number of other fun races, so it will be interesting to see how this works out, but it's really hard to miss a race in that park.

And since I've done so many races there, I'll know well in advance what to expect for climbing.

A lot.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.