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.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Running with the tarantulas

Eight years ago, a trail race was started to help promote the Los Vaqueros (Norwegian for "cuddly spiders") reservoir and watershed area. For 2014, Brazen Racing added the race to their ever-expanding empire.

Brazen tweaked the course a bit (I heard mixed responses as to whether it was now harder or easier), and the Half course was now a lollipop with a mean hill and many ornery rolling hills. And it was all sun-drenched (in spite of the predicted clouds we were supposed to have).

I came home from work a few days earlier to find this on the dining room table. I was puzzled since one of the last things Mrs Notthat would be doing is letting dough rise to bake bread. (Unless there is such a thing as kale and brussels sprout bread. And that's a joke - please don't send her recipes for this.)

I had forgotten that the day before I had left this thing on the table. A certain someone REALLY does not like spiders, even fake ones wearing leg warmers. This guy was going to run the race with me.

Don't let that smile fool you - this spider had already stolen the shoes off of four kids, and wanted more.
A fun thing about this race is that it has a kid's race. Not A Canadian made this wonderful spider thing to charm and entertain the kids. (Mrs Notthat spent the whole pre-race time trying to find a towel big enough to cover it up.)

Occor (not his real name) very bravely volunteered to direct the kids. That is a smile of terror on his face.
First up was the kid's race. These are the most fun, with a mix of older kids gunning for a win and younger kids gunning for candy. 

And they're off!

Since the kid's course was a loop with the potential of a wrong turn or two, Sirhc (not his real name) was the rabbit. How hard could it be to run ahead of the kids on a short loop? Pretty hard, it turned out. He had to really push it to keep ahead of this lead kid.

Occor offering to pace in one of the runners. In the background, the Brazen Spider was struggling with cramping issues. (You think a leg cramp is bad - try being a spider with eight legs!) 

Once the kid's race was done (and Sirhc was revived after the sprint), the Half started. The first couple of miles were reasonably flat with a few hills that were not too bad. (On the way back though, those hills would be brutal.)

Enjoy this shade. That's about it.

Racso (not his real name) and son were stationed near the bottom of one of the small hills grabbing pictures. 

I love this picture he got of Mrs Notthat a bit ahead of me - she is flying so high it really looks fake, like a bad Photoshop job. That kid likes herself some downhill!

In my picture, on the other hand, there is no air being caught. But at least I didn't fall.

A little bit further along we were treated to this sight of what was ahead - that's a lot of very exposed climbing.

You know it's a fast race when they have to put up "No Drafting" signs.

Eventually you reach the end of the lollipop stick, cross the road, and start up the real hill.

My kind of runner, stopping to get a picture taken.

The views did their best to make the hill climbing worth it.

Looking back down on the start area.
It wasn't really all that hot out, but that sun was relentless and took its toll on us.

The first aid station, about mile 3.6, was a great sight, mostly because it meant we were nearly done with that hill.

Looking back once I reached the top of the hill.

The hill climb was followed by a long, gradual, downhill dash. Which is what turned out to nearly be my doom.

The Wednesday before the race, I had tripped on a curb while crossing a parking lot at work, trying to get out of the way of an SUV, and ended up in a shrub. Unfortunately, on the way to the shrub, my right shin smashed against the curb. It hurt a bit, but there was little blood and I didn't think much about it.

Going down that long downhill though, I started thinking about it. A lot. My shin was not amused by my attempt to run this downhill, so I was not able to go quite as quickly as hoped.

I never saw a tarantula, but I did see my first snake of the year. I wanted to say it was eight feet long, but the footprints give away that it was maybe 18 inches. I think an angry tarantula could have taken it.

I don't pass many people during these races, but I did manage to catch up to Nerak (not her real name) and her amazing hat. (It's hard to tell from this picture, but that spider on her hat is wearing a red hat, just like hers, with a little spider on it! So cool!)

I was at about mile six and could see the next aid station up ahead. The problem was that that aid station was still two miles away. (Note all the shade trees. Sheesh.)

A huge surprise was catching up to The Endorphin Dude. He was struggling a bit, coming off his 50M Dick Collins race the previous weekend and still fighting a rib injury (the result of him being outsmarted by a timing mat), so I had a bit of pity for him.

But then I said "screw it - you're going down Endorphin Dude!" and took off, leaving him in the dust. (I would pay for that later, but beating him is a big deal for me, even if he was only firing on every other cylinder.)

I finally made it to the second aid station, about mile 8.2. The course from here on looks pretty flat on the elevation chart, but in real life, there were some small hills that took great delight in trying to break you.

A short bit after that aid station, we were VERY close to the finish line, geographically speaking. Brazen wisely had this volunteer pointing the way to keep going. Away from the finish area. By a lot.

The top of that sign has real blood on it. Spiders need to be taken seriously!

As the trail followed the road for a bit, we ran into Nivla (not his real name), taking pictures from his hidden camera.

This is the picture he got of Mrs Notthat when she came through much earlier. Still getting air.

This is the picture he got of me. No air being grabbed at all.

The course basically just follows the road for about a mile and a half or so. Along the way we hit the third and final aid station, at mile 10.4. Racso had relocated here to take pictures of the runners slogging along this stretch.

Racso's picture of my spider (and the dragonflies on the hat). 

Eventually we got to the lollipop stick again, crossed the road, and headed back to the start. These hills were not particularly fun for me since my right shin was pretty upset. But the end was near.

I caught up to Rehtaeh (not her real name) who was starting to have her own pain issues. Rema (not his real name) is well aware of the devastating effect of getting beat by me, so he came out to give Rehtaeh a pep talk and to distract me a bit.

Rema grabbed my camera to get some action shots, but if you look up ahead, you can see that Rehtaeh now has a solid lead over me. I wrestled the camera back and continued plodding to the finish.

Mrs Notthat showing off her age group award. And soaking up the sun. On purpose.
Not everyone takes getting beat by me as hard as The Endorphin Dude does. But they should. (And no, this had nothing to do with a timing mat.)

This is a fun race. The inclusion of the kid's race is a nice touch. I was sad not to see any real tarantulas (although they actually had a few in the finish area that you could hold and, in some cases,  scream at). The course is really not that tough - the hill takes forever to get up, but it's not a steep climb and it's followed by a lot of downhill. There's very little shade, but there are some nice views.

In the post-race shower, I tried to wash my right shin, but it was tender and the dirt didn't want to come off. It turned out that running this race caused the shin to bruise and to hurt a lot more than it had previously. It's possible that I maybe should have done a shorter distance.

I did drop to the 5K at the following weekend's race, so I'm not a complete moron.

Just a partial one.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

PPS: This was my first race running solely with Tailwind Nutrition. My stomach is very fragile in races where there is any heat involved (hi Rocky Ridge!), so I finally decided to give this stuff a try. The idea is that it provides everything you need; salt, calories, good running form, all in a simple drink. I was dubious, but was really hopeful. I didn't think this race would be a particularly good test, since it wasn't supposed to be all that warm, but it turned out to be a great test. And the stuff worked! It has a sweet/savory taste that takes a bit to get used to, and it's also much better when it's cold than warm, but I never felt hungry and it was great to not have to remember to take a salt cap every 30-60 minutes. My hopes are pretty high for this stuff now.  (They are also a great company to deal with.)