Friday, December 25, 2015

The forrest was with me (the hills, on the other hand…)

Brazen Racing's Summit Rock trail race is interesting:

  • A nice bonus for us is that it's fairly close. 
  • Another huge bonus is that it's in a park that's rarely used for trail races. (Brazen has this one and its eviler twin Trailquake here, on some of the best trails around.) 
  • It's in early December, so heat isn't an issue. (Frostbite, however…)
  • About 70% of the trails are fairly technical single-track. This race always causes more than its fair share of ankle injuries and falls.
  • It's the second toughest* 10K Brazen puts on (only Trailquake is harder).
  • It's the fourth toughest* 5K (only Rocky Ridge, Trailquake, and Wildcat are harder).
  • It's the fifth toughest* Half (Double Dipsea, Rocky Ridge, Bear Creek, and Trailquake are harder).

* Based strictly on elevation gain. Heat can make less climbing feel harder, so your MMV.

Simplified course map and the elevation chart for the outbound direction.
The course is an out-and-back, which means lots of two-way traffic on what are often narrow, windy trails. After they reach the turnaround, the lead 5K and 10K runners end up barreling down that hill with the challenge of navigating both the switchbacks and the other runners (and there were a LOT of other runners at this sold out race).

For that reason, my favorite distance here is the Half Marathon, and my favorite starting time is the early start. This allows me to get most of the way up that long climb to the 10K turnaround before any of the faster runners even start, which means I won't be in their way. (I still eventually get passed by the faster Half runners, but by then we are pretty spread out and on trails that are easier to share.)

Mrs Notthat and The Dublin Kid, who appears to be a bit hat-challenged.
The only problem with the early start, is that it's early. Mrs. Notthat was walking the 5K, which started 90 minutes after I started, so she had some time to kill, and keeping warm was going to be tough.

There were 31 of us that took advantage of the early start. About 100 yards from the start I spied these two taking pictures. (Well, Nahtanoj, not his real name, was holding the camera. Adirf, not her real name, was a bit horrified that I was already looking worn out.

Picture by Nahtanoj. 
OK, maybe not so much worn out, but in well over my head.

About a quarter of a mile later, I came upon Nosaj (not his real name), also taking pictures. Why did he look so shocked?

Picture by Nosaj. Blur effect by the extreme lack of light.
Amazingly, I was a blur! (OK, it was dark enough that a banana slug would look like a blur. But still, I don't think I've ever been captured in such a way before.)

"Which way do I go?" (Pay no attention to that flour arrow on the ground.)
For the first half a mile or so, there are several trail possibilities, so very patient volunteers are standing by to guide us.

"Which way do I go?" "This way, go you must." You don't question Yoda.

Eventually, you end up on the trail that takes you up to the top of the hill. It's not steep, but the climb never ends. We had had a fair amount of rain in the days leading up to the race, but the trails were mostly unaffected, other than being softened up a bit.

At about mile 1.5, we reached the first aid station and the 5K turnaround. And another picture opportunity!

Picture by Yllom (not her real name). My speed is gone and I'm no longer blurry.
From here, it's another 1.5 miles or so to the 10K turnaround, and the top of the hill (more or less). At about mile 2.3 or so, I felt something caressing my ankle. Before I could work out what it was, I felt the stinger of a yellow jacket or two. (It turned out I wasn't alone, and that there was another spot, earlier in the course, where many others got stung, including Mrs Notthat.)

After fighting off the bee, I made my way up to the 10K turnaround, about mile 3.1, and another photo op!

Picture by volunteer. I wasn't moving fast, but my hands were - there was food to be eaten!
At this point, we were at the top of the ridge, and there was a very cold breeze (made colder due to my sweat-soaked shirt). The good part was that most of the climbing was now done and I could move a bit faster, with the fear of frostbite providing some incentive.

A sample of the trail. Don't let the sunshine fool you - it was cold out there.
I forgot to ask Sirhc, not his real name, which way to go. 
Another photo op! "Hi Leahcim! Not your real name!"
Picture by Leahcim.
The third aid station, about mile 6.5, was announced by a series of threatening, pirate-based signs.

Followed by fierce pirates.

Followed by a fierce, ummm, Olaf? At least that explained the cold.

The Half turnaround was a very welcome sight. Now we got to head back along the ridge to where we could go back down the hill and out of the icy breeze.

I think those are the "Summit Rocks." 

The second, now fourth aid station, mile 9.9, and the start of a nice long downhill and a chance to warm up.

The first, now fifth aid station, mile 11.5. And I had no bee issues getting here!

"Which way do I go?"

Somewhere around that last aid station, Nwad (not her real name - she's the one taunting me with her finisher medal in this shot) blew past me. By the time I got down to her squeeze, she had not only finished, but hiked back up to his spot. Well played Nwad, well played. For his part, Yoda Knarf (not his real name either) was determined to confuse me. (He failed, but barely.)

The finish line. Finally.
I was happy to be done. I had hoped for a 3:30 time, but was happy with being a bit under 4:00. I had some minor Achilles pain (which foreshadowed the pain I had a week later at a flat 10K) and my legs were exhausted from all the climbing (during which they spent a lot of time reminding me that they were not used to climbing), but I was otherwise OK.

Bits of the medal even glow in the dark, making it impossible to sleep with.

For obscure reasons that had something to do with a space documentary that was being released a few days after the race, there was a distinct Star Wars vibe to the race. There were half a dozen Wookies, several Darths, and a lot of light sabers out on the course.  The owl that's the race mascot seemed a bit more full of the Force than normal.

An adorable, scarf-wearing Darth and an adorable Chewie ran the race. Picture by Nahtanoj.
Oh my. Yes, these are highly trained, seriously motivated, talented trail runners. Picture by Nahtanoj.
I had a lot of fun at this race. Yes, it was a bit cold up on top, but there were so many fun people around. I got to hang and catch up with Enaid (not her real name) for a chunk of the ridge bit. I spent most of the race chasing Dyoll (not his real name) but failed to catch him at the end (he beat me by 18 seconds).

Here's to hoping the forrest is always with me.

That's it- move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Damp Whiskey Hill Redwood Run

Most of the races I do require driving about an hour each way, so when a race is held that's only about 20 minutes away, and in a park littered with amazing redwood trees and stunning trails, I jump at the chance. (Well, not actually jump, since the USGS earthquake tracking people have asked me to stop doing that.) The Whisky Hill Redwood Run, put on by BayTrailrunners out of Huddart Park, was worth (pretend) jumping for.

I did a bit of digging, and this race was my 15th race out of Huddart Park (there were two others where I just volunteered).

Note the sunshine. I like that it was wettest under the shelter.
This was a nicely old-school race. There were two distances, 10K and Half (which is what I ran), and about 70 total runners. As a bonus, it had rained overnight, stopping about two hours before the race. What this meant was that the woods would be perfect with all the dirt rinsed off the trees and shrubs, and the trails would be dust-free and soft.

"Which way do I go?" (This was about 50 feet into the race.)
Wow. Just, wow.
A fun thing about this race is that BayTrailrunners has a knack for putting us on trails that are rarely used for races, which is very refreshing.

That blurry bright green spot is Yram, not her real name, who is a real photographer that takes amazing shots of runners on trails. (Her website. The pictures she took at this event.) So, while this is the picture I got of her, here is what she got of me.

I like how I look almost like a real runner!

Like pretty much all Half races in this park, you spend the first three miles going uphill. At mile 3.5 or so, we reached the first aid station, where we crossed Kings Mountain Road. At this point we were on an out-and-back section, and so would see this aid station again.

A tree wearing a brightly colored coat.
Eibbed, not her real name, pointing out that I turned around the opposite way the signs indicated, and would likely be disqualified.
Eibbed lives in the East Bay, so many of the races I have to drive forever to are in her backyard, more or less. For her, this race was a bit of a drive, but since she had never been here before, and I wouldn't shut up about the park, she decided to drive over. And as it turned out, we more or less stayed together throughout the race, taking turns pointing out banana slugs and hills. (There were lots of both.)

At about mile 7.7, we were back at the aid station and ready to start the nice long downhill return.

A banana slug. We saw only one going up, but about half a dozen coming back down.

Large chunks of the downhill are on relatively smooth trail, so you can really make up some time. There was a loud whooshing sound as Eibbed flew past me.

One thing the park doesn't have is long-distance views. This one's about it, and it's only because the power company forced it to be there.

The third aid station, about mile 10.

The recent rains brought down a few dead trees.

The course required us to finish by climbing up a trail that we normally start races by running down. I was mostly done with climbing by this point, but since we were less than a mile from being done, I stuck it out.

The finish. Up another hill.

A proper photo of Yram standing next to Trebor, the RD (and not their real names).
A fun thing was that there was a raffle before the race, and I ended up winning a Pearl Izumi hat!
This race was a blast. I wasn't last, but last was not far behind. The course was well marked, with signs at most of the intersections - and it always amazes me how running a familiar trail the opposite way you normally do makes it seem completely new.

For some reason, December and January have a number of races out of Huddart Park, so I will likely be back soon.

Which is OK by me.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

When a Half Marathon Isn't Enough

It had been a bit over a month since the last time I ran a race with double-digit miles. That race, the Brazen Rocky Ridge Half Marathon, and the Half the week before that at the Stevens Creek event, had teamed up to crush me a bit.

The cure turned out to be working an aid station at the PCTR Eldrith race - watching all those runners  tackling the Marin Headlands made me want to tackle something myself, and the Coastal Lake Chabot race fit the bill nicely.

This race had a bunch of distances to choose from: 5M, Half Marathon, 30K, Marathon, and 50K. Since the trails around Lake Chabot are fairly manageable, as far as climbing, I really wanted to do something longer than a Half. My finger hovered over the Marathon button during the signup process, wavered a bit, then confidently mashed down the 30K button. 30K would be the longest distance I had gone since July - baby steps.

The Kid's Race. The bumble bee owned this race!
It was a very clear, but very cool morning, which was perfect for me.

Mr. Coastal: "How many of you need to thaw your sunscreen?"
There was a large turnout for this event, and all distances except the 5M started at the same time.

See all the runners that are already WAY ahead of me? This is about a mile into the race. Sheesh.
Races at Lake Chabot are a mixed bag, with a little bit of something for everyone. Like pavement? You got some of that. Like hills? You're covered. Like single-track? You will get some of the best around. For me, the draw is getting to run all the way around a medium-sized lake. You get some great views, but there's something that really satisfies the ego when you complete a lap.

(I counted them up, and this would be my 17th time running a race around this lake since 2010. I also have 8 other races here where I didn't go all the way around. There's a pretty good chance I have done more races here than anywhere else.)

"Way to go Yekcim! Not your real name!" 
We had a 15 minute head start on the 5M runners, and since we shared the same trails for the first 3 miles or so, I knew there was a chance I'd get passed by the faster 5M runners. And I did, but not by many.

The Bridge of Death. Look at that nice trail running along the side. Some day…
We split from the 5M runners at the Bridge of Death - they were blessed and got to skip it. I had to be brave and cross it.

Another bonus of Lake Chabot races are the outhouses scattered around the lake.
Brazen Half Marathons here require you to leave the lake and struggle up the infamous Live Oak trail. Almost everyone else though, avoids that trail and keeps you around the lake a bit longer, which is alright by me.

There are still climbs, but they are fairly manageable. The top of this climb led to the first aid station.

The adorably named Honker Bay aid station. With the equally adorable Rimidalv (not his real name).
The first aid station is at mile 4.5 and is notable for two things: It's the end of that climb, so you have a fair amount of mostly downhill ahead of you, and that downhill is all on wonderful single-track trails.

Seriously nice trail.
Blue ribbons mean bad - don't go on that trail. I happily avoided that climb and stayed on my flat trail.

The problem with all that downhill is that it's followed by the biggest climb of the race. That climb is rewarded with the second aid station, mile 8.5.

By this point we have wandered a fair distance from the lake, but we now turn and head directly towards it. The trail from here to the finish is not all downhill, but it mostly is, with a number of short climbs tossed in just to break things up.

If you keep at it, you soon arrive back at the lake.

And then you are presented with the finish. Unless it's not yet the finish. For the Half Marathoners, this is it, and they are done. For all the other longer distances, you fill your bottles and head back out. For the Marathon, you do another complete lap of the lake. For the 50K, you do that bonus lap then go out a third time to do the 5M course.

For the 30K, I only had to head back out and do the 5M course. I was feeling tired, but everything was fine - no worrisome pains or any hesitation about heading back out. I even toyed with the idea of doing an impromptu Marathon. I had hoped to get the Half done in under three hours, and I think I managed that (barely). That meant a four hour 30K was possible, but it would be tough. A Marathon would likely be in the seven hour range, which was a lot of hours.

Look - it's a trail race. There will be hazards such as this you'll have to face. Deal with it.
The 5M course had a decent climb, and that climb reminded me why doing the 30K was wise.

I should have mooned the Bridge of Death as I skipped it this time. 
The other reason the 30K was wise was that I didn't have to cross that bridge again. I liked that I felt good enough to seriously consider the Marathon option, but I also REALLY liked that I was smart enough to be happy with the 30K.

The finish, for real this time.
I didn't break four hours, but I came closer to it than I had a right to expect. I was very happy to be done in any case.

There were 194 finishers in the Half Marathon. There were 25 30K finishers. I finished in 24th place, beating only a 74 year old guy. Barely. But I still managed to get an age group award for third place! Yes, it was by default, but I'll still take it!

This event was a blast, as always. The weather was perfect and the trails were well marked and gorgeous. (Well, with the exception of the paved bits - no way they will ever be gorgeous, although since they are along the lake, they aren't pure torture.) A huge thanks to Coastal Trail Runs and all of their volunteers for making this such a fun day, and a successful return to racing something with double-digit mileage.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.