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.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Rocky Ridge. Again. Sheesh.

Rocky Ridge.

I know better.

I've started this race five times previously, and I know how hard it is. I know that it really messes with my mind, which makes it even harder than it deserves to be. I've lost more sleep on the night before this race than any other race.

I don't have to run it. I can skip it. Or volunteer.

But Mrs Notthat is all about the coaster, and that made skipping this race pretty much a non-starter. (Ha ha - see what I did there? Oh never mind…)

To get the coaster, you have to have run five of Brazen's toughest Half Marathons, and then at least start Rocky Ridge. (I found out in 2013 that, even if you DNF at Rocky Ridge, as long as you have completed the other races, you still get your coaster.)

Mrs Notthat had run her required five races much earlier in the year, before she got injured. (That's not exactly true - her fifth one was Badger Cove, which she ran even though she was in pain and already injured. That was in March, and was her last Half until starting Rocky Ridge in October.) She was feeling much better by the time Rocky Ridge came around, but really, she should not have done the race.

But the coaster. Was. There.

So we ended up starting the race together, with both of us vowing to be fine with a DNF if that turned out to be the smart thing to do, especially for her.

Mrs Notthat dropping her drawers before the start. It pays to show up early!
We both chose to do the early start since it gives you a bonus hour on the cutoff. Doing the early start has the side effect of requiring you to show up while it's still dark.

I like how the start requires you to parade past the porta-potties, providing one last temptation.
It was reasonably light by the time we started. Normally, there might be 10-15 people in the early start. For this race, there were 45 people.

"Which way do I go?" She really couldn't believe I was so dense I had to ask.

You wander through some rolling stuff for a half mile or so before you start the first real climb. As is normal, I started at the back and was obsessed with going out slow.

After a little over a mile, I caught up to Laup and Llib (not their real names). I walked with them for a bit before I managed to slowly drift ahead of them. Llib captured this picture of me as I wandered ahead:

The best part was how later, Llib said that I "charged up the hill." Believe me when I say I charged up nothing.

There are parts of that first climb that are kind of pretty. The bad part is that, looking at the above shot, it looks like the hill is done shortly. Ha!

If you hang in there though, you really do hit the top of that first climb, and the views really open up for you. For me, the best stretch of this course is from mile 2 to mile 6 - there is a lot of downhill, some nice woods, and no serious climbs. This is the stretch I normally go too fast on, which leads to me blowing up when the next real climb starts.

But not this time. This time I was determined to play it cool and chill on that stretch.

The Blur running the first aid station. He is wise and volunteers at this race every year.
At mile 3.25, you hit the first aid station. It's still relatively cool out, but it's worth it to fill your bottles here.

Between miles 4 and 5 is when the fast runners from the normal start go blazing past me. That's one thing I really like about the early start - it gives me a great view of all the elite-level runners in their element, which is not something I would normally see.

"Seriously! If we hadn't showed up to hold down this rail, it would have run away!" I, for one, wasn't buying it. 
At about mile 6, you start climbing the second hill. It starts out OK, but quickly degenerates into a horrific nightmare.

There's an aid station at mile 6.5 that provides a brief respite, but everyone coming through here knows what's ahead.

By now, there is a fairly steady stream of faster runners from the normal start going past me. It never fails to amaze me that I had a full hour head start, and here we are, maybe 7 miles into the race, and they are already passing me.

Mt. Diablo mocking us. "You want climbing? I got your climbing right here!"
The views were very clear. Stopping to take pictures every few feet provided some nice breaks.

"Del Amigo" my butt. What a stupid name for this trail. "Del Diablo" is much more like it.
This climb is relentless. Soul-crushing. Mind-numbing. Never-ending.

And to make it worse, there's a short break in the climbing for some steep downhill. If you still have some legs left, you end up feeling a bit cheated since this downhill is fairly treacherous for mortals to run.

But that's OK, since it doesn't last long, and then you resume your climb.

At one point on the second part of the climb, someone came up behind me and latched on. I didn't know who it was, so I blindly took this shot. It was Htenaj (not her real name), who claimed she was letting me pull her up that hill, but in reality she was shoving me up it.

After climbing forever, you see this - a number of switchbacks taunting you, making it clear that you are not nearly done with this hill.

Getting wienered by Truman, his real name. Again. The Dirt Diva tried hard not to giggle as they blew past me.
As I got close to the top of the climb, I heard the pitter-patter of tiny dog paws. Truman was on my heels and moving ridiculously well.

When you finally hit the top of that climb, about mile 8.5, you have a long stretch of very runnable downhill. For me though, I'm usually toast by this point, and nothing is runnable, which makes going down this bit of trail that much more torturous.

Just to make it a bit harder, you can see that you are actually quite close to the finish, if you want to DNF.

At mile 9.36, you are at the only aid station with a cutoff. I was a bit over an hour ahead of that cutoff, which meant I would have made it even with the normal start.

This aid station is the place where you have to decide whether to keep going or not. It's the base of the last big climb, and it's a joyless, mostly paved and exposed climb that is a huge test. This is where I had expected Mrs Notthat to call it a day if she was struggling, but she didn't - she kept going (I was told; she was well ahead of me).

Eventually you have to decide, and I decided to keep going. I watched Ylrac and Nad (not their real names) get the sponge treatment, then got my own, and headed up the hill.

It's not really a steep climb, but it is relentless and very sunny. And by now, it was pretty warm. I had to pause multiple times on this climb. It took forever.

The Dirt Diva is also an artist, of sorts, and drew this at the 5K turnaround.
I had never seen runners sitting at this point before. It was warm and the hill was eating people up.
After a long bit, you turn off the pavement and onto a proper trail. It's still an uphill trail - the climb's not done - but at least it's not pavement.

Eventually you really do get to the top of that last hill, but then you are faced with many smaller hills on the rolling trail. While it was very exposed, there was also a nice breeze, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

The last aid station, mile 11.2, was a treasure. I sat for a few minutes, got my head sponged again, and then was accosted by this volunteer that wanted to take my picture.

I cannot believe how fresh I look in this shot. Trust me - I was finding it hard just to be vertical by this point.

After that aid station, you still have a mile or so along the rolling ridge, then you make a left and head down some serious downhill. After slogging along a bit, I was surprised to find I could actually run, after a fashion. So I did. Not fast by any means, and there were still WAY more rolling hills to fight through than was fair, but I was moving relatively well.

And then the finish line appeared.

Picture by Ecinreb, not her real name.
And then it was over. Finally.

Not a real check, but almost!
The Brazen Racing Rocky Ridge race is fairly unique for a relatively local trail race in that it has cash prizes. $10,000 worth of cash prizes. This is starting to attract some seriously fast runners, some of which are not prepared for all the climbing (about 4,000 feet) you have to go through.

For us mortals, the important bit is that you get the coveted coaster. Mrs Notthat and I now have four different coasters each, and they really are quite impressive.

This wasn't my slowest time ever for this race, but it wasn't far from it. I did capture Mrs Notthat on video saying that we don't have to do this race again next year, that we have enough coasters, and that she will be perfectly happy to never visit Del Amigo again.

But we all know how this works - a little bit of time will pass, memories will fade, and visions of coaster five will begin to sharpen.

And that's when I'll break out the video again.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.