Sunday, December 26, 2010

RUNDown: ZombieRunner Bay Trail Marathon (#6)

Sorry for the delay with this report, I was having a great time over the holidays with family.

The Zombie Runner Bay Trail Marathon is my 6th marathon and first trail marathon. My slowest time and toughest marathon yet....but my new favorite race for reasons you'll have yet to learn.....

As you may recall, this race was a last minute addition to my schedule..I happened to be at the ZombieRunner store and saw the flyer. I just had to do this race, even though my training isn't peaked or anything, because I train on the same trails all the time. 

This is also my first 'low key' race, run by, they put on small (200-300 people) trail races in California. It's a half marathon course with two loops for the full marathoners. Not ideal, but still pretty nice to be off road for a change.

On Saturday I picked up my bib at the Z.R. store (about a mile from my house) and not bad for a $60 marathon: nice Z.R. hat included in goody bag along with various eats..the store also had a 10% discount for racers! Way better deal than your usual crowded boring "expo".

Saturday afternoon and evening I was co-host of a Holiday party for about 80 people and ended up being on my feet from about 1pm to 10pm. My legs were pretty shot when I went to bed and I knew this wasn't optimal, but on the other hand I was going to run as slow as it took to make it an 'easy' race, so I hoped it would be ok.

At about 2:30am I was awoken by a pounding, humongous downpour: one of those rains that even with your wipers on 'super fast' it's not enough and you can't see. This major dumping continued most of the rest of the night. At about 5:30am Toni woke up from it too and said "Are you *really* going to go out in run in *that*?". I mumbled something like "I'll see".

Toni was concerned when the ran didn't let up and said things like "I forbid you to go out and run 4hrs plus in all this wind and rain!". I countered with suggesting "let's see how it is at sun-up" as often the rain is less during the day around here.  I'll leave out the details but this kind of haggling occurred every time the rain got loud and noisy ..

At 7am I got up, put on my stuff. For keeping my feet from getting wet I slathered on a layer of vaseline just before putting my normal socks on (actually I wear silk sock liners). Over that I put a set of nike half socks, the theory being the extra layer might help with preventing any moisture induced blisters.

Upshot: No foot problems at all...even after totally submersion of feet many times.

I had promised Toni I would quit at 13.1 if things were too horrible and so she grudgingly  let me out the door. The weather forecast was for plenty of rain and wind (up to 45 mph!) during the day but at the moment it was just a normal rain.

10 minutes later I was in the parking lot (after dodging lots of standing water with the car) and as I suspected there were plenty of crazies showing up even in the rain and wind. I decided to sit in the car until 10 minutes before race start (8am) and it was a good thing I did as a major dumpage started and continued for quite some time. During this time Toni called and told me the power had gone out. (Later we found out somebody hit a pole..power was out until 9:30am), I was able to tell her that yes, indeed, all the folks were here and the race was a go. Eventually the start time approached and the rain luckily was just a normal wiper speed rain so I got out and walked to the start.

I moved to the back of the pack, even though no chip timing I wasn't going to get caught up in trying to do a fast time. I swore that I would really berate myself if I finished faster than 4:30...I really needed to be able to ski with everybody in two days after the race.

I chatted with a bunch of people around and also saw that the now famous "Walking Diva" (aka Yolanda) was running this race. It was cool to see her in person in our fair baylands race! She was lean and mean and walked a fast, steady, power walk the entire race.

The race started with little fanfare and off we went. I was wearing my nylon jacket to keep me warmer (even though it's not waterproof) and also my L.L.Bean "duck hunters" hat...totally water proof and a huge bill that keeps the rain off your glasses and face really well.

At about mile 3 I realized I was passing somebody I knew from work, Steve Tjiang. He's somebody I really admire as he's run lots of 50k's and a couple of 50 milers, which I would love to do but not sure I'm up to.  He was doing the half and running about the same pace as I was and so we ran together...a first for me to run with somebody in a race. During the run I picked his brain for all the information possible. At about mile 4 or 5 I took a photo of him and he grabbed my camera and took one of me. You can see that at this point the rain was not very hard (just a light spitting) but if you notice, you can see my race number through my jacket because it's totally soaked.

There are two ways of running a trail with puddles: straight through, or dance around. I was doing the 'dance around' and Steve was a plow-straight-through man. I tried this but I found the cold water splashing on the lifted leg from the impacting leg to be quite cold. The only way to avoid that was to lift your feet really high..and this was not easy to do.

To avoid Steve's splashes, I tending to fall behind or pull ahead when we hit a patch of puddles.

At this point we were running about a 10:18 pace on the Garmin, a easy conversational we got out to about 6 miles, we hit the open stretches that faced right into the wind, and the wind became pretty strong and on the nose....15-20 mph or so. 

We'd missed the first aid station so when we got to the pump house I pointed out the drinking fountain there to Steve (he wasn't carrying any water, I had my own bottle with me) and he stopped to tank up. He caught back up on East Bayshore and we met Julie from Modesto also running the half marathon.

Soon we came upon the next aid station and I discovered the great stuff they had at this race, in particular orange slices. I took two and chowed down while walking. So wonderful! Makes GU taste like creamed newspaper pulp.

We eventually came into one of the really muddy sections of the course. I discovered that it takes a lot more energy to run when your footing is slippery! This lasted for a mile or two and then we came to the one set of hills on the course.

The photo shows the stream crossing you have to do as you come down the hill (see the guy in green out there?) was about 8 inches deep and there was no going had to splat your way through ;)

Eventually we exited the south loop (at about mile 10 or so I think) and you had to cross another huge puddle with same method....on the exit a race person was taking photos of everybody's, um,  technique. He caught me too late to see my splash...and he also  chopped my head off (didn't zoom out fast too fast for him..ha ha). You can see the puddle right behind me..I had just splashed through to the right of concrete post behind me. I would have to pass this puddle both ways again on the 2nd loop. It was nice and muddy on the bottom of this little pond and squelched really good.

As you can see, I took off my jacket as I was getting too warm. The rain was very minimal at this point..but it wasn't done with us yet. Here's a photo of Steve fording the puddle (right through the middle..splash..splash..splash ;)

As we came around the duck pond again the wind picked up but we were still holding a 10:22 or so pace on the Garmin. Steve was going a bit faster here and I suddenly had to pay attention to keep up..we hit a 9:00 pace for 1/4 mile....then back to normal pace as we came down along the Palo Alto airport back-stretch and finally hit pavement (and the wind on the nose).

At this point the course does a little out-and-back stub to Cooley Landing..a section of this is on single track that was VERY muddy and slippery (and not very scenic with power lines and chain link fence). I instantly called this section the 'slip-and-slide'. Try as I might, I could not run this very fast....I was really worried I'd get dumped on my feet were all over the pace!

I hit the aid station at the Cooley landing turnaround by myself...Steve had faded a bit, but I was (so far) still doing the same 10:22 pace. As I approached the half marathon finish I could see my split on the clock was about a 2:18... slow for me but hey, not buggin' me at all. 

On the way back out I passed Steve and wished him adieu (he finished in 2:21) and off I went for lap number 2. At this point I was feeling really good but it was strange to be heading back out with so few people on the course going in the same direction! It got pretty lonely pretty quickly. 

But this was my turf..the trails I run all the time...(well, not the slip-and-slide ;) I was feeling pretty ok with the temps (54), wind and occasional showers. My curiosity, of course, was focused on how the last 6 miles would go.

Coming up on the aid station near the duck pond, because I was running alone I lingered for a full 30-40 seconds and tried some new things: potato chips, defizzed coke. Mostly I loved the orange slices and also melon slices. I had been taking GU (and ended up eating 4 during the race) but I ate also probably 8 orange slices and 4 melon slices by the end of the race. 

At miles 15-16 I was realizing (into the headwind again) my legs were really feeling all the effort of running on the slippery parts and the uneven terrain...this was kind of a bad patch.  

My legs and shoes were not really very muddy..wet yes, but not muddy. As I mentioned to @martha in my previous posting I realized during this race that a rainy muddy race isn't as bad as it could be: the rain and puddles keep your shoes cleaner, and the mud itself is more diluted and not sticky. I'm very familiar with the local 'gumbo' mud and if you happen to let it dry on your shoes you need a jackhammer to get it off. The water prevents all that.

At the aid station on the back stretch on bayshore again we lingered again and then set off on the muddy stretch leading back to the hill again. Along the way I had passed a few folks that were going slow and didn't look too happy. I was feeling it in my legs, but less so after my bad patch at 15-16.

At the hill, I walked up (only cost 30 seconds or so) and didn't see a soul on the trail up ahead...I had absolutely no idea where I was in the field but figured it was well near the back. 

The miles ticked off, and the rain started up again in earnest on the return leg behind the airport. I passed another two guys on this stretch. About this time (mile 21-22) I also realized I was getting chilled and so I thought about putting my jacket on.  But for some reason (i.e. brain fade) this seemed like a lot of work and so I kept putting it off. Finally after a few minutes of this procrastination I told myself I really needed to stop being stupid and get the blasted thing on. I started warming up and realized I had been pretty cold...zipped the sucker all the way up to the neck. 

I was not looking forward to the slip-and-slide again. When I finally got on it there were a few walkers heading back to finish the half and they said I looked strong..bless their hearts! When I got to the turn around I just had to ask the fellow at the aid station how much further ...ans: 1.7 miles. My watch was saying about .9 mile but I knew this was rubbish since I'd done so much puddle dodging. 

On the way back toward the main trail I passed a few of the guys behind me I'd passed heading out and we all gave each other encouragement. It's pretty special to be running a marathon with so *few* other people and zero spectators.

When I finally got off the mud and back on the final stretch of asphalt, I felt really good. I pulled together my form and kicked up the pace and felt really good as I approached the finish. My last half mile was at about a 9:00 pace.

Finally I pulled up to the finish and there was not a soul in the finish tent I saw the head of a young guy as I pulled up and he pushed some button as I showed up, stood up and slipped a medal on me. Then he asked me my number, and I unzipped my jacket and showed it to him and he wrote it down.

That's marathon #6, methinks!

 I had some nice lentil soup and m&m's at the finish area, basically nobody there so I was pretty sure I must be almost dead last....When I got home, strangely I wasn't that hungry..I had some leftover mushroom soup and toast and I was good until dinner time.

A few days later I was shocked when looking at the results...I did pretty well: 21st out of 46 full marathoners (I think 60 had registered so 14 were no shows). But even more surprising was that out of the 5 people in my age group I was second!  You could have knocked me over with a feather!

Eventually I got a medal in the mail. It's probably worth about $1.50 (doesn't matter!). In my entire life I have *never* won anything for athletics. I didn't really like the kids that did this nor their parents and coaches when I was a young....most of them seemed to be jerks. The entire "sportsmanship" thing was completely missing. (Not that I understood it that way at the time). 

But here I am. I'm really pleased with myself..but it's a strange feeling: ..I ran a 4:06 on SF hills, but frankly, I'm more pleased with a 4:42 on the trail. 

"80% of success is showing up" --Woody Allen

Was Woody talking about running trail marathons as a master in crappy weather?

Finished 21 out of 46 full marathoners
 4:42:25 (10:47 pace)
 Second place finisher in age group: M50-59
 26.94 miles on the Garmin

In short, I discovered trail races are a wonderful challenge and contrast to the big road marathons I've been doing so far. Hooray for variety!

Full album of my photos here.

How did the post-marathon skiing work out? Great! Here's a shot of the very un-crowded trails at Alpine Meadows! (My shadow visible at the bottom). My quads were sore but not nearly as much as my other races.

Next up: Surf City on Feb 6th!


  1. Second place in your AG.....not bad for your first trail marathon! Thanks for sharing your race report. It looks like you may have found a niche in poor weather conditions. ;) I really admire your ability to persevere through the conditions and keep such a positive attitude along the way. Well done!

  2. Congratulations on your podium finish, Paul! Happy New Year and hope you will have a great 2011 run, starting with the Surf City.

  3. Great report. Tough run with the rain and mud. Congrats on AG award. I'd like to do a trail race as well.

  4. That was a great race report - for a great race! I would love to run a trail marathon in April out of SF, this RR is making me want to even more now, despite how tough it was. Congrats to you on a great race!!

  5. @raegun: Now that I've done one, the conditions don't bother me...the foot blistering issue seems to be a non-problem.

    @arthur: No podiums here (ok, maybe I'll stand on a footstool for a minute ;) Seriously, thanks for the best wishes for 2011 and you too!

    @detroit_runner: Thanks..trail races are a nice change.

    @jill: You might try skyline-to-the-sea in april (pctrails runs it). So far registration isn't open. It's a awesome course and there's a 50k option as well. Give it a look (see link on my upcoming races)

  6. enjoyed your report
    21 out of 46 and 2nd in your AG, Nice!

  7. Wow! Great placement Paul!! WooHoo! I'd take a prize at any age. Loved your recap as well!

  8. Congrats on your AG award! You are hard core...what with the weather conditions! Sounds like a great experience :)

    Thanks for your French message :)
    Bonne Année 2011!


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