Saturday morning I got up at 6:20am and was down at the race area at Harvey West park in Santa Cruz about one hour later. I thought that was early...HA! It was HOPPING there..more distant parking than last year..so I had to walk quite a ways from my car to the start area.
I did not see Ernie from last year, but I did talk to a couple of guys in the warm morning sun. Uh oh..what happened to that forecast of foggy and party cloudy?....Wrongo! It was 57 F at the start @ 8am but it got to 70F by my finish time. Luckily the redwoods make for really high quality shade and the river was cold and refreshing.
It was clear there were a lot more people than last year: 100 more! All of these were in the half marathon and 10k though...the marathon was the least popular...the 50k distance had more! Wendell gave the usual speech about how to follow the trail markings and told us the water level in the river was lower than last year (not over my waist this year) and off we went on a loop of the picnic area to spread out a bit before hitting the single-track trail.
This trick didn't work as it did last year and so for the first 5 minutes or so we were all walking, not running. But I didn't care..it was going to be a long day and I knew there was 4000+' of hill climbing to come and only limited energy in my legs. I was going to spend it all so the exact distribution of effort wasn't too important as long as it was fairly even.
So that was my goal: last year I ran the first half in 3 hours and the 2nd half 39 minutes slower...this year I wanted more even splits. I had no time goal in mind but suspected I would finish faster since I am stronger.
Those of you that haven't read my trail marathon race reports and have never run a trail marathon may be shocked. "How can a 3:54 marathoner take 6 hours ++ to run a marathon?" The answer is in the climbing. This marathon has a VERY steep hill you go over 4 times. On one side I estimate the grade at 25% for part of the time (climbing gear would be nice 8/ There are many sections that are so steep you push on your quads with your hands to lever up the hill.
In the elev profile below you'll see this nasty hill..looks just like a big spike.
As with last year, I met many people running the half marathon that had only done road marathons before. They were getting their first feedings of that special juice that only tough trail course can dish out.
During the race I kept my watch on the heart rate and cadence displays ONLY. My strategy was simple: power walk the uphills with long strides and pitter patter the flats. Keep the cadence above 60 walking and 80 running. Last year my average cadence was 72 overall , and there was some pretty tired walking, so I figured if I kept my walking cadence higher I would raise the average realize my even splits.
At the river the very first crossing was pretty crowded with halfers. in the 'conga line' hanging onto the rope I was behind a slightly tentative person that fell behind a bit..but no worries...the water was nice and cool and clean.
On far side of the crossing is the gut-buster of a hill. You go up and up and up and up and up (about 6 false peaks) and then a long glorious run down the backside. Then you run along the river until you get to the aid station, Turn around and back to the start. Rinse, Lather, Repeat and you are done!
The day had warmed up a bit and so there were families at the Henry Cowell park swimming in the river...kids shouting and splashing...having the usual summer fun.
In the distance was the occasional sound of a steam train whistle far in the distance ...the Roaring Camp vintage trains run through these redwood forests, letting people experience old time trains on an actual line used for lumbering more than a century ago.
When you are along on the trail and hear these whistles in the distance you can almost imagine a horse and rider coming around the bend from the 1860's. There is no other technology visible....just the trail and the sound of the whistle.
At the aid station I had my water bottle filled and grabbed some salty potato chips and set off back the other way. There were a lot of people on the trail still. Headed up the back side of gut-buster hill (not it's real name ;) and down to the river on the crazy steep slope..being very careful not to take a fall. At the river the rope was pretty empty and so I was able to blast back over in about 1/4 the time..20sec or so. Up near the the 3.1 mile aid station (and road crossing point..the only contact with asphalt on the entire trail) I ran into this guy that was doing the half and chatted with him a bit. It was his first trail race and he was commenting on how tough a trail race was with all the huge hills vs his road race. Yup..tasting the 'humble juice'.
I did pretty well pattering the mostly level ground back to the start and saw when I got there it was 2:52 on the clock..I was 9 minutes under last year....not bad. After grabbing some food and refilling I set off and immediately felt like crap going up the small hills out of Harvey West. This gave me come concern as I had 13.1 to go and I thought I was taking it easy before. Hmm. Sigh.
I was now thinking I was pretty burnt after the first half, but I knew I had the ability to keep going even when burnt in a way that I did not before. How bad could it be? Not as hard as Eugene in the last 6 miles!. I really could not be sure.
So, I tried to keep up the pattering run, resting and power walking even on the flats when it seemed necessary. My HRs were not high but my legs had so much fatigue product in them they made me breath hard just to go crazy slowly. Essentially you are kind of in "the wall" all the time in these kinds of races. On the flats I was doing an 8 min or so run with 1 minute walk. Walking is essential in these races : those of you too proud to walk in a marathon need to suck on some of the humble juice..that will fix you. Personally, I'm happy to walk, skip or take three umbrella-steps. Whatever gets me there fastest!
As I approached the river for the 2nd crossing a women walking up the beach looked at me and called out my name... bib did not have my name so I racked my feeble brain to recognize here. Then she said she recognized me from this blog and that her name was Grace.
She was running the 30k and headed back the other way We probably talked for several mintues and asked me various questions about 'beating the fade' ..a subject of my blog quite a bit. She is poised to break "Mach 1" (i.e. 4 hours) at SFM in a few weeks.
Eventually her friend got her shoes back on from the crossing and said "Less Talking, More Running!" so off we went in opposite directions. Nice to meet you Grace, and good luck at SFM! This is the first time a reader has recognized me during a race.
Another trip up the gut-buster !. No longer was I pumping the arms and doing the long stride power walk. This hill was just too steep and my legs were now too weak. I was mostly able to jog to the aid station on the flat, although I did take a few walking breaks of a minute or two.
I had no idea what my timing was at this point and I there is no clock at the aid station (that I noticed) but I felt I was still doing better than last year. I drank some coke and got more salty snacks and back I headed..only 6.6 miles to go!
The way back was very hard but the time passed quickly which was unexpected but welcome!. I had to go down the steep hill very slowly as my quads were pretty shot and there are some loose rocks. At one point a 50k'er came up behind with a "on your right" and in moving over I almost slipped on some loose rocks. Careful there! (So far I have never fallen in a trail race...yet..some tree roots have tried pretty hard but so far I always have caught myself.)
At the final river crossing I was all alone. I blasted across...almost slipping because I was tired but caught myself. I dumped my belt on a rock on the far side and moved back to the center of the river and just laid down hanging on the the crossing rope and let the current carry my legs up as I put my head back under the clear, cold water. That Felt Good.
It took a while to get rolling again after that. Up the smaller hill to the 3.1 mile aid station and in the home stretch. At this point I FINALLY looked at my watch and could see was probably on track for a 6:12 or so if I held my pace. Yay! With great effort and pushing on the flats (but still walking the ups) I knocked my average down a bit. I said goodbye to the redwoods as we moved back into the lower forest and approached the start in the last 2 miles.
Coming around the final switchback loop from the last downhill people saw me leaving the woods and cheered (this is a nice thing people do at these races..cheer for each other as they finish), when I saw the clock saying 6:09:xx I was very pleased: Almost 30 min faster than last year!
I then proceeded with the fun part of the race...the noshing after! Yum. While I was eating Wendell handed out some medals to 50k age groupers and then I was surprised he called out my name: I got 2nd in my A.G. !
Ok, so full disclosure checking the results the day after there were only 3 in my A.G. but I don't care! If you are home in bed and not racing you can't win.
Besides someday if you keep at it you'll be all by yourself in a your A.G. in a lot of races and then it's time to CLEAN UP.
2012 15th of 19, 2nd M 50-59 6:09:42
2011 10th of 18, 4th M 50-59 6:38:39
If you take my first half time (2:52) that was 2 minutes faster than the 3rd place half marathoner in my A.G.
So, a fun day! Met my goal of running a more even pace and showed I am indeed a bit stronger than last year.
Coastal Train Runs, the R.D. Wendell, and All the Great Volunteers deserve kudos for putting on such a well-organized and fun race!
Full album of pics here. I will add the CTR photos of the finish and river crossings when they are posted. My next posting will show detailed number-crunched comparisons of the two races.
Later that day Toni and I went to Half Moon Bay State Beach to meet up with some friends for a great suset and evening around the fire.