I was really looking forward to this race. For a number of reasons. Across the hill, in Purisima and El Corte de Madera, is where I was inspired to try trail running. I always wanted to run these trails too, but I didn’t get around to it before we moved to the East Bay. So it’s a return to my original trail “neighborhood.” It’s also the only place I’ve gotten a ticket for running. Back when I first considered trying a trail race, a race on a similar course was the first one I was aiming for, but again, that moving thing put it all on hold for a couple months. I then got sidetracked for a year just exploring the trails close to our new home in the Oakland hills before finally getting into trail racing this year. And I haven’t run a race in the peninsula yet, so it was high on my to-do list, and Inside Trail Racing’s Woodside Ramble caught my attention. It delivered well.
I went into this intending to back off on speed a bit, as it’s the longest trail race I’ve run, at 22 miles. I have a not-so-great history of killing my legs by running new distances too fast. And coming off of two faster half marathons in the last month, I was just getting recovered from the follow up muscle wonkiness.
Psychologically, I broke the course up, by aid stations, into four parts. First, a long, gradual uphill in Huddert County Park. Then a run on the Skyline trail, near the ridge line, to Wunderlich Park. Third, the run back to Huddert County Park, and finally, a long downhill section. The course was mostly in a Redwood forest, with a lot of canopy blocking sunlight, which is one of my favorite running environments.
The race started downhill across a field, which would be about the longest open stretch of the course, until it entered the woods and turned through a notorious bottleneck. I was far enough ahead that it only backed me up a few seconds, and we ran downhill for a mile or so. Then we started a very long hill climb. The next mile or so I alternated between running slowly and hiking fast. The mile after this was mostly fast hiking. I finally felt warmed up and went back to running/hiking intervals, making sure to hold back to avoid any muscle cramps that might cut short or make miserable the latter parts of the run. This would pay off really well. We went up. And up. And up. And up and up. And up. As we hit the Skyline trail and the course flattened out a bit, I was able to pick up speed. Coming over one hill, I found a well-read blogger out shooting photos with his daughter. As much as I’m not the biggest fan of my own running photos, having photographers on the course is great; each time I pass one, I’m motivated to kick myself in gear, and I pick up speed for quite a while. We came to the road and had a short, fast downhill to the aid station. Today’s craving was oreos and tangerines; the tangerines were awesome, as they have the perfect burst of intense flavor.
Crossing the road, the course went back into the redwoods, winding in and out of the myriad gulches along the Skyline trail. I was keeping very close pace with another runner through almost all of this, as we alternatively passed each other, but kept each other in sight. Eventually the 30k leaders came by, going the other way. I’ve run trails at really fast speeds a number of times, but I’m in no way trained to keep it up for very long. I’m always impressed and humbled to see the runners at the lead. This section ended with a decent climb up to the next aid station, with more tangerines.
Running back along this trail, I really started to zone out, which is a big part of why I run these long races. Eventually the stuff to think that I didn’t have time to think about during the week gets all thought about and I get time to just enjoy the environment. The first few 50k runners passed by. The runner I was keeping pace with had to stop on the side of the trail, and I didn’t see him again until the end. And I didn’t see anyone for another 45 minutes. So I just ran.
I came back to the road, made the last aid station stop, took a fast hiking break up what was now a slower uphill, and then the long downhill stretch began. I felt great, and with less than 6 miles to go, I pushed the pace to try to hit my not-so-serious time goal. A few more 50k runners flew by, and I flew past a couple 35k runners, since I’ve gotten much stronger and faster on downhills lately. A couple miles from the end, Sam from Brazen, who times these, went by running up the hill. We had been warned about a final hill in the last mile, so when I came to it, I decided to just run up the whole thing, as the race was wrapping up, and I felt strong. I passed another 35k runner walking up this stretch, finished the climb, crossed the road, and ran around the playground and across the bit of field to the finish.
I wrapped up in 4:45:16, 16 seconds over my not-very-serious goal, which is perfectly close enough, since I think of my times on these longer runs with a granularity of about 5 minutes. And it was a not very serious goal, since the bigger goal was finishing a new trail distance without an injury or weeks of muscle pain, which I succeeded in. I ended up 24/48. Ate some food, drank some beer, chatted a bit. A number of other runners were talking about the North Face Endurace challenge the week before, which has caught quite a bit of attention.
On a side note, I tried compression sleeves, on both thighs and calves, for the first time on this run. I won’t claim they made me faster, but they definitely helped avoid muscle tightness. I picked the full set up after wearing a medical compression sleeve to train through a post-berkely-half really tight vastus medialis. After wearing it though a 16 mile, 4000’ training run, the supposedly irritated quad was the only part of my legs that felt great after. This time, at a much faster overall pace, nothing was sore during the run, and I’ve only had the expected tight calves since. So I ordered another set of calf sleeves, to have around for recovery.
And a couple photos, the first running up the long hill and the second down the hill at the end. Looking quite ridiculous this time, methinks.
Up next, another pair of half marathons on familiar ground before increasing distance again.