I was asked some weeks ago by a friend if I would be interested in going to Marin to run a race with him. Since this year I am trying to be cost conscious to pay for my wedding, I had to inquire about the details. He said we had a free place to stay, he would drive and all I had to do was sign up. The next week I signed up for my second Trail Half Martathon. The Steep Ravine half put on by the great folks at Coastal Trail Runs.
The last time I ran a trail half was May of 2009 at the Silver State Half Marathon. It was my first trail race and I had no idea what I was doing. I ended up finishing and an hour later was convulsing on the floor at my house because I'd run so hard for my fitness level at that point.
I was determined that this run would be different. Life has been busy the whole month of January so I paid no attention to anything about the race. I had no idea of the climbing we would be doing and as uncharacteristic as it is of me, I planned only to show up for the race. That is it. I had a minor time goal of 2:15, but even that was just a guess since I have not raced this distance in so long.
We left Reno around 10 on Saturday and headed to Marin. I cherished the fact I would not be driving, it seems like I always drive and another of my cost saving practices I have taken on this year is to be the co-pilot as often as possible and just give some moolah for gas. I found out when we got to the house we were at that it was on a golf course, the house was very nice. The bathroom was especially...upscale. At least compared to my bathroom. It had heated toilet seats and the toilet also doubled as a buday, complete with temperature controlled water jets. I chose to use only the functions on it that I knew...in other words flush only! I should have known then what I was in for....if the toilet scared me what the heck is the trail from Stinson beach going to do?
We went into Fairfield for dinner and a movie. Then back at the house and before bed, a nice dip in the hot tub. My buddy went to bed pretty early and as usual I was up till almost midnight. With a 5:30 wake up in order I finally succumbed to the reality that I needed to try to get to sleep. I laid down on the couch shut my eyes and went through the routines I use to try to go to sleep. About a half hour later I finally fell a sleep.
Morning came quickly and I got up to get some food. My normal bagel and cream cheese served me well. I went with only water as a liquid source, and hydrated while we drove the hour and twenty minutes to the start of the race at Stinson Beach. I'd never been to this part of of California so the wonder of what would be around every corner made the drive go by quickly.
We got our bibs from the check in and hustled back to the car and it's warmth. It was not cold but being from the dry arid environment of Reno made the relatively warm 40 degrees feel like 20 with the humidity. Bibs pinned and clothing stripped we got out of the car and headed for the start. We were told to follow the orange and yellow ribbons.
The race started and we took off. I started slow, if the last three years have taught me anything it is that I have a lot better chance at doing well by starting a little slow and ending in a full on sprint than I do going out hard and hanging on. Once my body starts shutting down it goes down fast, plus the last thing you remember about a race is the finish, and if you finish hard, chances are you are going to feel a little better about the run no matter what your time was.
Within a quarter of a mile we hit the steps of a trail I assume was the Dipsea. I'd heard about these steps and made the foolish assumption that they would be no harder than a really steep hill hike. That thought was turned upside down within minutes. It is really like stair stepping, different muscles than I normally use and they protested from the get go. I realized that this was going to be a climb up descend down and repeat type of run, not much in the way to flat running.
At the 2 mile mark my back was killing me from bending over so much. I had to slow the pace even more and at one point pulled off the trail to stretch for about a minute. Once we got to the top there was an aid station, I walked around aimlessly at it for about 10 seconds trying to figure out where to go. Finally I found a volunteer who directed me in the right direction. The only thing I would have done different at this race if I were putting it on is use the yellow ribbon for the entirety of the half marathon course. From where I was, until I got back to the top of the hill, we followed the orange 50k ribbons. After a couple miles it was a little unsettling as I thought more than once I might be on the 50k route.
From that aid station we had about a 2 mile steep descent of which I took advantage. I ran hard down some pretty technical terrain passing tons of people. When we got to the bottom I found out there was a short 1.4 mile out and back on some rolling singletrack that headed to Muir Beach. I slowed my pace to 8:40ish pace since I had realized we would just be retracing our steps and I needed to save a little for the climb back up to the aid station.
Once done with the out and back, I started up the hill. I was surprised that I could still jog parts and my hiking speed was now above most of those around me. I was going the same pace as the first 3 miles up hill, so it was clear most of these people had not paced themselves the first 7 miles of the race. Half way up the hill I caught sight of my buddy and made the goal to catch him by the time we got to the top. Then we could take the 3 mile downhill to the finish together. I ended up catching him about a half mile from the top and he was having some quad issues. I felt great so I bid him farewell and started hammering the climb. I had realized by mile 3 I had no chance at the 2:15 mark, when I crested the top of the hill to the aid station I looked at my watch and it said 2:04 and change. I made it my goal to finish in 2:30. I knew I would need to fly down the hill to hold an 8:40 pace on that kind of terrain with so many people on the trail. I took off, I was speeding down the hill. I passed at least 20 people in the first mile and a half. I was putting some serious effort on this part of the run, yet I was having so much fun. Hoots, hollers, and yeehaws coming out my mouth every couple seconds. Letting my Hoka's suck up the terrain and blasting off every rock and root. I was jumping off the steps that I hated while coming up. I was doing old school skiing tricks like Daphies, Spread Eagles and Back Scratchers as I jumped. I was within a mile of the finish and thought that I better stop clowning around, so I slowed a bit and tried to pay more attention to the terrain. Within a minute of doing so I missed a step jammed my left foot into the ground then on the next step turned my ankle. Ironic....but so goes the way of trail running. After about 30 seconds my ankle was numb and I was back running fast. I crossed the bridge to get to the finish line just before Stinson Beach and headed on in. 2:30:05.....Damn I thought, 5 seconds from the goal!
My buddy came in shortly after and we enjoyed a Sprite at the finish. He was still hurting a bit (quads) so I drove us back to the house with a stop at Taco Bell on the way. Once packed up and fed we left the house, he said he was cool to drive and I made it home to Reno by 6pm and considered the weekend a success.
It was not until Wednesday of this week I realized how well I actually did at the race. I pretty much always end up in the 50-60th percentile in terms of finishing place. This day I placed 26 of 99 easily my best finish of my career. I was about 37 minutes off the winning pace, another shock to me. I'm still about 10 pounds heavy for this distance, well the reality is at a svelte 203 pounds I'm way heavier than I need to be. However 190 seems to be where I run best and since I've not been under 185 since High School I call that my sweet spot. I do have a goal of 175 by July's TRT 100, but at this point I can not fathom being that light. To have that type of output and result this early in the season I am thrilled. I have my first 50k of the season on Feb 9th and I'm thinking I might just be able to pull out a pretty fast time, maybe even sub 6 hours.
Till then I'll watch the Niners in the Super Bowl this weekend. I'll be doing 10 miles at tempo pace on Saturday and a long run of 20 or so miles Sunday. No taper going into the 50k, so next week will be a high mile week for me, I might even hit 70 miles. I am exactly 1 month from being injury free for a whole year. Since I started running the longest I have gone without hurting my foot/toe is 9 months. 2013 has the makings to be an awesome year of running for me if I can stay healthy!
13.1 miles 2:30
Shoes-Hoka Stinson Evo White/Blue
1 Gell + 1 20oz bottle of Hammer Perpetuem