Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lake Chabot Trail Half Marathon - 7/31/10

On Saturday morning I found myself driving to Lake Chabot Regional Park in Castro Valley for the Bad Bass Trail Half Marathon. I didn't know about this race until a few days before when Facebook finally proved to be good for something. See Jane Run, one of the pages "I like", mentioned it in a posting. I was planning on doing a 16 miler on Saturday anyway and figured running this might be a better option. Not only would it be easier than pavement pounding for 16 miles, but the elevation gain throughout the course would be good training for what I was going to encounter in Park City.

After leaving my car on the street, I walked through the park looking for the start. It was early, only about 7a, but already the park was filled with walkers, joggers, bikers, their baby strollers and dogs. There was a large picnic area under the trees where people were setting up for their various birthday parties and BBQs. I came to the marina and found the starting line. It was 7:15a and the hikers for the half marathon were just about to set off for their early start. There were five of them. This was obviously going to be a small event. It was hosted by Brazen Racing who puts on a number of organized trail races in the Bay Area throughout the year. I picked up my racing bib and headed over to get my race shirt. I have to say, the race shirt is definitely one of my favorites to date. Forest green v-neck with a big, angry looking bass on the front. The goody bag was pretty impressive as well with GU, Wheaties, a Monster shot, chips, eye drops, and some rice cakes. I didn't have breakfast so I ate some of the Wheaties Fuel while I waited. They're oddly good. I've had them from previous races, yet I can never find them in the grocery store.

There were three races, the half marathon which left first, followed by a 10K, and then by a 5K. We all stood around chit chatting while waiting for our start. There was a young girl, couldn't have been more then 20 who was running her first half marathon. She was saying how she played soccer as well, and one of the ladies standing nearby was reassuring her by saying, "oh, well if you play soccer this should be no problem at all". I had to interject, I couldn't help myself. I told her that like her I run and play soccer, but that unfortunately the two don't really help each other out much. The exception being that running will give you the stamina to last in games, even if it doesn't help at all with recovering from sprints. She agreed, and then we talked about the race a bit and what kind of elevation gain we were going to encounter.

Five minutes before the start, all the half marathoners were called over. There were so few of us that the race director didn't even need a PA system, which worked out well since they weren't allowed in the park. He explained to us how the race was going to work, the route we were going to take, and the signs to look for. We were each given a map to carry with us in case we got lost. Some brought it, some didn't, but after taking a wrong turn in the trail half marathon I did in Switzerland, you better believe I took mine. I learned a lot from what he was saying, things that would have actually helped me in the Switzerland race. For instance, they hang ribbons from the trees scattered along the course to let you know you're on the right track. The ribbons were different colors for each of the distances. Ours were red which matched the numbers on our bibs. When you get to a fork in the path, a line of flour is poured across the path of the direction you don't want to go. It was so simple, I had to wonder how I managed to get off course in the other race.

There were 94 of us who set off for the start of the half marathon. We ran on a path alongside the 315-acre Lake Chabot. The lake is open to fishing, and there were groups of people doing just that, hoping to catch some trout, catfish, or bass. Not even a half mile in, this cyclist came speeding around one of the corners with a scowl on his face yelling out to all of us runners "Move over! I'm not stopping, get to the side!". This guy was a serious douche waffle and I heard one of the female runners behind me aptly yell back, "thanks asshole". We got to the end of the path and then doubled back the way we came and passed the starting line again, where the racers for the other events that hadn't started yet were standing around cheering us on. Around mile 2.5 was our first of four water stops. I was carrying my own water bottle filled with cytomax, but knowing what I was about to encounter, I grabbed some plain water anyway.

Shortly after that first rest stop was where the work really began. Up until this point we'd been running alongside the lake, but it was just before mile three that we veered off and headed deeper into the park where we were hit with 600 ft of elevation gain over a mile stretch. This was steep, and went on for what seemed like an eternity. It was the hardest uphill of the race. Trail running philosophy tends to be walk the hills, which suits me just fine. Everyone runs up for as long as they can last, and then walks the rest, or alternates a run/walk if it's not too steep, and then tries to make up the time on the downhills and flats. I live in San Francisco, and I'm horrible at hills. I'm not sure how that can be, but apparently I manage to find the flattest routes in the city to run. People were passing me left and right during this portion of the race. People were even walking faster than I was. I kept reminding myself that these people are trail runners, this is what they do all the time. It was obvious, they all knew each other, the race organizers, and the volunteers, and probably do every one of these events. And after all, this was part of the reason I was here. To get better at running hills. We all have to start somewhere.

After the torture mile, I was wiped, but we had about 100 ft of descent where I was able to recover. By that point, I'd already drank most of my cytomax and we were only 5 miles in. Luckily we came up to another aid station and the volunteers were so nice and filled up my water bottle while I ate an orange slice. We ran through the park that was thankfully mostly shaded due to the large Eucalyptus trees everywhere. I found myself running alone at times following the red ribbons hanging from trees, but I soon realized that I wasn't really alone. There were just so many twists and turns I couldn't see the other runners that were just a bit in front of me. Running the flats, and slight uphills and downhills felt great. I was coasting, often times catching up to a lot of the other runners, only to be overtaken again when another hill hit. There were a lot of mountain bikers on these trails, and everyone was friendly enough, making room for us, cheering us on, or even just saying "good morning".

At rest stop number three at around mile 8.5, I was out of water again and while waiting for the volunteers to fill up my water bottle, I took stock of the food they had there for the runners. M&M's, Gummy bears, oranges, bananas, and pretzels. I usually stick to fruit on my long runs, but the gummy bears were calling my name. I grabbed a handful, stuffed them in my mouth, and set off again. There were a few girls ahead of me that I set out to catch. I'd lost some time stopping to get my water bottle filled, but that was a necessity, and soon enough I found myself overtaking them. I'm not saying this is some big feat, but when you run, sometimes you need to set goals for yourself to keep you occupied and motivated. This was a tactic I used often.

Sweat was literally pouring down my face. It seemed that around every corner there was yet another hill. At one point I could see out the corner of my eye something black on my nose. Thinking it was dirt, I went to wipe it away. It was not dirt. It was a bug that had apparently drowned in my sweat that was pooling on my nose. It couldn't have been a nice way to go. The course was easy to follow and I never feared getting lost. The mile markers however where not all that accurate. Not that I can blame them, it's probably not that easy to mark a trail half marathon. At one point, the mile marker was a whole seven tenths of a mile ahead of what it actually was. When I noticed the discrepancy of what my GPS watch said versus what the mile marker reported, I was really hoping that my watch had lost the signal temporarily due to the tree coverage and was the one that was wrong. Unfortunately in this case, my watch was right. At this point though, I was close to the end which is always uplifting. We took one last long downhill, only to realize that we were running to the last aid stop at the bottom, to then turn around and return all the way back up. This last hill almost killed me, but I made it up with the rest of the runners.

The last two miles were easy as far as course goes. It was mostly flat and we ran back along the lake again. I was ready to be done at this point. I rounded the corner that led to the grassy area where the finish line was. The half marathoners were all trickling in with big gaps between each other. I came in about half way through the pack and people were standing around cheering each other on. As I crossed the finish line, there were two little kids, a boy and a girl, fighting over which one was going to give me my finishers medal. The little girl won. I grabbed it and then stood for a few minutes just catching my breath, knowing that if I sat I wasn't getting back up. I did a few lazy stretches for my hip flexors since they were a bit tight and then headed over to the picnic tables were all the post-race festivities were going on. They had a whole bunch of food out for the runners. Every fruit you can imagine, including some I didn't recognize, bear claws, bagels and peanut butter, and even It's-It's bars. I grabbed some muscle milk, a banana, and a half a bear claw and went to the grass and collapsed into a heap of mush in the sun. Without a doubt, trail half marathons take it out of you far more then road half marathons. I forced myself to do a more thorough stretch, and downed the banana cream muscle milk.

I then went and registered for a free session with a chiropractic group from Hayward that had a tent there. As I waited for my turn, I noticed a big dog, a Rhodesian ridgeback, wearing a finisher's medal around his neck. I asked his owner if he'd just run the entire half marathon, and sure enough he had. That did nothing for my want of having my own dog to run with. In 10 minutes, it was my turn and the girl really worked my calves. They were using the A.R.T technique, something I'd just heard about and coincidentally had scheduled an appointment on that Monday for with a chiropractor in Noe Valley. It hurt like hell, but my calves went from being so tight to almost feeling like I hadn't even run on them. In fact, I was even able to run an 8 miler the next day. It was amazing, and I was so excited for my appointment that Monday to see what could be done about my hip flexors and runner's knee problems.

It was about 11:30a when I packed up my belongings and headed back to the city for a much needed a nap. I was glad I decided to do another trail race. Despite the 1300 ft. elevation gain across the course, I loved it. Running trails is so peaceful and really helps to break up the monotony of road running. I finished in 2:21:00 which was about 5 minutes faster then my first trail half marathon. So as far as trail runs go, that was a PR for me. Granted it had about 1000 ft less of elevation gain, but I'm still counting it as a PR. Brazen Racing put on a great race. I really liked the smallness of it, it was a comfortable and had really cozy small town feeling. Quite the contrast to the San Francisco Marathon the weekend before. And despite it being a small event, it didn't lack in any of the big race goodies. The t-shirt, food, and freebies were great, and you didn't have to stand in any lines. The best part was that they had race photographers along the course who posted the photos to a picasa album for everyone to download for free. I will no doubt be doing another Brazen race and I will conquer these hills.

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