June 2, 2014

Lake Chabot Trail Challenge

I signed up for this race to satisfy the California half marathon series challenge. It’s relatively local compared to other Northern California events and was more affordable. Registration was just $50 put on by the Castro Valley Track Clube. This is described as a challenging, hilly course but being a Dublin resident and running hills almost daily, I figured this wouldn’t be a problem. I could not have been more wrong.

I hadn’t really been training much since my last race back in March. Just 2-3 runs per week at most. Nothing like the last two races where I had an actual training plan. I figured I’d just go out and be happy to get under two hours total time. After all, this would also be my first trail race. I run on pavement exclusively. I’d have to travel to get to any nearby trails and I much prefer just strapping on my shoes at a moment’s notice and going for a run. But I do like to hike so this would be fun, right? Naivety is sweet, isn’t it?

The weather was great– perfect running weather but warmed up late morning. Jen, the kids and Jen’s parents came out to see me off and cheer me on at the finish line. The plan was to head up to Petaluma and visit Lagunitas Brewing after the race. Beer after a long run is a different kind of buzz.

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I really like the intimacy of the race. Smaller than the others I was part of– more close-knit groups of people and an informal attitude toward things. Everyone was very nice, smiling, helpful when needed. We started on the grass in a large line as opposed to a corral. The timer you normally run over wasn’t there until about 300 meter ahead where we ended up finishing too. My guess is that they do that so people aren’t all jammed up so soon.

Once we were off, I did my usual pacing other runners and rounding them when I felt they were too slow. I maintained a good starting pace but the rolling hills started at mile one and I started to think to myself that I should really conserve and be smarter about this. Damn, I really should have trained for this terrain. By mile three it was VERY apparent.

Towhee Trail is a mile of climbing over 800 feet by my Runkeeper elevation chart. This hill broke me. I really tried to commit but this hill never ended and just got more steep the more we ran. Walking and running felt the same. Walking uphill became the preferred choice in my little running pack of people then once the hills started flattening out slightly, we would all pick it up and start running again. The downhills were just as steep though. There were so many times I thought I would lose my footing and just tumble. So many times I felt like if I extended my arms, I would actually flying. And with ever step, it felt like a hammer pounding my leg muscles, jamming my legs up into my hips.

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The climbing through this course was brutal. Descending was painful. Any straight terrain was considered “recovery” running. My music barely helped too. This course was all in my head. I didn’t enjoy the landscape as much as I would have liked.

Aid stations were roughly every 2-3 miles and for the most part, the course was well marked with volunteers at the confusing parts.

By mile 10, my diner the previous night starting to make it’s presence known and then my focus was on making it the remaining way to find a toilet. Luckily, I found an outhouse and made the pitstop. Another first for me. I only lost a minute or so but the remaining miles were just exhausting from that point on. I couldn’t catch anyone else ahead of me and by the final mile, I had been passed by two other runners.

Not stopping was my only thought. The final 5k is not to be dismissed either just because you descended the major hills. The final rolling hills are no picnic either. And since they’re the final stretch, you really feel them. But once you make it back to the final 600 meters, you can hear the people clapping and cheering everyone running by. And they were excited about it too. I muted my music and tried to soak it in saying my thanks to everyone around. Those simple words and simple acts really mean a lot when your tank is running on empty.

Rounding the final bend and seeing the finish line was so satisfying. My kids spotted me before I did them and I immediately smiled and waved back at them. Jen was right behind them taking pics and this time I remembered to smile and revel in that moment. The feeling is amazing.

Final Standings

Official time: 1:53:46.21
Pace: 8:41
Ranked: 35th overall, 4th in my age group
210 total runners

I’m actually very pleased with these times. I met my goal and got close to being in the top of my age group. I’m still disappointed for not being more prepared because I could have placed much better.

I was handed a bottle of water and a medal immediately after crossing. The medal was a simple pin-style one. Kinda lame honestly. Especially when you looked at the 5k runners with big ‘ol three-inch medals around their neck. So the half marathon runners pay more but the 5k runners get the nicer gear? The cotton t-shirt everyone got was OK too. Big logo on the front and sponsors on the back.

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I’m glad I did it to experience that course but I’m still too tired to consider running that again. If the schwag was better maybe that would tip me toward definitely doing it again. Something to snack on after, better finisher medals and technical shirts are the main kickers in my book. I get that it’s more of a fund raiser for the local track club but when deciding which races to register for each year, these are all things to consider.

Lagunitas Brewing

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