Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The mystery blisters - 26.2 miles of switchbacks at the San Pablo Marathon

The San Pablo Marathon marks the last race in the Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series, which is a good thing - I'm running out of toenails! Not to mention I now have the weirdest collection of blisters I have ever seen. My pediphobic wife is going to freak.

The San Pablo Marathon joins the 5k, 10k, and 1/2 marathon options at China Camp State Park in the north bay of San Francisco. Redwood Trails put on this race, and per usual, it was well-stocked and well-marked. This race had some visiting track teams from Susanville mixed in with the usual menagerie of trail runners. Weaving in and out of oaks, madrones and golden grass along the north bay coast, this race has more turns than the average marathon (I lost track around turn #220 around mile 19). But the 1400' vertical feet is mild, and the paths are in great condition, consisting mostly of single track. I joined two others in the marathon distance (Jim Moniz, training for a Boston qualifier, and Liam Kidd who stuck out his first marathon ever for an awesome 4:10:40 finish), and about 150 others raced the shorter lengths.

Despite being beat up from the previous week, I managed to clock a 3:28:14 for a 1st place finish and a sub-8-minute average. The multitude of switchbacks have left the sides of my feet and the tops of my toes awash in dozens of little blisters, like a mild leprosy. Good thing the season is over!

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Trail Running Double Header, Part II - The Golden Leaf Run, Sept, 2004

Oh man, am I sore. I feel like the kids next door played hopscotch on my hamstrings all night. Sometimes there just isn't enough ibuprofen...sigh.

But the aspen trees are a-callin', s0 just a day after the Autumn Color Run, I'm lining up pre-sunrise at the Snowmass ski resort in Aspen, CO, to run the 13.5 mile Golden Leaf 1/2 Marathon. Hailed by Trail Runner Magazine as one of "America's 14 most scenic races," this half marathon is put on by the Aspen outdoor shop, the Ute Mountaineer. The race begins in Snowmass Village and cuts through the ski runs on the Government Trail, until finally descending back to the streets of downtown Aspen. It's a big race - probably 300-400 runners. It also happens to be the same weekend as Ruggerfest, so there are plenty of party-happy rugby players in town as well.

This race starts off with a 1.5 mile climb from Snowmass Village right up the CAT trail. Combined with the altitude, your heart gets going right away. If you think you can hang with the front runners, good luck - the Montrail Team, US Mountain Running Team, and many die-hard trail runners make this race a regular on their calendar. After the climb comes the real challenge - keeping your eyes on the uneven trail, even as you weave your way through miles of gorgeous creeks and aspen trees. As much as I thought TRM was boasting, it truly is one of the most beautiful race courses I have ever seen. Still, if ever there was a trail that demanded good trail running shoes, this is the one.

Thanks to the soreness, I finished the same way I started - slow. I think I clocked around 2:05 in a fairly leisurely run, but I didn't bring a watch. Michael Robbert clocked a fantastic 1:48, putting him 25th among the crowd. I don't know how he even got out of bed this morning, let alone cranked out a second great race. The Ute Mountaineer gave away a tower of shwag, and not a one was some cheap trinket. I was one of the few who didn't head home with a new pair of shoes or biking tires (such a genius way to clear out the old inventory!) .

In retrospect, I'm realizing two 1/2 marathons are much more brutal than one full marathon. One thing for sure - I've got some resting to do before the San Pablo Marathon next week.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Trail Running Double Header, Part I - The Autumn Color Run, Sept, 2004

Apparently most of the REAL trail runners live in Colorado. After coming here for a double-header of half marathons in the Fall, I can see why! No postcards can do this area justice when the fall aspens are turning. The leaves are amazing, lighting up the hillside with yellow and red, and the hills just go on forever. My face hurt every day from smiling. And the trails always seem to be in immaculate shape.

As the Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series nears the end of the March-Sept season, I found myself having some work travel in the Aspen area, and a perfectly good excuse to try a 1/2 marathon double header. Through e-mail exchanges, I discovered that Michael Robbert and his wife (whom I had met at the Park City Marathon) were also doing both races. That was great for two reasons. First, he's an awesome runner. Second, I think he and I are roughly tied for the Overall Champion for the Trophy Series, so it would be good motivation to do well. We both know that we have our age group championships locked up, but hey, who's willing to settle for #1 when you can have two #1's? Michael is a total gentleman - I would be honored to finish second to such a good athlete and a good soul.

The first run was The Autumn Color Run in Buena Vista, CO, put on by the super-friendly Michelle Liverman and some of her favorite locals. In addition to the 1/2 marathon, there was a 10k, 5k, and insanely cute 1 mile kids run. The 1/2 marathon started with a bouncy bus ride up to 11,000 feet where the race would begin. I'm telling ya, the air is THIN up there! If it was any solace, the 1/2 marathon course would drop about 2,200 feet over the first 10 miles, where you could "glide" down the streets for the remaining few miles. Most of the runners were in amazing shape, but then again, Buena Vista is smack dab in the middle of half of America's 14k+ peaks, so monstrous quads were a regular thing. Everyone was in great spirits, and the weather was cooperating nicely.

As the runners stretched out and warmed up, somebody yelled "go" and the next thing you knew the race had begun (with an additional shot of adrenylin to overcome the lack of preparation). I found myself in sixth place right away, cruising along the downhill fire roads. A young Andy Rinne and the amazing 5'3", 40 yr old Anthony Surage immediately started clocking sub-6 minute miles, and as much as I would like to say I was "holding back for tomorrow", there was no way I was going to keep up. I did move up two places and began pacing with Daniel Gabalski, who was running about a 6:10 mile pace around mile 5.

Now, the dilemma. Daniel looks like he's in my age group, but I can't really tell. Should I try to pass him, or would that suck so much out of me I'll be dying tomorrow? An age group win would be great for the Trophy Series, but it would cost me in Aspen.

Aw, hell. You only live once. So I tried to pass him. FOUR TIMES. Each time he pulled away with ease, but then slowed slightly in his recovery pace (ie, down to a 6:15 mile, then a 6:20 mile, etc.). In the end, I thought maybe I could break him, and gave it all I had. I finished four seconds behind him (and yes, he was in my age group...darn!) in 1:22:15.

Wait a minute...1:22:15? That's a trail run PR! And that also means....I'm going to be hurting tomorrow! Oops. Oh well, how can you feel bad about a PR? I scooped up a disposable camera, and took the slow 2 hour drive back to Aspen to take some photos and try to rest my legs. Tomorrow would be another high altitude race - The Golden Leaf 1/2 Marathon in Aspen.