Thursday, February 26, 2004

Who’s the Best Trail Run Race Promoter in San Francisco?

There are three major trail running race promoters in the San Francisco area – Envirosports (, Pacific Coast Trails (, and Redwood Trails ( All of them do a good job, but I’ve noticed they each have their own style. Here’s how I would compare them:

Envirosports – One of the original race promoters, these guys have been around for nearly two decades. But that doesn’t mean they are the most polished. Of the few races I’ve been to by Envirosports, they seem to prefer running their races “survivalist style”, ie, minimum trail markings, minimal aid stations, and over the craziest terrain. It’s not out of the question for them to have only one aid station for a 14 mile race. Even their version of “aid station” can be minimal – one time it was just five gallon jugs of water under a tree - and on one occasion, I stopped by the only aid station to see it had already been cleaned out by the shorter course racers. Still, Envirosports seems to attract the most competitive field in the SF area and the audience/volunteers are always friendly. If you don’t mind a little risk and throwing a few elbows in the front pack, this may be your race promoter.

Pacific Coast Trails – Wendell and the PCTrails crew promote the most ultra runs in the area, and because of that, their races have that laid back ultra vibe. Their motto is “no races, just runs” and they like to promote a welcome environment that is more about participating than winning. Oddly enough, however, they have the best prizes for the top male and female finishers! For you ultra runners, PCTrails is one of the few who will regularly tack on a 50k or 50m length to their races and they tend to have one every month of so. Be sure to check out the course descriptions first - they are not afraid to put 10,000+ vertical feet in a single run. Aid stations are typically well stocked, usually every 4-5 miles for the short races, and every 7-8 miles for the longer ones. Expect fruit, water, Cytomax, granola bars, and lots of chili and soup at the end. I have gotten lost at a few of their races (not a marking problem, but a "somebody remarked it" problem), but as fellow participants will tell you, that’s supposed to be part of the fun! I would recommend these guys for any race, particularly your first foray into the ultra distances.

Redwood Trails – Redwood Trails (RWT) races are very well organized, and I would consider them the safest and best marked of the three promoters. Eric Gould of RWT used to work for Envirosports, but split off to start his own thing in early 2000. RWT runs a mix of loop and out-and-back courses, and is usually the first to try out a new location (for example, the Bizz Johnson Marathon, which is considered the fastest trail marathon course in the nation, or their recent race at Red Rocks in Las Vegas). Their courses aren't always the easiest, but are definitely the most scenic ways through the parks. Eric and his crew obsess about trail markings and aid stations, and if you complete one of their races, you’ll feel the comfort that comes with such detail. Most often you can always see the next trail marking while you’re standing at one, meaning you never have those "oh my gosh, I must be lost...oh wait, there it is" moments. Aid stations are typically every 2-3 miles, and all of them are fully stocked with fruit, mini clif bars, Gatorade, Hammer gels, and soup and sandwiches (and sometimes homemade cookies) at the end. I've often passed an aid station before I finished digesting the food at the previous one - you won't run out! RWT attracts a great range of racers, with usually a dozen fast folks up front, and people of every speed lining the remainder of the course. Ribbons and medals are often three people deep in each age group, so lots of people get to take home a souvenir for a job well done. But even if you don't get a ribbon, the RWT t-shirts are hands down the best designs. Maybe this is why the finish line at RWT races is one of the happiest places around on a Saturday morning (not quite Team-In-Training-cult-happy, but certainly more optimistic than most). A great place for your first trail race, or for trying out a new location. For some variety, 2005 will also include trail triathlons.

Last year I ran the Woodside Half Marathon put on by each promoter, just a few weeks apart. Here's a quick comparison:

Envirosports - The steepest route (about 2/3 loop), one aid station (no volunteers on the trail), 110 participants, winning time - 1:14:04. Yes, 1:14. He was insanely fast, and talked trash the whole way. ;oP
PC Trails - An out and back course, two aid stations (no volunteers on the trail), 70 participants, winning time - 1:24:44. Note that they also had a 50k run with about 40 participants too.
Redwood Trails - A loop course, three aid stations (four volunteers on the trail), 130 participants, winning time - 1:26:12. RWT had more walkers than the other two, but since it was a loop course, it didn't really matter.

Let me know if your experiences with these guys are different. Overall, we’re pretty lucky in SF. Between these three promoters, you can race year ‘round.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Running the Purisima Creek Redwoods 14k, Feb 2004

I haven't raced in a while, but thought I would try out the Purisma Creek Redwoods 14k as a pre-season opener. What a great race! Pacific Coast Trails ( always attracts a fun but small group. Now mind you I’m a bit biased about Huddart Park and the Purisima Creek Open Space Preserve, since they are in my back yard. Still, it turned out to be a very fun race with about 1,800 ft of climbing. If you would like to run through Huddart Park and Purisima Creek, the folks at baytrailrunners ( have some great suggested courses.

I placed fourth overall with a time of 1:10:51 (about a 7:11 mile average, Looks like I need to work on my downhill running (this is where the pack left me in the dust), but the distance covered wasn’t a problem.

I noticed Derrick Peterman from San Jose is back this year, and is looking a few pounds lighter and a few minutes faster. He still hasn't changed his day-glow shoes , but he whupped my ass so maybe he's got a secret there.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Open water swimming sucks. EOM.

Open water swimming sucks. Maybe I’m just looking for reasons to stick to trail running, but I really don’t enjoy the open water swim portion of the triathlon. Do we really need to start a great race with 35 minutes of bone-numbing, neoprene-rubbing, salt water hell?!? I’m beginning to think triathlon = tri making it through the first leg. Oh well, I guess Escape from Alcatraz wouldn’t be nearly as cool if it was “Escape from Crissy Field”.

Lap swimming is still enjoyable. As a matter of fact, I’ve found it to be the perfect complement to running. Running compacts your spine, and swimming stretches it back out again. And the masseuse gets a new client either way.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Trail running vs. road running

Trail running shares surprisingly little with its road running brethren, aside from the minimalist appeal. After meeting a few other trail runners, I’ve also noticed it attracts a very different breed of people, more of your outdoorsy types than your competitive types. I look forward to the trail running races – I’m not sure how a little competition will change the participating group. Maybe these environmentalists get all spotted-owl crazy as soon as they get their number on.

Here are a few other things I’ve found about trail running:

You have to pay attention. This isn’t a “zone out” kind of sport. The terrain is constantly changing, requiring you to stay in the moment. I’ve found this is actually more meditative than the clocking miles on the pavement – if you have to focus on one thing, it drowns out everything else. But there’s also a very important pain-related motivation too – you can get into a lot of trouble tripping on the way down a hill.

It’s best to slow down. Roots, rocks, hills, streams, switchbacks, steep hills…there’s a lot going on in a trail run. Best to slow down your pace 10-20%. This isn’t going to mean less of a workout, believe me.

It’s hard to keep your race pace. Unlike the road runners who know exactly what their mile pace targets are, it’s best to not think about it with the trail runs. Every mile is different than the last, and you rarely get in five strides at the same pace let alone a full mile. I found I got much faster (and enjoyed it much more) once I ditched the watch.

No cars! The scenery is gorgeous, but best of all, there are no cars! Now there is the occasional mountain biker and a few of them are super-agro (and at 20-30 mph, can feel like you’ve been hit by a car), but in general I find it to be a much safer environment for running.

Always, always, always carry a map. Now maybe I’m just the kind of person that can get lost in my own backyard, but I’ve gotten lost about 10% of the time. If you aren't the type to get lost, you may run into me, and I will worship the ground you walk on if you can help.

It’s cheap. Unlike my wallet-sucking triathlon hobby, you don’t need much more than a pair of shoes and a trail map. But if you like gear, there’s no shortage of great stuff.

More insights to come. I already have my first race coming up – a test 14k in the Purisma Redwoods put on by Redwood Trails ( – so I’ve got to clock some miles!

Monday, February 02, 2004

The pursuit begins...

It's always tough to get through the winter months if you're an exercise fiend. It's dark in the morning, cold outside, and your dog just wants to hibernate. Then the real trouble begins - with nothing but time on your hands, you start planning for the next year. If you're like me, by the time the spring flowers are pushing through the top soil, you've already pre-registered for a madman's race schedule. It's year three for triathlons and running, and I haven't seemed to have shaken this deadly rookie move of planning the whole year before you even dust off the bike. One of these days I will learn.

By the time February, 2004 had rolled around, I had already spent a small fortune on registration fees for a pair of triathlons (Pacific Crest 1/2 Ironman in Bend, OR, and The World's Toughest 1/2 Ironman in Auburn, CA) and a couple of marathons. My logic went like this:

"You must sign up for at least two races to keep yourself motivated throughout the season. Anyone can get through an Olympic distance triathlon, so be sure to sign up for something that REQUIRES sticking to your training schedule like a 1/2 Ironman. Not falling on your face will be enough motivation to get up every morning."

I know, I know. I need help. Christi, my wife, thinks I'm nuts. I need to get out of dream world and take a good hard look at that 35 year old body that will soon be cursing at me. But for some reason I think if I race enough I will actually look good in Lycra (particularly the one piece tri suits that Christi calls a "unitard"...doesn't seem so sexy now).

I've also been eyeing a new trail running series put on by Trail Runner Magazine ( called the TRM Trophy Series. It's the first year (so who knows what will happen), and there isn't much for prizes, but they have a great schedule of races. Seems like a good use of frequent flyer miles, and a great chance to see more of the great parks and open space preserves all over the States. Their competition seems a little long - March 1st to September 30th, and do as many races as you can - but another good reason to slow down and enjoy the scenery.

The flowers are budding...time to get off the couch.