Monday, May 16, 2005

Run in the Redwoods - The Waterfalls of Big Basin Marathon

Last Saturday I raced the The Waterfalls of Big Basin Marathon in Big Basin Park just outside of Boulder Creek, CA (right in the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains). This race has it all - gigantic redwoods, 20 foot waterfalls, and enough vert to bring even the fastest runners to their knees. It was one of my favorites from last year, and I eagerly awaited the new addition of a marathon distance. Eric Gould and the Redwood Trails crew ordered up another perfect weather day (how do they do that?), and a full roster of 250 eager runners showed up to bond with Mother Nature.

The race had four distance options, making use of two hilly loops of 5.5 miles and 10.5 miles. The first loop climbed about 2000' feet through soft single track, with a steep rock face at mile 3 to keep you honest. The second loop had closer to 3000' feet of climbing, with a long descent down to Berryessa Falls, a few miles along the waterfalls (rock step formations and handholds required), and a long ascent back. Most opted for the middle distances (10.5 and 16 miles) to get deep into the park where most of the waterfalls were. Only a few were crazy enough to double loop the backside for the full 8000' vertical foot marathon.

The marathoners lined up early, and quickly sorted out that this was going to be a full day in the mountains. There were a few first time trail marathoners in the group, lured by the gorgeous trails and "opt out" layout of the loop course (which I'm happy to say, nobody opted out of). This would be a great race to slap on the iPod and do some sightseeing, and I brought mine along just in case. I was also trying a few new changes to my running strategy, in particular trying to run with water bottles strapped into each hand instead of my usual fanny pack. A lot of runners at Rucky Chucky were doing this (particularly those who beat me....good clue), but I thought it seemed crazy to put that kind of weight in your hands. But don't knock it before you try it, right? I strapped in my bottles as we hit the trail, and Mike LeClair took off like a rabbit from the start - we saw hide nor hare of him (ha, ha) for hours. By the time we hit mile 2, everyone had found a comfortable pace, and I had slotted into second.

At the end of the first 5.5 mile lap, they told me LeClair was well ahead of me on a frenetic sub 7-minute pace. I kept my sore-hamstring-friendly pace, thinking he was either a phenom-in-the-making, or I would find him somewhere on that second loop passed out on the trail...either way, his performance was going to be epic! As I hit the downhill on the second loop, I noticed two big advantages of the two water bottle method. First, I was actually drinking according to the schedule (it helps when it's right in front of you all the time, and you can take smaller drinks more often). Second, it was easier to keep my weight forward when running downhill. I just started "throwing" my hands ahead of me, and the long strides seemed effortless. Surprisingly, my arms weren't much more tired than without them. They weren't much help on the climb, but thanks to the distraction of rushing waterfalls, little help was needed.

As I rounded into the last 10.5 mile loop, I could see the 5.5/10.5/16 mile finishers coming in. Dale Reicheneder, the current Trail Runner Magazine Tropy Series leader, had won the 16-miler in an impressive 2:10:55 (~8 min pace), barely showing wear-and-tear from his stellar performance at Malibu Creek Trail Challenge the week previous. Patty Campbell schooled the younger woman on the trail with a respectable 2:40, earning her bragging rights and first crack at the PB&J. Gabriel Lombriser and Laura Albrecht won the 10.5 miler, with Gabriel being one of only two to fly through the big loop at a sub-8 minute pace.

I caught up to few runners on my last lap, including the amazing Sharlene Abrhams, who has been blind since birth. She was cruising along the waterfall trail with her guide at a brisk pace. I wondered how in the world she was going to make it through the rock footholds on the steepest sections, but then I remembered she's done tons of these races! My quads burned through the steep sections on the second lap, forcing me to walk a few sections that I hadn't on the first lap, but all-in-all I was feeling good.

When I crossed the finish line, everyone was spread out under the redwood canopy, enjoying the snacks and waiting for the last few stragglers/marathoners. Mike LeClair had come in around 4:13, just a few minutes ahead of me, saying that the second round of hills smacked him down. Dale Reicheneder was also there with congratulations (like he was giving to everyone), well-wishing for the remaining season, and the hope our race schedules would cross again. We compared strategies for the Trail Runner Magazine Series, with Dale's insane ability to race all-out on the half marathons weekend after weekend (which I could never do), or my strategy for racing fewer races but nearly all at marathon distance (Dale says no way). Either way, I was pleased to know that the man to beat for 2005 was so down-to-earth, with a genuine passion for the sport.

My arms were a tad more sore than usual, but the benefit of getting through four bottles of water during the race easily made up for it. I think I'll be sticking with this method for the longer trail races, and definitely for the 50k's. As I packed up my gear, I realized that despite running for almost four and a half hours, I had forgot about my iPod. Like Sharlene had told me, the sounds of redwoods, streams, and waterfalls can be far more rewarding if you give them the chance. A sure sign of an epic race.


  1. Great report scott...Enjoyed it thoroughly.

  2. Great pictures! I am convinced. I will attempt my first trail run event in July. Thanks for the engaging report.

  3. Thanks, Brent. To be honest, I grabbed the pictures from Redwood Trails website - they always get great pics beforehand to help with the seduction. ;oP


  4. Amazing race, and fabulous report! Well done!

    Although I am NOWHERE near your level of running, I have to say that I went from a waist mounted hydration-pak to just holding a bottle and it made a huge difference to me. I feel lighter; it seems easier to move on the trails, and I can always tell just how much fluid I have left. Glad it worked out for you too!

  5. Great report, bro. Say, how exactly are you 'strapping in' the bottles to your hand(s)? Is this like some velcro thing to keep from having to grip them all the time? Or was it just a figure of speech? Just wondering...

    Still do tri events?


  6. Thanks for capturing the spirit of the event. I was there, too ... just an old guy plugging away on the 10.5 loop! :) ... but I'm convinced ... I may never do another non-trail event again!

  7. Be sure to read this other great write-up on this race by Ron Little at .

    Regarding the water bottle "velcro", I used a water bottle holder by Nathan, Inc., that uses elastic to secure on a water bottle and give you a handle that can be cinched. You basically hold on to the water bottle the same way, but don't need to clench your hand. It also has a handy pocket that I stashed by salt caps in. Here's a pic of Scott Jurek using his - .

    No tri's this year, although I still swim 1-2x a week to unwind the running. I do miss the bike though, so I'll probably be back!


  8. Thanks, Scott, for the kind words. Wish I had recognized you when you passed me. We, too, took cameras -- that is, I had bought a throw-away, but we forgot it in the car; fortunately, my guide, Christina, had a digital that she takes with her everywhere, and, thus, we got some great pictures, especially of Berry Falls. My mother is an artist, and I want her to do me a watercolor of those falls, if she can capture their beauty from the picture. The steps, that Eric had thought, maybe, would require a climbing harness for me, turned out not to be the biggest challenge at all. They were fun (well, at least for one time around; I don't think I'd have wanted to do them a second)! The hardest part of the course for me was the one boulder field or, rather, the bare rocks we had to climb over at about the 7-mile mark, or a little before; and the innumerable and, sometimes very large, tree roots. I also got very nervous when we heard distinctive rattles off to our left and when a "slithery" crossed our road. Fortunately, none of them wanted anything to do with us. My only regret is that it took me so long to do the course, that I missed out on sharing the experience of this beautiful trail with everybody else. Still, Eric and a few others were there to greet us at the finish line. I think, what says more for the wonders of this course, though, than anything else, is that I even forgot I would get a finisher medal, until it was placed in my hand. That, I can tell you, is an honor for any race director or course, because I covet those medals! Sharlene Wills.

  9. At the risk of redundancy, I wanted to first of all, thank you, Scott, for your kind comments about me in your Waterfalls report. I tried to send a post on Monday, or Tuesday, and thought it had made it, here, but I'm not sure it did. Anyway, I don't think you could call my pace on that 10.5-mile loop anything other than slower than the proverbial tortoise's, but I did finish and, for once, I was interested in having pictures, especially of the roaring, beautiful Berry (spelling Falls. To that end, my guide had purchased for me, the night before, a small, throw-away type camera, which we, then, stupidly, left in the car. However, she, herself, is a camera buff and had her trusty digital wonder with her, so we got some excellent and marvelous shots (me grinning excitedly) and those lovely, lovely steps! My mother is an artist, and so I hope she'll be able to do me a watercolor of the Falls. Anyway, this course, as Eric said to me, ". . . is no Bizz Johnson". It was pretty technical for much of the loop, but the 190 or so stone steps really didn't give me nearly so much problem (in spite of not being able to use the cable because of sweaty hands) as the innumerable tree roots, which, apparently, caused others some headaches (or footaches) too. Neither Christina (my guide) nor I sustained any injury, but that's because I was so very cautious. My one regret with this, otherwise, fantastic race, which I want to do again, was that I didn't finish in time to share the experience with the other participants. Oh, well. Oh, yes, and I could have done without hearing rattlesnakes off to our left at a couple points and knowing that another type of "slithery" actually crossed the road in front of us". Yup, folks, I'm not very keen on the critters! In closing, though, I have to say that the race was so great that, in terms of beauty and challenge (I love the latter, too) that I even forgot I was going to get a finisher medal until it was placed in my hand. Now that's a real honor for any race director and course, since I truly covet those medals!

  10. Beautiful course Scott. I do short trail races - 4/8k and while I have done a marathon, it was tough enough on the road let alone through the terrain you describe.

  11. on my bucket list is to run a trail marathon thru the redwoods. Only have done 1/2 marathons so will be my first and have never been to redwoods but my dream. Any advice all of which one to run this spring/summer??? AMY

  12. My favorite redwood runs are:
    1) Big Basin Redwoods in May (coastal trail runs).
    2) Woodside Ramble/Crystal Springs (Inside trail racing, coastal trail runs) throughout the year.
    3) Rodeo Beach (inside trail racing).

    All have amazing redwoods!


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