Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Soaring Through the Angel Island 25k

Last Sunday I had the great pleasure of joining 320 runners for the Angel Island 8k/15k/25k put on by Pacific Coast Trail Runs. The 25k zigs through every trail and road on this little island just outside of Tiburon, CA, producing postcard views and sun-drenched smiles in all directions. It was a fantastic way to kick off the year!

Runners packed the Angel Island ferry at 10am, eager to take advantage of the great running weather (55 degrees and sunny). There was little evidence that just last weekend this little oasis was battered by 100+ mile/hour winds and a full coastal storm! There were plenty of familiar faces on the boat, and most were saying what I was thinking – it’s a bit too early in the season to be racing, but how can we turn it down?!?

(Enjoying the ferry ride to Angel Island)

Christi and Sophie joined me on this race, and I was thrilled to have a cheering section for the three different laps. We didn’t have much time for pleasantries – as soon as we unloaded, Wendell was calling the 25k runners to the starting line. By 10:30am, we were off!

The course shot right up some stairs and single track before leveling out about a quarter mile in. Ray Sanchez, a 40-year-old boxing champ from the Sacramento area, led us up the stairs before slowing on the paved road. Ray was hoping to take it a bit easy – he had a 135 mile race in Brazil coming up in a few weeks! As we opened up our strides on the access road, about five of us went off the front at a 6:30 mile/hour pace.

(Ray Sanchez leads us out)

(Heading up the stairs/single track; photos courtesy of Christi Dunlap)

The sun hit our face as we climbed the first set of hills, and the San Francisco skyline sprouted in the distance. We passed a few of the Immigration Stations, structural history of the early/mid 1900’s when Angel Island served as the “Ellis Island of the West” and welcomed immigrants to the US. We also saw the beaches where the Miwok Indians had fished thousands of years before that. The lead pack dropped to three – Jason Wolf, Jeff Scrubbs, and myself – and we each took turns pacing at the front. As we saw the Golden Gate bridge and Mt. Tam, we knew we were about half way around.

(Jason Wolf takes on the first big climb)

It was great to run with Jason, whom I hadn’t seen in ages. One fateful day about six years ago, he was at the registration for the San Jose International Triathlon when his teammates didn’t make the registration cut-off time. I hadn’t registered at all and was trying to beg my way into the sold out race, so I filled in for his swim and bike teammates and he took the run. Took the run indeed – much in thanks to his 34 minute 10k time, we won the team competition! My prize crossbow is still hanging in the garage (a creative use of the gift certificate prize that allowed for “any one item up to $250”). I knew Jason was capable of one helluva top speed, especially as he is peaking for Ironman Arizona in April this year. I figured I would just keep pace with him while I could.

(Jeff Scrubbs keeps a strong pace as the Bay Bridge passes in view)

As Tiburon came into view around mile 3.5, I walked some short climbs and Jason quickly gapped me as he sprinted by. I kept him in sight as we trounced down the single track and back into the start area. Christi and Sophie cheered as I entered the aid station, and Jason’s family practically did the wave (he and his wife have three kids). Jason smiled, nodded at me and said “that’s what it’s all about right there”. No kidding! Perhaps this was our secret weapon. We refilled, and headed back up the stairs for lap #2.

(I stick with Jason as we enter the aid station; photo courtesy of Christi Dunlap)

Jason tore up the stairs with a vengeance, and by the time I reached the top he was long gone. The second loop was shorter and steeper, but runnable single track. I kept my turnover high, making sure I kept my heart rate in the aerobic zone. As I hit the top of the climb, my Garmin 305 was saying the race was already half over. Already?!? I haven’t even had lunch yet. Clearly I’ve spent too much time in the ultra distances. ;-)

(The Golden Gate Bridge on a clear day)

The descent on the second loop was great fun, largely because we mixed in with the 15k runners. Everyone was having a great time, running in ad hoc groups down the single track trail. Somebody said I was about 2 minutes back from Jason, which seemed about right. I suspected he would gap me some more on loop #3, which was even shorter and steeper than the first two. Still, it was worth a shot to keep up the pace so I made a quick stop at the aid station and charged up the last loop.

(Sharing smiles with the 8k/15k runners)

(Coming in on loop #2)

Up, up, up we went right to the island summit. The last section to the top was an out-and-back, and Jason came charging down about a quarter mile ahead of me and still moving fast. I took a short pause at the top to suck in the 360 degree view before chasing down Jason one last time. I was surprised my lungs were holding up as well as they were, considering I hadn’t done any speed work since October. I guess that aerobic training actually does help! It seems weird that going slow can make you fast, but it must be doing something ‘cause I should be gasping by now.

(Jason descends from the summit)

I kept the strong pace down the last descent, finishing in 1:52, good enough for second place. Jason had finished a full 4 minutes ahead of me (!), and was already packing up the family to head back on the next ferry. 50-year-old Lawrence Berg finished third just a few minutes behind me, and soon a pack of 25k runners started trickling in. Lindsey Maclise had an impressive 2:06 to win the Women’s division.

(All done! Time to join the party)

Christi, Sophie, and I made our way through the exhausted runners sunning on the dock to catch the next ferry back to Tiburon. A few folks were talking about 16-year-old Nathanael Litwiller from Concord, CA, who had set a new course record in the 8k (33:13), nearly five minutes ahead of everyone. Adam Carlson of San Francisco had set a course record for the 15k as well (1:11). Despite the early time of year, some folks were ready to GO FAST (as Ricky Bobby would say)!

(View of SF from the top)

It’s hard to say what was making me smile more on the ferry ride back – Sophie laughing at the boats, the epic morning run, or the start of another great year of trail running. Regardless, Angel Island had filled my soul until it spillith over. My thanks to Wendell, Sarah and the volunteers for a wonderful day!

- SD


  1. I am jealous of you California runners - how can it be so gorgeous while Im under 10ft of snow?!? Rgh.

  2. I wanted to be at the race, but circumstances prevented me. I expected it to be butt cold and foggy, but it looks BEAUTIFUL from your pics. Clear as can be. Congrats on your 2nd place finish.

  3. Awesome pictures and nice race! I'm having a hard time motivating on my training up here in the ice, so your post is inspiring. Thank you.
    Shake and bake Cal!...I mean Scott.

  4. I did this run last year, my first PCTR run and it was a total blast. I might need to do it again at one of the later runs this year.

  5. I ran the 15k and it was wonderful! We are so blessed to live in this area, and have Race Directors who put on fun races like Angel. Pacifica is next!

    Scott - you got some points on the board for the PCT Trail Series. Are you going to keep going? Or maybe the ultras?


  6. wonderful is right! looks like a perfect day out there.

  7. That was a gorgeous day out there Sunday. Though not running myself, I was up to support my wife, who did the 16km, and do a little volunteer work for Wendell and Sarah. Great fun, and you looked pretty good crossing the finish line...kinda like you're ready for racing?!? ;-)

  8. Looks like this was a lot of fun! Congrats on your second place finish!

    Love the Ricky Bobby reference

  9. Great Photos! It's cold and dreary here in Wisconsin. I could use a nice run in that climate.

  10. What a great time had by all! Your descriptions left me salivating, of the weather, the scenery, the folks, the speed, and mostly - the family. Welcome to 2008!

  11. great job! My first 50K was there. Beautiful course but I hate those stairs!

  12. Congrats on a great race - Angel Island sounds incredible... I'm hoping to get out to CA for some racing before too long. Ironically enough, I was actually checking out the PCTR series website a couple days ago and saw this particular event listed. Anyway, love your blog. Just wanted to say hey.

  13. Congratulations on your second place finish. I enjoy your detailed race reports. I'm trying to get in shape to run a trail race or two myself this year (East Coast) and your blog makes for some inspiring reading. Keep it up!

  14. Thanks for stopping by, everyone! Sorry to hear there is lots of hibernation going on. Come out and see us! ;-)


  15. Awesome run, Scott. You must have been really soaring. What a great start of the year!


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