The crisp winter morning didn't hold back nearly 300 runners and hikers who where here to tackle the 5-mile and Half Marathon distances of this up-and-back course. I signed up for half marathon, which would run me right up Crystal Springs and the Chinquapin Trails to my driveway and back (and then run back home again!). It would be a pleasant double-trip up my favorite hill, with a 13.1 mile cruise interval in the middle.
Longtime Race Director Dave Horning stepped up on a rock and gathered the runners for some instructions, tips on getting titanium knee replacements (he has had two), and tales from their race in Death Valley last week (it rained 1.9" during the race, nearly the annual rainfall of the area). Dave introduced Jim Harrison, going strong at 83 years of age and here to tackle the 5-mile.
The excitement of the pack was familiar, but something about it felt different. Wait a minute - I didn't know anyone! Well, a few faces maybe. But many were road runners, track athletes, triathletes, and first-time trail runners that I don't usually see in the ultra crowd. They all shared a passion to come play outside, and I knew my home trails would dish out more than enough to stoke the soul and push the red line. The mud pit right before the aid station at the top would certainly leave no runner clean. ;-) I'm always excited to see so many people out on the trails.
Dave gave us the countdown, and we headed down Richards Road at full tilt. I hung on the back of a pack of 12 runners who pulled off the front. It was amazing how completely different the trails felt at this speed, shoulder to shoulder in a pack. By the time we hit the climb at mile 2, the front runners were already a good minute ahead, led by James Wanjiru (a 25-year-old student from Kenya) and Dan Feder (a 45-year-old new Woodside resident, enjoying the weather reprieve from his hometown of Princeton, NJ). Anthony Pelosi from Folsom, CA, was right behind them and his t-shirt flickered through the trees like the white tail of a leaping deer.
I parked my heart rate around my anaerobic threshold (~160'ish) and tore into the hills with a short but fast turnover. My Inov-8 xTalon's were a good choice for the day, and the flexible sole grabbed tons of dirt and mud with every step. It only took a mile for most to slow down, and soon William Newsem, Anthony Laglia and I were picking our way through the front pack. I was impressed with how these guys were charging the climbs but really making the most time on the flats and downhills. By the time we reached the base of the Chinquapin Trail (mile 3.5), we could see the only three ahead of us all within a minute.
As we reached the peak and hit the final stretch to the mud, James Wanjiru and Dan Feder were on their way back. By my calculations, they were still a minute up but it was clear they were moving faster than I was. James was really flying, quickly in a league all by himself. We trudged through the mud, and I got a refill on my bottle before heading back down. Bye-bye house, so you in a bit!
The descent was fast and everyone was gracious enough to give us room to slide by on the single track. I worked on leaning forward and running as fast as I could without braking (if my toes are hitting the ends of my shoes, then I'm putting on the brakes). My footing slipped on one of the mossy bridges and I went down in the mud, but quickly got back up thanks to the soft landing. Anthony was right behind me, so there was no time to dilly dally!
I did my best to keep my heart rate up on the descents (it's tough!) and used my knowledge of the course to get through the switchbacks quickly. By the time we caught the tail end of the 5-mile runners, I glanced up the hill to see that I had put about 40 seconds on Anthony and that Greg Hales was with him. The trail flattened out on Richards Road, and I couldn't see anyone in front of me within striking distance. I checked my heart rate one more time, coming in as fast as 160 bpm would allow.
I finished in 4th in 1:26:18, behind winner James Wanjiru (1:19:23), Dan Feder (1:24:20), and Anthony Pelosi (1:24:52). Greg Hales and Anthony Laglia came in within 40 seconds behind me. Jackson, CA's Erin Devlin won the Women's division in 1:37:14, about 90 seconds ahead of the 2nd Woman (and Masters winner) Virginia Landin Nelson from Berkeley, CA. In the 5-mile, it was Ralph Lewis (34:12) and Beckie Palm (34:39) who were victorious. 15-year-old Kristina Solvik from Alamo, CA, made an impressive trail running debut with her 37:45 for 2nd Woman and 7th overall.
I loaded up on pretzels and popped a Nuun in my bottle for the 2nd trip up, cheering on the finishers as they sprinted by. The sun cooked the muddy trail, making it new once more for the return climb. Four trips on the same trail, and four very different experiences. Mother Nature never ceases to amaze.
My thanks to the Envirosports volunteers and fellow runners. Please come back again soon!