Coastal Trail Runs is the sister organization of Pacific Coast Trail Runs, focusing on marathon-and-under distances to attract new recruits to the wonderful world of trails. Based on the number of hands that shot up in the air when RD’s Brian Wyatt and Marissa Walker asked “how many are running their first trail run?”, they are certainly succeeding. But what could be more attractive than a crystal clear winter day in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a perfectly marked course, and buffet aid stations? They will all be hooked for sure.
At 9am, they sent us off into early morning shadows of the redwood canopy of Huddart Park. The 5k runners blazed down the single track, slowing only when Richards Road (mile 2) started to climb. I was about 10 people back, running along with Daryl Hultquist, who had taken advantage of a business trip to run some trails far from his home in Maryland. “Our hills are about 200 feet tall”, he said, pacing himself up the first 2,000 foot climb. He was certainly going to enjoy this marathon! After this climb, we would run 5.5 miles of the Skyline Trail to Wunderlich Park and do a down-and-up loop before returning.
Being my home turf, my feet fit the grooves of the trail like a comfortable pair of slippers. Honestly, it was a bit unfair to the others to know every nook and cranny, and I quickly picked my way through all but the first three 5k runners. I sang along with my steps (Kelly Clarkson…I know, pretty corny) and absorbed the sun-sprinkled warmth through the swaying tree branches. Winter running in California is truly marvelous! I hit the first aid station (mile 6) in 50 minutes, and Sarah Spelt and Aaron Doman let me know that I was the first of the marathon/22-milers to arrive. Probably a bit too fast this early in the season, but I was having a blast so I took the refill and ran.
I couldn’t see anyone behind me, so I cranked Wolfmother on the iPod and made my way down the Skyline Trail. It’s funny how a trail you have run 100+ times can look so different if you just slap on a number and have some ribbons to follow. I ran fartlek style, staying in my aerobic zone until just the right hill or guitar solo demanded a surge. I reached aid station #2 (mile 11) in 1:30, finding the brave volunteers manning the “high altitude” aid station and staying warm against the growing breeze. They filled me up with a smile and sent me down into Wunderlich Park.
No matter how many times I do the loop through Wunderlich, the climb out just messes with my head with all the false summits and long fire roads. I figured some comedy could assist and switched the tunes to They Might Be Giants “Science is Real”, a hilarious kids album to learn about cells, gravity, and the Kelvin scale. I giggled my way back up the summit, much to the delight of the many hikers out enjoying the morning.
Back at the aid station (mile 16), the 22-milers were getting their grub on. I was still just on water (thank you, Vespa) so I did a quick refill before joining them on the return trip. It was great to have some company! There were lots of smiling faces still working their way towards us, and each graciously made room for passing while shouting words of encouragement. The PCTR/Coastal Trail Runs community overflows with optimism!
I flew through the next section, my legs on autopilot and (falsely) thinking we were almost done since our driveway was near. The consolation prize was seeing my family waiting for me at the last aid station (mile 21), dogs and all! Martha (the Bernese Mountain Dog) tackled me while Rocky (the Pug) got to work on the salt in my knee pits. Sophie was all smiles, and Christi was packing her .44 Magnum Canon camera. I didn’t want to stay too long since this was a race after all, but Sarah let me know I was well ahead of the rest and gaining on the first few folks in the 22-miler. I guess the home field has its advantages! We snapped a few pics, and I was on my way to the last long descent..
A light rain kicked in, hinting at storms to come (prediction was 20” of rain in 6 days), but for now it was blissful. I am one lucky soul to call this my backyard. With one quick huff up to the Crystal Springs Trail (that part is always hard), I eased up and enjoyed the final two miles of single track and fire road.
I breezed into the finish in 3:36:04, good enough for 1st place and an awesome coffee mug trophy. The 22-mile winners had arrived about 10 minutes ahead of me, and Daryl (4:01:54) took second in the marathon with Rachel Rodriguez (4:05:08) just a few minutes behind to win the Women's division. Finland's Mikko Valimaki (1:17:52) and local Caitlin Roake (1:30:37) took honors in the 11 mile, and Michael Popov (32:32) and Lisa Penzel (37:35) won the 5-miler (all results). We relaxed in the winter sun, eating snacks and sharing stories of our favorite sections of the race. It was so fulfilling to hear their perspective and experience the trails through fresh eyes. My hike home found me seeing once-familiar trails brighter and more vivid, noticing details with a childlike curiosity. First time trail runners, you are welcome any time, my friends!
My thanks to the RD’s and volunteers of Coastal Trail Runs for a great race, and congratulations to all the runners (especially you first timers!). I hope to see you all again soon, and look forward to seeing more smiling faces in my backyard. For those interested, Pacific Coast Trail Runs will be back in Woodside on February 6th – come check it out!