Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Wet and Wily 2015 Redding Marathon

There is something delectably pure about a small, local marathon. Runners know every runner/volunteer on the course, aid stations are stacked with homemade goodies, a hearty "go!" sends everyone off, and puppies are given away as prizes (okay, just one this time, but still). This was the warm embrace I felt as I joined ~240 runners for the 14th Annual Redding Marathon, in Redding, CA, a growing city set in the Shasta wilderness in Northern California. They had put together a splendid day for us (including pie at the finish!), and a little rain wasn't nearly enough to wash away the ear-to-ear smiles.

(Ribbon Bridge crosses the Sacramento River)
(The lush Sacramento River)
It's always great to discover a new community, especially one you have driven by a hundred times over years of Oregon-to-California road trips. But in truth, I was here for more selfish reasons. I had qualified for the 2015 Boston Marathon already, but with a time (2:55) that had room for improvement. I had put the Napa Marathon on the calendar to knock my BQ into the 2:40's, but the BAA had moved up the deadline for sending an improved time from March 15th to February 1st. That left just one nearby marathon on the calendar, a race that local ultra athletes Beverly and Alan Abbs and Joe Palubeski had been suggesting to me for years. It looks kinda flat...perfect!

(Mostly flat, right?)
I was able to sit next to Joe and his first-time-marathoner friend, Kevin Penner, on the ride out to the start and they soon corrected me that this was by no means a flat course. Sure, much of it was along the impeccable rails-to-trails bicycle path along the Sacramento River, but that same path is known to have some steep climbs and sharp turns in the second half as it works through the canyons. Hmmm...that online elevation chart is a bit deceiving, but then again, aren't they all?

(A little rain never hurt!)
It has drizzled through the night, and by the 8am race start, there was a light rain topping off the puddles in the mild 52 degree air. The start was so casual, I nearly missed it! But soon we were trucking across the Shasta Dam and plummeting down the first 2 mile road descent through the misty mountains. I took it easy, figuring I would turn up the speed once we hit the flat stuff.

(Across the Shasta Dam we go!)
(We're headed down there somewhere)
(Through the misty mountains)
Even through the low hanging clouds, you could tell this area is amazing. Geese and cranes lined the easy moving river, and the shore was exploding with wildlife. Trails lined with cyclocross treadmarks were in and out of every little canyon, and it reminded me that Redding was the home of the one of the first ever mountain bike races - the 1981 Whiskeytown Downhill, won by cycling pioneer Gary Fischer. We hit the long, flat sections, and my Garmin chimed in to say "yo, daydreamer...you're not going fast enough"...sigh! Leave the history for another run.

(Plenty of downhill to start)

(Kevin is flying!)
(Locals don't let a little rain hold back their spirits)
(Alan Abbs gets into a groove)
(Joe hams it up while pacing Bev)
I picked up the pace to 6:15 min/miles, and boy, it sure felt good to go fast! It had been a few months since I was in race mode and nothing turns up the turbos like a long stretch of road. Adrenaline, I have missed you so! I passed up Alan Abbs (looking solid and jamming on tunes), Beverly Abbs (now 50, having won this race ten times already), the always-inspiring Joe Palubeski, and all but the first dozen runners by the time the relay teams got fresh legs at Mile 9. Everyone was just grinning through the rain and having a blast!

(Sweet tunnel at mile 4)
(Relay runners were blazing fast!)
(Bev and Joe getting it done! Photo courtesy of the Redding Record)
(Relay runners get some fresh legs, photo courtesy of the Redding Record)
As we crossed the river to try out the other side, I instantly understood what Joe and Kevin had warned me about. Lots of steep, little hills and tight corners that made it tough to keep hammering. Respect for the 2:30's/2:40' times that Jorge Marvilla, Ian Sharman, and Hal Koerner have clocked here over the years! I kept looking over my shoulder for Chris Devine, my cycling buddy whose "Devine Winter" relay team was certainly going to catch me.

(Is it raining? Didn't even notice...)
(Christopher Wehan setting the pace up front, photo courtesy of the Redding Record)
I hit the halfway point feeling good (1:24:11), but the rain was coming down much harder now. I had made the rookie mistake of dropping my hat and gloves when it cleared up the first time...now I have NADA. Whoops! Well, I do have my drenched camera and a wet iPhone randomly picking and skipping songs like a crack-infused DJ with attention deficit disorder (ADDJ?). I'm sure those will keep me warm!

(Either this is an aid station, or I have a LOT to learn about the Redding locals)
(80+ volunteers braved the rain for us today, photo courtesy of Redding Marathon)
The pink-haired volunteers at Ribbon Bridge aid station (miles 14.2, 17.3, and later 22.5) gave us all a smile as we took a quick out and back up a hill. The relays were commanding the front on a 2:30'ish pace, with ultrarunners Ryan Kaiser (Bend, OR) and Christopher Wehan (Santa Cruz, CA) leading the marathon about eight minutes back. They said I was in fifth, but the folks right behind me were looking pretty strong too. Keep pressing on!

(The rain is coming down hard now!)
(Accidental pic, but there's the river!)
(A little wet, but still in it! Photo courtesy of the Redding Record)
The second relay point (mile 19) brought more fresh legs and lots of high fives, but by the time I hit the Ribbon Bridge again (mile 22) I was all alone. I had some time to make up to hit the high 2:40's, so did my best to squish-squash my rain-soaked shoes through the last set of hills. I had less than a minute to sprint the final chute across the glass-floored Sundial Bridge, but soon realized that would be a treacherous endeavor in the rain, and jogged it in for 3rd place (2:50:37). Wow, that was super fun!

(The unmistakable, and crazy slippery, Sundial Bridge)
(Home stretch!)
(Made it!)
(Joe warms up with fellow finishers)
(This puppy was the inspiration - and prize! - for one of the relay runners)
(Cheering on the finishers)
Ryan Kaiser had won (2:38:51), and was stoked to get a Boston qualifying time so he could join his dad in 2016 (his dad had recently qualified after 30 years of trying). He's looking very fit for Western States this year! Christopher Wehan, no stranger to placing well in Redding after winning the Whiskeytown 50k last year, came in 2nd (2:41:33) and also has States in mind with a schedule full of Montrail qualifiers. Beverly Abbs won the Women's division AGAIN (3:04:29, 10th overall, 11 wins now), with Sarah Johnston (3:13) and Courtney Chase (3:16) filling out the podium. Joe Palubeski (3:12, 4th AG) was super stoked for his friend, Kevin Penner (3:24, 2nd AG), who nailed a BQ on his first attempt at age 51! Wow, no matter where you go, fast locals are everywhere! (all results)

(A nice plaque, a tech t-shirt for 3rd overall, and finisher medal - good swag!)
We enjoyed peanut butter and banana sandwiches, pie (of course), and coffee as we cheered the fellow soaking runners down the finish chute. I didn't quite hit my goal, but did shave five minutes off my BQ and met a lot of great people. There were plenty of local heroes today, especially the 80+ volunteers who braved the rain to put on this great race. My thanks to the SWEAT Running Club, Race Directors, and volunteers...I couldn't think of a better way to start the 2015 season!

And I promise to stop by again on the next I-5 trip. ;-)

- SD


  1. Scott, it was great to meet you on the bus ride up with Joe Palubeski (and then again as you whizzed by on the trail!). Thanks for the great pics and the super write-up on the Redding Marathon and our wonderful community. Hope to see you again! Kevin Penner, Red Bluff CA

    1. You killed it, Kevin! Hope to see you in Boston for 2016.

  2. Oh I loved your recap of the marathon! It's been so long since I've raced, but I felt like I was right there with you! :) Were you running with a point and shoot camera or just your phone?

    1. I had the GoPro Hero 3 for this race...my other cameras can't handle the rain very well. I did also borrow some pics from other runners and press, who were nice enough to brave the rain!

  3. Sounds like a great little marathon. Nice report, Scott.

  4. This was fun to read! Thank you. :)
    Sarah Johnston


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