Sunday, December 2, 2007

Woodside Trail Run 50k

This one was a hoot. From the long downhills, uphills, huge towering redwood trees, to bonking miles 14-19 in the middle loop and destroying my morale, to reviving at the aid station. This one was a very up and down race that, ultimately, I enjoyed very much.

Woodside Trail Run 50k - 6:39:16 (12:58 pace; 36/41)

As I had said before, coming into this one I was a little unsure of how I would do. Part of that was the fact that I was still feeling the effects of the cold that just wouldn't go away. So I took it easy Friday night and rested well, eating a large pasta meal and carbo load myself. Eventually I was able to get a solid 7 hours of sleep and was completely rested. After my standard breakfast of peanut butter and toast, two bananas and gatorade I set off for Woodside, about a 40 minute drive.

I had never been to Huddart Park and was floored as I drove through the hills. Towering redwoods with lush undergrowth made this an absolutely wonderful place to do a long run. You start in the park on the lawn and run down and through the redwoods, a la the Ewoks home in the third Star Wars.

So we toed the line, or around the cones as this was a very informal start. Instructions given, away we went. You run down the lawn for maybe a 100 yards before entering the the redwoods. I loved this beginning because we ran downhill for a little over a mile and this was a nice warm up, which was what I needed. The race started in 40 degree weather and it didn't warm up much at all because once you entered the towering redwoods you are virtually completely in shade the whole time, with the sun almost completely gone. This, of course, dropped the temperature some. So a warm up was good.

I got my first taste of what I was in for at about mile 2 when you hit a long stretch of uphill that went on for miles, almost for the next 5-6 miles. I am not the best at running uphill, so I walked a good portion of it, which drastically slowed me down some. By the time I reached the first aid station it had finally leveled out some. In fact coming into the aid station was a half a mile of downhill, so I was feeling on top of my game. I breezed past the aid station and didn't stop any longer than it took to thank the volunteers. I didn't eat anything, and to that point I hadn't eaten anything either. But I felt good, why stop? Huge mistake.

From here it was rolling hills. The majestic forest made me feel so small and insignificant as I ran under the hundred to two hundred foot trees. The trails were immaculate and the surrounding hills were so lush. All of this helped buoy me along as I kept up a decent pace, even on some of the hills. But in hindsight this was where I started feeling a little worse for wear. I ate 3 Cliff Shot Bloks, which was 90 calories and took a couple of endurolytes. I thought this would be enough to the next aid station. When I finally reached it I stopped and rested, drinking some water and eating some more Shot Bloks, but was still feeling pretty good. The second aid station is about 11-12 miles in, which was about 2hrs24 minutes. I should have eaten more and drank more water, but I was feeling so good. So I pushed on without topping off my water or eating anything else.

This was mistake number two, because this section of the run was the longest. A 14k loop until the next aid station. And this was a very difficult section of the run. The first half of it is one long meandering downhill that kills the quads. I started getting low on energy so I ate some more Shot Bloks and drank some water. To this point I had had about 20 oz. of water, not enough, so I made sure I kept drinking more as I went. Then I hit the killer portion, the part that almost destroyed my morale and made me want to DNF at the next aid station. What goes down must go up, so I now had to trudge all the way back up to the aid station, which meant miles and miles of nothing but uphill. At this point I started thinking I was the last runner out there and that I was really screwed, royally, because I had only eaten 300 calories and had ran out of water (40 oz. to this point). I had to keep stopping because I had absolutely no energy. I also had no clue how far I was because my Garmin kept losing its signal and, at mile 11.7, it lost it for at least an 1hr20mins, so everything was all messed up. This would play again later in the race, this time to my benefit.

Finally I got to the last of the uphill and take off running the short downhill to the aid station. I knew I didn't have any energy and that running that fast downhill could be bad, but I didn't care. I needed water and, more importantly, I needed food. When I finally got there the friendly volunteer was so supportive and cheerful that my spirits were lifted. It felt like I was swaying as goose bumps ran up my arms. I grabbed some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and forced them down. This, of course, almost made me throw up, but it didn't. I must have spent 5-10 minutes there stuffing my face with everything I could get my hands on. After a while I knew I wouldn't DNF, that with the calories came a renewed energy and I would push on.

Bidding the friendly volunteer farewell away I went. I still walked the hills but I ran all the downhills. There was only 10 miles at this point, so I knew I could make it. Steady, steady, steady. Just focus on the downhills and walk the uphills. I didn't get low on energy, but at one point I stopped to tinkle and as I looked out onto the forest it seemed that it was moving away from me! The strangest thing. Like some 3D effect of someone pulling a string on the landscape. Just imagine looking forward and then everything that was stationary seemed to be moving farther away. That was trippy.

I finally got into the last aid station and had the first surprise of the day. I still didn't have a clue how far I had run because of the lost signal on the Garmin, so I asked the aid station how much farther to go. I had assumed that I had over 6 miles to go, since it took that long to get there coming up. When they said a little over 4 miles I was floored. I couldn't believe it. Apparently the 14k loop made up the difference. So I was 26 miles into the run and received the best news possible! You have shorter to go than you thought! So as I stuffed my face, not wanting to make the same mistake I did at the other aid stations, another runner came down the trail. When he found out how long we had he pointed out the obvious, which I had written off for dead during the 14k loop. We could still make it in under 7 hours! Once he said it I couldn't believe it. He was right. We had 1hr20 minutes to make the last 4+ miles. My morale was boosted again and away we went, running together because it is always easier to run with someone.

This section was so amazingly fast because it was all downhill. For the first few miles most of it was downhill with some uphills, so I slowed a bit, but after that I took off. I swear I was on a full on sprint. I started thinking that perhaps I could make the goal I had set for myself, that just maybe I might be able to finish in under 6:45. So I didn't care about my aching joints, my almost cramping calves and my burning quads. I turned it on and went for it. So when I thought I had another mile to go I ran around the corner and saw some cars. Huh? Then through the trees I could see lawn, then around another corner I saw a bathroom. Now I thought the finish would be uphill, as the start had been downhill, so when I saw the bathroom I thought it was the one at the bottom of the hill. Granted, I was excited to know that the finish was right there in front of me, but I did not cherish the idea of an uphill finish. So as I cleared the trees I looked for the hill and, oh sweet jesus, the finish line was not uphill but across the grass about 50 feet away. I sprinted across and couldn't feel any more happy. I had just ran the 50k in 6:39:16 and set a PR by 1hr36min.

I learned a ton from this race. Eat, eat, eat. I only drank about 60 oz. the whole race, which I could have had a ton more, but that didn't stop me. What destroyed the morale during that 14k loop was that I had been out there for 19 miles and 4:21 and I had only eaten 300 calories. I've learned this lesson many times and I don't know why I keep having to re-learn it. As soon as I actually ate, my body responded immediately. In fact when you don't eat it is so gradual you shrug it off as the normal soreness from running for so long, when in fact it is that your body needs food! Soreness will be there, of course, but losing your energy, do to no calories, can be avoided.

Additionally, this was my fourth marathon or longer in a little over 4 months and I know I can do the distance, but if I want to complete them in faster times I need to spread them out more and spend more time training. And by training I mean proper training. The training I have done has been sporadic, kind of a minimalistic approach, so I need to start doing longer runs as well as hill running.

All in all, I absolutely loved this race. The great and beautiful redwood forest is the perfect place to do a long run. And although the elevation profile is deceptively difficult (it seemed more difficult than the Stevens Creek 50k, which had 1,000 feet more elevation), it was well worth the effort and time. Great weather, great forest, great organization. Rewarding in every way. Couldn't have asked for more.

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