Saturday, December 6, 2008

first trail run

When I was recovering from hepatitis following a trip to Mexico, I was elated to be out for my first "long ride"... I was with a group which used to meet at City Cycles in San Francisco: Fairfax, Alpine Dam, Ridgecrest, Mt Tam. All told, 60-something miles with a bunch of climbing. Good, long miles.

As I finished the climb to Ridgecrest at one of the many regroupment points of the old City Cycles ride, I saw some runners passing by on a nearby trail. They slowly plodded along, each with a belt pouch, while a few gathered spectators/course volunteers clapped. Something was going on! When I asked if it was a trail run, I was told yes, it was the Mt Tam 100k. I was floored.... 100 km on this terrain? Here I was feeling warm and fuzzy about my ride, and these folks were doing nearly the same on foot. I was impressed.

Later, A similar experience on Mt Diablo.... I reached the summit of the 3600 foot climb to find an aid station. Another trail race, another sick sum of kilometers. My goodness, these were a tough breed! I was intrigued.

Fast forward to this year. Gary Gellin absolutely blitzed the Quimby and Metcalf Hillclimbs on foot. It was simply amazing. I asked how his running had been. He said he'd been doing a lot of the Pacific Trails series. Gary always understates things... he's actually been winning more than anything else.

Another recommendation: Juliana, a friend I met through Cara, has been raving how great the running is in Huddart Park in Woodside. I'd love to join her on a run, I said, but I have this thing about driving to "training", and it's a bit of an all day affair to get there via train and bike on the weekends, with Caltrain's wretched weekend service.

All of these influences converged when I checked out Pacific Trail Runs website and came across the listing for their December Huddart Park run. I had to be there!

Pacific Trails 17 km course
The 17km route in pink

Wow -- what an experience! After a surprisingly civil sprint for the hole shot entering the trail, it was single file along the first descent. Then the climbing began... after a few minutes before the reality of what lay ahead settled into the runners ahead of me, I started to pass folks. At one point I was chastised for not yelling "on your left!" Runners are a friendly bunch, and my manners were cultivated amidst the grittier standards of bicycling... I'm learning! At 40 minutes, about the time it takes me for the 10 km which marked my previous longest race, I started to feel the fatigue set in a bit, but not long after, we hit a few descents, and these provided me a lot of recovery.

At the turn-off, I grabbed a cup of water and a cup of cola, and I was off again. After a navigational challenge where I couldn't tell if we were supposed to turn left or right (the following runner solved the problem: we went straight!), the long descent began, and I was passed repeatedly. How did these guys go downhill so fast? I asked a guy.... "Climbing is philosophy, descending is religion!" he answered. Hmmm...

But there was more than that. I was barely working on the descent. That couldn't be right. All I could do was try and relax, keep everything rag-doll loose, try to distribute the impact rather than focus it on a few muscles or joints. This was apparently successful at trauma reduction, but not good at going particularly fast. Still, I was running faster down a trail than I ever had before. In fact, I'd never really run on a trail before.

When we hit the Toyon trail, more of a fire road than a trail, the grade leveled out and I was able to actually run. I felt like I was flying... but I wasn't closing the gap at all on the last guy to have passed me.

I almost took a wrong turn going into the finish.... "Is this the way?!?!?" I shouted at a woman nearby. I can be fairly direct in these situations. "No, I think you missed the turn!" she immediately responded. I quickly corrected the problem. Nice!

More volunteers directed me to the finish line, which was in a grass field. I crossed, feeling too fresh, I thought. 1:28:27. I'd done it, beaten my 1:30 goal. Gary was there. He'd blitzed the thing: 1:10-something, beating the course record by around 2 minutes, winning with 11 minutes to spare. I was 13th out of 125 or so, just ahead of the first woman, it turned out. I had to be pleased with 13th, this being my first trail run (not just race) ever, my longest race ever by 70%.

But I need to figure out this descending thing. Also, if I'm going to do much more of this, I probably want to get some trail shoes, like the New Balance 270's or something similar. Gary thinks the trail shoes provide better traction.

But Gary also said he keeps a fairly high heartrate on the downhills. I wasn't monitoring heartrate, but I was able to talk easily, which means I wasn't working hard. Nathan thinks hip flexibility is a key, allowing me to increase my stride. That seems right. If you're spun out on a descent, shift into a bigger gear. In running, the gear is stride length. Stride length comes from flexibility.

So there it is, my first trail run. Now lets see over the next few days how I recover...

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