Sunday, February 23, 2014

Inside Trail Racing's Lake Chabot 30 km trail run

Lake Chabot is a particularly easy-to-reach trail run from San Francisco: I rode my bike about a mile to the BART station, took BART to Castro Valley, then rode from there 5 km to the Lake Chabot marina, merrily spinning by the line of cars and personal trucks lined up waiting to get into the limited-capacity parking lot.

This was my 2nd trail run this year after a long break from trail running. I knew my fitness was coming around: good day-to-day recovery and my speed was improving. Rationally I knew I should be ready. I just had to pace myself right.

Marina
The race started near the Marina.

Since the distance was a stretch, my longest run in over a year, I decided go light on the warm-up. But then I'd ridden my bike 5 km up a gradual hill to get there.

Off we went down the paved path which constituted the beginning of the course. The pace felt glacially slow, trodding through sludge, but then that's always the case in race. The Strava data show we were around a 4:50/km pace, which is indeed slow, but appropriate for this distance. My finishing kilometers were faster.

I tried my best to run the tangents: target the inside of each turn, running straight lines between. In the turns there was generally a dirt fringe to the path. These not only provided a shorter radius and therefore less distance, but additionally the dirt was less impact. I'd brought both my road shoes (New Balance Minimus) and trail shoes (New Balance 970) to the start, then asked a volunteer which was the better choice. "Definitely trail shoes," he said, and I believe this turned out to be true. Since I had the trail shoes on I had may as well run in dirt when convenient to do so.

2.7 km in we hit the "bridge of death", a steep metal staircase led to a narrow suspension bridge, oscillating in response to the line of runners passing over. We'd been warned of the need to be close to the front here, but congestion wasn't a problem for me. The pack had already thinned out considerably by this point.

Finally at near 4 km the paved trail ended and we were on dirt. It was wide trail, not quite fire road, with decaying foliage covering. Here's where I was glad for the trail shoes, as the added grip probably makes them the more energy-efficient choice here, making up for the reduced efficiency on the pavement. They're also heavier.

Once on the dirt, the climbing began, 4.2 km from the start. None of the climbs were particularly long, this one was 74 meters, but they were long enough that runners were attacking them hard on the early going then running out of gas part-way up, reduced to a walk. I went straight to a power walk, swinging my arms. This is more efficient and still reasonably fast, perhaps not race-winning fast, but certainly up to the level of effort I'm able to sustain for 30 km.

Over the top, we began the descents. Descents used to be a huge weakness for me but I'm clearly running faster on them now, as I had no problem keeping pace here, and even passed a few runners.

number, map, pins
Number, map, and pins. 30 km did the pin + orange routes: the full loop. Detailed course information is here.

There were 3 aid stations on the course, roughly every 7.5 km. This worked out perfectly for me, as the bottle with Hammer Heed solution with which I'd started the race was empty by the first station. I looked around for the sugar solution option. "Sports drink?" one of the volunteers shouted, holding a jug of clear liquid. I trotted up, the cap off my bottle, and he quickly filled it. There was some food placed out on a table nearby, and after a quick scan I grabbed a small orange piece, shoved it in my mouth, and was off. It was a clean and quick stop.

The next section would take us from the half-marathon "pink" trail to the orange "loop" which extended the course to the nominal 30 km. The turn-off was at roughly half-way on the half-marathon loop, I figured, or around 10.5 km. But 11 km, then 12 km appeared on my Forerunner 610 and still no turn-off. I'm pathologically fearful of going off course, a fear borne of extensive experience, and this sort of thing gets me worried. But the course was excellently marked and sure enough the orange arrows appeared.

I'd been running with two others, one of whom was in the 30 km, the other the half-marathon. They'd been chatting, but now it was just two of us, so I became the target for conversation. Johannes was his name, and I heard about his experience on road marathons, including a 2:58 CIM in December. We seemed reasonably well matched, so I was happy for the company.

Second aid station and it was again a very fast in-and-out for me. This one, unlike the first, had Clif Blox, of which I took 4. I dropped one on the trail but the 5-second rule applied: I dusted it off and ate it. Clif Blox are easy going down, almost as good as gels, with less packaging mess. And, of course, I refilled my bottle with sports drink.

Johannes was only a few seconds slower at the stop and he quickly recaught me. And so we continued to run together until the steep climbs began at km 16.4. I went into my power-walk, but he went into a plain hiking pace, arguing that he couldn't climb. He'd been running fine to this point, so I was a bit puzzled by this, and told him I was sure I'd see him again.

Over the hill and down the other side I went. Despite my words to Johannes, I figured it would be solo from here onward. I recalled the deviation from the pink trail had been at around km 13, so if their course was 21 km, then we should re-intersect at around km 22 plus whatever distance it took for the pink course to cross the bridge which we had avoided. But I had not yet reached this point when I heard two voices behind me. I hoped it was mountain bikers, of which we had seen several, but the voices lingered behind me too long for a mountain biker's speed on the flattish trail. Eventually I was indeed overtaken by two runners, then a short while later, by Johannes. They passed me definitely but then hovered in front, the gap stabilizing. Either I had sped up in reaction to their passing me or they had benefitted from having me as a rabbit. Maybe a little bit of both.

At one point I saw a 50 km runner heading in the opposite direction. I found this puzzling, as nobody was supposed to be running the orange loop backwards. I decided perhaps she had missed the first turn-off, crossed the bridge, and was now running orange backwards to make up the distance. Soon after I hit the junction with the pink loop, and I was approaching end-game.

Last rest stop, and my bottle was again filled quickly by a volunteer. No food here: 7.5 km to go, I figured. "How far to the finish?" I asked. I heard "3.7 miles"... "turnaround"... 3.7 miles is only 6 km, not 7.5, so was the course short? And what was that about the turn-around.

Maybe she'd meant the 10 km turn-around. The 10 km race headed backwards on the course for 5 km, turning around, and heading back. I figured if I hit the turn-around I knew there were 5 km left. I never did, perhaps because it had been cleaned up by this point. Or maybe I missed it...

This finishing portion wasn't as flat as I'd expected, and I recaught Johannes as he was walking up a relatively steep but short rise. We greeted each other as I passed. I fully expected he would again recatch me on the descents into the finish, but fortunately for me there was enough climbing in the rolling hills remaining that he never did.

Sooner than expected I saw a "1 mile to go" sign. Time to pick up the pace. There was a lot of traffic on the trail here, which was again paved: dog-walkers, joggers, mountain bikers, and half-marathoners whom I was overtaking. This was mildly annoying as it made it harder to cut the course tangents, but I reminded myself that not everyone views racing on the trails as the top priority. With one mile to go, it's time to forget about pacing and just go. But my legs were tiring: the feeling of freshness I'd felt through around 20 km was disappearing. And this "last mile" was dragging on and on.

But then there it was: the Marina. And with as much of a sprint as I could manage, I finished.

3rd in age group
race shirt, finisher's medal, 3rd place in age group

It was an excellent result for me: 11th overall out of 121 finishers, 3rd in my age group for another medal. Curiously, this was the equivalent pair of results I had at Foothills despite clearly superior fitness, but upgraded to a longer distance. I felt really good about my effort and the result: the pacing was relatively uniform and yet I finished feeling as if I'd given pretty much everything without having dug too deeply.

After collecting my shirt and my medal, and eating granola, berries, and grapes, I unlocked my bike and rode back to BART.



plot
Ready for recovery.

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