Last week, I set several different goals for this race, depending on how my legs were feeling:
- "A" Goal: Race the bloody hell out of it; shoot to place (and to not fall down a hill and die / inflict serious damage on self)
- "B" Goal: Run the whole distance, but at a conservative pace; run to finish strong & stay injury-free, don't stress about placing.
- "C" Goal: Run most of it, but take walking breaks if I have more than very mild pain.
- "D" Goal: Finish any way I can, even if I have to walk all or most of it. (This was the "already-paid-for-the-schwag-might-as-well-show-up" consolation goal.)
I woke up Saturday morning feeling strong, refreshed, and pain-free, so as long as my legs held up, "A" Goal it was. (Apologies for the lack of pre-race photos; I had planned to arrive an hour early since I hate feeling rushed, but I got kind of lost on the way to Lake Chabot and ended up arriving only 25 minutes before the gun. This ended up being just enough time to park, get my bib & timing chip, check my sweats, warm-up (sort of), and suss out my place in the start line hierarchy. Despite a little bit of panic, I kept reminding myself that things like this are exactly why I always plan to arrive an hour early.)
Location: Lake Chabot Regional Park, CA
Date: Late July (July 30, 2011 this year)
Price: 5K -- $29 until 6/19, $34 until 7/17, $39 after 7/17; 10K -- $34 until 6/19, $39 until 7/17, $44 after 7/17; Half Marathon -- $50 until 6/19, $55 until 7/17, $60 after 7/17
Deadline: Race day registration if space (there was space in all distances this year)
Sellout Factor: Unlikely; it was a small event with race day registration
Parking is available inside the park ($5 for all day) a short walk from the start, or you can park on Lake Chabot Rd just outside of it for free if you don't mind a slightly longer walk. For all intents and purposes, I suppose the free parking is technically unlimited, but if you arrive late (ahem) and want to park for free, that can mean a much longer walk because all the close parking will already be taken. I was late enough that I decided to just cough up the $5.
In addition to local pre-race packet pickup on Thursday and Friday, you can pick up the morning of (which is what I did). The pick-up table was well-labeled, well-organized, and efficient. There is a free sweat check at the start/finish (the 5K & 10K are out-and-backs and the half marathon is a loop, and the race is small enough that it's a short walk from the check to the start); you go pick up your own at the end. The T-shirt and goody bag station (also well-organized and efficient) was right by the sweat check; you could pick them up before or after the race.
The nature of the course varies tremendously, depending on which distance you run. The 5K is all on pavement with just a few easy, rolling hills. The 10K keeps going past the 5K turnaround; it was on pavement until about 1.8 miles, at which time it heads up a fire trail called Live Oak Trail, or as I prefer to call it, the Ascending Fire Trail from Hell. The turnaround is basically at the top of the hill. From what I can tell, the half marathon seems to be about half pavement and half fire trails. It includes the Live Oak Trail portion as well as a few other reasonable hills. We had great weather (sixties, dry, slightly over-cast), but I could see why this (and any other trail race, I suppose) would suck ASS if there were rain or had been rain at any point in the last week or so. (The paved part of the trail was also mostly shaded, which was nice too.)
Let me just say this about the Ascending Fire Trail from Hell: Look at the elevation chart. Look at it closely. Look at the units. Do the math. Find out what in your area is comparable, and train on it. Here, I'll help you:
I knew it was there, and I looked at the elevation chart, but still I failed to appreciate the truly ridiculous nature of the Ascending Fire Trail from Hell. I was like, "Yeah; I run hills. No biggie."
Let the record show that it was indeed "a biggie."
Knowing mile 3 consisted mostly of a big hill, I'd planned to run a slightly slower pace than I would on a flat course. I didn't do a great job of this during the first mile but I reined it in somewhat during the second. Then I saw the hill. Ugh..., I thought, this is going to suuuuuuuuuck...
I slowed down & figured I could probably run the whole thing if I didn't push the pace. All around me runners were slowing to a shuffle and then to a brisk walk, and after about a third of a mile I was having a very sober conversation with my central governor. We can get up this hill without walking, said the CG, but that probably means a slow, painful crawl to the finish. Which made sense. I knew running back down the hill would be no picnic either, and I hadn't run crazy stuff like this enough to know for sure how my body would feel or what it would be capable of afterward. So I played it safe and stopped trying to run and just walked as fast as I could, keeping an eye on my heart rate (which on weird terrain is usually a better indicator of whether I'm on track than pace). There were a few short plateaus so I tried to jog those a little whenever I could.
The trip back down was absolutely terrifying (right). I basically had to watch my feet the entire time, which made it a lot harder to watch people around me and not go careening into them. I tried to stay on my forefeet and lean forward, but on some of the steeper sections it became clear that this was probably a bad idea given my lack of trail experience, and a lot of the time I found myself braking down on my heels in an effort to stay vertical and not eat dirt. I have never in my life been so excited to see pavement.
At this point I pretty much felt like I was going to throw up. (Partly this was due to whatever bizarre sports drink they were serving -- it sort of tasted like Kool-Aid made with saccharine and did not agree with my stomach at all.) But then the training kicked in, and I found I was able to pick up the pace again pretty quickly. Not enough to get back to my usual 10K pace, but fast enough to know I'd be able to finish respectably.
With only about three quarters of a mile to go (and about eleven minutes behind my 10K PR), I was pretty much focused on just finishing in style and was not terribly worried about placing. Then I rounded a corner and passed a woman pushing her kid in a stroller. "Number four is right in front of you," she called excitedly to me. I don't know what she actually meant by that. But at the time, my brain decided to interpret this statement as meaning that I was within striking distance of the woman currently in fourth place in my age group (I know that's completely ridiculous; how could she have know that?). So I wrested control from the CG, mustered everything I had left, and went after her.
It took forever but I managed to push by her. With half a mile left, I spotted the next woman a few hundred feet ahead (remember, in my mind, she's in 3rd in my age group right now). She was the last one I could see, so I started sprinting, all the way past her and then all the way to the finish (at something like a 6:30 pace).
(Apparently, there was a sizable gap in the taking of finish line pictures -- the little speck circled in yellow is me. Click to embiggen.)
I don't normally post splits, but I think I will this time, just for the sheer entertainment value:
- Mile 1 - 7:12
- Mile 2 - 7:50
- Mile 3 - 12:44 (AFTfH, going up)
- Mile 4 - 9:16 (AFTfH, going down)
- Mile 5 - 8:05
- Mile 6 - 7:54
- 6.00 - 6.33 - 2:10 (6:34 pace)
In spite of a finishing time eleven minutes slower than my PR, I managed to pull off 3rd in my age group, which was pretty validating. (Also, can we just talk for a moment about how neither of the two women I passed in the last .75 of a mile were in my age group? Nope; it turns out one of them was the 1st place winner in the next youngest age group, and the other was the 1st place winner in the next oldest age group. Something similar happened at both my previous 10Ks; apparently all the fastest chicks are in their early-to-mid thirties. ;)
A cotton T-shirt is included in the registration price. For $6, you can upgrade to a very nice technical shirt (or, if you don't want a shirt, you can deduct $5 from your race fee). An $11 tech shirt ain't bad. The only issue with the shirts was that we were warned that they run large, so if we were on the fence about which size to order, we should order a size down. I ordered a women's small, which I could barely squeeze into. They will do exchanges for you if they have an extra in the size you want, but apparently lots of people were having the same issue and trying to trade for a size up. On my way out, I swung by the table again to see if any mediums or larges had become available; there weren't, but someone had just returned a youth small, which to me looked significantly larger than my women's small. I tried it on and it was a perfect fit. I think they got a lot of feedback about the shirt sizes, but I'd still order a size up next time.
The Brazen Racing events are cool in that all finishers, no matter what distance, get a medal. For what they charge, you'd think they'd be dinky discount medals, but they're not; this one was at least as big and hefty as the one from Rock N Roll San Jose ($85!). In addition, they also award equally hefty ones three deep in each age / gender group in five year increments, plus Fleet Feet gift certificates to the overall male & female winners for each distance.
Each participant also got a small plastic bag with a few fliers, coupons, & samples as per usual.
I'm happy to report that, in spite of some insanely tight / sore quads (thanks, AFTfH), my lower legs are doing great today and not sore at all. I'm still going to give them a few days off (maybe until my Brooks Adrenalines get here), but going into this weekend I was really worried about how my Achilles tendons & shin splints would hold up. It really makes me curious if there's something I do differently when I'm racing than when I'm doing speed workouts at the same pace over shorter distances.
I can't say I'm likely to run this particular race again (the AFTfH may haunt my road racing dreams for a while), but I'm still really glad I signed up for it and was healthy enough to run it. There's something validating about trying something a little different, as well as running a really hard race and finishing strong (something all you SF half / marathoners know a thing or two about), and Brazen did a great job organizing the event. REALLY looking forward to running another of their events at the end of August -- on a pancake flat course. :)