I’ve already covered some of the reasons why I wanted to run the Woodminster Cross Country Trail Race previously, so I won’t belabor the point. Going into the race, I just wanted to have a smooth run, not hurt myself, and enjoy the scenery. My time goals were:
- baseline: under 2 hours
- C goal: 1:55
- B goal: 1:50
- A goal: 1:45
My goals were quite conservative for one reason: the Woodmonster. More on that later.
I felt good leading up to the race. All of my runs in the past 2 weeks had gone well. My new trail shoes were breaking in very nicely, building my confidence for good footing on the potentially treacherous trails at Joaquin Miller and Redwood Regional Parks. The weather could have been cooler, but at least the course was mostly shaded. Speaking of the course, I had the hardest time trying to find a map anywhere on the internet. This was the best I could find, and fortunately, it turned out to be 100% accurate:
The Gypsy Runner decided to sit this one out, after aggravating his IT band at the Lake Chabot Trail Challenge. Looking for a running buddy, I convinced IP to sign up for the race. There was some confusion initially — she thought it was on Saturday at Lake Merritt — but that was quickly cleared up. Fortunately, IP is the kind of person who’s up for any kind of challenge, and actually, the more challenging, the better.
Even though the Gypsy Runner wasn’t racing, he still decided to come and cheer us on. (He ended up doing his own trail run during the race.) We woke up bright and early, picked up IP in Berkeley, and headed to Joaquin Miller Park. The start/finish site was the same spot as the Cinderella 10K, except that we’d be running in the opposite direction. One other thing that I was hoping would be different is that I wouldn’t trip and fall this time around.
The Woodminster has a handicapped start, which was the first time that I’ve encountered this type of race start. Essentially, depending on your age and gender, you start at different times. The fastest group (men 18-34) are scratch (or, +20 minutes from when the first group goes). I got to start with the second slowest group, 4 minutes from the “gun.” (Hm… I don’t know if I’m explaining this clearly. There’s a chart here if you want more info.)
Starting 4 minutes back has its advantages and disadvantages. As the Gypsy Runner said so eloquently, “You’ll get to run down some old people.” That was the good part, I guess. The bad part was being passed by all of the strong runners starting 4-16 minutes behind me. A bit demoralizing, perhaps, but I know how strong this field is, so I didn’t really take it personally.
Before we proceed any further, the elevation profile and my splits:
As the race started, I really tried to hold back because I knew it would be a tough race ahead. Sure enough, the first steep climb started almost immediately. I managed to jog/fast-hike this portion, passing a few people in the process. The 2nd mile was what I remembered from the end of the Cinderella 10K: narrow single track with overgrown vegetation. However, the footing seemed to be better this time and there was no traffic, so things went fine for a stretch.
I hit the West Ridge Trail at mile 3, which is fairly familiar territory, so I was able to settle into a nice pace. Many runners were passing me at this point. One gentleman in particular happened to take a tumble just after he passed me. Poor guy! He managed to get back up quickly and passed me again after a minute or two. As he ran by, he even told me,”Nice job.” In fact, this happened at least 3 or 4 times, where someone would say an encouraging word or two as they passed me. I thought it was really nice, and also something that’s unique to trail races (versus road races).
Towards the end of the third mile, IP, who started 4 minutes after me, finally caught up to me. I knew it was only a matter of time, since she’s a pretty strong runner (and biker, and skier, and…well, just about everything). We chatted very briefly and as she passed me, she joked that I’d see her later, collapsed on the trail. I kept her in view through most of the next mile, but lost her when we descended into the valley at mile 5. After about 1/2 mile of steady and steep descent, followed by a short, relatively flat portion, I hit the base of The Woodmonster. As I discovered last week, this hill is no joke. I tried to psyche myself up for it, thinking that I’d do better this time since it’s a race and I’m full of adrenaline, competitive juices, etc. In short, that did not work. AT ALL. I still huffed and puffed the whole way up, as I did last week during the practice run, and I still thought I would fall over and die if I stopped. I was disappointed that 2-3 of the people I had passed earlier ended up passing me during this section. I guess the one good thing that came out of walking the Woodmonster last week was that I knew that it would end at some point. That was pretty much the sole thought that kept me going.
conquering escaping the Woodmonster, I slowly jogged my way to recovery. Going back towards Joaquin Miller was a big relief, since I knew I only had a little over 2 miles left. I was still tired from the Woodmonster when 2 runners appeared on the trail at mile 7. They seemed to be friends out for a weekend jog; one was clearly more fit than the other. The more fit one, whom I’ll call grey tank top, ended up being my pacer for the next 1+ miles. Following grey tank top allowed me to check out mentally and just run, which was awesome. After a while, she stopped to wait for her friend. I thought about thanking her as I ran on, but I thought that might be creepy? Well, anyway, thanks grey tank top!!
The last little bit of the course was harrowing, as I had heard through various sources. There is a very steep downhill portion where I decided: Safety First! I ran what I could but there were definitely parts where I had to walk. It was frustrating to have to slow down when all I wanted to do was sprint to the finish, but I thought it was better to be safe than sorry. I rounded a corner, saw the picnic area and finish line, and finally got my sprint on! I finished in 1:50:19, just 19 seconds over my B-goal. I was still pretty satisfied, especially considering that I ran a very similar course last month (Cinderella 10K) about a minute per mile slower over a shorter distance. Also, I was happy that I completed all 3 East Bay Triple Crown races, even though they were filled with super tough runners and I often felt demoralized. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right? Well, all I know is I’m looking forward to the day that I get to be a true mid-pack runner again.
The Gypsy Runner was so busy talking to some new acquaintances that he didn’t even see me finish, even though he was standing right next to the corral! Don’t worry, I gave him a hard time about it. 😉 IP did great, finishing at 1:40:29 (non-handicapped). There was a lot of good food, but I didn’t feel very hungry so I just ate a bit of banana bread and a cookie. I don’t know the results of the East Bay Triple Crown yet, but I’m pretty confident that I was able to secure last place in the women’s open division.
All in all, I really enjoyed the Woodminster Race, Woodmonster and all. It’s got a great vibe, it was well-organized, well-marked, and very affordable. The scenery is gorgeous. Out of all three East Bay Triple Crown races, this is the one I’d be happy to run again.
About the race:
- Organizers: Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders just took over sponsorship this year, the 47th running of this race.
- Cost: $22 in advance; $28 day of.
- Distance: 9 miles.
- Parking: We parked on Joaquin Miller Road. Lots of street parking.
- Aid stations: Kinda weirdly spaced. The first one is at ~2-2.5 miles, the second at Skyline Gate (~3.5-4 miles), and then you pass the first one again at ~6.5-7 miles. Water only.
- Course marking: Excellent. Ribbons and flour markings were clear, and volunteers were stationed at potentially confusing turns.
- Bathrooms: 1 bathroom at the picnic area, no port-a-potties. We joked that, for once, the line for the men’s room was longer than the women’s. The Gypsy Runner said that the men’s only had 1 stall and 1 urinal, which would explain the line situation. On the course, there are 2 pit toilets at Skyline Gate.
- Swag: A Woodminster survivor seat cushion — possibly the weirdest thing I’ve ever gotten at a race. I also got a copy of TrailRunner magazine, a coupon to Transports for running shoes, and a small freezer thingee you can use to ice down body parts (I don’t know what they’re called, obviously). Lots of post-race food. Medals to the first 15 finishers.
- Misc: The most impressive part about this race was how quickly the results were posted. Kudos to Ford Timing who sent me an email minutes (if not seconds!!) after I crossed the finish line. Awesome!
Official results: 1:50:19 (no handicap), 9 miles, 12:15/mile.
178/211 overall, no handicap
171/211 with 4 minute handicap