One of my goals/resolutions of 2013 was to run a 30K trail race. Sort of arbitrary, right? Well, the goal wasn’t to necessarily run 30K — it was to race a distance between a half and a full marathon on trails. A reader suggested the Skirt n’ Dirt 25K (SND), and the suggestion stuck.
In the name of gender equality, I wasn’t crazy about the idea of women’s only race. However, Inside Trail also puts on a men’s 25K on the same day — the Stud n’ Mud (formerly “Skirt Chasers”) that starts an hour after the women, so I guess there’s equal opportunity for the guys too. As it turns out, men were welcome to register for all of the distances at SND (10K, 25K, and 50K), but I don’t know whether they were allowed to vie for top finisher awards. Anyway, the reasons I wanted to run this race were:
1. To fulfill my goal of running a trail race longer than a half marathon (see above).
2. It’s local and convenient. As in, I run in Redwood Regional just about every weekend.
3. There was a 15-20% off discount code offered back in the spring for any Inside Trail race, and I’m a sucker for coupons.
4. I’ve never done an Inside Trail race, so I was curious to see how they compare with other Bay Area trail race organizers.
5. It fit in well with my marathon training. I’m too lazy to do strength training, but I’m happy to run hilly trails any day!
I recall that KH asked if I wanted to run SND last year, and my answer was a resounding “NO!” Why? Well, Redwood Regional is basically a small, steep canyon with a stream bed at the bottom and a U-shaped ridge trail at the top. Most of the SND course has you either climbing into or out of the canyon, hence this crazy elevation profile:
Actually, I didn’t even have to look at the elevation profile last year — all I had to do was look at the course map and recognize some seriously steep hills in the mix. The kind that I don’t want to hike up (at least not in succession), let alone run or race! I guess that sometime between August 2012 (when KH approached me about running SND) and Spring 2013, I had decided that it was actually a race I wanted to try.
As with any trail race, especially those with significant elevation gains, it was tough to predict a time goal. With what I knew about the course and how I had been running lately (i.e., a lot and on tired legs), I was comfortable setting the following goals:
Baseline goal (of every race): Finish! Hopefully in one piece.
C-goal: 4 hours or less. (Very doable.)
B-goal: 3:30 or less. (Too close to call.)
A-goal: 3 hours or less. (Not likely, but one can always dream!)
My general strategy was to start off conservatively, walk the steepest hills, try to run the technical downhills as best as I could, and stay on top of my hydration and fueling. With the aid stations spaced about 10K apart, my goal within the race was to run from aid station to aid station and to not think too far ahead (i.e., get myself down on how far I still had to run). I focused primarily on getting to the 2nd aid station at mile 12.6, thinking that it would be all down hill from there… which was the biggest tactical mistake I made. But we’ll get to that part later.
Pre-race (Race Day):
I slept OK, woke up at 5:30 a.m., ate a PB&J on sourdough toast, and drank a 1/2 cup of coffee. I got to the race at 7:15 a.m. for an 8:00 a.m. start — which was WAY TOO EARLY. This was a very small race — when I got in line to pick up my bib, I think there were more volunteers than racers. I recognized Aron, a recently “retired” Bay Area blogger, behind the volunteer table and introduced myself. We chatted a little bit — it’s always a bit awkward to meet people in real life who you’ve followed online. I tried to not come off as stalker-ish, and I think I did OK on that front, though I should mention that her baby bump is *totes adorbs*.
Instead of warming up with a jog, I went for a short walk and then hit the outhouse (with flushing toilets – fancy!). Again, there were no bathroom lines because I was so freaking early. I recognized a handful of Bay Area running community regulars, including Sam and Jasmine from Brazen Racing. Sam was doing the timing for the race and Jasmine was running the 25K. This was the first race in a long time where I wasn’t meeting any friends before and/or after the race, so it was a bit awkward and boring for about 20 minutes while I waited for the pre-race instructions to begin.
Tim, the race director, was outfitted in a kilt, in line with the theme. In fact, I’d say about 75% of the participants were wearing skirts. (I didn’t, because I don’t own one… but I didn’t think people would take the race so literally!) During his pre-race instructions, Tim informed us that someone had vandalized the course the night before (who does that??), and a few very nice volunteers got up super early to re-mark the course. As I had no trouble at all following the ribbons — thank you, volunteers, for a job well-done!
Here are my splits for the course, but take the times with a grain of salt since my Garmin was short ~0.25 miles. I also meant to press “lap” instead of “stop” at the first aid station, which meant that I lost about 45 seconds. Lap 14 is the time I spent at the 2nd aid station. I don’t know why lap 18 has me going so slowly – I was averaging more like 9 minutes/mile in the last 0.2 miles. Silly Garmin!The race began right on time at 8:00 a.m. In true lady-like fashion, no one wanted to be in front. I wasn’t being modest — I honestly did not want to be anywhere close to the front, knowing I’d likely finish in the middle- to back-of-the-pack. From the race start in Canyon Meadow, we followed a wide path on the Stream Trail. Having run this before, I knew that Stream was deceiving — it looks flat, but is actually a very gradual uphill. I’m glad I knew that going in, because it’s terrible to feel tired so early on in a race, running on what you *think* is flat ground… when in reality, you are actually climbing over 200′ in 1.3 miles! And all that was before we got to the first big climb out of the canyon on Prince Trail. I had only ever run down Prince, so running up was a new experience for me. I was feeling energetic and trying my best to power hike my way up the hill. I still had some company around me at this point, so we all huffed and puffed together. I was eager to get to the next section on the East Ridge Trail and finish it ASAP, since it tends to be exposed and dusty. The fog had burned off soon after we started, and I later found out that the humidity was 100%!
After a short section on East Ridge, I descended on Phillips, which was a completely new trail to me. It was a very runnable downhill where I was finally able to get into a good rhythm. Oh, and it was beautiful too — which describes about 95% percent of this course. Does it get much better than tree-lined single track with occasional views of peaks off into the horizon? I think not.
Of course, the downhill fun couldn’t last forever, so before I knew it, I was back on Stream, climbing up to West Ridge. There’s a sign here that always cracks me up — it says “Speed limit: 5.” I *wish* I could go up that hill at 5 MPH! I managed to walk/jog up Stream, and when I got to West Ridge, I started preparing myself mentally for the biggest challenge of the day: technical downhill on French and a very steep uphill on Tres Sendas.
I did much better running/skipping down the first portion of French than before, but I always end up stopping at certain sections where the footing is just too sketchy. Maybe I’m overly cautious, but it just doesn’t seem worth it to me to risk hurting myself for a few extra seconds. There was a short flat section, but I knew not to get too comfortable because the hellish climb up Tres Sendas was approaching. Here, I channeled my inner goat and didn’t do a half-bad job working my way up the hill, if I do say so myself. It also helped to know that the first aid station was only a short distance away from the top of Tres Sendas.
I spent over a minute at the aid station, eating whatever appealed to me (pretzel, watermelon), grabbing a Clif Shot, and refilling my water bottle. So far, I had eaten 3 Clif Bloks and drank more than 1/2 of my Cytomax. My energy levels felt pretty good and I immediately started in on the Clif Shot as I jogged out of the aid station. I don’t know if it was the sugar and caffeine from the Clif Shot or the relief of making it through 3 tough climbs in a row, but I felt great running down West Ridge and Madrone. The first part of French was good too, but then it started feeling like I had been on the same trail FOREVER. Finally, I got to Chown and once again, climbed out of the canyon (is this sounding familiar?).
I got a second (third?) wind running on West Ridge to Toyon. I was about 2/3 done with race and feeling strong. I knew that I just had to make it to the 2nd aid station, which would be a mostly downhill effort on Toyon and a slight uphill on Golden Spike. After getting passed by several of the “skirt chasers” on Golden Spike, I perked up again upon seeing the 2nd aid station. I refilled my bottle again and helped myself to a Clif Blok, another Clif Shot (which I never ate), and some tangerine slices. Rejuvenated, I set out to conquer the last 3 miles of the race. My goal had been to get to the 2nd aid station by 2:40, and I think I got there around 2:45. There was still a chance for me to finish in 3:15 if I really hustled.
Just one thing got in the way of my 3:15: Orchard Trail. When I ran this trail a few weeks ago, I remembered it being steep, but a lot shorter than the other hills. Both of those facts are true — it’s about a 300′ climb over 1/3 of a mile. On fresher legs, I might have billygoated my way up Orchard, but having already run 13 miles of tough terrain, I slowly oozed my way up the canyon. When I finally made it to French, on another section of false flat, I was really running out of steam. I nearly choked on a Clif Blok because I was breathing so hard and trying to chew at the same time. I walked a lot more than I should have, and that is the one thing I regret about my race execution. When times got tough, I felt like I totally crumbled.
Fortunately, I eventually caught up to the lady who started up Orchard with me, but had left me in the dust on our climb up. She became my rabbit — I didn’t allow myself to walk unless she did. I think I gave her a little boost too (we talked after the race). I chased her for the last 2 miles of the race, which seemed like it would never end. Finally, we made it back to the paved path that we started on, and past the last aid station of the course that was 0.2 miles from the finish. My running buddy decided to jog toward the last aid station while I tapped into my reserves and tried to run as fast as I could to the finish.
Why does the last 0.1 or 0.2 miles of race always seem to take forever? Plus, there were so few people around, I wasn’t even sure I was going the right direction. Eventually, I saw the small redwood grove near the start/finish area and I sprinted through to cross the finish mat at 3:33:02. Three minutes off my B-goal, but considering that I had spent ~1 minute at each aid station, plus pulled over for people (and one horse!) to pass, the total running time is pretty darn close to 3:30. (Actually, my Garmin has total moving time as 3:30:09.) So… victory?!
At the finish area, there were 20-30 people milling about. A few people clapped and cheered whenever a runner came it. It was a bit anti-climatic. The food spread was impressive — there were the usual mix of salty and sweet snacks, as well as fruit and even corn dogs, grilled hot dogs, and corn on the cob. Unfortunately, I had no appetite. I helped myself to 4 small watermelon slices, a couple of pretzels, and a can of ice-cold Coke (so refreshing!!!).
There was a table to pick up t-shirts and other swag. The t-shirts and medals were nice, but I was disappointed about the wine glass. Let me explain: SND finishers received a wine glass with the race logo on it, while the Stud n’ Mud finishers received a pint glass, also with the race logo. I actually asked if I could have a pint glass, but I was told that they were only for Stud n’ Mud participants. Oh the irony! That at a women’s running event, I was subject to gender stereotypes about choice of alcohol and their accompanying glassware. (Only half joking… but seriously, I wish there was a choice!).
Well, this recap has already gone on long enough, so let’s keep this brief. I’m satisfied with how I ran the race except for the last 3 miles. I also think that if I wasn’t in the middle of marathon training, I would’ve probably pushed myself harder. All in all, I thought this was an excellent, well-organized event with a brutal, beautiful course. It’s definitely a race I’d consider running again.
About the race:
- Organizers: Inside Trail
- Cost: $55 for the 25K. $40 for the 10K and $85 for the 50K.
- Course: Challenging trails in Redwood Regional Park. ~2900′ elevation gain over 15.54 miles.
- Parking: $5 park entry fee. There is a small lot next to the start/finish area that was full when I arrived, but there are several overflow lots just down the road. You can also park on Redwood Road and walk in.
- Aid stations: Technically there were 3 — at miles 6.4, 12.6, and 15.4, but I skipped the last one. All were well-stocked and supported by friendly volunteers.
- Bathrooms: 3 outhouses with flushing toilets at the start/finish, and another bathroom ~0.25 mile away in Canyon Meadows. There are some outhouses in the park scattered about — the best resource would be the park map.
- Swag: Short-sleeve tech T-shirt, medal, wine glass, and a really heinous hat that has already gone into the Goodwill pile.
- Other notes: It seems like they usually have volunteer photographers that post photos on Picasa (a la Brazen), but there were no photographers at this race, which was a slight bummer. Also, if See Jane Run’s race motto is, “I run for champagne and chocolate”, then Skirt n’ Dirt’s should be, “I run for beer and pizza.” Who’s with me?
Official time: 3:33:02 (13:40/mile)
17/30 AG, 39/73 overall