Why I wanted to run this race:
I really like the confidence that comes from a hard, long trail run done during marathon training. Plus, back in late December, Inside Trail Racing (ITR) was offering 15% off any of their 2014 races. Y’all know I’m a sucker for discounted race entries!
The main goal was to use the Chabot 30K as a training run for the Oakland and Big Sur marathons. ITR lists the course as 18.4 miles long with 2800′ elevation gain. Considering my past trail races with similar elevation gains, and in light of my recent trail running (or lack thereof), my time goal was to beat 4 hours (13:00/mile pace). Last month, I had run 13 miles of the course and averaged 12:00/mile, but I also knew that the 5 miles I didn’t run included almost half of the elevation gain. My strategy was to go out slowly, run where I could, but be smart about pacing.
I woke up about 2.5 hours before the race started and had my usual PB & J with a glass of water. There wasn’t any pre-race drama like at Kaiser; I got to the race with plenty of time to spare. I was a little bored, actually, since I didn’t know anyone running the race. With about 10 minutes before the race started, all of the half marathon, 30K, and 50K racers were asked to head across the small footbridge to listen to announcements. I had heard that the race was sold out, and accordingly, there was a large crowd of several hundred squeezed onto the 12-15 foot wide paved path. I lined up towards the back to ensure a slow start, but that meant I was surrounded by chatter and unable to discern what the race director, Tim, was saying using a bullhorn. I hoped that I wasn’t missing any crucial instructions (I didn’t). Eventually, I heard some cheering and then “3…2…1”, followed by movement up front, signifying the start of the race. I didn’t realize until I had already started my Garmin that there was a timing mat that marked the start of the race. No big deal – only 8 seconds had lapsed.
Two Rocks Aid Station (miles 0-5.6)
I don’t know if it was the slow, crowded start, the lack of a warm-up, or the cold morning, but I felt very sluggish at the start. I tried not to think too far ahead about how much longer I had to run — always a futile thought when you’re in mile 1 of an 18 mile race. As I’ve run this section of Lake Chabot on numerous occasions, my brain went on auto-pilot. Every time a negative thought came into my head — “This part never seemed so long before!” and “Why do my legs feel like lead so early on in the race?” — I dismissed them as soon as I could. One thing I couldn’t dismiss was the unfortunate feeling that I had to make a pit stop. Luckily, Lake Chabot has numerous outhouses around the perimeter so I made a quick visit and was back on the trail in just over a minute (yes, I timed it). I managed to catch up to the original group of people I was running with, and even passed quite a few as we all hiked up the first giant, steep hill, a.k.a. Honker Bay Trail. I ran in short spurts when I could and made sure to transition quickly at the top of the hill for the descent on Columbine. That’s one thing I’ve learned about trail running — almost everyone is about the same speed slogging up the hill, but those who can convert quickly and start running on the flats and downhill, that’s key. For this next section, I followed an older gentlemen in a neon orange t-shirt for over a mile, so that I didn’t have to think about pace or how my body was feeling; I simply had to follow. I trailed him all the way on the lovely descent down Columbine and eventually passed him before taking a detour up the short, steep switchbacks to the Two Rocks Aid Station. Once there, I helped myself to a cup of Tailwind sports drink and grabbed a mocha Clif Shot, then I was on my way.
Next up: Grass Valley Aid Station (miles 5.6-10)
I felt much better after leaving that first aid station. I must’ve felt so good that I absentmindedly opened the Clif Shot and accidentally smeared the chocolate brown gel all over my fingers and mouth. Then I cleaned it up with my cream-colored handkerchief; you can only imagine how that looked. Anyway, my uplifted spirits were quickly deflated by the short section of gravel uphill, which was most definitely the most unpleasant part of the whole course. I kept leapfrogging with various people during this section, as I alternated between hiking and jogging the ascents in short increments. At this point, I was starting to settle in and knew I just had to keep chugging ahead. There was no use in whining. Mirador and Brandon Trails were fine, shaded paths. My only complaint was the occasional gunshot coming from the nearby rifle range. I was looking forward to where the 30K and 50K course split off from the half marathon course, because I knew that the next aid station wasn’t too far off from there. My mental strategy, which is common amongst many trail and ultra runners, was to break up the race into smaller segments, from aid station to aid station. Soon enough, I saw the orange ribbons and signs for the 30K and 50K runners to bear right. Another reason I was excited to see the orange ribbons is because my friend KP had helped to mark the course the day before. She had told me that she wanted to make a “Go Jen!” sign, but couldn’t make it happen, but that I should think of her every time I saw an orange ribbon. This ended up being a tremendous mental boost, as I felt the most despondent in the section before and after the Grass Valley aid station. All of a sudden, we went from cool shade to a hot exposed valley. I felt like I was working 2 or 3 times as hard as I was before, and started taking short walk breaks for even the tiniest of hills. However, whenever I saw an orange ribbon, I imagined KP’s smiling face cheering me on, which gave me a little boost each time. Eventually, I made it to the Grass Valley aid station, where I downed a refreshing cup of water and a cold cup of sports drink, and grabbed another mocha Clif Shot. 10 miles down, 8 more to go!
Clyde Woolridge Staging Area (miles 10-14.3)
This section was the most challenging, but also the most breathtaking and rewarding section of the whole race for me. Shortly after the Grass Valley aid station, I ventured up Ranch, another new trail – a very steep, very technical (i.e., uneven, rocky/rooty terrain), and very slow-going. It was all exposed as well, and I think it must have been in the high 60’s or low 70’s at this point in the day. I cursed the trail and muttered aloud, “I’m tired.” I caught myself and quickly said, “No, I’m not tired. I’m fine.” And that was that. Fortunately, the steepness of Ranch paid off in its brevity. I was soon on Goldenrod, the next trail. There was still a hill or two, but from there on out to the next aid station, it was pure trail running heaven, at least in my tired mind. It was a perfect, runnable descent with gorgeous, clear views of the hills and valleys to the north. I really tried to enjoy this moment and remind myself — THIS is why I run, and in particular, THIS is why I run trails. Before long, I passed the stone bridge that marks the beginning of Jackson Trail — and it was back to familiar terrain again. The hill up to Clyde Woolridge was much longer than I remembered, and as I hiked up, I made small talk with a fellow runner. I saw the tops of the eucalyptus trees from the staging area and knew we were finally at the aid station. Woohoo!
There and Back Again (miles 14.3-finish)
I had made it to the Clyde Woolridge aid station in about 3 hours, and I knew it was only about 4 miles to the finish from there. Since there weren’t any huge climbs in those last 4 miles, I was fairly confident I’d beat my goal of 4 hours. I had originally planned on popping in my earbuds and using a playlist to carry me along for the last part of the race, but I surprised myself by realizing I didn’t need the extra motivation at all. I grabbed a cup each of water and Tailwind, along with some Margarita Clif Bloks (yuck) and went on my way. By this point, all of the runners were really spread out, so I was mostly running by myself. As I got closer to the dam, I became more and more excited. I eventually caught up with and passed an older gentleman right before the dam, who asked me how much further we had left. He seemed relieved and happy when I told him we had a little bit more than 1.5 miles to go. From there, there were just small rollers that I didn’t push myself that hard to run up, even though I probably could have. This is the problem with having a time goal and knowing early on that I’d get it — a sense of complacency had taken over, and I was in the clear. There was also no one ahead of me to catch up to, and no one behind me to run away from. So I kept taking short walk breaks in between the running. With about half a mile to go, I told myself no more excuses – it’s time to run it in. When I was about 0.1 mile from the finish, I heard someone coming up behind me, fast. He passed me and went on to finish about 10-20 seconds ahead of me as the first place 50K finisher. There was raucous cheering for him (deservingly so), followed by dead silence as I came through the finish chute. I didn’t care that no one was cheering for me — I was elated to be done.
I pulled over to the side to stretch out my calves, so as to avoid full-on cramping from my last little spurt of “sprinting”. Then, I headed over to the food area and grabbed a soda, a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, a Clif Bar, and a cut-up piece of banana. I stretched some more as I made myself eat the banana. While I waited for the results, I chatted with fellow runners that I had seen on the course about how they did. I was sort of zoning out when new friend PL came up and said hi. He had run the 30K also as a training run, but he totally killed it! After the results were posted, I went to get my hoodie that I had left on a tree, only to see that it was gone! I can’t believe that someone would take that ratty old sweatshirt. 😦 (The Gypsy Runner is not-so-secretly happy that the hoodie is gone; he hated it.)
All in all, I felt very satisfied with how the race went. Considering that yesterday’s race was 5 miles and 1.5 hours longer than any of the runs I’ve done in the past couple of months, I really could not have asked for a better performance. Moreover, I’m happy with the improvements in my mental game and not dwelling on negative thoughts. My only critique is that I could’ve pushed myself more in the last 2 miles of the race and gained even more mental strength. Something to work on in the future!
time: 3:44:10 (12:11/mile)
11/22 AG, 32/59 F, 75/116 overall
About the race:
- Organizers: Inside Trail Racing
- Cost: 10K: $35 / Half: $45 / 30K: $55 / 50K: $65. The race sold out during the week; no race day registration was offered.
- Course: A few tough climbs, but generally pretty runnable as far as trail races go. Most of the race was on dirt trail. The first and last sections were paved, and there was a short gravel section after the first aid station.
- Course marking: Excellent! There weren’t any questionable turns the entire course, which was really nice. The only dubious marking that I might have to contest is the “1 mile to go” sign place before the dam. I’m pretty sure that it’s about 1.5 miles from the dam to the marina.
- Parking: Large paid lot in the park ($5). Free parking along Lake Chabot Road, which was getting full by 7:45 (45 min before the race).
- Aid stations: 3 for the 30K, offering water, Tailwind Nutrition sports drink, Clif products, and a large variety of salty and sweet snacks.
- Bathrooms: Brick-and-mortar flushing toilets near the marina, and 3 additional porta-potties brought in by ITR. There were also wooden outhouses spread out in the park (more along the East and West Shore Trails). There were a number of outhouses by the Two Rocks aid station, and a toilet after the Grass Valley bathroom (about 50′ off the trail to the left).
- Swag: I opted out of the t-shirt to save $5. Every finisher got a medal, while 50K finishers also got pint glasses. Age group winners received an additional medal, and the top 3 overall winners in each distance got a beer stein.
- Post race food and drinks: Sodas, chocolate milk, cake, chips, pretzels, fruit – there was something for everyone.
- Other notes/summary: A very well-organized race! I really enjoyed the 30K course a lot — the extra 5 mile loop on top of the half marathon course added some cool new trails that I’ve never explored before. I’m looking forward to revisiting those trails again soon!