Race Recap: Wildcat Half Marathon

Why I wanted to run this race:
I had a Brazen race credit after volunteering their Bay Breeze event in February, and I’ve always wanted to run the Brazen Wildcat race. Despite the fact that Wildcat Canyon Park is just north and adjacent to Tilden in Berkeley, I had never run there, so it’s been on my “parks to explore” for a while.  I’ve also heard great things about the course — and read a few raves about them as well — which piqued my interest.  Finally, I really enjoy running races as part of training, as it (usually) introduces me to new trails, helps me practice my race day routine, and provides instant running buddies and aid stations. Moreover, I’d heard that this a super tough course, and since I would be in NY for the first 3 weeks of Big Basin 50K training, I knew I’d need a kick in the pants to get my trail legs back. What better way than to run 13.1 miles with over 2400 feet of elevation gain? Sign me up!

Goals & Strategy:
Like I mentioned above, this was more of a training run than a race, so I intended to take it a bit easier than I would normally. I didn’t think it would be hard to hold back, considering the elevation gain, but my goal was to finish the race strong — i.e., I could run another few miles if I had to. I planned to walk the extended climbs and attack the descents to practice my downhill running, as Big Basin is a net downhill course. I also wanted to try out fueling – my plan was to take a Gu every 45 minutes, in addition to whatever struck my fancy at the aid stations. Since this was a training run, I intended to take a lot of photos – something I never do during a more serious race. I didn’t have a time goal, but I still wanted a ballpark figure of what to expect/aim for.  In light of other trail half marathons with similar elevation profiles, I decided that finishing around 2:50 would be OK, and that 2:40-2:45 would be great.

The Course:
Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 8.44.25 AMThe course resembled a figure 8, with a short out and back section. The official elevation gain/loss is listed at 2,204′, but my Garmin had something more like 2480′. There were 3 extended, big climbs that I was prepared to hike/jog.  Most of the course was exposed except for a short shaded section on Mezue. Luckily, it was overcast and cool for the entirety of the race.

Race Morning
I’m not sure if it was because it was my first early morning race since Kaiser in February, or if it was because I knew it was a training run and not a “race-race”, but I was a little more lax about race morning prep than usual. En route to the race, I got lost and drove 10 minutes out of my way. Due to my late arrival (7:40 a.m. for an 8:00 a.m. start), I had to park about a quarter mile from the start. I jogged over and up a short but steep hill to the start area and picked up my bib, then ran down the hill to the school to use the bathrooms. Fortunately, the line moved quickly and I was back in the starting corral around 7:55.  Whew! The race hadn’t even started yet, and I was already winded.

The Race
I knew the beginning of the race was going to be slow due to 2 things: there was a cattle gate in the first tenth of a mile that required us to go through single file, followed shortly by a steady climb of over 500′ in the first mile.  After passing the gate, I jogged for a while up the hill until I sensed that hiking might be more efficient.  When I got to the top, I decided to stop and take a photo, the first of many as you’ll see — this was a training run, after all.  Also, it was beautiful!

Finally made it to the top of the hill!

Finally made it to the top of the hill!

Nice downhill and views as reward for the torturous climb.

Nice downhill and views as reward for the torturous climb.

The descent was fun and I even managed to overtake a few people, which made me feel more confident in my downhill game.  I don’t remember much between the first and second aid stations; according to the elevation profile and to my Garmin splits, it was pretty runnable section.  I got to the second aid station, hoping to see KP, who I knew was volunteering at the race. When I didn’t see her, I was confused, but as I approached the short out-and-back section and saw her directing traffic, I realized that she had relocated.  I waved hello as she cheered me on, saying that she would see me again soon.

Hey, it's KP!

Hey, it’s KP!

The out-and-back section was about a mile long, and also not that memorable.  Upon seeing KP again, she pointed me up the hill, where the race’s second big climb awaited me.  I took my time going up this one, being careful not to agitate the cows grazing nearby. I eventually struck up a conversation with a woman near me, also named Jen. She was from Fresno and this was only her 4th trail race. We talked as we hiked, which made the time go by quickly, and before I knew it, we had reached the top at Nimitz Way. After taking a few photos, I decided to make a run for it and parted ways with Fresno Jen.

Making our way up the 2nd big climb of the day while the cows look on.

Making our way up the 2nd big climb of the day while the cows look on.

Having fun with Fresno Jen. We started running as soon as we saw a photographer.

Having fun with Fresno Jen. We started running as soon as we saw a photographer. (Photo courtesy of Brazen)

The San Pablo Reservoir from Nimitz Way.

The San Pablo Reservoir from Nimitz Way.

Somewhere near the 3rd aid station. I think this might be the most unflattering race photo I've ever taken. LOL

Somewhere near the 3rd aid station. I think this might be my most unflattering race photo. LOL. (Photo credit: Brazen)

Even though I had run on Nimitz Way many times previously, I had never really enjoyed it – until this race. I think it was mostly due to the fact that I could finally run after a tough climb – I felt like I was flying, even though I was running 9:30-10:00/mile pace.  Then, I got to glide down Mezue, which was so much fun. I passed a few more people on the downhill stretch — maybe there’s a downhill runner in me after all. 😉 While running through a shaded section of trail on Mezue, I came upon 3 runners stopped on the side of the trail. One of them had fallen and scraped up his arm pretty badly. I stopped to offer aid, but they seemed to have the situation under control, so I resumed running. It was definitely a good reminder to watch my footing.

All good things must come to an end, and so did the super fun, runnable downhill section. I came out of the woods and saw a steep ascent before me. This was the third and final climb, though I hadn’t looked at the elevation profile closely enough to realize that there was the initial ascent, and then a bunch of very steep rollers for another 1.5 miles after reaching the summit. Every time I thought I was done climbing, another hill would confront me and force me to a slow hike.

So. Much. Climbing. At least it was pretty though!

So. Much. Climbing. At least it was pretty though!

More hills!

Just when you think you’re done…

I distracted myself with the beautiful scenery.

I distracted myself with the beautiful scenery.

While traversing this never-ending series of hills, I went from whining, “Are you kidding me? When is this going to end??” to eventually making peace with whole thing, realizing that this was something I opted to do. Plus, wasn’t I lucky to running and hiking, without pain or injury, and to be surrounded by beautiful views of the Bay Area? Not to mention the fact that I was only a little over a mile away from the finish. What was I going to, quit 12 miles into a half marathon? A smile spread across my face as I made these realizations; I must’ve looked more than a little crazy as I ran along, smiling to myself.

As I made my way up yet another hill, I mentioned to the man running near me, “I keep thinking this [hill] is going to be the last one.” He replied, “This *is* the last hill.” I suddenly became really excited because I realized that the last mile was the same as the first (crazy uphill) mile.  What I hadn’t realized though, was how utterly un-runnable the first section was. It was so steep and the footing was so treacherous that I was pretty much braking for about a quarter-mile down the hill. Eventually, it flattened out some, which allowed me to go full blast down the hill to the finish line at 8:00/mile pace. I crossed the finish line in 2:46:23.

My 14th half marathon (and 6th trail half) in the books!

My 14th half marathon (and 6th trail half) in the books! (Photo credit: Brazen)

Post-race & reflections:
I couldn’t stay long after the race, as I had to hurry home to get ready for a baby shower, but I made sure to grab a full plate of food for my drive home. All in all, I really liked this course. It was extremely challenging, but also contained some very runnable sections. The views can’t be beat; I think this was one of the most scenic trail races I’ve done. As always, Brazen does a top-notch job with organization, trail marking, food and drink, and making each runner feel great. The one complaint I had about the race was the surprisingly awful race shirt. Brazen’s t-shirts are known for being fun and well-designed. I don’t know if they decided to go more kitsch/hipster with the Wildcat shirt, but it’s immediately going into the PJ or donation pile.

What's up with this??

What’s up with this??

Personally, I felt like I attained my goals of finishing strong and practicing fueling. While I was satisfied by my finish time, I can’t help but feel like I could’ve done better. (It’s sometimes really hard for me to not be in race mode.) However, trying my best and going full throttle might have sidelined me with significant soreness for days afterward. As it was, my quads were tender for about 2-3 days post-race, but it didn’t interfere with my training. One positive thing I took away from the race was feeling much stronger about my downhill running. That, along with conservative pacing, allowed me to finish more than 15 minutes ahead of Fresno Jen — we split at about mile 6-7, I think? So while my finish time and placing weren’t representative of how I felt I should’ve done, I think it was a strong training run and definitely a step in the right direction in terms of 50K training.

Official results:
time: 2:46:23 (12:41/mile)
10/18 AG, 44/71 F, 134/186 overall

About the race:

  • Organizers: Brazen Racing
  • Distances: 5K, 10K, and half marathon.
  • Cost: Tiered pricing, depending on distance and registration date.
  • Course: Very tough, almost 2500′ elevation gain.  Mostly fire roads, with a few paved sections (Nimitz Way). Most of the course is exposed, which would be brutal if the sun was out.
  • Course marking: Fairly straightforward. A course marshall (KP) was there to direct people at the out-and-back section.
  • Parking: The start/finish is at a school, which charges $5 for parking as a fundraiser. Because I got there late, I assumed that the lot was full, so I parked in the nearby neighborhood.
  • Aid stations: 4 for the half marathon, offering water, Ultima sports drink, fruit, and a large variety of salty and sweet snacks.
  • Bathrooms:  Brick-and-mortar flushing toilets at the school (start/finish), along with a few porta potties. I didn’t see any bathrooms or outhouses along the course.
  • Swag: Finisher’s medals and t-shirts. Free photos available from Brazen’s Picasa site.
  • Post race food and drinks: A wide selection of savory snacks (chips, pretzels, bagels with cream cheese) and sweets (cookies, cake, donuts, etc.). There were probably It’s Its ice cream sandwiches, even though it was overcast at the finish.

Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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Posted in Race Recap
20 comments on “Race Recap: Wildcat Half Marathon
  1. Paulette says:

    Very cool, great job! I ran this one a couple of years ago and thought it was super challenging, especially because the footing on the grassy/mud rut parts was tough. Maybe that wasn’t so bad this year. Your report makes me want to do it again! 🙂

    • Jen says:

      Oh, I can only imagine how much harder this course would be with muddy/poor footing! It hadn’t even entered my mind given our current drought situation, but I’ve run on similar trails after rain and it was impossible. We had almost perfect conditions this year with the weather and trails. The good thing about this race is that given its difficulty, it’s one of the few Brazen races that doesn’t sell out, so you can usually wait to sign up on race day!

  2. Cathryn says:

    Is it me or is that weird top kind of awesome? (ps…good run, lady).

  3. Dan says:

    Excellent! This race looked like it was the right amount of backbreaking and scenery-taking. I like some grit in my trail races, but not so much that I end up hating myself for signing up – this looks like it struck the right balance. It was smart of you to not go full throttle though, and that will certainly help you in the ramp-up to the big event. And apparel-wise, you’re right, that cat shirt is wack. However, you did rep the RaceRaves shirt, which deserves many snaps. Keep it up!

    • Jen says:

      Thanks, Dan! This course was very well-balanced and I only hated myself a couple of times for signing up. Haha. It definitely helped to be running it as a training run; I probably would’ve had less kind thoughts throughout had I gone out with a racing mentality.

  4. Hillary says:

    You’re killing this training cycle! Those race shirts look like something my friends and I made in high school with iron transfer paper — but I would probably still wear it, because #cats. As usual, feeling sad for you that your running trails are so boring and ugly.

    • Jen says:

      I also got a high school vibe from the shirt, like some kid made it? You know that I love cats, but I can’t deal with this shirt. Too much.

  5. Angela says:

    This looks like a great race to do as a training run–so many gorgeous views! Sounds like you had a great time!

  6. What lovely views!! You guys up north have such a great system of trails 😀

  7. JS says:

    I really liked the picture of you and the Fresno Jen, and especially enjoyed the funny one (not so flattering one). :). I also liked your reflection towards the end of the race….how our perspectives can change when we stop dwelling on the negatives and become thankful for all the good things.

    • Jen says:

      Thanks, JS. I’m sure I’ll have to tap into positive thinking a lot during the 50K race, so it’s good to start practicing now!

  8. Jan says:

    What a beautiful course! A cattle gate, what? That’s a new one! 😀 Glad you had such a fun time. Those trails look just about perfect to me.

    • Jen says:

      There are so many cattle gates here, it’s crazy. Sometimes the cows are pretty intense too – especially in the spring during calf season.

  9. Mike says:

    Wildcat was my first Brazen race, and next to Rocky Ridge it’s my favorite (not coincidentally, I’ve run ’em both twice). I appreciate Rocky Ridge in a more Stockholm Syndrome-y kind of way, whereas Wildcat is the perfect mix of challenging and runnable. That said, my most lasting memory will always be that final downhill, which really does feel (however briefly) like a roller coaster without a seat belt. I seriously thought I was going to either go head-over-heels or steamroll the slower 10K runners in my way – that’s a spike of adrenaline you don’t get in many other races. Glad you were able to run it more as a training run and enjoy the course, you chose wisely.

    And of course, thanks for sporting the RaceRaves look! You even have the cool orange shorts to match. Love the photo of you looking like a huffy puffy squirrel… if it makes you feel any better, I posted an even less flattering top-of-the-hill photo in my Rocky Ridge blog. Sam & Jasmin do know where to position their photographers for optimal race face, don’t they?

    Big Basin, she’s comin’ for you…

    • Jen says:

      I’ve worn this exact outfit several times already, always to good results, so it’s definitely a contender for Big Basin. Thanks for the comments and support as always, Mike!

  10. […] above) and by the fact that I’d have to run another 8.5 miles after the race. So, much like Wildcat, I couldn’t go all out. It would be a good way for me to practice patience as well as fueling […]

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