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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.