Saturday, January 24, 2015

Coyote Hills Brazen Racing Half Marathon: a fast 50K for me!

As I wrote at the bottom of my long post last week, Greg was running his first half-marathon race this Saturday in Fremont, on the other side of the Bay. As I'll be traveling to New York city and Austin next week and tapering before Rocky Racoon 100-mile (scoop, I'm going to run this US National Championship indeed!), I looked at what it would take to run to that park from Cupertino. While Google Maps didn't come up with the greenest route, I tweaked it a bit to go through Mountain View's Shoreline Park and the Palo Alto Baylands and that made a route of about 27 miles, exactly what I was looking for for a long run!
It was still quite dark when I left home at 6:25 am but the sky was "insanely" clear (no cloud to be seen in January so far unfortunately, meaning no rain either...) and the light quickly raised. I started with a conservative pace to avoid tripping in the dark but, as soon as it was safer, I pushed with a few sub-7-minute miles. The Stevens Creek Trail was actually busy especially going through Shoreline. The bad news is that I've never see the Stevens Creek so low: while the tide was low near the Bay, the creek is actually completely dry in the Mountain View section. What a drought...
I've ran this trail so often, including as far as the Palo Alto Airport and Golf, the first 16 miles felt very familiar. After that, it was a first, starting with going through East Palo Alto

 I had the pleasure to see that the Sobrato Family is helping that challenged community with a wonderful project.

I didn't have a map with me so I got on University Avenue as directly as possible. Since this was the least fun section because of the traffic, I would go through the neighborhood streets instead next time. Anyway, it wasn't too long before I reached an even busiest artery, Highway 84, with a great perspective of the bridge.

On 84, and its long bridge, you run on the bike path, really close to huge trucks going 60 mph but at least there is a fence of concrete blocks to protect you. While the height of the bridge is rather impressive in the distance, it is actually not that bad, very gradual, and I even lowered my average pace on the uphill from 7:58 to 7:57, then shaving two more seconds on the way down. Here is a view of the parallel rail track from the top of the bridge.

It was great to have a goal to run after or against: I really wanted to see Greg at the overpass turnaround so I pushed a bit and clocked a 6:24, 6:32 and 6:31 respectively for miles 22, 23 and 24. While the first runners had already gone through the aid station, I was able to see Greg not too far behind, flying and smiling!
I then saw Agnès at the next intersection where ultra runner Will Gotthardt was volunteering and directing the traffic through this confusing 3-way junction.
Not counting 15 minutes of picture taking or bottle refill, my Garmin was giving 2:59:53 for 26.2 miles, good long tempo run!

We waited for Greg to cover this first out-and-back, then I ran the first loop against the traffic which was now quite heavy with all the half-marathon, 10K and 5K runners on the course!
I saw Greg at the Bay View Trail aid station and advised him to take a Gu, if not the taste, at least for the extra calorie boost.
I then ran to the park headquarters, stopped to chat with Maggie, Michael's wife, who had ran the 5K, then climbed the Quail Trail to meet with Greg at the end of his second out-and-back then run together to the finish. 1:42:56 for 13.1 miles for him, 40th overall. I thought he'd won his age group but, poor guy, he just turned 18 and they had him in the odd 18-24 age group. It doesn't seem so fair to me to mix high schoolers and with potential college or older "kids". Anyway, the finisher medals from Brazen Racing are really awesome!
As for me, with all the stop-and-gos in the park, I managed to log 31.8 miles this morning, with 3:38:58 of running time. Good enough for my 4th ultra run in the first 4 weeks of 2015!

At the finish, I saw two other ultra runners. Kowsik Guruswamy whose 2015 resolution is a pledge to get "Farther, Faster" on his blog, referring to my blog mantra, and Lon Freeman who won the Ohlone 50K race which I missed last year, and was volunteering today. I saw a few other known faces but, overall, and not surprisingly, this is quite a different from my usual ultra trail running community. But I was amazed to see the perfect organization of Brazen Racing and the great participation, across all ages, of runners taking advantage of this opportunity to race in this beautiful and very accessible park.
Talk to you from Texas next week then and Run Happy in the meantime!!

PS: a couple of bonus pictures from Agnès:


Monday, January 19, 2015

Rhus Ridge: yet another solo ultra

I was reading an excellent piece from our National Jester (aka Ed Ettinghausen) in his own Run Jester Run Friends group page on Facebook (3,700 members!) about social runs and how to welcome (or not...) others in our runs. Not sure if you can all access it, or if you need to be a member of this group, but very much worth the read, a great reminder that our individual sport doesn't have to be anti-social!

We have many group runs here in the Bay Area, but, through injuries or changing life priorities, it's not always easy to maintain all traditions. Last week, I told you about the Saratoga Fat Ass that Keith Blom had revived, but that's one a year. We do have a few other of these annual Fat Ass runs around the Bay (e.g. Saratoga #2, Los Gatos Overgrown, Fremont).

More regularly, we have club runs. I did learn so much about trail and ultra running when I joined the Stevens Creek Striders in Cupertino, during our Saturday Morning club runs at Stevens Creek Reservoir. Especially tips from Mark Williams (the first man to finish the grueling Barkley Marathons 100-mile) and Charles Stevens (6 Western States finishes among many other ultras).

From there, when the 6-mile run was becoming too short, Charles invited me to join another Saturday morning ultra trail training running group on the Peninsula. I was so intimidated by this group of super experienced ultra runners who were doing for 20 miles every weekend! But I gave it a try and the pace happened to be just what I needed to teach me not to start too fast at a time I was still mostly interested in speed on the marathon distance and shorter races. Brian Robinson (the first man to get a super crown for having hiked the three cross-USA trails in one year, and also a finisher and course record setter at the Barkley marathon), his wife Sophia Lewis (Top 7 at Western States in 2003), Mike Topper (5 consecutive Western States finishes including 4 in the top 10!), Pierre Tardif (2 WS finishes, both in the top 10), Craig Heinselman, Chris Garcia, Eric Klein, ... I learned so much about ultra running from you guys! Before he moved up to Marin County, speesdster Gary Gellin was even part of this group these past years.

These Saturday morning runs rotate across 4 locations in the Peninsula: Woodside School, Wunderlich,  Windy Hill and Rhus Ridge. Rhus Ridge is the one I prefer because it is the closest and I only need to drive to Rancho San Antonio to get on the course. With the experience and need for even longer long runs, I actually made my own tradition to start from the main parking lot at 6:30 instead of the small and overfilling parking lot of Rhus Ridge at 7 am. I get to the top of the intersection of Chamise and Rhus Ridge trails around 7:05 and either wait for the rest of the group at the top, or plunge on the steep downhill or Rhus Ridge to see who had made it that morning.

Well, and it isn't the first time, nobody was to be seen from the group this weekend so I ended up doing the group run on my own... I certainly have been faster this way but I wouldn't have minded some account of each others' holidays. Unfortunately, beyond the races which may get in the way from time to time, this group has been decimated by many life events, mostly moves/relocation and injuries.

I've done this run more than 20 times now and already wrote several times about this course (e.g. 2009, another one in October 2009, and 2011, 2011 anti-clockwise, 2013 with my GoPro ), yet this is such a wonderful course and the light was so amazing this Saturday morning, I have to post a few pictures, cannot keep all this beauty to myself! ;-) Short of being social during the run, at least I can share something with you on line! So, here we are, not describing the loop again (in case you are interested or visiting, I even posted the route on Strava and Garmin Connect), just posting a few snapshots. Well, quite a few actually --I couldn't stop...-- but it shouldn't take you the 4 hours and 11 minutes which it took me to run these 29.5 moderately hilly miles (~5,400 ft +/- gain)!

Sister moon before sunrise, from Chamise Trail:

 7:30 am, the sun finally shows up!
 Light bouncing everywhere, on the fog, the trees, the trail...


 Fog over San Jose.
 Distant Mt Diablo floating over the Bay Area fog.

In the background and from the top of Black Mountain, Mt Umunum and my QuickSilver Club home base, Almaden Quick Silver Park.

View of the Pacific Ocean from the top of Black Mountain (2,800 ft)
 The white rocks of Black Mountain, don't ask why this place used to be called Black Mountain Farm...
 Reaching the Black Moutain dry camp ground, with company
 I wish my legs were that long, could be handy in races... ;-)
View from Bella Vista Trail toward San Francisco (yes, a nice view indeed!)
Aging tree still holding up on Bella Vista Trail
Switching from Montebello Open Space Preserve to Foothills Park (the rest of the run on the Palo Alto side was mostly in the fog)

I particularly like this picture, below because I was starting to think I had stopped enough for taking pictures when, after the next turn, I get in this amazing light rays at the edge of the cloud and I caught myself saying "shoot, I need to stop again!" ;-) And, of course, the picture doesn't make justice to the beauty of this sun light, nor does it show the droplets which were slowly moving up in the air. Priceless experience as we say...
The place of the traditional group picture, at the split between the shorter and longer course

Los Trancos Creek. At least there is some water flowing, but we need much more than that in winter!

 Looking for who Lynn Torin might be, I found this Memorial, actually from last month. RIP, Lynn...


 Farther on Los Trancos trail...

 Boronda Lake in Foothills Park (car access to Palo Alto residents only)

 Last but not least, the pond at Rancho San Antonio has filled up (almost)!
Here you are, a quick walk-thru of this Rhus Ridge loop course.


Sunday was more social, at least family-oriented, as Agnès, Greg and I went to Coyote Hills Regional Park on the other side of the Bay to look at the course of Greg's first half marathon next Saturday. Well, Greg and I covered the whole 13.1 miles (two loops), so that will be his first half marathon race then next week. I'm delighted to see the running bug spreading in the family (Alex ran the Marine Corps Marathon twice already and Max is training for the Austin Marathon in February)!

Following the Jester's wisdom, I'm giving you all a hug, runners and non runners alike! Have a great week and, if you are experiencing bad weather, please make sure to send some of it our way so we get more water in California. Will you, please...?