Sunday, February 20, 2011

2nd Saratoga Fat Ass: humbling workout

We are rich in the Bay Area. I am not talking about the elite of the Valley who had dinner with President Obama on Thursday night. I mean that, us runners, we have so many trails nearby and many opportunities to run on them in races or social gatherings. We even have two Saratoga "fat asses" now, the traditional one on the first weekend of the year, and a second one in February. Since I missed the January 1st, 2011 one when I did my own fat ass version, I was excited to join this one on Saturday. Especially as I knew the weather was going to be challenging, hence representing a good opportunity to train for Way Too Cool, after our clement winter so far. Little did I now that it was going to turn into a real winter event...
Snow was announced on Skyline on Friday and a few inches felt during the day. Any snow on these hills is a rare enough event, more so two days in a row. But it did snow during the night again and I was quite surprised to see several snowplows going back and forth on Skyline when I reached the Saratoga Gap parking lot.
I arrived one hour early to secure a parking spot but, with this bad weather, there were only 2 cars parked. A few local runners had said they will go for an early start but they had probably changed their minds at the last minute. John and Greg left around 7 AM on the first loop.
About twenty other runners gathered around Keith and we started running at 8 AM, as scheduled. I had planned to run with Pierre-Yves who completed this convoluted course in the first two editions. Unfortunately, Pierre-Yves was not here this Saturday but, thankfully, I had spent some time on Friday evening printing out the numerous instructions, directions and turn sheets and placed them inside plastic folders. On Skyline Trail, I took a right at a fork and got on the road, slightly before the recommended crossing of Hwy 35 and the trail head of Loghry Woods Trail. It took me several minutes to get back on course, and I then passed 6 runners on the way down to Castle Rock Trail Camp.
At the Camp, I forgot to look at the detailed map and got confused with the instructions about the Saratoga Gap Trail which I could only see on one side of the Camp and which I felt was the wrong direction. I decided to wait a few minutes for the rest of the group and Keith showed up first, leading me to the trail we wanted, Ridge Trail. Less than a mile later, I caught up with Michael who, again, showed me the right direction at the next two trail intersections I was uncertain about.
We passed Castle Rock Falls and I took off but figured out I will see Michael again next time I was going to get lost...

I saw Christina and Penny coming down the shortcut/connection trail by mistake and they decided to complete the original loop in reverse.
The rest of Loop 1 was easy from a navigation standpoint as it consisted in retracing the same route in reverse. I was stunned it had taken me two hours to complete it as the profile indicated it was the easiest loop. My GPS showed 10.7 miles and the parking lot was then super full with many families who drove to the top of the mountain to see and play in the snow. The nice thing with this run is that we get back to our car every 10 miles, so there is no need to set up aid stations. I ate the content of a small bag of potato chips, some nuts and raisins, refilled my bottles and went on the second loop without seeing Michael.
The sun had made a few short appearances after the start, and I thought it was going to be a gorgeous day, but that did not last long. With all the drops falling from the wet trees and melting snow, I don't recall exactly when it started snowing again, but I think I was still in my first loop. After the stop at the car, I was cold again, especially my arms and hands. I shook them vigorously to get the blood flowing and it took me 2.5 miles to be ok, after passing the Sempervirens Point. 10 minutes later I passed John and we chatted a bit. First, a good and bad news about Western States, with the good news first. John has changed car, going green with the Ford Flex. Other good news: he will be able to help out at last Chance again, albeit leaving shortly after as he is pacing this year. And now the bad news: without his truck, the Striders will have to find other ways to haul the aid station supplies up there (I will be in Europe in June and will miss the party unfortunately, for the first time since 2005...). John also shared his satisfaction with the cool Brooks Green Silence, with which he ran a 10K PR this January! Thankfully, we were both wearing Brooks Cascadias today, it was certainly the day to get some good grip in the snow and the mud. Before leaving John I reminded him to watch for the nearby turn on Beekhuis Road Trail which I almost missed myself.

Since I had left Michael, I was paying much more attention to the instructions, reading them several times at each intersection, stopping and looking all around when I thought I had reached the mileage corresponding to a turn, checking the map over and over. I figured out that, given the slow pace of the first loop, I'd rather lose time being conservative than getting lost. After the physical challenge of this course, especially in this cold and wet weather, the most important thing was not to get lost in this maze of beautiful trails. As I told you at the beginning of this article, we are rich here... ;-)
The Travertine Springs Trail is amazingly beautiful, even under the snow and rain. It is really a single track and a narrow one. With all the wet branches and grass across the way, my legs and feet got really wet and I got cold again. On the way up to Castle Rock Trail Camp, it was snowing really hard which didn't help. More and more snow was layering on the ground, up to 4-5 inches at the entrance of the Gun Club. Snowplows kept passing on Skyline Boulevard but the road was getting white again shortly after their passage.

I ran up to Skyline Trail but got confused about the instructions when I see the post talking about the Summit Rock Loop and I decided to come back on a trail closer to the road until I found the real Skyline Trail at the next parking lot. I reached the main parking lot for the second time after 2 more hours of running for the second loop: the "course record" of 4:42 that Pierre-Yves had set last year was very safe...
The parking lot was still full but Michael's car and a few others from the starters were gone. Before the end of my second lap, I had passed Jerry who started late, taking picture along the way and was finishing his first loop. Another bag of potato chips, some trail mix again, bottles refill and here I was on the third and final loop, wishing that I had prepared and brought some hot chocolate or hot tea this morning... Hands and arms were numbing again, I could tell every time I was crossing/passing the 2,000-foot freezing limit (the parking lot is at 2,600 feet and the course goes up to 3,000 feet at place). I was too cold to really fly down Charcoal Road but at least I was moving. I had some hesitations again around Table Mountain but, again, stopped long enough to internalize Keith's instructions and managed to stay on course and get on the right single track, the Saratoga Gap Trail again. Despite the tiredness and the challenge of climbing back again up to Skyline Boulevard, I thought this was also one of the nicest parts of the course. My top 3 sections therefore from a trail running perspective: Loghry Woods Trail on loop 1, Travertine Springs on loop 2 and Saratoga Gap Trail on loop 3.
I saw Keith at the top of the hill, on the Bay Area Ridge Trail and gave him high five as he had just started his final loop. I reached the parking lot after 5:42:27 of running. Happy to have run in such winter conditions finally this year, with wonderful snowy views, but humbled by this slow time for a 50K (my GPS indicated 21.7 miles at the end of loop 2 but only 30.2 at the end of loop 3, so a short 50K).
I saw John in his car. He had completed the second loop but got completely lost and his GPS was marking 26 miles. He changed, tried to warm-up in his car, hesitated going for a third loop before deciding to call it a day. Still a great achievement in such conditions! Chau and Mylinh arrived from their second loop and decided to keep going for their final loop. Later on Sunday, Penny posted on FaceBook that she and Christina completed the 3 loops and had a blast, phew!
The overall conclusion for me is that I'm probably not fat enough to run in the cold... Which is why I do much better in extreme heat, when others cannot remove any more layers... ;-) A few additional pictures in my Picasa album, although it was not the ideal day for a photo shoot. Keith is still gathering data about who finished and when. A big thank you, Keith, for (not...) having organized this unofficial run; one to remember for some time in the history of this new fat ass tradition. As you said on FaceBook, "a run that will be remembered for a long time – perhaps as long as it takes to thaw!" For me, thawing required soaking for 30 minutes in the jacuzzi, but the memories will last much longer thanks to this post and the pictures in particular...


Greg said...

Your third career should be photography. Great pics. That was a great day.

Anonymous said...

ce froid et cette incertitude sur le parcours m'ont épuisée!!!
Quel courage, une fois de plus!!

Toshi Moshi said...

" was not the ideal day for a photo shoot"? What are you talking about? The photos are amazing! I am so jealous you got to run in the snow in Saratoga... I was in Colorado Springs last weekend where the temp dropped to 18F, but didn't snow. Now that you know the course, CR is going to fall soon!