Sunday, January 13, 2013

Saratoga Fat Ass: solitary and slow

This Saturday (January 12) was the first Saratoga Fat Ass, the one who is usually held the first weekend of the new year and the one which I first ran in 2005, my first unofficial ultra. I wasn't blogging and, for this reason, I don't remember much from it except for the information I have in my running log: it was rainy and it took me almost 6 hours. As a sub-3-hr marathoner at the time, this was quite an eye opener for me, the difference that only 5 miles can make in addition to the single trail format and cumulative elevation.

This year, I was on a plan back from Raleigh, NC, this Saturday so I decided to go with the original data and ran the whole course last weekend, all on my own. I've run 199 ultras so far, including 77 ultra races, many of these ultras just on my own while training, so that wasn't a first for me. And I ran this course in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2012, yet I had to run with the map in hand to make sure I stayed on course as I easily get confused with trails which we use for other races or runs in these parks.

The start was chilly and in the cloud. It wasn't raining per se but, right in the cloud, it was dripping.
I kept my rain jacket and second layer for the first miles on Skyline Ridge and Ward Road and dropped them in my backpack at the start of Slate Creek Trail. Ocean view from Ward Road this year? Not really...
But perfect running condition, not as muddy as it can get in winter:
Slate Creek trail wasn't blocked like last year by falling trees, and I smiled thinking of the little adventure we had there a year ago with Toshi and Sean. It felt great running downhill in this jungle, and jumping over branches. In addition to slow and solo, I could have summarized this run with 2 words: branches and mushrooms. We have had some bad weather in the hills just before Christmas and that translates in either many branches on the trails or super clean trails with fallen leaves and branches washed out by streams of water. And, after all this humidity and a some good weather afterwards, many mushrooms. I had never seen so many in one run. What surprised me is that most of them were upside down and someone later told me it's probably someone who broke them to make sure nobody was going to pick them. Anyway, if I'd known I'd see more than 2 dozens different types over the next 20 miles, I would have taken pictures. Here is the last one I saw as I was climbing back to Saratoga Gap on the Skyline to the Sea trail.
After Slate Creek, we get on Summit Trail.Here, I thought of Brian (Robinson) who taught me the benefits of eating Snickers on long runs and, a quick stop and half a Snickers I took then.
Running through the redwoods is still an amazing experience and worth stopping to not trip while looking way above our heads.
The temperature was now great and the cloud not dripping. It was great to see the water came back in all the creeks after they dried up last summer.
My plan was to run conservatively the first half as I have been repeatedly bonking on this course in the second half. Furthermore, since I resumed training the last week of December, a pain in my calf has been bothering me. What I didn't plan though is that, despite holding the map and course description in my hand the whole 31 miles, I would miss two turns and got lost twice. The first time, I was running toward the Portola State Park headquarters instead of their maintenance yard. The second time, I kept going down on Water Tank Gulch for half a mile, having to come back up... If you see these signs, you went too far (especially if you see another pair further down as I did... ;-):
I managed to come back on the trail and find the place of the traditional China Road aid station, which was of course desert that morning, no sign of Lee or Winnie Jebian...
These extra miles kind of killed my mental momentum and had me walk some of the uphills. I was still enjoying the run and I was glad my calf was not bothering me, but I was also enjoying the stops and walks. Bottom line, I was back to the Saratoga Gap parking lot after 6 hours and 22 minutes. Since this course has been slightly above 29 miles previous years when I didn't get lost, this time my GPS indicated close to 31 miles at the end. The good news is that I never got good times (clock wise) at this event anyway, even the years I've done great afterwards and it is not a race anyway. The other good news is that I didn't feel any pain in my calf during and after the run, and no soreness in my legs overall thanks to the easy pace. The bad news is that, I was flying to the East Coast the next day and, before driving to the airport, went for a short recovery run which I had to shorten abruptly on a sharp pain in my rain calf. I suspect a torn muscle, stay tuned...

1 comment:

Kathy McGroddy-Goetz said...

Great pictures, makes me yearn for the left coast...foggy here in the east with snow melting, trails are quite messy so did 13 on the roads today, 10 yesterday, legs still holding up well :)