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 Agn├Ęs, 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...?


chris garcia said...

Jean, thanks for such a great piece about the saturday morning runs. see you out there.


Karl Schnaitter said...

Great route! Very similar to a 26-mile loop that I do from home (identical from Rhus Ridge to the end of the Los Trancos trail). I met Pierre Tardif two years ago doing trail work! He also taught me some things, and convinced me to take downhill running more seriously.

Jeremy said...

I haven't met any of those veterans that you speak of, but I know a guy named Jean... I guess its time for a new generation!

Craig Heinselman said...

Great photo tour of the route, Jean! I really do miss the Saturday morning runs. These days it's a Saturday noon cross country ski for me, instead. Not sure how to ship weather from Kiruna, Sweden to the bay area...

Will Cooper said...

It's always great to run with a posse. but sometimes life gets in the way. I've done many a group run on my own. Thanks for the post!

Eric Klein said...

Jean, Thank You for the great post and even greater pictures!