Golden Hills Trail Marathon 2009

I ran the Golden Hills Trail Marathon in 2008 and 2007 so I was familiar with this excellent event, but there is nothing wrong with continuing a good thing! In 2007, this race was a breakthrough run in which I established a course record and ran strong throughout. In 2008, I was able to better my course record by 2.5 minutes, but not without considerable effort. Fortunately, I was able to come back this year and improve my course record by another 1:20, finishing in 3:15:34.The weather on this day was perfect with foggy conditions for the first 5 miles yielding to sunny skies and pleasant temperatures in the upper 50s and low 60s.

This course is not easy with nearly constant up and down in the first 19 miles, and a good portion of it is steep and rugged. The last 7 miles are very favorable for opening up the stride, but I have found it difficult to have much gas left at this point after all the previous climbing. As I mentioned previously, this course also has fabulous variety, from sweeping views of the SF Bay Area and Mount Diablo to lush redwood forest along the challenging French Trail.  It really is the grand point-to-point tour of the East Bay Hills regional park system. Race directors Ann Trason and Carl Andersen do a fantastic job organizing this event. One of my favorite parts is the post-race BBQ party with burgers and hot dogs to order, soups, and a dessert table with pies, gelato, cookies, and other sweets. All the participants seemed to be very happy to enjoy a great picnic with fellow runners and family on a gorgeous fall day.

Second place in the Marathon was 54-year-old Mark Richtman in 3:38. Mark has a long history of great performances at major trail ultras, including a third place finish at Western States in 2002. Third place was Joe Kelso in 3:39. The Firetrails 50 mile is run in conjunction with the Golden Hills Trail Marathon, doing an out-and-back to the marathon starting point, but minus the 1,400+ feet of steep and challenging elevation gain on the French Trail single track (the 50 miler uses the gradual/flat Stream trail fire road instead). New Bay Area resident Dave Mackey ran an amazing 6:30:34 narrowly missing Carl Andersen’s 6:26:42 from 1994. Former Firetrails champions Chikara Omine (6:47) and Victor Ballesteros (7:02) came in second and third respectively. Julie Young was the first female in the marathon in 3:54:01 and Rory Bosio took the women’s 50 mile race in 7:54:33.

Coming in to the Bort Meadows Aid Station

Coming in to the Bort Meadows Aid Station (Photo by Baldwyn Chieh)

In the week leading up to the run I was dealing with a number of aches, soreness, and general physical tiredness. I ran easy on Thursday and Friday which allowed those issues to improve. During the race, I continued to feel a bit tired and slightly offbeat but felt good enough to match my splits from last year and pick it up a bit in the end to lower my course record from last year. Even prior to Golden Hills, I was planning on taking a few weeks easy after the run and I still plan on doing that.

Congratulations to all the participants and a big thanks to the race directors and awesome volunteers at the aid stations and picnic!

Stevens Creek 50k

The Course:

The minute I looked at the Stevens Creek 50k map I knew it would be a great course. The 31 mile route completes an aesthetic and comprehensive tour of the gorgeous Upper Stevens Creek watershed and Skyline South Region, including narrow single tracks in Douglas Fir and hardwood forest, stream crossings, and wide views across expansive meadows to the Pacific Ocean and the entire Bay Area. I train in this area, but seeing all the landscapes from Saratoga Gap to Rapley Ranch at once was truly rewarding. It is indeed one of the most scenic 50k courses in the country.

Gorgeous views on Skyline Ridge, image from July 2009

Gorgeous views on Skyline Ridge, image from July 2009

More photos and details after the jump!

Continue reading

Transrockies Run

The TransRockies Run in the Colorado Rockies covers over 113 miles in 6 stages with nearly 21,000 feet of elevation gain in an appealing point-to-point format. The start is at Buena Vista and the route passes through Leadville, Red Cliff, Vail, and finishes at Beaver Creek. Every day the crews reconstruct a tent city as the community of runners moves along the course and you get to meet virtually every participant during the week. This was the third edition of the race and each year the race gets more popular and competitive. I was entered into the race as a late addition less than two weeks before the event kicked off and I’m happy I took advantage of the opportunity to run it.

  • Race Organization: Tip-top. These guys know what they are doing and have this event dialed in. There were absolutely no lines for necessities like porta-potties, van shuttles, water, food, etc.  The races always went off exactly on time and course marking was great. As the week went on, it became apparent how much of a logistical nightmare it must be to organize this race, but everything went off smoothly. Hats off to the organizers.
  • Course: There was more jeep track/roads and less single track than I was hoping for. I guess the permits and logistical issues preclude having a race entirely (or even a majority) on single track. Nonetheless, there were great views and sections of alpine meadows, particularly on stage four atop Hornsilver and stage five on the backside of Vail ski area. There were some cool stream crossings over the course of the race and my Fireblade’s handled everything extremely well.
  • Team Aspect: This is a team event which presents unique challenges. I was fortunate to be asked by Jonathan Toker (founder and owner of SaltStick) to join team SaltStick.com less than a couple weeks before the event. However, I had never run with Jonathan or even spoken to him before I was approached to run the event. Obviously, it would have been nice to train and converse more with Jonathan before the race and I feel the lack of team preparation led to pacing issues. Climbing up to Hope Pass on day two, I desperately wanted to maintain contact with the leaders, but Jonathan was not feeling great and whipped out the tow rope. I did not like the tow rope because the backwards pressure was causing me stomach aches. Beginning on day three when Jonathan insisted that he lead I decided that I would accede to his request and follow him for the remainder of the race/stages and just go with the flow. With Jonathan setting the pace, our team performance got stronger as the event progressed with our best result occurring on the 24+ mile Stage 5 where we finished in fourth place, narrowly missing a podium spot for the stage by 2 minutes.
  • Altitude & Heat: The first stage, set in a high desert setting, was a rough one for me coming from sea level the day before. The altitude was definitely a factor, but I think the excessive heat and strong sun was a bigger element of my crappy feeling. The sandy, open terrain was very uninspiring and the 20+ miles were a real drag. SaltStick capsules saved the day for many runners on the first stage!  By day two I had no noticeable affects from the altitude as we climbed up and over 12,500+ ft Hope Pass. Fortunately, the weather also cooled for the remainder of the race; we even had a 3 hour period of cold rain at the camp in Leadville, but for the most part it was sunny with comfortable afternoon temps and frosty nights.
  • Results: Team SaltStick.com finished in sixth place but 4th through 6th was only separated by 7 minutes (not much over a 16+ hour race), manifesting the depth of the field this year. The top three teams were elite and dominated the podium almost every stage with Run Flagstaff’s Michael Smith and Rob Krar coming out on top, Hal Koerner and Andy Martin’s Rogue Valley Runners/Nike team in second, and the Canadian duo of Adam Campbell and Aaron Heidt in third. I have never run 100 miles in a week (or even 90 miles in a week) so tackling 113+ intense miles in six days was a big jump and definitely a concern at the outset. While my legs became tired by stage six, I was happy to finish the event feeling reasonably good. Big congratulations to La Sportiva teammate Caitlin Smith and partner Devon Crosby-Helms for taking the open women’s category and holding off a surging North Face team of Kami Semick and Nikki Kimball in the last stage.
  • The Colorado Rockies: Generally not as impressive and not as rugged as I had imagined. The area of the range I visited seemed very weathered and the fourteeners in particular looked like big giant choss piles. There were glimpses of ruggedness out toward the Gore Range and I was told the San Juans and parts of Rocky Mountain National Park are more rugged. I am sure the Colorado natives can help direct me to the best spots for adventure running next time I visit Colorado.
  • Conclusion: This was a highly enjoyable event and it was great to meet so many people over the course of the week. Thanks to the organizers and everybody involved who make this thing work flawlessly. Also big thanks Jonathan for giving me the opportunity to experience this unique event and developing the product that allowed me to finish the event cramp-free!
Jonathan and I setting out on stage six through the Vail Village

Jonathan and I setting out on stage six through the Vail Village

PCTR Pacifica 21k

Finishing

Finishing

On July 5th, I participated in yet another great Pacific Coast Trial Runs event, this time at Pacifica in San Pedro Valley County Park, just south of San Francisco. The park features pristine coastal mountain habitat, also known as coastal scrub, consisting of low evergreen shrubs and herbs. The event included distances of 9k/21k/30k/50k. All runs at Pacifica are difficult with substantial elevation gains. The 21k/30k/50k all start out with a 12k round trip climb of the North Peak of Montara Mountain (1,898 ft), gaining 1,700 feet and including a very technical section of rocky trail. Montara Mountain has excellent views of Pacifica and Half Moon Bay, but on this day dense fog covered the mountain precluding views. After Montara Mountain, the courses then continue onto the 9k loop which has two smaller hill climbs totaling 1,200 feet of elevation gain. The 30k/50k do the 9k loop twice and the 50k continues up Montara Mountain again. The 21k has 2,900 ft of gain, the 30k has 4,100 ft, and 50k has 6,700 feet of gain.

View of Pacifica from Montara Mountain in clearer conditions

View of Pacifica from Montara Mountain from an earlier hike

I was on the fence about running this race due to some pain in my posterior tibialis (shin splints). Fortunately, the shin did not cause any issues during the run, in part due to a tight compression wrap. I ended up feeling pretty good most of the way winning the 21k in a new course record time of 1:33:28. It was nice to run most of the way and chat with Will Hudson (who continued on to run a fantastic 30k in 2:16:32).  We definitely helped each other out on some sections. I led up Montara Mountain and we reached the high point at North Peak in under 30 minutes! We then blasted down the mountain (with extra caution on the technical part) in around 23 minutes. The climbs along the 9k loop were more difficult due to tired legs from the downhill, but after finally cresting the final of many many switchbacks on the Hazelnut Loop Trail, I knew it was time to hammer the downhill home to the finish.

Serena on the Montara Mountain Trail

Serena on the Montara Mountain Trail

Caitlin Smith won the women’s and was 4th overall with a time of 1:45:52. Will Gotthardt was second in the 21k in 1:40:08 and Ryan Commons was second in the 30k in 2:31:31. Kevin Weil won the 50k in 4:29:41 with Nathan Yanko close behind in 4:31:19 and Meredith Terranova won the women’s 50k in 4:53:21. Complete results here. Thanks PCTR for another great event!

Ohlone Wilderness 50k

Finish photo, thanks Serena!

Finish photo, thanks Serena!

I had a great time running the Ohlone Wilderness 50k which is a challenging point-to-point course stretching from Fremont to Lake Del Valle in the Diablo Range to the Southeast of the San Francisco Bay Area. The relatively cool weather helped me lower the course record by nearly 10 minutes to 4:29:45. Ohlone is one of the toughest 50ks that exist – there is essentially no flat running on the entire course with nearly 8,000 feet of elevation gain on terrain characterized by steep hills covered in grassland and oak forest. The event is also difficult to organize with several remote aid stations, one of which requires the volunteers to hike in with the aid.

More details, photos, and youtube video after the jump!

Continue reading

PCTR Big Basin Trail Runs

Redwoods

Redwoods

I had a fantastic time at PCTR’s Big Basin Redwoods Trail Runs. Big Basin is one of my favorite parks so I was looking forward to this event. The weather was toasty and humid with temps at higher elevations starting at over 80 degrees at dawn only to get warmer as the sun rose. In fact, temps soared well into the 90′s by midday.

I ran the 15k (9.7 miles), which covers the classic Berry Creek Falls loop, coming in at 1:11:35. The terrain is technical and the hill climbs are challenging with over 2,100 feet of elevation gain, most of it coming in the second half of the course. I did not envy the 50k runners who had 6,800 feet of difficult climbing. Combined with the heat and humidity on this day, a fast pace was relative. I also managed to have shin splints and a huge blister on the sole of my foot, likely due to hammering the uneven downhill surface on the first part. Oh well, it’s tough to predict what will happen on the trails, but I think these issues had a lot to do with not running any hills recently.

My favorite part was hanging out at the finish and chatting with runners and volunteers under the towering redwoods. Joel Lanz was first in 25k (2:08:27) with Gary Gellin close behind (2:09:04). Jon Olsen won the super challenging 50k (5:03) with Will Gotthardt in second place (5:23). Congratulations to all the runners and thanks PCTR and volunteers!

Big trees at Big Basin

Big trees at Big Basin

Serena’s Avenue of the Giants Marathon

Serena ran The Avenue of the Giants Marathon on Sunday running a 3:57:29 for her first marathon. This road marathon is in a truly gorgeous setting of old growth redwoods. There is also a half marathon and a 10k option for those looking for a shorter distance. Serena felt good and came through around 1:56 at the halfway point where I handed her additional gel packets and shot bloks. She stuck it out in the second half to finish strong in 1:57:29. We were not expecting a sub-4 hour performance so it was great to see Serena come through below this barrier. She was 30th out of 181 females and 117th overall. Congratulations Serena!

Runners in the Avenue of the Giants Marathon

Runners in the Avenue of the Giants Marathon

Serena close ot the finish

Serena nearing the finish

After the race

Post-race: Tired but very happy!

Stuck in the mud after the jump!

Continue reading

2009 Skyline to the Sea 50k

Another fantastic day on the Skyline to the Sea Trail with PCTR! I ran 28 seconds faster than my time last September finishing in 3:38:05. The amazingly narrow margin between the two performances is thanks to some tight and spasmy hamstrings in the last 7 miles that hampered plans to open it up for the finish stretch which seems easy on paper (yeah, right). A very similar story line to September starting a bit too fast and finishing with some kind of cramping. I guess it makes it easier to lower the bar next time and maybe I will have learned my lesson!

Troy Howard finished in second place in 3:56:47, Nathan Yanko was third in 3:59:33, and Will Gotthardt was fourth in 4:02:02. Fellow La Sportiva teammates Caitlin Smith produced yet another win and course record running a 4:17:54 and Mark Tanaka ran a 4:26:30 after a 150 miler last week. Thanks PCTR and volunteers for making this another awesome day on the trails!

Popping out of the Marsh Trail and into the finish shoot, photo thanks to Serena

Out of the Marsh Trail and into the finish shoot, photo thanks to Serena

Photo at the start, courtesy Cal's Crazy Photo Gallery

Photo at the start, courtesy Cal's Crazy Photo Gallery

Find a great album of race photos posted at Cal’s Crazy Photo Gallery, thanks Calvin!

Read more after the jump!

Continue reading