Monday, June 4, 2007

Lake Chabot Trail Challenge

This past Sunday we took part in the Lake Chabot Trail Challenge Half Marathon. We signed up because we thought the course looked beautiful, because ultimately we'd like to get better at trail running (so why not dive right in?) and because it fit into our schedule and general sense that a few tough races would do us good on marathon day, if we survived. If the San Francisco Marathon is our A race, then this is our main B for the spring. On one hand I couldn't wait and on the other I kept thinking "once I get past that Chabot run then it's full speed ahead to the marathon."

Initially my expectations were that we'd go in it, try to have fun, and run with a bunch of people who went as fast (I mean, as slow) as us. Most races have a pretty good range of abilities. But then a week or two ago we started to look at last years times. They were fast! The last person in my age group last year finished in 2:33. Not normally too fast a time, but over a rough course with 1800+ ft of gain/loss, that seems to me like a pretty competitive field. Perhaps we were completely out of our league here. And what's more, there was a course limit of 3 hours. We started to become a little scared. What if we got to the finish line and they'd already folded up the tables and everyone had gone home? What if the race results just showed "LOSER" instead of a time next to our name? I'm not really a big fan of signing up for something that I'm clearly going to completely fail at. Perhaps this was really a bad idea.

So, meetings were held, expectations beaten with a large stick and goals were reset.
In order of importance (and decreasing order of likeliness) they now read:
  1. finish first trail race
  2. finish in under the 3 hour time limit
  3. try not to injure self or severely hamper training week ahead
  4. enjoy it!
  5. beat at least one person in my age group
  6. run under 2:30hrs (an unlikely goal)
The race:

I woke up after a bad night's sleep and really didn't feel too good. Nothing felt right in my stomach but I was willing to head out and give it a go anyway. Race nerves or oncoming illness? Who knows?! Our baby sitter arrived just after 7am and we were out the door, headed into the unknown.

When we arrived at the lake, the street nearby was already swarming with runners parking along the road and heading down to the lake (there's a $5 parking fee to park in the lot). We too parked on the street and followed them to the start line and picked up our packets, then made a pre-race bathroom stop. That left us barely enough time to put down a granola bar and get a little pre-race stretching in before the start. A ready. Set. And go! and we were off and running. It was all so fast I didn't even start recording my HR until around mile one!

Patty and I at the start

The race initially followed along the lake on a paved bike trail. A guy went by on his tandem bike (alone) and said he was catching up to his 11 year old daughter who was running. She'd done several half's before. Then he was off. First mile went by in around 10:00. Still plenty of people around us.

At 1.5 miles we hit the first real hill and headed up. We imagined the fast people half way home by now. We ran to the top of this hill with perhaps a little walking near the end. Some people started to fly by us on the way down the other side (perhaps the steepest downhill of the whole race). At the bottom we noticed one of them was covered with a smear of dirt down one side of his body. I don't think you need that so early in the race.

At the bottom of this hill the course runs along the golf course for a few hundred feet through tall trees and ferns to a cool wooden bridge and an aid station at the 3 mile mark. We later noted that this few hundred feet was the only significant flat section of the course!

Across the bridge was the major climb of the run. Something like 650ft straight up. Pretty soon we realized running was out of the question here and started to walk and settled into a power hike to the top , practiced through many years of hiking up bigger hills than this one. We noticed that we were gaining here on lots of people. We caught up to the guy with who'd fallen. He said "you guys walk faster than I can run". Yes we do. Still, my HR was up in the 180s just walking. As we continued up the hill. we passed several more people as everyone in view started to walk eventually. Back behind us was a beautiful view of the lake nestled within the green hills. I tried to appreciate how nice this section was scenically and ignore the incline. Goal 4.

The top was an aid station, at 4.5 miles, and we stopped for a minute or so and tried to swallow freezing cold Gatorade. Brain freeze! My stomach was still not pleased too, so I didn't drink too much. For what would be at most three hours running I was willing to risk a little dehydration. I carried a hand bottle filled with Cytomax and sipped this from time to time. Mostly I just wanted to practice running a race with it, the aid stations would have been fine. In hindsight I probably could have used more fluids.

The terrain after this aid station became a very welcome gentle downhill before becoming steeper as we entered the loggers loop. This area was filled with gum trees and smelled of home (Australia). The trail was a little slick with their leaves and nuts; we had to be careful. Goal 3. The second half of the loop regained the elevation lost and we walked several sections here. On the way up I felt like a pebble had gotten behind the heel of my shoe. At the top I reached in the see what the problem was. No pebble. Hmmm. I kept running. A little later I figured out I had a blister, caused by all the steep uphill walking. Note to self.

The miles from this point on became a bit of a blur. I do remember the mile markers coming by faster than I expected so I took this as a good sign. I didn't really feel any real pain anywhere, just growing fatigue. I think perhaps I was numb by this point. Patty was yelping at anything like a downhill with a sore knee and/or IT band problem. Overall though we were feeling pretty strong.

At the half way point I calculated that we might run 2:45 . And the hard hills were behind us. That was exciting but we had to keep moving. And moving we did. By the time we hit 5km to go it was 2:01. We had 29 minutes to do a 5K. Easy. Normally. I set off at a faster pace. Patty yelled at me for going so fast. I yelled back "Let's give it a go!" And both of us were off. Each mile mark we seemed on track. It was going to be close. We rounded the final corner and the clock read 2:29:22. 40 seconds! No problem!! I don't think I tried to kick at the end, just ran it in. Final time 2:29:35 (unofficial). Patty came in a few seconds back from me.

Here's a graph of elevation (blue) and HR (red):

Afterwards we sat around on the grass with Patty's friend Julie and her son and watched the rest of the field come in. It turned out that Julie had run with the eleven year old girl for several miles. They both came in just after two hours (and both won their age groups.) An eleven year old running that course in two hours. My daughter is such a slacker!

It felt nice sitting on the grass when I probably should have been walking around. They gave out pies and bags and water bottles. When I got up later I noted that I could barely put my weight on my right leg without intense pain. I also noted that walking around had my HR back up to the 150s! Interesting! We went home and both soaked in an ice bath for 10 minutes and popped 800mg of Advil. After that we were good to go.


We're elated! We achieved all of our goals for the race. We entered and finished our first real trail run. Our time exceeded both our expectations by half an hour and any reasonable prediction. Looking at the results I was not last in my division (the tough 35-40 men group), and most importantly I felt like I had fun and arrived at the finish line in okay shape. Marathon full speed ahead!


1 comment:

MK said...

Hey Peter! Congrats on your recent trail run half! That's very exciting! I recently posted about my half trail run too. It was rough on the body since all I can run on is the beach or concrete around here. I'm trying to catch up on my posts.

I really appreciate your recent inquiry into my training. I keeps me motivated when people ask me how it's going and May overall was a really hard month for me (running and personally). My next post will have the details, but I had to take off 9 days to recovery from a knee problem that could have been leading to injury. During this time I was too bummed to post and am just now ready to write about the month.

Keep running and I'll see you in less than 50 days!


PS: I hope your blister and Patty's knee are better!