Thursday, January 3, 2013

Brazen Racing's New Years Eve Half Marathon Review

The Christmas Season has kept me fairly busy lately but not so much that I couldnt squeeze a last race in before the year's end. I didn't really need to train specifically for this race as the half marathon distance is not new to me anymore. I ran my first half in 2011 and have since ran at least a dozen more. I have routinely ran training runs beyond this distance and quite a few races have been beyond the half as well. My, my, my how the times have changed since 2011!!! 2012 had me off road way more than on road in both training and racing, so I did not have to train or get prepared for a trail run in the hills. Im used to the trails and the copius amounts of climbing that accompany these races. It's become the "norm" for me. All I had to do was sign up and show up ready to work hard. Thats a nice way to approach a race. Usually I choose races that expand my skill set somehow. Longer distance, more elevation gain or super flat 5k's for PR's etc etc. This leads me to have to train in the weeks leading up to the race in a very specific way to (hopefully) achieve a very specific goal. I had no real goal for this race. I wanted to run this as hard as I could and use it as a gauge against future performances. Whatever my best turned out to be for this race will become the bar with which my fitness level can be measured against in 2013.

 The morning was cold and wet with a fresh batch of rain tappering off around 6am. The trails have been marinating in cloud sweat for weeks now. Just as they start to dry out it rains again. Lately it has been raining almost daily so the trails are at maximum water log capacity. Each step is a splash of mud. The only variable is how far your foot sinks in. Discerning the firm ground from the quicksand is a combo of luck & skill for sure.

Lake Chabot is a wonderful place to hold a race. Lots of parking, restrooms and a cafe is available in the fishing marina area. Brazen had some porto-pottys brought in as well so restroom lines were not a problem like at other races. This run came about because a friend of mine, Tom, was running it. Tom was the only other guy I knew who ran for distance when I firsted stated running. He was doing trail races that were 35k and I was struggling to complete a 10k on flat ground with a wind at my back. I was inspired by him because he was relatively new to running (I think) and making great strides in his abilities. He had done a few half marathons and was working towards a full marathon. To me that was motivating. We've ran a handful of races together including Brazen's 2012 Drag-N-Fly Half which is notoriously brutal. I met up with Tom this morning as his wife and mine greeted each other. They have been best friends since forever. We took our place towards the back of the pack and literally a minute or two later we were off.

The race started out on a bike path for the first mile or so which was nice. We started far enough in the back so that when we crossed the start line we were barely moving above a walk pace. Fine by me. Tom asked me about the course and what I knew of it. I studied the elevation chart a few times and remembered that this course had 1750' ft  +/- of elevation gain. Tom asked where the peak of the climbing was and I knew what he meant. The high point that marks the spot where it is more downhill then uphill to the finish. "This course is not like that" I said. "The bulk of our climbing is going to be steep and early and we're gonna hit it in about a mile" I told him. "Once we reached the top of the first major climbing section you can expect the course to roll along for the middle 5 miles or so." Turns out a couple of small steep sections are hidden up there that I had not counted on but they were short lived. "The downhill lasts for quite a few miles at the end until it finally flattens out for the last mile or so. That's what you gotta stay conservative for or else that much downhill will pound the crap out of your quads" I advised. He nodded in agreement as we turned our early trot pace into a slow jog. The crowd opened up fairly quickly allowing me to run the pace I wanted and by the time we were a mile into it we were off road and I was averaging 8 minute pace. I have no idea at what point Tom and I got seperated. I wasn't looking around or thinking of anything other than the task at hand. I was focused, running strong and trying to walk that fine line between conservative and too slow. Aid station #1 was blown by like it didnt exist around mile 2 just before the monster climbing started. I was able to snag a GU gel out of a volunteers hand as I flew by. I tore it open and started in on it as the walking started. This early climbing brought on some of the only walking I did the entire day. Most people walked it accept for one tiny little girl I took note of. She was trotting her way up the hill just barely faster than the walkers but expending a tremendous amount of energy. This climbing comes in three distinct sections where it feels like you rise and level off three distinct times although it does not appear that way on elevation charts. The hill was slick with mud and searching for the best way up with the least foot slippage was a task all unto itself. The flat spots were short jogs that did not last long enough to fool me into thinking I was at the top already. By the time I got to what I thought was the top and started jogging I was spent and gratefull to be jogging rather than stair stepping up that mud wall. Activating a different set of muscles by switching from walking to jogging was all I needed to quickly get back to a decent running pace.
I ran up to the 2nd aid station around mile 5 or so and slowed just enough to grab a dixie cup of sports drink and not spill it all over me or the nice volunteer helping me stay hydrated and fueled. I finally realized how cold it was on top of the hills. I was wearing a waterproof jacket and had to put the hood on and zip the jacket up to stay warm. It was misty and I really couldnt tell if it was raining or not. I think a few clouds may have burst open momentarily while out on the course but Im not exactly sure of that. I rolled along the high elevation at a good pace and was able to run all of the ascents and then let the legs go on the downhills. I aimed my footfalls carefully trying to avoid the softer, sloppier mud. Running on the grass or on top of the sticks, twigs and eucalyptus bark piled thick on the trail sides was always preferable to the open mud slicks. I started picking out people that I wanted to slowly reel in and every time I did I would pick out another runner to hunt down. My first target was a guy I nicknamed "black & white vertical stripes" because thats what he was wearing on his well matched shorts and shirt. He was good and it took me a mile or so to finally pass him. While working this out I noticed the leader of the small pack up the trail a little ways was a guy in bright yellow CEP compression socks. "Yellow Calves" as I called him was out of sight for a long time but eventually I caught and passed him. That was amazing to me simply because that guy looked like a great runner who could fly. He was a goal to inspire me but when I passed him I had to choose another target to go after. The next guy I saw was "Two Bottles" and he was as fast as could be and it took me at least a mile to catch him. When I finnally did it was on a down hill where we were running sub 7 minute pace just flying. I pulled along side him for the first time and WHAM, he hit the dirt hard. The amazing thing was this looked like a bad crash but as I immediately slowed to check on him he was busy tucking and rolling and springing right back up on his feet. In the 2 seconds it took me to slow down he was back up on his feet and jogging right beside me. I asked if he was ok and he assured me that he was so I continued on just a few feet ahead of him. We came to the bottom of the hill moments later and made a hard left heading up hill. This guy was still running strong and on my tail. You would know how incredible this was to me if you had seen this all just happen. This guy should have fallen back, caught his breath, regained his composure but no, he just bounced up to his feet and kept on keepin on.


The race continued on for a few more miles and I picked off a few more runners but I think they were from the hikers division. I had hoped for a finish somewhere near the 2 hour mark given the elevation and winter conditions and I did just that. My finish was 37th place out of 325 and 4th in my age group. I was 4 minutes behind the 3rd place guy in my age group. Perhaps if I had known that I could have challenged him for 3rd place but as it was I did my best and am very satisfied with a 2:03:50 finish time. Eventually Mary and Tom's wife came back to the finish area and found me and moments later Tom came flyin by headed for the finish line. We immediately headed for warmer and dryer conditions, Chipotle! There's nothing like a big burrito bowl after a hard run.

Overall it was a great race and I have no complaints as is the norm when it comes to a Brazen Racing event. These folks know how to put on a race and they always have great courses that challenge even the most seasoned runners. My next race is in late January and it's another Brazen event. I wouldn't do so many events with these guys if they did a horrible job at putting on races because we are blessed in the bay area to have a choice between 2 or 3 races every weekend. If you ever wanted to try trail racing I would highly recommend a Brazen Racing event.

See you in the woods,
Jonathan