May 19th 2013- We had the most excellent weather for running this race. Sunny and mild in the morning and gradually warming as the day went on. Not too hot or too cold. The location of this race is super convenient for me. The race was held at the Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve on Hwy 35 just west of Palo Alto in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It took about 35 minutes for me to make it up there from Redwood City simply because those mountain roads are slow winding climbers. My wife and I got on the road around 6:30 am and made it to the parking lot just past 7:00.
Skyline Ridge OSP has 3 distinct parking lots. The far right lot is where the race started and ended. It was also where the porto pottys and one of two bathrooms could be found. No parking in this lot. The middle lot is normally reserved for handicapped parking and home to the second bathroom. The line for the three facilities located down by the start was already growing by the time I walked the quarter mile from the lot used for parking to start area. The left lot is where most people parked until it was full.
I met up with Jesse, the general manager of the Dethrone Base Camp in Burlingame, and his fiance Toni who would be hanging around the finish area with my wife to cheer us through the finish line. This was Jesse's first half marathon and I had worked with him a little bit in getting prepared for it. The run group I founded, The Dethrone Distance Runners, was the brain child of Jesse and I back in the winter and shortly after forming the group he set his sights on the half marathon distance. A goal he wanted to conquer quickly. We discussed it a couple times at our Tuesday group run and he decided 6 weeks out to sign up for the Horseshoe lake trail race. This is a helluva race to be a persons first race. Normally I would suggest a person pick a flat road course and run it conservatively (not for time) just to complete the distance. But Jesse is not normal. He is an incredible athlete, so whatever he lacks in running experience he more than makes up for in athletic ability, pure grit and pit bull determination.
The race started on time at 8am. We all started together in the back of the mid-pack. We did this on purpose so that the crowd in front of us would slow us down and control that starting gun adrenaline. A slight downhill on a gravel road that lead us to our single track trail put some space between Jesse, myself and Alexa. I like to let my legs go and allow gravity to do the work on the down hills and this sped me past quite a few runners early on. Jesse stayed right with me and Alexa played it smart and ran her own race. The single track immediately slowed us down, almost to a walk at first. We shuffled along in single file line for a half mile until we hit our first hill. This hill was a coin toss as to walking it or running it. Jesse and I ran it as best we could but patches of walkers kept the pace slow. That was a good thing. That single track dropped us off on a dirt road that allowed the runners to find their pace. The dirt road turned skyward in a big way about a half mile later and again it was a coin toss on running or walking it. This time Jesse and I ran half and walked half. Most people just walked it entirely.
After that hill it was tree canopy woods and rolling hills for a mile or so until we popped back out into the sunshine. Next was a long downhill stretch completely exposed to the sun which was really nice. It was gentle and speedy and the sun felt good on my morning skin as we cruised effortlessly down the grassy slopes and into the Long Ridge Open Space Preserve. The exact opposite would be true on the return leg. This long slow climb out exposed to the sun would later prove to be quite a challenge. We had averaged just over 10 minute pace for the first 3 miles or so. A bit slower than I wanted but pretty good in my estimation. Jesse had made it clear that he wanted a sub 2 hour time on this run and I knew that was a lofty goal for me, an experienced runner, and a massive undertaking for him having less running time in his legs. My plan to get us there was to average somewhere between 9:30 & 10 minute pace for the first half and then give all we had in the second half after the the aid station turn around.
We turned off the sun exposed hills and headed back into the woods where we would encounter the only hill on the course that was an absolute walker. This hill is steep, rock strewn and just plain impossible to run up. It feels like it goes on for an eternity and just when you round a sharp left hand turn thinking you are at the top you realize you have more steep hiking to go. The top of the hill is a welcome relief from the hard fought climb that every run had to be cursing. That hill proved to be an energy zapper for Jesse. We rolled along for a bit on a gentle downhill and then turned up again on a gentle uphill. The uphill portion was not steep by any means but it did go on and on and on and on and on until your head exploded. Somewhere along the way up this hill Jesse fell behind. I wasn't aware of it as he traded places with another guy. I spoke to "Jesse" without looking at him a time or two in this stretch and got no response. It wasn't until I reached the top of this hill and burst back out into the sunshine on a dirt road that I realized it wasn't Jesse behind me but some other guy.
This dirt road was the last mile and a half or so until the aid station and I pushed forward figuring Jesse couldn't be more than 50 yards behind me. The dirt road section had some rolling hills along the way but towards the aid station it dropped pretty dramatically and then rose up again to make the last quarter mile before the aid station a tough climb. I hit the aid station and figured Jesse would come running up in just a minute or two. I was right. He came up just as I was putting my shoe back on after having adjusted my sock that had fallen down around the arch of my foot. He refilled his water bottle and we headed out without much hesitation.
On our way back to the start/ finish area I immediately began looking for Alexa. I hoped she would be coming at us on her way to the aid station meaning she had not given up. Jesse said he nearly lost all hope on the long slow climb where I gaped him and that got me to thinking Alexa may have thrown in the towel along the way. Less than a mile out of that aid station we saw her running at us. Her head was down and she was concentrating on forward motion. I yelled out "You are my hero!!!" and raised my hand for a high five. I kept my hand held high for the next minute until I nearly ran right past her. At the last possible moment she looked up and with a startling surprise said "Hey!" The high five was missed and the gap between us grew as she turned to look in my direction and I turned to look in her direction and again I said "You re my hero!" as I spun around to keep going. Jesse was back a ways because of the hill we were climbing so I suppose they exchanged greetings moments later. The gap I had opened between Jesse and I grew shorter once that hill was behind us.
We entered back into the woods and the long uphill now became a long gentle downhill. I flew through this section and every once in a while when the trail turned just right I could see the people behind me and Jesse was one of them. Not more than 30 yards back and running with what looked like 1 or 2 other runners. I purposely kept my pace up hoping it would pull Jesse along for a better finish time. It became a bit of a mystery as to whether or not this was working because I couldn't see him when I looked back every so often. We made it through the woods, down the monster hill that was a crazy hike up this morning and finally made our way back out into the sunshine where we had a long slow steady climb out. This was a wonderful downhill this morning but now it was a hot, slow shuffle up a never ending hill. I kept checking for Jesse but couldn't see him and later learned that this was where he ran out of water. YIKES! This is the longest sun exposure of the entire course and an uphill run. Not the kind of place to be without water.
I made it to the top of the grassy hill and dove back down into the woods of the Skyline Ridge OSP without any sight of Jesse. This woodsy section was a welcome downhill that got the legs turning over pretty quickly and before I knew it I was back out of those woods and running along the tree farm that marks the front edge of the preserve boundary. Two more hills to go and they are killers mostly because of the 11.5 miles already in the bag but partly because they are just plain steep. They don't last long but they last long enough to make most people walk them. I choose to push through and run them as best I could. Once those were behind me it was a half mile to the finish where the wives were waiting for us. I finished strong and felt good. My time was 2:14:25. I was happy with the results and sat chatting for just a few moments with Toni & Mary and Toni's parents who came out to cheer Jesse onto his first half marathon finish. I told them Jesse was probably 10 minutes behind me but I was wrong. He came in 4 minutes behind me like a champ. I started yelling for him and he picked up a final kick to the finish and burst through the timing mats at 2:18:35. An incredible time on a brutally difficult course to cut your teeth on. He grabbed a 10th place finish in his age group and a 29th place overall out of 113 finishers. The official results are posted here.
We hung out at the finish area for just a little while but Jesse was looking pretty tore up from the effort so him and his family packed it up and headed for some comfort while Mary and I headed out on the course. We wanted to cheer for Alexa as she came running through. We walked around to a spot where we could enter the race course and then walked along the trail congratulating those who were coming in from the half marathon and those who were headed back out for either the second half of their marathon or 50k. We hung out on the trails snapping photos of the scenery until we figured we had somehow missed her and then made our way back to our car. The next day I found out if we had stayed on that trail for 5 more minutes we could have given her the cheers she deserved. She came in just after the 3 hour mark and grabbed a 19th place for her age group. Really well done and super impressive for a tough trail half.
All 3 of us are already starting our training for the Crystal Springs Half in Woodside this August. It's a 12 week training schedule that I came up with for our run group. Lots of people from the run group are joining us in this training and you should too! Alexa could coach you to your best race ever. After all, she is a seasoned pro now!!! We are a fun group that meets every Tuesday at the Dethrone Base Camp Cardio Studio in Burlingame at 6:00pm.
Next on my list is the Lynch Canyon Trail Run on June 1st in Vallejo followed by a charity 10k in Hillsborough the next day. Lots of great race reports will be published soon!!!
See you on the next one,